Sunday, March 29, 2015

More From Bystander N

Magistrates don’t usually know until arrival what the business will be of the court room we are allocated to, or who we will be sitting with for the day.  It could be remands, trials, breaches of orders or other work.  Recently, for me, it was sentencing.

Over the day we completed our list of about a dozen or so cases and helped out another busy court with some of theirs.  We agreed with most of the report recommendations and changed a couple.

At the end of the day I asked my colleagues if they had noticed anything unusual about the day.  They hadn’t and perhaps they were right but it had struck me that every single one of the reports we had read said that the defendant had a mental health problem and in several cases we had an extra report from a mental health team worker.  One offence took place in a hospital in which the defendant and victim had been admitted as a result of acute mental health problems.  In another, and with no extra report, I was far from convinced it was true but in many cases we didn’t even need the extra report to recognise the blindingly obvious in front of us. 

Probably the most notable, but in the scheme of things totally unremarkable case was the drug addicted alcoholic before us who stole a pack of four cans of lager.  He got two out of their plastic top cover but was stopped on leaving the store.  He hadn’t opened any of the cans, they were repacked in the supermarket and put back for sale, but he was arrested.  We had no idea why the store didn’t just tell him what for and send him on his merry way but I suspect they knew him of old and had simply had enough.  Many shops have a policy of calling the police when they stop a thief, regardless of the value of what was taken.

He pleaded guilty and appeared to be sober when we saw him.  I pointed out to him that this would be the ninetieth offence on his record and you can imagine what most of the previous offences were.  He has been to prison many times for theft.  In mitigation we heard that he had no home and had been an addict for a long time.  His life revolved around going to his chemist for his heroin substitute prescription, and finding ways to get alcohol.  He looked at least twenty years older than his true age. 

He had been arrested almost twenty four hours before appearing before us so we fined him, deemed it served as he had no money, and ordered that he be kept in the cells until they closed later that afternoon.  At least he would then go away having had a meal, back no doubt to hanging around his chemist and anywhere stocking alcohol.  I resisted the temptation to say goodbye and see you soon, but no doubt I will.


  1. South London JP30 March 2015 at 10:17

    I think many of us who are JPs will recognise this scenario, especially the final one. Quite what we will do when we also have to add a minimum £150 costs charge (on top of the CPS standard rate) heaven knows!!

    1. Actually, this being an either-way offence, the courts charge for a guilty plea to shoplifting will be £180. Even more disgracefully, if convicted in the magistrates court after trial, the charge will be £1,000! This at the same time as the nation smugly glories in the Magna Carta anniversary. You couldn’t make it up!

  2. That'll teach him.

  3. What all those defendants with mental issues will also probably have in common is that they will be poor. Presumably they will all be poorer still when the court charge of £150 is implemented for offences after 13th April. Yet another attack on the less well off in our Society. Goodness only knows why magistrates have spent all these years carefully adjusting fines to defendants' means. And if you are poor, you will need to think very carefully about pleading not guilty with a £900 charge in prospect if found guilty.

  4. Had a sad mental health case recently. Defendant in a residential mental health facility. Assaulted a care worker by throwing a jug of water over him/her (water not the jug), then threw a tv remote at the worker (missed) threw another small object and missed before being restrained.
    The defendant was accompanied by a social worker and a personal care worker in court
    What on earth are the CPS doing? Assault by water, in a care facility.
    In this case the bench did not award compensation.

    1. ''What on earth are the CPS doing?'' This is what putting victims at the heart of the CJS does.

    2. An absolute discharge, I would hope.

      That sends a message to the CPS...

  5. Lord Shawcross said ( paraphrasing)just because an offence has
    been committed doesn't necessarily mean it should be prosecuted.
    It might be that if the CPS paid some attention to these wise words we wouldn't see these cases in the court.

  6. Interest of justice?
    Public interest?
    Ticking a box, investigated, prosecuted, sentenced?


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