Third twitter prosecution from Criado-Perez case

Third twitter prosecution from Criado-Perez case

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We looked at the case of two tweeters who were prosecuted for tweets that they sent to Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy. On 23rd January 2014 it was announced by the CPS that a third person, Peter Nunn, a 33 year old man from Bristol, had been charged with one offence under s127 Communications Act. He was bailed to attend Court on 6th February 2014.

We don’t as yet know the alleged contents of the messages that were supposed to have been sent.

Although this offence is summary only and so won’t be tried in front of a jury (with less risk therefore that a magistrates, whether full or part time, will be prejudiced by anything published), we won’t be looking at in any more detail at this stage.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

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  1. The first real distinction between the various members of the judicial family (sic) in the magistrates’ courts is not whether they are “full or part time”, but whether they are paid or unpaid.

    Some DJJ(MC), that is ‘District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts)’, and especially some DDJJ(MC) or ‘Deputy District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts) DO work part-time, but are fully remunerated for their time.

    Lay justices on the other hand are not paid and in fact, as a result, the actual cost a bench of three lay magistrates (including legal adviser support, training, travel expenses, subsistence, etc.) is about a third of the resource cost of a DJ(MC) (again including training etc., as well as pension contributions and social security costs) – and the ratio is even less favourable to District Judges if the reality of their courtroom support by fully qualified legal advisers rather than unqualified court associates (on which the latest published figures were based) is factored in.

    But there is a more important distinction. When a peron is tried before a DJ(MC), everything is in a single individual’s hands (i.e. the rôles of judge, jury and sentencer all rolled into one), which makes something of a mockery of your and my right under Magna Carta to be tried by our peers (which is precisely what lay magistrates are). Many countries (from Japan to Norway) have moved towards having panels made up of professional judges and lay people (with the lay members able to outvote the professionals) instead of either jury trial or judge-only decision making.

    It may be time to revisit the whole notion of summary trial by a single judge, which many find to be in contradiction with the principles of natural justice. At least when District Judges’ verdicts and / or sentences are appealed, the appeal hearing (which can be a full rehearing) takes place in front of a Crown Court judge and between two and four lay justices.

  2. Polruan: as a lay magistrate myself I have to say that I do not expect most of the “customers” in the dock to see me or most of my Bench as their peers.

    We are now some 52% female: they are mainly male.

    There remains a persistent difference between the proportion of BME people on the Bench, in the population at large (higher) and among defendants (higher again). I don’t know why and I don’t know whether there should be a remedy and what it might be – no quotas please – but there we are, the disparity is there.

    We are mostly in our forties and up; they are mostly in their late teens and twenties.

    We are mostly in work or retired from a lifetime in work; they are mostly not.

    We are settled, generally prosperous people; they are not.

    We live organised lives, we turn up to appointments, we do what we need to do; they do not.

    Above all we are law-abiding or we would not be there; they are not, and while of course we apply the presumption of innocence most of them dispel it at once by pleading guilty and whether they plead or are found guilty there generally follows a dispiriting print-out of previous convictions.

    We are in short far less their peers than a jury, and about as much so as any professional judge.

  3. Andrew, I don’t disagree with you at all as regards your analysis of the typical bench, despite every attempt to achieve greater diversity (but the lay bench is hugely more diverse than the senior judiciary!). My point really is that a trial is best conducted with a panel of three or more people sitting in judgment, rather than one person. Peer in the context of “by one’s peers” simply means “by people of the same legal status”, and it is the plural that matters most.

  4. The first two cases in this matter were dealt with by the Chief Magistrate himself, and on the basis of guilty pleas, so the issue of trial by a single person didn’t arise. I shan’t go into the third case, for the reasons given by Dan.

    But there is an issue of principle here that just won’t go away (although it has persisted since at least the 18thC, so I shan’t hold my breath as regards a rapid resolution!). It is striking that on a recent occasion when a Judge was on trial in the Magistrates’ Court, a mixed bench of lay magistrates and Chief Magistrate heard the case together (thereby redefining the notion of peer…).

    Another issue that these cases throw up is just why Parliament continues to insist on shoplifting being an “either way” offence, and refuses all and every attempt to keep cases involving sums of less than say £200 in the Magistrates’ Courts. The money wasted on Crown Court trials of matters that could perfectly well be heard on a summary basis would go a very long way to plugging the gap in Legal Aid funding. Threats to rape and kill of apparently the most despicable kind are deemed suitable only for summary trial, along with many assaults, including very nasty cases of domestic abuse, and yet the “Bishop’s honour” argument continues to be rolled out to keep shoplifting an “either way” offence. Quite bonkers!

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