HOW OLD DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO BE A J.P.?

ESSENTIAL QUALITIES
There are, however, six key qualities which
are regarded as vital if you are to perform
successfully in the role of a magistrate. It
doesn’t matter how or where you developed
these qualities. It could be through your
current or previous employment, involvement
in community or voluntary activities, public
appointments, leisure activities, family life
or academic study. The most important thing
is that you can demonstrate these in the
selection process and, if appointed, apply
them to the role. They are:
° Good character: to have personal integrity
and enjoy the respect and trust of others.
° Understanding and communication:
to be able to understand documents,

relevant facts, follow evidence
and communicate effectively.
° Social awareness: to appreciate and
accept the rule of law.
° Maturity and sound temperament:
to have an awareness and understanding
of people and a sense of fairness.
° Sound judgement: to be able to think
logically, weigh arguments and reach
a sound decision.
° Commitment and reliability: to be
committed to serving the community,
willing to undergo training and to be in
sufficiently good health to undertake
your duties on a regular basis.
HEALTH AND DISABILITY
We will not be able to select you if your
health prevents you from carrying out a
magistrate’s range of duties. However,
applications are welcomed from people
with a disability who are able to carry out
their duties either unassisted, or with the
benefit of certain reasonable adjustments
made to court premises or working/sitting
arrangements in accordance with section
6 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
NATIONALITY
British nationality is not a requirement

All the above is taken from the Ministry of Justice Website and indicates the qualities considered necessary for the job. Interesting isn`t it that you don`t have to be British. You can retain your passport from eg Australia or Zambia and sit in judgement in a British Court if the Ministry considers you suitable. Now what would you consider the minimum age to be appointed? Looking at it from a practical point of view if you, reader, were facing a bench in a Magistrates` Court how young would you consider a member of that bench to be for you to think s/he`s too young to do this job.

Send in your comments and if you`re not shy about it state your age; different age groups have different opinions on this topic.

I`ll let you know the answer in a few days.

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THE MEANING OF NO! A PARENT`S BEST GIFT TO A CHILD TO AVOID PRISON

It has been demonstrated that in the first four or five years of life synaptic connections are made in the brain which direct a child`s behaviour for the future……….in fact this process continues past puberty……….and that if clear limits to behaviour are not made during this period it is virtually impossible to impose them at a later time except by enforcing conscious changes by various therapies to protect themselves and to protect the public. And that includes prison for adults or for youths a young offenders institution.

Post Christmas and where families include young children these last few days will probably have contained events that will be remembered for years to come such is the capacity of children to retain so much of the sensory input to which they are exposed. In evolutionary terms it seems simple enough; if outcomes are forgotten or impeded mistakes could be repeated or positive actions overlooked so reducing the possibility of successful progress to adulthood. A generation ago social cohesion was assisted by low level authority figures being able to tell robust children that certain actions were forbidden or unacceptable and more often than not a lesson in acceptable behaviour was learnt. When park keepers regularly patrolled the parks, when bus conductors walked the upper deck of the Clapham omnibus, when teachers could keep control by the accurate throwing of a piece of chalk at the child talking at the back of class. Now, owing in a large part to a few very bad and sometimes evil professionals, sadistic policemen, paedeophilic teachers and priests and multi murdering doctors and nurses very often the first time a wayward child is firmly told “no” by somebody in authority that somebody is a police officer.

Those households which do not enforce reasoned rules and discipline upon their children to immunise them against the effects of “non immunised” children ie their feral untamed peers, face misery. Childrens` bad behaviour is similar to a disease like measles where the “herd” effect of vaccination is paramount in keeping the disease to a minimum level of spread. Currently owing to misguided policies of government over the last thirty years in the fields of law, welfare and education we are in a situation where compulsory “this” or compulsory “that” will have to be employed so that the desirable change in direction can be achieved. Youth offending is perhaps the most depressing part of the Criminal Justice System. To incarcerate teenagers because society and family constraints on bad behaviour have failed is depressing for everyone involved. To avoid this outcome very often the most positive gift a parent can give a child is the meaning of “no”.

LONDON BUSES AND FARE DODGERS

When a convicted murderer is released early from his/her sentence owing to doubts about his/her guilt we all read about the sorry story in the papers or see the newly freed haggard individual at a hastily assembled press conference making the first statements of what freedom is all about.

But wrongful convictions are happening all the time albeit at a lower level of criminality or supposed criminality. Thousands are walking about London unaware that by having been fined at a Magistrates` Court for non payment of their fare on a London bus they have aquired a criminal record;not necessarily one that appears on the Police National Computer but one that in some circumstances should be declared eg for application to the higher professions. Sometimes this can be the result of a fares Inspector not offering the suspected “fare dodger” the opportunity of paying a penalty fare or following up a perfectly genuine reason for not having a valid oyster card when boarding a bus. A perfect example of the latter is when a passenger with no previous history of fare dodging has boarded a bus, for some reason has not “pinged” his/her oyster card and when asked to produce it by an inspector discovers that it has been forgotten. By offering the explanation that a valid oyster card has been mistakenly eg left at home, in another jacket or one of many reasons we forget things etc an inspector should note the explanation and after taking a name and address offer 21 days for the valid card to be sent to Transport for London as proof of legal right to have travelled that day. That offer should be followed up by a letter from TFL again offering the non payer the opportunity to explain the reasons and provide proof of a genuine error. Often that proceedure is not properly followed.

So if you are an honest person never having been involved in fare dodging on London buses and you are threatened with court action despite offering your explanation that you were at the time of ticket inspection under the impression that your valid card was on your person stand your ground and request that you be given the opportunity to produce said card and/or be offered a penalty notice. Make your voice heard within the time limits or you might be sorry later.

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND THE MISSING TRIAL STATISTICS

Like every other magistrate in England & Wales I am not legally qualified for this part time post but was selected because the Lord Chancellor and laterally the Secretary of State for Justice thought I had the appropriate competences. I hope I have not disappointed. No doubt some of my colleagues in their “other life” are professional researchers or mathematicians or statisticians. I write this because I have spent some time fruitlessly wading through the labyrinthine website of the Ministry of Justice searching for information on the outcomes of trials at Magistrates` Courts. This interest was stimulated because recently I have been involved in trials where more often or not[i.e. in more than 50%] the case against the defendant had not been proved beyond serious doubt by the Crown Prosecution Service and consequently s/he had been found not guilty. Apart from deciding whether a prosecution would be cost effective the CPS prosecutes when there is in its opinion more than a 50% chance of securing a conviction and whether or not a prosecution is in “the public interest”. So my recent experiences are perhaps a statistical anomaly. I just don`t know. So as I have written above I tried to find out.

In 1999 4% of trials in either way offences [see my previous blog on either way offences] at Magistrates` Courts ended in the defendants being found not guilty. In the same year 77% of defendants tried on summary offences were found guilty. But that was ten years ago. So in order to ascertain current figures for guilty after trial I returned to the MoJ website listed below for reference [Ch 7 p 135+]and the main findings there are orientated around time for this and time taken to do that broken down into umpteen subsections but nowhere is listed results of trials. Seems to me there is a similarity with statistics on NHS which initially at least revolved around targets for this and targets for that including “waiting times” which according to those who know far more than I distorted the very practices being measured. So why are there no facts on the outcomes of trials after 1999? I would welcome any comment to show where I am missing something and that these tables are available and I have not been bright enough to find them.

http://search.justice.gov.uk/kbroker/justice/justice/search/search.lsim?qt=trials+statistics+found+guilty+magistrates+courts+2008&sr=0&nh=10&cs=ISO-8859-1&sb=0&hs=0&sc=justice&oq=trials+statistics+verdicts+magistrates+courts+2008&sf=&ha=1178&mt=0

DECRIMINALISATION OF HARD DRUGS

Today`s observations are not meant as a root and branch investigation into a statistical analysis of all the arguments that are available for both sides of this topic. This subject affects us all. Parents in all income brackets have an underlying fear for the ability of their teenage chilkdren to resist the perceived attractions of what many of their peers are doing. At the very least they hope that if tempted to partake of some weed they will do so where they won`t come into contact with authority. Whilst alcohol kills many more than illegal drug taking the mere public imbibing of liquor is illegal only for those who are less than eighteen years old. With alcohol the problem arises from its excessive use. One spliff however can lead to a criminal record. Many experts agree on one thing; illegal drugs, their importation, manufacture and use are responsible for more than half the criminality in this country; some say as much as 90%. Recent disclosures of containing drug use in prison by methadone dependancy prescribing has in my opinion pushed us further along the slope of deferred decision making to a position where a stand must be made. Do we wish to enforce abstinence among prisoners who wish to end their dependance on narcotics? It is also accepted that in those with a genetic pre-disposition skunk can induce schizophrenia.It wasn`t always like this.

The numbers using narcotics 100 years ago were necessarily limited owing to cost and the morality of the period. In no way do those social conditions equate with the situation today. I am perfectly confident that specialist counsellors in tandem with licensed premises and suitable conditions placed upon supply could be utilised for long term reduction in use and users.

Cash or a proportion of such that was previously going to criminals would be channeled into a totally new system. One fact is for sure; the present position cannot be sustained………either we decriminalise the use and supply or we forcibly put three time losers class A into forced cold turkey for as long as it takes.

THEY ARE STILL THREATENING TO CUT OFF YOUR ELECTRICITY!

We hear a lot about “Human Rights” these days. I am not referring to our rights as human beings but to a particular consequence of The Human Rights Act of 1998. Until that became a part of the English legal system utility companies after due process including the obtaining of an entry warrant at a magistrates` court could cut off the supply of electricity at an address where there appeared to be no possibility of obtaining payment of money owed by the consumer of electric power. Depending on the diligence of individual benches the power companies` representatives, occasionally employees with some local knowledge of the situation, but usually bailiffs, could seek a warrant of entry from a bench offering only the scantiest information regarding the individual concerned and forcibly enter the premises and cut off the power supply. Since the above act became law power companies have had to comply with strict guidelines prior to going to court; eg making personal visits and attempting to talk to the account holder, ascertaining whether or not vulnerable people [elderly or young children] live in the property etc and above all sending out letters warning of the intention to seek a warrant and advising the householder of his/her human rights under the legislation. Upon making an application at Magistrates` Court a diligent bench can ask many questions to ensure that entry is warranted…..eg have there been previous attempts to obtain a warrant at the same address, has there been a broken payment agreement, how much is actually owed in unpaid bills, has there been a dispute over the amount claimed, is the person responsible for the debt still in occupation at the address or is somebody new living there, and many other other questions depending on the individual case. Only after a bench being satisfied the request is in order will or should a warrant be granted. And even so rarely in domestic cases will the power be disconnected. A pre-payment meter will be installed.

Seems quite straightforward. The householder can`t or won`t pay the bill and the supply company can`t cut off the supply unless there is a health risk. But you`d be quite wrong. Many organisations rely on their superior knowledge and menace the individual citizen into compliance when these empty threats have no basis in law and are just the tactics of a bully. It happened last week to an aquaintance of mine. He had had his place refurbished before renting it to a friend. After receiving estimated bills for part of the period he informed Southern Electric by phone and letter of the dates for which he was responsible and informed them again when his friend moved in. Meter readings were sent at the changeover date. A couple of days ago he received another bill of the same estimated unit usage and across the bill was written, “NOTICE OF ELECTRICITY DISCONNECTION”….”unless we receive full payment immediately we will have no alternative than to disconnect the supply of electricity to….”

Advised by me my friend knew it was an empty threat. But consider a harrassed single mother or father without the ability to ascertain her remedies in such a situation. Stress and worry piled on increasing hardship and other tensions. Or an elderly person on her/his own in poor health and with lonliness an only companion or somebody new both to this country and the terror tactics used by some businesses to intimidate customers. Hang your head in shame SOUTHERN ELECTRIC.

VIGILANTE JUSTICE OR FAILURE OF POLICE PRIORITIES? DO WE NEED LOCAL POLICE FORCES TO BE LOCAL?

Making headlines a couple of days ago a father and son law abiding citizens both received not inconsiderable jail sentences for beating senseless a persistent criminal who had taken part in a vicious premeditated burglary at their home where the family had been threatened with death. They had managed to disrupt the intentions of the evil gang of whom the beaten “victim” was a member and chased him down the street whereupon he was subjected to a sustained assault far in excess of that required to effect an arrest. In effect they took out on him all the terror that he himself had subjected them. In a similar fashion many German SS guards at concentration camps liberated by British and American troops in 1945 were shot out of hand by the liberators when the full scale of their activities was realised. Nobody mourns them and rightly so. But England in 2009 is not Poland or Germany in April 1945. And there was no excuse for the savage beating handed out by the father and son. But there was a reason.

As recently as two days ago Britain`s most senior policeman Sir Paul Stephenson Commissioner of the Met. Police echoed the words of the spokesman of the Association of Chief Police Officers a couple of weeks ago and referred to in a previous blog here that a fundamental re-structuring of police authorities ie a reduction…was needed to combat terrorism and cross border crime. But although the hand of the former is in the background of most drug related crimes the average law abiding citizen is much more concerned with criminal activity which could affect his or his family`s personal safety. Whether or not any particular area of criminality in any part of the country has increased or decreased or is tending to increase or decrease or whether the increasing trend is now decreasing or the decreasing trend is now increasing the perception is that danger lurks out there. This paranoid undercurrent has been encouraged by this government since 9/11 and is evident eg in the establishment of the Independant Safeguarding Authority to eradicate every paedeophile lurking under every child`s bed. Until the police establishment is geared to the role the citizen requires them to undertake the shadow of the vigilante will darken our society. If ACPO is so concerned with its priorities and make no mistake international crime and terrorism is a reality, then some form of local policing on the lines of the French, and not PCSOs in a different uniform, must be considered. Even a financially and occasionally intellectually bankrupt country like ours must not allow its population to believe that they must look after themselves on the streets because the state has given up on its prime purpose; to protect its citizens from threats both internal and external.

IS THIS LABOUR`S THIRD WAY? GUILTY,NOT GUILTY OR NOT YET PROVEN

Taking a very broad view it could be argued that the Scots have shown an enlightenment legally and otherwise compared to the English as a candle illuminates the shadows. There was a united Scottish kingdom before William the C made England his home. It can be fairly argued that Scottish writers of stature, inventers, philosophers, economists, scientists have been produced in numbers relative to population in excess of any other country. Hanging for what we now descibe as minor criminality was virtually abolished in Scotland in the early 1800s decades before such social progress was observed south of the border.

Until the early 1700s Scottish law considered a felon`s guilt proven or not proven on the facts of the case. But as a result of a case in 1728 a jury was allowed to bring in a verdict of not guilty when the facts in isolation indicated guilt. And so it developed that juries would bring in verdicts of not proven when the jury was unconvinced that the defendant was not guilty. This is the current situation which led in common parlance to the admonishment, “Not proven but don`t do it again”. A defendant could be considered fortunate to have “gotten away with it” or an innocent person would have a permanent stain on his character and doubt of innocence would be everlasting.

And so to Labour`s “Third Way”. A notion dreamt up by Tony Blair and his acolytes to persuade the British public that socialist Labour of the past was dead and buried. Now in a perverse manner Labour`s idea of not guilty has been split into not guilty but not quite innocent ie not proven. I refer to my previous observations of assault in a “domestic setting” otherwise referred to as Domestic Violence which doesn`t figure on the statute book but as an early symbol of Labour`s unspoken deference to the not proven concept. Prior to sitting on such cases magistrates are required to attend “training” where they are presented with spurious statistics concerning various international analyses of what assaulted women [usually] have undergone from their partner prior to the charge being brought the conclusion being that the Crown Prosecution Service wishes matters other than the evidence presented at trial to be considered. For magistrates with more than about four years experience this is a novel instruction which thankfully is given much less consideration than the powers that be would wish.

Two months ago restraining orders became available for the protection of victims of domestic violence; but not only for those whose partners had pleaded or had been found guilty but also for those aquitted of such charges. This was a matter for the courts` discretion depending on the circumstances. Another example of a not guilty being interpreted as a not proven.

And now we find out that the daddy of all snoopers the newly formed quango The Independant Safeguarding Authority has or will have the power to decide if those seeking registration and with no criminal record nevertheless are a “risk to children”. Its 200 workers whose qualifications are to say the least questionable will have the authority to interview all manner of people ranging from those from wherever who choose to comment on the lifestyle of the particular individual to employers, neighbours and literally anybody the caseworkers wish to contact. This scandal is not just an over zealous government seeking to protect children and vulnerable adults but the most authoritarian peace time government in modern times inducing a weary populous into a state of paranoia where an adult is guilty until proved innocent. The German film “Lives of Others” won the Oscar a couple of years ago for “Best Foreign Language” film. It told of the Stasi`s {the former Communist East Germany`s Secret police} intrusion into all aspects of peoples` lives by cajoling, threatening and blackmailing ordinary people to spy on their families, workmates, friends and neighbours and report their activities to the authorities. Sprechen sie Deutch?

SENSE AND SENTENCE ABILITY

Thankfully a majority of the population still hasn`t found itself on the PNC or Police National Computer, one of the earlier attempts at a national database and I would suggest one of the most successful insofar as nobody has yet left any part on an unencrypted DVD on the back seat of a Camden bendybus. The PNC contains the details of offenders, their offences and their sentences. Public criticism of criminals` sentences usually arises in high profile cases widely reported in the national press or TV. However over 90% of cases are dealt with at Magistrates` Courts from first appearance to sentence where six months` imprisonment is usually the maximum available. There are those recently who have suggested that no miscreant should serve sentences shorter than twelve months, [ie shorter sentences should be wholly replaced by community orders,] because within that period there is no scope for any rehabilitation overlooking the fact that prison does not exist solely for social workers to cast their spells upon the inmates but to punish wrong doers and protect the public. Jack Straw considers that magistrates send too many of those convicted to be sentenced at Crown Courts by judges who of course have greater sentencing powers. Both views give the impression that sentencing at Magistrates` Courts is a bit of a hit and miss affair. It might have been so in the 1930s but in the “Naughties” it is a finely honed structural process undertaken by a bench of three highly trained JPs with a full PNC history and report from Probation to consider in addition to official Guidelines and a legal adviser available to ensure all proceedures and disposals are lawful.

Some criminal lawyers in the past have been said to have referred to a magistrate as “Muppet”. Perhaps we are all now Judge Judy.

GET REAL ABOUT CO-HABITATION;IT`S NOT LIKE MARRIAGE

Lord Justice Munby, chairman of the Law Commission, was reported in The Times this week [link below] as wishing to have new legislation to protect the rights of co-habiting couples when they separate. He comments on the changing nature of society with regard to the institution of marriage as if this legal union of a man and a woman has somehow metamorphasised like frogspawn to frog by the wonder of nature and the science of natural selection. Changes in marriage statistics ie fewer marriages per 1000 of population than 100 years ago have been brought about by equal educational opportunities for women, the need for increased women in the workforce owing to the Great War and World War2, efficient contraception and the removal of tax advantages for married couples vis a vis unmarried couples. These changes particularly the govenment induced changes in taxation have been the major contributers to this seismic social upheaval. Regardless of any moral, religious, financial obligations or reservations every couple has a choice; to marry or not. Strictly speaking marriage is a contractual arrangement. Indeed in Jewish, Hindu and Moslem tradition it still is. To this day Jews marrying in a synagogue sign an actual contract in which the union is spelled out. If a couple makes an informed choice not to marry and therefore forfeits the legal rights contained and guaranteed within that institution that is their business. There has been enough unnecessary legislation in the last twelve years without adding another layer on matrimonial law. If a society can be educated on the dangers of smoking or internet scams it can be educated on legal protections gained by marriage and forfeited by merely co-habitating.

http://tinyurl.com/yj2k7rm

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