On Thursday the 17th of November 2011 I observed one of Cambridge’s magistrates courts in operation.
I have written separate articles on two of the cases I observed:
- Consequences of Punching A Random Stranger on Fitzroy Street in Cambridge
- Charges Dropped After Student Fees Protestors Strike Deal With Prosecutors
Drug Case to be Heard In Secret
The first case I observed involved drugs charges and a violent assault of a police constable. There were three defendants, aged 16,17 and 29. Two of the defendants gave addresses in the Fen Road area of Cambridge and the other an address on a rather nice road in the south of the city.
An order under S.39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (Power to prohibit publication of certain matter in newspapers) was made which prohibits the publication of any information which may identify the children (those under 18) involved in the case.
The case didn’t get very far because the prosecutor didn’t have his papers in order. The magistrates rebuked the prosecutor for wasting court time.
The Magistrates decided to re-schedule the hearing for the youth court.
Cases in the youth court are held in secret, the public are not allowed in. I am very concerned that in Cambridge a 29 year old accused of serious offences is to be treated via a secret court (or a court that is even more secret than usual for Cambridge, given the court lists are not openly published or even freely made available in court).
The decision by the magistrates to move the case to the youth court was contrary to S46(1)(a) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Hopefully, if it is alert, the youth court will pass it back to the adult magistrates court when it realises the mistake has been made.
This is an astonishing farce which may well cause even more wasted public money and court time.
Fight Over Condiments on Market Square
On the 6th of November 2011 a fight, caught on the city council CCTV mounted on the guildhall, occurred on Market Square.
The court was told that an argument, relating to condiments, had broken out between the defendant and the staff of the takeaway food trailer in front of the guildhall. Someone from the queue had sought to intervene and the defendant had turned against them.
The court was played CCTV footage which started part way through the incident. There were two men goading each other. The defendant was being held back by one of his friends (who was stood behind him with his hands round him restraining him). Despite this restraint the defendant was trying to hit the other person (who didn’t run away but continued the confrontation). At one point the scuffle – which was surrounded by 6-7 people – moved out of sight of the camera under the coverings of the market stalls. It was at this point that the other person reportedly got injured, though the prosecution were not suggesting they were in a position to prove the defendant did it. The charge was one of “common assault” which the prosecutor said did not have to involve injury, the fact the defendant had kicked out at and lunged punches towards the other person was they said sufficient (the ingredients of the offence section of the Wikipedia page Common Assault agrees).
The magistrates said the defendant was lucky to have his friend holding him back otherwise he might be facing much more serious charges.
The mitigation focused on the fact the victim didn’t walk away and appeared to be continuing the argument. For some reason the fact the argument had started over the mayonnaise specifically was mentioned (I can’t imagine that would have any bearing on the sentence!).
The court did not hear any details of the injuries caused (as no evidence was being put forward in relation to those) hopefully they were not very serious as I would have hoped the police would have sought to investigate given all the possible suspects were caught on CCTV – we could see who went into the market stall area at the time of the injury – even though we couldn’t see it actually happen.
Magistrates sentenced the man to a fine of £200, and imposed a victim surcharge and court costs of £85
Charges of Drunken and Dangerous Driving
This next case was a pre-trial hearing, so what I can report is restricted by S8C of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 to the point of which despite there being lots of interesting matters raised there is nothing interesting which I am free to write.
Straight to Crown Court
The next case was dealt with under S51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which provides for ” No committal proceedings for indictable-only offences.”
As suggested by the provision, there were no proceedings. The defendant gave his name and address, his existing [police presumably] bail conditions were re-affirmed by the Magistrates, and he was given date to appear in Crown Court (one week later). That was it.
The defendant had had to attend court from an address well outside Cambridge. It all appeared a waste of time to me; as long neither the prosecution or defence are unhappy with the bail conditions, particularly given the requirement for such cases to be scheduled in the Crown Court “forthwith” I can’t see why there’s a need for the magistrates’ court appearance.
Video Link From HMP Peterborough
A set time had been scheduled for this individual’s appearance so the court had a 15 minute break beforehand so it was ready. A date of a future court appearance was being set. One of the winger magistrates as the chair of the bench what was going on, she told him not to worry as it was “only administrative”. I strongly suspect it wasn’t and it was a judicial decision (deferrals, delaying justice, have big impacts on defendants which the judicial system doesn’t appear to appreciate). A court date was moved (I had even less of a clue what was going on than the winger magistrate, all wasn’t really made clear).
A man charged with possession of cannabis was up next.
He pleaded guilty.
The court was told he was supported by his father and occasionally worked to promote music festivals and was going off on tour with “the band” for a week next week .
The court imposed a conditional discharge for 18 months. The magistrate chairing said that this meant that if he was sentenced for any other offence in the next 18 months this offence would also be brought up and he would be punished for it then, in addition to the future offence.
Court costs of £85 were imposed.
The defendant, who clearly knew the system. asked for a payment card “as I’ve had before” and offered to pay what he owed by the end of the year.
Another Committal to the Crown Court
A Russian speaking lady was committed to trial at the crown court under the procedure set out in 6(2) Magistrates’ Court Act 1980.
No details of the charges, or anything else were read out in court.
A Russian translator who had been waiting in court for hours was sworn in, the defendant confirmed her name to the court, and the magistrate gave the date and time for the Crown Court appearance. The magistrate told the woman of a deadline to tell the Crown Court if she wanted any witnesses to appear in person.
The Russian translator collected her pay and expenses form from the usher on her way out.
The last case was related to a shocking alleged crime. I cannot report anything about it because it is may go to trial. A description of the alleged crime was given to the court but S8C of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 prevents me from reporting it. While the description of the crime was given the specific charges, which I would have been able to report, were not (they would presumably have been on the full copy of the court list, but there was not a spare one available). The next hearing in the case was scheduled for 11.15 the next day. I suspect it may end up in the Crown Court; I’ve told the Cambridge News crime reporter about it so he may be able to track it and report on it.