Tuesday, May 06, 2014

From The Saloon Bar

It is well known to my social circle that I am a magistrate,and I have no problem with that. I am teased, of course, but I am also approached by people who have been angered or confused by the polemical voices in the press as well as by people who just want to know how the system works.

I am happy to inform when I can, and to try to counter any misconceptions as simply as I am able to.

Today the press has been concerned about the fact that a serving prisoner, on several life sentences, has absconded from an open prison. 

This raises numerous questions, of course. For one thing, it is high time that we rebranded the 'Life' sentence, that is in fact nothing of the sort. A so-called life sentence is in fact an indeterminate sentence, the length of which is driven by the judge's tariff. Once serving the prisoner is managed by the prison service and the parole board. 

Several things drive the practice of moving prisoners from closed prisons to open ones, and the underlying principles are sensible. After serving a long sentence it is both logical
and humane  to move the prisoner to an environment where he can be gradually eased into society. That usually works, but this latest case clearly didn't.  


  1. I agree it should be rebranded. The trouble is who wants to be the politicians who stops giving out life sentences to murderers? (As the press would paint it) And which prison minister has the budget for actualy life Tariffs for all murderers?

  2. Pay no attention to the Daily Jackboot. It is ill informed and prejudiced.

    Get the Dail Fail journo's to do those actual cases you put up here a while back...

    What's wrong with sentences is that the public don't believe them or have faith in them. Turn the sentencing around the other way such that if the judge says 5 yrs it is 5 yrs in full and give the courts the powers to add on time for bad behaviour not reduce it for good.

  3. Bowstreetrunner7 May 2014 at 09:07

    Yes rebranding might be worth trying- but will it make any difference? I doubt it.
    Like almost everything these days it will be money driving behaviour which maybe is not such a good thing.
    However, since we can't lock up people forever and they have to be released sometime there has to be a system for doing it. With new technology you would think tags could be used for the odd exception who absconds. The majority wo are released of course comply annd come back. This is maybe a storm in a teacup

  4. SouthLondonJP7 May 2014 at 09:44

    I suppose a similar coin to this (to paraphrase rather inelegantly) is the automatic release provision half way through sentence. As was rightly pointed out on the Clifford thread, his 8 year sentence will in fact mean he will only serve 4.

    Many people I speak to really struggle to understand why we just don't sentence to an ACTUAL term and be done with it (maybe with a little early release time for good behaviour but that's it). TBH I sometimes struggle to explain the rationale myself at times!!

  5. Just a quick question bystander, as I am genuinely interested. You've said inthe past that you and other magistrates get to tour prisons in order to see the effect of passing sentence. Does this include open prisons such as Ford or just the higher security ones like scrubs?

    1. I have been to the main London prisons, as well as Feltham YOI and Reading while it was still a prison rather than a remand centre. I have also been to Hollesley Bay open prison, and Warren Hill YOI on the same site on a different date. Holloway rarely has visits, because of the very fragile nature of some inmates. Which prison would I least like to be locked up in? Belmarsh, no contest.

  6. So, wheatley went on to commit yet another crime...the ONLY time sc*m like him are properly treated is when criminals are allowed day release etc...provided they are SHACKLED to the IDIOTS authorising their release!!! I would love to see, in a case like that, for those bl00dy liberals to get beaten to a pulp for being so stupid, and rightfully so, instead of an innocent bystander (get it?).
    However, given the evil state of the Establishment, where they cover up each others' sick crimes, this will never happen, because of course, it is DELIBERATE, and one channel it comes from is the proponents of the Frankfurt School, and the other is...I'll leave it to you to work out, but it's not that hard.

  7. Grayling rather surprisingly (given his track record) did acknowledge in a TV interview that movement of prisoners to an open prison in preparation for release is appropriate, and that the decision as to when (or whether) to release after the minimum sentence has been served is one for the Parole Board. He did not attempt to pander to the "Lock 'em up and throw away the key" brigade in his own party or in sections of the press such as the Daily Wail. What on earth has come over the man? This display of reason and commonsense is quite disconcerting.

  8. Surely what we need is more education of the public. Working in youth justice I find the 'life' sentence easy to explain - you spend some time locked up and then are released on 'life licence' In other words you are NEVER free and you can be recalled for ANY infraction of the rules. What term other than 'Life Sentence' sums that up?

  9. Isn't even less than half ? Huhne and Pryce, for example.


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