Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Judicial Approach Required

If you cannot take an objective view of a situation you should not be a magistrate. Your job is to apply the law, as the Oath says, "Without fear or favour, affection or ill-will".

It can be very hard sometimes. We tried a case yesterday (and I can't go into any detail here that would not make it obvious to a few people who the protagonists were) in which we found the defendant to be guilty of a certain offence against a certain victim. The defendant had clearly lost his cool, and his behaviour crossed the line that made his behaviour an offence. We were quite certain that the verdict had to be one of guilty.

The tough part of the job was personal to the people on the Bench, because the victim was so personally obnoxious and arrogant. His demeanour in the witness box and the evidence that we heard put our backs up. Furthermore, his behaviour leading up to the offence would have made almost any normal person furious. Any provocation fell well short of a defence in law, however.

It took us little time to find the defendant guilty, but once we had done that we agreed between ourselves that we all understood the offender's behaviour, while accepting that it went past the threshold of acceptability and that a guilty verdict was the only one we could enter.

So we convicted and we sentenced, after we had set our minds to a rational assessment of the seriousness of the crime. The system worked as it should and I believe that what we did was right. I didn't enjoy it though.

The offence was summary-only (i.e. magistrates court with no option of a jury) but I am pretty sure that any jury would have acquitted in the teeth of the evidence. That is both the main strength and the main weakness of juries.

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