Sunday, January 22, 2006
Time For You to Have a Go Again
It’s time for you to be in the hot seat again. This case is a composite of some typical ones, and I am going to ask you how you will deal with this man who has just reoffended. Most magistrates will have seen a case like this one.
Brian is in his forties. The years have not been kind to him, and homelessness and alcoholism, combined with the fact that he has always had learning difficulties, have left him looking old beyond his years. He is accompanied in court by an ‘appropriate adult’ which is standard procedure for children and for adults who may have difficulty in understanding what is going on and in expressing themselves. He has a criminal record going back about 25 years, almost entirely for minor public order offences, predominantly being drunk and disorderly. He lives in hostels some of the time, in abandoned houses some more of the time, and in Wormwood Scrubs during periodic incarcerations. When drunk, which is most of the time, Brian can be a really unpleasant nuisance, staggering about the streets swearing and abusing total strangers. The public react to him with alarm, getting away from him as soon as they can, and I am sure that most local citizens want to see the back of him.
He is in custody, having just been arrested again for drunk and disorderly, but for the third time in nine months he has also been charged with breaching an Anti Social Behaviour Order. About 18 months ago a court granted an ASBO that banned him from being drunk in public. For each of the two previous breaches he has been sentenced to six months in prison, of which he will have served half.
He pleads guilty, and his solicitor asks you to sentence him today rather than waiting for a pre-sentence report, as the court will have all the information that it needs without one. The solicitor reminds you that Brian is entitled to a reduction of sentence of one-third for his plea of guilty. The clerk addresses you and reminds you that you should consider whether to commit to the Crown Court for sentence in view of the repeated breaches of the ASBO. Your maximum power today is six months. At the Crown Court a judge can impose up to five years.
You retire. One of your ‘wingers’ is very new to the bench, and asks what is the usual penalty for a drunk and disorderly. You explain that it is usually a conditional discharge or a fine, and that any fine is often cancelled out by a night spent in the cells. You explain that it is the breach of ASBO that you need to consider.
Your decision. Do you:- Send him up to the Crown Court for a sentence longer than six months? Give him six months straight off, and tell him that the credit for his plea lies in the fact that you did not send him upstairs? Fine him? Give him a Conditional Discharge? (Community Penalties are not available because on a previous occasion Probation reported that he has been given, and breached, the whole range of such penalties).
Tell me what you would do, and we shall return to the subject in a day or two.