Saturday, 23 February 2008

Looking back

It's over 14 years now since I was appointed to the bench; fourteen years of almost constant change. Indeed the first thing I had to do when I began sitting was forget a major part of my training. We had somehow managed to get our heads round the complexities of unit fines, when suddenly the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, stood up in the Commons and scrapped them. That's been a defining characteristic of the pattern - new laws passed in haste and then quickly discarded when the flaws start to emerge,
Another recurrent theme has been appeals from the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and others who have failed to provide enough places, that we should stop sentencing people to custody because there is nowhere to put them (That one has reared its ugly head again this week).
Well, such things have prompted steam to gush from my ears at frequent intervals, but now no more. We have sold our home in the UK and are moving to Spain to enjoy retirement, so I have ceased to be a magistrate, but have applied for tranfer to the Supplemental List, which means that I continue to a be Justice of the Peace. In the event of a major war calling away large numbers of the active magistracy, then we are there in reserve to be called back to man the courts. This was the original purpose of the Supplemental List, but I shall not hold my breath or keep my suit ready pressed. Two world wars have come and gone without it ever being necessary to call us in. I expect - indeed hope - that that won't change.
To those who have found my ramblings of any interest, I say thank you for visiting, but the time has come to say farewell - or adios

Thursday, 7 February 2008


Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, I heard an account of an initiative by probation services in Derby or Derbyshire (I'm not sure which). Apparently some offenders sentenced to carry out unpaid work are being sent on programmes to enhance their employment prospects, on the grounds that being employed has a dramatic impact on the likelihood of reoffending.

I think the idea of such programmes is wholly to be welcomed. However, what concerns me is that these are people whom the courts have sentenced to punishment by way of an unpaid work requirement. Where the primary purpose of sentencing is to rehabilitate, the courts impose community orders with 'programme requirements'. It seems to me that a Probation Service which diverts an offender from the requirement set by the court onto a different requirement which it feels is more appropriate, this is tantamount to interfering with the will of the court.

A report will have been obtained from Probation before sentence is passed. If they believe a programme is more appropriate than an unpaid work order, that is their opportunity to say so. Once the court has read the report, taken its decision and passed sentence, then - it seems to me - the job of Probation is to deliver that sentence, not one of its own choosing.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Back To Reality

Well, the big holiday is over and I'm in the process of coming to terms with cold, dark, winter days. Not much seems to have changed while I've been away. The prisons are still bursting at the seams. People are still arguing that mothers should not be jailed. No mention of similar treatment for fathers, I notice.

Reading local papers in Oz and NZ, though, I realised that we are not alone in our troubles. The same issues occupy people's minds - the health service, education, youth crime, alcohol abuse. Only drugs seem to be less of an issue than they are here.