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Cases - magistrates
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Bowman v DPP [1991] DC

Johnson v Leicestershire Constabulary (1998) DC

Norbrook Laboratories v Health & Safety Executive (1998) DC

Paul v DPP (1989) DC

R v Altrincham JJ ex p Pennington [1975] DC

R v Barnsley JJ ex p Barnsley LVA [1960] CA

R v Bingham JJ ex p Jowitt (1974) DC

R v Birmingham Magistrates ex p Ahmed [1995] DC

R v Doncaster JJ ex p Jack (1999) Collins J

R v Liverpool JJ ex p Roberts [1960] DC

R v Marylebone Magistrates' Court ex p Perry (1992) DC

R v Newcastle JJ ex p Devine (1998) Latham J

R v Waltham Forest JJ ex p Solanke [1986] CA

R v Weston-super-Mare JJ ex p Taylor [1981] DC

Worcestershire JJ ex p Daniels (1996) DC

Bowman v DPP [1991] DC

 

Red triangle indicating important information

 

[OK for magistrates to use their local knowledge]
D drove with excess alcohol, at high speed around a multi-storey car park shortly after midnight .  Was the car park "a public place" within the meaning of the Act. The magistrates (one of whom lived near the car park, and another of whom used it regularly) used their own knowledge that the barriers were raised at night so that motorists used it freely, and convicted.

Held: There is no doubt that magistrates have a right and a duty to use their local knowledge where appropriate, though it is always wise for them to make their intention known so that the parties can comment.

Guilty

Johnson v Leicestershire Constabulary (1998) DC

[Natural Justice – absence of bias required of magistrates]
D recognised one of the magistrates as a prison visitor and this magistrate retired and was replaced by another; however, the bench now knew that D must have some kind of criminal record.

Held: The question was whether there was any real danger of bias in the justices having learned something they should not have. Lay justices, like judges, were trained to put irrelevant matters out of mind, and in the instant case that was sufficient.

Guilty

Norbrook Laboratories v Health & Safety Executive (1998) DC

[If magistrates use their local knowledge must say so in open court]
D allowed unsafe working practices. In their "case stated" the justices said they had used their personal local knowledge.

Held: There is no objection to justices' relying on issues of local notoriety, but they should always make this intention known to the parties and allow them a chance to comment on it before the decision is made. In this case, the justices had not done this.

Not guilty

Paul v DPP (1989) DC

[OK for magistrates to use their local knowledge]
D picked up a prostitute in his car. Were his actions "likely to cause nuisance to other persons in the neighbourhood". The magistrates took account of their own knowledge of the area as a heavily populated residential area in which many drivers looked for prostitutes, and convicted.

Held: This was the sort of case that was particularly appropriate for trial by magistrates with local knowledge.

Guilty

R v Altrincham JJ ex parte Pennington [1975] DC

[Natural Justice – absence of bias required of magistrates]
D supplied short measure of groceries to various schools.  The chairman of the bench was a County alderman who sat on the Education Committee.

Held: Widgery CJ said that although a formal connection between justice and prosecutor need not always disqualify the justice from sitting, justices should always disqualify themselves (or at least invite the parties to object) where they had an active interest in an organisation that was the victim of the alleged offence.

Not guilty certiorari (now a quashing order) granted

R v Barnsley JJ ex parte Barnesley LVA [1969 CA

 

Red triangle indicating important information

[Natural Justice – absence of bias required of magistrates]
Barnsley Co-Op applied for and was granted an off-licence, of the seven justices who had dealt with the application, six were members of the Co-Op Society and the seventh had a wife who was.

Held: Statutory provisions preserved the validity of the licence: the procedure had been irregular, but there was no real likelihood of bias because the extent of the justices' financial interest was so small.

Licence remained in force

R v Bingham JJ ex parte Jowitt (1974) DC

 

 

Red triangle indicating important information

[Natural Justice – absence of bias required of magistrates]
D exceeded the speed limit. D and a police officer contradicted one another.  Finding D guilty, the chairman said, "My principle in such cases has always been to believe the evidence of the police officer."

Held: This remark would cause any reasonable person to suspect that the chairman of magistrates was biased and that D had not had a fair trial.

Not guilty

R v Birmingham Magistrates ex parte Ahmed [1995] DC

[Clerk to take no part in verdict]
D accused of  deception and handling.

Magistrates retired to consider their verdict, the clerk had (as usual) retired with them without being invited to do so in open court; since there was no point of law arising, this created a suspicion that he was taking part in deciding the verdict.

Not guilty granted certiorari – a quashing order.

R v Doncaster JJ ex parte Jack (1999) Collins J

[Magistrates immunity, costs not awarded when mistake made]
Two women jailed in their absence for non-payment of poll tax and council tax. The magistrates took no steps to discover the reasons for non-payment or their absence from the hearing, nor did they issue bench warrants to bring the, before the court.

Held: Magistrates ordered personally to pay the costs of the appeal, estimated at £3000 each.

Not guilty certiorari granted

R v Liverpool JJ ex parte Roberts [1960] DC

 

 

[Magistrates immunity, costs not awarded when mistake made]
D on trial for speeding, trial was interrupted, and (apparently losing his place) the chairman then announced they found the case proved, without giving D a chance to present evidence in his own defence. Attempted to withdraw his finding, but the defence declined to continue with the trial.

Held:
Lord Parker CJ, refused to make an order for costs. 

“It is the practice not to grant costs against magistrates merely because they have made a mistake in law, but only if they have acted improperly; that is to say, perversely or with some disregard for the elementary principles which every court ought to obey, and even then only if it was a flagrant instance.“

Not guilty certiorari granted

R v Marylebone Magistrates' Court ex parte Perry (1992) DC

[Natural Justice – absence of bias required of magistrates]
D’s conduct was disorderly after an anti-apartheid demonstration. For 15 minutes in court he denounced of the evils of apartheid; the magistrate said he intended to "improve the shining hour" with some other work, and spent the next ten minutes signing warrants while D continued with his evidence.

Held: There is a fundamental judicial duty for the court to give the case in hand its undivided attention.

Not guilty certiorari granted

R v Newcastle JJ ex parte Devine (1998) Latham J

[Magistrates immunity, costs not awarded when mistake made]
D failed to pay poll-tax, magistrates committed him to prison. There was some doubt as to whether he had received the (wrongly-addressed) letter requiring him to attend court.

Held: Their unexplained failure to make the necessary enquiries whether the letter had been received called for strong disapproval. Accordingly, there was no reason why the magistrates should not be required to pay the costs.

Not guilty certiorari granted

R v Waltham Forest JJ ex parte Solanke [1986] CA

 

[Magistrates immunity, costs not awarded when mistake made]
D subject to a High Court maintenance order, committed to prison for non-payment. The order had not been registered with the court so they had no such power.  D claimed £1½m damages for wrongful imprisonment.

Held: The magistrates had acted in execution of their office even though in excess of their jurisdiction, so that damages were limited to 1p.

R v Weston-Super-Mare JJ ex parte Taylor [1981] DC

 

Red triangle indicating important information

[Natural Justice – absence of bias required of magistrates]
During D's trial the chairman of the magistrates appeared to be asleep. D's solicitor suggested that she might be ill and should withdraw from the case, but she declined to do so.

Held: They accepted that the chairman had not in fact been asleep, but said this had been a genuine application by a respected and responsible solicitor, and should have been taken more seriously.

Conviction set aside, new trial ordered.

Worcestershire JJ ex p Daniels (1996) DC

[Magistrates - lack of public confidence]
D failed to provide a specimen of breath.  During her trial, while she gave evidence, one of the magistrates was reading other material and not paying attention to what she said.

Held: It is important that justices (and indeed, any member of the bench) give and seem to give full attention to the proceedings although justices need not look at a witness constantly, they should not appear to be engaged for any considerable time in some other activity inconsistent with hearing the evidence.

 

It is important for judges to keep in touch with public attitudes, so as to maintain public confidence in the (criminal) justice system.

Conviction quashed.

 

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