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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Monday, 11 July 2016

SLOGANS OVER SENSE AT WHITEHALL

As recently as last Tuesday July 5th  I pointed out that if a government department does not want to supply statistics or answer any questions on a particular topic it has a very simple get out; it does not collect any statistics on that topic thus allowing the minister or secretary of state to be in a situation of plausible deniability. The same situation happens in the legal sphere where a lawyer will refuse to hear certain utterances from a client.

The issue of custody suspended has been a bone of contention since such powers were expanded dramatically in the magistrates` court.  In 2014 there were over 30,000 disposals of custody suspended; more than ten times the numbers of a decade earlier.  What is not in the public domain is the number of breaches of suspended sentences.  According to the MOJ it indeed holds this information but its retrieval would exceed the financial limits imposed by the Freedom of Information Act.  There is a similar inability to produce the outcomes of these breaches.  Today the Telegraph has published details resulting from a parliamentary question by a member of the Justice Committee.   The public has no access to the Police National Computer. Of course the Telegraph (and others) make play with the numbers which do not truly reflect the Minister`s answer. Personally, as far as I can recall, with few exceptions  I generally sought activation after two breaches although my colleagues did not always concur and sometimes the probation service were also reluctant to argue that position.

It is  headlines which are taken as information by most of the population not  parliamentary answers.  If  the MOJ wished to have the common man (or woman) on its side it would gladly collate the figures refused in an FOI request as above and consider the expense a small price to pay to ensure that the public had faith that the justice system was doing its best to ensure that repeat offending had consequences and that society could be certain that government spokesmen repeating the mantra of public protection were not just paying lip service to a political slogan.  The current policy simply doesn`t seem to make sense. But then "sense" does not seem a priority for many in Whitehall.

2 comments:

  1. I'm surprised you sought activation after two breaches. My view is if you have breached a suspended sentence order, then the default position is prison, unless it is in the interests of justice not to do so.

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  2. Before making a suspended sentence order on an offender who has crossed the custody threshold, the bench or judge will have carefully considered whether or not to make custody immediate, or if it would be of greater benefit to allow the offender to be put into the hands of probation so that his or her problems can be addressed, whether drug, alcohol or anger related. It is not a 'walk-free' option, as invariably the SSO will include an unpaid work requirement or attendance at sessions which are themselves a deprivation of liberty.

    In my 12 years on the bench - I retired last month - this process took almost as much retiring room time as did bail applications; they were never lightly given. As you say, sensationalist headlines can skew the way the general public sees things, but magistrates do not do this without diligence. Banging someone up is a far easier option in a busy court, but justice must come first.

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