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, June 24, 2010

Life Goes On

Despite the brouhaha over the proposed court closures, courts are still dealing with cases day by day. I had a call at half past nine yesterday morning to ask if I could go to court to replace a colleague who had a last-minute crisis. I didn't have anything special planned, so I hastily changed into a suit and drove to court.
I found myself with two experienced colleagues in a trial court. A briefing from the clerk revealed that the unrepresented defendant was planning to ask for an adjournment because despite three written requests he had not received copies of the CCTV evidence from the custody area of the police station. This was neither unusual nor surprising to hear, and since he had been refused legal aid we listened carefully to his arguments. The clerk told him what the Criminal Procedure Rules say about this kind of thing, and we ruled that the case should proceed. I can't say much more about it, but it was a typical example of a generally decent citizen, with a solid job, strong family ties and a sense of social responsibility who had come to grief over the use of a Class B substance.
He had put a lot of effort into his defence, but like most lay people faced with a court he relied on a number of frankly irrelevant details. I stopped him at one point and told him as clearly as I could that our findings would be based on the elements of the offence, and that, for example, what the custody sergeant said to the arresting officer when he was being booked in was not relevant to the case. We convicted him, and then it became clear why he was so anxious to avoid conviction. His well-paid job requires a security clearance, and his employer has a zero-tolerance policy towards anything involving drugs, so apart from the fine, his world has come crashing down about his ears.
We had a bit of time after that so we helped other courts, one case standing out because the low-level con artist we had to sentence had 157 previous convictions, many resulting in prison, four of then since last September. His solicitor did her best, asking for a fine and compensation, but we didn't even need to retire to decide to send him inside for 16 weeks. No reports were necessary; we had enough information and he instructed his brief not to ask for fresh ones.
I fully understand the moves to abolish short prison sentences - this bloke exemplifies how useless they are in preventing reoffending, but what else could we do with him? At least he won't con anyone for the next eight weeks.