'Outrage' at magistrates' 'soft sentencing'

MAGISTRATES in North Somerset are 'a law unto themselves' and should be held to account for giving out 'soft sentences' according to Weston's prospective MP

MAGISTRATES in North Somerset are 'a law unto themselves' and should be held to account for giving out 'soft sentences' - according to Weston's prospective MP.Mike Bell says they are out of touch with the general public and are the 'weak link' in attempts to make the district safer.He is calling for the leading magistrate and courts chief to be summoned before North Somerset Council to explain their decisions.The move comes after the Weston & Somerset Mercury reported that magistrates ignored the plea of Weston's police chief Tracey Hayler to give a 14-year-old girl an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO).Cllr Bell said: "It's outrageous that magistrates seem to disregard not only public concerns but that of the town's most senior police officer."There are so many good projects and determined people in North Somerset trying to improve the area, from neighbourhood watches and local action teams to street pastors and the increasingly popular PCSOs. It seems all this effort to make the community safer is undermined when offenders are brought before the court and magistrates believe any sob story they come up with. Instead of taking tough action and setting examples, they go for the soft option."At the moment, magistrates do what they want and are held to account by nobody."I want them to be more open to public scrutiny and explain the decisions they make. "They should meet on a regular basis with members of the public and talk about issues in their area."Magistrates do have some flexibility in their sentencing guidelines and they need to react and reflect public opinion. If antisocial behaviour is a problem in Weston they need to help combat it with tougher sentences."We hear of repeat offenders getting off with a slapped wrist and police officers frustrated that arrests won't lead to convictions."If they're going to do that they need to be prepared to be questioned and held to account."Cllr Bell is calling for the Avon and Somerset Magistrates' Bench chairman and the Avon and Somerset Criminal Justice Board chairman to be called before North Somerset Council's community services scrutiny panel to be quizzed on the issue.


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