The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a team, who may or may not be JPs, but all of whom are interested in the Magistrates' Courts.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What About The Cat Then?

We were talking about this case before Christmas,in which a woman cruelly killed her boyfriend's cat by putting it in a washing machine. I have had a go at doing a sentencing exercise from basic principles, but an awful lot is going to depend on the pre-sentence report that is due to be put before the court on the 10th January. I have had a look in Stones (Justices' Manual) and as I suspected there is no guidance at all as to sentence.
So what will the bench do? They will assess how serious the offence was 'of its type'. They will agree the right point on the scale, the lowest being perhaps a kick or blow, the highest being deliberate and ingenious cruelty. Given the limited information we have from the press reports, this offence seems pretty well up the scale being deliberate and involving a high level of suffering for the cat. Next they will consider what sentences are available, in this case a maximum of a £5000 fine, six months in prison, or a community order of some kind. A reduction of one third for a guilty plea is mandatory. Fine or discharge? No, too serious. Serious enough for a community penalty? Certainly. So serious that only custody is appropriate? That's the tough one - nasty offence, but this isn't a human, it's a cat. It's borderline in my view. The report may well throw up mental or other problems that need to be addressed and probation may recommend an order for supervision plus specific programmes. That deals with reform and rehabilitation, and the bench can always add on unpaid work as an element of straightforward punishment -in this case, perhaps 200 hours (it would be nice to order it to be done at the RSPCA but we can't do that). A suspended sentence is an option but it would be wrong to approach that as the next point up the scale. The offence has to justify custody, full stop. If it does, only then does the bench ask itself whether it is possible to suspend it.
As I have said a lot will depend on the report on this one. My hunch is a community order including unpaid work and rehabilitation, but I would not be too surprised to see custody, either suspended or immediate.
My colleagues will have to sentence this from basic principles, but they can rely on their training and their clerk's advice.

The case has been adjourned for a psychiatric report, which is no surprise. In these cases it is usual for the writer of the first report to ask for the further reports, and we would invariably go along with that.