Saturday, February 15, 2014


I chaired a Saturday court today. We were a bench of three, thus allowed to sentence where appropriate, and we were dealing with all of the overnight business from three London boroughs. We were faced with about a dozen cases, plus three or four that turned up late. I cannot say too much about the details, but we saw a mixture of cases. As usual there were a few shoplifters, inevitably stealing to fund their drug habits.
One sad creature sat, as they do, in the dock in the heroin crouch, arms clasped round her chest. The list said that she was 39, but she looked a good fifty, again as they do. She had about fifty pre-cons, and had committed the latest offence on bail - as they do.
We saw a lanky youth of 17, and had to wait for about an hour while the YOT (youth) team tried to find somewhere we could send him for the four days it would take to get him in front of a qualified Youth bench. In the end we remanded him to the local authority which means that the authority must find somewhere for him. His grandad and another relative were in court and I felt desperately sad for them, knowing just how I would feel to see one of my grandchildren confined in the cold glass sided dock.
A couple of cases were met with immediate prison sentences, given the offenders' long histories of ignoring court orders, and planned campaigns of theft.
Another man had attacked his daughter's boyfriend, for reasons that I cannot go into. We remanded him in custody as we were pretty sure that he might do it again, and as he was taken down the steel stairs he pointed a finger at me and said "I hope you have a daughter, and then you will know how I have suffered.". As it happens I do have a daughter, but I do not ever take the law into my own hands, but he would never understand my reasoning. The file showed that he had served some years in prison, and I surmised that this is what had formed his attitude to his daughter's boyfriend.

A reasonably hard morning then, but we agreed, in the wash-up session before we left, that we had done our best, and had delivered fair judgements to the best of our ability.


  1. Interesting that it takes a long history of ignoring court orders to get sent down.

    Why isn't a short history enough?

  2. Replies
    1. Whose proportionality ?

    2. The proportionality of the sentence for the offender.

      The power of the state to deprive someone of their liberty is a serious measure - it's pretty important that it's not taken lightly. If someone homeless steals a sandwich from a shop and winds up in front of the magistrate, I trust you would agree that prison wasn't the right sentence. If it happens 5 times or 10 times would prison ever be appropriate for such low level theft?

      Without discretion and consideration of proportionality, aren't you sleepwalking towards the injustices of 'three strikes' laws?

  3. '..but I do not ever take the law into my own hands...' is often said (maybe quoted). However, in the heat of a moment, under personal threat, or threat to a son/daughter, or otherwise threatened with becoming a victim of some sort, it can be surprising what perfectly well-behaved people, who have never committed a violent act in their life hitherto, can and will do.

    1. Self defence is a different matter to retribution.

    2. That is often quite debateable.

  4. To echo what Anon has said; 50 pre-cons? Fifty?

    Scum like that should have been locked away a long time, a long time ago.

    The 3 strikes rule might seem a bit harsh, so how about a 30 strikes rule?

  5. Hibbo - why do you assume that none of the 50 PCs resulted in custodial sentences?

  6. And what if the pre-cons are nearly all very low-level, such as £8 shoplifting, and suchlike? It would be wrong to impose really heavy sentences for a pile of trivial offences - and that's the law.

    1. Why would it be wrong, BS?

      I'm not saying that a first time offender who nicks a T-shirt should be sent down, but someone who continually steals should be locked up, for a long time.
      Recidivist offenders are a major problem.

  7. Anon 23:33 - Sorry, I should have said "locked up for a long time, a long time ago". ie they would still be in klink now and thus unable to be a scourge on society.

    As I said, how about a 30 strikes rule?

    On your 30th conviction you get sent to jail for 15 years.

    Do you not think that would reduce crime somewhat?

    1. Who pays to keep people in prison? Society does - its just a different form of 'scourge'.

      The thing about hard and fast rules is they remove the discretion from the Judge - who is there precisely because hard and fast rules don't work. If someone steals a sandwich to survive (he had no money, employer didn't pay him and the benefits office gave him an appointment in 4 days time), the goods were recovered, pleads guilty, but has a long string of PC's including other petty theft - and a short prison sentence 12 years ago, but no convictions for 9 years (a case I saw recently). Would that be the same?

  8. So the same as a murder sentence for a series of mickey-mouse thefts?

    This is a bit like the old preventive detention that was abolished decades ago.

  9. I think you should send them all to Australia. That would get you back on track for true justice (as in the 1700's).

    Try not to look at my above comment as reductio ad absurdum and you may have some insight into what I see as the barbarity of imprisoning people just because they are feral scum. They (almost) certainly don't start out that way.

  10. The problem is that we do not punish re-offending. Obviously people like this should be treated like children: The punishment did not work, so you have to do it again. This means that if you re-offend you serve the sentence for the new crime+ all your previous sentences. Jail time would accumulate quickly.

    The balance over 5 years to be served in a low-cost institution. Slave labour in Siberia or medically induced coma, I DO NOT CARE.

    5 crime-free years wipes the slate clean.

    This would allow a short sentence for a first offence, but an absolutely predictable consequence for re-offending. The persistent culprits of minor offences would be removed from society. They may be only minor individual offences, but there must be a clear signal that society will not put up with it.


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