Part of the responsibility includes sending people to prison if it is warranted. For the record, I don't think prison works, certainly as it is at the moment but, nonetheless, if in the judgment of the Bench, a custodial sentence is warranted, then so be it. Or so I thought...
As you know, that master of u-turn and sound-bites, Ken (I haven't a clue) Clark, by some wondrous means, has got himself into the position of Secretary of State for justice (I use lower case 'j' advisedly) and in his unseemly haste to cheesepare money from his budget without affecting him or his toadies, has decided to empty the prisons. Nothing realistic to take their place you understand, but who cares, as long as it sounds good and saves money, at least superficially.
Unfortunately for him, the Magistracy are completely independent of the executive, both judicially AND financially, being non salaried, which, in turn means that when they decide that an individual is for jail, Clark's blandishments are given the consideration of which they are worthy, ie. ignored and the individual goes down the steps.
Well... that's how it should be but now there's a new step in the custodial process, brought about by defence advocates, most notably of a particular firm in this area, whereby a sentence of imprisonment doesn't, in fact mean that but is, to all intents and purposes, a stepping stone for the defendant to make an immediate notice of appeal ( demanding bail pending appeal as well).
Why is this? Well, I found out that because, in the defence advocates' view, Judges being salaried judiciary, are more likely to toe the party line, it's a worthy calculated gamble to take a case to appeal.
For those of you who don't know, a Magistrates' Court sentence (or conviction and sentence) has automatic right of appeal when the case is re-heard in Crown Court by a Bench consisting of two Magistrates and a Judge, either a Circuit Judge or a Recorder.
This firm of solicitors in particular (and more are joining them each day it seems) have realised that it only takes one of the appeal Court Magistrates to be in awe of the Judge to gain a two to one decision in their favour, thus having the prison sentence quashed or reduced to a suspended sentence.
You know what? It's working. Wolverhampton Crown Court is swamped with applications for appeal of sentence.
I'm of the view that we are not the only Court where this is being successfully tried either.
No Magistrate sends a person to prison unless it is justified and that fact was tacitly accepted by both advocates and defendants, with the exception of vary rare appeals where the sentence was found to be wrong, either in spirit or in law. After all, nobody is infallible. Not any longer though.
Now, when I read the Conservative general election manifesto I'm sure I saw in there a commitment to stronger law and order and a plan to double the sentencing powers of the summary Court.
This is not really a rant, because I can walk out any time I like but perhaps it might be food for thought