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, October 07, 2005

Mother and Law

As many of you correctly suggested, we took an early decision to rule out prison for our benefit-abusing lady. We assessed the offence as serious, given the large sum involved and the long-term nature of the fraud, offset by its being a crime of omission rather than of commission, but her previous good character and guilty plea pushed it just far enough down-tariff for a community penalty. The offence predated April 2005, so we were sentencing under the old rules which precluded use of the new suspended sentence with added requirements. We decided that society's disapproval had to be shown, and that the correct sentence was 240 hours unpaid work, which we reduced by one third to reflect her early plea. The report and her solicitor's mitigation both stressed that childcare could be arranged while she worked. The council asked for costs of £1000 but we reduced that , in line with the sort of figure that the CPS asks for.

The council asked us not to award compensation as they were confident that they would be able to recover the overpaid money. The defendant had voluntarily paid several hundred pounds in recent weeks and said that she would carry on doing so.

To answer the obvious question - was she spared prison because she was a woman? Well, yes and no. We assessed the offence by its seriousness, mitigated by plea and character. I have to admit though, that even if the offence had been a clear custody case the fact that she is the mother of (by now) four children from two years old upwards would probably keep her out of prison. The damage that the children would suffer by having their mother taken from the home, even for a few months, was, in our view, too much to contemplate, for a non-violent, non-sexual offence.