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, March 16, 2006


We saw one of those people this week for whom training cannot prepare you. He is a gangling male of perhaps 35, and he appeared behind the glass of the secure dock. He had refused to see the duty solicitor, and we were told that he had been arrested on a warrant issued some months ago following his failure to answer his bail for trial on a public order offence.

He seemed all right at first, but as we tried to sort out the facts of the matter (warrant arrests come to court with minimal paperwork, for obvious reasons) his manner remained reasonably calm, but his protestations grew stronger. He had been illegally arrested. He had suffered police brutality. There was a conspiracy. The warrant was illegal (the clerk showed us the proper paperwork). We listened for a decent interval, and I then interrupted him as gently as possible, at which he said "I protest" and went on to accuse the prosecutor and one of my colleagues of being part of the conspiracy. By this time we were pretty certain that something was amiss, but we were scratching around for what to do. We clearly couldn't deal with him, since his not-guilty plea was still effective, but we were not happy just to bail him onto the street. For one thing he would almost certainly abscond, and for another he wasn't fit to be out alone in that state.

So we resorted to our rarely-used power to remand him in custody for his own protection, and put his case off for two days. We made sure that the clerk had noted our opinion that he needed proper legal representation, and the dock officers led him, still protesting but otherwise passive, down the stairs.

I have said before that we see many customers with mental health issues, and they often highlight the limitations of the criminal justice system. The concepts of crime and punishment, and of deterrence and reform may be entirely meaningless to someone who is suffering from a mental illness. The system presumes a level of rationality that is absent in many defendants. The police on the street and the magistrates on the bench are only the front-line troops. The police arrest, we remand. After that, we have to depend on health and social service professionals to pull society's irons out of the fire. If they cannot, then the offender will be locked up until he appears to be fit for release.