Friday, 15 August 2008

Time to call it a day

I thought I could keep commenting on UK legal matters from here in Spain, but I've realised that I am already so far out of touch that I don't really have anything other than nostalgia and prejudice to base my views on, so it's time to let this blog be. If any of you found what I said of sufficient interest to want more, I've just started a new blog you might like to visit.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Spanish courts backlog

Figures have just been published for performance by the courts in 2007. 8.3 million new cases were opened during the year and just over 8.2 million were concluded, leaving a carry-over of 91,000 cases. Of course, court cases don't fit neatly into accounting periods and so on the face of it this looks a pretty good performance. However, the consequence of adding this carry-over to the existing backlog is that the courts started the year 2008 with a total of of just over 2.4 million cases.

Court performance in terms of throughput has been improved, but the official projection for the year is that new cases will grow by 2.6% in 2008, whilst the number of cases concluded will rise by only 0.6%, with a predicted growth in the number of outstanding cases of 55,000, so that 2009 is likely to open with more than 2.5 million unresolved cases.

The 8.2 million cases concluded in 2007 comprised 6.3 million criminal cases, 1.5 million civil and 0.4 million 'others'.

In human terms what these problems mean is illustrated by a case reported recently in "Sur" the Andalucia daily; in December 2005, shortly before Christmas a youth was stabbed to death outside a disco in Ronda. The two suspects subsequently charged with the murder were arrested at the scene minutes after the attack. Tomorrow (7th July 2008) their trial will open - a delay of two and a half years in the victim's family's wait for justice, nd in the suspects' time on remand awaiting trial.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Another local authority in trouble!

This week the mayor of Estepona, along with a large number of councillors, local businessmen and property developers, found themselves in jail pending further investigations into corruption, illegal building, money laundering and such things. Estepona is the latest in a growing list which includes Marbella, Mijas and Viñuela.

You may not have a very high opinion of your local council in the UK, but you have to admit they´re not usually the subject of police raids.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Nigerian Lottery goes belly up

If you should chance to receive a letter through the mail from the "€uromillones Lotería Internacional" telling you that you have been awarded a prize, do not be tempted (as apparently 1 in every 500 recipients were) to put in a call to arrange payment. The company´s "head office" in Malaga closed yesterday following the unexpected arrival in force of the police. Now the directors and all staff (53 people in all) are in custody and not likely to be able to deal with business for some time.

Returning to the figure of 1 in 500; apparently letters were going out at the rate of 25,000 every day, with 50 punters taking the bait and parting with an average of €18,000. Police sources estimate the gang´s takings were well inexcess of €250 million.

For the benefit of those who speak Spanish, the full story is here .

Monday, 26 May 2008

They do things differently here...

As part of the process of ´becoming Spanish´, I am at present going through the complicated process of importing the British car that we brought with us. Part of that process involves an inspection by ITV (the equivalent of MOT except that testing is not entrusted to private workshops, but is carried out at government operated centres around the country, in order to discourage the doing of favours for friends), which took place last week. Unfortunately, two separate problems were pointed out to me: tyres with the incorrect rating for the vehicle and wear to the brake discs. So when I went to the office at the end of the inspection to await the paperwork, I was surprised to find that the car had been passed and I am now the proud owner of a windscreen sticker which tells me the next test is not due until May 2010.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Setting The Record Straight

Today I caught sight of this front page story in the the Daily Express. The print version has a subhead which adds "No wonder 2 million people have emigrated", making an explicit link between the number of immigrants and the number of those leaving the country. A powerful anti-immigrant story for the front page but please, in the words of those who opposed the invasion of Iraq (among whom I include myself): "Not in my name!"

The reasons that led me to retire to southern Spain are many and I won´t bore you with a list of them. But they were reasons that had to do with wanting to come to a village we have grown to love over the past twenty five years. Of course, there are things that we are glad to have left behind in England including: town and city centres turned into no-go areas at evenings and weekends by staggering, puking, fighting, foulmouthed teens and twenties (both sexes and predominantly white)whose main aim in life seems to be to be unable to stand upright by the end of the evening; inadequate, infrequent, unreliable, dirty, uncomfortable public transport extortionately priced; a health service that staggers from one fiasco to another; the strident, thinly disguised casual racism (led and encouraged by the tabloid press), that dismisses those who don´t talk in a similar fashion as being bound by the fashion for political correctness, together with a jingoistic conviction that Brussels, and indeed everywhere that is not "this once great country of ours", is to be feared, suspected of being out to get us, and to be avoided.

I´m an immigrant here in Spain, which with North West Africa and southern Eurpoe so close has massive immigration itself. I´m especially glad that the Spanish attitude is totally different to the British.

Friday, 16 May 2008

A Slight Hitch

It would appear that there is no Spanish equivalent of the Probation Service. Consequently, when an offender is sentenced to community work, it falls to his/her local town hall to organise and supervise it. They must do so within twelve months of sentence being passed or it expires. The judges have just pointed out that the local town halls come up with very few jobs, so the majority of unlicenced drivers (and others) will probably never have to worry about that part of their sentence.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Unlicensed drivers

As from May 1st, the offence of driving without an appropriate licence has become imprisonable here in Spain. In the context that the average weekend sees around 20 deaths on Spain´s roads, half of them motorcyclists, something clearly needed to be done. The Traffic Division of the Guardia Civil set to with a will and so in the first few days of May a steady stream of (mainly young, male) offenders appeared before the court. So far I don´t believe a custodial sentence has been imposed, but hefty fines, coupled with community service are the order of the day. Thus an 18 year old was fined €2,000 and sentenced to 27 days of community working (about 160 hours by my reckoning). There was no pressure on the courts to constrain the fine within the offenders´ "ability to pay within a reasonable period".

Thursday, 8 May 2008

And where did you find your bail money, señor?

A member of the now notorious Marbella city council was recently released from prison after spending two years banged up awaiting trial on corruption charges. All his assets had been frozen by the court, so the police were more than a little surprised when it took his family only 17 days to raise the €1million needed for his surety. They are investigating.
In the meantime, eight days later a judge in Madrid put him back inside on another set of charges alleging he took part in the embezzlement of €27 million from the Marbella coffers. The judge said the trial was likely to take place shortly, with a minimum 10 year jail sentence if convicted, so it was highly likely that he would fail to surrender if bailed. However, if he can come up with another surety of €3 million.............
It makes me wonder why we never seemed to think of a surety where the main concern was "fail bail".

PS If anyone´s wondering, I kept hamkering after the blog!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

A Sad Loss

I hadn´t expected to post to this blog again, but then yesterday I learned of the tragic death of Mike Todd, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, and I wanted to mark my great respect for him by saying what a fine man I found him to be. I had the pleasure of welcoming him to a Magistrates´Association branch meeting, and all who attended were impressed by his keen mind and his evident enthusiasm for the task of improving police performance in his force area. I read that the Police Federation rep who commented described him as a copper´s copper. I can´t think of any higher praise to come from those who served under him. It sounds from media speculation that he may have had a troubled personal life. Well, now may he rest in peace.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Looking back

It's over 14 years now since I was appointed to the bench; fourteen years of almost constant change. Indeed the first thing I had to do when I began sitting was forget a major part of my training. We had somehow managed to get our heads round the complexities of unit fines, when suddenly the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, stood up in the Commons and scrapped them. That's been a defining characteristic of the pattern - new laws passed in haste and then quickly discarded when the flaws start to emerge,
Another recurrent theme has been appeals from the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and others who have failed to provide enough places, that we should stop sentencing people to custody because there is nowhere to put them (That one has reared its ugly head again this week).
Well, such things have prompted steam to gush from my ears at frequent intervals, but now no more. We have sold our home in the UK and are moving to Spain to enjoy retirement, so I have ceased to be a magistrate, but have applied for tranfer to the Supplemental List, which means that I continue to a be Justice of the Peace. In the event of a major war calling away large numbers of the active magistracy, then we are there in reserve to be called back to man the courts. This was the original purpose of the Supplemental List, but I shall not hold my breath or keep my suit ready pressed. Two world wars have come and gone without it ever being necessary to call us in. I expect - indeed hope - that that won't change.
To those who have found my ramblings of any interest, I say thank you for visiting, but the time has come to say farewell - or adios

Thursday, 7 February 2008


Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, I heard an account of an initiative by probation services in Derby or Derbyshire (I'm not sure which). Apparently some offenders sentenced to carry out unpaid work are being sent on programmes to enhance their employment prospects, on the grounds that being employed has a dramatic impact on the likelihood of reoffending.

I think the idea of such programmes is wholly to be welcomed. However, what concerns me is that these are people whom the courts have sentenced to punishment by way of an unpaid work requirement. Where the primary purpose of sentencing is to rehabilitate, the courts impose community orders with 'programme requirements'. It seems to me that a Probation Service which diverts an offender from the requirement set by the court onto a different requirement which it feels is more appropriate, this is tantamount to interfering with the will of the court.

A report will have been obtained from Probation before sentence is passed. If they believe a programme is more appropriate than an unpaid work order, that is their opportunity to say so. Once the court has read the report, taken its decision and passed sentence, then - it seems to me - the job of Probation is to deliver that sentence, not one of its own choosing.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Back To Reality

Well, the big holiday is over and I'm in the process of coming to terms with cold, dark, winter days. Not much seems to have changed while I've been away. The prisons are still bursting at the seams. People are still arguing that mothers should not be jailed. No mention of similar treatment for fathers, I notice.

Reading local papers in Oz and NZ, though, I realised that we are not alone in our troubles. The same issues occupy people's minds - the health service, education, youth crime, alcohol abuse. Only drugs seem to be less of an issue than they are here.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Now there's a thought!

I've just been reading the local paper, seated by the pool with a drink, here in Coff's Harbour in NSW. One news item struck a chord with me, and I thought I'd share it with you.
The Attorney General is asking the powers that be to look at the common practice of "double dipping". This is where an accused pleads not guilty, maintains this plea up to a late stage whilst his lawyer negotiates with the prosecution for a lesser charge to be substituted (In our terms, a S39 instead of a S47, for instance).
Once the lesser charge is offered in court, accused duly pleads guilty "at the earliest opportunity", and gets his full guilty plea discount on the lesser charge.
It is being suggested that the reduction in charge should suffice, no further reduction in sentence being offered.
Put that way, it makes very good sense to me. Perhaps our own SGC could consider this argument for the UK.