Sunday, March 29, 2015
More From Bystander N
Magistrates don’t usually know until arrival what the business will be of the court room we are allocated to, or who we will be sitting with for the day. It could be remands, trials, breaches of orders or other work. Recently, for me, it was sentencing.
Over the day we completed our list of about a dozen or so cases and helped out another busy court with some of theirs. We agreed with most of the report recommendations and changed a couple.
At the end of the day I asked my colleagues if they had noticed anything unusual about the day. They hadn’t and perhaps they were right but it had struck me that every single one of the reports we had read said that the defendant had a mental health problem and in several cases we had an extra report from a mental health team worker. One offence took place in a hospital in which the defendant and victim had been admitted as a result of acute mental health problems. In another, and with no extra report, I was far from convinced it was true but in many cases we didn’t even need the extra report to recognise the blindingly obvious in front of us.
Probably the most notable, but in the scheme of things totally unremarkable case was the drug addicted alcoholic before us who stole a pack of four cans of lager. He got two out of their plastic top cover but was stopped on leaving the store. He hadn’t opened any of the cans, they were repacked in the supermarket and put back for sale, but he was arrested. We had no idea why the store didn’t just tell him what for and send him on his merry way but I suspect they knew him of old and had simply had enough. Many shops have a policy of calling the police when they stop a thief, regardless of the value of what was taken.
He pleaded guilty and appeared to be sober when we saw him. I pointed out to him that this would be the ninetieth offence on his record and you can imagine what most of the previous offences were. He has been to prison many times for theft. In mitigation we heard that he had no home and had been an addict for a long time. His life revolved around going to his chemist for his heroin substitute prescription, and finding ways to get alcohol. He looked at least twenty years older than his true age.
He had been arrested almost twenty four hours before appearing before us so we fined him, deemed it served as he had no money, and ordered that he be kept in the cells until they closed later that afternoon. At least he would then go away having had a meal, back no doubt to hanging around his chemist and anywhere stocking alcohol. I resisted the temptation to say goodbye and see you soon, but no doubt I will.