The scene: Booth is at a Magistrates Court in Town 2, the case having been transferred several weeks ago from Magistrates Court Town 1.
Legal Advisor: Oh dear. Magistrates Court 1 has not sent us the paper bundles that your solicitors and the Applicant lodged.
Booth: That’s a blow.
Advisor: Yes. The Applicant has just now cobbled together two extra paper bundles for the Bench. [Pause] It’s not good enough, really, because I’ve got three Magistrates. Have you got any paper copies of your bundle?
Booth: No. I’m fully electronic. I can email an unmarked copy of the bundle to you.
Advisor: We’d have to print it then.
Booth: OK then.
[Booth emails the bundle.]
Advisor: We’ll have to charge you.
Advisor: For the paper.
Booth: [Pause] [Laughs]
Advisor: No. Really.
Counsel for Applicant [aside, to Booth] They will, you know. I’ve seen them do it before.
Long Story Short. Booth was not charged. Case was adjourned. Justice is currently being delayed. Crazy world.
This article in today’s Times summarises neatly one of the greatest injustices in the criminal justice system:
‘Families of victims killed in the London Bridge attack have been told it is not in the public interest for them to receive state funding for legal representation … Meanwhile, government agencies have used public funds to hire some of the best legal teams to represent their interests in court.’
Read the article here.
I’m quite sure that with such excellent pupil supervisors out there at the Bar, you won’t be in need of advice from me, but if you’re fortunate enough to celebrating your acceptance of an offer of pupillage – and HUGE CONGRATULATIONS by the way! – may I make just one small recommendation if you’re planning to make your way in crime.
Here it is in a sentence: Never Throw Away Your Archbolds Or Blackstone’s.
Of course, if you have e-versions, all the better because they won’t take up space on your shelf in Chambers. And, indeed, as time goes on, there may cease to be things so physical as shelves in Chambers. Certainly our Chambers is moving towards full cloud capability for those for those Members who want it.
Why should you keep your old editions? The reason is that laws change (I know I’m stating the obvious). You will never know when you might need to know all about what the law used to be. It says a lot about the sort of practice that I have at the Bar that I was actually quite excited this morning to find in the loft my 2004 edition of Archbold. Straightaway I have taken steps to retain chapter 20 in particular; the old Sexual Offences Act of 1956 has never been more relevant to my work than in recent times. The 1956 Act, of course, was most recently given the full learned treatment in the 2004 edition of Archbold just before the Sexual Offences Act 2003 updated and repealed it. You won’t find it in the 2019 Archbold.
And just two weeks ago, I prosecuted a man for a now repealed offence. It was the old offence of sex trafficking, which the Modern Slavery Act put paid to. Read about the case here. The defendant had been convicted in 2015 after absenting himself from the country. When he was picked up on a European Arrest Warrant this year, suddenly I found the offence was not in my 2019 Archbold!
So may I be so bold as to recommend:
Never Throw Away Your Archbolds Or Blackstone’s.
“The Western Circuit Women’s Forum, which represents barristers in the south and south-west of England, found in a recent study that two-thirds of those who left the profession over a six-year period were women.”
A very timely article from today’s FT; read it here. The way that we are operating our courts is directly contributing to women leaving the Bar. It is scandalous.
What to do when the only appropriate offence is one with a six month maximum? You need to address this if you think all custodial sentences under 6 months should be abolished.
The thing here is that, minor though the offence is, it occurs in the context of a wider picture of our elected representatives being abused for performing their public service.
Seen that way, there plainly is a need for the courts to retain the power to impose short custodial sentences.
‘ Neil Basu, the UK’s most senior anti-terrorism police officer, warned social media users that they could be inspiring further hate crimes by disseminating the videos, and might be charged with sending “terrorist propaganda”. ‘
Read the article in the Times here.
Magistrates’ Courts need good and committed people like Luke Penney, 22. Here he explains what it is like to work in a supermarket and a magistrates’ court.
— Read about it here on the BBC news website.
From today’s Guardian website:
“More than half of all magistrates courts in England and Wales have closed since 2010, forcing defendants, witnesses, police, lawyers and justices of the peace to travel sometimes more than 50 miles to access local justice.”
Justice is no longer local. What stake do any of us have in our communities any more?
In truth the story is not news to criminal lawyers.
However, this is:
“As large gaps open up in the courts network in Wales, East Anglia and the north of England, HM Courts and Tribunal Service has confirmed it is considering whether to pay for taxis to ferry defendants and witnesses from the most remote parts of the country to hearings”
From a report at buzzfeed.com today: ‘Magistrates usually hear pleas in court, which means that even if someone does not have a lawyer, the magistrates or a court legal adviser can remind them of the implications of a decision. They are concerned that if online pleas are introduced in all cases, “there is a risk that defendants will indicate a plea without getting appropriate legal advice, possibly without realising the seriousness of the case.”
Online efficiencies are capable of making a positive contribution to criminal justice in our courts, but the taking of a plea is a critical event and should never take place from an armchair. Pleading guilty or not guilty will amount to not much more than buying your groceries. It will lose its importance and its value. Is that how we want things to be?
There are genuine fears that it is happening already with the implementation of section 22A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act. Facing a shoplifting charge valued at less than £200? No problem. It’s a dishonesty offence that carries stigma of its own kind. Justifiably. It goes on your criminal record, and if it’s your first time it will create a criminal record for you. It brings with it the obligation to disclose at, for examples, job interviews. All of these are just examples of how a decision to plead guilty can impact you significantly. But you can plead guilty to it from your armchair and never even go to court.
To hell with the implications and the life significance of this decision to plead guilty! Never mind the several pages’ worth of legal analysis on the meaning and description of the offence of theft in my 2019 editions of Archbold and Blackstones. Anyone can do it for themselves from their armchair!
I remember that I spent a good hour one night just before Christmas discussing the offence of theft with a colleague and my instructing solicitor, with both books open in front of me, in order to make sure that what the client was admitting actually fitted the definition of the offence of theft. Because that’s my job and I like to do it properly.
But who needs professionals like me in this new online age? Decide for yourself whether you’re guilty or not. Plead guilty by post from your armchair. You might not get it right; you might make a catastrophic decision for your future. But at least you will have done it cheaply.
Read the report by Emily Dugan at buzzfeed.com here.