A mountain about casual talk

Is it true that magistrates who give harsh sentences always find their degree of punishment reduced by whoever is judge when the case is appealed?

File photo
File photo

The Prime Minister is in favour of the courts imposing tougher sentences as a message to society. To stress this point, while delivering a speech at a political gathering, he revealed that he had a conversation with a magistrate who told him that whenever magistrates imposed sentences which were at the higher end of what was allowed by law, they were almost always reduced on appeal, with the courts citing previous sentences.

It is, of course, not the right way of doing it.

And saying publicly that he had a conversation with a magistrate about the matter – even what was probably a casual conversation – did not put him in a good light.

But it seems to me that a mountain has been made out of a molehill. The Nationalist Party, in fact called on the prime minister to apologise for having, by his own admission, had a conversation with a magistrate on sentencing policy.

There are official ways how sentencing policy could be discussed with the judiciary but a casual meeting with a magistrate is not one of them.

The shadow minister for justice, Karol Aquilina, said the prime minister’s actions were dangerous and unacceptable in a democracy since they showed scant respect for the independence of the judiciary. The prime minister himself knew that the members of the judiciary were precluded, in terms of their code of ethics, from speaking with anyone about their duties.

Other organisations also condemned this faux pas of the Prime Minister.

The Chamber of Advocates also declared that any contact between the Prime Minister and a magistrate went against the code of ethics that members of the judiciary had to follow. The Chamber expressed its disappointment at the Prime Minister’s words insisting that the courts of law have no remit to pass any message to anyone, but only to act through judgments they give out with independence and impartiality by applying the law.

I think the Prime Minister could have made the point he wanted to make without mentioning that he had actually made some casual talk with a magistrate on the subject. His was a slip that he should have avoided and made him look like a naive and silly politician, rather than a serious Prime Minister.

But then things are not always as bad as they look and I feel that those who have rightly criticized the Prime Minister for this slip in very strong terms are making a mountain out of a molehill.

There were times – I remember – when some members of the judiciary followed the Prime Minister’s bidding in particular cases without needing the Prime Minister to talk to them... but then the Prime Minister could not be condemned for some casual talk with members of the Judiciary, even though things were much worse than they are today.

Today’s members of the judiciary are not cut off from society at large as they used to be. This makes them feel the ground and can understand what is happening in society today much more than in the past; but this has its dangers, no doubt.

I must admit that I have personally experienced being embarrassed by meeting a magistrate at a social gathering a few days before I was to appear before the same magistrate for some libel case. Of course, both of us acted as if the pending court case did not exist, but even so, I could understand the logic of the ‘keep aloof’ policy that members of the judiciary followed with extreme care in the past.

I was told that when they were invited for wedding receptions in the 1950s, members of the judiciary were entertained in a particular area that was once removed from the big reception hall that was occupied by other invitees. This sounds silly now, but this is how much judges and magistrates were cut off from society – except of course for the well-known club where they had coffee whilst talking with lawyers, some of whom had just appeared in front of them.

The point made by the Prime Minister is interesting – despite the wrapping in which it was presented. Is it true that magistrates who give harsh sentences always find their degree of punishment reduced by whoever is judge when the case is appealed?

I am afraid of agreeing with such generalisations. Some statistics would be needed to see whether this allegation is correct or whether it is just a perception not backed by the facts.

But these are issues that should be discussed privately in the adequate fora, certainly not in public political meetings.

Tyre dust pollution

Researchers in the UK have come up with a device that they say could dramatically cut the amount of tyre dust that is released into the environment – and potentially, our lungs – as tyres wear.

Although electric vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions and generally lead to lower emissions over their lifetime, they typically produce more tyre emissions because they weigh more. A study made in the UK earlier this year actually claimed that particulate matter emissions from tyre wear can be worse than emissions from tailpipes.

According to a 2017 study, about 550 tons of airborne particles from tyres are produced annually in the UK. Results of a study released in July 2022 pointed to tyres and brake pads as the source of about 550,000 tons of ocean microplastic emissions annually.

Researchers from The Tyre Collective – a UK tech start-up founded by a group of design and engineering students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art –found that the rubber particles that come off the tyre as it wears are positively charged due to friction and that they can be captured by using an array of electrostatic plates.

The Tyre Collective says that the average car produces about 2 grams of tyre dust a day while buses can produce hundreds of grams a day.

Tyre particles would be collected by a device that would be mounted a certain distance away from the tyre’s edge. The captured particles are then stored away in a cartridge and could actually be recycled by being put to use in making new tyres.