Thursday, 1 September 2011

Bleating Magistrates


Some Magistrates seem to be miffed that they didn't get to hear some of the cases against the rioters. From the comments on their blog we should all be grateful that they did not or they would all have been bailed and given community sentences.

 The city riots were an extraordinary event and warranted extraordinary action by the police and judiciary. I have explained in my previous post why I do not believe that the sentences being given to those involved in the disturbances are excessive.

The concern now turns to bail. I think it is naive to simply say that now the police have put sufficient officers on the street the likelihood of re-offending has gone. The vast numbers of officers put on the street to quell the disturbances was a very short term solution and those numbers cannot be maintained for more than a few days. If suspects/offenders were not incarcerated there is still a significant risk of further disorder. District Judges made the right decisions regarding bail and set the right tone and example which helped abate the disturbances. Thank God for District Judges!

To suggest that swift justice cannot be fair indicates that the author has fallen for the spin of the lawyers that bleed our legal aid system and denies justice to victim’s day in and day out. I am not suggesting for a minute that defendants should not get proper legal advice and representation, but 25 years ago the vast majority of defendants pleaded guilty on their first appearance and were dealt with. Charge to sentence within 48 hours was not uncommon.

Even in straightforward cases, what we now see are adjournments for legal advice, adjournments for disclosure, more legal advice, interviewing witnesses, mitigation etc. Etc. Often, the defending solicitor has no interest in justice for the individual, simply of extracting as much as possible from the legal aid budget, which has tripled over the same period. (I know many solicitors will howl with rage at the suggestion, but I know some who boast that this is what they do. Others would never admit this but follow the same practices.)

What one Chief Constable was suggesting is that we revert to a system where if you are guilty, you plead guilty at the first appearance and mitigation and sentencing can follow and you are given credit for a very early guilty plea with a reduced sentence. If you want to look at how good the case against you is before you plead; if you want to give it a run and see if the witnesses turn up, or your mates can intimidate them in the Court: if you want to just mess everyone about, hope the CPS lose the file or just assist your solicitor bleed the legal aid system, fine, but if you are convicted, you should have a sentence that deters such behaviour.

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