Friday, February 09, 2007

Wrecked Lives

I saw two people this week, each of whom had wrecked their life by the commission of fairly trivial offences.
The first, a man in his late thirties, had held a well paid and interesting job with a major company. He cares, as a single parent, for his child, the mother of which left him a few years ago. He had no previous convictions, but in recent times he had stolen from his employer, a bit here and a bit there to a total of about £300. He was caught of course, and appeared looking dreadful after a night in the cells, bail having been refused by the police for reasons that I can't mention. As an employee, he had breached the trust placed in him and the thefts revealed a degree of planning. The duty solicitor told us that her client was depressed, and was involved in a dispute with his ex-partner. He had been summarily sacked, and therefore had no money and no prospects. He sobbed his way through the hearing.
The second was a woman of 42, also in a well-paid and respected profession, who had committed an offence that was related to her job, although not directed at her employer. She too had been fired within hours of being arrested; she too was visibly distressed.
What they had in common was that the punishment they had brought upon themselves by the loss of their good jobs and their good names far exceeded anything that the court was likely to impose. Each was of previous good character, had the benefit of a guilty plea, and was unlikely ever to repeat their offence.
We fined one, and gave the other a conditional discharge - it doesn't matter which was which. We had a cup of tea and all three of us on the bench agreed that we felt a sense of waste. We were confident that we had dispensed justice, but we still felt a strange sense of loss.

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