I had to decide whether to grant bail the other week. The person concerned has a history of petty offences including a few of failing to answer bail. His record runs to about ten sheets of A4. The offences before the court are medium-serious, likely to attract a few months inside at the worst. He is a chronic alcoholic so a treatment focused community penalty is also a distinct possibility. Due to attend at 10 am, the person arrived during the afternoon, and was arrested on the warrant that my colleagues had issued on his earlier non-appearance.
On his record, he could expect a remand in custody, and that's what the prosecutor asked for. My first reaction was to think that he had had his chance, and to remand him to prison, but I then assembled all of the facts in my mind:
* His trial will not take place for a good few weeks, so he is unconvicted at the moment.
* If he is convicted he may well have served his eventual sentence on remand.
* His offending, including his bail failures, is largely driven by his alcoholism.
* His most recent bail offence was mitigated by the fact that he did at least turn up to court, albeit hours late.
* I had read in the press that the prisons are at a near record level of inmates.
* Is this really a good use of such an expensive resource as prison?
So I bailed him on conditions, much (as I heard unofficially) to the disgust of our resident jailer.
Had I locked him up, I could have been properly criticised for cluttering up an expensive prison with a pathetic alcoholic who at least has a home and partner to go to. Since I did not, I might equally be criticised for putting a man with a history of breaking his bail back on the street.
There's no right answer at this stage. If he duly turns up for his trial then I was right and I have saved the taxpayers thousands of pounds and complied with the spirit of the Bail Act. If he absconds or reoffends then a silly magistrate has got it wrong again.
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