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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Face of Crime

People who work in the criminal justice system often remark on the sheer ordinariness of some of those who come before us charged with serious crime. I saw a young man once who had been brought back to court while on remand for aggravated burglary because the 86 year-old woman he had attacked had died a few days afterwards, and he faced a new charge of murder. He was a podgy, rather bovine-looking man of about 22, blinking as he looked through the armoured glass of the secure dock, flanked by two custody officers. If you saw him in the street you wouldn't give him a second glance - just another slightly gormless looking young man. He had broken into an old lady's house, and when she called out to ask what he was doing there, he attacked her in a sustained assault that culminated in his stamping on the side of her head so hard that the imprint of his size ten boot remained there for the few days until she died. Press photographs, usually released by the police, can make anyone look rather sinister, but, as Shakespeare put it :- "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face".

Some of the characters that we do see are indeed dodgy-looking. One of our local nuisances, who specialises in low-level disturbances when he is even drunker than usual, is a dead ringer for Abel Magwitch in David Lean's film of Great Expectations, and it must be very nasty to meet him on the proverbial dark night as he makes his way home from a heavy session.

More usual though, is the quiet dull-looking type who looks unlikely to say boo to a goose, but who faces charges of appalling seriousness. I have another chap in mind who was alleged to have raped his 12 year-old daughter and to have indecently assaulted her and her 8 year-old sister. Some years ago in committal proceedings it was common to call witnesses, and both little girls had to give evidence from a screened area to allow us to decide whether there was a case to answer before sending the matter to the Crown Court. Hearing the girls' childish descriptions of how they felt and of what happened when Daddy came into their room when Mummy was out at work was very trying, but glancing at the quiet, serious, smartly-dressed man in the dock it was hard to make the connection between offfence and offender.