Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Magistrate Boot Camp - Day 2 : Heavy Traffic

This morning was all about sentencing. Nothing to do with capital letters and full-stops, rather the art/craft/science of finding a punishment to fit the crime.

There are Guidelines - lots of them - to ensure that each bench of magistrates produces something like the same sentence for similar offenders committing similar offences. Still, these guidelines are written in English, and so differing interpretations are possible.

This interpretation can have quite an impact, for example where Magistrates differ on whether an action is considered to be "premeditated" and this has a devastating effect on sentencing in Actual Bodily Harm cases. For example, one way you could end up painting over graffiti at weekends for a while, another way you end up losing your job and slopping out in an overcrowded prison.

There is also the issue of whether the Magistrate is :-
  • A Guardian-reading, vegetarian, doe-eyed, bleeding-heart liberal
  • Sarah Palin
Honestly, I really tried very hard not to be either of these - but in every single one of the exercises I ended up sentencing lower than everyone else in the room. I wasn't necessarily wrong on individual cases, but I'm not sure I'm being an effective Justice if I'm consistently under-punishing.

To remedy this, I'm intending to embark on a toughening up regime. Think Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" :-
  • Read the Daily Mail for a month
  • Memorise two or three of Norman Tebbit's speeches
  • Shoot a moose and eat it
The afternoon was all about traffic offences and the tedious 14-step process for working out how much to fine various varieties of car madness. It's a sausage-machine : feed in the offender's weekly income, match the crime to the example in the guideline, adjust upwards or downwards depending on circumstances, turn the handle and swipe the offender's plastic.

It's an important subject which I promise to study more later, but the truth is that I spent most of the afternoon session wishing someone would drill a hole in my head to let the boredom out.

We ended the day with a short talk from the guy from the Magistrates' Association. Poor guy had to give his presentation to a room full of people, slack-jawed and vacant after sitting through several hours of road traffic calculus. There was an undignified rush for the door afterwards as we all headed for our cars to drive home with even more Due Care and Attention than usual.

Two days down - one to go.

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