An injustice which made the news a few weeks ago during the Summer silly season and I blogged about here has now resurfaced with an added twist. I wrote about two examples of young women who had been caught shoplifting. In one case the shoplifter was stealing formula milk for her baby, in the other the shoplifter intentionally chose the cheapest item she could find simply to stave of her hunger. In both cases the Court was obliged to fine these women a disproportionate sum due to new rules introduced by the last caring compassionate Government. These rules set a minimum tariff for crimes and led to fines of £300-£400 for items which originally cost a few pence. The real issue here is not that these are disproportionate, but they are being levied on people who only stole because of a lack of money! Sadly the rules creating problems for our two shoplifters also impacted on other criminals or accused individuals, of which more below.
For 5 years I was involved in a quango that operated at a local level intended to bring local ownership to the management of our Courts system. Each of these Courts Boards consisted of two magistrates, two lawyers or professional Court users, two members of the wider public and a Judge. I Chaired the Surrey and Sussex Courts Board for several years and we had an interesting relationship with other magistrates. This was because the Courts Board overtook many of the functions of the Magistrates Courts Committees, and our willingness to do this work did not make us popular. Finding Magistrates willing to resign on matters of principle is not difficult, and sadly because these men and women are volunteers in the judicial system, their departure rarely impacted the local Courts Service, let alone the running of the Ministry of Justice. That means that the loss of a few magistrates here or there will not send a shock wave to Michael Goves Office. However the resignations I recall where usually down to issues such as the plans to close Courts without consulting the magistracy adequately, and the internal decision making that truthfully impacted very few people outside of the bench. This story in the Independent of 50 Magistrates resigning over matters related to sentencing rules will probably be ignored by the Lord Chancellor, but he should take that and indeed the stories from the Summer seriously. Its vital that as a nation we have a justice system which is valued and respected (even if not liked) by all of us. Those who break the law, and those who implement it. If this was a resignation by 50 Judges, the edifice really would begin to crumble, and we may not be far away from that sort of revolt.