Monthly Archives: August 2013

Peter Tomkins jailed for attacking his mother

Peter Tomkins has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, with an extended licence period of 5 years for committing grievous bodily harm, with intent, on his 75 year-old mother.

The details of the offence are sparse, and we are reliant on news reports for our information. The attack is said to have been carried out in Tomkins’s mother’s home, and in committing the offence Tomkins broke his own ankle and hand. He is said to have been under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Tomkins’s defence barrister claimed that the attack was not pre-meditated, and that Tomkins suffered from mental illness and is under the care of a psychiatrist.

It appears that Tomkins pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of assault, possibly that of s.20 (GBH without intent), as it seems his mother was not required to give evidence at trial. If this was the case then the only matter for the jury to decide was whether or not really serious harm was intended, or whether Tomkins was reckless to the possibility of really serious harm being caused.

Sentence

Judge Michael Cullum, sitting at Worcester Crown Court, sentenced Tomkins to 10 years imprisonment for the offence, with an extended licence period of 5 years. Tomkins pleaded not guilty to the charge and went to trial on the matter, therefore could receive no credit for a guilty plea. The Judge appears to have put the offence in the highest category of the sentencing guidelines, category 1, which has a starting point of 12 years imprisonment, and a range of 9 to 16 years. The aggravating features would have included the location of the offence (in the victim’s home) and the fact that the offence was committed whilst Tomkins was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, knowing, presumably, that these would affect his prescribed medication. The mitigating features would have included his mental health at the time of the offence and the fact that he did not require the victim to give evidence.

An analysis of extended sentences can be found here.

CPS pair sentenced to 6 years for £1m taxi fraud

cps

Facts

On 14th March 2013 two Crown Prosecution Service employees, Lisa Burrows (41) and Tahir Mahmood (50) pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to commit fraud under Criminal Law Act 1977 s 1. (See the CPS press release for details)

Burrows was an Area Finance Manager for CPS West Midlands. She was authorised to submit any invoice up to the value to £25,000 without recourse to a senior manager. Mahmood was a CPS employee (that employment was facilitated by Burrows) and prior to that employment he was a taxi driver. The Judge commented that it was that experience which underpinned the fraud.

The two CPS employees set up false invoices to claim for non-existent taxi rides (with a non-existent taxi firm) to transport non-existent witnesses to Court. Mahmood set up a bank account using an alternative surname to facilitate the fraud. They managed to get in over £1 million over a five year period, amounting to about £4,000 per week.

The BBC stated that they used the funds to pay off their mortgage, buy designer goods and to pay for trips to Dubai and New York,

Delay

The pair pleaded in March, so why the delay? The authorities conducted financial inquiries to trace the money, for the purposes of recovering the proceeds of the offences. We are unaware of the outcome of the inquiries. This should not have resulted in a discounted sentence.

Judges’ Comments

The sentencing remarks are available here.

Aside from the sheer amount involved, the features that make this conspiracy particularly serious are these:  This was a huge fraud on the public purse causing substantial losses to a department already under serious financial pressure.  It was carried out by someone in a position of very considerable trust.  The fraud involved significant planning by both of you.  It continued formore than five years.  It would have carried on had it not been discovered as is apparent from the fact that you, Burrows, had further bogus invoices ready for submission.  Very large sums of money remain outstanding.  Where the proceeds can be traced,they wentlargely on high living. The fraud was motivated purely by greed. The fact that the fraud involved the Crown Prosecution Service and was committed by a senior member of that Service – the body responsible for bringing criminals to justice – will have affected and eroded public confidence in that Service.

Plainly the element of breach of trust applies mostsignificantly to you, Burrows. Whilst you, Mahmood, were an employee of the Crown Prosecution Service in the latter stages of the fraud, your employment was not an integral part of the fraudulent process. Equally, Burriows, you have lost everything as a result of the fraud and I cannot ignore the fact that you, Mahmood, held the purse strings. I do not intend to distinguish between you in the sentence I impose.

The Judge appears to suggest that the aggravation of the breach of trust (most applicable to Burrows) is cancelled out by the fact she has ‘lost everything’, thereby allowing the Judge to treat the defendants equally for the purposes of sentence. He continued:

It is difficult to envisage a more serious fraud of its type that the one you committed. Had you contested the case the sentence in your case in the region of nine  years would have been appropriate.

Clearly the Judge took a dim view of the offending.

The Judge made no reference to the guidelines.

Sentence

In March, we looked at what sentence they could expect. News reports had suggested the pair had pleaded to Fraud Act 2006 offence. We said:

“The Fraud Guidelines will apply. The most suitable category is ‘Banking and Insurance Fraud’ (page 24). It is professionally planned and over a long period of time, and, given the amount of money, it is in the top category.

The starting point (based on £750,000) is 5 years, with a range of 4-7 years. This is after a trial and both will get full credit for pleading guilty.”

This was incorrect. The pair pleaded to conspiracy to commit fraud. They each received 6 years, representing a sentence of 9 years after a trial (as the Judge gave them full credit for their pleas).

When sentencing for conspiracy offences, it is usually appropriate to sentence for the individual role in the conspiracy, as well as participation in the overall conspiracy. This often results in higher sentences than where merely a substantive offence is charged. (Eg. conspiracy to burgle / burglary).

The guidelines

Officially, the guidelines do not apply. The guidelines apply to the offences listed in Annex A. Section 1 states:

…if a person agrees with any other person or persons that a course of conduct shall be pursued which, if the agreement is carried out in accordance with their intentions, either—

(a)will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence or offences by one or more of the parties to the agreement…

he is guilty of the conspiracy to commit the offence in question.

The guideline specifically excludes conspiracy to defraud (a different common law offence) but doesnt mention conspiracy to commit the substantive offence (which is covered by the guideline). A little complicated.

Whilst the guidelines do not officially apply, I am of the view that they can be of some assistance.

The starting point of 5 years (based on £750,000) can be raised to reflect the fact that over £1m was obtained. That could legitimately be increased to 6 years (or a bit more), but is unlikely that a starting point of over 7 years would usually be deemed to be appropriate in absence of some serious aggravating factors. There plainly should be an increase for the breach of trust and the role played by each and the fact that the funds were used to finance a lavish lifestyle. There can be no increase for the length of time over which the fraud was carried out, nor the professional planning or multiple frauds, as this is already factored in to the starting point.

It would be necessary to increase the sentence to reflect the involvement in the conspiracy and so that may have taken the sentence towards the 9 year starting point that the Judge adopted.

Appeal?

Perhaps. In light of the fact that this was a conspiracy, the sentence doesnt seem so high as originally thought.

To the substantive offence, 6 years on a plea seems high. And it is hard to see how a sentence of 9 years, against a maximum of 10 could be upheld on an appeal. For a conspiracy, it may be that the sentence is about right, after considering the guidelines, adding a bit on for the conspiracy, the increased sum obtained and the lavish lifestyle it was used to fund.

Watch this space.

Note: This post was amended on 30 August 2013 after learning that the offence was conspiracy to commit fraud.

A view from…the Magistrates’ Court dock

My view from the Magistrates’ Court dock by Tracey McMahon

mags court

My purgatory was to last for nine months. A week after I was interviewed by the police, I received a phone call from the PC who had interviewed me. She requested that I sign a form authorising the police to make further enquiries. If this turned out as I had relayed the story in my statement, then there would be what is known as, an NFA (No further action) I arranged to go into the police station the following week to sign the form.

Here’s the thing. As any conscious offender will tell you, I use the word ‘conscious’ for a reason. This is because I was now beginning to wrestle with my conscience. One of the allegations was false, of this there was no doubt. (It’s a long shot asking people to believe me, I mean come on – I’m a criminal right?)  The other allegation was true. I made sure the sand was keeping my ears warm for sure. I was planning my wedding and nothing was going to stop that, least of all a criminal charge.   Here’s a picture of my rings. Beautiful eh?

 tracey pt2

After signing the form at the police station, life moved on and as I watched my phone each and every day and shook every time it rang, I began to relax as the weeks went by and I heard nothing from the police.

On the 27th August, I was hanging out the laundry as the postman walked into the garden and handed me that day’s mail. I saw this envelope and it was then, call it a sixth sense, I knew what was inside the envelope. The Crown Prosecution Service was charging me. I was summonsed to appear before the local Magistrates’ Court to answer the charges put before me. I had never been formally arrested. There’s no need for that in today’s modern-day provision of ‘services’

On the 18th October at 9.30am I entered the Magistrates’ Court and went through the scanner while the court security guard had a quick poke through my handbag. I had at this point instructed a solicitor and told him prior to the court hearing I was pleading Not Guilty. If I pleaded Guilty to one charge, he would attempt to get the false allegation dropped. I wasn’t having that, I wanted it my way and I set about my own investigation. It was at this point for the first time I was to see the transcription of my police interview. I was handed the paper work and I couldn’t believe what I was faced with. Now, I don’t know what the criterion is for entering the police service these days, but I’d expect them to at least be able to write. Or even worse, if an administrator had written up my interview then he or she deserves to be fired on grounds of gross misconduct. This document to my knowledge was to be placed before a jury of my peers and was my defence. It looked like I didn’t give a shit, that I didn’t care and where I’d answered “yes” during the interview, it had been written “yeah” It was frankly an appalling display of our mother tongue. The prosecution’s evidence against me was even harder to understand. Their photocopier had clearly run out of ink and their girl Friday must have copied that on a Friday afternoon at 4:58pm and couldn’t be arsed to do it all again. It was a piece of paper which presented nothing. Even my solicitor had the grace to be a little bit embarrassed as I looked at him in horror before I launched into a diatribe of how shit we are in the UK at teaching our secondary school children their own language and was it any wonder that the rest of Europe laughed at our inability to speak and write our own language never mind theirs.

As I was seated in the court waiting area, I watched those around me. It was like watching an episode of Shameless (incidentally, the TV show Shameless was based on a sink estate where I grew up and was the very town in which I was sitting in the Magistrates court of) as people with various colours of track suits sailed past me dragging children with snotty noses behind them. There were mothers, fathers, grannies, brothers and sisters with members of their family who were ‘up’ for ‘stuff’ I’ve never seen as much snot in my whole life and I’ve cried buckets. I vowed next time I was in there I would be taking a box of tissues to wipe brats’ disgusting noses. Likely I’d get a clout or a profanity edged comment thrown at me, but its snot. I hate the stuff.

I asked the woman next to me if she would like a coffee. The coffee was 30p per plastic cup of shit. Whoever passes that off as coffee should be reported to Trading Standards. She looked terrified and I could tell she was on her own. She then broke down in tears as she told me her whole sorry tale of why she was there. I still speak with that lady today. I have helped her with her CV, written cover letters for her and she is now working for a pharmaceutical company and was given a conditional discharge for her crime. Oddly enough, which we laugh about now, she thought I was her solicitor.

Finally, my snot-induced nightmare was to come to an end. I was called through to Court No. 1. I know that Court No. 1 is serious business. I was told amongst the snot. Comments such as “You’re obviously in the shit if you’re in that court” and “the press are always in there”.  Well, the press were. I’m a scriber; I know when someone’s writing in a hurry. We were told to rise as the three Magistrates entered the room. Everyone else sat down, so did I. Moments later I was asked to stand as my name was read out and I answered the charges which were put to me.  I remember listening as the Prosecutor read out the charges. I was then asked to enter my plea. I spoke calmly but clearly. Not Guilty.  This was my Plea Hearing.  The Magistrates’ bench consisted of two females who were separated by the male in the middle; it was all frightfully proper. I remember looking at the three Magistrates and thinking these people are, for the next few minutes, going to decide what was going to happen to me in the next few moments. The Prosecution had applied for conditional bail. Now, I’m not a lawyer, but the charges were from 2011 and it was October 2012, I’d turned up. Any person who was not devoid of any intelligence could clearly see that I was hardly a flight risk. Equally, the chances of me contacting my victim were slim. Had I been in the business of contacting him, trust me, I’d have been standing there answering a charge of murder. My immediate thought was that they were going to put a tag on my ankle. Still, it was winter so at least no person would see it. My solicitor won the argument and I was granted unconditional bail. The Prosecutor was clearly new and very young. She stumbled with her words a little. I felt for her. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to go up to her and say “you’ll be fine” Odd thought process, given the scenario.

Finally, a date was set for a committal hearing. In six weeks I was summoned to go through it all again.  We all stood up again as the Magistrates left the court room. I have visions of them going into their little room at the back and commenting “She doesn’t look the type” and the other two shaking their heads, acquiescing. I’d heard stories in the waiting room among my “new friends” about Magistrates’ comments. One lad sticks in my mind, “I was told last time that if I was brought before the bench again, I’d be going down” he claimed. I was expecting a huge bollocking, don’t ask me why. I don’t know. Not the case, I was treated with impassion and as far as I am concerned, that’s absolutely okay.

It was to be another six months before I appeared at Crown Court. I had my committal hearing (yes more snot and I did take the tissues. I also managed to leave with my face intact)

I can write with humour about the situation but there is nothing more humbling than being charged with a criminal offence. It was a humbling experience when I came face to face with people I’d likely have crossed the street to avoid previously. We all had something in common. We had been charged with a crime. It’s so hard to define my true feelings. It was the day my life began to unravel. I draw again on people in my life who have pulled me back from brinkmanship so many times. “If you cannot feel Tracey, you must hurt” That hurt started, like a pressure cooker with the lid on. Round and round in my head I went. Turmoil and torment were simmering nicely under the lid. I met myself again. Everything I had pushed away deep in the very core of my mind began to rise and catch up with the cold, hard, impassionate woman that stared back at me every morning. That’s what lying did to me. I justified my lies with never having to feel the guilt.

Guilt is a killer. It twisted me, it changed my moral compass and drove me to hurt the people I love. With the same impassion I’d been shown by the Magistrates’ that day, I lied to myself, to my fiancé, to my defence team and I was to continue lying… for six months.

Those lies were to cost me everything. Home. Fiancé.  Friends. Father.B rother. The final knife I stuck into myself and twisted incessantly, I’d lost the chance to rebuild anything with my children.

I’ve been in a “system” since being a child. Back in 1977, I’d stood in a county court as a nine-year old, explaining in only the way a nine-year old can, how my mother was neglecting me. I watched my parents rip chunks out of each other over me.  Of course, that wouldn’t happen today. Then 25 years later I was to stand in a front of a Family Law Judge fighting for my children.  I’m pretty used to “systems” I’ve been in the High Court with a Family Law barrister. I’m a system slut in all honesty. I’ve been around the “systems” of the UK for the majority of my life.

Now, I was in the Criminal Justice System.

By Tracey McMahon

About the author: Tracey McMahon is a 45 year, copy writer/transcriber/translator. She has been convicted of a criminal offence and is currently serving her sentence.

Neil Wilson’s sentence referred to Court of Appeal by Attorney-General

Note: Para references refer to the transcript of the original sentence hearing on 5 August 2013.

Neil Wilson pleaded to various sexual offences. These were reported – in varying accuracy and detail – in early August. David Cameron waded in, not wanting to miss an opportunity to get a nice media sound bite.

You will no doubt remember the media furore over the language used by the prosecutor and the judge in describing the victim’s behaviour. We don’t propose to go into this, save to say that as with any media reports, caution should be taken when relying on them. In relation to the prosecutor, though the language used seems poorly chosen, it is stil unknown whether there was a reason behind using that particular language.

See here, here and here for some news reports.

The offences

There were two indictments:

The Snaresbrook Indictment

Count 2, sexual activity with a child

Count 3- 8 indecent photographs of children

Count 4 – possession of 11 extreme pornographic images

Count 1 was not proceeded with, the defendant having previously pleaded not guilty on 24 June 2013. I was not the Judge that day. The prosecution on that occasion indicated their acceptance of the pleas and requested that Count 1 would be left on the file.

The York Indictment

5 counts of possessing extreme pornographic images

The facts

The sexual activity

The transcript of the initial sentencing hearing is now available here.

The transcript of the variation hearing is available here.

Having given it a cursory read, the following seem to be of note:

The officer in the case, at the request of the judge, stated that the 13-year-old victim looked and acted older, about ’14 or 15’ years of age. [page 10 para E onwards]

The prosecution accepted that the meeting that was arranged between Wilson and the girl was a 50-50 consensual meeting – when asked in such terms by the Judge, the prosecutor said ‘very much so’. [page 11 para F]

The prosecutor stated that “she [the victim] is undoubtedly it is fair to say very sexually experienced, and one hesitates to use the word, but it is a word that has been used in other cases, I think the officer would agree that she may well be what is described as predatory in respect of her activities.”

The prosecution stated: “Initially she [the victim] said that she was 16 and  then she said, “I am nearly 16”. I was 16 a couple of  months ago. I am nearly 16.”

The prosecutor said: “She certainly appears on the face of it to behave as somebody who is very much more sexually experienced; that we can confirm, both from what he [Wilson] says and what she [the victim]  says.” [page 11 para B]

The indecent images

There were photographs of prepubescent children [page 15 para D] found on Wilson’s computer. He was charged with making them (in that he downloaded and created a copy of the images).

The levels: two at level 1, two at level 2 and four at level 3.

See here for an explanation of this type of offending and the way in which such material is categorised.

The extreme pornographic images

There were 11 extreme pornographic images.

The images depicted women engaging in sexual activity with horses and dogs.

The prosecution said that there were ‘5 videos of bestiality, penetrative sexual acts between humans and animals.’ [page 16 para H]. This would appear to be the York indictment on which there were 5 (as per 5 August transcript) or 6 counts (as per 12 August transcript). The difference is immaterial.

Wilson’s account – The sexual activity

As the victim was not a complainant, the case was opened to the Judge (where the prosecution tell the Judge the facts) on the basis of (it would seem) facts ágreed between the defence and prosecution.  It is important to remember that the prosecution has a duty to be fair to the defendant – he or she must state the facts of the case without misleading the court.

The prosecutor, in opening, said:

“He says they sat in the lounge. She had arrived in school uniform. They sat in the lounge. They talked about their relationship. He told her there was no relationship, this could not go on as he would get into trouble. He asked her to leave, but she asked if she could change out of her school uniform. He left the room and returned a short time later to find her sitting on the settee with just a t-shirt on and no other clothing. He sat on the floor and told her to put her clothes back on. She came round to where he was sitting and began kissing and touching him. He told her to go away. She sat astride him facing him, undid his trousers, took his penis out. She began to masturbate him. He was angry and said, “leave me alone”. She then turned around, still astride him with her back to him. She lowered herself on to his back. He believes his penis may have touched her vagina or near to that area. He pushed her away and she was upset. After further conversation about him not wanting to see her any more she got dressed and left. He has said at no time did he have penetrative sex with her.”

The sentences

As varied on 12 August 2013:

Count 2, sexual activity with a child the sentence is 8 months suspended for 2 years

Count 3 indecent photographs 4 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years.

Count 4 extreme pornographic images 4 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years.

On the York indictment 5 counts of possessing extreme pornographic images 4 months imprisonment suspended 2 years.

Arranging the sentences – Concurrent or Consecutive?

The Judge said:

“Count 3 and 4 and the York indictment will be concurrent to one another but will together be consecutive to Count 2.

Therefore the total sentence thus far is 12 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years.”

Sexual Offences Prevention Order

We are aware that a SOPO was imposed, however as we understand it the terms of the order have not been made available. We are aware however that one of the terms included a prohibition from deleting Internet history [page 20 para G]

In the variation hearing on 12 August, the Judge appeared to add the word ‘smart phone’ to the order.

Judge’s comments about the sentence

“As I said to you last week if you commit any offence in the next 2 years then in addition to any sentence you will receive for the new matter, this sentence of 12 months will be activated and added.

You will be subject as part of the suspended sentence order to a supervision requirement for 2 years which requires you to attend regular interviews with your appointed probation officer.

You will be required to complete the Northumbria Sex Offender Treatment Programme of 100 days. This has to be completed within the 2 years.

This is and is meant to be an intensive course of treatment, you must attend every session. If sessions are missed you will have to catch up before resuming the programme. If two sessions are missed without an acceptable reason approved by the probation officer, you will be in breach and you will be returned to Court which will have wide powers including prison. The same strictures will apply if you fail without good reason to attend appointments with your probation officer.”

The Attorney-General’s reference

On 27 August 2013, it was announced by the AGO’s Office that the Attorney-General had referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient. The Court would hear the case ‘in due course’.

We now know the factual background on which Wilson was sentenced (see above)

The guidelines are here – see numbered page 52 (p 54 of the document)

The range would appear to be 1 – 4 years with a starting point of 2. That is for ‘Contact between naked genitalia of offender and naked genitalia or another part of victim’s body, particularly face or mouth.’

Assessing the sentence is complex as there appear to be many factors to the factual background. Of particular relevance are:

a)      The Judge said: “the prosecution accept [the victim] looked and behaved a little bit older”

b)      The Judge said: “On these facts, the girl involved, I am told, to use the expression was “predatory” and was seriously egging you on.”

c)       It appears that b) was a significant factor in deciding to suspend the sentence.

d)      The Judge noted the need for treatment, and made specific reference to the aim of the sentence he was imposing being that Wilson could receive such treatment.

e)      It would appear that there was no ejaculation (see ‘Wilson’s account’ above)

f)       It appears Wilson ‘intervened’ and eventually made the girl leave. Of course this was after some sexual activity had already taken place.

We are aware that Wilson had two previous convictions but neither were relevant. He is treated as if he was of good character. [page 20 par C onwards]

With a discount for the plea (which was the full 1/3), mitigation (intervention of Wilson, victim looked and behaved older)  and any reduction for the role of the victim in the offence (the acceptance that to some extent she instigated the offence), a sentence of 8 months would not appear so low as to attract the attention of the Attorney-General (absent the media attention of course).

The extreme pornographic images – which contained images of adult females engaging in sexual activity with horses and dogs – are not covered by the guideline. Case law has suggested that some assistance may be gained from looking at the guideline however. The guideline is here, see particularly page 113. In a comparable case from 2011, a defendant was sentenced to 2 months (on a plea) for possession of eight moving images and three still images depicting sexual activity between adults and animals. In this case, considering there are two counts for this material, 4 months on a plea (which would have meant starting at 6 months) seems reasonable.

For the indecent images, there is a very small amount at levels 1, 2 and 3. This is more difficult to place into the guideline. There is no suggestion Wilson distributed the material. The guidelines (as inflexible as they are) would seem to require these offences to be placed into the second category (starting at the bottom), namely that Wilson was ‘in possession of a large amount of material at level 2 or a small amount at level 3’. This is on the basis that level 3 images are not specified in the bottom category. In reality, the true position is somewhere between the two categories. The range is therefore 4 weeks – 26 weeks.

4 months does not seem unreasonable on a plea.

For both images offences, the material appears to have been for his own personal use, which would of course be some mitigation.

Conclusion

It is first important to note that there is a two-stage process when considering suspended sentence. First, how long should the custodial term be. That is an assessment of how long the offender should go to prison for. Second, and independent of the first stage (although many counsel and judges do not conduct it independently) there is the question of whether the custodial term should be suspended.

To my mind, the length of the sentences – 8 months and 4 months consecutive – does not seem so low as to require the Court of Appeal to step in. It cannot be said that the sentence is a severe one, but I think we should be careful to criticise a Judge who obviously made a point of attempting to pass a sentence which sought to give the offender the treatment he requires to correct his behaviour, rather than simply lock him up and wait until he offends again. ‘Low’ isnt enough for the Court to increase the sentence. For an explanation of Att-Gen’s References, see here.

It may be that a modest increase is seen to reflect the element of grooming (the text message contact etc) and to reflect the overall seriousness of the case – it must be remembered that this is quite serious sexual activity with a child.

The material question at the Court of Appeal may well be whether it was appropriate to suspend the sentence and that is a very different question.

If the sentence is increased, expect a double jeopardy argument for a reduction to the eventual, increased, sentence as Mr Wilson is currently serving a non-custodial sentence. Despite the rejection of the double jeopardy reduction in the Stuart Hall case (and the accompanying dodgy reasoning) the Court would find it rather difficult no to give some discount to reflect the anxiety caused by being sentenced a second time.

EDIT: This post was edited on 29 August to clarify the position in relation to the extreme pornographic images. These were images depicted adults and animals NOT children and animals and therefore are not covered by the guideline.

Is racism endemic in the police force? Home Secretary to launch consultation on stop and search powers

The statistics show that black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people.  Why is this?  Home Secretary Theresa May is on a mission to find out.  A 12-week consultation, extended initially from 6-weeks, is under-way to review the stop and search powers of the police.

The consultation will follow the publication of a report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary into the effectiveness of the current stop-and-search laws.

At present, only 9% of the 1.2 million stop-and-search incidents that take place lead to an arrest.  In some areas, for example Cumbria, it’s as low as 3%.  This raises the obvious question of whether the police are using their powers wisely and effectively.  Not only does the misuse of such powers lead to a lack of confidence in the police force, but also a huge waste of police time; the Home Secretary stated that it took 16 minutes for a police officer to conduct a stop-and-search and complete the necessary paperwork.  There is a suggestion that a target of 20% is achievable following the adoption of a more intelligence-led approach.

A LSC/Guardian report into the 2011 London riots identified the operation of stop-and-search laws as being a key cause.

More on the consultation can be found here.

The consultation closes on 24th September and can be found here.  Watch this space for an analysis of the outcome.

A view from… the Magistrates’ Court bench: The appointment and role of a JP

My view from the Bench

By Beaky JP

 First a little introduction. I am a Magistrate with nearly 20 years’ experience on the Bench. I am an Approved Chairman and an appraiser of other Magistrates. In my day job, and somewhat unusually for a Justice of the Peace, I also happen to be a qualified and practising Solicitor in the City of London. This little musing is intended to cast a little spotlight on what it’s like to be a JP in the 21st Century. I hope to dispel some myths and correct a few misconceptions. Any cases that may be referred to will be completely anonymous and certain facts changed if they are so unique as to allow any sort of identification. While I may comment at times on the Criminal Justice System, I will say nothing that might bring the Magistracy into disrepute. It is an office under the Crown and over 630 years old in the making…it is something Britain should be very proud of. Now read on…

The role of the Magistrate has been very much in the news recently. There are changes afoot in the Criminal Justice System and articles in the national Press and on Social Media and in particular some of the comments of the great British Public, have illustrated just how much ignorance there is out there about just what a JP does. So in this first of an occasional series, I’m going to try to explain who JPs are, how we get appointed and what happens when we are.

Appointment Process

The traditional image of a JP is a crusty old Colonel or Grande Dame in large hat and gloves whose appointment came about masonic like by a gentle tap on the shoulder by someone equally grand and a few whispers in the right place. WRONG. Today’s JP can be anyone – the youngest appointee was 18 and retirement is compulsory at 70. There are no secret discussions; application is by a long and detailed form available from the Ministry of Justice website followed by interview by a panel of 3 members of a Local Advisory Committee comprising both serving magistrates and non magistrates. A recommendation is then made to the Lord Chancellor after CRB checks, and hey presto, about a year after initial application, you may make it onto your local bench. The Advisory Committee members have themselves been specially appointed (after application and interview) and trained for the role. The system is transparent albeit sometimes long and drawn out to ensure that only candidates with the necessary skills and qualities (and stamina!!) make it through.

Pay

Zilch, nada, not a bean!! JPs are volunteers and certainly aren’t in it for the money!! It’s fascinating when sometimes I have visited schools and colleges to talk about the work of the Magistracy and the very first question often asked is ‘What do you get paid then?’ The looks of disbelief on the faces of the kids are a thing to behold, if a little disappointing to be honest. The concept of ‘volunteering’ is a bit alien to some of the little dears. We ARE entitled to some travelling expenses and a small subsistence allowance (Just over £7 which just about covers a sandwich and a cup of coffee for what can be an 8 hour day). Self-employed colleagues can claim what is called a Financial Loss Allowance up to a maximum of around £130 a day but recently the MoJ has moved the goalposts making it far more difficult for the FLA to be claimed.  The loss has to be ACTUAL and provable and for many self-employed, this is simply not possible. How can a small shopkeeper for example prove that a customer didn’t come into his shop because he was in court instead of behind the counter? How can I as a professional lawyer prove that I lost client time when I can (and do) make it up at midnight and on the weekends despite this being unsocial hours which I would rather spend with my family?

 The knock on effect of this may be to discourage ordinary working people from applying or continuing as JPs and this cannot be in anyone’s interest, least of all the CJS. I’m not sure anyone has actually explained that to the MoJ!

Training

Once appointed, the really hard work starts. Newly appointed JP’s must observe in at least 2 different court houses, and undertake extensive training before they are allowed to actually sit on the bench. While they are not expected to be experts in the law – a legally qualified clerk provides that bit of the equation – they DO need to understand a significant degree of legal procedure and practice. They are the arbiters of law and fact at the end of the day and detailed structured decision making processes must be followed in order to ‘do the job’ properly. Sentencing Guidelines are provided to all JPs and again must be adhered to,  to try to ensure consistency in approach to cases throughout the land. Of course there are slight variations in sentencing – they are guidelines not tramlines and no two cases (or defendants and their circumstances) are exactly the same. Nevertheless, in studies of sentencing practice since the Guidelines were introduced, a far more consistent approach has been identified.

Initial sittings of new magistrates are mentored by a more experienced JP. Every new magistrate has an individual mentor assigned to them. The mentor has been specially trained for the role and provides both information and a shoulder to cry on for the first year or so. Reports on these sittings are prepared and submitted to a Bench Training and Development Committee, at the end of which, a formal Appraisal is carried out. Based on set competencies, criteria and behaviours which need to be demonstrated, specially trained Appraisers vet the newbie and prepare a ‘Threshold Appraisal’ report for the BTDC. Only if the BTDC consider the JP competent are they passed to continue. Failure at this stage will probably lead to additional training and support until a further appraisal is held.

 Every magistrate, no matter how long they may have been on the bench is appraised at least once every 3 years and the competencies demonstrated. Training is a continuous process. Every time a new piece of legislation concerning the courts – whether procedural or a significant new criminal offence – training is provided. Sometimes it is provided by the Judicial College – kind of like School for Judges – and sometimes by the local court staff themselves.

 So, just as a final word, please remember that it is extremely irritating for many Magistrates when they hear comments – often I’m sorry to say by young baby barristers – patronisingly suggest to a bench they can’t be expected to understand the esoteric but ‘extremely important’ point they are trying to make. While very naughty of me I have been known to reply that yes, with only 25 years as a solicitor under my belt, I really struggle with the concept of shop theft, please carry on and enlighten me. Strangely, they tend to move on rather quickly after that!!

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

Guest post by: Neil Hudgell - Logo

Neil Hudgell Solicitors CICA Criminal Injuries team help those who are victims of violent crime claim compensation for their injuries.

The different types of criminal injuries compensation

Being the victim of a violent crime is always a traumatic experience that can have a long lasting physical and mental impact. Fortunately there is a government funded scheme in place to help victims and witnesses of violent crimes, ensuring that blameless and innocent victims of crime have access to support and compensation when they need it most. If you have been injured because of a violent crime, there are several different types of payment that you might be able to claim. Violent crime will affect victims in many different ways and the different types of compensation take this into account.

How the process works

If you believe you are eligible for an award, you can fill in an application form online. If you don’t have internet access, you can also apply over the telephone. Once CICA receive your application they will process it, taking into account the personal information you provide. You won’t be required to attend a hearing. They then make a decision and write to you or your legal representative to inform you of the outcome. If you feel you need representation, contact a solicitor before you complete an online application form.

If you agree with the award decision you’ll need to sign a written acceptance form before you receive the award. If you disagree with a decision you can ask for a review, and if you disagree with a review decision you can appeal to the Tribunals Service- Criminal Injuries Compensation (TS).

A payment for injuries/Tariff award

A Tariff award recognises that you have suffered an injury. This injury can be physical or mental and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will assess whether or not your injury is serious enough to qualify for at least the minimum award payable under the tariff. If you suffer multiple injuries you will be compensated for the most serious injury that you have suffered, as well as receiving smaller amounts for separate injuries you may have suffered. Once you have been assessed and deemed eligible for a minimum award of £1,000 you will also qualify for other types of payment, including loss of earnings and special expenses.

Payment for loss of earnings

Individuals who have no or very limited capacity to carry out paid work as a result of their injury can receive compensation under the scheme. The authority will look at your previous work history to help decide whether you are eligible for a payment. After qualifying for a loss of earnings payment the CICA will pay you from the 28th week that you are unable to work.

Payment for special expenses

Special expenses payments are provided to cover carious costs that can result from an injury. This includes the cost of medical treatment which can’t be provided by the NHS, the cost of modifications that need to be made to the home and the cost of care provided by a residential care home. Payments for special expenses are given out from the date your injury occurred.

Payment because a loved one was killed in a violent crime

If your child, spouse, parent or partner was killed as a result of violent crime, you will be able to claim for compensation. Claimants are eligible to receive up to £11,000 for the death of a loved one and can also make an additional claim if they were financially dependent on the deceased.

Payment to victims of sexual offences

The CICA scheme provides compensation for victims of sexual offences and provides a contact helpline for those who need help completing their applications. In certain cases victims of sexual offences can be awarded upwards of £30,000.

In all cases the crime must have been reported to the police as soon as reasonably possible. Injuries do not have to be physical as many crimes can leave psychological scars that make daily life extremely difficult. The first step to claiming compensation is contacting the CICA so they can make an assessment of your case and begin helping both you and your family recover.

By Neil Hudgell, Solicitor

Neil Hudgell Solicitors specialise in personal injury and medical negligence legal services with a strong focus on delivering high levels of client care, whether it’s just for advice or to handle a claim. We have offices around the UK visit www.neil-hudgell.co.uk or call us on 0808 231 6056.