Monday, September 04, 2006

Inconsistencies in magistrates' sentences

I’m sure that regular readers of the Neath Port Talbot Guardian couldn’t help but see the front page headlines “I Won’t Pay” in the 31st of August edition of the paper.

It would appear that a Cwmavon man has been fined a hefty £320 for dropping a cashpoint receipt. The article then goes on to say about other cases where people have faced hefty fines for littering, £275 for dropping a cigarette butt at the Tesco Store in Neath Abbey, £260 for dropping a wrapper in McDonalds in Afan Way.

The Guardian then goes on to break down the costs of the fine imposed on the man from Cwmavon: The actual fine was £100, costs were £220!!!

Cashpoint Man stated in the article: “When it happened I wasn’t aware that I had dropped anything... I was followed by two council officials who came onto me to say I had dropped a bit of paper. I had been to the cash point because I was doing my shopping. My cash point receipt must have fallen outside my wallet.”

It would appear that from the article the costs were for the time spent in NPTCBC perusing the case. Commenting in the article, Council’s Assistant Solicitor Mr Michael Shaw said: “The costs are calculated very simply on the basis of officer’s time and a contribution to prosecution costs…The magistrates are given a schedule of costs before hand and it is up to them what they want to impose; but the costs submitted are the costs to the authority.”

So, it is up to the Magistrates if they wish to allow such costs!!!!!

With such generous costs being awarded to the council, perhaps they could afford to empty the dog bins in the county more often; the dog bin in the George Memorial Park, towards the entrance to St. Theodore Road has been overflowing this week!

Additionally, in the article, comparisons were drawn with an assault case where the fine was £75 with £50 costs. There is quite an inconsistency here, where someone who drops a receipt gets fined £100 with £220 cost while someone who assaults someone gets fined a lesser amount (£75) and lesser costs (£50).

Such inconsistencies in sentencing aren’t that uncommon. A Guardian article from 22nd April 2004, “Victims lose out after theft of holiday funds”, describes how someone (with no previous convictions) cheated her eleven friends of just over £1,000 and received a custodial sentence of three months. Another Guardian article from 18th March 2004 reports that a Social Worker, who stole just over £7,000, received a twelve month sentence suspended for two years. The victim, a 92-year-old woman, was a client of the social worker.

The Social Worker stole an amount which was seven times the amount the person who stole from her friends, stole from someone who was her client (she was in a position of trust, and that trust was broken) and the person the social worker stole from was a vulnerable adult. Surely, a custodial sentence was more appropriate in the case of the Social Worker rather than the woman who stole from her eleven friends?

Gary Lewis

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