Tuesday, November 03, 2009


If you are beastly to one or more of your fellow humans, there is a spectrum of charges that can be laid against you, depending on the degree of your beastliness :-

1) War Crimes - for this you will be flown to the Hague to face a trial lasting years at the International Court of Justice. Although the way things are going, this may become the next offence deemed suitable for disposal by means of Fixed Penalty tickets and police cautions.

2) Murder and Manslaughter - I think we all know about these. Go to the Crown Court and spend a fair chunk of your remaining lifetime inside.

3) Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) - almost as bad as murder if done with intent. The less severe cases (section 20) do occasionally arrive at the Magistrates' Court, but typically these deserve more jail-time than a Magistrate can impose.

4) Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and Battery - two offences relating to hurting or injurying someone in a way calculated to interfere with the victim's health or comfort. In general this involves the victim sustaining at least some severe bruising. Severe cases can lead to sentences up to 5 years in prison.

5) Common Assault (section 39)- this is the most thumbed part of a Magistrate's guidelines. It includes all manner of "Did You Spill My Pint???!"/"What you lookin' at ??!" after-pub incidents involving minimal injury. At most this is 6 months in prison - but more usually it's a fine/community penalty.

One Common Assault case I dealt with involved a woman throwing a doner kebab at her ex - so we're not talking about hardcore criminal behaviour here.

But ... I saw a serious domestic violence case recently involving a sustained assault on multiple people in front of children. The injuries seemed easily to justify a charge of ABH but I was gobsmacked to see that the charge was only Common Assault.

The accused jumped at the chance to plead guilty - which reduces the maximum sentence to four months, which means in practice that they will spend at the very most 8 weeks in prison.

Pretty well any sentence we came out with under those circumstances was going to look candy-assed and totally unfitting to the crime.

But forgetting the Magistrates and the victims, this strategy would seem to be a winner for quite a number of interested parties:-

Offender : under-punished
Jails : less overcrowded
CPS : successful, quicker, cheaper prosecution
Government : statistics on serious assaults reduced

I've got a sinking feeling that undercharging assault will become increasingly irresistible, and that this won't be the last time I will have to hand down a kebab-thrower sentence for a wife-beater crime.

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