Thursday, February 17, 2011

fatuous imprisonment

Julia Saker was desperate. Desperate to stop her daughter going out to meet a drug dealer and buy heroin. Her love and concern for 19 year old Tabitha pushed her beyond reason and she ended up tying her legs together with parcel tape in an effort to keep her in the house. It was an incident of high emotion that quickly became frenzied. Tabitha phoned 999 and that led to a charge of false imprisonment and a conviction. She wrote a letter on her mum’s behalf to the judge asking for compassion, and blaming herself for what happened.

Was the mother wrong ? Legally yes but morally no. No harm was done, certainly not compared to the harm that buying heroin would bring. If Tabitha had been under 18 then no charge would have been laid; at worst it would have been debatable parenting. This wasn’t so much imprisonment as clumsy safeguarding.

The judge ignored the letter and had no empathy with the love and fear that drove Julia to her action. 12 months imprisonment, the maximum given the circumstances of the offence and the credit for a plea of guilty. The maximum !

This case cried out for understanding of the intent of the mother, compassion for the whole family and some vision of what will happen now. Who will be there to help Tabitha avoid the temptation of more class A drug taking, when the devastated father is at work ? Nobody. This case cried out for a suspended prison sentence, if that. Why the judge did not take a clear opportunity to keep a mother, who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called dangerous, out of prison is a mystery. Why the police and CPS did not use simple common sense and decide not to charge her is, unfortunately, not so puzzling.

8 Comments

8 Comments:

At February 23, 2011 2:32 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Under English law there is an existing, but rarely used defence of necessity. The basis of this defence is that the law was broken as a proportionate response to an immediate threat.

It is largely underused, perhaps because it is misunderstood, and more often than not it is aligned with the defence of duress, as one and the same thing.

The defence of duress is appropriate in circumstances where the accused's behaviour is unlawful but excusable because she was forced to act in the way she did. i.e. she did the wrong thing, but her behaviour is excused because of the duress she was under. This is tricky as she wasn't forced to commit the offence.

The defence of necessity is different because the accused's actions are not excused by the circumstances, but rather they are justified - and 'right' - in the circumstances because of the need to act immediately (without recourse to other help) and the impending danger (the taking of class A drugs). Tabitha's mother's response was perhaps unusual but entirely proportionate and justified - i.e. the right thing to do. So whilst the comments on sentencing are all completely valid, it should probably not have got to that stage. She should have been acquitted and the law had the means to acquit her.

 
At February 23, 2011 2:52 pm , Blogger callitjustice said...

Yes there is a defence of necessity and, as you say, it is rarely used. But I think (may be wrong) there has to be an immediate threat to life, and you could argue the taking of heroin is such a threat but that might be difficult to substantiate.

If Tabitha were under 18 then, in effect, the assumption of a defence of necessity would exist and indeed the parent would be expected to prevent a child doing anything life threatening. How many children are forcibly held back from running out into a road or locked in the back of a car which the parent is driving ? This case was similar to that, albeit the restraint was carried out in an unconventional way.

It should certainly never have got to court. At the most, when police are giving cautions for ABH and GBH, one here might have been a sensible outcome.

 
At February 24, 2011 9:38 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is true to say that the defence has been successful in cases where there was an immediate threat to life, but why should that necessarily be the case?

A minor law-breach to prevent a far more significant one (and severe harm to a person) where the immediacy of the situation means that there can be no recourse to assistance should be justifiable in appropriate circumstances. If an action is justified and the right thing to do, by the standard of reasonable people in society, the person undertaking that action should have a defence if the matter does end up in court.

 
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