Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do Not Open until 2159

A judge has sentenced the anal wart Bernie Madoff to 150 years in prison, which sounds about right to me. I'm sure Daily Mail readers would have preferred 300 years, but making sure he'll spend this life and two or three of his afterlives in prison seems to me to be consistent with the scale of his crimes.

To put the length of time into perspective, 150 years ago Charles Darwin published "Origin of the Species", Lord Palmerston became Prime Minister and Isambard Kingdom Brunel died.

I've seen comments to the effect that the victims of Madoff's deceit were rich and stupid, and so somehow less deserving of our pity and the protection of the Law. These are likely to be the same people who think that a rape is less of a rape if the victim was beautiful and friendly.

And anyway, it's not true that the victims were rich and stupid. Many of them were middle-class people whose advisers got suckered. Some of them were exceptional people like Bill Foxton whose response to being wiped out by Madoff was to go to a public park near his home in Southampton, lie on a bench, and shoot himself in the head.

Some of the biggest banks in the world were victims too. Even Yeshiva University was taken for several million dollars. Bernie Madoff was a former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange - not some shiny-suited high-pressure salesman.

It really could have happened to any of us. Read the account of the sentencing hearing, which includes the testimony of some of these victims. And then tell me that fraud is a "white collar" crime where the victims had it coming.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hammers, Spinach and Dairy-Free Cheese

One of the quotations I overuse is

"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

This is confidently attributed to Mark Twain in many places around the Internet, but most smart things are. Whoever was responsible for it, it's a profound truth that when all you have is X, then X will be your primary way of getting things done.

Think of Popeye, whose solution to everything is to eat spinach and hit people hard in the head. It seemed to work for him, but his problems did tend to be rather same-y. Or as Kurt Vonnegut would have it :-

"The military men want us to find the bad guys and put bullets through their brains. These are not always the best solutions--particularly in the fields of sewage disposal and birth control."

Stanetta has had some abdominal problems - she's been back and forward to hospital. She saw a surgeon - who decided the solution was cutting her appendix out. She saw an Accident & Emergency consultant and got a fistful of drugs. Then she saw her GP, who actually gave the matter some thought and suggested she give up dairy products. Which seems to be working.

It's a phenomenon I've seen in my Magistrating also. There was one man who had several mental health issues and an industrial-strength case of alcoholism. He had been arrested in the picturesque town square, out of his head on supermarket cider, shouting at the pigeons. This was pretty usual behaviour with him, and the police would usually just have moved him on. But on this occasion, he then decided to urinate against a car, neglected to do his trousers back up and started shouting at the people who were trying very, very hard to pretend he didn't exist.

Magistrates have hammers. Quite a few varieties of them, but all we have is hammers.

This guy hadn't committed any offence serious enough to deserve jail, and in fact our guidelines specifically rule out that option. So we left that hammer alone.

He had no money, so fining him was an exercise in futility.

We could impose all kinds of community penalties - but he was incapable of doing work or abiding by any kind of discipline due to his many mental issues and crushing alcoholism.

We could give him something called a Conditional Discharge which says that if he keeps his nose clean (and his trousers zipped up correctly) then there will be no penalty. But, if he commits this crime again, he'll get sentenced for that matter plus a bit extra. He had committed score of similar offences, and I could see this was a popular choice for the benches who had seen him previously. Didn't seem to be working.

There's also something called an Absolute Discharge, where no penalty is imposed. What you are saying here is that the public interest is not served by imposing any penalties. The offence will be on their record and after you've had a good talking-to by the Chair, you can go home.

We chose this final option. It's not a solution, but one thing you learn quickly as a Magistrate is that we can't solve problems. Because all we have is a bunch of hammers, and sometime hammers just don't get the job done.


On a lighter note, here is Stanetta's guide to what's worth having in her new world of dairy-free food :-


Where found


Rating /5


Provanel organic

Holland and Barret

Soya chocolate flavoured milk


Truly disgusting, tasted like sick

Sainsbury's free from


Chocolate bar and rice crispies


Yummy! Just like real chocolate

Sainsbury’s free from


Chocolate bar


Yummy! Just like real chocolate

Sainsbury’s free from


Chocolate brownies


Ok, wouldn’t call them Brownies, more chocolate flavoured stuff...

Provanel organic

Holland and Barret

Chocolate soya dessert


Went from ok to overly sweet to cardboard to yuck...


Holland and Barret

Dairy free butter


It was good- nice and creamy! However, not like the real thing.


Holland and Barret

Dairy free cheese


Regurgitated cheese anyone?


Holland and Barret

Dairy free rock and roll ice cream cones


Nice ice cream, the nuts and the soggy cone were a bit of a letdown though

Alpro soya


Unsweetened soya milk


Ok, not like real milk, like cold custard. NB not good with scrambled egg

Monday, June 22, 2009

Free Stan's Radio

The medium of writing was most possibly invented six thousand years ago in what is now Iraq. Presumably "reading" was invented around about the same time.

The medium of singing was invented much earlier when a caveman dropped a big boulder on their foot and the rest of tribe had such great fun copying the noise he made.

This of course was the birth of Rock music.

Radio is a much more recent invention, being just a tad more than a century old. Unlike writing and music, it hasn't changed all that much since it was invented, mostly because it just works. Now some spanner (sorry, I meant to say "His Lordship, Lord Carter of Barnes") wants to force us to scrap our various radios and go buy some of these new fangled DAB digital sets.

Digital radio is rather excellent. Apart from the expense of the equipment. And the electrical power it needs. And the totally hopeless reception you get.

Actually, come to think of it, digital radio is completely hopeless. I could use a bent coathanger as an aerial on my analog set and pick up Radio 4 in perfect stereo. On my DAB set, if the wind blows or if someone in the room moves, the signal disappears.

You see, it's like forcing every cyclist in the country to scrap their bicycles and get motor bikes instead. Expensive, badly-tuned bulky motorbikes with terrible fuel economy at that. How do these people not understand that some of us don't want over-engineered solutions to problems we haven't got ?!

Don't read the whole report - you will lose the will to live and when you close your eyes you will dream in management jargon and pseudo-scientific technobabble. The chapter on the future of radio is here for those who want to see what the fuss is about.

A final piece of advice : the only people who talk about "platforms" that are worth listening to are railway announcers. Lord Carter mentions the word five times in the first page of that chapter. He doesn't work in a railway station.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


"Merrily the feast I'll make.
Today I'll brew, tomorrow bake;
Merrily I'll dance and sing,
For next day will a stranger bring.
Little does my lady dream
Rumpelstiltskin is my name!"
Radio Free Stan isn't a Magistrate's blog. It's a blog from someone who happens to be a Magistrate.

You see, whole days can pass when I don't give a thought to blogging or magistration. I listen to music, I do a job, my daughter beats me at Mario Kart (and most other things in fact).

When I do mention my JP activities, I'm very careful to disguise any distinguishing features. Genders are bended and time is warped so that the head of guy who was up for a public order offence last month is likely to end up on the body of a woman I saw on a speeding charge two weeks ago.

Not all bloggers are this careful, and it seems that the award winning (but indiscrete) police blogger NightJack was one of them.

Nevertheless, I'm spitting mad with the Times for outing him. How can they possibly justify doing something quite so at odds with Rule 1 of journalism : "Protect Your Sources"? All I can think is that they are pig sick of The Telegraph getting all the juicy MPs' Expenses stories and couldn't resist a rare exclusive of their own.

Like NightJack, I write anonymously. Well, as anonymously as you can be after writing several hundred thousand words about your life over three years. In actual fact, a good journalist or a mediocre Home Office spook could probably work who I am without breaking a sweat. But why would they ?

Totally changing the subject ... Something odd happened yesterday. According to my weblog someone in London with a PlusNet/Force9 internet connection downloaded 141 of my blog postings to their Windows Vista PC in 23 minutes, which rather skewed the statistics for the blog:-

I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation, but I'll probably never know. This is a good thing, and the way things should be. People should be able to read what they want online.

However, in a more repressive regime, the combination of IP address, name of the Internet Service Provider and time of day would be enough for government to track down that person.

The point I'm making here is that there is a slippery slope. It starts with the likes of NightJack, who wrote some disreputable things and were exposed. The next step is for people who haven't written anything bad to be exposed, for fun or profit. The ultimate step is for people to be exposed just for reading something online.

There is nothing wrong with anonymity, we all rely on it in various ways every single day of our lives. I'm finding it very hard to comprehend that as of yesterday, the law does not protect this right.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Clueless No More

It's a stream of feeble puns, older even than the outdated format of the show. The chairman didn't really get into his stride and three quarters of the panel trotted out the same material they've been overusing for half a century.

To summarise - in my honest opinion, the first episode of the new series of "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" was by some margin the best programme on TV or radio this year. An absolute delight, and I'm still smirking like am imbecile as I type this.

If you're new to the programme then you've missed fifty series of the best semi-improvised verbal playfulness the world has ever seen. There are running gags, scattergun punning and the groaningest end-of-the-pier innuendo known to man. There are fictional games and invisible sexy assistants. And now there's even Victoria Wood.

For just about all of the fifty previous series the chairman had been the great Humphrey Lyttleton, who brought a jazzman's sense of comic timing to the role. Stephen Fry was the chairman tonight, and although he is a formidable intellect and a considerable comedian, I was disappointed that he didn't really put across any kind of "voice" like he does when he's chairing "QI". On that programme he's geeky, unworldly Fry of Queen's College, Cambridge and it works well there. But it took 6 years of that show to get that voice right, so it is expecting a lot for him to shine on his first day in this job. And by the way, we're talking about a job that the last guy did for thirty years and I swear he was still improving right up to the end.

So why was it my favourite programme of this year when I am so critical of it?

It's simply because I feared the show was dead and that there would be no more of it. For me, this new series was like seeing an old friend in the street - one that I believed was dead. They might not seem quite themselves at the moment, but that doesn't stop you wanting to rush up and give them a huge hug and thank your choice of deity or muppet that they still live.

So, thanks be to Kermit; "Clue" is back ! It's a great comfort to know that I'm guaranteed at least a smile, a groan and a chuckle on Monday evenings.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend Magistrate

I volunteered for a weekend session of magistration recently. There's not much different - except that the lawyers are noticeably dressed-down and you only get the Friday overnight custody cases. By far the biggest difference though is that you sit as a bench of two Magistrates rather than three. I'm sure this has the potential for extra stress when you disagree, but it wasn't an issue this particular weekend.

I've always identified remand decisions as being the hardest part of the job, and we had a very tricky one this particular Saturday. Well, it was tricky at the time, but the more I go over the details, the more obvious it appears that we made the right decision and I can't for the life of me think why we found it so difficult.

The prosecution case concerned a married couple. The Mrs was alleged to have decided, for no apparent good reason, to start a fight in the street. She then got Hubby to finish the job, which he did by leaving the victim half dead on the pavement. She then pretended to be a witness and told the police that two other people had done the deed. Those two were arrested and it was a while before she admitted the truth.

Even leaving aside one count of perverting the course of justice, this was never going to be one for the Magistrates' Court, so we swiftly kicked it upstairs to the Crown Court and looked at whether we were going to keep either of both of them in custody pending their day before the judge.

For a young man, Hubby had compiled quite a list of previous offences - three or four a year since he was 13. A goodly number of these were marked with the asterisks that indicate that they were committed while on bail or when he was legally supposed to be on his best behaviour.

The thing about bail is that the starting point is that you are going to bail the person without conditions unless you've got reasons not to. A person with a history of violence and witness intimidation who has ignored bail conditions in the past would be an example of someone unsuitable for bail. So Hubby was going nowhere.

The lady was more difficult to assess. She didn't have much in the way of previous (or "antecedents" as they insist on calling it in court) and the Prosecution suggested that since she had two small children at home then bail with some conditions would be suitable.

However, she had been heard to say that she was going to "sort out" the prosecution witness, which was believable given that she was already pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

Did we think that she was a threat to the public and was capable of interfering with witnesses ? Well, yes we did, so we remanded her in custody, and her kids are staying with their grandparents for a while. Not something you do lightly, but it needed doing.

There's a rather cruel piece of theatre that goes on when the bail decision is announced. As you say "bail is not granted", the handcuffs are put onto the Accused with an audible click and they are led away. When this happened to the lady, she burst into tears, as did some of her supporters in the public gallery. Seems a little unnecessary to my way of thinking - they are after all in a glass block surrounded by trained security guards.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Safety Song

Seat belts, air bags and ABS are all useful safety gadgets, but if we're really serious about car safety then all cars should have Fairground Attraction's music installed as standard.
The M4 was jammed this morning and it was raining. There was a lot of traffic coming off at my junction, and nobody seemed to grasp the basic physics of using a roundabout. I sighed and put on some music.
CD1 failed,either because it's a scratchy charity shop CD or because my CD player is failing. Blood pressure up.
CD2 was Portishead's excellent but downbeat third album. Not now. 
CD3 was a best of Fairground Attraction and Eddi Reader compilation.
Suddenly I felt I was a spectator, watching amused as drivers repeatedly cut me up, randomly swapping lanes without indication, permission or apology. Usually I'd be trying to keep a lid on the introverted road rage in my head, but instead I was singing along to "Perfect" and "Claire" as I watched the ballet of stressed 4x4s in the rain in front of me.
Such joyful music makes you well-disposed to your fellow man - you wave people in front you, you keep your distance, you forgive bad drivers. Oh, if only everyone listened to this in the car.
Although you'd have to watch when "Ay Fond Kiss" comes on - there would be queues of traffic waiting to pull into lay-bys for a good weep.  

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Paradise Downloaded

My car these days is powered by supermarket diesel, Radio 4 and poetry. This later power source arrives courtesy of the nice people at Librivox, a network of volunteers who record themselves reading out-of-copyright books and make the recordings available for free on their website.

I found them when I failed to find an audiobook of "Paradise Lost". I had been inspired to read it by Armando Iannucci's passionate and accessible programme "Milton's Heaven and Hell".

It's not as distracting as I thought to have different untrained voices reading each section of the book - the quality of the reading is high, as you would expect from willing volunteers reading a text that obviously means a lot to them. Not sure which profesional actor I'd chose to read "Paradise Lost" with Richard Burton being dead. Anthony Hopkins would probably have to suffice.

Anyway, the book.



You know ?

Just .. er ...




The reason I like Carol Ann Duffy's work is the way that she uses simple language to describe the human experience of eternal issues such Love and Hate and lots of other stuff just begging for Capital Letters.

Milton by contrast deploys a formidable arsenal of vocabulary and attempts to actually explain those eternal issues, or as he has it "... to explain the ways of God to Man".

It's as though Carol Ann is describing how it feels to watch an exciting football match, but Milton actually tries to get across how it feels to have your shirt tugged as your goalie boots over a last minute hopeful Hail Mary freekick into the box and a dozen heads rise hoping against hope for a miracle.

My instinctive religio-phobia has kept me away from this book for so long, and that's a pity. Like so many cultures through history, Milton uses The Gods as metaphors for human emotions and experiences. I'm sure many devout Christians would dislike some of this book. This atheist absolutely loved it though. I didn't get all the classical and biblical allusions, but at those points you just let the pure music of words wash over you.

But not to the extent that you forget you're responsible for steering a ton and a half of metal doing 69.5 mph on the M6.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Update : Contrary to what you may read below, it's not impossible that Defence and Prosecution would agree that a remand was not required and then for the Magistrates to ignore both and lock up the Accused pending trial.

Guess what happened on my very next sitting ...

I'll leave the original text intact.


I was going to write that for me, the worst part of being a new Magistrate is that you have to fill in some really rather inscrutable Monitoring and Evaluation forms.

I love having a mentor - he's been an enormous help and support and he's even forgiven me for disagreeing with him twice in three sittings. However, you can't just have a mentor - he comes with a set of forms that need to be filled in after every mentored sitting, with questions like :-
  • Did you prepare yourself for your role in the judicial process?
You are then invited to answer the questions (and most are just begging for a one word answer) with a list of "skills/knowledge in which I am competent" and "skills/knowledge in which I need to develop clarity"

I find it hard to list "skills/knowledge in which I am competent". How would I know I was competent ? Surely only a competent person can tell me that. All the incompetent people I have worked with were convinced of their competence, and not a few brilliant people had irrational doubts.

Anyway, I somehow managed to say something in the forms about my first three mentored sittings and some of the words have ended up in my mentor's interim report on me. The pressure will nowbe on to find something different to say in the forms for my next three sittings with my mentor.

The thing is, I have plenty to say to my mentor when I talk about my experiences and my thoughts and my plans, but it's just that none of it fits on the form, which is too busy getting me to answer closed questions with lists of the areas in which I have delusions of adequacy.

Like I said at the beginning, I was going to say that this was the worst thing about being a magistrate, but then I read about the Sonnex case and later witnessed a large slice of the media (and the Justice Secretary) apportion some of the blame for this mess to the Magitrates who released Sonnex on unconditional bail for another matter before he killed those students.

This seems a bit harsh considering
  • According to Law, everyone has an automatic right to bail unless there are certain specified good reasons for the State to hang onto them. No such reasons were stated in court
  • In fact, The Prosecution didn't even oppose bail
  • According to the information provided to the Magistrates, the Accused was anyway going directly back to prison on another matter, so the bail was intended as a "technical bail".
I'm sure that given those circumstances, I'd probably make the same decision as those Magistrates, and I would be the one catching the media flak and being blamed by the Minister. Now, that's a lot worse than having to fill in some badly designed appraisal forms.