Tuesday, March 31, 2009

For the man with the nice German car and the personalised number plate.

You overtook an ancient Honda, and the copper by the roadside clocked you doing over 50 when the road said 40. He handed you the fixed penalty notice.

You instructed a lawyer from a good firm and stayed home while he set to work expensively, pedantically, laboriously picking holes in the evidence. It was a shame you didn't see him work.

Your man was a magician. An artist. You would have been proud.

"This piece of paper was late" he said."The Magistrates can't consider it in evidence".

"The unknown calibrator of the laser gun scrawled their name and can't be traced" he said. "The Magistrates can't consider the certificate of calibration in evidence".

"The speed signs on the road may have been there for eight years, but no-one can point to the local govenment ordinance that makes it legally binding."

I tell you what; given enough time your man could have proved the non-existence of the road and the two towns it connects. He could even have cast doubt on our understanding of the terms "miles", "per" and "hour".

There was no way we could convict. After all, there wasn't any evidence left standing once your man sat down. Based on the say-so of a copper with a probably accurate laser gun it was more than likely that you were speeding. But "more than likely" doesn't get the job done.

Look, congratulations and all that : you have an absolute right to protest your innocence and to hire the best lawyer you can get a hold of.

You were even awarded costs - and so you didn't pay a penny.

But listen. That means that the taxpayer had to stump up for the whole exercise. Hasn't the government got better things to pay for than an expensive lawyer to protect your precious clean licence? I wonder what will need to be cancelled to make the budgets balance.

Even worse : the police officer had to attend court for half a day when he could have been out policing the county. I'm sure I'm wicked for wondering if you're the type to mouth off in the pub about there not being enough bobbies on the beat.

I just hope that you genuinely were innocent. I would hate to think that the whole expensive and frustrating performance was based on a lie.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Twitter Ye Not

Some of the cleverest, most tech-savvy people I know use Twitter.

Stephen Fry (IQ 1000) uses it.

My friend Flit (IQ 108) uses it.

Tech colossi like Rupert and Kenny use it.

Lesser mortals also use it. Lots of them. In fact the (hiss!) Daily Mail think it could replace Churchill in the primary school syllabus. Oh yes !

To me, it's an updated version of those tiresome business execs who made a show of leaving themselves messages on a portable dictaphone : "Note to Self : Must leverage my synergy." Or those Japanese tourists who spend so much time snapping thousands of photos that they hardly notice where they are and forget to actually do anything. It's like the shiny-suited young men shouting banalities into their mobile phones in public : "I'm on the train." No-one cares !!!

I prefer to blog. To spend a couple of days mulling over in my head whether something is worth the wear-and-tear on the keyboard. To spend an evening chasing down les mots justes.

And between Bloggages, I do what I need to do in the real world without stopping to update cyberspace re: the progress of my day.

Just what am I missing ?

Update : I was SO proud of the title of this post. I was therefore crestfallen to find that that over 266,000 other pages on the Internet used it before me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


So the talentless and clueless suck-up, Andrew "Bowel" Motion, has decided to give up being poet laureate.


He seems only to have got the job in the first place thanks to Tony Blair's assumption that homophobic middle England would not countenance the appointment of a better qualified lesbian, Carol Ann Duffy.

Now that he has resigned/retired, you would think that Ms Duffy would get the nod and her odds of replacing him are 11/10 on William Hill.

Worst bet in the world - she doesn't have a hope.

Simon Armitage used to be a rebel with a fine ear for language. His work has become increasingly bloated and derivative over the years. He's a heterosexual white male.

In other words, he's the perfect candidate to replace Andrew Motion.

Put your money on him at 5/2 and when he wins, treat yourself to a copy of "Rapture" by Carol Ann Duffy with the winnings.

The F-Word

Police officers have fun - they enjoy the challenge of their work and the buzz of thief-taking. They also enjoy world-class banter in the dull bits between the action.

Funeral Directors have fun - you would rapidly go off your nut otherwise with all that death and grief. Plus there's the reward of relatives comforted and a job well done. Also there's a brother/sisterhood of people in the business that you can share stories with.

Magistrates ?

I've lost count of the number of times people have used the phrase "interesting and challenging" around me. As in "I hope you are finding the work interesting and challenging".

Is there really anything wrong with this Magistrate admitting he is (gulp) Having Fun?

It's not like I'm up at the front, grinning like a loon. Or laughing out loud as I contemplate punishing yet another already-broken person. It's certainly not that I'm taking the responsibility vested in me lightly.

My public face is as responsible as I can manage. I try not to smile when a lawyer goofs, nor mutter "yeah yeah ..." when the defendant goes off on an extended holiday from the truth.

But in private, Magistrates do have fun. I've seen it.

And the work truly is "interesting and challenging".

When you are performing a worthwhile duty with fascinating co-workers and the work is both interesting and challenging, how is it possible not to enjoy yourself? Should it really be part of your job description to pretend (even in private) that you're not?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MIscellaneous Provisions

Nothing much of note happened in my most recent sitting - just a few small transport-related Naughtinesses to punish.

I was however disappointed that it was another of our courtrooms that got the rare chance to exercise our little-known power to rule on the appeal of a taxi owner against the decision of the local authority to revoke their cab licence.

Neither of my experienced colleagues had ever sat on one of those before, and both were totally ignorant of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, under which it seems we have the power to force a local authority to relicence a cabbie, even though they feel they are unsuitable. There's even the possibility of the defrocked cabbie making a further appeal to the High Court.

You've got to love the references in this Act to the older Town Police Clauses Act 1847 which introduced the very concept of licencing taxis into British law. It also gave powers to the police to impound stray cattle and appears to say that it is illegal to fly a kite in the street.

Beats me why it should fall to Magistrates to play the part of an ombudsman to the taxi industry, although I suppose it is a similar decision-process to fielding pub licence appeals. I can't quite believe that none of the governments since 1847 have jumped at the chance to set up a quango like Ofcom to deal with taxi-related matters.

I suggest calling it "Ofmeter" and yes, I'd love to chair it, at a salary of several hundred thousand, with a pension big enough to make everyone in the country hate me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Bad Tooth-Fairy

If you fall asleep with your head under the pillow, the Bad Tooth-Fairy will come and take all of your teeth.

It's the image I had in mind while a nice, but rather slight, lady dentist (dentress ?) was pulling one of my top-right molars out, practically having to stand on my chest to get enough leverage to crunch the tooth out of my jaw.

This sounds gruesome but in fact it was a high point of a shocking weekend. Two words should explain why : "dental abscess".

Well, those two words would only explain to those who have ever suffered through this kind of pain. The rest of you would struggle to understand and I hope you never find out for yourselves.

There's nowhere to run from this kind of pain - you can't meditate, you can't lie down, you can't walk around. All you do is calculate constantly :-
"What time did I last have pain-killers ? Four hours until I can take more - and I know what time it is now, so how many minutes is it before i can take the pain-killers again?"
... repeat every three minutes
Not that the pain-killers killed the pain. I took Co-codamol and Ibuprofen - which is quite sufficient even for gout, but it doesn't come close to dulling this kind of pain. According to wikipedia, Oil of Cloves "is well-documented as an effective remedy". You can try - but anyone I've mentioned it to has laughed at the very idea, and it certainly did nothing for me.

Friday night was shocking - Saturday I managed to see an emergency dentist who correctly diagnosed the problem and got me on antibiotics. At first, things seemed to be working out but Saturday night was difficult. Sunday I was a zombie - a sleep-deprived slave to the meds.

Monday I was meant to be two hundred miles away working, but Mrs Stan managed to beg me an appointment with my local dentist.

After an x-ray, the dentist explained that there was choice between a complicated-sounding root canal filling and an extraction. Easy. Take the tooth - do it now.

And when the tooth was gone there was an almost instant easing of the pain. I waited for the local anaesthetic to subside and drove to work - just like a normal person.

Two thumbs up to the NHS for providing an out-of-hours dentist - I really hope this service doesn't fall victim to spending cuts. I believe that providing succour to people who are quite literally out of their minds with pain isn't something the government should ever consider as being "optional".

One bright-side - I wasn't able to use the ticket I had bought for the Bolton vs. Fulham game on Saturday and so I didn't have to sit through another painful Bolton capitulation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Enough about me...

... Let's talk about you.

I recently installed Google Analytics on Radio Free Stan. There's a tiny itty-bitty, tweeny-weeny piece of javascript that sits quietly within the code of the page near to where it says "Google Analytics" over to the right in the margin. This records arrivals to and departures from my half-acre of cyberspace. I can also see what you click while you're here. 

I've been using Statcounter almost since I started blogging - you can see the stats from this over to the right where it says "View My Stats". Google Analytics is pretty similar, except that it has a much more complex reporting package behind it - good enough for a much bigger site whose owners actually care how many "eyeballs" view their pages. 

So, what do I know about my readers ? Well, I get 30 or 40 people dropping in every day (double that if I'm dissing the Magistrates' Association). Half of you are still using Internet Explorer, but the rest of you are pretty intelligent. 40% of you arrive from Bystander's blog, while Google has led around 10% of you here. Some of the Google searches leave me wide-mouthed in disbelief - my favourite recent one was "desinges that a thirteen year old boy could put on a bakewell tart".

I can also tell that 100% of the female readers are beautiful and that 80% the males have more charisma than you would expect from a random sample of the population. 14% of you read Radio Free Stan while sitting in your underpants. 95% of you will have an uncontrollable desire to scratch after reading this sentence. 5% of you have a grizzly bear standing behind you (made you look).

I'm joking, obviously. Radio Free Stan is a low-tech, amateurish thing - but the big-name websites have an awesome ability to track your behaviour. I've seen one of these customer behaviour systems up-close and I can tell you that among other things it's possible (from the pages the user visits) to be about 80% certain of the gender of the site visitor. I reckoned I could work out if the user was left or right-handed by the way the cursor moved across the page.  

So, what's my point ? 

Well, please never assume that your web activity is anonymous. If you think CCTV is intrusive, think of all the invisible bits of javascript around the Web, tracking everyone's behaviour.

The World Wide Web is 20 years old today. It has been a force for good and a considerable force for evil. It has allowed people to organise against political oppression, but it has also given the State more tools to more tightly control their citizens. Even after 20 years it is a jumble of contradictions and appears always to be in a state of unpredictable creative chaos. 

It's a beautiful, ugly, liberating, dangerous mess. And I love it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Musical Overload

Oh yes, do definitely sign up for a Spotify account.

For those even slower off the mark than myself, Spotify is a free and legal way to listen to music streamed to your computer. It's like being left alone in a massive record library. Or like finding Steve Jobs' iPod.

At first, it seems like every piece of music ever sung, struck, plucked or blown is available, but you soon find gaps where certain records labels have not signed up. No Beatles, for example.

They do have the current Numbers One and Two (Flo Rida "Right Round" & The Saturdays "Just Can't Get Enough") and they've got the originals from Dead or Alive and Depeche Mode that these two are based on. A while ago I was eyeing up the soundtrack album from the first series of "Teachers", which contains a fair cross-section of what I was listening to in 2001. Spotify had 9 out of 16 of these tracks. Pretty impressive, and I'm sure they'll fill in the gaps before long.

It's churlish to complain what's missing when the sheer volume of what's available is exhilarating. For example, tonight I listened to Jack Teagarden, Billy Connolly, a half-dozen different versions of the "Queen of the Night" aria from "The Magic Flute", Philip Glass and now I've got the entire works of Jacqueline Dupres lined up to calm me down for sleep.

Which is what I think I'll try to do now.

Update : just as I typed the above, the late great Ms. Dupres started playing the Bach Cello Suite #1 - which is my ringtone and so not all that restful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Love Tha Police

There's a recurring grumble on Bystander's blog that Magistrates are in some way "anti-police".

I can't speak for any of the other 30,000 of my colleagues, but this Magistrate started out with a high regard for the police, and that regard has only increased of late.

The reasons for this increased regard are best described by example.

The other week in court we had just finished our pre-match team-talk and the legal adviser asked that if we had a minute, there was a police officer waiting patiently outside to have a search warrant signed. The constable was brought in and he read an oath from a card and then proceeded to outline the story of a farmhouse in which they had good reason to believe were :-
  • (a) Industrial quantities of Class A drugs
  • (b) Dangerous dogs
  • (c) Firearms (assorted and plenty of them)
  • (d) Known dealers in (a) who were prepared to use (b) and (c)
Anyone with any imagination could imagine the likely outcomes of a police raid on such a scene and I thanked my lucky stars that it wasn't part of my job to go within a mile of that farmhouse. I was (and am) enormously grateful that there are enormously brave, highly trained professionals who know how to deal with such situations.

I'm sure in a less civilised country, the authorities would have simply called in an air-strike on the place. But here we have this pesky presumption of innocence, and the police have to content themselves with dragging (without excessive force - how ?!?) the suspects before a court ...

... which I'm sure is mighty frustrating - especially in cases where the court has doubts and acquits the villains, or comes up well short of expectations on sentencing.

All I can say is that when this happens, it really isn't the "Liberal Elite" "Political Correctness Brigade" Magistrate conspiracy in action.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Brandon Muir

I wish I could write like Ian Bell of the Glasgow Herald.

But I can't.

So here's a link to his heart-felt examination of the killing of Brandon Muir in Dundee at the age of 23 months.

Says it all really.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Glutton for Punishment

Massive respect goes out to Yvonne Powell, a Wimbledon Magistrate, who has just completed a week wearing an electronic tag to get an insight into what it's like.

I'm sure I wouldn't enjoy the experience, not least because my weekday place of work is 4 hours drive from my weekend place of residence. I don't imagine even the mildest Magistrate sanctioning a curfew order that says that I need stay within 200 miles of my home between the hours of 7pm and 6am every day.

Maybe the next step is for a Magistrate to try an Unpaid Work Requirement, where they would have to spend a large amount of their spare time on tasks benefiting the community.

But we already do that - and we don't get those rather fetching luminous vests either.

In fact, what we do has many features that would seem to many like punishments.
  • We spend our time locked in badly-maintained buildings.
  • With lawyers.
  • We can't wear comfortable clothing.
Must be the unconditional love and respect of the public promise of a laminated certificate for twenty years service that keeps us coming back. Or maybe just the biscuits.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Confident Prediction

There's a young guy called Nima Nourizadeh who has directed some of the best music videos of the last few years (Jamie T : "Salvador", Hot Chip : "Over and Over", Lily Allen : "Oh my God").

Most recently he won a barrel of awards for directing the Adidas "House Party" commercial

This latter piece is the most assured piece of short filmmaking I've seen for some time. He has an awesome visual sense and enormous flair. He even makes you forget that all these stars have come to a party to celebrate their originality by wearing the same brand of sports shoe. The choice of music is similarly inspired - a subtly re-mixed version of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons that Quentin Tarantino must be kicking himself for missing out on.

Which brings me to my confident prediction : one day, real soon, a major film studio will push a wheelbarrow-load of money this guy's way and he will make the best feature film of the second decade of the 21st Century.

You read it here first.


"Hello. Stan speaking."

"Yes, hello Stan. This is ...er ... never mind who this is. I represent a faction within the government of a Northern European country and we are setting up a 'Court of Public Opinion'.
Are you in ?"

"You mean a Court of Public Opinion like Harriet Harmon talked about yesterday ?"

"Yes, exactly so. Fancy it ?"

"How do you mean 'fancy it' ?"

"I mean drop your role in the silly old-fashioned criminal justice system and come be a judge in the Court of Public Opinion."

"I don't know what to say - I always thought The Court of Public Opinion was a figure of speech."

"No, no. We're totally serious. The idea is that should the government be unable to get the answer they want from the criminal justice system, they would be able to appeal to the CoPOp so that Justice could be done."

"Are you sure justice would be done ? It looks to me as though public opinion is pretty much ignored by any government unless it supports government policy. This is all about the Fred Goodwin pension scandal isn't it ?"

"Er .. among other things."

"Well, I'm sure Public Opinion is all in favour of him being tarred and feathered, but Public Opinion is also very much against throwing trillions of their money at the banks. And having troops in Iraq. Would the CoPOp be allowed to have those policies set aside?"

"Well ... in the fullness of time ... on a going forward basis ... taking each case on its own merits..."

"Don't bother. So who have you got so far as judges in the court of Public Opinion ?"

"Sharon Osborne. Torville and Dean. Len Goodman. Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber. But that's beside the point - we first need to reassure ourselves that you have the right stuff for the court. If you were a judge on the Court of Public Opinion, what would you say about the Fred Goodwin case ?"

"Well I'd say that it's dangerous to choose what laws we obey and what contracts we honour. I'd say a big mistake was made here which must never be allowed to be made again, but fundamentally, even though I hope it chokes him, he gets to keep his money.

... Hello .... Hello ?!"

[[dial tone]]

Sunday, March 01, 2009

So, you want to be a Magistrate - Part II

The witness/victim is the landlady of a pub that is the source of a fair percentage of the court's workload. She is slight and middle-aged, but with a formidable strength of character.

The wooden top of the witness box is at just the right height to resemble a bar, and she leans over into the court, very much at ease, as if she were holding forth at her pub.

She tells the story of a closing-time scuffle, and her account rings true and she easily and good humouredly deals with the defence solicitor's attempts to attack her and her story. I can clearly see why her pub is so popular.

This defence solicitor then has the unenviable task of convincing us that this woman, for no good reason, decided to insult and assault a bunch of well-known psychos in her pub.

It is of course possible that this happened, but we found enough evidence to be sure "beyond reasonable doubt" that she did nothing of the kind. We dealt out some punishment to the psycho-in-chief and it felt good to be part of a process that protected a local businesswoman and punished a local thug.

It's that feeling that makes it all worthwhile for me. If you believe that justice should be done and you care about your community, sign-up to become a Magistrate here.

But make sure you read Part I of this tale. Both events happened to me on the same day. It's not always rewarding, but it's not always depressing either.

If you are thinking of applying, you need to know that this job has extremes and you have to be prepared to take it all.

Or as Judge Turner said in the much-quoted Shippey case :

"You can't pick out the Plums and leave the Duff behind."