As part of my preparation for (hopefully) becoming a magistrate following interviews in March, I have been spending some mornings in court to observe proceedings and get a good feel of what I could expect if I am successful.
The variety of cases I have seen so far has been fascinating, with those appearing before the bench ranging from the genuinely remorseful to others who are clearly all too familiar with court procedures. And observing in mid-January meant that many cases were Christmas-related. At least, I don’t think that stealing lobsters from a well-known discount supermarket is a normal occurrence in that part of London, but I guess you never know …..
On a more serious note, I have also seen the effects of the ‘revolving door’ of crime and how some individuals seem to be permanently let down by the criminal justice system. One case that particularly sticks in my mind involved two men in their early 30s who appeared in court because they had both broken their ASBOs and had subsequently stolen goods worth a considerable amount of money from a high-street retailer. Both were being held in custody at the time and were more than familiar with the inside of a magistrates court. It appeared that both also had a long string of convictions behind them and not surprisingly, given the seriousness of the offences, both went back to prison after their brief appearance.
I was struck by how resigned and disinterested they were as they went through the motions of confirming their personal details and pleading guilty. It really was just another walk into court and another journey back in the van to begin another sentence.
As far as I am concerned, this case is a classic example of how Chance 2 Change could help to stop the revolving door of habitual offending that has clearly defined the lives of these two men. It was obvious that neither had any insight at all into what they were doing or why they were doing it – it was just ‘what they did’. Of course, their backgrounds and family life were unknown to me, as they were to the bench, but it was obvious that nothing at that point was going to make them consider changing their lives so that they could break the cycle of offending.
So while I definitely felt a strong sense of frustration that these two individuals seemed to be unable to access the right kind of help and support to stop their own revolving door of criminal activity, I at least came away with the thought that Chance 2 Change is helping many others to do just that and lead a life that doesn’t involve regular appearances at magistrates courts.
Sarah Brener - Chair of Beyond Youth CIC