I quit, says senior magistrate 'forced to let serial convicts go free on bail': JP claims public safety is at risk by curbs on their ability to lock defendants up 

  • Retired businessman Bob Hutchinson has quit in protest of the changes 
  • He said he believes the decision was taken as a cost-cutting measure
  • Ministry of Justice said people on bail are often subject to strict conditions 

Resigned: Bob Hutchinson said he quit over changes to the justice system that could mean serial offenders will be repeatedly freed

Resigned: Bob Hutchinson said he quit over changes to the justice system that could mean serial offenders will be repeatedly freed

A senior magistrate has resigned over changes to the justice system which he says mean serial offenders will be repeatedly freed while court fees go unpaid.

Bob Hutchinson claims public safety is being put at risk by curbs on the ability of JPs to lock defendants up on remand if they have a history of witness intimidation.

The retired businessman quit as deputy chairman of the bench at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court in protest at what he believes are cost-cutting measures that threaten the grass roots of the justice system.

‘It’s an absolute disgrace to public safety,’ he said. ‘The three main reasons for not giving somebody bail is if they have got a history of absconding, committing offences while on bail or interfering with witnesses.

‘In the past, it didn’t matter what offence was committed, you could remand somebody in custody if they fell into one of these categories.

‘Now, unless an offence is imprisonable if they are found guilty, you are not allowed to remand them – it’s a real worry for public safety. You are giving him another chance to offend – he has already done it before.’

In 2013, Mr Hutchinson asked his MP to contact then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling about the previous year’s change which means defendants over 18 cannot be refused bail by magistrates if they would not face a custodial sentence in the event of a conviction, other than in circumstances such as for their own safety.

Criminal justice minister Damian Green replied that ‘if it is apparent that there is no real prospect of a defendant receiving a custodial sentence if convicted, it is no longer open to the court to remand in custody where there appears to be a risk of the defendant failing to appear, committing further offences, or interfering with witnesses’.

The Ministry of Justice says people on bail are often subject to strict conditions such as tags and curfews, and the overwhelming majority do not re-offend.

Reply: Damian Green, the criminal justice minister, replied to Mr Hutchinson that it there is no real chance of a defendant being spent to prison if they are convicted, the court shouldn't remand them in custody

Reply: Damian Green, the criminal justice minister, replied to Mr Hutchinson that it there is no real chance of a defendant being spent to prison if they are convicted, the court shouldn't remand them in custody

Mr Hutchinson, 60, who spent 11 years as a magistrate, finally quit last month over new criminal court charges. These require anyone who pleads guilty or is convicted in a magistrates court to pay a levy ranging from £150 to £1,000.

He estimated around 85 per cent of defendants he saw were on benefits and said the charges would in many cases eventually be written off, undermining faith in the system.

He also fears plans to close and merge magistrates courts will mean justice is divorced from local people.

On the issue of charges, the Ministry of Justice said: ‘It is right that convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them.’

The Magistrates’ Association says more than 30 members have quit over the charges but backs Mr Grayling’s changes to the bail rules.