The government propaganda machine has lost little time in putting forward its plans for magistrates in the 21st century. Hard on the heels of that named report published by the Magistrates` Association and available in yesterday’s post the downgrading of Justices of the Peace to local non judicial functionaries is plain for all to see. I have posted previously that proposed “local neighbourhood panels” are as Greeks bringing equine gifts to Trojans and we are the Trojans. The purpose behind these apparently benign proposals is nothing less than the next stage in the downgrading of magistrates` judicial functions within the judicial system and our eventual replacement in the future by District Judges perhaps sitting with J.P.s on the wings and perhaps not.
Lack of criticism of single District Judges as arbiters of fact in trials has long been an anomaly in the system conveniently overlooked by everybody concerned from the Secretary of State and Lord Chief Justice downwards. The overpowering reason for our being a lay bench is that we are not lawyers and that three people are less likely to be in error over verdicts and sentencing than a single individual, lawyer or not. Therefore it is a complete abrogation of that argument for any J.P. to welcome the possibility of sitting as a single sentencer as is proposed by minister Nick Herbert. Currently a legal advisor will perhaps comment on a bench`s sentencing decision in the retiring room to ensure that the matter has been properly considered. But providing it is lawful the bench is the decision maker. With the proposal of a single J.P. a less than strong and confident sentencing on a guilty plea will be under heavy pressure from his/her L/A if there is the desire [for good reason] to deviate from sentencing guidelines. A three person bench united in its disposal is well equipped to stand firm in its independent conclusion.
I am disturbed that magistrates once again appear to have been rolled over by government. This is a trap plain and simple and the simpletons have fallen in.
Is there any proposal by government that would have headlines in the broadsheets saying, MAGISTRATES OBJECT TO GOVERNMENT PLANS?