Friday, November 20, 2009

Truly Disturbing

I have hitherto refrained from commenting on the troubling case of Paul Clarke, who appears to have got himself into some very hot water in handing in a sawn-off shotgun to the police. I agree with Charon QC that the affair has been comprehensively dealt with on Jack of Kent's blog, and you can do no better than to read JoK's post.
My initial restraint was based on a hunch that there had to be more to this than meets the eye, and indeed Mr. Clarke appears to have had previous less-than-harmonious dealings with the police.
Strangely enough, I have experience of a case that is pretty close to Mr. Clarke's. Someone came before us charged with having a loaded firearm in a public place. The person was wealthy and respectable, and the gun was duly licensed and being carried as part of his luggage on a journey - but due to an oversight there were three bullets in the magazine. The CPS asked us to take the unusual step of adjourning matters for one week to allow them to have another look at the charge, because as matters stood the 5-year minimum would apply, which would be ludicrously overdoing things. So we put the case off and the man came back before my colleagues a week later, when he faced a different charge and was fined heavily.
So is it the case that Mr. Posh was given an easy ride, but Mr. Stroppy will feel the full weight of the law?
I don't know, but I hope that the decisions taken will be transparent and clearly set out as matters progress.
The other truth that is emerging is the inescapable fact that laws imposing minimum sentences will always, sooner or later, produce injustice that cannot be averted by the sentencer. Every case is different, and legislators cannot possibly envisage every twist and turn and nuance of the offences they are trying to proscribe. That is why judicial discretion is essential if we are to do justice.

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