Monday, 13 August 2012

In the Public Interest

According to a quick scan of wikipedia, public interest is said to refer to the "common well-being" or "general welfare". It goes on "The public interest is central to policy debates, politics, democracy and the nature of government itself". So pretty important, even if there's no consensus as to what it constitutes exactly. 

I've certainly resorted to using the concept extensively throughout my career as a probation officer, particularly if I've ever felt the need to privately rehearse my reasons for a particular course of action, and especially if likely to be deemed unorthodox by some. It's held me in good stead, even through regrettable disciplinary proceedings, and continues to be my guiding philosophy to this day.

The concept underpinned my decision to start blogging anonymously a couple of years ago and having been impressed by the level of insight and debate contained in several long-standing blogs, including those penned by a magistrate and a police officer. It should be obvious to all that one really useful aspect of the internet is the ability to publish insights and thoughts gained from ones sphere of endeavour and that can be made widely available to anyone who might be interested. In my view this ability to publish unfettered and hence add to an informed debate is an incredibly powerful tool that can only be in the public interest. 

It is therefore extremely sad to hear that the senior Judiciary have decreed that magistrates are henceforth forbidden from blogging, whilst proclaiming to be part of the judiciary, and on pain of disciplinary action. Naturally, being responsible bloggers and citizens, several lay bench bloggers are currently considering their positions and no doubt garnering solicited and unsolicited advice as to how to proceed. 

On a personal note, I shall be extremely sad to see their contributions to the debate disappear if they decide to follow these draconian instructions, and it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that my readership would be drastically affected as the majority of hits come via a certain magistrates blog. Of course vanity plays its part in all this as there seems little point in burning the midnight oil for no remuneration and no readers! 

I can't help feeling it's all a big mistake as responsible blogging can only be beneficial. I think there needs to be a distinction drawn between what is actually said, rather than who is doing the talking. I've always understood that in the final analysis the author of any electronic media contribution might be held to account and that alone should help concentrate the mind, if nothing else does. In my view these blogs have never brought the judicial process into disrepute - quite the opposite, so why on earth must they stop? 

Here we have an example of an experienced magistrate who got into trouble via facebook, and as a consequence was disciplined, not for using social media per se, but for what she actually said. That's the important bit surely? Lets not shoot the messengers, but rather continue the laissez faire policy that's operated up till now and take notice of the content instead.  


  1. It's official: magistrates are not to be trusted.
    Apart from that, does this mean that anyone who blogs claiming to be a magistrate can expect to have their collar felt? And what if they turn out not be be one? Have they committed an offence?

  2. Thank you for this measured and thoughtful piece on the issue. One can only hope that someone with the ear of the SPJ gets to read, and has a word in said ear. Of course, not too many years ago the Magistrates' Association would have been straight onto the matter.

  3. I set up my pseudonymous blog when military personnel were banned from blogging unless each post was cleared through MoD officials. There is probably an Article 10 case to be made - as there is here. But nobody really wants to be the test case.

    But - responding to Tode - surely there is no offence, criminal or civil? It is an employment (or defintintely-not-employment for JPs) disciplinary case. With the added frisson that, as HMG is the employer, HRA / ECHR applies at the start rather than being taken in to consideration at any subsequent tribunal.