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, March 26, 2008

Top Cop Slams Beaks

I can't resist having a stir of this pot, which came to the boil when the Chief Constable of Merseyside complained that judges were not always imposing the 'mandatory' five-year minimum sentence for possession of a firearm, and that this was a Bad Thing, and would fail to act as a deterrent. Gordon Brown has now added his five pennyworth.
This serves to confirm my long-held view that policemen should stick to policing and let judges stick to judging. They are very different functions and require totally different ways of thinking. Minimum sentencing does not sit easily in the English jurisdiction, for the very good reason that every case is different, and has to turn on its own facts, and that is why the so-called minimum has, as it must have, a let-out clause allowing the judge to take account of exceptional circumstances. Without this, injustices would be bound to happen. Down in the lower courts we are obliged to impose minimum sentences in some driving cases, in particular drink-drive matters. Quite right too; road safety requires that drink drivers be dealt with severely, but even here we have the discretion to find 'special reasons' not to disqualify if the circumstances are such that this would be just.
The other thing that comes to mind is the touching faith that so many people have in the power of deterrence. As I have said before, to be deterred you need to be capable of reasoned thinking, something that is beyond the mental capacity of so many of the people magistrates deal with. The impressionable young man in South London who is hanging around with blinged-up gangsters in the drug-sodden milieu in which a gun earns 'respect' will not give even a passing thought to the length of his sentence if he is caught because he does not expect to be caught. 250 years ago we used to hang people for theft, and pickpockets would work the crowd at the public executions.
Minimum sentences,'crackdowns' and the rest of it are no substitute for unglamorous day to day solid police work. The rest is just PR.

Later: Here's the Judicial Communications Office statement:-

"If, in any individual case, the police (or the CPS) believe that a mandatory minimum term has not been imposed for gun crime for reasons that are not justified, it is open to them to ask the Attorney General to consider referring the case to the court of appeal as unduly lenient.
This provides a clear mechanism for sentences to be reviewed and checked against the statutory framework, sentencing guidelines and case law.
The number of cases referred for failure to impose a mandatory minimum sentence is small."