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

From the Postbag

I get a lot of emails from all sorts of people, some complimentary, some rude, and a few that are truly illuminating.

Not for the first time the Government has been taken with an American idea, in this case Community Courts (night courts were another, but it's best to draw a veil over that multi-million pound fiasco) which are run in New York. There is a pilot so-called Community Court in Liverpool at the moment, and ministers say that they are very impressed with the way that the people of Liverpool have warmed to 'their' local justice centre. Hmmm.

I shall suppress my natural scepticism and assume that there might be something in the idea, but it has to be said that since shedloads of cash have been thrown at the project at least some things ought to go right. A constant stream of officials and ministers visit the project and its charismatic judge who, we are told, dons jeans and trainers to get onto the streets at night and engage with the community, whatever that may mean. He lives 50 miles away in Cheshire, so he is obviously not all that engaged. Most JPs live a great deal closer to their court than that.

This is from an email that I had from a solicitor, DT, who practises in the area:-
One of our clients appeared a few months ago before the Community Justice Centre (a political experiment being piloted in Liverpool). He was sentenced to 36 days intermittent custody. Have you come across this yet? I confess I am unsure if the relevant part of CJA 2003 is in force everywhere or whether, as above, we are a pilot.

The sentence was to be served at Kirkham open prison - 12 weekends (3 days each) - with said client free to continue his (entirely imaginary) full time job which prompted the DJ to supply this option to him in the first place.

Our hero - a veteran of several previous custodial sentences - soon becomes part of the developing culture amongst those select inmates who are serving this type of sentence. The usual suspects get off the train in Kirkham each Friday about midday and meet in the local pub where they proceed to get entirely plastered before tipping up at the prison gates at 19.59 hrs as required by their sentence so to do. Our fellow is not a happy bunny when in drink - he is aggressive and argumentative with staff and other inmates. He has to be segregated and (on at least one occasion) physically restrained. He is warned as to his future conduct on several occasions.

Eventually Probation Service are instructed to refer him back to court. I pause to observe that there is no provision in the 2003 Act for breach proceedings - the relevant application is for a variation of the sentence so that any outstanding time (in our case 6 days) be implemented and served continuously. I am asked to represent our man who duly turns up to court with his plastic bag full of essential grooming items for a short holiday. He is content to go back in - the hearing is on Friday and he would have had to make his own way to Kirkham today anyway - now he will get a lift. He knows he will be out next Wednesday, which to him beats the drudge of repeating the dose next weekend as he is - by now - fed up with being a political experiment. My instructions are not to oppose the application.

That would have been that were it not for the somewhat earnest probation officer whose presentation of facts to the DJ concluded with the immortal words: "Sir - the prison will not have him back."


As so often in the criminal justice system the reality falls a long way short of the picture painted by the bright-eyed proponents of the scheme.