Use of bail in domestic abuse cases

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 17th June 2020.

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Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 2:30 pm, 17th June 2020

At the risk of sounding like a one-trick pony, I want to talk about some of my experience in court, touching on some things that we have just been speaking about, or that will be referred to later when the hon. Member for Hove speaks again about court.

My experience is that magistrates consistently deal with difficult cases. It is difficult to balance the rights of a victim and the rights of a defendant. I have not talked much about defendants, but it is true that we see a lot of defendants who have terrible stories to tell. In my maiden speech, I said that being a magistrate had changed my perspective on the world, because I had never seen the kinds of lives that were coming up in front of me, and not just of the victims but of the defendants.

I told the story of a boy who walked in on my first day, when I was still being mentored. He was 18 and it was his first appearance in an adult court. He looked about 10—he was tiny—and he was grey. I said to my mentor, “God, he can’t be in this court, surely,” and they said, “No, I know him from the family courts.” He was malnourished because his parents were drug addicts and he was never fed properly. He was grey because he was malnourished and he had been injected with heroin to keep him quiet as a child. But he had burgled an elderly couple’s house. There are lots of victims in a courtroom and it almost does not matter where they are sitting. It is a constant battle as a magistrate to weigh up the rights of the defendant and the rights of the victim.

That touches on bail, which is an unpopular thing to talk about in court, because in some ways everyone is a threat and everyone can go on to do nasty things to nice people, but magistrates have to weigh up the right of habeas corpus—the right of a defendant to have liberty until he has been convicted of a crime. That is really difficult to weigh up, because it involves thinking about the risks to the victim, the defendant’s right to liberty and the presumption of innocence.

That is why the holistic approach that the Minister is talking about is important, because it will touch on not just domestic abuse cases, but the precedents and the impact that has on the court system and the rights of defendants in the court system. The hon. Member for Hove mentioned the pendulum, which it is important to get right. I think the more holistic approach is genuinely the right way to go on that.