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.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bunking Off

The law requires that every child under the age of 16 shall attend school. Truancy is a common and increasing problem, and education authorities have specialist staff to tackle it. Rarely, things get to such a pass that the Authority will prosecute the parents (or, much more usually, parent).

Lee, who is 15, has attended school on 10 occasions out of a possible 120. There is a long history of unauthorised absence.

Lee's mum, Donna, is 35, and the cares of life near the bottom of the heap have taken a toll of her appearance. She has had scores of meetings and interviews with various officials. She pleads guilty, and her solicitor mitigates on her behalf.

He tells us that Lee's father left when the baby was eight weeks old and there has been no contact since. Mother and son live on benefits in Local Authority accommodation. Donna started to lose control of Lee when he was about 11 years old. Since then Lee has spent a lot of time with older boys, and has gradually given up going to school. He has no qualifications and is unlikely to gain any. He is functionally illiterate. The solicitor calls Donna to give evidence.

She is nervous in the witness box, and the usher discreetly slips her a handful of Kleenex. She tells us that Lee used to go out in the mornings and come back in the afternoon and that she had no idea he was not going to school. After the school approached her she started to take him to school, and deliver him right into the classroom. On several occasions he had arrived home before her, having run straight out of the school and taken a short cut across the park. She does not know what else she can do.

Cross-examined by the Council's lawyer she admits that she has known for a long time about Lee's truancy, but she has a lot of worries and her nerves are bad. She is in debt to moneylenders. Lee will be able to leave school legally in nine months' time.

Summing up, her solicitor accepts that Donna had to plead guilty as she had no defence, but she is a single mother struggling to cope. She has very little money to pay a fine, or the £100 costs that the Council has asked for.

The Guidelines tell us that the offence carries a fine up to £2,000 and/or 3 months in prison. The 'entry point' is to consider a community penalty. We decide seriousness by looking at aggravation and mitigation - not too much of the latter, because she appears to have closed her eyes to her responsibilities and there is no suggestion that Lee has been bullied.

The options are:

A Conditional Discharge
A Fine
A Community Penalty such as unpaid work.
A prison sentence (maximum 2 months after credit for guilty plea).

Each of these has merits and demerits.

What will you do?