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 retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bunking Off (2)

As several people have pointed out (and thank you for all the comments) this is a case where there is no 'right' answer. The child is not before the court because the law presumes that the parent has control of him. As Dickens' Mr. Bumble replied when told that he was deemed to be in control of Mrs. Bumble:- "If the law thinks that, then the law is a ass".

Nevertheless it must be public policy that school attendance is enforced, by criminal sanctions if need be, if the best efforts of the Local Authority fail. Magistrates are not social workers and we decided that our duty was to impose a sentence that would express society's disapproval, and as far as possible deter others. So the object of the sentence is to punish the offender.

A Conditional Discharge is unlikely to be appropriate because it is highly likely to be breached, which will bring us right back to square one. A fine is impractical, as any realistic level for a woman on Donna's income will look derisory. Community Rehabilitation (the old probation) is not available because Donna is a first offender. That leaves us the options of unpaid work, or prison (there are a number of newly introduced community penalty options but for clarity I shall disregard them).
If you are looking to punish and deter there is something to be said for a short prison sentence, as there was evidence that school attendance improved dramatically for a time when a court took that option. But I am not the man to lock up a woman whose behaviour, however reprehensible, was more pathetic than wicked. So we sentenced her to 40 hours (the minimum) of unpaid work in the community, with no order for costs.

Lee's education is unlikely to advance very far in the next nine months until he can lawfully leave school. Driving home that afternoon, with a faint sense of unease at having failed to make any real difference to Lee's future, I thought that for boys like him we need to revisit the idea of apprenticeships at an age well before 16, to try to engage him in something that he can relate to. Shame he can't read and write though.