It had reminded me of a friend`s case when I was a student. The brief details were that he was in a flat share at university and had been assaulted when an argument over bill sharing had got out of hand. His pride had been injured more than anything else and on the advice of a law student friend had taken out a prosecution against the aggressor. At court he made his case as did his now former flat mate with no other witnesses called. The chairman told him that unless he withdrew the allegation both of them would be bound over. He withdrew the allegation.
In my years on the bench I have not been party to a bind over decision. I have not received any information on such a disposal except that which I sourced myself. It is not in the Guidelines. So reading in the North Devon Journal of a man accused of assault and theft being bound over I thought it might be of interest to colleagues to read the CPS legal guidance. The Wikipedia entry copied below although not sourced seems fairly comprehensive and is a helpful narrative.
Magistrates can bind over to be of good behaviour or to keep the peace, any person such as a defendant, witness or complainant. This may happen where the case involves violence or the threat of it. Sometimes the prosecution will drop such a charge if the defendant agrees to be bound over in this way. No conviction is recorded if the matter is dealt with like this because such an order is regarded as a civil matter.
A magistrate has power to take measures to prevent a likely breach of the peace and, on evidence produced before him, may require a person, on pain of six months’ imprisonment on refusal, to enter into a recognizance and find sureties either to keep the peace or to be of good behaviour. The procedure is called ‘binding over to keep the peace’ and upon complaint by any person the magistrate may hear the complainant and the defendant and their witnesses, and if he deems fit may make the order.
Binding over is a precautionary measure, to be adopted when there is reasonable ground to anticipate some present or future danger. It is not a conviction or a punishment. It should not be applied for in respect of an act which is past and which is not likely to be repeated and should not be considered to be an alternative measure in those cases where the prosecution have insufficient evidence to substantiate a charge.
Applications to bind a person over may be made in a variety of circumstances e.g. minor assaults inside private premises where there are no truly independent witnesses, continuing domestic disputes, minor cases where it is obvious that both parties are at fault with no other evidence to support either party in their counter-allegations, etc..
The recent case reported in the North Devon Journal above seems to be a practical example of this disposal although an older case is more explicit. It is surprising that Google search produced cases in which West Country magistrates are quoted in both examples.