Thursday, September 20, 2012


If you don't like the verdict you get in a Magistrates Court, you have the right to appeal to the Crown Court. There you will be able to put your case to a "proper" judge who sits with a couple of Magistrates from benches different to the one that so disappointed you last time.

The most recent figures I could find show that in 2010 there were 13,800 appeals against Magistrates’ decisions. This is really quite a small proportion, being less than half an appeal per magistrate per year. Some of these were appeals against the verdict and some about the severity of the sentence, but either way, appeals stand less than a 50:50 chance of succeeding.

You could say that the low proportion of appeals to Magistrates' decisions is down to the crippling legal costs and the average 9 week wait, but I like to think it's because Magistrates are generally pretty good at their jobs.

They don't generally invite new Magistrates to take part in these appeals so it was only recently I got to sit on my first one.

The feeling in court is quite different from that in a Magistrates Court. The judge doesn't have to go back and forth with the legal adviser, so he (yes, more than usually "he")  can move things on, interrupt and change the order in which evidence is presented. There's more of a "flow" and business gets dealt with very efficiently indeed.

The judge I sat with was far from the stereotype - keenly intelligent, funny and eager to hear the views of the two Magistrates. 

As to the nature of the workload, the whole day was taken up with appeals against confiscations of money under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which brings you into a world which (if true) has many strange features :-

 * You can be on Income Support and buy a £20,000 car for cash and still have £10,000 in cash on you later that day (without being involved in crime)

* Some people (again on Income Support) will carry £5,000 in cash with them on a night out. They may give the money to a friend to hold if the pockets on their trousers are too small. It is possible to have four friends in this situation, which is a perfectly acceptable reason for one person in a group to have £20,000 in cash in their jacket pockets when stopped by police.

*  Some men have girlfriends who give them bundles of used ten and twenty pounds notes as tokens of affection.

* You need £5,000 in cash to buy a suit for a wedding. When asked, it is perfectly acceptable not to be able to remember what day the wedding is or who is getting married. The best way to buy these £5,000 wedding suits is by driving around at 3a.m in a council estate with a well known drug problem.

* Some people sell their flats for cash and still haven't got round to putting the money in the bank a month later.

All in all it was kind of a shock when business was done to get into my 10 year old car and drive home, wondering if I had enough cash in my pocket to pay for petrol on the way back.

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