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The Justice of the Peace
THE INDEPENDENT MAGISTRACY IS A HISTORIC JOKE
The Justice of the Peace
on the 15
March 2022 at 12:52
- Posted in
"A day in the life: Magistrates reveal what it's like to work in North East courts"
. That is the headline in the current edition of "Chronicle Live"; an on line news medium in the North East of England. The Ministry of Justice is spending one million pounds over the next few months to seek out and appoint 4,000 new members to the magistracy. Of course those wise folk in Petty France are loath to concede that they are the very same folk who have been sitting around since 2010 at the very same desks whilst they looked on benignly as their political Tory bosses emasculated the magistracy by failing to appoint a thousand new JPs annually to back fill the age related rapid decline in numbers taking place in front of them. It seems that there are few news outlets not unhappy about an unexpected source of additional income.
It is old news that many (most?) criminal lawyers are not supportive of the lay magistracy. Whether they personally resent being directed in court by a non lawyer or genuinely believe the quality of justice is harmed is an exercise that hasn`t been undertaken. In all the statistics published on the functioning of magistrates courts no analysis has ever been made or attempted to separate the workings of the courts under professional district judges vis a vis JPs. I doubt that any government would dare to go down that road; whatever the result it would be dynamite for our judicial system.
And so to the mad race to appoint new magistrates. Below are some quotes from the
referred to at the beginning of this post.
She applied with very little understanding of the judiciary system but with training and experience she soon started to pick things up
"But what you're doing is deciding on the facts of a case and making the decisions. It's a lot like being a member of the jury and anyone can be called up to do that."
"Anyone can do it and they give you full training. Once I did the training I understood why you don't need any qualifications because what you're doing as a magistrate is making a decision and anyone can make a decision, you don't need a qualification for that."
"We do have legal advisors who sit with us. So if there is anything about the law that we don't understand or is particularly complicated, they can break it down for us in a way that is easy to understand."
"The whole judiciary system - the courts, the police and the prison service - aim to have no crime. You have to try and figure out how every individual would be stopped from committing another crime"
"You have to look at what the reason is that they commit crime. A lot of crimes are caused because of addiction and you can't condemn addiction, it's a medical thing. If you have people who think they are hopelessly addicted, you can help them."
"After receiving documents about the case she soon realised that she had appeared in court four years earlier for the same offence.
Anita said: "I had asked the solicitor back then if I could speak to her and I said to her 'have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately, you're a good looking woman, you've got children, what are you doing with the drugs? I said: 'It is very difficult, but you can get off them and lead a normal life like everyone else.'
"When I said that she started to cry. She had her bag with her and she was ready to go to prison again, it was like a revolving door.
"When she appeared four years later, it was the same story, she had stolen from a shop to feed a habit. When I asked the solicitor if I could speak to her again I asked her what had happened and if she remembered me.
"She said she did and when I asked her what had happened she said she'd done what I said and it wasn't easy. She said 'it was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life, but I did it'."
"But what had happened is she'd had a baby and she'd suffered postnatal depression and went back to the only thing she knew that made her feel good. We didn't send her to prison, we gave her another chance because she's proved that she could do it.
"She promised me then that she would try again and she wouldn't be back, and she hasn't been back. That's just one example of why you've got to think through the individual and see what helps them and therefore helps the community."
Throughout my 17 years on the bench many a time at training sessions or in private discussion I and my colleagues were told that we were not social workers. We did liaise with the probation service (although that facility declined in my last few years) so that all involved were aware of the level of success or otherwise of the non custodial community sentences imposed on offenders. It would be interesting to know whether or not that direction, formal or informal, is imparted to new appointees.
By government fiat in practice if not in terminology magistrates are no longer independent junior members of the judiciary as they once were. They are now corralled to do the bidding of their government overlords just as the salaried judiciary of district and crown court judges. In my very humble opinion that is a loss for the democratic functioning of this the very bedrock of justice for the vast majority of offenders. The imposition of the Single Justice Procedure in 2015 was a stark example: a system of behind closed doors secret justice dispensed to almost half a million offenders annually where even the simplest request under Freedom of Information Act is refused; "
Since its inception what is the annual number of convictions by SJP and what do those convictions represent as percentage of cases presented annually?"
It is not overnight that the justice system in a democratic country suddenly resembles that of Putin`s Russia. It is a slow salami slicing process with almost imperceptible impediments to what has gone before. To have compliant individuals on the bench whether in Hong Kong Court of Appeal or in the 160 remaining magistrates courts in awe of those in authority over them is just a short step on the road to government by decree. The so called independent magistracy is now but a historic joke.....on us the people of England and Wales.
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