Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Father and Son

The man in the dock did not look capable of all the assaults he had admitted to. He was short and skinny and his hair was greying and receding. He was quite a successful tradesman and lived in one of the better parts of one of the bigger towns in my patch.

But there hadn't been a mistake. Here was a man whose default reaction to stress or perceived slight seems to be to beat someone up. In the case of his wife his assaults included considerable mental cruelty in addition to actual violence. He also terrorised the children by telling them that he was "going to kill grandpa" or "throw mummy through the window". Reading between the lines of the CAVA reports, his abuse of the children was not only mental, but this wasn't part of the charge against him.

We declined jurisdiction and passed the case up the Crown Court where a more suitable sentence could be handed down. He had been behaving himself on highly conditional bail so far, so we were inclined to grant it again.

Not surprisingly the conditions on his bail included non-contact with his wife and the children.  The defence lawyer, however, made an attempt to convince us, now that he had pleaded guilty and that they were no longer witnesses, to allow him to see his kids. One of his little boys had given evidence against him on video link and was reportedly feeling guilt because his evidence was putting daddy in prison.

Please, Your Worships, would you please let a father see his seven year old son so that he can reassure the boy that he did the right thing and that daddy still loves him? Heartbreaking stuff.

There was no confirmation from the mother that she was fine with this, so we really couldn't take the accused's word on the situation - for all we knew he would use this order from the court as yet another weapon against his wife. And could we trust that his intentions to the son were as honourable and pure as his lawyer suggested ?

So, no - we didn't allow this. There's always a tension between the criminal's human rights and protection of their victims, but in this case I think we did good. Some days in court you are faced with the most hopeless situations where no decision you make will make things better. You just need to do what feels like the right thing and hope that it turns out to have the least bad result.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canard Défoncé

I love the story of  the French farmer who, when nicked for posession of 5kg of wacky-backy, basically claimed it was for personal use - just him and his ducks. Excellent for worming them he says. Probably means they don't have problems with cataracts as well. You would hope they don't get the symptoms of bad short-term memory loss and paranoia - although I would pay good money to see an absent-minded paranoid duck.

Haven't seen a lot of marijuana possession charges in court recently - I suspect the police are taking care of this particular business, rather than it having gone out of fashion.

It all takes me back to my interview to become a magistrate - I was asked to rank the following offences in order of seriousness and give my reasoning :-

(a) assault police officer (one punch in the face while being arrested)
(b) domestic violence (some bruising)
(c) driving without tax and insurance
(d) shoplifting (frozen chicken)
(e) driving recklessly near a school
(f) student possessing a single cannabis joint

Try it yourself and then try answering the question "So you chose (x) as the least serious - why don't you think it's a serious matter ?"

I'll not tell you my ordering, but I did put (d) last. I can understand why someone would put (f) last. But to me, someone who support the illegal drugs industry is much more dangerous than someone desperate enough to steal a frozen chicken.

And guess which category of villain most often ends up getting a custodial sentence ?