Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Prejudice is ...

Prejudice is natural and unavoidable, or so we were told at the Magistrate training. There is absolutely no way that a Magistrate can be without prejudice - the trick then is to make sure that prejudice stays in your head and you do not ever act upon it. Discrimination is the bad thing and this happens when an imperfect, human, normally-prejudiced Magistrate starts treating people differently on account of the very little information they know about them and their crime.

It's not just race, sex and religion they're talking about. I admit to an internal sigh whenever I see that the defendent has the  postcode of our biggest council estate. I've seen some real wrong 'uns from round there and it's a natural instinct to jump to conclusions. And because I'm aware that this is my prejudice talking, I can make a special effort to be awake to the possibility that I'm not treating this person fairly.

On the flipside of this I'm favourably prejudiced towards soldiers and ex-soldiers. Partly it's because of my brother, Sgt Major Stan, but mostly it's down to them risking their lives and health to do an important job that I'm so grateful someone is doing. Military service shouldn't be a part of the decision-making when there's a choice between giving someone a break and not giving them a break, and I do try to keep it that way.

When it comes to the crime, domestic violence is one where it's easy to take an instant dislike to the Accused. However, you need to keep in mind the person is innocent until proven guilty and that situations are never as straightforward as your first emotional response to the phrase "Domestic Violence" might suggest. After two years in the job I'm getting much better at this ... but ...

The other day I had to deal with a child pornographer. He wasn't accused of being just some casual surfer of the material, he had allegedly abused the children himself. The pictures were of varying levels of seriousness but went right up to Level 5, which is as bad as it gets.

There was a persistent screaming in my head the whole time he was in the dock. The very fact that he was breathing was abhorent to me. I could feel the damage he had done and deep down in my modern, liberal mind there was pure unnuanced hatred for this ordinary-looking man. No dirty raincoats or horns and forked tails and a whiff of sulphur, by the way.

Fortunately, all we had to do was to hear his bail application before committing him to the Crown Court, where a judge will have to battle with his inner caveman to deal with him fairly and dispassionately.

I admit it now, I don't think I could manage that.

My male colleague was even more steamed up than I was when we retired. The female Chair was just relieved that we didn't have to look at the photos - on a previous case the Prosecution had insisted that the Magistrates see the photos involved and it had made her sick. Not nauseous - actually sick. And those were "only" Level 4 pictures.

Even now, writing this, I still feel ill-will towards him. I hope that the years he spends in prison for his crimes (if proven) will be punishing. But I can say this - in court, we three choked down our personal feelings and treated him just like any of the thousands of unconvicted people who pass through our courts every year. It's the way you would want it if you were ever wrongly accused of such a crime, right ?


Kenny said...

You are a better man than I am. I would have got Judge Lionel Nutmeg on him..."Remember the days was justice was a whip and a chain and a rat-filled well?"

Seriously though, I'm not sure I am emotionally equipped to deal with that kind of thing. Doff of the cap in your direction.

The Defence Brief said...

I'm a little bit worried that after two-years sitting as a magistrate you still don't know which court you are committing cases to.

I've sat through days worth of very nasty child abuse pictures; they really are not pleseant things to see.

Stan said...

Oh my! I seem to have moved to Scotland - reference to "High Court" has now been changed to "Crown Court" and I'm looking through the entire blog for any stray reference to "Procurator Fiscal" and "Sheriff".