Tag Archives: Austerity

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Her mother bent forward and placed a kiss on Hood’s cheek.

“You are grown up now, Hood. Time to make your way in the world. And we are so lucky that the Great Wizard, Lord Chan-see-Lore has agreed to take you as his apprentice” her mother said as she straightened up and wiped a solitary tear from her face.

Hood didn’t feel lucky. And at 12, didn’t feel particularly grown up.

“Now, Hood, be brave,” her mother said and steered her towards the heavy wooden door.

If she didn’t feel lucky, or grown up, she definitely did not feel brave. Every child in Gallia Pusillium was scared of Lord Chan-see-Lore. Every child had been frightened into good behaviour by the mere mention of his name. Every child knew the stories of his terrifying magical powers. And how he would use them if he found himself displeased with you. You were lucky if he turned you into a frog. There were rumours, dark rumours, that he had a spell which would instantly transport the target to the untamed badlands. And no one wanted to find themselves in the untamed territory known only as Defra.

As Hood tremulously approached the door it wheezed open as if pushed by an unseen hand. The young girl slowed in her pace and looked back at her mother who bore an unconvincing smile.

“I will see you tonight Hood, good luck and try, please try, not to make him angry….”

This last warning caused Hood to stop. She should turn back. She always made grown ups angry. She couldn’t help but make grown ups angry.

And then her feet were moving. Not by her bidding. Her mind was screaming at her feet to stop. Yet, as surely as if someone held her ankles and yanked each foot forward, she began to move towards the door, her feet slowly rising and falling like an astronaut walking across a moon of treacle.

Now she was across the threshold and the wooden door whooshed shut behind her. The air was still. The only sound was her heartbeat which reverberated around the stone walls of the short corridor which lay ahead of her.

A voice boomed from nowhere. The sound filling every bone in Hood’s quivering body.

“Ah, my new apprentice,” the voice deeply announced, “it is so good to have you here. Such a shame the previous one lasted such a short time. Such a pity he had to go. In a flash.

The last words echoed, bouncing off the walls and repeating just that phrase. “In a flash“. Like a spell. A violent spell.

“Come, come. No need to tarry. We have much to do. Come, come. Pedestrianarius compellebulum

It didn’t matter whether Hood wanted to do as instructed. Her feet responded to the incantation, moving of their own accord, propelling her to the end of the corridor. As she reached an oak and iron door it vanished into thin air and then reappeared behind her as her feet took two enchanted steps forward.

From the narrow confines of the passageway Hood suddenly found herself on a wide ledge in a vast chamber which spiralled above her head and out of sight, and plunged beneath her feet to dark dank depths. The ledge on which she stood was, in fact, a wide step in a staircase which climbed up the wall to her right and descended to her left. As she took in more of her surroundings she could see that the staircase led to the occasional square platform which jutted out from the wall.

Now, moving her own feet, she edged closer to the lip of her stair and surveyed the square platforms as they fanned out below her. On the one nearest to her she could see that it was set up like a sitting room, with a sofa, a chair, a coffee table and a rather chintzy rug. On another were all the accoutrements of a laboratory, tall flasks of bubbling liquid being heated by a dancing flame. On a third platform were a vast array of plants, being fed by a complex watering system and each bathed in light from an invisible source.

And on each Hood could see an intense cacophony of movement. Little figures darting this way and that. Here one turned down the flame as a flask was about to boil over, there one turned off the water as a plant pot filled to the brim.

Hood shook her head. These little figures were not human. Nor animal. They were no creature she had ever seen before. Their bodies were thin and gnarled. Their arms were twig like. They propelled themselves on what looked like grass skirted legs. If she was not very much mistaken, each figure was a walking, working little broom.

“Welcome to my little abode.”

Hood’s attention was dragged back to immediately in front of her as the Wizard appeared, as if by magic (and let’s face it, he was a Wizard, so it was going to be by magic). But it wasn’t just the appearance which was magic. He was suspended in mid air, floating, bobbing like a buoy at sea.

“I am the Great Wizard, Lord Chan-see-Lore,” the floating figure introduced himself, in a manner which was not in the least bit friendly. Not that an introduction was necessary. Every child knew the stories. And every child knew that the Great Wizard also possessed a great jaw line. Like a cliff face over a beach.

“I am Hood, Sir” she managed to say, whilst also bowing.

“Always refer to me as My Lord or Your Great Wizardness,” the floating Wizard commanded, “as you are my servant and I am your master. And I always demand a civil servant. As for you, you are my apprentice, my pupil. So I will call you Acolyte Hood.”

“Yes, Great Wizard,” Acolyte Hood bowed once again.

“And now, follow me,” commanded the Lord Chan-see-Lore as he floated upwards and out of sight.

Hood looked into the void. She wasn’t sure she wanted to follow. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be here, but she certainly did not feel like she wanted to step off the edge of her ledge and plummet below.

The Great Wizard reappeared.

“And, of course, I suggest you take the stairs,” the sorcerer added, before floating aloft again.

Hood took the staircase upwards. One flight. Two flights. Three flights. And on the fourth flight she found herself on one of the square rooms without walls like she had seen earlier. This time it was all bookcases and a desk. With the little broom like creatures dashing hither and thither, dusting books, putting books back on the shelf, getting books from a shelf.

Her new boss was standing behind the desk. Hood double checked. His feet were on the ground this time. His jaw was still jutting.

“Over time, Acolyte Hood, I will teach you magic. You are not here to do the menial tasks, that is why we have the enchanted brooms. They are here to do the fetching and carrying,” as he was saying this, three brooms scuttled towards him, carrying an ornate cloak.

The Wizard took the cloak from the three animated brushes, who instantly became stiff and lifeless, falling to the floor with the percussive sound of wood hitting stone.

Lord Chan-see-Lore swirled the cloak above his head and let it settle around his shoulders.

“Now this morning I have to go out and be out all day. So you have one job to do, Acolyte Hood. One job and one job alone. You see, my little enchanted broomsticks keep everything running smoothly. But the enchantment which turns wood to willing servant is time limited. So they need an occasional reboot.”

With that the Wizard produced a wand from inside the cloak and circled it above his head.

Revival totalis”

All three brooms once more sprouted arms and their bristles parted down the middle to form legs. They immediately went about their previous task cleaning and sorting the library.

“Now, Acolyte Hood, the magic involved in the vivification of my little workers is amongst some of the most complicated magic imaginable, it is magic that you were learn over many years. But today you have to be in charge of making sure that my little helpers keep going….so….”

And with this the Great Wizard moved the wand in a tight figure of eight before his eyes and said the words “automatis enchanter”. The tip of the wand began to emit a low glow.

“What you must do, whilst I am gone is patrol each of my rooms and look for sleeping brooms. When you see one, touch the glowing tip of this wand on any part of them and it will revive the spell.”

Hood began to reach out her hand to take hold of the glowing wand.

“Not so fast,” said the Wizard as he drew the wand back towards himself, “for I have more to tell you. It is vitally important that you carry out this task solemnly. The brooms perform many tasks that not only keep this place working, but keeps it safe. You have to keep them working. But the magic in that wand is so powerful that you must treat it with great care. Touch only the brooms. Do not wave it around. Do you understand?”

Hood nodded.

The Wizard let go of the wand and it floated through the air until it hovered just in front of Hood.

“Take it,” instructed the Wizard.

Hood reached out with her left hand towards the glowing tip.

“NO CHILD!” boomed Lord Chan-see-Lore, “you must hold the other end, do not touch the active end.”

She switched hands and her fingers wrapped around the thin, magical reed. As soon as she touched it she could feel a slight warmth and a barely perceptible tremor passing through the wand.

“Do your task and do it conscientiously. The last apprentice was not conscientious,” as the Wizard was speaking he placed his hand inside his cloak and arced it above his head, sprinkling himself in some glittering dust, “and he turned into a….”

Before the last word was formed the Wizard vanished leaving a wide eyed Hood holding the wand like it was an unexploded bomb.

Suddenly the air crackled and the face of the Wizard appeared inside a spinning orb.

“….great disappointment. And I forgot to say. There are 131 rooms and 393 staircases. Get to work.”

The spinning orb began to fade, the features of the Wizard disappearing. Then it flickered once more into sharp focus.

“One final, final thing. Hold on tight.”

Hood instinctively gripped the wand hard as the orb vanished. And it was a good job she did as her arm was almost yanked clean off when she felt the Wand suddenly pull her to the edge of the room. Her feet scraped along the stone floor, trying to stop her progress to what seemed to be an inevitable death if she were to go over the edge. Just at the moment she was going to let go the shining tip of the wand pointed upwards and it were as if she was being raised by an invisible crane. Her feet left the floor and she soared upwards and out into the middle of the building with no floor or roof in sight.

The wand pulled her upwards and upwards, the air rushing past her face until whatever magical wings the wand had been given pulled her to the right and deposited her on the floor of the uppermost platform.

Hood sank to her knees, the terrifying ride over, the wand still rigidly clutched in her hand. She breathed deeply. Gasping for air. Slowly her heart returned to a mere thunderous beat.

When then prospect of death had rescinded to a recent and terrifying memory, Hood took a look at where she was. It appeared to be a bedroom with an unmade bed, complete with Harry Potter duvet set.

Next to her, on the floor, was a smallish broom. Remembering her task she touched the glowing end of the wand on the broom handle. It would be marvellous if a broom that came alive and lifted itself from a stone floor would then dust itself down. But it doesn’t. It just gets on with its work of making a bed.

Hood found two more inanimate brooms and set them on their way to tidying and cleaning. She then descended three sets of stairs, taking her three quarters of the way around the outer wall of the tall chamber when she came across another platform with a bathroom.

She spent a little time finding four brooms which went to work running the bath and cleaning the shower. She spent a bit more time trying to get a toothbrush and a toilet brush to grow arms before she realised that the wand spell only worked on those brushes that were already enchanted.

And so she went on. And on. Staircase after staircase. Room after room. Broom after broom. A room that housed owls and bats in cages. A room that was lined with scrolls and locked boxes. A room that was almost exactly like her mum’s kitchen.

She spent over an hour and, despite it being an hour of stairs, rooms and brooms, she realised she had only checked twelve rooms. She wasn’t very good at maths. But she was very much behind her target of 131 rooms.

Then she came across a room which had only a tall desk and matching stool. No brooms. No other furniture.

She had been working for over an hour. She probably deserved a little sit down. So she pulled herself up on to the seat of tall stool and found a thin book on the desk. It had a dark brown leather cover with golden letters across the front. The gold was so iridescent, it seemed to glow. In fact, as she looked more closely, it did glow. Five capital letters. “HMCTS“.

The glowing letters were so inviting. They called to her curiosity. She placed the wand on to the table and opened the cover.

Inside, handwritten in ornate writing was the expanded title

Hexes, Magic, Charms, Teleports and Spells”

and the author “Gauke Chan-see-Lore G.W.”

She turned the page. And then the next. Each one contained the title of a spell, a description of what it achieved, an instruction as to how the wand should be waved and the words to be uttered. Spells to make chairs walk, clocks talk. Spells to turn people into frogs and frogs into flowers. Spells to freeze the air and spells to make the rain fall.

One caught her eye. And her imagination. It was called “One Conversation”. And it was a spell to amalgamate things into one. So if you wanted a giant bee, you could cast the spell on the beehive and you would have a thousand bees transformed into one. If you wanted the tallest set of ladders, you just needed some smaller ladders.

This was good. The movement of the wand was described simply as a flick of the wrist. The instruction was to imagine, as you flicked the wand in the direction of the desired object, a bigger version of the object. And then the nearby objects would join together to form a bigger version. Perfect.

Why waste your time with four or five brooms in a room? Having to touch each one. When one big broom only needs one touch. And would be much easier to find. Surely one large broom per room could do the work of more, smaller brooms more efficiently? It would be able to reach further with longer arms. It would not have to do all that running around.

Repeating the words of the incantation, Hood closed the book and grabbed the wand. The Great Wizard would be pleased at this increased efficiency, Hood thought to herself as she made for the staircase.

The next room below was one of the rooms which were covered with shelves and trestle tables with weird and wonderful plants on it. She noticed that some of the plants were bathed in light from some unseen source. Others were being fed water through tubes and pipes that ran here and there.

This room had a lot of brooms. She could see four or five working, with one or two prone where they had fallen.

Hood picked up one of the inanimate brooms and put it on the table before her. She closed her eyes. She imagined the broom, but much bigger. She flicked her wrist and opened her eyes.


The incantation. She had forgotten to say the incantation.

She closed her eyes again. She pictured a single, big broom. She flicked her wrist. And as she did the words “digitalis reformum” left her mouth.

She opened her eyes. Still nothing. She sighed. It hadn’t worked. A good idea. But she wasn’t a magician, just the apprentice.

Remembering her task, she touched the tip of the wand to the broom which returned to the little worker like the others. It stood up on the table.

Before it could move though, one of the working brooms stopped tending to an exotically coloured cactus and ran across the same table and launched itself towards the recently revived broom. It was almost as if it was going to jump into its twig arms. But it didn’t. As they came into contact with each other, each seemed to absorb in the other and there was one broom in their place, twice the size of the original.

The next broom rushed on its brushes and suddenly it was three times the size. Then the next. And the next. The broom was now taller than Hood. It began to work. It barely had to take a step to move between tasks.

Oh, how Hood glowed with pride. On her first day, her first day, she had done magic. Which she had taught herself. She was no disappointment.

She moved towards the staircase, ready to move and improve the next room. This chamber would be a hub of continuous improvement. As her foot hovered on the top step one of the little brooms came running up the stairs, passed her and threw itself at its larger colleague.

Hood shrugged. What was that sound? That scrabbling, scratching sound. The sound that her mother’s handbrush made when she scrubbed the doorstep.

Another broom appeared coming up the stairs. Then another. And another. And then the staircase was alive with little brooms, all running as fast those bristled legs would carry them.

Hood turned back to the single broom. It was growing and growing. It was now too big for the gap between the tables. A whole trestle table was upturned. Pots smashed on the floor. Soil went everywhere. The tubes and the pipes split, water turning the soil to mud.

Hood flicked the wand. “Enough,” she said. “ENOUGH!” she repeated. “ENOUGH!!” she shouted. Nothing happened.

The broom must have been a hundred times the size now. She needed the book of spells. That must have the answer.

She moved to go back up the staircase, only to find that it was a sea of scurrying brooms. She turned back to the room to see that it was a total mess. Everything was destroyed. And the broom was so massive that it was having to stretch its legs across the span of the chamber to find somewhere to stand. And still brooms came to add to its size.

Hood looked over the edge. She could see other platforms. Other of the square rooms which moments earlier had been tended to by a squad of dedicated brooms. She could see one of the laboratory style rooms. Where there had previously been simmering liquids there now appeared to be miniature fireworks going off. And not such miniature fires breaking out.

She could see a bathroom. The brooms must have abandoned their work when midst bath cleaning. Now the water they had been running from the tap had already overflown from the bath and was cascading from the edge of the platform like a waterfall.

The worker broom now filled the void at the heart of the chamber. Hood could no longer see its arms or its brush. Just a section of what would have been the handle, thicker than any tree trunk which had grown naturally.

At least the staircase was now empty and Hood could return to the spell book. She took the steps two or three at a time to find that the desk and stool had been overturned in the commotion. The desk top resting over the edge of the precipice. And the spell book gone.

Tears started to come.

“What have I don? What have I done?” wailed the distraught apprentice.

Hood could hear little explosions reverberating around chamber. Flashes of curious light lit the gloom. There were noises, smells and colours that spoke of chaos.

“What is going on?” boomed a recently familiar voice.

Without warning the Wizard was with her. Not floating. Not a face in a spinning orb. The Wizard, in front of her.

“I…I….,” stammered Hood.

The Wizard seized the wand. He waved it in a complicated pattern whilst hopping on one leg. Words tumbled from is mouth. Incantations too fast for Hood to follow. Sparks flew from the tip of the wand and then tumbled throughout the chamber.

The noises stopped. The light returned to a constant. There was still a mixture of smells. But they no longer told of chaos.

And no massive broom any more. Just the right number of brooms, in the right number of roles.

Hood cowered. She waited to hear a crack of thunder that would take her to Defra.

But nothing. Nothing happened.

The Wizard helped her to her feet.

“You are here to learn. And there was your first lesson. Never meddle in something that you don’t understand. Never will you achieve efficiency by mistaking ease or speed for efficiency. This system has taken years for me to develop. It improves itself, but not by such blunt instruments. It is for you to learn and to work better with what we have, not destroy what we have to make it better.”

The Wizard sort of smiled.

“Now, go home. Come back tomorrow. If you think today was difficult, tomorrow we will embark upon your training in the most difficult of tasks. The spells of security. It is all about tasting hot potions and the search for the three sacred objects – umbrellas, phone chargers and paper clips. These three things are known as the Holy Grayling. And the tricky thing is the three items may be entirely different tomorrow…..”


With apologies to Goethe, Walt Disney and a little bit to JK Rowling


The Criminal Courts Charge is a bad and pointless thing. Everyone knows it, with possibly one exception in the form of C. Grayling MP, TB (Total Buffoon). The problem, it would seem, is that the MOJ budget has been worked out on the basis of the revenue that the Charge is supposed to raise. Until they can replace the income stream, the Charge has to stay. 

Now this is, of course, a total fiction. The Charge will not raise the amount the budget says it will. It is being imposed upon people who will never be able to afford to pay it. It is being imposed on people who are being imprisoned for decades. It is, in one case of mine recently, being imposed upon a man who will be deported before the Charge can even be remitted. The predicted “profit” does not seem to take into account how much administering the collection/remission/ignoring of the Charge will cost. This is budgetary hopeful thinking on a major scale. You may as well include the largesse of the Tooth Fairy in your next mortgage application.

Poor old Michael Gove still has to find away of defending the Charge to the public. Every time he passes Grayling in the corridors of power he must feel like sticking out a foot and sending him flying whilst shouting “Why do I have to look a total berk every week defending the claptrap you left me with?” Although he may be tempted to include a few more words of more base Anglo-Saxon heritage, and would be well justified in so doing. 

But for now, defend it he must. So, through gritted teeth, Gove recently said: “The criminal courts charge is generating revenue, which helps ensure that the taxpayer is not the first port of call for supporting the way in which our courts operate, but it is important that we balance all the criteria in making a judgment on the review of the charge.”

Now there may be some that think that the taxpayer should be the first port of call for supporting the way which our courts operate. The courts are a key part of our democratic process. It is part of what makes us all safe. Safe in so many ways. Safe from the criminals, safe from the abuse of power. It is exactly the sort of thing that the raising of tax revenue should pay for. At the very least tax revenue should pay for the courts before it pays for a big plane for the PM to use see his mates in Saudi Arabia. But that may just be me. 

Gove’s statement did, at least, get me thinking. What if he is right? What if the public should not foot the bill for certain parts of the democratic process? What if we could find other ways of raising money on the back of keeping civilisation civilised?

Perhaps Mr Gove should look a little closer to home. How about a House of Commons Waffle Charge? A £100 per minute charge levied on MPs who want to filibuster in order to frustrate the work of the House of Commons. So those great and dedicated public servants like Philip Davies, who spoke for 93 minutes to defeat a Bill that would have given carers free parking at hospitals, can put his hand in his pocket.  By all means he should be able to exercise his democratic right to defeat legislation having a long argument rather than a reasoned, winning one, but why should the public pay? Implement my scheme and the public could have pocketed £7800 profit. And we could have made £3700 when he did it again to thwart compulsory first aid training for schoolkids.

Why stop there? At a tenner each time that the Prime Minister fails to answer a question we could all have a private jet by next Easter. Peers getting expenses for tipping up to the House of Lords? Why should the taxpayer be the first port of call for supporting the way our unelected second house operates? 

And may be the cost of every harebrained Government scheme that ends up scrapped should come out of the pension pots of those involved. The £6 million wasted on the ridiculous secure college for young offenders would make a heck of a dent in the pensions of Grayling and a few senior civil servants. Why should the public be the first port of call to support their incompetence? 

So Mr Gove, do the right thing when it comes to the injustice of the Criminal Courts Charge. Do not allow this ridiculous state of affairs to be governed by a fiction of a budget. And if you need to make up the shortfall, pop ten pence in a swearbox every time you think of a bad word in connection with Mr Grayling. “F.O. Chris!” You’ll soon be quids in. 

The Con of Cons

I imagine that most people expect that the detection and prosecution of crime goes something like this – offence reported to the police, police come out and carry out all such enquiries necessary to identify the culprit or establish an offence has happened. If successful in detecting the crime then all the evidence is collated and submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide whether the case should be prosecuted. If the case is to be prosecuted, any further evidence required by the lawyers is obtained. A jury or magistrate will then determine guilt or innocence on all the available evidence. 

When I first formulated that paragraph it had something in it along the lines of “in a perfect world”. I deleted that phrase. In a perfect world, there would be no crime. In a perfect world where the only scar on global perfection was crime, there would be confessions from all those who transgress. 

We are not aiming for some form of Utopia. We are aiming for a functioning society where the average citizen is protected from crime by effective detection and punishment. Actually that is not even just our aim, it is the duty of our Government. One of its very essential duties. 

We are so far removed from the basic response set out in the first paragraph of this blog that it is safe to say that the Politicians are failing the People. 

Why do I say that?

It is fairly common knowledge that the police do not investigate every crime reported to them. This is not the fault of the police service, they are not provided with sufficient resource to be of service. A few years ago someone smashed my living room window in the early evening. My call to the police never got beyond the civilian call taker. A while ago I prosecuted a case where one of the defendants made a bail application on a demonstrably false premise. He was arrested. He was interviewed. A decision was taken by the police that the further investigation required for charge was going to use too many resources. The case never got as far as a charging decision. Been a victim of fraud? Most likely to be chalked up by the police as a “civil matter”.

This is not, I repeat, criticism of the police per se. They have to make daily decisions about what to prioritise because they are not provided with the resources by the politicians to protect each of us from every crime. That is the inescapable truth. And the future looks even worse

If you are lucky enough to be the victim of a crime that is investigated, resources will also dictate whether the crime and offender are detected. The use of scientific evidence to determine the identity of the offender has been one of the giant steps forward in crime and policing. Fingerprints, DNA, cellsiting, the list is endless of methods used to detect crime. In the modern world, however, the overriding consideration is not the detection of crime but the deployment of over-stretched resources. The full scientific armoury will not be deployed in the hope of finding out whodunnit. It is a constant battle about where to spend the money and devote the time. 

When I was a junior barrister you would regularly find evidence of fibre transfer in cases of aggravated vehicle taking. Where lifts would be taken from the driving seat of the car and the small fibres left on the seat would be compared to the fibre in the clothing of the alleged driver. I cannot imagine that happening today, which probably explains the demise of Contract Traces. A forensic science provider which is now lost to the detection and litigation of crime. 

The same considerations apply to the use of resources when the case is within the court system. Countless times the lawyers, either the CPS or the barrister instructed to prosecute the case, will advise that some further evidence is required only to be told that funding has been refused. Some times you will prevail and get the evidence, other times you reach a dead end. I cannot tell you how frustrating that can be, frustration shared by the investigating officers. It feels like you are fighting with one arm tied behind your back. Trials conclude with juries and the judiciary hearing only the evidence we can afford to present. 

I am afraid that resources, or a lack of them, bring an end to perfectly viable prosecutions. I have experienced three serious cases that have not reached a verdict of the jury because of problems with disclosure in the last six months. Over stretched police officers have not been able to devote the time and resources required to properly collate and record unused material. Often, even in relatively complicated investigations, one police officer is doing countless jobs including that of disclosure officer. Reviewing lawyers do not have the time to review the material and rely upon imperfect descriptions on the shcedule. So things get missed. Trials are adjourned or ended because of problems. And those represent the good outcomes. Even more worryingly are those trials that reach a conclusion without the errors being discovered. 

These are straitened times. I wonder if the politicians realise what impact their decisions really have. Tough on crime and the causes of crime? Well these days, only if you can do it cheaply. When it comes to crime and punishment, doing it cheaply often means not doing it all. 

The Reluctant Witness

“What a day I had the other day, I tell you. Had to go to court, I was the prosecution’s star witness, me. Not that I should get ahead of myself, mind.

“It was about that bit of a do I witnessed that time, you remember? Didn’t know where to look, me, so ended up looking right at it and giving a statement to the police and that.

“So I got this letter through saying I had to go and give evidence. The nice police man had told me I would do. But the letter, the letter only goes and tells me I had to go to t’other court. You know, the one three buses away. 

“The local one, the one in town, well they’ve only gone and shut it down. Do you know Joan? You do, you do know Joan….. Joan, with the funny looking eyebrows? Got a son who walks like he doesn’t know which leg has the limp? You know Joan. Her husband has the glass eye and the toupee? You must know Joan. No? Well she is a bit nondescript….

“Anyway, Joan used to be an usher at the court in town……yesssss, that Joan….anyway she used to be an usher, as I say, and she tells me that the court was closed down by the Government. Part of the cuts you know. She was made redundant. Not that any of the Judges and that lost their jobs, not according to Joan.

“So Joan tells me that the building is still empty. Costs a fortune to just stand there empty. The other court, the county court, that’s gone too. Going to be a restaurant, according to Joan. Which is rich, because the court I ended up going to don’t have a restaurant no more, not that I needed one as I had tea and biscuit, me, not when I first got there…..but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. 

“Three buses I ended up getting. The nice police man said I could get a cab but I don’t like being a burden, me. So three buses later and I am there. Well, if it is going to be the only court around they could have tidied it up a bit. Looked like the multi-storey round the back of the precinct on a bad day. Anyway, soon I found myself in the Witness Supporters room. 

“Oooh they were nice people, as I said before, made me a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Very nice. I mean not the nicest biscuits, not the biscuits I am used to. None in foil. More of the blue-and-white-striped-everyday-type of biscuit if you know what I mean? Of course you know what I mean, they are the sort of thing you have in. Must be part of the cuts too. The court cuts I mean. Not you. You’ve always bought them back before the credit crunch…..

“And I certainly had plenty of time to sample them, me. The nice police man came to see me and told me ours was one of three trials in the same court that day and we were at the back of the queue!

“You know me, don’t like to make a fuss. But I did say to the nice police man that it seemed a bit daft to close a whole court when they haven’t got room in this one for all their different cases. 

“The nice police man just shrugged and said something about it not as being as daft as having only him and two PCSOs on duty on a Saturday night at chucking out time but he started to mumble a bit so I couldn’t follow it all.

“So I had to wait. All blinking morning. You know, me, I don’t like to make a fuss, but I did have to ask the people in the Supporters when I was going to get going and they couldn’t really tell me. So I waited and had another custard cream….there were no chocolate biscuits in sight. 

“Then I was told it were going to be after dinner. And as I said, there was no canteen. And the Supporter people just had their kettle and their austerity biscuits so I had to go into Town to get myself a sandwich. They said they used to be able to bring me food from the canteen but that was closed down last year so there weren’t much they could do. 

“Got the fright of my life, me. It was only him wasn’t it. Sorry, getting a head of myself. I went to get myself a sandwich and were queuing up in’t shop when the bloke three ahead of me in queue turned round and looked right at me. And guess who it was? Only the blinking bloke I was there to give evidence against. Bold as brass. Not a care in the world. 

“So I rushed back to the nice Supporter people and they got the nice police man in and I had a HobNob, well I say I HobNoB, it was a version of a HobNob, not an authentic HobNob. And definitely not a chocolate HobNob.

“After I had had a plain HobNob-ish biscuit and a cup of tea, you know, for my nerves, the nice police man explained to me that we were going to be getting started at two o’clock but that it was alright and I was going to be Specially Measured to give evidence over TV. 

“Well, I don’t like to make a fuss, but how about that? Me, on TV? I were like Oprah. 

“He said it were all sorted and that way I didn’t have to see him, the defendant, and he wouldn’t be able to see me, which were fine by me. 

“So I waited. And waited. And had what could be loosely described as a Jammy Dodger. And then the nice police man came back to me and said the delay was the TV equipment weren’t working and they couldn’t get it to work. 

“One of the Supporter ladies harrumphed. That’s the only way to describe it. She harrumphed and said something about that being no surprise and that it never blinkin’ well worked.

“But the nice police man explained that I was now going to be giving evidence from behind a curtain, like the Wizard of Oz. Me, the Wizard of Oz!

“After a bit more waiting and one of those pink wafer things the nice police man came back and said it were all off. Apparently the defendant didn’t speak English. So they had booked an interpreter. And the interpreter were there and everything but it turned out he did speak English but didn’t speak the same language as the defendant!

“So I have got to go back again. In nine months time! Couldn’t believe it, me. Nine months. Apparently that’s like their waiting list because they haven’t got enough courtrooms. I’ll have forgotten all about it by then, me. 

“They said it might be sooner thought. Apparently the Government are thinking about hiring some rooms in that hotel. They are going to have some courts in there. You know the hotel? Nice place. Restaurant’s all a bit dark? All reds and purples? Big fancy oak paneling? You do know the one. It used to be a courthouse……..”

Co-efficiency of Inefficiency 

I have now been a barrister for twenty-two years. That is a frightening thing to see committed to writing. It is probably in my Top Three Worst Things To See In Writing alongside “Jaime is bald” and “you will never fulfill your dream of playing cricket for England”. The only comfort I have is that one of those things is not true. 

Another comfort is that, in my twenty-two years as a bald, non-Test playing lawyer, I have never had to attend a Saturday court. For the uninitiated, the Magistrates’ Court sits on a Saturday morning to deal with those locked up in the previous 24 hours or so. The time limits that apply to the post arrest detention of suspects means the legal system cannot have a full weekend off. 

So the courts sit, local justice applies and Bench, lawyers and staff give up their Saturdays to run a little corner of the justice system whilst the rest of us watch James Martin chat to Ken Hom. 

I am told there has been a recent efficiency drive. That efficiency drive could be otherwise stylised as a “cutback”. Cutback is another word for “austerity mad bit of madness”.  When I first wrote that sentence I finished it with the word “bollocks” but, on reflection, “madness” is more becoming of a bald, middle-aged, jurisprudential, right hand batsman, like myself. 

This austerity mad bit of bollocks, sorry, madness, means that each of the local courts no longer sit on a Saturday. Only one does. So last Saturday only Manchester sat, as opposed to Manchester and Bolton. So Bolton cases went to Manchester. 

As luck would have it, I have been instructed in a Bolton case that appeared in Manchester Saturday court last weekend and was sent to Bolton Crown Court for this forthcoming Monday. And so that is what I am booked to do on Monday, go to Bolton and do his prelim. 

Anyone that has ever tried to move a prelim to coincide with the availability of counsel will know that, once the Magistrates have sent the case, the date is set in stone. Particularly with a defendant in custody. It is something to do with the remand order. So if Manchester Mags send a case to Bolton Crown Court for this Monday, it happens this Monday. 

Or not. 

Because, at the moment, it ain’t happening Monday. Because the papers have not travelled the ten and a half miles from Manchester to Bolton in the week since the case appeared in the Mags. Because that means the case isn’t listed. And because the case is not listed, as my clerk discovered this evening, I am not working on Monday. 

This never happened when cases appeared in the court local to the Crown Court. But let us not allow efficiencies get in the way of efficiency. This is, yet again, an illustration of how cuts, in fact, slash. Yes money has been saved by not opening one building for half a day. But the efficient working of the system has been slashed by the Freddie Kruger-esque hand of an austerity mad Lord Chancellor. 

And I am not in court on Monday because of it. Nor can I guarantee that I will be available to do the prelim when finally the papers arrive at the Crown Court. And will I be able to put the case back to when I can? Oh no, because that would be inefficient. 

Oh well, at least there is still the outside chance I can play cricket for England. 

A Letter from Dave (and Alan) about Ed (and Alex)

I got a letter from the Prime Minister yesterday. This is not an everyday event in the Hamilton household. This caused a stir of excitement. The Prime Minister! Writing to me!! Whatever could he want? He is a very important man, and here he was, taking the time to write to little me. 

When I say take the time to write, the letter was in fact typed. This was no personal “black spider” correspondence type scenario. But it was signed. The personal touch there. Well, I say signed, closer inspection revealed that the signature was what some term a “facsimile” and other people call a “fake”. 

Nonetheless the Prime Minister was writing to me, Jaime Hamilton. Which was how the letter started. “Dear Jaime Hamilton.” Using both my names. Not the cosiness of just “Dear Jaime” nor the more formal “Dear Mr Hamilton”. Even the man I spoke to the other week about cancelling my Sky gave me the choice. As I have never met the Prime Minister I guess this was a hard decision for him to make. I mean Jaime is a funny first name. He may not even know whether I am male or female. Tough call for the man. Not that Prime Ministers should be beyond tough calls. The funny thing is most correspondence I receive addressed “Dear Jaime Hamilton” are usually emails informing me of the fact that the sender has £17 million he has to move out of his country and, should I care to let it rest in my bank account for a few hours, I could keep the odd million or so. All I need to do is give them every detail of my bank account. 

I was sure this letter was not going to be so full of empty promises and fanciful financial shenanigans. 

So the letter began, in bold type no less, “The Conservatives’ number one priority in government has been to get Britain’s economy back on its feet.” This made me burst into a spontaneous round of applause. Not because of the sentiment expressed, but because of the impeccable use (and non-use) of apostrophes. Bravo PM. 

I actually did not agree with the sentiment. I kind of think that the government’s number one priority should have been to keep me and my loved ones safe in a well organised, free democratic society. But my new penpal and I were not going to fall out about that. 

Our Glorious Leader went on “We’ve come a long way since 2010. And now, thanks to the hard work and determination of the British people, we are making our way back:” I was beginning to get confused. We had come a long way and now we were turning round and heading back again? Was this a day trip to Whitby on a wet Thursday? 

He wrote some more about the deficit, taxes and jobs. They were down, they were up, and when they were up they were up and when they were down they were down and if Miliband had his way they would be neither up nor down. Or something like that. And then “And the choice you face now is whether we stick to a plan that is working, or turn back”. Oh come on, Grand Old Duke of Chipping Comfort, you told me three sentences ago we are now making our way back having come a long way and now we have to decide whether to go back again? Make your mind up. One of your predecessors was famous for not turning. You, however, are making me dizzy. Are we going to Whitby or not?

The Prime Minister needed to move the correspondence forward. We needed to re-centre on our relationship. Concentrate on why it was that the PM had singled me out for this letter that also came with the personalised reference number CHEA6600024298. And was promoted by someone called Alan Mabbutt. I am not sure who Alan Mabbutt is or why he was promoting this billet-doux. 

Now for the “ask not what can your country can do for you but ask what you can do to give me Chequers” moment. 

Apparently, the Prime Minister told me, my constituency was one of just 23 the Conservatives need to win to keep Ed Milliband out of Downing Street. This confused me. I thought he needed 326 seats to get his majority. Turns out he only needs 23. Whatever the maths, this was his point “So today I am writing,” he wrote, as you may have guessed from the fact it is a letter and he used the words ‘I am writing’, but I digress, “to ask for your support to finish the job we have started.”

He promised me more jobs and better wages. This is where the spell was broken. He did not know me at all. He had no idea I was a criminal lawyer More jobs? Tell that to the hundreds of solicitor firms his Government is about to put out of work. Better wages? Cut after cut has decimated the professions. 

So as he blathered on about Ed Milliband and Alex Salmond I really stopped reading. Because the best our Prime Minister could come up with to persuade me to vote for a candidate he did not even give a namecheck to, was the prospect of a Scottish bogeyman giving us Sassenachs another Bannockburn. I want vision. I want a fair society and a democracy that shines out to the world. I want better than “Our country simply can’t afford the chaos of a Miliband-led government with Alex Salmond pulling the strings for the next five years. The only way to stop that happening is to vote Conservative.” 

Of course this is not the only way. The other way is to make sure everyone votes for someone other than a Conservative. If you want to know a bit more about that kind of thinking, sign up up with the Vote4Justice mailing list by clicking here. And consider how your vote impacts not just on big business, not just on the bottom line. But on society. 

The letter that began “Dear Jaime Hamilton” was just another piece of correspondence that promised me untold riches if only I would help the author out with a spot of local difficulty. 

My response “Dear Dave, Jog On.”


A Perfect Day

Make us both a cup of tea and let me tell you about my day….

So off I went to court today ready to prosecute three bail applications, prosecute two sentences and defend in a PCMH. A busy day, much to do.

First stop was Court 10 for my bail applications. Three sets of papers clasped in my hands. Over 150 pages of information read and prepared the night before.

As had another barrister from another set of chambers in Manchester. He had the same three sets of papers. He had prepared the same three bail applications. We both had a “No, no, after you Claude” moment. Ultimately we could not both do them. I lost out in a legal game of paper, rock, scissors. Half my work, gone in the blink of an eye.

I will fast forward a little bit here. I told my clerk of the double booking. He made some enquiries. My colleague and I had been booked for the same bail applications in telephone calls made an hour apart on Friday.

So, back to my day at court. One defendant decided he did not want to run the risk of Christmas inside. So case adjourned, bench warrant issued and no prospect of putting the bill in this side of Christmas.

My other prosecution sentence proceeded smoothly. Which was more than can be said for the case up to that stage. The defendants had pleaded guilty on the day of trial. That is the sort of thing that the powers that be really do not like. Unfortunately this was a case that cracked by both the prosecution and defence carefully analysing CCTV of events surrounding the assault. CCTV footage that took the defence several months and two (unpaid) court hearings to get hold of.

My PCMH was adjourned too. No arraignment. The defendant is offering a plea, so hopefully it will resolve next time. But it was pretty difficult to have a PCMH today. The Prosecution had served their case late. Well, I say served their case. They had sent through two handwritten statements from civilians and one statement from the five officers involved in the case. They sent the exhibits in two halves. The first batch of exhibits stopped half way through an exhibit. Oh, and did not included the defendant’s interview. And none of the served exhibits had any statements producing them.

At least my day took a turn for the better as I picked up a breach of curfew brief at court. Woo, and indeed, hoo. Interestingly the defendant had originally been sentenced to a six month curfew in June. The curfew was to be electronically monitored. So in June the defendant went home and waited for the private contractor to visit his home and install the equipment.

And wait he did. For six weeks. In fact, by the time the company called in order to install the equipment he had got sick of waiting for them and was not at home. Unfortunately for him this was during his curfew hours so he was breached.

When the Judge heard of the circumstance at the breach proceedings in August he felt that there was blame on both sides. He split the difference and added a one month extension to the curfew. He also expressed the view that the private contractor really should install the equipment ASAP.

So home went the defendant. He waited patiently this time. He stuck to his curfew. So that meant he was at home when the company turned up to install the equipment. In NOVEMBER. Five months after the curfew was imposed. Three months after the Judge had said they needed to pull their finger out.

So by this time the defendant had had enough. He told them where to go. And got breached again. This time the Judge just cancelled the curfew. What was the point? It was an electronically monitored curfew. The public pay for the curfew to be monitored. And it simply was not being monitored.

So there we have my day at court. As I waited for my cases to get on or get adjourned virtually every case I witnessed got adjourned too. No CCTV served in one case, no interpreter booked in another case, no defendants produced from custody in another case and countless cases not ready because of late service.

All of this was being played out against a background of the court computer system, Xhibit, being down for the entire day.

All the cuts have led to this. All the cuts mean nothing is getting done. Staff are so over stretched they make basic mistakes like briefing two counsel for the same hearings. Nobody is dealing with the basics of disclosure. Paperwork is being thrown through the photocopier in an effort to at least serve something. Private contractors are being paid scandalous amounts for a scandalous service. Adjourned hearings lead to delay and additional cost.

Well at least I have tomorrow to look forward to. I have a trial listed tomorrow. Oh no, hang on. That should read I had a trial listed tomorrow. At the last moment it has been pulled from the list. Lack of court time. Again. So tomorrow is a mention and fix. So I can fix my trial for some time during the summer.

Bloody marvellous innit?

Call the Lawyer

Lawyers and midwives make unusual bedfellows. Midwives conjure up images of fresh faced, kind and brave young women on bicycles bringing new life and hope to the East End of London. Lawyers conjure up images of snakes, fatcats, rats and lizards.

For the first time in their 133 year history, the Royal College of Midwives have voted overwhelming to go on strike. This is in response to the Government’s refusal to implement an independent pay review’s recommended 1% pay increase.

That is a remarkable achievement by this Government. There is now an unlikely link between the bringers of babies and the bringers of burglars. They have managed to provoke midwives to go on strike. They also managed to provoke the lawyers to take direct action.

Whatever your view of barristers, they are, by and large, a conservative (with a deliberately small “c”) bunch. It might be said that they are as unlikely to strike as a midwife. Until now.

I would a hazard guess that the midwives will garner more sympathy than the lawyers. That is despite the fact that the midwives are complaining about a pay freeze rather than repeated pay cuts.

The only reason why the public would be so uneven in their sympathy for the cause is because of the stereotypes in the opening paragraph of this blog. Midwives are nice, lawyers are not. Medics are selfless, briefs are selfish. Nurses do good deeds, solicitors protect wrongdoers.

In a recent Twitter discussion it was suggested to me that the majority of the public would wish to see lawyers torn apart by tigers. I responded by asking why the public would want tigers attacking those who prosecute paedophiles? I was accused of responding with my normal nonsense. I rather thought I was responding with the truth.

This is the challenge that the legal profession have to grapple with immediately. Our value has to be known and recognised. We are not bystanders in the trial process. We define it. So a good advocate makes the process better for all involved.

There are many ways in which I wish we lived in a world without lawyers. If humans had no frailties we would not need lawyers. If humans did not have emotions we would not need lawyers. To (mis)quote Dr Who “good men don’t need rules, that’s why I have so many”. Society needs rules because we cannot be trusted not to transgress them. Society only needs doctors because there is disease, ill health and old age.

Whilst we still need lawyers, does it not make sense that the public have access to very good lawyers? If I need the services of a midwife I want the dedicated, brilliant, go-the-extra-mile, cycling variety. I do not want a vaguely competent, unmotivated, underpaid, forced-into-industrial-action type.

I have no idea how the 11% pay rise politicians think this is the good way to run a nation.

Another Day, Another Moan

It is always the defendant’s fault. If it’s not the defendant’s fault then it will be the fault of the defendant’s dastardly lawyer. If we come down hard on them the system will run more efficiently and will be fairer as well. They are the enemies of justice. They are the cause of thousands of pounds of public funds going to waste.

Which is exactly what happened with a trial I defended recently. The shameful defence lawyer (me) asked for an adjournment because the CPS had served the medical evidence at 2pm on the first day of trial. The statement had only been written in May. It had only been sitting there on the file as the timetable for the service of the evidence lapsed in June.

However this is not what I am going to moan about today. It is such a common occurrence that it is barely newsworthy. All those lawyers getting paid very little as justice is delayed by glitches in the system is just not worthy of comment. Or worth doing anything about.

What I am going to moan about is the preliminary hearing that happens in every case. And yes I know I have moaned about this before. A lot. However something happened to me recently that highlighted how crazy the system has become. How terribly ill-thought. How dreadfully wasteful.

I prosecuted a prelim a while ago. When the PCMH came around I had not received any papers. I attended at court and discovered why. The prosecution had decided to discontinue the proceedings as there was no realistic prospect of a conviction.

This decision can only really be taken when all the evidence has been properly reviewed. The service of all the evidence only takes place after the prelim. The prosecution can bring an end to the proceedings by issuing a notice pursuant to section 23A of the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985 which would bring an end to the proceedings there and then without further cost.

The problem is that the system now insists that an indictment is prepared for the prelim. This is so the defendant can plead guilty before the prosecution have a finalised idea whether there has been an offence or not. The consequence of this is that the prosecution are precluded from using the section 23A mechanism for discontinuing the proceedings because they can only do it before the indictment is preferred.

Brilliant. One device designed to force defendants to plead guilty before anyone knows whether they are guilty just to save costs defeats the device designed to save costs where everyone accepts the defendant is not guilty.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the criminal justice system. Injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency.

Rights and Wrongs

The night of the long knives has arrived. The Prime Minister sits alone in his office. Before the night is over the walls will be coated with the blood of many a politician. The BBC correspondent, Nick Robinson, has just Tweeted that the Lord Chancellor is on his way to see the PM. That meeting never actually happened. This is the imagined conversation if the meeting had taken place.

LC: Prime Minister, before you make any decisions that I come to regret can I just say that it’s not all my fault. I mean we never expected that the barristers could get organised but it’s all sorted now. There was a problem, now problem gone. And we still have the solicitors on the ropes. And the prisons, well we embarked upon a benchmarking process and we set the benchmark too low for the number of officers compared to our high benchmark of the number of celebrities, I mean, offenders we lock up…..

The PM raises his hand to silence the gabbling Minister

PM: I haven’t asked you here to sack you. I need some advice about legal stuff.

LC: The law?!? Me? Are you sure….

PM: Well not the law as such.

LC: Because if you want law, we should get Dominic in.

PM: That might prove a little……awkward. What I need to know from you is what law stuff we need to make it look like we are dealing with in order to win the election outright. I can’t face another five years of Nick Clegg and all that “ooooh I’ve got a conscience” nonsense.

LC: I have always said that public confidence in the Legal Aid system has been undermined.

PM: Do we still have a Legal Aid system?

LC: Sort of. Not much of a one, but it is still there.

PM: So how do we know that the public are bothered about the Legal Aid system?

LC: Because I just said so.

PM: I know you did. But how do you know?

LC: I don’t. Not really. But it always sounded good. So I say it a lot. It works for everything. You should try it; ‘the public’s confidence has been undermined in prison sentences so I am going to triple them’ or ‘public confidence has been undermined in the probation service so I am going to sell it’. It works in any situation.

PM: But I need something that the public are really bothered about.

LC: You could try human rights and the supremacy of the European court?

PM: Why do the public worry about the supremacy of the European court?

LC: Because we keep telling them there is a problem. Every time we get caught out…. I mean every time those foreign Judges try to tell us how to run our country by applying a bunch of alien standards that we drafted in the first place, we just explain that they are wrong and pop a Minister on TV to whine about us being steamrollered by Brussels.

PM: Do we know that is something the public actually worry about?

LC: Oh yes.

PM: Can I just check how we know this?

LC: Because UKIP tell us the public are worried about it. And if UKIP raise it, we have to address it. It is all about capturing the heartland of grassroots in the public imagination.

PM: And is there a problem?

LC: Not really no, but it gives us a good excuse when we lose. Which we don’t do very often. In fact the European courts interfere with the actions of our Government only a fraction of the time that they do with the rest of the signatories to the Convention. We are one of the good guys. But I am not going to sit idly by and have some Eurocrat tell me how bent my banana can be!

PM: So we have told the public there is a real problem about sovereignty when there isn’t really and UKIP now tell us that the public are really concerned about this when they really probably aren’t and the upshot of all this is your banana is too straight, have I got that right?

LC: Yes. Kind of. The bit about the banana is made up but the rest is spot on.

PM: Right, well we need to do something about this wretched court then. Something tough. We need to tell them we won’t stand for this any more. Like I told them about that Juncker fellow. That made ’em listen.

LC: Just one problem. Dominic has advised us in the past that not only is it very difficult for us to pull out of the European court, he also advises us it would be a bad idea.

PM: Just who does he think he is?

LC: Strictly speaking he is the senior adviser to the Government on all things legal.

PM: No, you mean he was the senior adviser to the Government on all things legal. As of about ten minutes before you walked in the door I got all “Lord Sugar” on him and fired “me learned friend”.

LC: I have a cunning plan.

PM: Ho ho, I loved that show….

LC: Show? What show?

PM: You were just doing a bit of Baldrick there weren’t you?

LC: No. I have no idea what you are on about. What I was saying was I have a plan more cunning than a box of frogs with a combined IQ of over 200 and a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

PM: Are you sure you are not quoting Baldrick?

LC: NO! This is a chance to really show we are all in it together. I have been saying all along that we will provide an adequate lawyer of basic competence when the public pays.

PM: And….

LC: We can show that you are no different. At £161,000 we have one of the most expensive Attorney-Generals in the world. And after this reshuffle we will show we are still the most generous with whom we hand it out to. So as long as the new Attorney-General is an adequate lawyer there may be some benefits to you.

PM: Such as?

LC: Well when it comes to those tricky bits of legal advice your adequate Attorney-General may be a bit more inclined to give you the right sort of advice rather than the advice to do the right thing.

PM: I get it. So when we hand out the Lord Chancellor’s gig to you I was giving it to an attack dog….

LC: …..Thank you Prime Minister….

PM: …..and in order to get tough over Europe I now need a lapdog…..

LC: Yes, Prime Minister.