Crime: alcohol, addiction and learning disability

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Helen Gavaghan, Bradford, Crown Court (UK), 11th July, 2017

Today in the Crown Court in Bradford, amid sentencing, case management and other matters the judge decided in open Court on a bail application, having first assured himself counsel did not object to that course of action. Defence counsel received some judicial advice.

Cases before his honour for sentencing included, among other things, themes of excessive alcohol consumption, or drug addiction, or assault, or theft. Sometimes the crimes had a mixture of such features. Many of the men had a long and consistent string of previous offences. In one instance, dates given by counsel to the judge meant criminal activity must have started at age 14.

Those individuals, who were not contesting their guilt, and who were already in custody, found themselves given further time in prison. More than once counsel for the defence successfully diverted his honour from breaching the upper limit of sentencing guidelines, which he said he was tempted to do in the interest of justice.

At one point the judge noted that the convicted man, in custody pending sentencing, was now clean from crack cocaine and heroine.

In discussions about sentencing, counsel in one case mentioned how one defendant had been homeless, and in another, counsel spoke of a man living cold and hungry and without electricity in a flat (In Halifax West Yorkshire, in this case). In fact, two noteable crimes for which people were today sentenced had taken place in Halifax in West Yorkshire. During one, the victim had been burned by her inhalor, tied up at one point, and in fear for her safety for four days. In another, the convicted man had stolen £4000.00 from an RBS customer waiting to deposit business takings, having already handed over £3000.00 to the cashier. The thief ran from the bank on to Commercial Street, and escaped by car. None of the money was recovered. That man was sentenced to two years imprisonment, and told he would face stringent licence conditions on release.

Throughout the day probation sat near to the judge's bench, standing occasionally to clarify a point from a pre-sentence report. When a report had not fully loaded to the digital case management system, his honour moved to the end of the bench to collect a paper version.

A number of matters were dealt with by the judge by video link to prison. In Court, one sees the defendant on screen. Today, in the stop right hand corner of the screen there was a thumbnail-sized image of the judge, or counsel as the camera switched to their position in Court.

Intermittently the clerk stood to read out an indictment, and guilty or not guilty pleas were recorded.

Matters at one stage came to the brink of a trial. Then they resolved. Restraining orders were handed out. The Crown Prosecution Service would be the people to give victims details of sentences and restraining orders in the steady stream of cases overseen today.

"Where are/is counsel", would ask the judge from time to time, and would learn they were downstairs, which, given today's cases, must have meant in the cells.

Two CPS applications for vacation of certain court dates were refused by the judge. One was made because six month's hence one of the police officers has a child care commitment that day. His honour wondered what the politically correct course of action might be, and then refused the application. In another case, his honour said he wanted to know details about what defence counsel wanted to ask the police officer.

Throughout his honour spoke courteously and carefully to defendants, urging on occasion that they speak slowly. That turned one defendant's answers from garbled incomprehension into clear speech.

A number of not guilty please were entered throughout the day.

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