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    TIME TO MOVEThank you to all visitors who have made this blog worthwhile by spending a few minutes from time to time reading my observations. Today this blog originally hosted at BLOG.CO.UK is being closed owing to the host`s techie problems and all future posts (including today`s) will be made at this address.

    I would therefore request those interested in continuing to read the blog to bookmark the new site.


    CORRUPTION CONSPIRACYMy colleagues and I are generally law abiding citizens past, present and in the vast majority of cases, future. Those whose behaviour transgresses even to an extent which could be described only as “inappropriate” risk removal from the magistracy. It could be argued that the strictures for us, the lowest level of the judiciary, are much more severe than for our senior colleagues. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for police. Perhaps there was a time when “Dixon of Dock Green” was a realistic portrayal in black and white and black and white was not just in the primitive T.V. quality of the 1950s but the basic standards border required of those in the uniform of that period. There was a defining line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Nowadays, perhaps, “Shades of Grey” might be a more apt description of some behaviour of those in the blue uniform. Indeed how many of us have not at some time been doubtful of the veracity of the evidence given under oath by a police officer?

    There has been speculation over the last few days that the death of Princess Diana (and her companion) was no accident and conspiracy theorists are once again dusting off their doubts about the police report which concluded that indeed it was an accident which caused her death. The difference between 1997 and today is that since then there have been umpteen verified investigations into police corruption which we now seem to accept as a normal way of life for those entrusted with our daily security from the teenage drunk to the divinely inspired terrorist. None has so devalued the trust we place in the police service than the corruption revealed to have enveloped the investigation into Hillsborough. And this story of high level deceit and deception has reached a new nadir according to a report in the Independent where it is alleged that cash from a fund for the victims` families was to be set aside to provide benefits for the police force now known to have corrupted the investigation into its own failures.

    With various scandals from Cleveland Constabulary to the Metropolitan Police Service (too many to list) via Greater Manchester Police and others who is to argue convincingly that everything known about the tragedy in Paris that evening has been revealed? That is the price we are paying for all the cover ups and corruption which were (are?) allowed to continue unchecked for decades.


    ANOMALYDoing any repetitive job however rigorous, intricate, detailed, specific, taxing or complex can, over many years, lead to the burying of unusual cases deep in the sub conscious mind. It was only during a casual retiring room discussion recently that resurrected an instance in 2010 (just after this blog began) where logic seemed to be outwith the system within which we must operate. Fortunately even then I had for some years been keeping brief reminder notes of interesting sittings.

    Before us was Ronald, a white male, about forty years old. This was the second listing. We were told that on the previous occasion his behaviour non violent as it was suggested that he should be seen by the court psychiatrist before making his plea to a charge of criminal damage. At 2.30p.m. we had before us a report from said professional who had interviewed Ronald that morning. His conclusion based amongst other things on the knowledge that Ronald had been in and out of the local mental health unit suffering from paranoid schizophrenia was that he was fit to plead. His lawyer had only recently seen the court papers. Ronald pleaded not guilty and we proceeded to case management and to fix a trial date. Then the difficulties surfaced. Because presence was denied Ronald`s representative indicated that an alibi defence would be run. Witnesses for CPS were whittled down to the arresting officer and CCTV footage a frame of which was shown to the defendant`s lawyer and which purported to clearly show Ronald at the scene of the alleged offence. In addition we were told the frame also showed an article allegedly used to commit the offence. After a brief consultation with his client he informed us that his instructions had been changed. Ronald had now admitted presence but was still denying the charge. The problem for defence and us was that during the psychiatrist`s session with Ronald and written into the report was an admission of guilt and a recommendation that a full psychiatric assessment be made of this person. We retired to discuss all this with our legal advisor. His recommendation was unequivocal. If Ronald had pleaded guilty we could have adjourned for the recommended full assessment to be made but with a not guilty plea we had no choice but to proceed to trial and any further investigation of Ronald`s mental health had to be considered by the defence; not the court.

    Whatever the legal position in my mind that was the anomaly.


    SPANISH STICK CARROT AND POLICE CARIt can be argued that for much low level offending the justice system can be truncated for the purpose simply to punish and deter. Rehabilitation and concern for any victim can safely be considered as inappropriate and unnecessary. Into this category of offending can be included eg the offences of using a mobile phone whilst driving and driving without due care and attention. And to some extent the government seems to agree. I posted on this topic on August 13th. Having had a few days to think more on this I am convinced that the reasoning behind this change of policy (with regard to driving without due care) and a general increase in FPN tariffs is simply to increase the “take” for the Treasury. A driver using a mobile phone which might cost £200 - £500 is hardly going to be persuaded to fit a hands free system or refrain from mobile use by increasing the FPN from £60 to £100. A three point penalty on the driving license remains unchanged as it does for careless driving for which the FPN fine is the same £100. Convicted of careless driving after trial would cost an offender half a week`s wages and 3 or 4 points on the license to three times that amount and up to 9 penalty points or disqualification.

    It seems as clear as day that if the government were truly in the business of promoting safer driving it would increase the number of penalty points for both those offences. Of course the caveat to that is that the allocation of penalty points for various offences within a 12 point range might prove difficult. The answer is simple. Increase the available points to 20 or even 24. Penalty points could then be fixed more accurately to offence; eg five for mobile use and 6 for careless driving etc. etc. Indeed the Spanish seem to have gone one better on the basis of the stick approach works better with a carrot at one end. Rather than add points they subtract from a 12 pointer clean license when an offence is committed but add bonus points for those who have three years with no offending.

    They might be seeing red over Gibralter but el espanol are seeing very clearly about deterring dangerous drivers.


    HEADLINEMy sitting this week was somewhat unusual. We actually entered the court room at 10.00a.m. and next saw the retiring room at 1.15p.m. Those unfamiliar with behind the scenes at a magistrates` court have a right to utter, “So what`s so special about that?” What is so special is that with myriad inefficiencies in the co-ordination of all the agencies inputting to the functioning of a court to have them all operating correctly for once and allowing a continuous uninterrupted session is almost beyond belief. And what turned that day from being unusual to being one to remember was that the afternoon session proceeded along similar lines until we made our exit at 4.45p.m.

    If every sitting for me and my colleagues was as effective as the one described morale in the retiring room would be given a shot in the arm. Sadly that is a pipe dream.



    It is not unlikely that by the beginning of September this blog will move permanently to

    I would ask, therefore, that readers now follow my blog at that site.


    GIVE AND TAKEIt is well known that the louder the noise emitted by politicians, especially those of a ruling party, the less important is the content of the announcement. Mathematicians would term it the law of inverse proportionality. Well; surprise, surprise………without much fanfare and in just a few lines the Ministry of Justice has announced that in the year 2012-2013 £287.4 million was spent in redundancy payments to all those surplus staff who were clogging up the justice system by their inefficiencies. The Justice Ministry admitted that since taking office it has reduced staff levels by 10,000. Oh!.... And whisper it quietly but the self same ministry has spent over half a billion pounds on consultancy fees in that last accounting period of 2012-2013.

    The full report is here and the information above is buried deep within.


    MR MAGOO AND THE M.A.On July 30th I posted that Justice Minister Damian Green was to address a meeting the subject of which would be “Reforming the Role of Magistrates”. Amongst my observations I wrote, “Of one thing we can be sure: this so called “event” will be for his purpose; not for ours”. I won`t blow my trumpet at more than a whisper because anybody with half a deaf ear towards politicians in August would have come to a similar conclusion.

    A couple of days ago he made that speech. Amongst his comments were, ““However, four out of ten defendants sent to the crown court for sentencing received custodial sentences that could have been handed in the magistrates’ court - we need to look at why this is happening and if we need to do more to make the best use of magistrates. We need to keep the right cases in the right court if we are to have a modern justice system in a fair society.” On 7th December 2010 I posted on former Justice Secretary Jack Straw`s speech on exactly this subject. It doesn`t require intervention from Damian Green or any other politician for this change to take place. It merely requires advice from legal advisors who are sometimes afraid to deviate from the safe road of conservatism in not upsetting a preset apple cart. My colleagues (especially those with some years service) could also be a little more assertive and not be reticent in using our existing powers to the maximum. Of course the obvious change to make; a change which has been avoided for decades, is to remove a defendant`s right to choose mode of trial in either way cases. Some effort has been made in this direction with the recent new guidelines on “allocation” but the bull must eventually be grabbed by the horns in the face of inevitable and illogical objections by lawyers.

    With his remarks on single magistrates overseeing low level traffic offences and “low level” shoplifting it is plain to see that the minister is less concerned with justice than he is with his preferred expedient solutions attempting to save money offered to him by the same Whitehall advisors who gave us Capita plc to provide court interpreters amongst other wonderful innovations in court eg restricting the availability of court ushers so that legal advisors are up and down like jacks-in-the-box chasing all over the building for offenders, lawyers, witnesses and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

    It is quite clear that underlying this speech is the government`s desire to remove Justices of the Peace from the courtroom and put a rump magistracy out to graze in the fields rubber-stamping traffic offenders, overseeing out of court disposals by police and taking part in local schemes of rehabilitation and/or arbitration between victim and offender.

    If those in the Magistrates Association charged with the interests of their members cannot see the writing on the wall now they should join Mr Magoo at the optician`s and have their rose coloured spectacles surgically removed.


    ROAD HOGWe all know the phrase, “an accident waiting to happen” which generally means that an unpleasant or unnecessary event or events is highly predictable. At a time when many of the agencies providing input to the magistrates` courts are running on empty the last thing the government will want to see is an increase in the numbers coming to court to plead their case instead of taking their FPN (fixed penalty notice) like a man ought to do. This not quite the wild west where a man must do what a man must do. The idea of FPNs was and is to stop people clogging up the courts system pleading to minor offences. Indeed these FPNs assumed such numbers that the pendulum has, to sum extent, swung the other way owing to the not unexpected tendency of police to use them inappropriately. But, saith Grayling, thou shalt knoweth that thou shalt heed my words for come Friday August 16th in the year of Our Lord 2013 such FPNs shall result from traffic offences currently dealt with by summonses; namely driving without due care.

    With reduced numbers of police cars patrolling the motorways of England and Wales those in the habit of eg hogging the middle lane when traffic levels are low or those seeking to allow their front bumpers to make illicit contact with the rear ends of those in front will be sent FPNs and a notice of penalty points for driving without due care. The evidence will likely be from patrolling police cars with video recording who won`t need to go to the time and trouble of stopping errant drivers or CCTV. All this is liable to increase the numbers who feel they are not guilty and will therefore opt to have their day in court mainly as unrepresented defendants. Of course time will tell but as in so many other recent initiatives this to me appears to be a quick fix to a problem which goes much deeper. Reduce the numbers of on the job police officers and sort the resulting problems as cheaply as possible.

    As a matter of personal experience I recently drove about 600 miles on the motorways and A roads of the west and north west of Scotland and saw perhaps three times as many police patrols there than on 800 miles of recent motorway driving in England.


    In order to safeguard the future and continuity of this blog, owing to occasional difficulties with the host, from today I will be placing identical posts on this address as a back up.


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