Saturday, July 01, 2006

Surrender or go to prison

True story this:

In a magistrates' court somewhere in England a young man of good - even exemplary - character, with high quality testimonials coming out of his ears, was this week sent to prison for five months for possessing a bladed weapon in public.

Of course, when I say 'five months' that is peculiar lawyer-speak for two-and-a-half months.

Still, let's look a little more closely at his case.

He's a working man, always has been. As I say, of exemplary character. Stable family life. No drug habit to support, but a bit of a drinker. He does no harm to anyone with his knife. The CPS does not suggest it was his intention ever to do any such harm. When apprehended by the police, he is cooperative from the start, admits he knows he has broken the law and pleads guilty at the earliest opportunity before the magistrates.

The reason he was carrying the knife, and this is not disputed by the police or CPS, is that several minutes previously, he had been the subject of a vicious unprovoked high street attack by a known serious villain - who was initially charged with attempted murder for having tried to stab our man; our man being apprehended by police driving to the scene having first returned home to arm himself prior to venturing back out onto the streets where his assailant was lurking.

There is no suggestion, and his character militates against it, that he went looking for a fight.

So the magistrates adjourn for the probation service to interview him and see what sentence would be most appropriate. The probation officer concludes that unpaid community work would be best and that a prison sentence would serve no purpose.

Now. Put aside for one moment that this man has done nothing more than infringe a regulatory law. Ignore that he has been criminalised for an understandable reaction to a vicious beating which must have left him dazed. Forget that he had no intent to do harm, much less that any harm was done. Forget also, as the lobotomised beaks apparently did, all the other factors mitigating in favour of this bloke.

The law criminalised his actions, not the magistrates.

But what the magistrates, in whose discretion it lay to make him do unpaid community work rather than serve a prison sentence, what they have said is this:

BE PREPARED TO BE STABBED. DO NOTHING ABOUT IT. IF YOU ARM YOURSELF WITH A VIEW TO PROTECTING YOURSELF, WE WILL SEND YOU TO PRISON.

Which is inspired, when you think about it. Absolutely inspired.

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