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, January 26, 2007

Modern Times

A number of issues came together this week in the unlovely shape of Robert, a long-time alcoholic who is sometimes to be seen lurching his bleary-eyed way around my patch. He had been arrested for the seventh time for breaching his ASBO, the order forbidding him to be drunk anywhere in the Borough. He is drunk all day, every day so he is effectively under house arrest. Another difficulty that was not considered by those who drafted and those who granted the ASBO is that his home is in the Borough, so technically he is in breach when drunk in his own home. He had been arrested at 9.30 am, since he doesn't subscribe to the nonsense about waiting until the sun is over the yardarm, and was brought before us in the afternoon. We could not deal with the case, since he had no legal aid, and other things had to be sorted out. The CPS, following their rule book rigidly, opposed bail and asked for a remand in custody. The duty solicitor got to his feet and said that Robert could stay in a house in the neighbouring borough, which got round the fear of committing further offences because he was only banned from being drunk in this borough and no other. He pointed out that so far Robert has served almost eighteen months in prison for breaching his ASBO, which is more than some serious offenders get, and he has never done more than succumb to his addiction, although he can admittedly be a nuisance when he starts shouting at people. We bailed him for a week. When he comes back he faces either another prison sentence of up to six months or committal to the Crown Court where a judge can give him up to five years.
So we have a prison crisis (yes, I too have had the letter from senior judges) in which a sex offender was not imprisoned due in part to the lack of prison space, while we incarcerate a hopeless drunk who is no more than a damned nuisance at worst, and spend thousands of pounds to do it.
ASBOs are unsuitable for addicts since the deterrent effect is overwhelmed by the addiction and we end up in a cruel pointless and unjust game of cat and mouse. Locking up non-violent drunks is a waste of prison resources. Of course we need some more prisons, but we also need to look at the many thousands of inmates whose incarceration serves no useful purpose.