Justices' clerks are furious over a Sunday Express newspaper article alleging that clerks are advising magistrates to be “too lenient on thugs”.
The story, which the Justices' Clerks Society (JCS) calls “inaccurate, outrageous and mischievous”, claims clerks are advising magistrates to hand out light sentences because of fears they could be financially liable in the event of a successful appeal against sentence in a higher court.
The paper's editorial accompanying the article said: “The clerks say they are only saving JPs from having sentences overturned in appeal courts. But there is another explanation which is nearer the truth. They are simply out of touch with the real world of crime.”
The story cites “highly placed magistrates' sources” for its allegations and includes a supporting comment from Home Office Minister David Maclean.
Laurie Cramp, JCS vice-president, said the article “does not represent the way that justices' clerks advise magistrates. It is their clear duty to represent to magistrates what the law is and it's up to magistrates to exercise their powers and discretion as they see fit”.
He added: “It is inaccurate, outrageous, and mischievous.”
The JCS council meets this week to decide upon its action.
Rosemary Thomson, Magistrates' Association chair, agreed with Cramp. “It seems to me to be grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
The article said: “Magistrates are pulling back from handing out tough jail terms to thugs because of advice given by their legal clerks.” It said clerks “are said to be afraid the sentences…could be overturned in the Appeal Court, which would reflect badly on their legal reputations.”
Sunday Express journalist Peter Hooley said he stood by his story.