Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.

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Tuesday, 26 July 2016


I have no doubt that Michael Gove`s dismissal from his post at Justice is viewed with disappointment by many, including this observer, notwithstanding the short lived Shakespearean history that preceded it.  It is to be hoped that his successor will lend her mind to the truly awful state of our prisons.  

Custodial sentences are of course the result of sentencing policies signed into law by parliament.  When magistrates` courts were empowered to impose custody suspended that disposal became increasingly common.  In 2005 about 6,000 offenders were subjected to suspended custody orders in the courts of England and Wales.  By 2015 that number had risen to over 49,000.  No figures are available for disposals subsequent to breaches of such orders. Thus sentencers at magistrates` courts in some matters have a choice whether or not to fine offenders, impose community service orders, to impose immediate custody or custody suspended (SSO) or a combination. In the case of this man the disposal was a SSO. There is no mention in the report of any previous convictions but it is inferred his driving record was clear. The fact that immediate custody was not the disposal indicates that the bench did not consider that that final resort was in his interests or that of society.  However, let us assume  indeed that the offence was a one off.  The almost maximum hours of community service imposed will in actual fact be unlikely to provide any useful benefit to his community and the hours finally employed will be much fewer than the 280 imposed owing to various bureaucratic obstacles.  Apart from his disqualification from driving his liberty and freedom of movement  have been unaffected.  Some might consider that is appropriate.  I do not.  There should be a provision for part time and/or weekend loss of liberty commensurate with the offence.  Of course that would entail the availability of accommodation suitable for purpose.  It surely is time that the outdated attitudes to sentencing at present can be replaced by innovative projects without succumbing  to Howard League and its "no prison sentences under 12 months" policy.  I suppose lateral thinking or its modern term, "thinking out of the box" would be required.  I await the new Lord Chancellor`s initiation into the job and hope that she`s not relying on the hyperbole of her press office to see her over the line.

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