Friday, December 29, 2006

Government to formalise mobocracy in Magistrate sentencing

When it comes to the Criminal Justice system this Government has undoubtedly been the most legislative-obsessed tinkerers in history. They've created literally hundreds of new crimes without the forethought that the prison population might expand, scrapped trial by jury in some cases, and passed umpteen Criminal Justice Acts in the process.

The latest idiocy appears to be a plan for the formalisation of mobocracy in the Magistrate Courts. Effectively, the mob, sorry, the "community" will be given a say in sentencing.

According to the Government, there will now be scope for something called "Community Impact Statements" in Magistrates Courts. This will let local people tell the court how the convicted person[s] has blighted their lives and community. They will then be allowed to put forward how they think the convicted should be sentenced.

By all accounts, that suggests that the a Magistrate is no longer actually being a judge at all, the mob is.


Anonymous said...

About time. Most of the magistrates in my area appear never to have understood the word punishment. I read reports where "people" have 40 - 50 previous convictions and still only receive a community sentence.
Vote for magistrates and judges, we may then start to obtain some justice.

Not Saussure said...

Won't make a great deal of difference. The magistrates are still, quite rightly, bound by the Sentencing Guidelines, so all they can really do is listen politely to the local people and then pass the sentence they would have done anyway. All one can hope is the defendant -- who presumably has to listen to the Community Impact Statement, too -- will, now and again, be shamed into changing his ways.

As to anonymous' example, if someone's got 40-50 previous convictions, I'm willing to bet a fair bit of money that he's a low-value serial shoplifter trying to fund his drugs habit. The most the magistrates could give him would be 6 months, less a third off for a guilty plea (which would be overturned on appeal to the Crown Court anyway) so it's a bit pointless sending him to prison.

A community sentence, in the form of a drugs treatment order, is by far the best disposal, to my mind.

It's pointless, too, voting for magistrates and judges in order to change this, since they'd still be bound by the maximum sentences for various offences. You'll have to ask Parliament to change those for you, and if you're seriously planning to imprison low-value shoplifters, no matter how prolific, you'd better ask them to build a fair number of extra prisons, too.

Or provide heroin on the NHS, which would be a far more effective and cheaper solution.