Sheffield magistrates hit out at ‘frustrating’ legal system

Tony Parkinson, aged 70, who is a magistrate in Sheffield
Tony Parkinson, aged 70, who is a magistrate in Sheffield

Two Sheffield magistrates have hit out at the ‘frustrating’ legal system which they say lets criminals ‘make a mockery’ of the law.

Tony Parkinson and Ron Cooke, who both sit at Sheffield Magistrates Court, were invited to speak at a meeting of the Sheffield City Centre Residents’ Action Group to explain how they deal with antisocial behaviour and street drinking problems which have blighted areas like Devonshire Green.

Mr Parkinson, aged 70, who stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity, said: “We do understand the problems with antisocial behaviour, but unfortunately it’s caused a lot of time by people who have no respect for the law.

“They don’t really care what they do, because of drugs or drink - they just do what they want with no thought for other people, and when they come to court, usually with no money, it isn’t serious enough to send them to prison.

He added: “Some have mental health issues, they can’t do unpaid work because the probation service says they’re not fit for work, so our powers and what we can do with them becomes limited until eventually there’s only one punishment, and that’s what you do because there’s nothing else left.”

The pair told residents at the meeting that their hands were ‘tied’ by legislation.

Mr Parkinson added: “Our hands are tied as much as anybody’s. We get frustrated and annoyed.

“If you plead guilty, you get a third off your sentence, to prevent too many trials, which cost a lot of time and a lot of money.

“The defendants get a reduction in their sentence to save time in court.

“Which is fine, but like every law it’s twisted.”

He added: “If you’ve got someone who has been caught for drink driving, bang to rights, breathalyser over the limit, they plead guilty and they get a third off, which is ridiculous.

“If you do send them to prison, because the prisons are full, the government made a law so people come out after serving half of their sentence.

Mr Parkinson said there were 85,000 prison places in the UK but only about 300 places available at any one time.
“If it’s a non-violent crime, they will probably put the defendant on an electronic tag, and give them another five weeks off,” he said.

“Take the MPs for example when they were sent down for their expenses, they got a year in prison, but only spent a month inside.

“People say ‘well that’s ridiculous’ and we agree, but that is the law, and we can’t change the law.

“It frustrates us because day in day out we see people making a mockery of the law, technically, because they can twist things, their solicitor can put their slant on it, and our hands are tied.”