Members having sampled the delicious non-alcoholic punch being served, the December Todmorden U3A general meeting opened with another Christmas treat. A delighted audience heard four string players from Todmorden Orchestra, lead by Andrew Rostron, perform Haydn’s Quartet No. 53 in D major, Op. 64, No. 5, “The Lark”.
Before getting down to the quiz, set by Quiz Group convenor Myrna Beet, retired local magistrate Trevor Driver gave an amusing talk drawing on his 23 years as a magistrate. Trevor started with some brief historical facts. The magistracy began in the 13th century with landed gentry being nominated from among their local number. Nomination was the norm throughout the evolution of this post until relatively recently when personal application to become a magistrate was introduced.
No formal qualifications are required but magistrates need intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly. Listening skills and a balanced view of human nature are also necessary. Membership comes from all parts of the area covered and drawn from all walks of life. When Trevor started, his training consisted of a list of do’s and don’ts. Now, all magistrates receive a 3 day training before sitting, carried out in conjunction with a mentoring programme (mentors are magistrates with at least 3 years service). This covers basic law and procedure, and they continue to receive training throughout their judicial career. Additional training is given to magistrates choosing to sit in the Youth Court, or those dealing with family matters. New magistrates sit with mentors on at least six occasions during their first eighteen months. Magistrates are compulsorily retired at 70.
The bench usually consists of three magistrates and it is the chair who speaks in court. Magistrates don’t cross examine. The only questions they may ask are those for clarification. They are assisted by the Clerk to the Court, who is on hand to give advice and is legally qualified. Trevor said magistrates can sometimes find it difficult to decide on a sentence to impose and ask the clerk’s advice. The clerk will then go through the list of options for the offence in question without recommendation but enabling the bench to take a decision. Sometimes decisions are of a different nature. Trevor and his bench were faced with one such on Christmas Eve. Should we remand, and deprive the defendant and their family the Christmas they had planned? On the other hand, remand would give certain kinds of defendants a bed for the night in the warm and dry.
Like many of the speakers at U3A general meetings, Trevor raised some laughs. His humour was mostly contextual, so not easy to relate here. He said that some of the stories told by defendants are often a source of amusement for the court. One such tale came from some youths captured on CCTV on the roof of a supermarket and caught later with a bag of lead. They were taking a short cut across the roof, they said, and then found the bag later and were on their way to hand it in.
He did, however, tell one joke he had told in the days when Lada cars were on the roads. What’s the difference between a Lada driver and a hedgehog? In the case of the hedgehog, the pricks are on the outside. It happened that his earlier telling was in company, one of whose number was a Lada driver. Oh dear!
The afternoon was rounded off by Myrna’s quiz, which consisted of seasonal questions with a sprinkling of some general knowledge. “White Christmas”, a cake made of coconut, crisped rice and dried fruit, is popular in which country? This one, exclaimed a contestant, appeared last year, but she couldn’t remember the answer. Not much help, then. Some were of a popular culture nature, like what was Girls Aloud’s 2002 UK number one single? But a real teaser was, Quaid-e-Azam’s Birthday is a 25th celebration in which country? Sorry reader, you’ll have to look those up. Christmas is over. The winners were rewarded with a box of a popular brand of wrapped chocolates assortment. Such a lavish prize meant that the teams who were second and third had to leave empty handed.
Report by John Bouttell Photo by Philip Willis