Saturday, 19 September 2009

Rolling back the Central State

H/T to the Magistrate for finding this letter to the Times;

Sir, If opportunities are being sought for cuts in the public sector, a good place to start might be in the legal system, in particular the Courts Service.

As an example, in 2003 the Courts Service was enlarged to include within its embrace the administration of the magistrates’ courts and statutory tribunals in England and Wales. At the time Sir Hayden Phillips, then Permanent Secretary at the Lord Chancellor’s Department (now the Ministry of Justice), said that to effect that change the number of civil servants required would rise to about 25,000, at an annual cost of £3 billion.

Before 2003 the justices of the peace for hundreds of years had been entirely independent, managing their own courts locally at minimal cost to the taxpayer, and being reimbursed only for expenses. Their services were, and are, voluntary and unpaid.

The magistrates’ courts accounted in 2003 for more than 90 per cent of the criminal cases in this country, the rate of disposal being greater than that in the other criminal courts administered by the Courts Service; the magistracy, then and now, enjoys the confidence of the public, and without the lay magistrates the criminal justice system could not function. This much was accepted in the flawed Auld report, on the basis of which the enlargement of the Courts Service was proposed and justified. It was said that efficiency required the incorporation of the magistrates’ courts into a unified Courts Service, to be operated at both national and local level by civil servants. However, it remains doubtful whether any such efficiency has been achieved. On the contrary, it seems likely that the system, now burdened with an unwelcome bureacracy, is less efficient, more wasteful and very expensive.

The system worked perfectly well before 2003 without the need to spend billions on it. The removal of the magistrates’ courts (and the statutory tribunals) from the Courts Service, and the restoration of the autonomy and independence of the justices, would be constitutionally sound and would save the nation a great deal of money.

Stanley Brodie, QC

The mess of the magistrates' courts is in a microcosm the mess that central Statism has inflicted across all areas of administering our civil society. Within the criminal justice system, the role of the CPS - which surely should be called the SPS, the State Prosecution Service, for the extent to which it has ridden roughshod over the Sovereign's exercise of justice through her Sheriffs and Lords Lieutenant, and the role of the Lord Chancellor.

Many of the arguments against the old systems are around objections to (hateful term) a 'postcode lottery'. Well, those 'postcode lotteries' often reflected very accurately the values and relativities of local communities; the Welsh benches from 'dry' shires that savagely disposed of alcohol-related offences, and the harsh penalties for thieves imposed by benches in the northern Mill Towns. When I was a lad the bench covering the seaside retirement towns of Frinton and Clacton had the reputation of jailing speeding youngsters - and the message was understood; don't race in Frinton. My neighbour in a Suffolk market town was a magistrate, a down to earth bloke who worked as a supervisor for a local ICI plant. His family had lived in the town for at least 400 years. He saw his JP job as much about defending our local communities from external threats as upholding the Queen's justice - with the implicit consequence that outsiders and external deviance would be dealt with more harshly than local delinquency well understood.

In the mendacious doublespeak of the Central State 'Community Justice' means exactly the opposite; all discretion that would make the operation of the lowest tier of our criminal justice system in any way 'community' driven has been removed. Community values are scorned by the central State in favour of political policies. Here's to a return to independent courts, to a postcode lottery and to true community justice. And a bonfire of the Department of State Justice.


Spent Copper said...

Thank you Radwald, another 'on the money' post as usual. I can remember that as a young PC in a small Surrey Town it was made very clear by the Chairwoman of the Local Bench that anyone who assaulted one of 'Her Police Officers' would go to jail, and they did. Consequently, assault on Police was almost unknown in our town. It was rare to have to use much force on dealing with the local yobbery, as a few words and possibly a quick lift home in the back of a Police car were enough to defuse problems on the streets. In those days Police Officers were able to deploy considerable amounts of discretion in how they dealt with people.

Now though a 'top down' we will tell you how to do your job approach, by people in Central Government who needless to say, have never have to deal with confrontations on the street, attitude prevails. I'm not a Conservative supporter, but I cant wait for some of Douglas Carswell's ideals on Localism , especially Policing, to be implemented. It it telling that ACPO will fight it tooth and nail.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree in principal with devolving justice in the way outlined (and the first comment)- I also think that the magistracy are in dire need of control. This control doesn't exist in either the present mess or the rose tinted version / scenario by the way.

There is absolutely no sane mechanism to discipline a rogue magistrate or indeed to punish a magistrate for a wilful and malevolent miscarriage of justice. I have witnessed a demented, power crazed old bat refusing evidence, squawking "guilty ! guilty! I don't want to hear any evidence!" It would have been amusing if the consequences weren't so serious. Many other lesser miscarriages particularly in the motoring area serve to corrode the system.

Nope - the procession of self aggrandising halfwits that have co-opted their like minded cronies onto the benches all over the country must be halted. It's depressing that it's synchronised with the management meltdown in many Police forces.

With power, there must be accountability and sadly magistrates aren't accountable and can't be disciplined - many can't even understand the concept.

The accountability of the judiciary in this country is a farce and a disgrace - if those are the right words - I'd bet my last fiver on the Scotland moo walking with a fat redundancy payment if she doesn't brass it out.

The start of the rot was the imposition of contempt rules in magistrate's court.

Bystander said...

Oh dear, Anon, you really have no idea how magistrates are organised.
You say "I have witnessed a demented, power crazed old bat refusing evidence, squawking "guilty ! guilty! I don't want to hear any evidence!". I simply don't believe you. The clerk would not allow it, nor would the other two JPs. I have been Chairman of my Bench, responsible for complaints and discipline so I know exactly how it works. There are regular appraisals of all magistrates, and the Bench Chairman will have his ear to the ground as will the clerk. The advisory committee that appoints magistrates has independent members and the tests are objective. If you really want to know how it works there is a lot of stuff on the Web. If you just want to rant ignorant nonsense, then I suppose the facts won't stop you.