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, October 13, 2005

A Professional Job Well Done

One sunny afternoon we had to sentence Robert D - pre-sentence reports had been prepared and all options remained open to us.

The defendant was mid-twenties, and had driven while drunk and while disqualified. The latter meant that he was not insured. He had multiple previous convictions for the same sort of offences. As I glanced across the header sheet of the report the Custody bell was starting to ring in my mind. "Sentence the offence, not the offender" is what my old clerk used to say, and that is what I prepared to do.

The report was unusually voluminous, running to a dozen pages or so. It rapidly became clear that the writer knew Robert really well, having supervised him for some years on various court orders. What shone through the social-worker prose was the fact that the writer not only knew Robert well but really cared what happened to him. An appalling childhood had led, as they do, to a teenage history of drink drugs and petty crime, then on to serious addiction as he entered his twenties. Just about every sentence available had been thrown at him, all to no avail, until one day, of his own volition, he decided to seek detox therapy. Robert has never worked, so going into residential treatment was no problem. All went well until a weekend when he went home, went over to see an old girlfriend, had a mad drunken row, and drove off in her car. He got less than a mile before being stopped by the police.

I read on, and the writer dwelt on the huge strides that Robert had made, and the fact that he bitterly regretted having left detox when he did, and wanted to go back to finish the job. We believed him.

The report included recommendations to the court. Realistically, it proposed community punishment in the form of unpaid work and a curfew, and allowing Robert to go back to residential detox as soon as a place was available. All three of us on the bench had started off with the assumption that prison was inevitable, and we were all persuaded that society, as well as Robert, had most to gain from trying one final heave to get him back into the mainstream of life.

So that's the way we went. I read him the Riot Act about his future conduct and I told him, truthfully, that only his probation officer's input had prevented him being sent to prison there and then. After he had gone we asked the duty probation officer to pass our thanks to their colleague for a first class report.

Probation is not a glamorous or macho job. The knee-jerk tabloids see anything short of prison as a let-off. Nevertheless this decent and hard working probation officer did more to guide an offender back into society that all the overpaid and over-indulged tabloid editors put together.