Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Every Night You Cry

The Barnardo's report "Every Night You Cry" is difficult reading, especially for Magistrates. It contains some really heart-wrenching stories from the children of prisoners, showing how locking up their parents affects them.

The part where I stopped being quite so supportive is where they propose the following:-

" measures put in place for courts to have information on the impact on the children of a defendant of any sentence they may make"

To me this pushes the blame for the suffering of children onto the nasty Magistrates, when the blame properly belongs with the criminal parents, who should have thought about the effect on their families before doing the crime.

I've put a total of three people in prison in the course of my year so far, and in all of these cases the person had numerous warnings and last chances but still persisted in offending to the point where custody became inevitable. Should I really have thought "Hmmm - this one's got kids - she gets a curfew. But that one hasn't - he goes down" ?

Bad people should go to prison when they do bad enough things.

That's not something that should be changed - but I do hope that the State and charities like Barnardo's work out a way to cushion the blow for the kids.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Joke ?

"Say what you like about servicemen amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're going to have a f***ing good paralympic team in 2012."
I was going to have a bash at commenting on Jimmy Carr's recent attempt to squeeze humour from the plight of limbless squaddies, but the guys 'n' gals at ARRSE (the Army Rumour Service) have more right to comment and they do it much better than I ever could. Follow their link here.

Oh, what the heck, I'm a blogger, so I have a licence to rant about stuff I don't fully understand:-

The only problem I have with the joke is that it's lazy. It's very obvious and not particularly incisive - Oscar Wilde it aint.

The comment on ARRSE that he probably got it from a squaddie at Selly Oak hospital is probably not far from the truth. In fact he was probably told much worse while he was there - far too near-the-knuckle for public consumption. For example, there's a squaddie on ARRSE who adds the line "Can you imagine the scene when the starting gun goes off?". Now that would have dug him a properly deep hole.

You see, people who work in dark places have dark humour, and that humour no longer works when an outsider lifts that humour from its proper context and plonks it down into a happy Manchester Apollo.

If a wounded soldier had told the joke, it would have been a killer - it would have been their show of defiance and courage. But when a millionaire comedian squeezes it in between the knob-gags, then no wonder the joke falls flat.

And anyway, today a soldier from the Black Watch died from his wounds six weeks after being blown to pieces in Kandahar. As far as I know Jimmy Carr didn't send him out there and Jimmy Carr didn't plant an improvised explosive device by the roadside. So why is it that people seem to be more cross with Jimmy Carr than with the whole range of people more deserving of our rage?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

To BNP or to not BNP - that is the Question Time

Yes, let's allow the potato-faced fascist onto Question Time.

But, let's choose the rest of the panel carefully :-

(1) Al Murray's "Pub Landlord" character ("Where would we be if we had no rules? France! And if we had too many? Germany!")
(2) Ali G ("... is it cos I is black ?")
(3) Sam Kelly's character Captain Hans Geering from "'Allo ' Allo" ("Heil Hitler ! .... Clop !")

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

HIghs and Lows

You get to see the best and the worst of human behaviour as a Magistrate.

Take today for example.

"The best" was an experienced Magistrate who glossed over his high-flying career, his charity work and his twenty years on the bench. What he really wanted to talk about was his severely disabled foster-child who is about to start semi-independent living after years of struggling against multiple disabilities and bone-headed bureaucracy. He was so proud of her, and wouldn't hear of it that he and his wife had done something phenomenal to get her to this stage.

"It's just what you do", he said.

Then we left the retiring room and we met his polar opposite.

Slack-jawed and slouching, she had never held down a job in her forty-something years. She had, however, seemingly made a career of accumulating just about every variety of fine, from TV licence evasion via drunk and disorderly to a mediumly-shocking driving offence which also required that she pay compensation to her victim. There were probably a few overdue library books too.

She had been allowed to pay off her dues at £10 per week and in the last eight years she had paid a massive total of £20 out of £2,000. When she was pursued by the Fines Office, she had dropped off the radar and moved house and binned her mobile. She probably thought that that was that, but eventually she was picked up by police on another matter, all these outstanding warrants against her came to light, and she was bundled unwillingly into our courtroom.

You and I, if we were ever in the situation of being unable to pay a fine would have made contact with the court, told them what was happening and would have tried to negotiate some alternative. We would certainly have given up drinking, smoking, partying until we were quits. And the Fines Office and the Courts do fall over themselves to be flexible in cases of genuine hardship and where honest attempts are being made to discharge the debt.

However, going on the run while sticking your fingers in your ears singing la-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you is a completely different matter. In my pre-magistrate days, I was convinced that short prison sentences were useless and that only violent offenders should go into custody. But you tell me what else you're supposed to do with someone unsuitable for a community sentence who has persistently defaulted on fines. Fine them again ?? Yeah, right.

She was led away, crying exaggerated tears of self-pity. In my previous life this would have affected me, but not now. My overwhelming emotion in her case was of relief that an eight-year overdue debt to society had finally been settled.

Like I say, it was an eye-opener for me to see such a contrast. To be reminded one minute that there are still heights of humanity to which I can aspire and then to see how far it is possible for someone to fall.

P.S Please note that I do try to avoid the above analysis when it comes to sentencing. The oath I took was to deal with everyone in a consistent manner, "without fear or favour, affection or ill-will." So, everyone gets the same treatment, regardless of my (imperfect) judgement of a particular individual's moral fibre.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who is Jan Moir and How Can I Persuade Her to Give Up Writing?

Thanks to the brilliantly unreliable Charlie Brooker for setting my blood thermostat to "boil" this morning.

He pointed me to a barely literate hack on the Daily GuessWho called Jan Moir, who wrote a particularly hateful article this morning about the death of Stephen Gately that was barely worthy of a BNP blog entry, never mind a national newspaper.

If you were to follow Charlie Brooker's advice and complain on the Press Complaints Commission website, you'd see

(a) that the site is running extremely slowly due to the sheer weight of outrage
(b) they've had to set up a separate section specifically to handle complaints about Jan Moir

If you check out the article on the Mail's online service, you'll see that it's currently running without adverts, because Marks and Spencer have asked that their advert be removed - it seems unsubstantiated homophobic innuendo doesn't sit well with their brand values. You can imagine the voice-over : "It's not just any gay-bashing; it's Marks and Spencer gay-bashing ..."

Look, Stephen Gately was not a giant in his field. He was one of the least talented, but most ornamental members of one of the most insipid boy bands of all time. But he died without warning, aged 33 and his partner, his friends, his family and his fans are in mourning. The last thing they need is some gossip-monger incorrectly joining the dots between "Gay", "Pop Star" and "Early Death".

The overwhelming medical evidence is that Stephen died from the pulmonary oedema he inherited from his father, rather than any kind of gay debauchery.

But the truth is rarely interesting enough for the Daily Mail these days. Their readers deserve better.

PCC Code of Conduct (extracts)

Section 1 : "The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information"

Section 5 (i) : "In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively"

and especially :-

Section 12 :

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

*** UPDATE ***

If you do complain to the Press Complaints Commission, you get the following email back :-

Dear Stan
Thank you for sending us your complaint about the Daily Mail article on the subject of the death of Stephen Gately. We have received numerous complaints about this matter.

I should first make clear that the Commission generally requires the involvement of directly affected parties before it can begin an investigation into an article. On this occasion, it may be a matter for the family of Mr Gately to raise a complaint about how his death has been treated by the Daily Mail. I can inform you that we have made ourselves available to the family and Mr Gately's bandmates, in order that they can use our services if they wish.

We require the direct involvement of affected parties because the PCC process can have a public outcome and it would be discourteous for the Commission to publish information relating to individuals without their knowledge or consent. Indeed, doing so might unwittingly add to any intrusion. Additionally, one of the PCC's roles is dispute resolution, and we would need contact with the affected party in order to determine what would be an acceptable means of settling a complaint.

On initial examination, it would appear that you are, therefore, a third party to the complaint, and we may not be able to pursue your concerns further. However, if you feel that your complaint touches on claims that do not relate directly to Mr Gately or his family, please let us know, making clear how they raise a breach of the Code of Practice. If you feel that the Commission should waive its third party rules, please make clear why you believe this.

Press Complaints Commission

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Benefits of a Scientific Education

Morning in my Travelodge pod-room, and I discover that there's no plug in my bath. I don't want to run down to reception, all angry and naked, and so I improvise.

I take the standard-issue plastic cup, invert it over the plughole and hold it in place until the water covers it completely.

At this point, a combination of air pressure and water pressure hold it in place and I can wash my bits and pieces, leaving me clean, fragrant, and not a little smug.

And yes, I spent some of this morning naked, taking pictures of a plastic cup in my bath and posting them on the Internet. Just be grateful the camera wasn't pointing the other way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back Home

It's unusual for our court to see simple traffic cases. By and large, people tend to grudgingly pay the fixed penalty rather than to take on the inconvenience of defending themselves and to risk the possibility of receiving a much bigger fine.

Which was why it was a shock to see Private X the other day, fighting a minor traffic ticket (£60 fine plus 3 points).

He had actually flown back from his unit abroad at his own expense to defend the charge, had rented a decent lawyer, and had compiled a big thick dossier of photos and text (most of it of dubious relevance).

We heard the police evidence, were easily convinced by it, and fined the soldier more than twice the amount of the original ticket plus a contribution to the sizeable prosecution costs plus the blessed victims' surcharge.

Afterwards, off the record, the prosecutor shook her head and said she couldn't understand why he fancied his chances. She was plainly annoyed, saying that her department was run off its feet, and that the man-days devoted to this case were man-days that couldn't be spent on, for example, making a successful prosecution in a murder case.

Obviously that's just too bad - Private X has an absolute right to his day in court and the people our prosecutor should be angry with are the ones who are underfunding her department.

I had a theory why Private X came to court, but I kept quiet. You see, I had noticed that their first-born was in the back seat of the car at the time of the offence, and that Mrs Private X had been heavily pregnant. Was it possible that he just fancied a few days away from his unit at home with his wife and toddler and brand-new baby ? Would it have been worth risking a few hundred pounds to make it happen ?

In fact, would I be tempted, in his shoes, to do exactly that myself ?

I will, for once, take advantage of my right to silence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


A group of people in this country are being oppressed, and I can't get Amnesty or any human-rights organisation to take an interest.

I'm talking about MPs. Apparently they are being forced to pay out of their own pockets for any cleaning fees beyound £2,000 per year and gradening beyond £1,000.

The Prime Minister spent £64 per week on cleaning a house that was hardly ever used, and this seems seems totally reasonable. You can imagine how dirty a house that is not occupied can become. And if his garden in Fife is under-pruned, you can imagine how badly it would affect his ability to do his job in London.

But seriously folks, the whining of our elected representatives (all parties) is repulsive. They've been caught behaving badly and the least they can do is to be adult about it and take their lumps. We have more to worry about than MP's private gardens. Maybe they could learn how to use a hoover and a lawnmower ?

"We're all in this together".


Ha ha.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Why? Because !

One of the hardest questions that non-parents ask parents is "Why did you want children ?"

You see, to a non-parent the downside is all too evident : expense, sleep-deprivation, worry, sudden absence of free-time, weight gain, possibility of death, labour pain, excrement. All the bad stuff is measurable and obvious : what is there that's non-measurable and subtle that could possibly compensate ?

I was listening to Nelly Furtado's "Turn Off The Light" in the car on the gridlocked M40 this morning and it reminded me of a time sometime last century when Stanetta was little. I was showing her how you could play an mp3 file on a computer, which was a quite a new concept back then. At the time I was working away a lot and this was one of my rare trips home.

I played "Turn Off the Light" in an early version of Windows Media Player, which interpreted the music on the screen with a visualisation composed of a swirling pattern of coloured lines, which seemed to please her and then slowly seemed to hypnotise her and she fell into a very untypically deep sleep on my knee. I let the music and the animation loop round as she slept and I snuggled my little girl for seeming hours, not just to stop her falling off.

If I could ever put that feeling into words, then that would be my answer to the question.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Night

I usually flee from the lounge as the title theme of "Strictly Come Dancing" plays, but today I stuck around long enough to boo Anton du Berk's entrance. Call me cynical, but I think the media storm may have turned him from being a racist to being a slightly more careful racist. I do hope in six months time, nobody will remember who the heck he was. Plenty of other good dancers can be employed with my licence fee money - why be stuck with this one ?

I'm now in my home office watching Channel 4 News on Channel 4 +1, surrounded by a lot of wires. I've been experimenting with a new database technology called "Hadoop", which involves connecting a whole bunch of machines together to work on hard sums. So, I've got it installed on any old, broken computers I've got lying around the place, and they are all running in one small room, connected by a pasta of wires. These are seriously outdated machines and they make one heck of a lot of noise. How did we ever put up with it ? I would have suggested installing it on every one of my kitchen appliances, but that's too much like the plot of the animated 3-D car-crash of a movie, G-Force.

Hadoop has enormous potential - if I were one of the big database vendors, I would be extremely worried. It's free, it holds the current record for sorting data, it's used for the biggest computing challenges on earth, and it will run on any hardware at all - down to my headless laptop and superannuated Pentium Zero tower.

It's not trivial to install - having tried it a few ways, I would definitely recommend going with Cloudera's distribution - although you do still need to make sure you've got the right version of Sun's JDK - if it doesn't have "rpm" in the file name, it's the wrong version.

I do not have the slightest idea how to end this posting - I'm actually keen to get back to my playing with my computer cloud, so I'll just suddenly stop typi...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Taken Down

When the nice police officer tells you that "anything you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence", they aren't just clearing the throat.

Maybe a better wording would be :-

"Any smart-alec statement you make really is likely to end up being repeated in court by a very smug prosecutor and nobody will find it the least bit charming.

You will want to die of embarrassment, your brief will want to strangle you, and the magistrates may have a collective coughing fit."

For example, I bet the young man I saw recently for drug-impaired driving really regrets telling the policeman "I drive better on cannabis".

There's not much a defence lawyer can do with that - in a nice snappy sentence he showed himself to be without remorse and a regular offender. Even "it's a fair cop, guv - you got me bang to rights" would have been better.

Incidentally, I doubt anybody does anything better on cannabis. Least of all something requiring reflexes and concentration like driving. Or talking to the police.