After a very technical session on dealing with fine defaulters, we spent most of Day 3 role-playing some fairly realistic cases.
It's going to sound strange but it surprised me how little my colleagues resembled rookie magistrates during the roleplay. It was always a fear of mine that when I walked into court it would be obvious to all that I was a newbie. You forget that there are no training wheels and there are no "L" plates, so there's really no visible way to tell just how experienced a given panel of magistrates are. It's possible that a sixty-something is just starting out, while a forty-something might have been doing the job for twenty years.
The least experienced magistrate of the three (I'm told) tends to be given responsibility for looking up the "book" value of any offences in the Sentencing Guidelines. And there's no way someone can screw up something that simple, right ?
I took my turn role-playing the chairman as we tried a low-level Ecstasy dealer (actually a fellow magistrate in his early sixties trying to play-act a sullen teenager). Now, "E" is a Class A drug and dealing it is a serious no-no. In fact, in all but the mildest cases it's too heavy a crime to be dealt with in the Magistrates Court and all we can do is to tee it up for the Crown Court.
M'colleague entrusted with the guidelines however had drifted off, hadn't listened properly to the charge and was under the impression that Ecstasy was a Class C drug. Thus we spent quite a while considering exactly the wrong scale of sentences and almost needed to be rescued by the legal adviser. Very embarrassing for all, because there's an enormous difference. Dealing Class A can attract a serious jail sentence (up to Life) while dealing Class B/C is most likely to be dealt with through a community order.
You can be sure that we've all learned a powerful lesson from this, and from now on we're all going to pay close attention to the charge and will triple-check that we've got the right page.
Drug trivia : If you and mates are sitting around and sharing a joint, when your mate on the right passes-de-dutchie-to-da-left-hand-side, he is guilty of supplying drugs to you. Equally, when you pass it on, you are supplying too. The technical term is "Sharing minimal quantity between equals on a non-commercial basis", but it's a step up in charge from "possession for personal use".
Violence trivia : A head-butt can be considered to be "assault with a weapon" and you're in a lot more trouble than if you had thrown a punch. Kicking too, if you're wearing shoes of any kind - even trainers.
Right, core training over. Now all I need to do is to somehow fit in three court observations and to attend the swearing-in ceremony.