Monday, December 7, 2009

Answer Time Part One

Firstly, my apologies for the size of this reply. I'm certainly more popular than I ever was at school. Those questions which were sent in by email will be answered later this week in a separate post. I make no apologies for being email-ist.

In the comments section of the previous post...

Why isn't everyon who is drunk charged and fined?

Given how big a problem drink is in our cities and the time wasted by ambulance/police/A&E dealing with them instead of more and more silly laws and taxes and price fixing why aren't we using the drunk and disorderly offence and fining every drunk person causing the slightest nuisance?

We'd make loads of money off fines and people would soon get the message that being drunk will get them a fine and a record. So why don't we?

As others pointed out, you'd have to be drunk and disorderly to be fined, and some people do manage to be drunk without being disorderly. Fines are only £80, and quite a few people just don't bother paying them. Which means more court time, and more expense. More to the point, fining everyone is resource intensive – filling in forms and things takes time. If we could persuade the government to fund a zero tolerance crack-down on alcohol-related anti-social behaviour, I'd be astonished.

Ed said...
Why isn't everyon who is drunk charged and fined?

Damn good question, I'd like to know that one as well.

See above.

Nerd for Justice said...

I have a question about the effect of concurrent sentences, a topic that's always puzzled me.

Let's say, for the sake of example, that I'm found guilty of three crimes, A B and C, and I'm sentenced to
12 months for A
6 months for B, and
2 months for C.

When I go and serve my 12-month sentence, how am I affected by the shorter sentences for B and C?

Do they affect early release, or conditions in jail? What practical effect do those two shorter concurrent sentences have?

You aren't affected by the shorter sentences. At all. The only way you can be affected is to appeal the longer one during the currency of the shorter ones – if successful, you wouldn't be released, and you'd then be serving the shorter ones. It may well be that the only effect you feel is further down the line, when you're re-sentenced for a like offence. For example, if you got 12 months for an assault, 6 months for a weapon, and 2 for some drugs, and you were then sentenced for another knife, you could expect a stiff(er) sentence.

Anonymous said...

Hello mr prosecutor , I would like to hear some suggestions from you as to how we could improve the criminal justice system. I'm sure you could write an essay , but just give me a few points. I've never really heard the CPS's ( a member of) point of view.

London PC

I'm afraid a list of what I would change is a very long list. In relation to the police, I would ditch PCSOs and spend the money on proper coppers. I would bin targets for arrests / sanction detections, and bring back the Victorian Policing Pledge as a basis for police action. Fewer cautions, more officers on the street.

Unfortunately, this, and everything else, requires a lot of money – more lawyers, more admin staff. That means it won't ever happen.

Something that is free – a rebuttable presumption that motorists are at fault in a motorist-non-motorist collision. This would bring us in line with the rest of Europe, protect pedestrians and cyclists, and would do more than anything else to alter motorists' behaviour towards vulnerable road users. Motorists need to drop the view that they own the road. “Road tax” is actually vehicle excise duty. For a decent article on this, see the New Law Journal article here.

Oh, and more traffic police – uninsured drivers are rife, and cost the rest of us a fortune. Catching them means proper policing.

Anonymous said...

Two questions

1. has the move to making (nearly) every offence arrestable had a positive impact on the Criminal Justice System

2. do you support the six year rule for the retention of DNA for people not convicted of a crime.

Number 1: No. It's meant that police officers are dragging people back to the station for things that are essentially a waste of time. They are victims of a target culture, though, and I in no way blame them for arresting people!

Number 2: No, I don't. I'm pretty sure Liberty will be helping another case back before the ECHR in due course. The ECHR said retention for life was unlawful, and the government thinks it can pacify them by saying it will only retain for 6 years. I'm not so sure. Those who are arrested but not charged shouldn't be on the database at all. Those who are acquitted shouldn't be on it either.

Collecting the most intimate information that exists about a person and storing it because they were once arrested is a joke. It's clearly an infringement on someone's privacy, and as such, must be proportionate. I don't think the current situation is proportionate. Please do go and have a look at Liberty's website, I can't do better than their summary.

Anonymous said...

Question: Do you think the majority of charging should go back to the custody sergeant?

And of course why or why not.

Deciding what offence to charge often causes much head-scratching amongst fully-qualified lawyers. Despite their wealth of invaluable experience, it is hard to see how a custody sergeant could manage to unravel the legal complexities of a mortgage fraud. So for the complex stuff, the answer's no.

That said, it would save money to get them doing more of the more simple stuff, and it seems the Tories agree with me, and plan to return almost all charging to the police. So for the simple stuff, the answer's yes.

Anonymous said...

Cool. At last someone on the internet is offering advice (free of charge) that might actually be of some practical use to me. I’ve got a question:

“How do you avoid getting caught?”

My considered legal opinion is that you should avoid committing crimes. My clerk will bill you shortly.

[NB - after an accurate response to the earlier question on concurrent sentences, this reader continued...]

For note, it's also a similar situation when a concurrent community penalty is imposed, although they are normally for new offences committed during the term of the existing order and us such may extend the period of supervision.

The Prosecutor would need to enlighten us on the reasons why separate penalties must be imposed on certain offences and why these are allowed to be concurrent rather than consecutive; so that would be my question towards the Prosecutor.

I have no idea what you're on about. Seperate penalties must be imposed on certain offences? Do you mean mandatory minimum sentences? E.g. firearms? If so, the answer is the rule of totality, authority for which was helpfully cited by a reader in the comments section of the Question Time post. In short, offences committed at the same time should be sentenced concurrently. Multiple, repeat offences may be sentenced consecutively, but only insofar as the principle of totality is observed; i.e. the total sentence must be commensurate with the offending.

Consider the person stopped with the following in their possession: a section 5 (1) (aba) firearm (i.e. a gun giving rise to a 5-year mandatory minimum), and a few rocks of crack. They plead guilty to possessing with intent to supply, and the firearms offence. With their two previous drug trafficking convictions, they also get a seven-year minimum term for the drugs offence.

They stand a good chance of the offences being imposed concurrently, not consecutively, and would therefore serve 7 years (half in the community, of course).

To those of you who made it this far, thank you for your attention, and to those of you who wrote an email, thank you for your questions, and watch this space for your answers.


Sophie said...

'Ello! Hope I'm in time for one last question!

I was thinking the other day many people say the prison is the answer, that as the harshest means of punishment we can offer it should be given out as much as possible for as long as possible.

Including youth offenders. However, I have read a great many academic sources that make a good point that prison doesn't really 'work' in terms of reducing reoffending and can even make offenders worse when they re-emerge butterfly like several months later.

A great many people decry the effectiveness of community punishments and other alternative forms of justice and I can see why. The feeling is that they don't work and aren't harsh enough, however true this is I don't know but I can see where they are coming from.

So, what's the middle ground Anonymous? Is it even within the criminal justice system's power to change the way criminals both young and old go about their dirty business?

A big question I know, just wondered what your thoughts were.

In short, I do not think it is within the power of the criminal justice system to reliably reform criminals generally. The recidivism figures speak for themselves. Prison is particularly bad at reforming people. Looking at the causes of crime, and removing them, is by far the more expensive and effective way. Which tells you why we don't do it (cf. "being tough on the causes of crime", circa 1997).

We have had some measure of success with things as they stand, but it's more a philosophical question, to be honest, and one that strays into religious territory, if that's your thing.

Ultimately, picking up litter (unpaid work, or 'community service' as it was once known), or sitting around and talking about his feelings (anger management courses) will not make little Jimmy McStabber into a nice chap.

If it does help him, great, but the CJS is ill-equipped to change people effectively and reliably. But we must try -- that's why we have a Probation Service. So, what purpose prison? Giving the rest of us a break from his stabby antics.

Scott Adams, the author of the Dilbert cartoons, feels that those who say prison doesn't reduce offending are wrong -- for that to be the case, other criminals would have to be committing more crime to keep the average up. It's all about removing from society those who can't be trusted to behave themselves.


Slightly more topical, with the number of rape stories in the news and the recent Sarah Payne report (in addition to the HMICPS thematic review coming out next year) what is your opinion on how the justice system in dealing with complaints of rape?

Thanks! :D

Allegations of rape have never been taken more seriously than they are today. Thirty years ago, a sympathetic but hard-nosed WPC would have explained to a distraught but intoxicated woman that she was wasting her time, and that she should just see her doctor.

Fortunately, things have moved on. As previous posts have discussed here and here, there is still progress to be made, but it will always be a very, very difficult offence to prosecute, simply because it so often turns on what was happening inside someone's head.


  1. Great work, AP - keep it up!

  2. AP, I've commented on your blog before. Some blogs I comment on because the blogger makes me gnash my teeth with rage,(Bystander Daily Mail reading Magistrate who is morally and legally superior to all is one excellent example).

    However, your blog I comment on because I actually like you. There you go....I said it, I like a CPS lawyer. Excellent post and well worth reading so cheers, keep up the good work.

  3. Having read these posts by Bystander which mention the Daily Mail:

    Do you actually think he reads it?

  4. Heavens, AP, don't go apologising for writing stuff.

    Since you seem to like doing it and we seem to like reading it - the more the better.

  5. Ed, it was more an observation on BS's populist rubbish that he's posting lately. I would never be so insulting as to suggest someone actually reads the DM. ;-)

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. @Dave

    (Bystander Daily Mail reading Magistrate who is morally and legally superior to all is one excellent example)
    I would never be so insulting as to suggest someone actually reads the DM. ;-)


  8. AP, please delete the "Make Money Fast" spam above.

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