Thursday, January 10, 2013

Crystal Ball Time

From Bystander T



In line with all those investment blogs, political blogs, personal blogs and the rest, here is our take on predictions for 2013. 

Prediction 1.  Fewer magistrates and more District Judges (Magistrates' Court) (DJMC).  So instead of most defendants appearing before a bench of three Magistrates, more will appear before a single professional DJMC.  In the major conurbations, where the recruitment of Magistrates has long been a challenge, the old Stipendiary Magistrate (the old name for DJMCs) has been a well known fixture.  In the more rural areas, DJMCs are now appearing more regularly.  There are some very good reasons for this, particularly related to complex or lengthy cases, or those requiring consistency of handling over an extended period.  But some magistrates feel uneasy with the expansion in the numbers of DJMCs believing that the mini-jury of three magistrates is a more democratic route to a finding of guilt or a passing of sentence. 

Will the public understand this slow demise of the their beloved magistrates?  Probably not, at least not until they are gone.  When he was Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer said that he would not support any notion of paying magistrates, because as long as they are unpaid, they can properly be described as wholly independent;  they are not  beholden to the administration for fees or position.  This independence is far too valuable to sacrifice so hopefully the increase in the numbers of DJMCs will be restricted to providing flexibility in the system, and no more. 

Prediction number 2.  A case will arrive at the appeal court related to a magistrates court refusing an adjournment.  Old lags who believe that they can turn up at court and simply deny an offence  and say no more, are now being rudely awakened.  Anyone accused of an offence, pleading not guilty, must assist the court in managing the case and therefore must divulge which parts of the prosecution  they want to challenge.  But in the pursuit of the holy grail of "stopping delay", some poor wretch is bound to get caught up in the chase and suffer an injustice.  The sooner this matter gets a clear and public lead from the higher courts, the better.  The "greater good" undoubtedly demands better case management, shorter waiting times and shorter trials, but along the way it is hoped that few, if any, individuals suffer for it. 

Number 3.  More a hope than a prediction!  More joined up government will emerge.  In the ever present "Cost cutting" environment, it seems that nobody notices that on many occasions the cutting exercised by the courts costs more for CPS; savings achieved at CPS costs more for police;  savings made by the  Police, costs more for the court; saving planned on escort services, taking prisoners from court to prison and vice versa, costs more for the court, the police and the CPS.

Perhaps our reader might like to bring to our attention any evidence that these predictions have been realised, or not, as the case may be. 

29 comments:

  1. As you well know, the work to be alocated to DJs was set out in the Venn Formula eg. cases lasting IN EXCESS of 2 days, cases of a complex nature etc) now extended to all cases involving celebrities, any case expected to attract media attention, caes nvolving MPs, police and many more. A previous Chief Mag said that magistrates will always be needed if only to deal with motoring offences. Well, you and your colleagues will soon not be required at all. Out of court disposals and many more DJs , saving lots of money by no longer requiring legal advisers will mean one person acting as judge and jury for almost all criminal work. Why are our civil libertarians so supportive of the jury system but so careless of our magisterial system?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is growing confusion about Venn and Venne. The first we should all know from schooldays, and those pretty part overlapping circles, aka 'Venn diagrams'. The 'Venne criteria' are the still applicable principles that are supposed to determine case allocation between lay benches and DJ(MC)s, where such a choice is an operational possibility. The are certain matters that only a DJ can decide, such as extradition and - ludicrously - any extension to the now limited period for retention of DNA samples under the Protection of Freedoms Act on Police request.

      Delete
  2. Bowstreetrunner10 January 2013 12:18

    Re No1
    I don't quite follow the argument of guilt or passing sentence as being an issue. A state has to have a judicial system, as long as those who administer it obey the rule of law, respect human rights and act impartially, it really doesn't matter 'who' does it.

    As to guilt- I can see an argument for trials being by lay magistrates x3, but don't see any democratic deficit if it were a DJ. I don't think a DJ is persuaded by bullshit that is often pedaled by lawyers; so on that score it might be of an advatage to an accused. But for anyone to suggest that DJ's are closed minded would be wrong. On the otherhand DJ's can and do cut to the quick and do not suffer stalling tactics or any other tactical game play by lawyers, though I do again think that there has to be limits to this "stop delaying justice" mantra, particularly when , as is going to be the case more often, punters are having to represent themselves. In those circumstances justice and good old fair play would suggest that a defendant should not be pressurised in to pleading without realising the consequenses.( look at the trouble with military hearing)


    As to sentencing- In the higher courts it is the Judge alone who passes sentence, no jury is involved or for that matter any 'lay' involvement. surely, if in the higher courts where the sentences are significant a judge can be trusted then the same applies in the lower court. DJ's tend to be more predictable and probably apply the lawy more literally than their lay colleagues, but again there is no democratic deficit as DJ's and judges are part of the wider community and hence part of the democracy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "The sooner this matter gets a clear and public lead from the higher courts, the better," says Bystander of Prediction 2, about demanding a plea at first hearing.

    There already is a clear lead - if Bystander and his team had been paying attention at the national Stop Delaying Justice training last year, they would been aware of Picton (CPS v Picton, 2005) where Dartford Magistrates Court refused to adjourn a common assault trial because the CPS had failed to warned its witnesses of the correct time of the trial, and they did not attend. The case collapsed, and the CPS appealed, but the Appeal Court ruled that "a decision to adjourn or not is par excellence a matter of discretion for the court in question." It cannot be much clearer than that, and forms the backbone of former Lord Justice Leveson's Criminal Procedure Rules of 2009 which we follow today

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think 'Picton' answers the question; that's about an incompetent CPS. What the 'B' team were pointing out is the desire of the defendant to drag things out for as long as is possible. At some point 'Picton' will have be applied too harshly to "some poor wretch" who in all proability has never seen the inside of an MC before and has no 'proper' legal advice.

      Delete
    2. I don't think that Bystander T will appreciate being called the B team! He has longer service than the first Bystander!

      Delete
    3. My post was not per se about what brought about the Picton case, but about the result of the appeal - that it gave magistrates the absolute right to decide whether or not to adjourn a case. Our bench is properly robust about insisting on a first-appearance plea, irrespective of whther legal aid has been sorted, CCTV evidence has been seen, or whatever, knowing that we have the full weight of the law behind us. If no plea is forthcoming, we take it as a not guilty, and move on.

      Delete
  4. You say: Will the public understand this slow demise of the their beloved magistrates?
    Are you so sure that they are beloved?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Depends whether you're victim or criminal.

      Delete
  5. The President of the Justice Clerk's Society went to great lengths to assure Magistrates that there was no secret government plan to replace them with DJs. Somehow I am still unconvinced.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to Companies House, the Justices' Clerks' Society has been wound up. It is now a fully-funded internal organ of the MoJ, operationally and in every meaningful way dependent on its paymaster. That the loss of judicial independence this entails (given the quasi-judicial role of justices' clerks, this is a matter of some significance) was eagerly exchanged for a mess of potage by the then leaders of the JCS (aided and abetted by the National Bench Chairmen's Forum or NCBF, which took a similar route) makes it all the more lamentable. The JCS is no more independent than a wind-sock.

      Delete
    2. WHAT WOULD HE KNOW?
      Have you not heard of there are no current plans for.....
      This is not on our agenda......
      ETC
      Shit happens and it is likely to happen sooner rather than later

      Delete
    3. Actually, the JCS President is a she.
      Kate Caveat

      Delete
    4. It's actually Sian Jones who is JCS President.

      Delete
    5. @wotl Actually, Sian Jones is a woman and JCS President.
      Kate Caveat
      P.S. I hope you don't make too many such assumptions in court.

      Delete
    6. He/she/it- does it really matter

      Delete
    7. I think so. If someone simply assumes that the President of the Justices' Clerks' Society must be a man, what other glib sex based assumptions are they going to make?
      Kate Caveat

      Delete
  6. I know things have not been easy since the Senior Presider's edict on blogging, but the evidence suggests you still have more than one reader (see last line)!

    ReplyDelete
  7. While this comment might have been better placed in an earlier posting from a couple of days ago, can I be permitted to go back to virtual courts?

    I did a 'full day' virtual remand ct y'day. We got through the 8 cases listed plus a couple of extras with little problem. Except there IS a problem. Had we be doing a 'physical' list remand court, we would have got through at least 25 and maybe over 30 cases in the same time. Progress?? Hmmmmm.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whats this down to? The logistics of getting the prisoner to the room at the right time? What is the delay because I would have thought person real life is far slower than a VC would be

      Delete
    2. If you factor in saved prison officer/police officer/G4S person time and fuel and wear and tear on vehicles and carpets then that might, just, still be progress.

      Delete
  8. I think we may get a case on this scenario: on the day of trial the Crown have all their witnesses ready and raring to go. But they have totally failed to comply with the CrPR and directions about disclosure. The Court refuses an adjournment having weighed up the competing interests (getting a verdict/tolerating delay etc). Is it then legitimate for the Court to dismiss the case for want of proper prosection, or if the Crown insist on calling their witnesses, to exclude that evidence under section 78 PACE?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is up to the court ...isn't it? The prosecution can't call anyone unless the court allows it

      Delete
    2. Article 6, dear boy.

      Delete
    3. For the lay reader, male or female, that's Article 6 of the ECHR (the European Convention on Human Rights), which guarantees the right to a fair trial.
      Kate Caveat

      Delete
  9. Expect Europe to set you right when you stray.

    The entire notion of efficiency of disposal is always at odds with fairness. Any system which imposes obligation on the suspect will be more expensive, in the end, than one which operates on the basis of CONSENT of the accused.

    Instead of the pretence of the "majesty" of the law, there might be an early guilty plea and then vastly reduced penalties. This is the exemplar: traffic offences where a notice is paid else the matter goes to court.

    Government by force is always more expensive than by consent. Sad news for the rentiers among the legal profession, but the bean feast in criminal law will soon be much reduced, except as a practice ground for the young uns and "old lags" who know that the evidence is iffy.

    The Economy will soon dictate what is permissible and that will mean cheap. Too many laws passed when citizens were rich, may need to be simplified and trading offences, such as drug supply, sale of sex services etc may need to go the traffic notice route. Time was scarce when money was easily made. Now and for decades to come, time will be available and money will be scarce.

    If you object to this depiction, then perhaps you should consider dismantling the credit boom apparatus that causes such distortions in the first place?

    Or simply do as your betters wish and concentrate upon the detail!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm rather troubled. I had the distinct impression that I had understood most of Fungus's post today (and worse, actually agreed with him or her). Am I losing it, or has Fungus been struck by a period of especial lucidity?

      Delete
  10. At the end of the day..... what price law and fairness. There has to be limits the only question is where to draw them. We all know that the majority of those who get before the courts are guilty, but there are quite a few who are not and it is for those that we need to have the protections of procedure and lawyers to argue their case. They need to be properly paid too. If the state with all its money and weapons can launch a prosecution at a citizen then it seems right that that citizen should be able to defend himself. If he wins then the state should have to pay for it.
    Whilst I do not agree with rampant fees I do think that if the state was made to pay up properly, not as now reducing things to the bear minimum then it might stop some of the more pointless prosecutions we see in the courts.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Interesting this Crystal Ball !! With ref to DJ(MC)s please see my post at:

    http://obiterj.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/magistrates-courts-sharing-burden.html

    ReplyDelete

Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.