Your article about the refugee defences was welcome, but the criticism concerning the non-running of such defences may be aimed at the wrong targets.
In our local court, whenever a defence is indicated the prosecution then indicates that the case is not suitable for summary trial, and the court tamely agrees. This is the case even though the chance of a sentence in excess of six months in a case of this nature is so remote as to be almost certain not to happen – even on a defended trial.
The client is then faced with a dilemma. They plead guilty and receive a sentence not exceeding four months, and possibly less, of which they will serve half. Or they plead not guilty and remain in
custody until the hearing date at the Crown Court, which may well exceed two months, the maximum time likely to be served when sentenced in the magistrates’ court. Faced with these alternatives, the client will often wish to plead guilty whatever the strength of their refugee defence.
This situation requires an approach by the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts which is sensitive to it and sympathetic to the aims of the legislature in providing these defences. In other words, a greater willingness to allow defended cases of this nature to be tried in the magistrates’ court.
Alured Darlington, bsb solicitors, London W7