Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Too Young To Be Locked Up?

When is a person too young to be locked up? A few weeks ago I had the unenviable task of representing a 12 year old who was in serious danger of being sent to a Secure Training Centre (a prison for all intents and purposes) for a series of offences. The Client was appearing in Court for breaching previous sentences and for a handful of new offences.

For the hearing the local Youth Offending Team had produced a report which showed that the Client had a pretty poor home life. He was quite regularly hit by his father. He had a number of siblings that were also getting in to trouble. The problem with this Client was that they had not helped themselves by doing stupid things like cutting off their tag when being tagged was part of their sentence.

As my Client was in breach of previous sentences he was due to have those previous sentences revoked so that he would be resentenced for all of the old matters as well as the new matters. I totted up the offences and there were about 7 or 8 matters in total. Each offence by itself did not really warrant a prison sentence. Even with the offences added together they did not warrant a prison sentence. But throw in to the mix the fact that the Client had breached previous orders that were attempts to curb his criminal behaviour and then I had a problem.

I did feel slightly uncomfortable dealing with this case because I knew that the Client was going to be given a custodial sentence. I knew that there was notihng I could do to stop the inevitable sentence being passed. I mitigated on behalf of my Client saying that he had not had the opportunities that other children had, that he had a miserable life at home because of his father, that he attended at a school for problem children and that in such an environment he was unable to learn because others disrupted his education. Essentially I explained that my Client had been brought up in an environment where petty criminal behaviour was acceptable, and that he had no chance in life to escape the path he had been lead down because that path had been established by his family and his siblings.

Ultimately my Client was given the minimum prison sentence that a youth in the Youth Court can get, that being 4 months in custody. As a 12 year old my Client will go to a secure training centre. Since my Client was sentence I have spoken to the Youth Offending Team and they have told me that the Client is getting on really well in the Secure Training Centre because he has escape his family.

Many of you reading this posting will think that I sound foolish making the comments that I have, and that if the Client has committed the crime he should do the time. You are right. But where this Client has had little chance to develop as a well adjusted law abiding citizen because his family does not live up to those values he was always going to end up in prison.

Rant over...

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

What will happen once he gets out though?

If he's doing well there becase he's escaped from his family, and when he is released he just goes back there, surely the whole thing will start from scratch again.

At least next time he'll have to commit 8 new offences to get back in the same position...

Seems that there should be some support for when he gets out.

ewan said...

You make it sound as if going inside is a bad thing. Normally, of course, it would be, but the whole thrust of your mitigation was about the abnormallity of the boy's home life. Having heard that I think I'd be inclined to keep him in custody for his own good, completely regardless of any punitive considerations.

If the aim is to rehabilitate, then is this not the best way to attempt that?

Gavin said...

Ewan,

You may be right.

Elle said...

What I'm not getting is why Social Services have not been called in and the kid put in foster care where he might have a chance to have a better environment. I've never known Essex County Council to shy away from such action.

Gavin said...

I was told by the Youth Offending Team that every time there was a referral to Social Services the family would suddenly move and effectively disappear. The truth is that I do not know the whole situation.

Elle said...

How very sad.

Barry O Connell said...

Very sad but at the end of the day we have to be responsible for ourselves, even as a child and especially as a child when our parents will not take responsibility for us. I grew up regularly being beaten by my dad and eventually I insisted to social services that they take me away from my home. I, and my brother, could easily have used the circumstances of our upbringing to excuse all sorts; we didn't though and while I can have some compassion and sorrow for this chap I cannot see how he should ever be let off responsibility for his crimes otherwise the cycle will just continue, though that will probably be the case anyway.

Gavin said...

I was not trying to suggest that he should not be held responsible for his actions, I was looking at the fact that he is now locked up in a secure training centre at the age of 12. Even when people have a tale of woe that goes hand in hand with their offending it does not excuse their actions. As I say to many people their personal circumstances do not often amount to a defence, but they do amount to good mitigation.

Anonymous said...

Can we not hold the parents responsible? Is this the downside of a welfare state? That the parent/s can go on producing more children by depending on handouts - they don't have to worry about working and paying taxes like everyone else. Maybe we should focus on them and stop encouraging them to have more and more children when they obviously can't bring them up properly?

I am making an assumption here that the parents are on benefit. I have been proven right in 9 cases out of 10 when I tried to find more information. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

You say at the end of the post that if the client does the crime then he/she should do the time but your whole raison d'etre is to get your clients a not guilty verdict by whatever means necessary. You can't possibly tell me that you don't know a good proportion if not the majority of your clients haven't done exactly what they're accused of, so why go to such lengths to assist them in escaping punishment?

Gavin said...

Anon,

Some people do misunderstand the job that I do. My job is to defend these people whether others like it or not, that is what I do. Some of the people are obviously guilty, others may not be.

The people that I defend have the might of the United Kingdom against them in terms of investigating them and prosecuting them, my role is to provide my Clients with legal advice so that they know what their options are at the Police Station anbd Court so that they can make an informed decision on what to do, be it answer questions at the Police Station, or perhaps plead not guilty at Court.

I do sometimes deal with Clients who walk away with no convictions (or other action being taken against them) from situations where the evidence againt them is overwhelming.

I go to 'such lengths to assist them in escaping punishment' because that is my job - I defend.

If you were ever falsely accused, because it does happen (although not very regularly to my Clients), of doing something please do not think that the fact you have done nothng wrong will save you. You would need legal representation and assistance to sort out the case. For example if I walk past you in the street and you decide that you want to make a false allegation of assault against me, you find a Police Officer round the corner and make the allegation against me the Police Officer will come and arrest me. It does not matter that there is no medical evidence about the assault, your word is good enough to gt me prosecuted. We then have to slog it out in Court and eventually the Court will decide if they prefer your evidence to mine.

As I have said before I do my job because I defend. If you want a good criminal defence solicitor then they will also defend. A Police Officer's role is to investigate. A Prosecutor's role is to prosecute. A Judge's role is to judge. I am part of the criminal justice system and I carry out my role.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a while Gavin. I always find your posts interesting.

If I ever get in to trouble requiring the aid of a solicitor, and I certainly have hope not to, I hope I get a solicitor like you.

Anonymous said...

surely whilst the child is in custody social services can act without fear of losing as in the civil courts the burden of proof is a lot lower so the shear fact that the youth court took ur mitigating into consideration would probably be enuff to secure an interim care order on the release of the child what is wrong with social services

Anonymous said...

what state this case took place?

motoring solicitors said...

young offender should face jaile as adaults.