It is a pre requisite for a system of justice which has confidence of the people it serves to be open, fair and applied equally to all. When guilt is contested those in judgement must put aside all else except the evidence presented in coming to their verdict. This applies equally to a bench of magistrates as it does to a jury in crown court. It is easy enough to cite jurisdictions where the above appears not to apply. Cases reported even in such countries as United States or Italy where there is ostensibly equality before the law have left questions as to the fairness of proceedings. The report Magistracy in the 21st Century posted here yesterday is still under official wraps but comments have been published by the national press so I have no hesitation in publishing it .
One of the odder topics seen fit for discussion is that which suggests that sentencers should take into account the level of criminality in a certain area. The report states that this, “allows the prosecution to draw the attention of a sentencing bench to the offence pattern in a specific location”, and the “cheap and effective tool” would unlikely be challenged by defence solicitors”. I fail in my simplistic understanding to see that this equates with disposals based on the offence and the offender and the respective harm and culpability.
Among the more esoteric suggestions is the following, “ All courts should be able to refer offenders for help by the appropriate agency as a means of reducing re-offending”. This blog has many times written of the high percentage of total offending caused by alcohol and/or drug addicted persons and the sheer futility of locking them up whether for short or longer sentences. Such people require refuges where their addictions can be faced and managed on the way to being eradicated when and if the addicts themselves wish to go the final hurdle to attempt rehabilitation. Perhaps the Magistrates` Association has a secret deep throat informing it that such places are under construction from a secretly funded government agency.
I will from time to time return to commenting on this document.