Friday, November 05, 2010

released into custody

A man aged 20 is in court because he has breached a condition of his bail. He is accused of a serious assault, whilst extremely drunk of course, on his ex-girlfriend and is awaiting trial at crown court. He was arrested and taken into custody because he defied the court’s orders by continuing to send her text messages using two mobile phones. Seemingly intelligent, he was this year offered a place on a university course, but he clearly has mental health issues, worsened by the suicide of his father.

He is escorted by security officers into court from the cells, his mother very tearful in the public gallery, and fears he will be kept in custody until his trial. But the magistrates judge that he is not a danger to the alleged victim and, mindful of the principles of the Bail Act, decide to release him on bail to his mother’s home but with stringent conditions.

His and his mother’s relief is cut short when the crown prosecutor, as is his right, lodges an appeal against bail. This means that the young man must remain in custody for 2 days before appearing in front of a crown court judge. He is not a convicted criminal and even a short while in prison may be very damaging to him. But 2 days, whilst disappointing, is maybe not so terrible; he did after all breach his bail conditions.

However, there is a snag; today is Friday and so the 2 days becomes 4 days because, unlike legal professionals in the private sector, a judge would not be available to work at the weekend for the half an hour or so that it would take to hear the case. When a person’s liberty is at stake, and in a climate of high prison numbers and reductions in the criminal justice budget, is such inflexibility any longer acceptable ?



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