Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Code

Thanks to Crime Line for pointing us to the new Code for Crown Prosecutors. It's important to be able to understand the CPS' reasoning processes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sleeping Giant Stirs

I was surprised and delighted to read in Sunday's Sunday Times that Magistrates' Association chairman John Fassenfeld was extensively quoted in an article about out-of-court disposals, and now today I saw him interviewed on BBC London News, where he made a decent fist of it.

I wonder if this badly-needed  raising of the MA's profile has anything to do with Chris Brace, the new Chief Executive. I have met Chris, and his skills are a mile ahead of the sclerotic old guard that used to run the MA.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What a Nose

This article is about a Colombian dog  that is said to have helped to find 392 kg of cocaine last year. At the accepted London street value, that's worth about fifteen and a half million quid. I hope she got a nice bone.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Supply and Demand

The BBC reports that a recent recruitment initiative by a police force was flooded with enquiries, and has had to be closed. Police recruitment has slowed to a trickle across the country in recent times, and in many cases service as a Special Constable or PCSO is a prerequisite before you can even apply.
The proposed cut in starting pay doesn't seem to have deterred applicants and I suspect that I know why.
The police service is seen by many people as a secure pensionable job (and the same applies to the equally oversubscribed fire service) with decent opportunities for promotion for those who want it. In times such as these many people see these features as being very attractive, even post-cutbacks, hence the flood of applicants. Police fire and prison jobs will all be attractive to the many soon-to-be redundant military personnel, among whom many of the required skills are already present.
The police will need to keep recruiting in the medium term to avoid the service becoming unbalanced  (come to think of it the same applies to magistrates).
Gadget has just posted about an officer who has had enough and is leaving the Job. That is personally sad for the man concerned, but in the new brutal triple-dip world the politicians will shrug, and think "If they knows of a better hole, let them go to it". Brutal yes, fair, no, but that's the world we live in. 
Public service pay and conditions won't be getting better any time soon.

Supreme Indifference

In a welcome development, the Supreme Court has taken to publishing judgments on You Tube. There is an example here.

Unfortunately the numbers of views for the clips appear to be small or zero, at the moment. That means that this blog, with 1000 to 1500 views a day has a bigger readership than the Supreme Court. That's fun, isn't it?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Contempt Again

A recent comment or two have mentioned the contempt of court issue. I dealt with it here and I have little to add other than to say that the cutback in court staff often means that we have no way of dealing with disorder other than to retreat with all the dignity we can muster. A deliberate attempt to disrupt the court and interfere with justice calls for a prison sentence. Otherwise, it's best not to get too involved.

Crime Figures Again

The press is once again trying to make some sense of the latest crime figures. I have frequently touched upon the figures and what we should make of them. I stand by my view that the figures are driven by so many variables that they are next to useless. The British Crime Survey is about the best we have, and even that isn't too much help. Now that police priorities are being radically changed and activity limited by cash constraints, we just don't know what is going on. The overwhelming majority of crimes are never reported, and a significant proportion of those that are never reach the courts. Sorry not to have a quick answer, but ther isn't one, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unsteady Eddie

Today's paper suggests that the Stobart Group has had difficulties leading to a rearrangement of the management team. If this is true, the venture into legal services looks like a classic case of taking your eye off the ball. I don't dabble in shares, but if I did, the barrister wheeze would have been a cue to sell.

Friday, January 18, 2013


As I sit in my study fat snowflakes are lazily falling past my window, and the radio gives regular warnings of horrible traffic conditions. By good fortune, I cancelled a scheduled sitting for today, so I have no need to venture out. By even better fortune, I was due to sit at the least accessible of the three courthouses in my Local Justice Area. When benches covering three London boroughs were merged the then Senior Presiding Judge ruled that all justices were expected to sit at any courthouse in their LJA. Unfortunately there was no caveat such as:"if needed" so we have ended up with a situation where magistrates from the former bench A are sent to courthouse B, and so on. This has greatly increased travel expenses and proved highly inconvenient for many. The official travel time on public transport from the north of the LJA to the southernmost court is two hours each way. It is unreasonable to add four hours to a sitting day (and, incidentally, add to the bill for subsistence).
So here I sit, thinking about preparing a light lunch for Mrs. B and myself, and contemplating the pulling of a cork.
Life could be worse, but I feel very sorry for the poor devils stuck in a remote court wondering how they will get home tonight.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Straw In The Wind

This offer from the Stobart group, best known for big green trucks, is fascinating. The bloke in the picture on the site is not wearing a tie (a practice that I deplore, by the way) which is an odd contrast to the fact that Stobart's rise to prominence was helped by the fact that their drivers always wore ties, unlike your stereotypical Eighties trucker. I hope that the Stobarristers wear ties in court, too.

"Your Worships" says the EddyBrief on a dull Monday at Hendon Mags'. "I am about to conclude my client's defence. I hope that I have articulated his case to your satisfaction, and I hope that you appreciate the way that I introduced my submissions with a trailer. The Crown has to carry a heavy load of proof in this case, and I suggest that this  has proved to be beyond M'learned Friend's plated limits. You properly applied the brakes upon some of the Crown's improbable assertions, leaving their legal traction unable to cope.
You will, I hope, notice, that I am properly dressed for court reflecting the Stobart doctrine of Always in The Right Gear."

The Head of Chambers  at  3-4 Claret Lane said: " Suit yourself sonny.  Since we have a huge surplus of young, bright, called-to-the-bar but unemployed wannabe barristers, who haven't an earthly of getting a pupillage, we are about to set up Wiggytrux Plc in competition to Stobart. It's all going our way; young and posh drivers, smart new trucks, and by the way, ours are earning about  half from the law what you pay your greasy-spoon-addicted lardasses, so we are going to drive you to the wall; and don't even think about suing us, because we already have that angle covered".

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. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


One of the new Police and Crime Commissioners has come out with an ill-thought-out and downright stupid idea to charge (unconvicted) 'suspects' for  their stay in the cells, plus, for all I know a fee for the use of handcuffs.

This suggests that he doesn't have a clue about the proper relationship between the police and the courts, and is pretty hazy about the idea that people are innocent until proved guilty.

I do hope that this idiot is not typical of the new Commissioners, or I may find myself forced to agree with Gadget.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Bad Ideas That will Not See Out The Year (2)

Virtual Courts

This is the whizzy new scheme that allows someone detained in a police station to be sat in front of a video setup, and talk to a magistrate (or more likely a DJ) who is in a 'virtual court'. Thus a judicial decision can be made about bail and suchlike. The defence lawyer might be in the police station, or in the virtual courtroom, or, for all I know, anywhere with a video link.

In Favour:

Could be cheaper (But the jury is still out on that one as the pilots haven't been costed)

Could save police time (but see parenthesis above)


Communication between lawyer and client will be stilted and degraded by the video eqipment.

Judge or magistrate will not have the usual human clues to help assess and understand the defendant.

The quality and format of the video and sound equipment has been shown to affect the credibility of the defendant.

Upfront cost of the kit.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Seriously Stupid

As stupid offenders go, this one deserves some sort of prize.

It's almost a shame to lock him up, but one must encourager les autres, mustn't one?

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Time For A Laugh

We haven't had much to laugh about recently, so  I was delighted to find out that a live show of  the NT's The Magistrate by Pinero is on at my local cinema on the 17th of January.

It's a farce, but unlike some of the stuff we have to put up with, it's meant to be.

I'll be there.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Bad Ideas That will Not See Out The Year (1)

Flexible court hours

In favour: 

i) Better usage of expensive buildings, allowing a few more to be sold off.
ii) More convenient times for working witnesses to attend court.

er - that's about it.


i) The main limit on court sittings is the availability and cost of legal advisers. They work a prescribed number of hours (although in practice most do a good deal more). So if they sit all day at the weekend (and I imagine that existing union agreements provide for premium rates) so logic dictates that they will have to take time off during the week - when the courts will be staffed by whom?
ii) The legal profession is digging in its heels about being asked to work weekends for no extra money.
iii) Prisons are not staffed or structured for large numbers of weekend receptions or releases.
iv) Police stations are lightly staffed overnight and cannot cope with processing prisoners for court. Even if they try, i) above will apply.
v) Contractors who deal with security and prisoner transport at courts will need premium rates to be paid.
vi) Magistrates and District Judges can only be buggered about so far.

These are just a selection of the problems. I will write about some more when I have time.