Sunday, August 13, 2006

Little Victories

The immortal Norman Stanley Fletcher in 'Porridge' advised Godber, his cellmate, to cope with being inside by aiming for little victories. In this way he could retain self-respect without causing the kind of trouble that might invite retribution, either from the authorities of from fellow cons.

On the Bench we face a constant struggle to get cases moving and to resist delay unless it is completely unavoidable. The old culture of relaxed three week adjournments (in which we always suspected that nothing was done until the day before the hearing) still lingers in the minds of many defence and prosecution lawyers, but we must now, in the word of the moment, be 'robust' in our enquiries, and to insist that matters progress.

I am still preening myself over a case in the Spring when the defence asked for two weeks to view a CCTV tape, and I sent him and his client across to the police station to view it. What they saw prompted a guilty plea, and we were able to sentence that afternoon.

Last week a lawyer asked for two weeks to make representations to the CPS in what looked like a tentative offer of a plea bargain. The CPS lawyer in court pointed out that the two charges faced by the client were quite different, albeit arising from one incident, and had already been reviewed by a senior prosecutor, so no deal. At this point the clerk read the parties the Riot Act about blatant plea bargaining in open court (of course it happens, but we aren't supposed to admit it). We refused the adjournment and insisted that pleas were entered. A whispered conversation between lawyer and client resulted in two guilty pleas. Neither offence was particularly serious, but one of them carried enough penalty points to push the offender over the magic twelve points on his already 9-point licence, so we disqualified him from driving for six months on top of his fines.

A small victory, but justice was done quickly and public money was saved. I'll settle for that.

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