ALCOHOLDESPAIRFrom my other life I would opine that most reasonably highly skilled and trained professionals whose work is with real live human beings as opposed to screens or bits of paper will find that what might be a life changing experience for those they serve is just another routine “day at the office”. Magistrates are no exception especially those whose time served is in double figures. An awkward incident recently reminded me of a somewhat sad predictable tale that occurred when I undertook an emergency extra sitting last month.

It was a breach court. Kieren was in the dock. He was just turned nineteen and had arrived from Ireland about ten years previously…….broken home……public order, class C cannabis and theft offences as a juvenile. He was before us on a warrant for ten times breaching his four month curfew [which had now expired] imposed for attempted theft from a vehicle times four. In essence walking home after leaving a night bus he had casually tried the door handles of four parked cars, been spotted and the rest is routine. The previous pre sentence report was from another county so we put back his case for a copy to be faxed. Watching all this from the public gallery was a female listening intently between conversations with her companion. They were told that if they wished to talk it should be done outside the courtroom. Another matter was called on. The chattering females had continued their exchanges and when one took a phone call they were told to leave the courtroom. This they did without protest.

And so Kieren`s PSR came in.It indicated a supervision order with unpaid work as a recommended disposal with the usual pro forma comment that custody would offer no rehabilitation and if it were the preferred option the shortest period consistent with his culpability and the seriousness of the offence should be given. An alcohol treatment request had been returned as unsuitable. We retired. Our decision was not to sentence for the breach but to re-sentence on the original matter which we considered to be at the low end. A supervision order with medium level community requirement of unpaid work was our decision. He was brought back up, told the news and was visibly relieved. He was told in no uncertain terms that he had been close to being put in the van to be taken to the local prison, what probation would expect of him and that further breaches would probably conclude with her Majesty`s hospitality. He went downstairs to be released. An hour or so later Tracy was called. Nobody appeared. Our usher mentioned that she had been seen outside talking to Kieren. One minute later in walks the talkative female whose mobile phone had not been switched off.

Tracy, also nineteen, had offended three times in the past six months and was currently only nine hours from completing community payback for public order offences. She was before us having pleaded guilty to class A possession cocaine and assault by beating. Her PSR showed she had no appreciation of the harm and effects of her actions on other people and her eloquent utterances from the dock were similar although couched in a manner which belied her poor education and early history. We decided that a three month 7.00pm to 7.00am curfew on the assault would be as protective for her as it would be for the public with financial penalty for the possession and sentence was duly pronounced with clear instructions that the curfew began in a couple of hours even if the tag fitter was late in arriving. She burst into tears. Sobbing uncontrollably she was assisted out the courtroom by our usher. It was a long list and we did not rise until about 6.45pm. As we were about to leave our usher said that Tracey`s words to her as she left the court were to the effect that, “They can`t do that to me. I`m not bloody staying in every night for three weeks never mind three months…..”

Driving home about 6.55pm I saw Tracey beer glass in hand outside the pub nearest to the court. She never saw me but one pound to one penny says she`ll be seeing me or my colleagues again very soon.