Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Today's Non-Story

A magistrate has been sacked after he fell asleep on the bench, causing an assault trial to collapse, the Office for Judicial Complaints has said.

John Harrison, a former city councillor, claimed he was just resting his eyes during the first day of the trial at Lancaster magistrates' court in March last year, but after discussions with his colleagues and a court official, he decided to halt the case after a day and a half.

The mother of the 17-year-old defendant complained about the magistrate's behaviour and an application to this effect was made by the defence solicitor.

The inquiry found the behaviour of Mr Harrison, who had been a magistrate since 1997, 'risked bringing the magistracy into disrepute' and he was removed.

What the reporter doesn't mention is the financial cost of such incidents in our courtrooms; not least the number of times cases are postponed and witnesses are repeatedly inconvenienced.  Of course John Harrison's pension won't be affected.



Keith Ruffles said...

"Of course John Harrison's pension won't be affected."

Why would it? Magistrates aren't paid...

But otherwise this is appalling behaviour and lets down everyone involved in the process and ultimately the taxpayer as well. It's just fortunate that it's such a rare occurrence.

subrosa said...

There are two types of magistrates Keith. There are those who can claim expenses, such as money lost during a 'day' job or there are stipend magistrates who receive a salary with all the trimmings.

I have to admit this chap is possibly in the first group and still a councillor.

Apogee said...

Don't know so much about a rare occurrence.There have been enough press reports over the years to suggest a higher incidence, and the odd rumour,guess they are human. Could be two are required........?

subrosa said...

You mean one asleep and one awake Apogee?

Surreptitious Evil said...

SR, "Stipes" no longer exist in England (although they are still permitted, albeit rare, in the civilised world - currently 4 only, I believe, all in weegieville) - they have been replaced by "District Judges" since the "Access to Justice Act 1999". So Harrison, as a magistrate, will have been expenses only.

Don't believe everything you read on the internet!

Key bored warrior. said...

Did you see the shots of Gillian Duffy, Browns bigot women, bending Tony Benns ear at the Labour conference...he fell asleep as she droned in to his ear. Is that worse than been called a bigot by Brown? Hilarious!

subrosa said...

Ah ok SE. So how does this man make a living? He doesn't look starved does he?

Interesting blog here:

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Two years back an acquaintance of mine's construction company was summonsed by the local magistrates for non payment of council tax.

As a director he turned up at court and explained to the clerk that he found the charge strange as the company actually owned no property, although a property company he owned (not summonsed)did own the property at the address on the summons - he had never lived there and and the company had discharged it's legal obligation to inform the council that the tenancy had changed. The clerk woffled about sorting it out and he was called to the court.

Anyway, the lead magistrate (a "county" lady of advanced years) seemed unaware of the above and as my friend tried to explain she literally screeched at him "You're guilty! , I don't want to hear any evidence" and threatened him with contempt, announced a fine of £500 + costs and demanded the ushers remove him from court if he refused to leave.

The clerk and council legals went into a flat out tailspin and made the paperwork disappear.

My friend however wanted some justice and attempted to complain about the magistrate - and guess what ?

There is no formal mechanism to complain about a English magistrate who actually stays awake and no documented disciplinary process.

Somebody tell me I'm wrong - because letters to the MoJ, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all returned a big fat zero.

subrosa said...

What a shocking story Gordon. I'm not acquaint with the English magistrates courts so I can't really comment, but what makes it even worse, there is no appeals process and these people don't appear to have any legal qualifications.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Rosie, our shock at discovering that there was nil, zero, nada remedy or even a formal path to follow to at least get the ahem... raddled hag's behavior even looked at - left us very deflated.

The officials involved knew full well what had occurred and were quite panicky and let's say effusive and made the paperwork disappear very quickly.

So, the council brought a vexatious prosecution which was bulldozed through by a deranged old trout.

Since the case/judgement "never happened" it couldn't be appealed to a higher court.

All in all, a salutary lesson in English law...

subrosa said...

Gordon, I do hope you passed copies of everything to your MP. A lesson indeed.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Annoyingly our MP was in the same position as us ... he could do nothing beyond write letters to the same people that we wrote to.

It was discussed and we resolved that other things in life had higher priority.

This iniquitous situation persists and appears to suit the cozy little magistrate's private clubs around the land well enough. After all - if you're wielding arbitrary power over people's lives without any accountability why would you want to change that?

If only we had a video... :-)

subrosa said...

Gordon, doesn't it just show that there really isn't any justice?

I've always questioned the appointments of magistrates/JPs because they have no real knowledge of the law. All they seem to know is that what they say goes and they revel in that.

Video - every court should be equipped with one and every case transferred to DVD and stored for 100 years.

Of course we'd never get that. The powers that be don't want to be judged on their competence.

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