Sad Days For Justice

I started up this blog when I came to live in Spain early last year. Before that I had blogged for some time as a magistrate, something I intended to keep on when I arrived. Sadly, I found that I was quickly becoming detached from the day-to-day changes that were taking place, and so it seemed sensible to fold that blog; it still sits there, no doubt, it's just that I don't post to it. So reading the UK press recently left me in a quandary; whether to awaken that dormant blog, or whether to write today's posting here on my current blog. I decided that this blog is about me here in Spain, and that that will sometimes involve me having thoughts about the country I left. That is my excuse!

In my magistrate days, I had the good fortune to meet and work with a fine Circuit Judge, sitting in the local Crown Court. He was what is called our "liaison judge", and in that capacity was happy to write a regular column for the bench journal which I edited. Twice a year, he would produce an article which took an area of concern to magistrates and would deal with it with a clarity, authority and detail which made it a joy to publish, and to read. In addition, I was able to have him as a guest speaker at the local Magistrates' Association branch a couple of times, where he led us through a series of sentencing exercises in that grey area which is cases that might stay with the magistrates, or could be sent to judge and jury at the crown court. Our ability to make those often difficult decisions on 'venue' benefited enormously from his input. Final I was privileged to sit with him in the crown court on a number of occasions, hearing appeals from the magistrates courts in the area; from those occasions I learned much about how to conduct cases in my own court.

You would be forgiven for anticipating that I am about to report his death; that this is an obituary. You would be wrong. HHJ Bruce Macmillan has not died. He has resigned his position as a circuit judge with immediate effect. Why? Because recently he was stopped by police, breathalysed, arrested and subsequently charged with driving with excess alcohol. His case is not due in court until September 30th, but he has bowed out ahead of that, and the judicial system has lost an extremely talented judge. He recognised that you cannot break the law and also enforce it. It is highly unlikely that he would have had to deal with similar cases himself; they are heard in the magistrates court. That is not the point. It is the principle that matters, and living up to that principle has cost him his career, his reputation and a not inconsiderable salary.

And then, a day or two later, I read that the Attorney General, the most senior lawyer in the government, has admitted employing an illegal immigrant, has accepted a £5,000 penalty for failing to abide by the very requirements that she herself helped to draft, but does not feel that she should resign, because - according to a press report I heard today - she sees the transgression as being no more serious than failing to pay the London congestion charge; which, of course, would also be an offence! Whether Baroness Scotland is a good, bad or indifferent Attorney General, I do not know. I just wish she had the same sense of public duty and responsibility as Bruce Macmillan!

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