Defendants shouldn’t be able to just plead poverty

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LESLEY KEATING: A white-knuckle pursuit ending with a lesson in trust

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How many times have we heard legal representatives come to court with sorry tales about why their clients can’t afford to pay?

They may have stolen money or property or damaged something belonging to somebody else, but when it comes to making reparation they plead poverty.

Today we report how there are calls for courts to have more powers to ensure victims are not left out of pocket.

It doesn’t seem fair that those who have suffered at the hands of criminal actions should be penalised financially while those responsible just walk away because they are deemed unable to afford to pay back what they took.

Look at what happened in the case of 82-year-old Sylvia Gibbs. When she noticed cash was going missing, partially-blind Mrs Gibbs joined forces with police to set a trap for carer Kerry Skipp by using marked bank notes.

Police later discovered Skipp had also taken cash from 95-year-old Hilda Worley. She helped herself to £1,640 from the two women. But when she appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court and was jailed for four months, she was only ordered to pay back just £80 – the amount she had in her bag when police stopped her.

This is because the courts cannot order a defendant to pay compensation unless there is a realistic prospect of it being paid within a year.

As Skipp had lost her job and was on benefits, it was felt she had no money to cover what she had stolen.

Judges must be extremely frustrated that they are not able to make the kind of orders that justice demands.

We think the onus should be much more on the individual defendant making a case for why they can’t pay rather than an across-the-board rule.

These days everybody has something of some value. We think there should be more investigation of what exactly defendants possess and how much it could be sold for to help pay back their victims.

Because it is just not right that the Mrs Gibbses of this world suffer financially while criminals don’t.