Amongst the "extra" matters dealt with in Magistrates` Courts I have recently commented on statutary declarations.† Another common function for all JPs is deciding whether or not to grant Warrants of Entry for utility companies either to disconnect supply gas or electricity [usually at vacant or business premises] or to replace a regular meter with a pre-payment meter.† It has been and might still be the norm for these applications to be "rubber stamped" without too much investigation.

However with many colleagues in various courts all over the country I have been consulting a "good practice guide" which encourages courts to take a more inquisitorial approach to these applications in spite of the time taken when there is a crowded list.

A magistrate from a neighbouring court told me recently that when he was sitting outside his own court he was surprised at the novel questioning of the applicants by the chairman.† It had never happened when he was sitting at his own court.† In the session one application was to disconnect the landlord`s supply in a block of flats the tenants having no say in the matter.† In practice it would probably have meant no lighting to the common parts eg entrance hall and stairways. In view of the possible danger to infirm or elderly occupants falling down stairs that bench refused the application and suggested no further application be made until there was a firm refusal from the absentee landlord to pay the outstanding bill of c£300.† He also described an application to fit a pre-payment meter [always a higher tariff] to an occupier he discovered was two weeks late in an arrears payment previously agreed.† This history was discovered he reported† by the chairman`s questioning the bailiff in quite some detail.

He told me that he had never previously sat on a bench which had refused an application to disconnect and fit a pre-payment meter.† Information from that episode he said would be conveyed to his "home" court.