Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out of Court

From "The Guardian"


Magistrates object to on-the-spot driving fines plan

Concern that fixed-penalty fines will make police 'jury and sentencer'


This is the Magistrate Association objecting to a plan to allow police to deal with minor careless driving offences with an on-the-spot fine and three points on the licence.

As I've mentioned before, a lot of the Magistrates Association's output makes me cringe. This is no exception.

If being "jury and sentencer" is a crime, then all magistrates are guilty. We establish guilt and we hand down the sentence and no-one seriously thinks that's an issue when we do it.

And anyway, the police aren't sentencing - they are handing out a fixed penalty notice that the recipient can refuse to accept if they wish to have their day in court.

Personally, I can't see what's wrong with the plan. Traffic offences (with a guilty plea) at the lower end are in any case a question of doing the sums from the guidelines, multiplying by the offender's fictional wage from the means form and swiping the offender's plastic.

I really can't put my finger on what value a court case would add.

And I can definitely see the costs.

This plan would :-

* Speed up the application of justice

* Cut financial costs

* Take pressure off the overloaded CPS

* Avoid dragging police off duty to attend court

I'm a Magistrate because I care about the criminal justice system. If I need to lose some of my "turf" to make it better, then I'm not going to whine.

The way I see it, we should be working with the police rather than seeing them as Competition and guarding our powers out of blind jealousy.


2nd Violinist said...

"The way I see it, we should be working with the police rather than seeing them as Competition and guarding our powers out of blind jealousy."

I think as a "new" Magistrate you may have misunderstood the MA's motivation.

I do not think it is a Magistrate's duty to "work with the police" nor defence solicitors or anyone else really. I do not think the MA are being shop stewards pettily trying to keep business for their own courts.

I believe that with fixed penalties for disorder and for other driving matters what I have seen is trivial offences, best dealt with by "words of advice" attracting fines and more serious offending dealt with by an £80 fine which does not in any way appear a just punishment.

Both these outcomes bring the criminal justice system in to disrepute. I think this is what the MA was trying to address and I agree with them.

Stan said...

Judging by the press coverage, I'm not the only one to misconstrue the MA's motivation.

I agree there is a point to be made here - I just wish the MA had adopted something like your wording, Mr Violinist, instead of the "petty shop-steward" version that went out.

Might not have attracted the same amount of publicity though, but personally I'd rather be right than famous.

Bystander said...

I'm with Second Fiddle. We have no business working with the police - we are referees and not players. Due Care carries 3 to 9 points for a reason, and that is so that a proper court can assess the offence and decide on the proper punishment. That's no job for a copper at the roadside.