Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why I'm Not Joining The Magistrates' Association

The Magistrates' Association is the nearest thing Magistrates have to a Trade Union, and you would think that an old leftie like myself would be at home there.


I like the idea of workers banding together to get a square deal; it's just that I object to paying the dues if they are quite so embarrassingly bad at their job.

The picture I've uploaded comes from the flyer they send out to new Magistrates. Take a look and allow your mind to boggle. The picture seems to scream to you : " We have black people ! And women ! And some of us are young enough to have full bladder control ! Join Us !"

Inside the booklet are six reasons why you should join, which I will copy verbatim, rather than attempt to tidy their horrible syntax :-

(1) Do you want to be represented by a high-profile influential organisation and belong to an organisation that protects judicial independence ?

Well yes, that would be nice. It's a shame the Magistrates' Association isn't remotely that. Anyone who listened to a train-wreck of an interview on Radio 4's Today programme last week would have to agree.

The Deputy Something-or-Other of the Magistrates' Association was being interviewed by John Humphries, and he was making the point that even though cannabis was now a Class B drug, legally it wasn't being dealt with in the same way as the other Class B drugs.

Mr. Humphries : "I don't actually know what the other Class B drugs are - could you give me an example?"

Deputy Thingy umm'ed and ah'ed and then confessed that he didn't have a clue. At this point the only acceptable thing to say is "I'll get my coat ...".

However, he decided to make a funny and said that he wasn't a big Class B drug user.

Call me picky, but if I'm paying to be represented, I'd like the representative to be more knowledgeable, better briefed and more media-savvy than I am.

Incidentally, the drug he was looking for was "Speed" and he is a Dope.


There are other reasons quoted but I kept nodding off when I started typing them, and I wouldn't want to inflict the waffle on my readership. Hidden deep down beneath the turgid prose there are definitely justifications that can be made for a Magistrates' Trade Union :-
  • We are vulnerable to political interference without the ability to defend ourselves.
  • We deal with difficult issues and may need help at some stage in our careers.
  • We have a shockingly poor image among the shockingly small percentage of people who even know what we do.
If they had said that, then maybe I'd be interested. But the problem is that I don't think the Magistrates' Association are up to it.

And anyway, I already have this blog if I want to get my message out.

And if I want my voice to be heard in parliament, I'll bribe a member of the House of Lords like anyone else.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Usually I've got one big issue in mind and blogging is a peace of pish.

Other times I've got nothing to say, and untypically for a blogger, I say nothing.

Today however I've got a head full of everything and nothing. Pardon me while I dump it all out - hopefully it'll mean I'll have room for something more substantial in the near future.

(1) Mrs. S and I have been watching all four series of "Teachers" on 4oD and it's a little depressing to watch the standards slip, the humour become less nuanced, the characters tend towards one-word stereotypes. Series 1 and 2 are excellent - Series 3 is good - Series 4 is of barely merchantable quality - there was no Series 5, and quite right too.

I thought that "Shameless" was following the same shark-jumping arc, but the first episode of series 6 (shown on Channel 4 this week) shows that there's life in the old format yet. I really shouldn't have been surprised - Paul Abbott is a warped genius and there's transparently something personal going on here - he doesn't disguise his attachment to the people of the Chatsworth Estate.

(2) In the car I've been listening a lot to PJ Harvey's "Songs of the City". Well mostly I've been obsessive/compulsively listening to track 7 "The Mess We're In" which is a duet with Thom Yorke from Radiohead which works so well that you think - "Yes ! That's what would make Radiohead even better - a Woman!" I love the way they don't sing lines one after another, but they overlap - singing the same lyrics; sometimes she's half a line behind, sometimes she's three lines ahead. But always Thom Yorke's freakish male treble soars high above Polly Jean's sultry yet feminine alto. Stunning.

I've also been listening to Alanis Morisette's album "Jagged Little Pill", but mostly track 2 "You Oughta Know". It's a vitriolic rant, spat out by a mad woman in the direction of her ex and his new woman. It's a song I've known for a number of years, which is why it was in my head when I was watching a scary lady in court try to get her ex done for domestic violence. I've been doing the Magistration for less than a month, but still I've seen enough messed-over sick relationships to last a lifetime. The other day I thought that the ending of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" wasn't all that bad - two neat and tidy suicides are nothing compared to the hell that some couples build for themselves.

(3) Ever want cheering up ? Ask a Scouser to say the word "Curfew" and then try to write it down. The best I can do is "QKher-pheww"

(4) Stanetta sent me the following text last night - any advice ? "A little word of wisdom 4 ya! Puddles are blue ponies in disguise - that is why you never see blue ponies!"

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hey for Houghmagandie

Some of my best friends are Scottish. My Mum & Dad for starters.

I guess this makes me a Scot, but that's not something I think at all about for 11 months of the year.

However, Sunday is Burns' Night and Clan Stan, although very busy at the moment, usually get together to celebrate poetry and Scottishness and this remarkable farmer's son who fitted so much loving and living into his 37 years that it's a miracle he had the time or the energy to hold a pen.

I've just recently read his "Merry Muses of Caledonia" which is a book of poems full of rampant macho shagging whose existence was denied for over a century after his death by people who wanted him to be some sort of poet-saint. Given that he produced an absolute minimum of 13 kids with 5 different mothers, I'd say a collection of ribald limericks was neither here nor there.

I love trying to pick my way through the strange language in which Burns wrote. Some remarkably beautiful words that fully deserve to replace the pedestrian Standard English equivalents.

Take my current favourite "Houghmagandie" for example, which I would attempt to pronounce as Hochhh-ma-Gandhi. This is by far a better word than the po-faced "fornication" e.g :

There's some are fou o' love divine,
There's some are fou o' brandy;
An' monie jobs that day begin,
May end in Houghmagandie

It's a gift to poets - a beautiful word about an immortal subject which rhymes with brandy and randy, Sandy and Mandy, and even candy and Andy Pandy.

I shall use it often.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not Funny

I've got a lousy poker face. It was one of my (many) fears that I'd be unable to hide my disbelief if (as is traditional) the Defence lawyer was to claim that they had been told that the accused had recently been offered a job starting Monday.

I think I hid my cynicism pretty well, and in fact it was the Prosecution that came closest to making me inappropriately crack-up laughing.

It was a case where the accused had committed an offence and then, drunk and wildly emotional, had resisted arrest while unleashing a tsunami of abuse at the PC whose job it was to subdue him.

The prosecutor was a properly posh young man with a suit that probably cost more than my car. His accent was cultured and the way he delivered the swear words had me biting my lip. I have bleeped some of it because this is after all a family blog:-
"You {obscene gerund] [female genital] !
Come on you [male genital] !
You and me; man to man; I'll beat the living [obscene gerund] [excrement] out of you, you [female genital]"
And so on. At some length.

Obviously this is serious : you don't resist arrest and you don't verbally or otherwise assault a policeman in the pursuit of their duty - so it shouldn't be remotely funny, and we sentenced accordingly.

It was just the way the lawyer said it; like he was reading a weather report - with a flat intonation, in a Radio 4 voice.

Mrs Stan will testify that I can become doubled-over, unable to speak, incapacitated if something really tickles my funny bone.

If this ever happens in court, I intend to fake a heart attack.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The First Time

My first sitting as a Magistrate was sometime last week. I don't apologise for the delay in blogging it, because a knee-jerk “twitter”-style response the minute I had left the building would have been less than satisfactory. I'd also like not to be too specific about what day it was to protect the innocent and guilty alike.

In fact, if I had commented immediately, it's likely that it wouldn't have made an ounce of sense – just ask Mrs Stan who had to sit through an hour or so of my giddy ramblings that afternoon before I calmed down.

I was nervous beforehand. You could tell from the way I forgot to take my car keys out of the ignition before I walked with dignity through the Magistrates-only door and had to come running back out with absolutely no dignity at all before the car doors self-locked and left me stranded in the carpark.

My mentor was there early so that we could chat before the chairman arrived. Nothing I hadn't heard before, but it was reassuring to be reminded of what we were going to do. I had also observed four sessions from the other side of the bench and had received three days of training. All I physically had to do was sit, look involved and not let the door slam on the chairman on the way to the retiring room. Mentally, of course, it was rather more complicated than that.

Based on absolutely no evidence, I had assumed that it would be a few months, even years before anything I did or said would make a big difference. I was certain that the other two more experienced hands would be in almost total agreement and my role as newbie would be to round-up or round-down the sentence.

This unsafe assumption survived until our second case of the day.

The accused had allegedly done some violent and objectionable things to his girlfriend – way too violent and objectionable to be handled by mere Magistrates, and so his case was passing through on its way to the Crown Court. The question at hand was whether he'd spend the next two months waiting at his mum's place in the next county with lots of banning orders and curfews or whether he'd be a guest at one of Her Majesty's overcrowded and expensive remand prisons.

My mentor voted for the non-custodial remand and I nearly choked on my bourbon biscuit, because it seemed as clear as could be from the accused's “previous” that there was no way he could be trusted to comply. The chairman disagreed also, and when it came to it, the accused didn't seem at all surprised when he was led back to the prison van he had arrived in that morning.

We all disagreed on very little for the rest of the morning and justice was dispensed efficiently. I felt myself relax and even lean back a little in the chair. Just how far forward had I been leaning at the start? I dread to think.

There was a real mix of caseload – a couple of administrative motoring issues, but also one case we ruled to be so serious that it should go to the Crown Court. That defendant got unconditional bail : just to prove that I haven't become a “Daily Mail”-reading “bang 'em up” enthusiast overnight.

We ran out of baddies at lunchtime and so I had time for a decent post-match analysis with my mentor, who bore no ill-will at all about my disagreement with him on the remand case. He even fixed it for me to get a quick tour of the cells before I met up with Mrs Stan to talk absolute nonsense and eat too much. Although some would say that is pretty typical behaviour for me.

So : what did I make of my first session.

In a word “overwhelming”. The questions you are faced with are impossible and your capacity for messing up people's lives is frightening. For example, if you ban a HGV driver from driving, they lose their job and sometimes their house, their family and often their mental health. However, if you don't ban them, next time they might go on to kill someone when they take liberties.

Equally, as in our remand case, you need to balance the protection of the public with the rights of the individual. This is a difficult and deep enough subject for a PhD dissertation, but as a Magistrate you get a few minutes to come to a decision.

But it's the very fact that it's difficult that attracts me. Think you've got a brain because you do cryptic crosswords and Sudoku in your head ? Ha! Try some real problems and then I'll listen to you.

But that's just a side-issue. Barrack Obama is today taking on the biggest set of problems anyone in history has ever faced. Anyone think he's doing it for the intellectual challenge? No, he's doing it because he cares, because he feels capable and because he'd never forgive himself if he just left it to “someone else”.

But I'm no Barrack Obama – for starters, do you think he'll be so nervous he forgets his car keys on his first day on the job ?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First Day Nerves

It's my very first sitting as a Magistrate in the next few days.

I have two wishes regarding the cases I get first time:-

(a) Please not "Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving arising from
momentary inattention with no aggravating factors".
Somebody died and everyone is hurting and the sentencing guidelines say a Community Penalty of some sort is appropriate. This traditionally pleases no-one.
(b) Please not a celebrity.
According to newspaper reports, police are considering bringing charges against a big name who may have done something foolish less than a mile from my house. Hopefully his first appearance won't be in front of this newbie who has enough on his mind without smiling for the paparazzi.
I'm not saying I never want to be involved with either of these situations sooner or later. I'd just rather it was later.

I'm an atheist, so prayer is out, but I will have fingers crossed and a goat may be sacrificed.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

An Apology

In my last blog posting I implied that everyone in Reading was either a criminal drug-addict or a shiny-suited waste of oxygen who did a job no-one would miss.

I have since learned that many of the inhabitants actually have many humanoid characteristics, although they do drive like spoiled children and haven't yet realised that the horn is not a replacement for the brakes.

Hope that clears things up.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Reading Problems

Reading is a toilet (the town in Berkshire, not the visual intake of words).

Oscar Wilde was jailed there, my favourite reality cop-show is filmed on its mean streets and in 2007 Reader's Digest readers voted it the worst town in Britain in which to raise a family. Apparently because drugs, crime, surreal property prices and pollution don't make for happy children (who knew ?!)

It was a toilet even in Thomas Hardy's day - his Aldbrickham in "Jude the Obscure" is a thinly disguised version of the unloveable old brick town that preceded the current concrete monstrosity.

It's the people too. Away from the higher than average number of addicts and criminals in the centre, the suburbs are carpeted with identikit semi-detached executive homes full of people who do those worthless jobs that surely no-one would really miss should the current financial apocalypse sweep them all away. Market Researchers. Mobile telephone engineers. Programme managers. Contract lawyers. And hundreds of thousands of Estate Agents.

I almost forgot that the University of Reading once turned me down for a University place, but there are plenty enough reasons to dislike the place without dredging up the past.

So why am I spending most of the next month in a motel in Reading's M4 services? In other words, why have I chosen to live a low-rent hole on the outskirts of a toilet. Where did my life go wrong ?

I blame the Credit Crunch. Travelodge had an online sale and I couldn't resist sorting out my accomodation needs for the entire month of January at £12 a night. And my accomodation needs aren't particularly demanding - a bed, a bathroom and a place outside to park my car.

Thanks to my mobile broandband dongle I've also got fast internet access and I've been passing the time watching "Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe" on BBC IPlayer.

Charlie Brooker was born in Reading, so maybe the place isn't a total write-off. His comedy is angry and hellish clever. Very, very rude too. If you like your comedy to come with a bit of pain and a whole bunch of other emotions then it's well worth seeking out "Nathan Barley" or his recent reality-show zombie comedy "Dead Set".

"Screen Wipe" is a simple idea but it's so well executed. Charlie Brooker, a remote control and a seeming unstoppable wave of spleen and humour. One quick example where he claims that Alexandra Burke's cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah has ruined it forever as a song now "destined to be played at thick people's funerals".

I refuse to analyse the show further. It's on BBC4 and online. Watch it.

And stay the heck out of Reading unless you're a masochist on a budget.