Sunday, October 19, 2014

Déjà Vu Once More

In a response to press comment on a number of trolling cases, in which people avail themselves of the anonymity afforded by the Internet, the Government has waved its big stick and threatens to increase the maximum sentence for this obnoxious form of bullying to two years' imprisonment. The politicos have been rewarded with Sunday morning headlines, as they presumably wished, but what will this achieve - really?

A saddo sitting in his bedroom late at night is hardly going to make a reasoned decision to desist from abusing total strangers because in the vanishingly unlikely event of his being caught the maximum sentence has just shot up. The sentencing court will of course have to have regard to the Guidelines, which rarely if ever point to the maximum sentence for anything. Lazy and ill-trained journalists love to point to potential maximum sentences to sex up a headline, although we all know that these will not be imposed. As I have pointed out before the maximum penalty for a straightforward drink-drive is a fine of £5000, plus six months inside, plus an indefinite driving ban. I very much doubt that this has ever been imposed. but it keeps the journos happy.

Sorry, but this is yet another knee-jerk reaction. With an election in the offing there will be many more, equally ill-advised and equally useless.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Small(ish) World

The sad news has emerged that the Duke of Marlborough has passed on to the stately home in the sky.

His title thus passes to his heir, formerly known as Jamie Blandford.

Some years ago Jamie was a regular sight in magistrates' courts, being burdened, as he was, with a penchant for driving like a lunatic as well as a fondness for 'certain substances' as they used to be called.

He was on my list one morning, and my eye was caught by his address of Blenheim Palace, which we don't see too often. The case went nowhere because he was on bail to so many different courts that the cases were consolidated and adjourned, and I thereafter lost touch.

Well good luck to the latest Duke.

Just mind how you go, your Grace.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Depressing But True

This piece in the Law Gazette  (the solicitors' trade paper) rings a lot of bells. I have often commented on the tendency of politicians who reach the Home Office to lose touch with reason and become bloodthirsty and populist fans of Laura Norder. Some people had hopes that a Lib Dem presence at the ministerial table might moderate the excesses of the unlovely procession of Home Secs. that included Howard, Reid, Smith, Blunkett and Straw. Straw was a particular disappointment to me as he led the National Union of Students when I was an undergrad, but veered off to the right once in power. I even voted for the bugger in 1968.

The virtual disappearance of legal aid has hit and will hit ordinary people who simply cannot cope with the complexities of the law. Someone once criticised politicians who could not use the word 'liberty' without prefacing it with the word 'diabolical'. I agree.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Yawn.................

As I came back from lunch today, I came across the bench from Court 6, on their way back into court. The chairman is not specially experienced, but very bright and capable.

"Have a good afternoon" I wished, "I don't think so" she replied. "We've got the Freemen on the Land in."

These nutters are no threat to a court with a determined and experienced chairman and a solid clerk.

I hope that my colleague was happy with how things went.

You Can Lead A Horse To Water......

I have previously written about the increasing practice of disqualifying people from driving in their absence. This commonly happens when people tot up twelve penalty points, but do not attend the court, for whatever reason. The advice from our clerks is that we should proceed, but there is no hard and fast proof that the driver knows about his ban. Of course quite a few are playing the game, but quite a few are also unaware of the court's decision, because of the vagaries of the post (first class post is deemed to be good service as recorded delivery is too costly).

Today's defendant, a middle-class man of no previous convictions but with an unfortunately heavy right foot, insisted that he pleaded not guilty because he did not know that he had been disqualified. The duty solicitor, the prosecutor, and our legal adviser all told him that he did not have a defence in law, and that his claim amounted to to more than mitigation.

He was warned that a trial (in which he was likely to come a poor second) would involve about £600 in costs, whereas a guilty plea, in which he could put forward his mitigation would be £85.

I then went as far as I dared to give him a hint, saying "you have heard legal opinions from three experienced lawyers. We cannot advise you, but it seems to my colleagues and me that their advice is sensible and in your interests".

No dice. Trial listed.

You can lead a horse to water...........

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Another Odd Day

I sat yesterday at one of the outlying courts that now forms part of our amalgamated bench. The courthouse is pretty tatty, and only uses three of its four courtrooms - the whole place stays closed on Fridays.

We had two trials listed, one of them down as all-day, but we were not able to start either, due to the non-attendance of witnesses. The complainant/victim in a case of alleged DLT-style groping  at her place of work has gone to Scotland to live with her dad. We had the option of issuing a witness summons, but enforcing it in Scotland could be tricky (and expensive).

We then took a trial from another court, and the defendant was clearly a man with multiple problems, including mental issues ( a clue was the fact that in police interview an Appropriate Adult was called in).We acquitted him, and he flung himself to his knees in the well of the court, with his hands in a position of prayer. He seemed to have every intention of staying there a while, so we retired, leaving his counsel to persuade him that he ought to go outside.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Not an Everyday Case

We dealt with an alleged manslaughter the other day, which is not a usual sight in our court. I can't say much about it, but what we did see was a reporter at the back of the court (a rarity these days,that used to be an everyday sight) and a gaggle of relatives of the deceased in the gallery, on whom I kept a beady eye, although they were well-behaved and dignified.

Unlike murder, we retain the power to consider bail in manslaughter cases, but the defence didn't apply, mindful of the fact that their client is probably safer inside than he might be on the out.

Off he goes to the Old Bailey this week.

Not My Cup of Tea

In response to a desperate plea from the court at about half-past-four yesterday afternoon, I agreed to sit today. We dealt with a fairly standard remand list of about two dozen cases , which resulted in the usual range of sentences, from a couple of Conditional Discharges and a few fines to a two month prison sentence. We were just about finished with our list and preparing to go home when the clerk threw himself on our mercy, asking us to clear up the tail-end of Court Four's list that was running well behind. Two of us agreed to help, releasing a colleague who had childcare commitments, and we sat down to tackle a huge heap of Council prosecutions for dropping litter - mostly involving a cigarette butt.

Our local Council has hired a squad of litter-control people, who issue a fixed penalty ticket when they see litter being deposited. I think that it's £30 if you pay up within 14 days, more if you don't. If (as many do) you ignore the notice and the ensuing written warning, you will be reported for prosecution. Only one chap turned up, so we sentenced him by the book (on benefits, so deemed income £110 per week, less a third for the plea, plus the pesky surcharge of £20, plus the Council's costs of £100.) That's a lot of money for a fag end, but all of the other cases didn't even get the third-off for a plea of guilty since they hadn't responded to the summons.

I still have trouble squaring a penalty of (all-in) a few hundred quid for dropping a sweet wrapper when we only charge £60 for jumping a red light, an offence that can and does kill people.

Don't blame me, guv, I don't make the rules.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining For Someone, (And Vice-Versa)

The result of the Scots referendum has delighted some people and upset some more.

Had independence gone ahead, it would have been a bonanza for law firms on both sides of the border, as untold thousands of contracts and suchlike would have had to be looked at and made compatible with the new arrangements. One of my relatives is a corporate lawyer with a large company that operates across Europe, and you can imagine the complexity of ensuring compliance with a new jurisdiction, with implications for employment and consumer regulation, especially if Scotland had been outside the EU. The costs would have been horrific.

Meanwhile criminal defence lawyers have won a clear victory over the legal aid cuts imposed by the MoJ. Cynics tend to sneer at the bottom end of the criminal defence community, but low-level criminal cases often involve inarticulate bottom-of-the heap defendants who need legal advice more than most. The rewards payable to legal aid lawyers are very low in most cases, the overall figure being distorted by high-profile silk-heavy matters in the big boys' courts.

Tomorrow is another day, as someone said in the movies.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Way, Way Off Topic (again)

Chatting with a colleague on the phone today, the topic turned to the Scottish brouhaha that will come to its climax this week. He was pretty fed up with the situation, and went on to discuss the what-happens-next scenario.

Among his wilder ideas was a boycott of Scottish things. I offered to support him, and decided to boycott porridge, whisky and Aberdeen Angus. Rather than rush things I decided to start with porridge, and then see how things go from there.