Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Not Worth It

Once again the police blunder in to arrest the alleged sender of an abusive message on the Web, this time to Tom Daley.

The culprit will no doubt turn out to be a sad and onanistic youth who sits at his lonely keyboard, composing pathetic and unimaginative abuse to send to whomever has recently caught his eye. It is axiomatic that people will send stuff through a modem that they would not dream of saying to someone's face. Even on a relatively serious-minded blog such as this some people feel the need to post bitterly abusive comments; I suspect that many of these people have an unrealistic view of who magistrates are and what they do, and take the opportunity to go Yah-boo from a safe distance. The police call these people 'hundred-yard heroes' because they are happy to hurl insults at the Old Bill, but only with the security of a head start.

In modern Britain virulently abusive language is common, and not just at football matches, but the sensible approach is to ignore it a far as possible. The airport bomb-hoax case that has just concluded should serve as a warning to any prosecutor or detective who fancies chancing his arm to keep the phrase 'It's only the Internet' close to the front of his mind. To do otherwise risks at best using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and in the worst case makes the police and prosecution look very silly.

Just a small thought - isn't it nice that the chap in the Daley story is 'helping police with their enquiries'? I thought that had gone the way of blunt instruments.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maybe Its Because I'm A Londoner

We were reading a ROTI (interview transcript) the other day when my colleague turned to me with furrowed brow and said "What's this - he said it was worth a nifty. A nifty what?"

"A nifty fifty" I replied, mentally polishing my London-born nails on my lapel.

The sum was later referred to as a decent drink, placing it on the scale of underclass pourboires, such as

A Drink
A Decent Drink
A Well Good Drink
A F*cking Good Drink

and so on.

Sits. Vac.

If you fancy a job as a District Judge (Magistrates Courts) there are sixteen vacancies coming up: more details here.

There will probably be a huge over-subscription, as there has been on previous occasions. In these lean times for many lawyers the attraction of a secure government funded job paying six figures with a nice pension is obvious.

Quite a few people see the seemingly-inexorable increase in DJ numbers as part of a long-term plan to phase out JPs, but I am not so sure. Ten immediate posts plus six some time in the future doesn't exactly amount to a flood, especially as retirements continue at their usual steady rate.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


They are working us hard these days. Because we have closed several courtrooms more business has to be shoved through the remaining ones. I chaired a remand court yesterday (almost all first time in) and because we still had a dozen in custody at noon we split them between ourselves and the court next door to give the prisoners priority as we must. We didn't get done until half past five.
Despite pressure of business, we still spent the occasional quarter-hour out the back while the lawyers sorted out the kind of things that we mustn't hear.
One drink-driver who had produced an only-just-illegal reading told a tale via the duty solicitor that looked to me as if it might contain the germ of a Special Reasons argument, so I asked the DS if she had advised her client,, and she said yes, but unconvincingly enough for us to retire for  cup of tea while the Clerk made quite sure that the defendant understood what he was doing. He decided not to give it a run, but most solicitors would have had a go; I certainly would.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Nice to Know

The MoJ has kindly published its latest list of fees payable to various parts of the judiciary.  Don't look for magistrates  - the fee remains at zero, as it has done for a few hundred years. It's not that bad though.When we sit with a Recorder in the Crown Court, he may get £583 per day, but we can claim £7.65 for lunch.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Old Wine in New Bottles

According to the BBC the Government is about to announce its plans  for criminal justice reforms. Inevitably, one of the proposals is to introduce tough community punishments - yeah right, just like the last dozen announcements did, and with similar effect.
It's interesting that there are plans to introduce a money limit on Theft charges, so that magistrates will lose the option to send small thefts upstairs to the Crown Court, but - and here's the catch - the defendant retains the right to elect jury trial. Hemmed in as we are by guidelines, magistrates very rarely send thefts under a few thousand pounds to Hizonner, while quite a few defendants decide to try their luck with twelve good men and true and accept the risk of a heavier sentence if convicted. 
So the changes will make a negligible amount of difference.

As for changing court hours, the pinch point at present is the shortage of legal advisers. If they work nights, they can't work days. Simple as that, so again, little or no change.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Official

Serco has won the contract to run Community Payback and suchlike , displacing the Probation Service.

Good job it wasn't G4S, eh?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Interesting Point

For the Defence   points out some interesting aspects of the John Terry case, in particular the huge resources being devoted to a trial of a summary-only offence, in which the only available penalty is a fine, and the defendant is a multi-millionaire.

Here's the full verdict.

Monday, July 09, 2012

From Him That Hath..........

I am grateful to the folk at Peyto Law in Fleet (no, me neither) for helpfully listing the forthcoming changes to the 'victim' surcharge on their website. They are specialist planning and local government solicitors, so they practice in a less grubby area of the trade than the criminal courts.

I have never been a fan of the so-called Victim Surcharge, because it is arbitrary and unfair as well as sneaky, because the money raised does not go to victims, but rather to bodies that deal with them. My  'uh-oh' reflex was triggered when I read that a big chunk of the 'victims' cash goes to the CPS, thus saving the Government a nifty few quid. Now the MoJ is extending the charge to more serious offences, and I cannot do better than to quote from Messrs. Peyto's website:-

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Surcharge) Order 2012 (SI No. 2012/1696) comes into force on 1 October 2012 to change the amount of victim surcharge paid by a Defendant upon conviction.
From 1 October 2012 the following provisions will apply:
Offenders aged 18 or over
  • conditional discharge - £15
  • fine - 10% of the fine value, with a minimum amount of £20 and a maximum amount of £120
  • a community sentence - £60
  • a suspended sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution of 6 months and below - £80
  • a suspended sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution of between 6 months and 12 months - £100
  • an immediate sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution (initially imposed only by a Crown Court) of 6 months and below - £80
  • an immediate sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution (initially imposed only by a Crown Court) of between 6 months and 2 years - £100
  • an immediate sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution of over 2 years - £120
  • a sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders' institution for public protection - £120
  • a sentence of imprisonment or custody for life - £120
Offenders aged under 18 years
  • conditional discharge - £10
  • a fine, Youth Rehabilitation Order or Referral Order - £15
  • a custodial sentence of any length (initially imposed only by a Crown Court) - £20
  • conditional discharge - £15
  • fine - 10% of the fine value, with a minimum amount of £20 and a maximum amount of £120
In cases of a mixed disposal (where the defendant is dealt with in different ways e.g. a fine for one offence and custody for another) only one surcharge will be paid and the amount will be the higher of the possible options.

This is full of unfairness anomalies and absurdities. Companies cannot be ordered to pay more than a measly £120, despite the fact that magistrates' powers in cases such as environmental or health and safety matters run to a fine of £20,000, when the 10% surcharge would otherwise be £2,000. Why?

Those committed to prison face a Surcharge of up to £120 (but only in the Crown Court - why?) so next time that an awesome High Court judge, resplendent in his red robes, sentences a Huntley or a Brady or a Jihadist to life with a recommendation that he never be released, His Lordship will have to add "and by the way, there will be £120 surcharge  - are you asking for time to pay? No hurry, you have until around 2040 to knock it off."

Most defendants in the lower court have little or no money, and live on benefits, so collecting these impositions will not be easy, and may cost more than they yield.

Who thinks these things up?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Oh Say Can You See?

Here's a Fourth of July salute to the noble, inspiring, and occasionally impossible United States of America.

As a nation whose institutions are so closely drawn from those of my country, I admire America, even when its devotion to the constitution looks like sheer cussedness so much of the time.

I admire the US attachment to freedom, but I find the fact of two million prisoners hard to take.

But let's look on the bright side. As the old Oxford college porter said to the American visitor who asked why the lawn in the quad looked so good: "Just take care of it for four hundred years or so and it will start to look right"

English As She Is (Unfortunately) Spoke

I have had a bit of fun over the years with lawyers, civil servants, witnesses and suchlike mangling the English Language in court. A colleague has emailed the following:-
A chap applying for gas/electricity warrants said that he wanted to get in to properties to 'de-energise' them!! and the new usher wanted the 'interpretator' to take the oath.

Then there is this from a District Judge:-
A bit more verbing from the Family Court: Boundary/boundaried as in  "The mother cannot boundary the child","The child has not been boundaried". What's more, it was counsel and not the social worker who was responsible.

7/7 plus 7

I have just watched a moving BBC documentary about the victims of the terrorist attacks on London that have come to be known as 7/7.

I happened to be sitting in court on that day and I posted this to the blog the next day.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

What's The Problem?

I have been following the LIBOR-rigging scandal while on holiday, and I am a bit puzzled about the frequent assertion that the 'bankers' concerned were not doing anything illegal.

If Justin contacts Julian at Tristram's suggestion and asks him to supply a third party with information that he knows to be incorrect, and the third party uses that information in good faith to do something that might be to the prejudice or benefit of unrelated parties, but might equally assist Justin Julian and Tristram to make some money, or even to avoid a loss, surely that amounts to Conspiracy to Defraud?