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.

Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


We are being informed with unfailing regularity , rain or shine, Tory or Labour that our prisons are overcrowded and something must be done. That something has been virtually automatic release on license when half time arrives and increased use of suspended sentence orders. Currently there are some who posit somewhat controversially that the Sentencing Council itself is responsible for inflation of custodial sentences. An additional shadow which has been looming in the background of this argument for over ten years is a proposed increase in magistrates` courts` sentencing powers to 12 months custody. This could be done almost at the stroke of a pen and should be done ASAP according to regular input from the Magistrates Association with predictable vehement responses in opposition from organisations eg The Howard League. The re-offending rate is a particular cause for concern for everyone and every organisation concerned with criminality.  The probation service is in almost a terminal condition much because of the actions of former Tory Justice Minister Grayling. The fashionable term for current tinkering with the present situation is "restorative justice" which has more merit in its description than its possible future practice. On the other hand it is generally agreed that the great British public considers that the criminal justice system is too soft on sentences. Contrast that with a 101 year old paedophile jailed this week for 13 years for offences committed up to 40 years ago.  Many interesting current statistics from the Prison Reform Trust are available here. Indeed the criminal justice system is bombarded with statistics to such an extent that it takes more than a mere blogger to make any sense of it all.  It is estimated that about 70%  acquisitive and/or violent crime is caused by addiction mainly although not exclusively to drugs and/or alcohol. There is one avenue of escape from all this; a desire and action to divert as many as possible from entering the CJS to begin with and as a corollary to assist those with appropriate history by diversion from the courts system and providing the medical and psychological means of intervention to enable them to return to more or less a simple life cured or at least in control of the problems that have been the cause of their recidivism.  It is sad that such a change in thinking is not even on  the horizon; it is not even over the horizon on the yellow brick road ahead.  

So the argument will continue as surely as Andy Murray hits the ball back and forward with unfailing regularity. People such as this poor soul will appear at every magistrates` court in the country so often as to be recognised by those sitting in judgement. And the same limited choices will be available to them. Those with the power to effect change will continue to make their speeches in and out of parliament and publish their papers on the topic while those howling from the cloisters will rant back and forwards choosing their statistical bases to suit their cause. We must strive to divert  offenders from the court system. And then perhaps we can call ourselves a civilised country.


  1. Never mind that "poor soul", what about the poor victims of his hundreds of thefts and burglaries? Are you really under any illusion that he won't be pilfering a Christmas collection at this very moment?

    I don't actually blame him, he's clearly lacking in impulse control and probably has a life story that makes Jude the Obscure look like a laugh-a-minute comedy. But none of that alters the demonstrable fact that gaol is the only available option that protects his victims, albeit temporarily.

    To where should he be diverted? The third sector, who will lap up his excuses even more readily?

    Letting him out every so often seems crueller to him, his family, and especially to his victims than acknowledging that if he hasn't reformed by now then he never will.

    "256 strikes and you're out," may not be the catchiest catechism, but it would seem to apply here.

  2. Poor soul? I'm sorry but you have to try really hard to get sent to prison. But you are correct that other means of disposal - such as a type of custody where there is not the emphasis on locking up and warehousing the offenders, but working with the offenders day and night to ween them from their stupidity of drugs or other addictions.

  3. Or perhaps one day, far into the future, we may have the sense and courage to decriminalise ALL drugs. So often said but worth repeating, it removes the profit incentive to deal, will save taxpayers billons of pounds and have a major impact on acquisitive crime. Yes, people will continue to die from drugs but a tiny fraction of those who currently die from other addictive substances. It will happen eventually but sadly I won't live to see it.