On Leaving the Judiciary

As everyone knows, those approaching 70 are quite incapable of making sound judgements, so, on Wednesday 20 September 2017, I sat for the last time as a magistrate on the Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire bench.  Officially, I'm still a justice of the peace until 3 October, the day before my three-score-and-tenth birthday, but I don't think I'll be called upon to undertake any additional legal duties - I hope not.

The court was very kind and before we started the day's business there were several little speeches in my honour.  The chairman for the day, Dewi Hughes, started by thanking me for my 13 years of upholding justice as a valued winger, etc., etc., and finally wished me a happy retirement.  Then the crown prosecutor, Miss Rhian Jones, said similar things.  Then two of the solicitors chimed in.  Miss Katy Hanson referred to the many years of valued civic duty and so on.  And Alan Lewis took the bull by the horns and wondered why I was retiring early - I'm not, I just look that young.  Finally, the legal adviser, Mrs Diane Williams, wanted to know what facial cream I use.  She thanked me for my contributions in court and witty remarks in the retiring room.  I would be missed, crosswords, sudokus and all.  How sweet!

In reply I recalled my first sitting back in November 2003, when we dealt with about 55 cases.  Everybody else in court understood and knew what was happening, but I wondered what weird new world I had entered and if I would ever learn to keep up.  This new-fangled world was reinforced by a letter I received a little later from Charlie Falconer, the Lord Chancellor.  I had recently managed to gain six points on my driving licence for two cases of speeding.  He wished to make it clear that magistrates were expected to behave within the law and he did not wish to hear about any more such misdemeanours, otherwise .... 

Of all the hundreds of case I have heard, I can recalled only a very few - two in particular.  The first was the saddest.  One summer, a couple had arrived in Aberaeron for a family holiday but had forgotten to bring the pepper and salt.  While the wife popped in a convenience store to buy them, the husband reversed round the corner of Water Street.  Alas, he had a blind spot and he hit an elderly lady crossing the street.  She died.  He came to court a broken man, telling us that he would never drive again.  He was so grateful that we recognised this when we took away his driving licence.  The second memorable affair was a sentencing case.  Would we send the offender to prison or grant him his freedom?  He had already guessed his fate because he sported his toothbrush in the top pocket of his jacket.  I was amused.

Would I miss being a magistrate?  Not really.  It has been mostly an enjoyable experience, but I was tiring of the wasted hours of inaction in the court while paperwork was completed and cases were delayed for a variety of reasons.  On the other hand, it has been a worldly-wise education and many tales have been heard and friendships started.  Then again I will be happy to escape the failures of the court iPads and the frustrations of the e-judiciary website.  And anyway, despite the legal team's insistence that I was 'retiring' with the implication that I had nothing much more to do, I shall press on with a growing portfolio of activities.

Court life is nothing if unpredictable.  The most straightforward cases on paper can take on the most unimaginable twists and turns in the courtroom.  Yet there have been two areas of disappointment.  One, is that the legal system cannot effectively deal with many criminals.  For example, those involved with drug possession and use are not, despite the best efforts of the probation service, given access to effective courses of treatment - unless sentenced to at least six months of imprisonment.  Similarly, domestic violence is ineffectively handled.  And secondly, I was never part of a bench which handed down the sentence of crushing the offender's car.  I always wanted to do that!

Finally, I expressed my thanks all those concerned - magistrates, solicitors, prosecutors, legal advisors, ushers and the administrative teams.  I sent in my last expenses claim form with a note - 'Thank you and goodbye!'