When I was a newbie on the bench I now recollect that there were many occasions where the chairmen appeared to endorse the “rubber stamping” of evidence brought by government agencies particularly applications for warrants of entry and search warrants by utility companies and police respectively. I well remember one occasion, when in the retiring room on a particular case, and explaining my point of view the chairman, a woman nearing retirement, exclaimed, “God save me from new magistrates”. Eventually she apologised after some heavy persuasion from the respected third member of the team that day. Thankfully, although there is much to criticise in the courts systems, these outdated attitudes by a previous generation of J.P.s are indeed now outdated.
A sitting not too long ago brought back for me a couple of the above memories. On having before us a series of applications by police for search warrants it was noticed that there was a request for two occasions at each address; usually a single occasion is requested. On being questioned the officer told us that they simply wanted a second opportunity if the first yielded insufficient evidence. When asked on what grounds more evidence might be available on a subsequent search eg an expected future delivery of stolen goods to the address, we were told that there was nothing in particular except perhaps they`d be lucky. We asked the officer to change the requirement to a single occasion and initial the change.
Despite its being almost impossible nowadays for a utility company to cut somebody`s domestic electrical supply for non payment such a threat was made by one such company`s representative applying for an entry warrant. When questioned she said quite blatantly that they never cut off electricity supply but they`d never get paid if the threat weren`t made in writing. We signed the warrant when the appropriate redaction was made.
To cap it all a series of prosecutions by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency relied upon very poor quality analogue tachometer print out copies without any mileage details. Although there is a statutory requirement that such instruments must be calibrated and checked every two years the prosecutor could give us no information at all on whether or when these tests had been carried out on the lorries in question. We decided that the combination of evidence before us was not enough to meet the required standard. At the end of the sitting the prosecutor mentioned that she had had a learning session as no bench previously had questioned her similarly. At the post court review our L/A agreed with our scrutiny and conclusion in all these matters above. As magistrates we should not shirk individually from such scrutiny however reticent a colleague might be.