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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Internet - Not Pure Evil At All

There's no shortage of stories (mostly in the Daily Mail) about how the Internet is the Devil's Superhighway full of porn and general depravity.

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq mostly taught themselves to play their instruments by watching YouTube. They got a lot of their music online and auditioned online. I got to hear about them online and you can hear them play online. If there's any hope for that troubled country it's with the kids and the magical mechanism that got them together to play a symphony is probably the same magical mechanism that will help them organise to rebuild their shattered country and its culture.

Meanwhile the boot lock on my 10 year old Seat Toledo didn't lock. I found a posting online that described how it was probably water gunking up the solenoid and all you need is to remove the plastic cover and squirt WD-40 everywhere. I found another posting that described (with pictures) how to remove the plastic cover and I managed to fix a problem in ten minutes with a screwdiver and zero technical skill that had me seriously considering scrapping the car.

I love the way that the Law of Unintended Consequences continues to apply to the Internet. I love the way that people with skills give their time free of charge to post content for the rest of us to enjoy.

The Internet is a tool - very much like a hammer. You can use it to build a house or you can use it to smash someone's head in. Just because there are evil people in the world, it doesn't mean you should remove anything they might possibly misuse. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Em Eh ?

In the early days of this blog I was quite aggressive about the Magistrates Association. But as time went on, I mellowed somewhat. Their previously shambolic appearances in the media became merely ineffectual and I moved onto other things to be cross about.

Last week, after four years on the bench, I actually met my local Magistrates Association representative and my dander is well and truly in the upright position once more.

He was stirring up opposition to a totally logical merger of two under-utilised benches. I found it hard to understand his argument, but it seemed to boil down to "Scary change ! If we let them change this, what else will they change next, eh ?"

The vast majority of my scheduled sittings this year have been cancelled due to lack of work. This isn't happening as much on larger benches where workload can be spread around, so it seems well worth trying to me. But he (and presumably the MA also) are opposing it on the grounds that inertia has to be the best policy.

He was rather disappointed not to receive my support and asked if I was going to the Association's AGM. I had to further disappoint him by saying that I wasn't a member. He didn't ask me why, which was a shame as it would have been a great opportunity to ask why the Magistrates Association have been quiet, maybe even complicit, in management's attempt to impose arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on Magistrates' online activities.

Actually, where are the Magistrates' Association on that subject ? I'm not a member so I don't expect a personal briefing but I can't find any comment from them online. Last I heard they were working hard to get us all nice badges.