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.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

For His Own Good?

Sending someone to prison for his own good seems to be a contradiction in terms, but last month I did it twice in one day.

The first man came into the dock looking terrible - dirty, bleary, shambling, snot coming from his nose. He was 26. He had been picked up on a warrant following his failure to appear in court a month ago. His girlfriend sat in the gallery looking nearly as awful as him, albeit rather more sober. The offences were borderline custody ones, but we couldn't sentence him because he hadn't turned up to Probation to be interviewed for the reports.

His solicitor told us that he is an alcoholic and that he is usually so out of it by mid-morning that he is not likely to know where he is supposed to be. We decided to ensure that the reports were done by remanding him in custody for three weeks, and in our minds was the unspoken presumption that three weeks off the sauce could only be good for him.

The second one looked tidy, hair brushed, clean clothes. He said "Good Morning Sir" when he walked into the bail dock (that's the open one, without the armoured glass)carrying a holdall. His solicitor, a regular in our court, explained that her client has been a heroin addict since the age of 19 and that he is now 32. She said that he had tried all kinds of rehab without success and wanted to try cold turkey. That would only be possible in prison. So please would we send him down today.

We retired, aware that this was a tricky one. Prison is not a health facility nor a social service. The law only permits us to imprison someone if the offence is so serious that only custody can be justified. This offence wasn't. On the other hand, he had a load of previous convictions, and we are permitted to take those into account. So in a slightly shabby compromise we went back in and said that we certainly would not lock him up to address his drug problem, but that his offence, aggravated by his previous, justified custody. He happily picked up his holdall, packed in anticipation of going inside, and stepped off down the stairs, to make a start on tackling his demon in his own way.

I wish him luck.