Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend Magistrate

I volunteered for a weekend session of magistration recently. There's not much different - except that the lawyers are noticeably dressed-down and you only get the Friday overnight custody cases. By far the biggest difference though is that you sit as a bench of two Magistrates rather than three. I'm sure this has the potential for extra stress when you disagree, but it wasn't an issue this particular weekend.

I've always identified remand decisions as being the hardest part of the job, and we had a very tricky one this particular Saturday. Well, it was tricky at the time, but the more I go over the details, the more obvious it appears that we made the right decision and I can't for the life of me think why we found it so difficult.

The prosecution case concerned a married couple. The Mrs was alleged to have decided, for no apparent good reason, to start a fight in the street. She then got Hubby to finish the job, which he did by leaving the victim half dead on the pavement. She then pretended to be a witness and told the police that two other people had done the deed. Those two were arrested and it was a while before she admitted the truth.

Even leaving aside one count of perverting the course of justice, this was never going to be one for the Magistrates' Court, so we swiftly kicked it upstairs to the Crown Court and looked at whether we were going to keep either of both of them in custody pending their day before the judge.

For a young man, Hubby had compiled quite a list of previous offences - three or four a year since he was 13. A goodly number of these were marked with the asterisks that indicate that they were committed while on bail or when he was legally supposed to be on his best behaviour.

The thing about bail is that the starting point is that you are going to bail the person without conditions unless you've got reasons not to. A person with a history of violence and witness intimidation who has ignored bail conditions in the past would be an example of someone unsuitable for bail. So Hubby was going nowhere.

The lady was more difficult to assess. She didn't have much in the way of previous (or "antecedents" as they insist on calling it in court) and the Prosecution suggested that since she had two small children at home then bail with some conditions would be suitable.

However, she had been heard to say that she was going to "sort out" the prosecution witness, which was believable given that she was already pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

Did we think that she was a threat to the public and was capable of interfering with witnesses ? Well, yes we did, so we remanded her in custody, and her kids are staying with their grandparents for a while. Not something you do lightly, but it needed doing.

There's a rather cruel piece of theatre that goes on when the bail decision is announced. As you say "bail is not granted", the handcuffs are put onto the Accused with an audible click and they are led away. When this happened to the lady, she burst into tears, as did some of her supporters in the public gallery. Seems a little unnecessary to my way of thinking - they are after all in a glass block surrounded by trained security guards.

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