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.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Walked Free From Court

I'm a placid sort of chap, but I am, against my better judgement, an avid reader of the daily papers. It's a habit I picked up at University, when, being an English student, I had the JCR to myself at about 10.30 am, while the lawyers and the engineers and the other rude mechanicals were working and I had just finished rubbing the sleep from my eyes. So I was able to fillet the whole of the national press in a relaxing hour or so.

My placid nature is sorely tested these days when I read in the popular prints that Bloggs has been released after serving 'no more than half' of his sentence or, infuriatingly, that this or that criminal has 'walked free' from court. 'Walked free' may mean that he was given a community sentence, which the tabloids always preface with 'let off with...' , or it may mean that he was given a prison sentence that he had already served on remand, or perhaps even been acquitted.

The tabloid presumption that anything other than a prison sentence is a let-off has had a corrosive effect on public opinion. This isn't the time to go into a learned treatise on sentencing, but we must accept that the only proven benefit of locking people up is what the pros call incapacitation - i.e. if you are in a cell you can't burgle Granny's house. I can't argue with that, but since my maximum power is 6 (soon to be 12) months inside, before remission, the Ealing Broadway Bill Sykes will be back to his usual haunts in a relative jiffy. A community order has more or less the same effect on reoffending as time in the slammer, but doesn't look as sexy in a headline.

Next time that you read a headline that mentions a criminal 'walking free' just have a think about the facts. And spare a thought for my wife who will have had to put up with me slamming doors and shouting at the walls for an hour or two.