THE ESN Client
updated 11 July 2018
The Only Time In My Life
This is the only time in my life as a solicitor that a client came in to plead guilty and I told him to plead not guilty.
My client was Educationally Sub Normal (ESN), and had attended a Special School. When he left school he was found work as a gardener – work he enjoyed.
On the previous Saturday he was walking in woods with three friends, boys aged 14 and 15.
There was a tree with a hole in it.
He and his friends gathered up paper and leaves and put them in the hole. He set light to the hole.
Suddenly, men jumped out of the trees and arrested all four of them. They were charged with causing criminal damage by fire, which most people know as “arson”.
Why Did He Do It?
He came to see me because he was going to plead guilty. He had set light to the hole. As he was ESN, he did not feel able to speak for himself in court.
I was concerned about the future employment prospects of an ESN man with a conviction for arson. I assessed them as “nil”.
I asked why he had put leaves in the hole and lit it.
He said he saw no harm in it.
“Couldn’t you damage the tree?”
“Oh no Mr James. There have been at least thirty fires in that tree to my knowledge. People who have stolen plastic covered wire often burn off the plastic in that hole.”
“So you considered the question of damage, and you decided damage was not possible?”
We went to look at the tree. There was actually a fire burning in the tree when we got there!
There are two elements to any criminal offence, “mens rea” and “actus reus”. “Mens rea” is “guilty mind”. “Actus Reus” is that the accused did the actions complained of.
A legal tag that is sometimes used is “de minimus non curat lex” which means “the law does not concern itself with trifles”.
The offence of criminal damage requires that the person be careless or reckless as to whether damage is caused, and actually causes damage.
When we got to court, my client introduced me to the boys. As they were juveniles their mothers were there, too. They were all pleading guilty. They did not have a lawyer.
I said I had to talk to the Prosecution lawyer, and I would get back to them.
The Prosecution lawyer was amused to see me.
“Well Charlie, I have four witnesses who saw the defendants do it, and four confessions. I think I have a reasonable chance today.”
I asked if mens rea had been abolished recently, and I told him what my man would say.
I told him about the previous fires, and the fire I had seen on my visit. How was he going to prove actual damage?
“De minimus non curat lex”, I said.
We settled on dropping the arson charge. He wanted “blemish of the peace”, which meant my client would sign a document to say he would not blemish the peace in the next six months. After the six months it would be over.. With more experience, I should have stuck out for nothing at all, but I was so concerned about the client not having a record for arson I agreed it.
The charges for the kids were dropped.
I came out and I explained the deal to my client.
He was very happy, because one can be ordered to sign the declaration even if not convicted, which was what was happening in his case. And in six months it would be over for ever.
Then I told the mothers that the charges against their sons were to be dropped.
They were surprised, shocked, and very happy. One of them nearly kissed me.
Had I not been there for that man, he and the boys would have convictions for arson, which would damage their job prospects for ever.
I earned my corn that day.
And justice was done