It has been an eventful 48 hours at TopOfTheCops. First we had Labour Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Avon and Somerset confirm the site’s many predictions around previous criminal convictions when he stood down because he was disqualified due to an incident for which he received a fine 46 years ago, and the early work on this was acknowledged by Michael Crick. (Labour have immediately appointed the former runner-up as their new candidate).
Following on from this PCC candidates around the country began to put on this site what I am going to call ‘None-fessions’ – whereby they declare they have considered their own record in light of the law and declare that they have nothing to declare – i.e. they have no problematic convictions that could disqualify them. Last night I emailed all the candidates whose email addresses I had who had not already made a ‘None-fession’, and responses have been coming in today. I will be collating these and publishing them so you all know who has none-fessed and who has not.
There has already been some media interest, and I’m told that several sources are indicating that there will be more cases of past convictions to come out. So, candidates, be sure and none-fess soon or people will be thinking that you will soon be confessing your way out of the race. Remember, with the publicity and that email I’ve sent you, if you get caught then saying you didn’t know about the law is no longer an option.
And then our exclusive last night on the judicial ban on magistrates standing for PCC has set wheels in motion. Not only is there coverage in the Guardian and the Telegraph (and well done to Alan Travis and Martin Beckford for acknowledging TopOfTheCops as the source), but twitter has been, er, all a-twitter with despondent magistrates and legal opinions.
Kent Conservatives candidate and magistrate Craig Mackinlay described it as ‘Unacceptable & nonsensical“. For South Yorkshire Independent candidate Gillian Radcliffe it was “crazy“. Surrey Conservative candidate Julie Iles said it “seems I’ve no choice but to resign with immediate effect as a J.P. but I am saddened by it.” For solicitor and election law expert Ros Baston it was “bordering on irrational as well as unreasonable” and she “Never thought day wld come where horse dancing makes more sense than a judge’s edict“.
The big focus has been on the idea that magistrates standing to be PCCs must resign. Not take a leave of absence, but resign. Mervyn Barrett, who is standing in Lincolnshire as an Independent, had his staff provide in-house legal advice, and then took Counsel’s opinion. If you are a PCC candidate and a magistrate, then his Special Advisor, Matthew, would like you to get in touch with Jason@mervynbarrettobe.co.uk, as the advice is that Lord Justice Goldrings direction is challengeable, and that “Lord Justice Goldring has assumed the role of legislator and usurped the role of Parliament”
Yes, you heard right. He is an Independent (see his TopOfTheCops Candidate Statement here), and he has staff, a SpAd, and can get legal advice both in-house and counsel’s advice at the drop of a hat. It’s not just the political parties who are well-resourced, and people are beginning to ask where the money comes from for all this.
But that’s not all. Each PCC will be scrutinised by a Police and Crime Panel in their area – think of 41 of these panels, each with roughly 15-20 Councillors and a couple of Independent souls. Well, the judge is banning magistrates from those too, and their members probably aren’t following this election quite as closely as the candidates, but they are unlikely to be very impressed. So I prodded the Local Government Association a bit, and they went for it, describing the ban as “nonsensical“, which is not a bad result for a Thursday in August.
But then there is also a suggestion that any magistrate merely participating actively in the election should take a leave of absence until the election is over. How many JPs are also the public spirited people that parties rely on to knock on doors and deliver leaflets? Can the courts function without all these people for 3 months?
Which goes to the nub of the issue for me. What does it say about the professional judiciary and lay magistrates when one of the most senior judges in the land gives the impression that magistrates are so dispensable, pawns in the chess game between judges and elected representatives? It doesn’t make me want to give up time and energy to serve on the local bench.