Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Artful Lodger

Every now and again we would find ourselves faced with an application to 'lodge' fines for a serving prisoner. This is a process whereby outstanding fines would be converted into an appropriate amount of jail time, and added to the sentence, either consecutively or concurrently according to the nature of the offences that had attracted fines. If a defence brief is doing his job he should canvass this at the beginning of a sentence to allow the prison staff to deal with the appropriate paperwork. This doesn't always work out, so a bench may have to sort things out later. Unfortunately, lodging is time-consuming and involves a lot of writing, so these days we are more inclined to remit whatever amounts we think appropriate; the effect is the same but it is simpler. The underlying principle is the old-established one that a prisoner should be released with, as far as possible, a clean sheet, although we will often leave compensation to be paid.
Last summer we came up against three slightly out-of-the-ordinary cases, because the men owing fines had all served long times on remand but had not been imprisoned at the conclusion of the matters.
So we had A, owing £340 for a bit of public order and criminal damage (sum includes £150 compensation for the damage) who had spent 18 months on remand for an offence of which he was acquitted.
B owed £275 for failing to pay his bus fare (!) and had spent 4 months on remand for a matter that resulted in a community order at the Crown Court.
C owed £460 out of fines totalling £475 for a bit of motoring and some personal-use drug possession. He had spent 7 months on remand for GBH and the Crown offered no evidence.
The clerk told us that we could not properly lodge these sums, since they were not serving prisoners, but rather on remand. So we looked for a just and common-sense solution. We remitted A's fines, but left the compensation alone, since a member of the public had suffered a loss that A would have to make good. We remitted B and C's fines, since we felt that they had been in prison for more than long enough to cancel them out.
It was all a bit untidy, but we felt that we had been fair, and that is what we are there for, after all.

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