Thursday, July 17, 2008

Get A Grip

I never criticise colleagues' decisions because they get to hear the full facts in their cases and I do not. Nevertheless, I have been a bit disturbed in recent weeks to find myself dealing with cases where suspended prison sentences had been breached more than once, and had not been activated. You can breach an SSO by failing to comply with its requirements or by reoffending. Sometimes it's both. A breach doesn't mean automatic incarceration, as there is power to make requirements more onerous, and to re-suspend; sometimes that makes sense. But I recently saw a case where our man had breached six times, and still not gone inside. That just makes a mockery of the system. If the repeated re-suspension was justified on judicial criteria then perhaps the SSO was the wrong sentence in the first place. If not, there is no excuse for not facing up to the fact that enough is enough.
Use of the Suspended Sentence was severely restricted a decade or so ago because it was being used as a stepping-stone between community service and prison, rather than a prison sentence in its own right that, once decided upon, was able to be suspended. That seems to be happening again now, and is why the Government came close to ending SSOs for summary offences recently. If you follow the reasoning properly, and decide that the offence is so serious that custody is right, going on to decide that it can be suspended with requirements, then there should be no problem implementing the sentence in the event of breach - if not the first one, certainly the second.

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