Author Archives: Greg Foxsmith

Speech at CLFS Conference, May 13 2016

Intro



I am now all that stands between you and the Friday evening drink, and all that stands between you and the weekend. I therefore hope to be brief.

Although probably not as much as you hope that I will be brief.

I have been asked to speak on the topic of “the victory”, or the “win” by which I think is meant the climb-down earlier this year by the MOJ in respect of two tier contracting.
I have to say that this was very much a Pyrrhic victory, and although there was much relief, there was only muted celebration.

Much time, energy – and money – had been expended on tortuously difficult tendering documents, much anxiety hanging on the results. Firms had closed or merged in anticipation of the outcome, or planned mergers. Solicitors changed firms- only some voluntarily.

Some were bidders, some not, some “winners” some losers.

Then when contracts were awarded, those unfairly left out were minded to challenge the outcome, potentially in conflict with those awarded contracts.
What was Two Tier ?

Accompanying another 8.75% fee cut, yes the follow up to a the first 8.75% cut we had already absorbed, TT was the controversial contract-tendering procedure which would restrict the number of law firms permitted to do duty legal work. 

It was hatched by the MOJ and initiated by Chris Grayling, the previous Injustice Secretary. It was supported -encouraged even- by some firms in the BFG.

It threatened to wreak havoc on a supplier base acknowledged to be fragile, and for comparatively modest savings.

This proposed enforced consolidation of the profession would have been effectively forcing many solicitors’ firms to merge or close.

This, despite an acknowledgement that over the last parliament annual spending on legal aid was reduced from £2.4bn to £1.6bn.

What went wrong?
TT was wrong in principle, but to add insult to injury it was ultimately botched in application.

Contracts were awarded, and a whistleblower revealed the marking had been carried out by unqualified temps from a recruitment agency. 

So unsuccessful firms took legal action against the MOJ….

Take the example of EFBW:-

In October EFBW were informed by the LAA that they had been narrowly unsuccessful in their attempt to obtain a legal aid contract for duty solicitor work in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. EFBW brought legal challenges (represented by Bindmans) against the results of the procurement process in all three areas. Almost 100 other firms brought similar challenges.
The LAA then admitted that it made a basic transcription error in scoring at least one of EFBW’s bids, and that consequently EFBW should have been awarded a contract in Hackney. 

The possibility of such an error was identified by Bindmans in October, but was not addressed by the LAA in pre action correspondence and a formal offer of ADR was not taken up. 

The LAA sought to resist disclosure to other firms, and a Court order had to be requested.

Even after disclosure, the LAA ignored requests to settle EFBW’s claim and proceeded to file a defence that admitted the error but failed to acknowledge the consequences. Only later did they acknowledge that if the error had not been made, EFBW should have scored higher than at least one of the purported successful bidders, and therefore should have been awarded a contract.

The LAA still refused to settle the claim despite the fact that it should never have had to be brought, and summary judgement was sought.

So, increasingly firms involved were confident of victory, but the case rumbled on.
The Announcement.

In January the SoS for Justice, MIchael Gove announced that the plans for two-tier contracting and the cuts of 8.75% to legal aid fees for duty criminal solicitors were to be suspended.

This was a policy U-turn which followed many others, as Gove re-planted the scorched earth of the Grayling period.

Announcing the about-turn in a Commons written statement, Gove pointed out that awarding a limited number of “dual contracts” – under which solicitors take on duty legal aid work at police stations and magistrates courts as well as represent their own clients – would lead to a less diverse and competitive market.

WE COULD HAVE TOLD THEM THAT!

(WE DID TELL THEM THAT!!)



 We had pointed out that natural consolidation was already taking place in the criminal legal aid market, as crime reduced and natural competition took place.
Gove also accepted his department had already made substantial savings.
Secondly,as he said:-

 ” it has become clear, following legal challenges mounted against our procurement process, that there are real problems in pressing ahead as initially proposed. My department currently faces 99 separate legal challenges over the procurement process, which has required us to stay the award of new contracts. 

In addition, a judicial review challenging the entire process has raised additional implementation challenges. Given how delicately balanced the arguments have always been … I have decided not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system”
So ultimately it was the lawyers wot won it, using the only effective tactic in our armoury- the law.

We can celebrate the acts of those in the litigation that argued the tendering process was fundamentally flawed. There was also support even from those not directly involved:

big firms and small, private and legal aid, 

two-tier contracts, single-tier contracts and lots- of -tears no contracts.

History of Campaign



Before the “victory” there were other battles in the ongoing war, with many skirmishes along the way. By ongoing war, I mean the continuing battle for legal aid lawyers to be properly paid.

First there was a consultation, or bearing in mind it was from the MOJ a NONsultation.

That was flawed, and had to be re-run.

Then there was the tendering procurement scheme itself, and the JR in which we argued the whole scheme was irrational. 

The LCCSA was proud to have fought that battle, together with CLSA and TLS.

We lost.

And it was expensive.

We campaigned and fundraised.

Many of you contributed – thank you.

Counsel’s fees from a leading Admin set totalled around £150k (which goes to show why we should practice admin law not crim law)

That meant, despite generous donations, we depleted our reserves and gave our treasurer sleepless nights. 

So the fact that we have survived as an Association, with membership steady, and in a period of consolidation, is a victory of sorts.
But campaigning had started long before the litigation

For example:-

On May 22nd 2013 the LCCSA organised a demo which generated national coverage

On the afternoon of the same day there was a national meeting attended by 1000 solicitors and barristers. 

On 4th June (the closing date of the first consultation) another demo organised by solicitors outside the MOJ again with considerable national publicity. 

By March the following year there was a day of action, a withdrawal of services from courts, called in some quarters a “strike”.

We had No Returns.

We had a protocol where firms agreed to sign up no new legal aid cases. Only a small minority breached that, some reluctantly for vulnerable own clients only, and fewer still took an opportunity to clean up or profit.

We learned solidarity, and began to trust each other.
But the truth is so far as funding is concerned, for years we have endured a slow death by a thousand cuts, a sustained attack, and only belatedly we learned to fight back. 

We campaigned, protested, demonstrated, withdrew services, and went on strike.

We battled the most odious and incompetent of Lord Chancellors, the infamous Chris Grayling.

To be perfectly blunt, he was a bit of a

difficult man to engage with.

Grayling, known by all as “failing Grayling” was described by JH as a “turd that couldn’t be flushed”.Grayling didn’t like lawyers, and the feeling was mutual.

So, we rallied in Parliament square, outside Westminster Magistrates Court, the Old Bailey and MoJ HQ, and we walked from Runnymede to Westminster.
And we took legal action against the MoJ, with our JR at the High Court.
Much of this achieved little at the time, so maybe the “win” in January is something we should cherish.

The New Legal Aid Landscape



Right to legal aid is ‘basic human right’, Jeremy Corbyn told a Justice Alliance meeting at the start of this year. 

Whether you area Corbynista or not, the fact that the Leader of a Political Party – the leader of the opposition no less – not only mentions legal aid but does so in a supportive way is a significant development.

Labour have initiated the Bach review into Legal Aid, and Gove has said that he is convening a committee or forum to discuss legal aid in a constructive way.

There was nothing constructive about relations/negotiations with Failing Grayling, so the political landscape has certainly changed.

Unity 
Two years ago, Paul Harris spoke about the need for unity.

At that time, relations between leadership of the criminal bar and solicitors had reached a low point. Last year Greg Powell again spoke on the theme of unity. This followed a slightly fractious period- relations between solicitors and our friends at the bar had become strained. Like an old married couple, we were bickering, but I think we are living comfortably together again now.

At least until the next row! 

We are working constructively on proposals for AGFS and litigator fees to try and make sure we are all properly paid for the work we properly do.

We can learn from what happened when Grayling successfully sought to divide and rule.

The lesson of unity is a simple one, especially where we have a common enemy.

United we stand, divided we fall.
Current Campaigns



There is always some horror lurking around the corner.

 Currently, during this quiet period when Michael Gove has become the SoS for Brexit, our friends at the Sentencing Guidelines Council are consulting on the amount of credit for guilty pleas- and with some alarming proposals out there to reduce the incentive if the client didn’t cough and confess at point of arrest. 

If not before.
BCM/ DCS/ PTPH/CJSM 


Yes its acronym time – Bloody Case Management, Dire Case Systems and Pressure to Plead Hearings. 

A good idea in principle- less hearings, less paper.

But the underlying problems have not gone away -inadequate disclosure, late disclosure, lack of legal aid, problem getting prison visits etc.

The LCCSA and CBA have worked hard to try and help this work, at a series of meetings, from the National Implementation Team (NIT) to the London Implementation Team (LIT)

Thankfully there hasn’t been further devolution to the Central London Implementation Team, or the South Hampstead Implementation Team, the anacronym of which may best sum up the whole mess.
Gove

Gove didn’t just abandon two-tier tendering.

He had already reversed many of Grayling’s money saving initiatives, including 

-the ban on prisoners receiving books from their families 

-the equally detested criminal courts courts charge, (the mandatory payment of up to £1,200 imposed on all convicted defendants irrespective or means or ability to pay

He forced the government to cancel a £5.9 million contract to advise the Saudi Arabian prison system.

He scrapped the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice after human rights concerns.

And Gove abandoned plans to build a £100 million “secure college” for teenage prisoners.
But where is he now?

Missing in Action
He popped up at HCMC at the start of this year on a day where I also happened to be there, and as he was meeting everyone but the defence I ambushed him with a letter requesting a meeting, and he agreed.


We are still waiting.

But perhaps no news is good news.

We have had enough of diktat and pronouncement by highly paid civil servants at the MOJ , and we have had enough of cuts.

 We cannot take any more.

The sustainability of the justice system relies on proper preparation and presentation of cases.

We all play our parts- barristers and solicitors.

Brothers and sisters in arms.

So yes we had a victory in January, but let’s not be fooled- that was a battle, and so far as legal aid is concerned there is an ongoing war.

At least we no longer have Grayling, who managed to combine total war with Cold War.

But depending on the outcome of the Euro Referendum, we may not have Mr Gove much longer, and who knows who will succeed him?
The LCCSA had virtually -and by necessity- re-invented ourselves as a campaigning organisation.

Thankfully, we have put the banners and t-shirts away, at least for now , and gone back to our core business- training events, representing criminal lawyers in London whether doing legal aid or not, and of course our famous social events.

Which presents me the chance to do my one “plug” – the LCCSA Summer Party, July 8th!

So it’s a half- cheer for the Victory in January, and a relief that we can get back to our day jobs.

Some of us will always remember where we were on the day when we heard the news of Gove’s announcement abandoning two-tier. 

I certainly remember going to the pub to meet fellow lawyers to celebrate the victory.

Unhappily, I was in “dry January” and celebrated without the assistance of alcohol.

That bleak month has long passed, and I promised not too keep you too long from your drinks.

So I hope to see some of you in the pub- Steve has the details- and let us raise a glass to justice, celebrate solidarity, drink to the health of legal aid, and share a toast -to Victory.

Cheers!

Greg Foxsmith

President, LCCSA

Hillsborough Inquest – a lawyer’s perspective (guest blog by Anna Morris)

Dedicated to the memory of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster who died on 15 April 1989.

On 26th April 2016, I hugged two of my clients with elation after a jury of 6 women and 3 men set the record straight after 27 years about what happened at Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989. Moments later, they looked at each other and said, without missing a beat, “so, what do we do tomorrow?” They hadn’t dared to believe there could be a day when they would not have to fight for justice, to fight to clear the name of their loved one. This had been a life-defining fight for a generation of children, wives, parents and siblings of those 96 men, women, boys and girls.

The jury’s conclusions finally saw their families achieve something they recognise as justice. Much has rightly been reported about their tenacity, commitment and patience. But I want to say something about their humanity.

The families have endured the longest jury case in English legal history. 319 days of witnesses, evidence and submissions. For many of the families, attending Birchwood business park had become a full time job. Employers who asked, “haven’t you got over it yet?” had to be negotiated with, child-care had to be arranged, health problems had to be managed, life continued to be put on hold. But when they could be there, they were there. Sitting, listening. Waiting.

At the start of the process, many approached with caution after decades of being let down again and again by lawyers, judges and politicians. They had no reason to trust us, their lawyers but as they sat there in our conferences, polite but knotted tense with questions and anger, their thoughts were never just of themselves; “who will look after the jury?” “What about the survivors, who speaks for them?” “How do I find the man who helped our brother, I want to thank him?” We could only tell them, “we will try and get these answers for you. We hope we can”.

Most of the families had an encyclopedic knowledge of the papers disclosed as part of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. As their lawyers we had to be able to call up documents at the click of a finger to answer the broad and complex questions that troubled them. More than one set piece of witness examination conducted by our team of advocates was centered on a document recalled through the mists of time by one of our clients, tracked down in the 250,000 plus pages of disclosed material. In fact, one of my clients, when she presented 10 neatly typed pages of devastatingly precise and searching questions to Operation Resolve, the Coroner’s Investigation team, was (with only a hint of humour) offered a job as an investigator. We all had to be at our best. No one wanted to let these families down.

But on many occasions, it was our clients looking after us, using their 27 years of pain to help us navigate our way through the sea of changing emotions. From flasks of pea-whack soup served from the boot of a car, to cups of tea in their homes, we were shown such warmth and respect that it was truly humbling. I took great strength from one client who, when I asked her how she kept going through all the lies being told about her brother, about him being a drunken hooligan who caused his own death, she simply smiled broadly and answered, “eyes and teeth, eyes and teeth”. I have repeated that mantra many times since that day.

During the inquest I was the mother to one young boy and pregnant with a second. I was representing the family of boys who were 15 and 19 when they died and I was incredibly moved by the loss of so many young boys’ lives. I couldn’t imagine them just not coming home one day. One client, on the morning of her young son’s inquest, presented me with a bag full of hand knitted baby clothes specially made for my son. It absolutely floored me that this woman could even think about anyone else in the circumstances, let alone extend such deep kindness. I have a drawer full of beautiful blankets and clothes, made by those strong women of Liverpool. Nothing could make me prouder.

When my youngest son finally made his first trip to Birchwood, he was passed from mother to mother, bounced on knees and fussed over as if he was one of their own. It only struck me later, like a tidal wave, that I had been swapping teething, sleeping and feeding stories about children who would never grow old.

There are many small moments that made the Hillsborough Inquests more than just an inquiry into the circumstances into how 96 people died that day. Moments that might have started in the court room but resonated far wider. The pen portraits that painted the real pictures of 96 cherished loved ones who attended a football match and never came home with humour and dignity. The vigorous handshake in the corridor between a father and the off-duty Metropolitan Police Officer who pulled his son from the pen, the damp-eyed slap on the back for the fellow fan that carried someone’s brother on a stretcher and wished he could have done more. The sympathetic words for colleagues who also lost loved ones during the months of the inquests. The jurors who when discharged when court concluded that final time, were each hugged by the families, each thanked for their commitment. The families in their grace never left anyone un-thanked. I hope that those witnesses, relieved of their burden after 27 years were the lighter for it.

Every day of the inquest we shared tea and tears with those who traveled to that grey box on a business park. On the some of the most difficult days of evidence, the families would always be able to find a joke, a smile and a hug for each other. Willing each other on. Someone was always in charge of making sure there was milk for tea and the biscuit tin was always full.

They are the best in all of us. It could have been any of us in their shoes whose brother, father, sister or son went to that match. They have defied the state’s attempt to define them by gender, geography, class or type. We can all aspire to their dignity and strength. It has been a privilege to walk with them on a small part of their journey.

No one can now deny the success and the power of the families’ campaign for justice all these years. They are the reason that 96 verdicts of ‘accidental death’ were quashed. It is their demands that ensured the truth has now been heard. We should never be in doubt that this is the reason why families should be at the heart of the inquest system.

Anna Morris, May 2016


NOTES/LINKS

Hillsborough Independent Report: http://hillsborough.independent.gov.uk (disclosed materials and report)

Inquest Charity: http://www.inquest.org.uk/

Michael Mansfield: “Hillsborough families were my rock ” (Liverpool Echo)

A full if harrowing account of the evidence, the inquest and the outcome reported in the Guardian here.

Why the police “apology” was neither sincere or believable explained by Mark George QC. 

Call for a rebalance of the justice system and equality of arms at Inquest hearings (reported here in the Guardian May 2016)

Another Hillsborough Lawyer, Elkan Abrahamson, interviewed here in the Liverpool Echo.

And don’t miss this survivor’s account by Adrian Tempany. Powerful and moving.

About the author

Anna Morris is a barrister at Garden Court chambers. Anna’s practice focuses on criminal justice and civil liberties and encompasses criminal defence and appellate advice, inquests into deaths in custody, civil actions against the police and public law. A human rights specialist, Anna has extensive experience of successfully representing clients whose cases challenge public policy and promote civil liberties. Read full profile on Chambers website here.

Hornsey YMCA and the Crouch End Festival

My son Daniel (9) ran a mile at this year’s Crouch End festival to raise funds for North London YMCA.  All the money raised goes directly to their work and services, not fundraisers, bureaucrats or charity directors. Their work is community based, and includes outreach work, youth work, housing and finance advice.
In 2014 we raised £150 and we hit that target again last year

THANK YOU FOR HELPING US REACH THAT TARGET AGAIN! 

It’s not too late to help by sponsoring Daniel now-thank you!



Running Playlist here

Below-Daniel and Adam from a previous year’s effort

20140518-213629-77789892.jpg

Below:- end of 10k!


KICKING OFF for the Hundred Families Charity (Guest blog by Len Hodkin)

The 2nd floor at the Central Criminal Court will forever have a special place in my heart and for those of you who know me, no, I am not referring to the café. It is home to a unique group of people, who in my opinion, are more important, more significant than any Judge, prosecutor or defence counsel who attends the Old Bailey. You will have all seen them. They are there every day and they go about their business quietly and largely unnoticed but the court could not operate without them.

I refer to Linda Harlow and her amazing team of volunteers from the Witness Service. These unsung heroes support not only the victim’s families but prosecution and defence witnesses alike in addition to children and vulnerable witnesses.

 I had heard of the Witness Service and had some dealings with them across the various Courts I had attended across London but was largely ignorant as to what they actually did. I thought it was simply a case of escorting a witness to and from the Court to give evidence. How wrong I was.

 In 2012 my family and I spent four and a half weeks at the Old Bailey for trial of the woman who killed my mum Sally. It is not an experience I would ever wish to repeat yet strangely enough, I do look back upon those four and a half weeks with immense fondness. I witnessed first hand the volunteers from the Witness Service at work. I saw them share the burden of victims and witnesses grief and trauma. I saw them offer comfort and support to those in their darkest hour. A service all delivered with a smile and an unwavering passion for what they do. A service very much undervalued and overlooked by many but most importantly a service which is free. A Safe Haven.

 It was a privilege to see these amazing folk at work. My family and I cannot thank them enough for how we were treated and looked after and we are no different to the hundreds of families, witnesses and children who come through the doors at the Old Bailey each year.

 Each year since my mum’s death we have held a memorial football match at Welling United Football Club. Read media coverage of last year’s event HERE) To date we have raised over 35k for charitable causes. In 2013 we donated a substantial amount to the Witness Service along with the family of Elouise Littlewood to help renovate the witness rooms at the Old Bailey. Now the waiting area and rooms are almost unrecognisable to those that were there in 2012. 

   

  
  

 

However, the job is not quite finished…

 This years Charity game will be held at Welling United on 7 May with a 3pm kick off. We are raising money for the Witness Service at the Old Bailey and a Charity called Hundred Families of which I am a Trustee.

 Hundred families: http://www.hundredfamilies.org/

 Hundred Families is a small charity that receives no Government funding. We provide practical support, information, and advocacy services throughout Britain for families who have lost loved ones as a result of killings by people with mental illness. We work with the Criminal Justice System and the Health Service to secure meaningful improvements for victims’ families and the way in which they are treated. We provide research, training and evidence based resources to mental health professionals and policy makers to try and prevent such killings from happening in future. This year we produced a Practical Guide for families after mental health homicide. This guide is available to download free from our website or free in hard copy upon request.

 If anyone would like to come along to the Football match on Saturday 7 May 2016 please feel free. Everyone is welcome and it is a good family day out. There is also a raffle held after the game. If anyone would like to advertise in the programme, buy raffle tickets or simply make a donation please contact me at len@hundredfamilies.org or you can donate by text. For example to buy 5 raffle tickets just text HUND43 £5 to 70070just text HUND43 £5 to 70070 

To donate to the Witness Service or ensure your donation is made available specifically for the benefit of witnesses and bereaved families at the Central Criminal Court please

• make a cheque payable to Citizens Advice and send it to:

Citizens Advice Witness Service, Central Criminal Court,  Old Bailey ,  London EC4M 7EH

Send the cheque with a covering letter stating you wish the donation to be allocated specifically for use by the Witness Service at the Central criminal Court, the Old Bailey and the funds will then be allocated for their use only.

Finally, next time you are at the Old Bailey and you find yourself on the 2nd floor about to go into the café spare a thought for the amazing unsung heroes right next door.
Len Hodkin  Len Hodkin is a solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors, and Trustee for Hundred Families Charity.

In Memory of Sally Hodkin

Sally Hodkin worked as the accounts manager for a solicitors practice in Blackheath. She was wife to Paul Hodkin for 38 years, Mum to two sons Len and Ian, and a loving grandmother.

  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Hatton Garden Burglary Sentence

Six defendants were yesterday sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court for offences arising from the “Hatton Garden Raid”.

The majority were sentenced to six years imprisonment for Conspiracy to Commit Burglary.

 In my capacity as current President of the London Criminal Courts Sentencing Association I was invited on the LBC Nick Ferrari show to explain how those sentences may have arisen. I make it clear I was not defending any of the defendants, and my knowledge of the case and the sentence is based purely on the press reporting.

Firstly, although described in some reports as “the Hatton Garden robbery”, the offence committed was not a robbery (which in simple terms is theft accompanied by violence or threat of violence) which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The raid here was a burglary, ie entering premises as trespassers, and stealing property. In fact, the defendants were charged with conspiracy to burgle , in other words agreeing to take part in the burglary. This suggests equal culpability for each conspirator, regardless of their actual role within the operation. The maximum sentence and sentencing range for conspiring to commit an offence is the same as for committing the actual offence, in other words there is no advantage in sentencing terms to pleading guilty to a conspiracy rather than the burglary.

Some have commented on the apparent leniency of the sentences, but in my opinion the Sentencing Judge got the sentence exactly right.

If the offence were aggravated burglary, eg if violence had been used, the maximum sentence would have been life imprisonment. This was not an aggravated burglary.

If the offence were a domestic burglary (it was not) the maximum sentence would have been 14 years, the law quite properly recognising the invasion of someone’s home is more reprehensible than commercial premises. 

The maximum penalty for “non-domestic” burglary, as in this case, is ten years.

And that is pretty much what the defendants received, allowing for a reduction for sentence of about a third for pleading guilty. (Credit for guilty pleas to avoid unnecessary trials apply in any case for any offence, and the maximum “discount” of up to a third applies for pleas at the early stages of a case, not delayed until the start of trial)

In conclusion, a sentence of seven years is understandable and justifiable within the framework of the current sentencing structure. The Judge would have taken into account any aggravating features (in particular the high value) and any mitigating circumstances (including age or infirmity), but the exceptional circumstances and particularly the high value of goods taken in this case took it outside the Sentencing Guidelines for burglary.

Postscript 

Although I had not seen them when interviewed on the radio, the Judges sentencing remarks were published Here.

It seems that most of the media reporting the sentence chose to ignore this! 

Highbury Court Advice Centre-One Year On!

A Local court-based advice and support service celebrated its first year at Highbury Magistrates Court this month.
North London advice and support service, Community Advice based at Highbury Magistrates Court has been providing practical help and access to long term support to those who attend court.

  
Based inside the court, the service in its first year has helped over 600 people from Islington, Haringey, Camden and Enfield. It has assisted court users with accessing long-term support services such as alcohol treatment, housing, mental health services or providing immediate help with practical issues such as outstanding fines and benefit claims.

The service is aimed especially at those who are not eligible for probation support due to the level of their offences such as theft, vandalism, drunk and disorderly conduct, but appear in court again and again absorbing a considerable amount of the criminal justice system’s resources.

A paid coordinator and a team of volunteers at the service help identify and tackle the underlying problems that contribute to people’s offending such as housing needs, debt issues, and drug and alcohol misuse.

The service has made hundreds of referrals into wider community services ensuring those who come to court can continue to receive the support they need once they leave the building. In its first year, the clients attended three quarters of all the referrals made for them and two-thirds reported their issues had been resolved six months on.

Set up by the Centre for Justice Innovation, the service is supported by local magistrates and court service and is delivered by Islington Citizens Advice. For more info, check out this short film!

Joanne Thomas, Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation said: “Community Advice is an invaluable resource as it is addressing significant unmet needs of people who are coming to court. There are early, positive signs that it is helping people who would have had no other recourse to resolve their issues.” (See also this blog by Joanne)

Notes

• The Centre for Justice Innovation is a UK justice research and development charity. It works to build a justice system that holds people accountable, that is fair and feels fair, and which seeks to address the problems of those people who come into contact with it. It is an initiative of the Center for Court Innovation, based in New York.

• A reception event to mark the anniversary was held on March 9th in Islington Town Hall. My contribution:-

Anyone practicing in criminal law is aware that the vast majority of defendants have any one (or more) of a number of complex issues or difficult challenges , which often underpin or contribute to their offending, but which the Criminal Justice System does not address. These issues can include mental health issues, drug addiction, homelessness, welfare benefit issues, domestic violence, exploitation, pressure by gang members, unemployment, depression, and more. 

In some cases limited help provided comes from the probation service, but gone are the days when there was a probation “service” whose role was to “befriend the prisoner” and instead we have a fragmented, part-privatised, underfunded system whose main purpose is to punish, and, where there is a subsidiary component of help, it comes with sanctions for “non-compliance”. 

Leaving the offender to seek their own help, we have also seen a steady diminution of help and advice services , both Centrally and by Local Authorities, and a particularly brutal reduction in services since LASPO.

Solicitors cannot plug this gap-as a result of year on year Legal Aid cuts we barely have time to take meaningful instructions on cases to present a proper defence for a desirory fixed fee within an adverserial system. In earlier years a High Street Practice would offer a holistic service, with solicitors advising on employment law, benefits advice etc, now that rearely exists.

About 10 years ago I began mentoring ex-offenders, which I continue to do, and I have been amazed at the paucity of mentoring available compared to the potential demand, and the willingness of people to give up their time. My mentoring campaign led, accidentally, into politics, and indeed into this Town Hall where I was an elected Councillor from 2006-2014.

I never managed to establish an Islington mentoring service, but I have at least now seen the birth of an Islington mentoring project, BRIDGING THE GAP ISLINGTON.

Mentoring, which is time-intensive, essentially is signposting or referring clients to the right experts who can provide help with specific issues. “If only”, I sometimes mused, “there was a service where the people needing help and the volunteers who can provide it could be gathered together in one place”. It was no more than a pipe-dream.

So now I turn to the Highbury Court Advice Service.  The service that shows me that dreams can come true!

I was aware there was some kind of pilot project in Plymouth, (my home City!)

I was aware of the excellent work of the Centre for Justice Innovation.

And I was very aware of Highbury Corner Magistrates , my Local Court.

But never would I have believed that somehow these threads would be drawn together to create this outstanding service.

The first time I saw it in action, I spotted somebody gliding across the waiting area, friendly, welcoming, introducing themselves to clients. Naturally I thought it was one of the infamous solicitor-touts that proliferate at Highbury Court, trying to poach clients from other solicitors (fighting for scraps at the beggars banquet)

You cannot imagine my delight when I realised that instead this was a volunteer from the Advice Service, offering help and advice. On subsequent visits I introduced myself to the team, and gradually met more of the volunteers. I referred my clients to them. I visited the CJI for a seminar. I blogged about the Service. I am, in short, unambiguously a fan.

I tell everybody I can about this Service, and was glad to see Mr Gove visited. I hope he was impressed.

So well done, and thank you to the visionaries who developed the concept, the volunteers who deliver and all those who support it.

And I ask of you all one thing, support this scheme, and shout about this service from the roof-tops.

We need to ensure that it survives, and that it is rolled out across London and hopefully Nationally.

I look forward to the 10 year anniversary celebration! 

  

(A version of this speech appears on the CJI website here)

A Re-Appraisal of the Law on “Joint Enterprise” (guest blog by Greg Stewart)

This blog by Greg Stewart, criminal appeal specialist and head of GT Stewart solicitors, assesses the new Joint Enterprise landscape following the long-awaited Supreme Court Judgment in R v JOGEE

Introduction

Criminal lawyers have gone from an aridly dry January (1) to fabulous, celebratory wet February – even for such a well soaked profession. How often does our highest court declare that we have all been getting the law seriously wrong for over 30 years?! Even less often I would say than Government Ministers suddenly reverse their views on whistle blowers and protests from criminal defence lawyers. (2)

Of course the Supreme Court have sought to make it clear that the clarification made to the common law by R v Jogee and Rudduck v The Queen [2016] UKSC 8 & 7 is not “unprecedented”– it’s just that you, me, the bar including umpteen queen’s counsel, and the senior judiciary had been looking at the wrong precedents for more than three decades, or more accurately, overlooking the right ones. 

Indeed, a cynical jurist may just smell a political strain that is not unrelated to what is happening in other areas of criminal justice – we have a Justice “Ministry” (with all the evangelical zeal that implies)  that now lambasts it’s own civil servants for the failings of the prison system, allows the restocking of prison libraries and generally enlisting the values of the New Testament in place of the Old. In doing so there is belated recognition that over those 30 years the prison population has doubled. The proportion of young people incarcerated in this Country, despite recent reversals, remains scandalously high.

This judgment will go a long way to stopping the interminable waste of young people – disproportionately black – rotting in detention centres and prisons for year after year well beyond condign punishment or meaningful rehabilitation.

Joint Enterprise Law- a pre-Jogee history

For those of you who have not had a chance to study the judgement, the Supreme Court reviewed the evolution of the common law principles of joint enterprise (or common purpose) from the 19th century. It noted about then there was an important clarification away from the belief that it was sufficient that the conduct of the principal was a probable consequence of the common purpose, it had to be part of the common purpose. This identified the fundamental distinction: whilst a probable consequence was always going to be an important consideration for a jury when deciding what the common purpose of the defendants was, it was not sufficient on its own to fix criminal liability. The judgment highlights the important (but until now overlooked) line of authority from:-

R v Collison (1831) 4 Car & P 565 – an accomplice of an apple thief who attacked the landowner’s watchman with a bludgeon would only be guilty if that was part of the common purpose should resistance be encountered; 

R v Skeet (1866) 4 F & F 931 – poachers routinely carry weapons and it is necessary to find a common design or intention, beyond poaching, to kill or cause grievous bodily harm for homicide; 

R v Spraggett [1960] Crim LR 840 – a burglar’s conviction for the killing by his co-accomplice was not safe where the trial judge wrongly directed that a common intention to commit a burglary was the same as a common intention to commit violence;

 R V Reid [1976] 62 Cr App R 109 – the appellant was correctly convicted of manslaughter – not murder – when he attended the home of an army colonel in the early hours of the morning with others who were carrying weapons including firearms as the common purpose was clearly to cause harm even though he did not intend death or grievous bodily harm (though he might have been said to foresee it).

 However, in Chang Wing-Siu [1985] AC 168 the Privy Council extended the doctrine beyond this – three appellants had gone to the flat of a prostitute to rob her husband carrying knives which were in fact used to slash her and kill him. They complained about a direction at trial that they would be guilty if they contemplated a knife might be used with intent to commit serious bodily harm. They said the level of contemplation had to be more than 50%. The PC rightly rejected that argument but then went on to create a new form of “parasitic accessory liability” where “it turns on contemplation or, putting the same idea in other words, authorization, which may be express but is more usually implied. It meets the case of a crime foreseen as a possible incident of the common unlawful enterprise. The criminal liability lies in participating in the venture with that foresight”.

 This novel development was confirmed by the House of Lords in R v Powell & English [1999] 1 AC 1 where Lord Hutton recognised the logical anomaly it created in that the principal who merely foresaw a possibility would not meet the mens rea of murder but the person who had not actually killed would. However, there were strong policy reasons in the area of criminal conduct for holding that to be the case. Lord Steyn agreed whilst Lord Mustill also did with more unease. In English’s case his appeal was successful as the knife produced by his co-accused was “fundamentally different” from the wooden post he had used in the joint attack on the police officer.

The Jogee Judgment

The Supreme Court acknowledged that the courts could make the doctrine more severe but only with caution especially for a secondary party. Five reasons swayed them: (1) they had the benefit of a much fuller analysis of important case law; (2) the common law is not working well in practice: (3) it is an important doctrine that has taken a wrong turn; (4) foresight is no more than evidence of intent and (5) it is not right that the liability of a secondary party is set lower than the principal. [paras 80-84]. From now on what matters is whether the accessory encouraged or assisted the crime committed by the principal. “Fundamental departure” is no longer a useful part of the doctrine but merely a consideration of what was foreseeable when weighing up evidential considerations.

Of course, the Supreme Court reminded us that a change in the law does not provide an automatic ground of appeal. And even where it can be argued that the doctrine was misapplied the Court of Appeal will only grant leave to appeal out of time if the applicant can demonstrate a “substantial injustice”. However, given the disparity between a determinate sentence for manslaughter and the mandatory sentence for murder that should not be an insurmountable obstacle – though it may result in a re-trial rather than an acquittal.          

 What stopped this injustice in the end was the relentless pushing of the lawyers. My client, 16 years old, of good character and 200 yards from the stabbing was refused a certified question by the Court of Appeal three years ago and after 18 months of waiting also denied admissibility by the European Court, so hats off to those who got there. But it would not have happened but for the irresistible weight of a liberal consensus that this was wrong. That consensus had built over the past 5 years thanks to interests groups. These were mainly the parents of young people serving life sentences. They found support from campaigners concerned with youth justice (JENGA and JFK being the most prominent) but it included many journalists (one being Melanie McFadyean at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism) and the media (Fran Robertson – who made Guilty by Association). Whilst there has been an important Law Commission report in 2007, it would have gathered dust, like most, but for the campaigning. That led to parliamentary engagement. In 2011 a Parliamentary Justice Committee started to take evidence from a wide spectrum of those involved including the victims’ families – and it was often the victims (or near victims) in the witness box and the “winning” group in the dock. A consensus grew that joint enterprise as applied to the accessories to a crime and especially murder, was a lottery which had to stop. (3) The lottery had many outlets. It often started with a wide prosecutorial discretion: what an individual lawyer considered foreseeable? Of course across the country different cultures developed and these would determine who got a ticket for this lottery or who got offered a public order charge or was not prosecuted at all. Once in court it depended on the discretion of the lawyers on both sides to advise defendants and victims to accept pleas or proceed with uncertain outcomes. Ultimately the judge was then left to tip toe through labyrinthine jury directions. Finally the burden on juries was huge – as was the consequences for those in the dock. Ultimately, it took our most senior lawyers to admit we had been getting it wrong (or had “taken a wrong turn”as they delicately put it)  In fact, it had been a devastating lurch to the right in the criminal law. It’s always political.

Who would have foreseen all this during the depressing days of January?!

Blog by Greg Stewart of GT Stewart, February 2016   

  
Editor’s Notes

1 Civil Rights Editor endured dry January to raise money for cancer relief and can be sponsored here!

2 The celebrations by criminal legal aid lawyers throughout February arose from this statement by Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, over-turning the disastrous, unfair contract tendering scheme introduced by his appallingly inept and hated predecessor Chris Grayling. Leading  law firm GT Stewart were one of the firms  taking legal action against the MoJ over the botched procurement, and welcomed the climbdown.

3 There were numerous calls for reform by lawyers for years (see eg this recent blog by Ronnie Manek)

Duty Solicitors Unite-don’t break the link! Guest Blog by Bev Hockley

Introduction by Greg Foxsmith

Criminal Legal Aid Lawyers of certain experience can apply to become duty solicitors. 

Duty Solicitors can represent people needing legal advice in criminal courts who have not instructed their own solicitors, and do so in rotation via a published rota administered via the Legal Aid Authority. 

The scheme was devised to provide solicitors for clients, not clients for solicitors, but in recent years the rotas became overloaded with providers, many of whom were not actually representing clients, but allowing their slots to be covered by others (sometimes for remuneration). These non-attendees have become known as “ghosts.”

The MoJ and LAA will soon be considering how to allocate duty “slots” when the new rotas are published, and how to tackle ghosts. 

In this blog freelance solicitor Bev Hockley says what she thinks  about long -standing proposals by the  “Big Firms Group*”   to “break the link”  between duty solicitors and the slots allocated to them on the duty rotas. (This proposal would mean that duty slots are allocated not to solicitors, but in blocks to firms.) The following is her answer:-

Ghosts’ have flourished in plain sight as named Duty Solicitors on rotas for years. 

 ‘Breaking the link’ by replacing Duty Solicitors slots in firms names will only serve to perpetuate this problem by providing ‘Ghosts’ with additional protection from detection.

 We have successfully challenged the implementation of Contracting Duty Solicitor work by asserting it would drive down the quality of fundamental front line services at the police station and magistrates court.

 ‘Breaking the link’ would rapidly evaporate this achievement and facilitate every ambition the Contracting proposals set out to accomplish. 

 The prestige of PIN numbers would become meaningless. 

 Every firm would have the tempting opportunity to replace highly experienced DS, employees and consultants alike, with inexperienced bargain-basement representation.

 The provision of quality services can only be preserved by maintaining the link between named and appointed DS on rotas.

 For those representing the profession in current crucial post Contract negotiations, the last bastion of guardianship must be to protect this link with the same tenacity which defeated the ill-fated Contracting proposals. 

Postscript

Keeping the link is important to all duty solicitors, not just freelancers! Solicitors in London who want to contribute to the debate should consider joining the LCCSA, a representative body with a democratically elected committee. In addition, Freelancers may want to attend a meeting for Freelance Solicitors at the Queens Head in Kings Cross on Monday 15th February at 6pm, or contact Theresa Hendrickx by texting  07949243949 for more information on the Freelancers Association mailing list. 

Bev Hockley, 12/02/2016

Bev Hockey trained at Hickman and Rose and has represented clients both as an employee and consultant at the police station and magistrate’s court for nearly 20 years. Bev is currently a consultant with Edward Fail Bradshaw and Waterson

Don’t break the chain



* The Big Firms Group” (or BFG) is an unelected body set up to represent the interests of “big firms” with a Criminal Legal Aid contract. There has been a doubt for some time as to whether they are a unified body and who exactly they speak for. It may only be a small number of firms with other firms historically under the BFG umbrella not wholly in support of recent positions. However, what is clear is that spokespeople for the BFG lobbied the MoJ in support of consolidation (and were supporters of the disastrous “two-tier” contracting) and appear to still be recognised as a “representative body” by the MoJ, despite apparently having no clear mandate or constitution. 

Time to replace the Criminal Court Charge with a fair and simple system

The unloved Criminal Court Charge is unfair in principle, and unworkable in practice. Time for a rethink!

(An earlier draft of this blog was published here on the Justice Gap Website.)

Introduced without consultation, debate or Parliamentary vote, it has by removing discretion created an inflexible system with sometimes draconian consequences that have offended justice to the extent that Magistrates have resigned over the issue.

The charge is applied even to defendants with no ability to pay- the homeless man fined for begging, the shoplifter stealing food to feed their children, the alcoholic street drinker for breaching an asbo, and the criminal without savings who has just received a lengthy prison term.

The principle – that criminals should pay toward the cost of the Courts that hear their cases as a result of their crime-can be justified (although it rather assumes that all crime is either a conscious decision or “lifestyle choice” rather than acts unplanned or arising from external circumstances or mental illness). But the replacement of discretionary costs awards, subject to means and the circumstances of the offence, with a fixed mandatory amount is risible, and have now been condemned by the Justice Committee. (Report, November 2015)

With a higher charge on conviction, It is an incentive to plead guilty irrespective of guilt, at least for the poor ( a banker on a motoring case who can afford to pay  a “Mr Loophole” type lawyer privately in the hope of getting off may not worry about the CCC, a student in debt with a disputed drunk and disorderly charge may be worried about the costs if convicted after trial)

Why should the Charge go to “Court” costs, rather than eg Prosecution costs (still discretionary, and now often reduced to take into account the Court charge) or indeed the defence costs in Legal Aid cases? (1)

A New Approach

Let us scrap the Criminal Court Charge.  Let us also scrap “contributions”  toward prosecution costs, and the Victim Surcharge. (although for compensation, see note 2 below)

And -please- let us not introduce a “Defence Charge” (or any other new charges)

 There should instead be one charge available to the Court.

Let us call it the ” Criminal Case Charge.” (3)

There can be a presumption in favour of an award being made, and it should be reduced for guilty pleas, but it must be discretionary, and take into account the means of the offender, and the nature of the sentence passed.

It can be punitive for the rich offender, eg the wealthy fraudster on dishonesty who has soaked up enormous costs in lengthy jury trials with little prospect of imprisonment if convicted.

It can be reduced or even waived for those imprisoned or with no means to pay.

The money could be divided between all the components of the Justice System. 94)
This would simplify the system, bring revenue into the Justice System from those who desrve to pay and can afford to pay, without penalising those undeserving or unable to pay.

It could actually bring Justice back into the Justice system.
Greg Foxsmith 26/11/2015

Notes

1 Currently on conviction (or guilty plea) the Court will be invited to make an award toward Prosecution costs, which when granted offsets their costs, wheras the legal aid costs (pitiful in comparison) receive no such award- and thus we hear the wailing about the “high” legal aid budget, which receives no share of the defendants “costs” awards when convicted, and no contribution from the Prosecution budget in cases which have collapsed or been discontinued but which should never have been brought.

2 The Courts should retain the power to award compensation, which should take precedence over the new  charge, just as it does now (one of the unintended consequences of the Criminal Court Charge being that Magistrates compelled to make the charge have sometimes reduced compensation as a result)

3 Actually, you can call it what you like. The “Universal Charge”?  The “Justice Levy”?

4 It could be eg 30% each to Court Service, Prosecution and Legal Aid budgets, with 10% to a Victim Service (Victim Support, Witness Care)

Observations on the Inquest of Imran Douglas, died aged 18, in Belmarsh Prison. Verdict: Suicide

“…and was found suspended in his cell”.Those factually accurate, if rather mundane words, conclude the narrative verdict of a Jury enquiry into a suicide in Belmarsh prison of an 18 year old.

Introduction 

On 13 November 2013 Imran Douglas took his own life in Belmarsh Prison.

On 08 November he had been sentenced to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey.

I had previously blogged about his death here.

Imran was only 18 years old, vulnerable, and was an acknowledged risk of suicide or self-harm. He should have been in Feltham Young Offenders Institution rather than Belmarsh high security adult prison. 

Inquest

The Inquest into Imran’s death reconvened on 12 October 2015, the day after what would have been his 20th birthday. The evidence was presented before an Inquest jury at Southwark Coroner’s Court, who heard from representatives of the prison service and social services, amongst others, and lasted three weeks.

Imran’s family attended every day, and I was able to attend for a few days to support Imran’s Mum Carla.

This blog was written with Carla, and is dedicated to her.

Carla has provided the photos of Imran which are reproduced with her permission. Representation below (notes)

The short life and tragic death of Imran Douglas.

Imran was born on 11 October 1995. 

  
His parents separated and Imran was brought up in East London primarily by his father and stepmother, and much later for a short period with Carla in Cambridge. 

In April 2012 he was crossing a road in London when he was hit by a speeding police vehicle, which put Imran into a coma, and after he regained consciousness was found to have a severe personality change.

On 24 May 2013 he committed a horrendous murder. He was still only 17.

He was arrested the same day. He remained in custody until his death, less than 6 months later, and just 5 days after he had been sentenced to life imprisonment (with a minimum tariff of 18 years)

He hung himself in a solitary cell, in Belmarsh Prison, on 13 November 2013, just one month after his 18th birthday. Although he should have been under observation, by the time prison staff had found Imran’s body, rigor mortis had begun to set in. 

The murder of Mrs Gilbey

In writing about the death of Imran, and describing his life and death as a tragedy, it may be suggested that the enormity of his crime is overlooked. It is not. The principal victim here is Margery Gilbey, the person killed by Imran. 
She was an innocent, vulnerable elderly lady who lost her life in a brutal and undeserved attack for which Imran was responsible.

Imran recognised that, acknowledging his guilt by pleading guilty (a rarity in murder cases)

His family also recognise that, were appalled at the crime Imran had committed, and have never sought to justify his act, minimise his role or diminish the enormity of his crime. 

Everybody without exception is appalled by that crime, and all feel sorrow at the loss of Mrs Gilbey, and sympathy for her family. Finding sympathy for Imran or his family will understandably be harder, because his short life will be defined by and remembered for his homicidal act. But if it is too much to expect sympathy, we could at least look for understanding.

Carla has had to struggle both to understand how and why her son could have committed that fatal crime, as well as how and why Imran’s life ended so abruptly soon afterwards.

There will be some who say that Imran deserved to die, and doubtless few other than his family who will shed tears at his loss. They are entitled to that view. But for Carla and his family, they have endured a double tragedy. Firstly struggling to come to terms with what Imran did, and the consequences of that for the victim and her surviving family, as well as for Imran and then learning of his sudden death. 

And all of us should recognise that a death of a young person in custody is a tragedy, and a failing of our Justice system. We have in the UK the most punitive sentencing regime in Europe, we imprison more young people and for longer than any other European Country, but we do not have the death penalty. If the appropriate penalty is punishment by deprivation of freedom, then we as a civilised Country should expect that the custodial environment should be humane, safe and rehabilitative. 

Who was Imran Douglas?

Imran was brought up and schooled in east London. 
He had an elder sister. They both lived with his father and step-mother, there was nothing extraordinary about his upbringing, and no indicators of violence, gang associations or issues with drugs or alcohol. He had some behavioural issues at school, and was due to be assessed for ADHD. He was outgoing, communicative and remembered by his family as a happy, outgoing child. Carla recalls his “cheeky smile”.

  
Imran After the Accident


 On 07 April 2012 Imran was hit by a police car travelling at high speed. 

Imran suffered a severe brain injury as a direct result, and was admitted to hospital where he remained in a coma. He suffered “focal haemorrhages in both his frontal lobes” and post-traumatic amnesia for three weeks. After coming out of the coma, it was recorded that he was left with the mental capacity/cognition of a 6-11 year old, with “mood swings, memory loss and episodes of extreme low mood when he considers harming himself”. 

It was also noted that his IQ was reduced to 55, which places him in the category of “learning difficulty”.

Initial repors post-accident show Imran had problems with memory recall, planning, impulsivity and organising. (Later assements (Bluebell House, below) appeared to show some progress in recovery, but the family believe he never fully recovered and continued to exhibit erratic behaviour )

He became short-tempered, and his family noted anger-management issues and occasional aggressive behaviour. After his release from hospital, Carla noted a severe personality change. “It was as if Imran were a different person”. 

Imran was seen by Occupational Health until November 2012, but by January 2013 Imran was reported to have become “morose”, withdrawn and “talking about killing himself.”

After discharge from hospital Imran remained in East London initially with family before putting himself into the care of Tower Hamlets Council (he became a “looked after person”)

By April 2013 Imran was regularly “missing” from home, and his father asked Social Services for help.

On 15 May Imran was by agreement taken into care by Tower Hamlets Local Authority. He was accommodated in Norman Grove Care Home, but this was a bad judgement and the placement did not go well. Imran’s father asked for him to return home, but with support. 

Sadly, the next call they had was following Imran’s arrest.

Imran in custody

Imran remained in custody from his arrest, as would be normal on a murder charge. As a 17 year old remanded in custody Imran spent some time in Medway Secure Training Centre (run by G4S) following his arrest, and the remaining time in Feltham Young Offenders Institution (other than a period of assessment in Bluebell House secure hospital for assessment) .

As an 18 year old following sentence, he was technically eligible to be detained in an adult prison, following a recent (and controversial) change in prison regulations. In his particular case, although he was therefore eligible for transfer to an adult prison, he should NOT in fact have been sent to Belmarsh after sentence, but returned to Feltham until a transition plan was prepared.
He arrived at Belmarsh, without all the proper paperwork, and the little information available was ignored. He was given a perfunctory assessment, and confined in a solitary cell in a normal wing.

He was the first eighteen year old ever to be sent directly to Belmarsh following sentence.

He lasted less than a week.

Questions 

The inquest was an enquiry into the cause of death for Imran. 
How is it that a young man in custody and therefore in the care of the State, is able to take his own life? Much of what Carla wanted to know was beyond the remit of the jury, but she had the following questions:-

-To what extent (if at all) was the car accident that apparently changed his personality a causal or contributory factor to Imran’s homicidal act? No jury findings on this point

-Was Imran properly assessed and adequately cared for and supervised by the health and mental authorities responsible for his discharge from hospital and post discharge care and treatment? No answers on this point

-Did Tower Hamlets Council,  responsible for Imran’s care after he became a “looked after” child under the responsibility of Social Services, properly discharge their duty of care to him? 

Not directly answered by the jury, but the sentencing judge had been very critical of Tower Hamlets’ failure to appropriate place Imran before the offence. 

-What was it that caused Imran to kill (Carla appreciates that it is unlikely she will ever receive an answer to that question)

-Why after sentence was Imran sent to Belmarsh high security adult prison, rather than Feltham YOI? 

The jury found a catalogue of errors, of planning, supervision and communication.

-Why did Belmarsh not receive the proper paperwork and medical records, alerting them to Imran’s risk and vulnerabilities? Why did Belmarsh fail to properly assess or recognise Imran as a vulnerable young person, particularly given the obvious circumstances of his age and the sentence that had just been passed. The inquest heard of a woefully poor assessment system, that ignored warning factor

-Why did he take his own life? He was depressed, suicidal and vulnerable, but warning signs were ignored.

-How was he able to take his own life, and why did the prison authorities fail to prevent him? 

Tragically, Imran was just one of many young people who took their life in prison. Report into prison deaths here.

  

Chronology

11/10/95 Imran born

07/04/12  Imran hit by police vehicle

15/05/13 Imran taken into care

24/05/13 Imran commits murder 

13/07/13 transfers to Bluebird House hospital for psychiatric assessment 

17/09/13 transferred to Feltham YOI

07/10/13 Imran pleads guilty to murder

08/11/13 Imran sentenced to life imprisonment, goes to Belmarsh

13/11/13 Imran dies in Belmarsh Prison.

A Note Summarising the Findings of the Jury 

Jury Conclusion : Suicide.  Narrative Note summarised:

Imran Douglas had a history of suicidal thoughts of which his family, the youth offending team, and some,but unfortunately not all, of those responsible for his welfare in custody were aware. Despite the manifest risk of suicide there were a number of significant factors contributing to his death, including a lack of planning, and a failure of care.
There was a systemic lack of communication between, and within, almost all the agencies involved most notably within Feltham Young Offenders Institution”
Imran had just turned 18 and was sentenced following the introduction of a new policy of locating offenders aged 18 to 21 in an adult prison family.
A principal factor was his presence in Belmarsh prison, to which it was never intended to should be sent. He arrived in the month after his 18th birthday having been sentenced to a minimum of 18 years for murder (far longer than he had expected)

The reason Imran was in Belmarsh was the failure of management and staff at Feltham to draw up a transition plan for him as he neared his 18th birthday and sentence. 
Nobody took responsibility to make arrangements, and inexplicably nobody contacted the youth Justice board regarding his future allocation 

As a result no one was aware of what was intended for Imran on the day he was sentenced.

The jury found a “serious and unacceptable failure in communication.

 When Imran did not return to Feltham no enquiries were made as to where he had gone.

There were reports about Imran which showed in the starkest terms that he was a suicide risk.

 A critical shortcoming was the basis of decisions about Imran when he was at Feltham. starting off with his discharge from mental health care which wrongly placed him as a “low risk”

Imran then had sent a letter to the judge before sentence containing a direct threat to kill himself and there were further indicators of self harm in a Pre-Sentence Report which again appear to have been disregarded by all those who should have acted.

 When Imran arrived at Belmarsh, reception staff were dismissive of any potential risk and a Care UK nurse at reception dismissed any concerns as “inappropriate”. 

Imran was superficially assessed and passed fit. 

It is clear from the evidence that staff at Belmarsh were well aware the prison was about to handle 18 to 21-year-olds for the first time, however there was no effort to pay any special attention to particularly young prisoners arriving, nor where they told anything about the environment from which they were coming. “Even experienced officers were not aware of Imran’s background from his records at Feltham”

Staff did not act on the fact that he had transferred straight from a young offenders institution and in very difficult circumstances. 

He was given the most basic of assessments and a GP examination was even more cursory, merely noting that Imran “feels okay”. 

A Psychiatric report had been faxed to Belmarsh by the court and uploaded by mental health staff at the prison, but not fully opened or read.

When a decision was finally made that Imran should be transferred to the ” vulnerable prisoner unit”,  it was full so he was placed in an ordinary adult block. His cell, by the admission of prison staff at all levels, was not suitable. 

He had limited scope for association. Staff on his block were not told they had a vulnerable person or an 18 year old in their charge. Those who saw him on the Tuesday noted that he did not want to come out other than to collect his meal (not even to make a phone call that might have told the outside world where he was) but detected no signs of abnormality. However, a prisoner in an adjoining cell had conversations with Imran and found him nervous.

Imran remained under routine supervision until the moment next morning when he was found suspended in his cell.

Conclusion

Imran was the first 18 year old ever sent to Belmarsh prison following sentence.He lasted less than a week.

Carla hopes that lessons will be learned, so that if youths continue to be sent to Belmarsh, they will be better looked after than Imran was.

  

Notes

1 To find out more about the issues surrounding the shocking rate of self-harm and suicide in British prisons, check out and support the campaigning charity INQUEST

2 Carla was supported by Inquest, and represented by  Kirsten Heaven instructed by Charlotte Haworth Hird of Bindmans