Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Law West of Ealing Broadway

The Law West of Ealing Broadway is one of the most interesting blogs I've come across in a while. It's by an anonymous magistrate, somewhere near London (and from the title, probably nearby). Magistrates in England and Wales are the lowest level of the judicial system. They're proper judges, but are just normal people, doing it for civic duty or fun. They are almost never lawyers. They handle cases such as drunks, fist fights, vandalism and domestic assault -- the depressing background noise of low-level crime in any community. The blog, written by someone who calls him (or her)self ByStander, is a facinating peek at this world:
The prosecutor stood up apologetically and told us that she could not find the case papers, and that the policeman who had come to give evidence did not have any papers either. She asked for an adjournment and I gave her a sceptical glance and asked for comments from the defence. This seemed to take the solicitor by surprise and he mumbled and faffed about the distance that his client had travelled. 'Are you opposing the application to adjourn?' I asked him. The penny dropped and he said that he was. My colleagues' agreement took a few seconds to check, and we said that we refused to adjourn and that the Crown must proceed. At that point she bowed to the inevitable and offered no evidence, whereupon we dismissed the case.

We looked at the defence brief expecting an application for costs, but it took a pointed question from the clerk to jolt him into it. We made an order that his client's costs be reimbursed out of central funds.

We wasted an hour or so of court time, plus the defendant's costs. A police officer wasted most of a morning. A man who might have been guilty was acquitted because of a prosecution foul-up that a ten year-old should have been able to prevent - how hard is it to keep hold of an A4 folder?

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