A JUDGE has criticised magistrates who decided to hear the trial of a man accused of drug-dealing – even though they had insufficient powers to sentence him.
The judge said the magistrates had also denied Jeff Nasir his ‘really significant right’ to a trial by jury.
Nasir (20) of Terry Road, Stoke, Coventry, had denied two charges of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply them and possessing criminal property.
He was found guilty following a trial at Coventry magistrates’ court, and committed to Warwick Crown Court to be sentenced.
Amy Edinborough, prosecuting at crown court, said that earlier this year police officers saw Nasir on his phone while driving his car, so pulled him over.
The officers searched the car and found a cannabis grinder and some small packets. So they then searched Nasir and in his boxer shorts they found 26 £10 deals of crack cocaine and 34 £10 deals of heroin.
He was arrested, and when his home was searched officers recovered £540 in cash and a quantity of small self-seal bags.
When Nasir was questioned about the drugs he claimed they were all for personal use, and that the cash was his savings.
Expressing surprise, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano asked: “How did this stay in the magistrates’ court? A case like this, if there were convictions, was clearly way beyond their sentencing powers.”
And Kate Hatton, defending, said: “My understanding was that the magistrates kept the matter for trial, but always maintained they were committing for sentence.”
She said there was ‘a growing tendency’ to hold trials in the magistrates’ court.
That caused the judge to comment: “But only if there’s a possibility they can deal with it by way of sentence. At this rate any matter could be kept by them for trial. I am very perplexed by this.”
To make matters worse, she then heard that Nasir, who had convictions for driving offences and robbery, had been dealt by the magistrates for using his phone and other driving offences – and given a suspended prison sentence.
And because he had not breached that order, she would have no power to do anything about it, potentially leading to the absurd situation of Nasir being subject to a suspended sentence while serving a jail term for the drug offences.
Judge de Bertodano pointed out: “The guidelines make it perfectly clear that the primary consideration is whether the [magistrates’] court could deal with it by way of sentence.
“It was perfectly clear in this case that they could not, so it seems to me he has been denied his right to a crown court trial.
“They could never have the power to deal with it by way of sentence. There is nothing borderline about this, it’s a case with a starting point of four-and-a-half years. That is three-and-a-half years longer than they could possibly impose.”
She said she could not deal with Nasir without an investigation taking place into what happened in the magistrates’ court.
“Potentially this defendant has been denied a really significant right, and that is the right to have a crown court trial in a case where the magistrates should never have retained jurisdiction.”
Adjourning the case until the New Year and granting Nasir bail, she added: “I would ask the prosecution and the defence to consider whether the route should be to ask for a judicial review of the decision of the justices.”