Shambles at court

I spent the day at Thames Magistrates Court today.  The court is a mess, completely disorganised and in total confusion.  I was told that the court was understaffed, which is probably due to the constant cuts in the criminal justice system.

One man I saw appeared charged with theft.  The brief facts were that he had printed his own bar codes, which matched genuine products from the store, onto sticky labels that he then used to put on items in the shop so that when he took the products through the checkout he would be charged only a fraction of the true value of the good.  Quite a clever way to steal items normally too large to get out of a shop un-noticed.

If I had been prosecuting I would have made the blindingly obvious decision to amend the charge to fraud and attempted theft.  The reason being that the use of fake bar codes is intended to deceive the person working the checkout.  Had I been the judge I would have taken the view that the offence was aggravated by a high level of planning and sophistication.  As the judge I would have given serious thought to whether my sentencing powers were sufficient to deal with an offence like this.

None of that happened and the defendant received a conditional discharge.  Why did he receive such a low sentence?  Because the prosecutor had been too busy to properly consider the papers that had arrived in court just a few minutes before the hearing.  Therefore, instead of amending the charge he simply went with what was on the papers and read out the case summary.  The magistrates heard an exceptionally mild version of the offence to the point where no mitigation of the offence was necessary.

Underfunding of the criminal justice system leads to rushed decisions and rushed decision are rarely good decisions.


  1. That's todays CPS for you.They only pick the low-hanging fruit because they are too buy to do anything else. I haven't seen a S47 ABH for months because everything gets lumped as S39 Common Assault which is summary only and more likelyto attract a quick plea.

  2. What was that most recent training session for DJs, JPs and CPS called...? Oh yes...."STOP DELAYING JUSTICE" At least the CPS had the right file. Musn`t vilify the poor things.....they know not what they do.

  3. I don't really think it was the fault of the CPS in this case. I mean it was obviously their mistake. But, the court was too short of legal advisors to open all of the court rooms (spoke to a clerk about it today). That meant the cases were being moved about more than usual. Also, papers were being delivered to the prosecutor literally as cases were called on leaving him no real prep time. I spoke to another prosecutor today who said she is so over worked that she barely has time to read the summary and victim statement in each case.

    The fault, in my opinion lies with the people who allow courts to become so understaffed that nothing works properly. I blame the Government - which regular readers and Twitter followers may have noticed is a regular theme with me. I just can't help thinking that if money were spent more carefully then we'd have a better justice system (and health system for that matter).

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