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, October 11, 2005

Judgement Call

As I have said more than once, bail decisions are the red meat of a magistrate's work. We have a few minutes at most to decide whether a defendant is freed on bail, with or without conditions, or sent to prison to await the next stage of his case. The Bail Act lays down a presumption in favour of bail, and for most cases the decision is straightforward - if there is fear of further offences or absconding, no bail.

Among the toughest decisions are those relating to domestic violence cases. As readers of the several very good police blogs on the sidebar will know physical fights between couples, fuelled as often as not by drink, are daily fare for officers. Public policy is for police to attend all such calls, and the CPS to pursue them, even in the large number of cases where the (female) victim withdraws her evidence. Conviction rates are pathetically low, and my guess is that they hover at ten per cent or less. Research suggests that the first time that a woman calls the police may well be on the twentieth time she has been assaulted. People sober up, and the woman often decides that she would rather risk the Saturday-night black eye than face the world alone.

When considering bail it is usual to impose a condition that the defendant does not contact the victim, and lives some way away. We may order that one visit may be made to collect his property, accompanied by a police officer. Only too often though, once tempers cool and the booze wears off, it is the victim who contacts lover boy, because she misses him. If he has pleaded not guilty the case might take three months to come to trial We can't allow victim and attacker to live under the same roof, can we? But what if there are children? What intermediary can collect them and take them to Dad?

That's not the worst of it. Sometimes the woman wants her man back although she knows that his drunken rages will resume as soon as she has been sent to the off-licence for supplies and the Special Brew has done its work. So if we bail him to live elsewhere, and she phones him to tell him she loves him, and he goes to see her, and it all goes pear-shaped, we have a dead woman on our hands.

Not easy, no right answer. Somewhere near you magistrates will be taking these decisions tomorrow morning. Wish them luck.