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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Text Message

We had retired to consider our sentence on a man who had pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods. His activities had all the hallmarks of being a professional operation, and the value of the goods was high. On the face of it, he was well over the custody threshhold, and my first thought was whether we would sentence him or send him to the Crown Court.

The Clerk appeared, and took a folded sheet of paper from his inside pocket. "Sir" he said, looking serious, "this is a text". We looked blank.

He went on to explain that a 'text' is a letter, signed by a police officer of at least Superintendent rank, detailing help that the defendant has given to police. For obvious reasons this cannot be mentioned in open court.

We read the letter, which told us that our man was a registered police informant, and that he had supplied information leading to the conviction of at least a dozen people. He was still actively providing information on continuing enquiries.

That was it. The Clerk took the letter and returned it to his pocket. "I have no comment to make sir, you have read the letter, and you should make of it what you will". And he was gone.

So we had a think about things, and rapidly decided that the man was entitled to credit for helping the police and that it had to be in the public interest for him to continue as an informant. We wanted to reduce the sentence of course, and certainly to keep him out of jail. But we had to be careful not to overdo it, as his associates knew that he had been charged, and might put two and two together if we just slapped his wrist.

So we decided to fine him £2000, announcing (in dense code) that we had taken "all relevant factors" into account. I think that we got it about right, because he winced visibly when he heard the amount of the fine.

Texts are not all that common at Magistrates' court level, but judges see them fairly often in the Crown Court. I have only seen a handful in my time on the bench, but at least I now know what they are all about.