Category Archives: Featured

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

LCCSA- President’s Speech , AGM, 09 November 2015

Welcome to the LCCSAGM!

1 The thank-you bit

It is of course an enormous privilege to become LCCSA President. I am struggling to come to terms with my election, as is Jon Black, who has proved remarkably reluctant to relinquish the President’s medal (or as Jon has taken to calling it, “my precious”…)

  
I’m not sure if Jon had taken to sleeping with the medallion , but when he eventually handed it over there were a couple of chest hairs still attached…

It’s also a bit daunting accepting this responsibility, given the high calibre of my predecessors, many of whom are here tonight.
I joined the committee when Akhtar was President, followed by Nicola, two top quality acts.

I have to say its hard to follow on from Jon. His hard work over the last year has been an inspiration. 

Thankfully, he stays on the committee for a further year.

Sadly however, we lose some committee members -and I add my thanks to Zaki, Ed, Julian, Nicola,and Tim. 

First toast – Jon Black and the retiring committee.

2 Meet the Team

The good news is we have retained all of our co-opted senior statesman-Steve Bird, Ray Shaw, Malcolm Duxbury and the legendary Paul Harris. 

We also have retained the services of Ali, Sandra, Rhona and Lucinda.

Rakesh becomes our treasurer, Mark Troman our secretary, Mel Stooks stays on as media officer,and will be looking after the Advocate, with which she will be helped by Emma Lipscombe, Diana remains training officer and Tony covers Law Reform. 

And the wonderful Jenny Wiltshire is a fantastic Vice-President. She has asked me to make it clear she does not wish to be President next year, so ladies and gentleman… there is a vacancy for next November!

I want to introduce you to our new members:-

Leigh Webber….Daniel Godden….Pam Reddy….Charmaine Jaipaul….Kerry Hudson 

Our committee is diverse, and has firm owners, employees, freelancers, contract winners, contract losers, white-collar crime firms, legal aid firms and private, extradition lawyers, those that use in-house advocates and those who brief counsel. I want to keep this Association relevant and vibrant , meaningful and fun. We don’t just want to represent you, we want to involve you.

Toast- the new committee

3 The President’s wife
So… President. How did that happen?
Having been parachuted in at short notice, I’ve had very little time to prepare or get used to the idea.

If I had planned this AGM, it wouldn’t have been in a swanky restaurant at £60 a ticket. I thought, none of my mates are going to pay that to come along on a Monday night in November. 

But here you all here, you fat-cats you!  This magnificent attendance is,I think, an LCCSA record for an AGM, and shows this Association is in good fettle. I thank you.

I still haven’t got used to the idea of being President.

Mrs F, however has already become used to the idea of being a president’s wife. She has become increasingly gubernatorial, and very grand. Please do genuflect and pay all due obsequies before her.

Those who know us both know that she really is my better half. I have always, quite rightly, bowed before her, but this morning for the first time I was  reprimanded for “not bowing deeply enough”

Toast-the President’s wife

4 A life of crime

So, how did I end up here?

My first experience of justice goes back long before I became a lawyer and relates to an unfortunate incident when I was at school as follows:-

(Anecdote removed- not suitable for on-line publication )    c e n s o r e d

… then the teacher called me forward 
“Foxsmith did you  c e n s o r e d ?!

NO I lied.   Shameful.

I know, you are disgusted.

An Interview without caution, not advised of right to silence, and without an appropriate adult!

The interrogation continued

“Then why ….c e n s o r e d …c e n s o r e d

I know what you are thinking.  Outrageous!  This hadn’t been raised in pre-interview disclosure!

I was “convicted” in this shocking travesty of justice!
As you are all lawyers I tell you this story in confidence and ask you to apply LPP- its certainly not a story suitable for social media!

But I learned an important lesson from that experience.

Always make “no comment”. 

I was later anyway expelled from school just after fireworks day 30 years ago. I had been working as a Saturday job in a shop that sold fireworks, and the manager gave me some damaged boxes that he couldn’t sell. There then followed a small misunderstanding about a pyrotechnic device in a classroom, and (c e n s o r e d) 

Foxsmith, if you don’t mend your ways you’ll end up spending your life in the criminal justice system”

And here I am.

5 Articles (Edward Fail )

After qualifying, I started at EFBW 222 years ago this month.  One of the first people I met there was newly qualified solicitor David Macintosh, who beame a good friend.  We lost David this year (obituary here) and there have been others whose passing we mourn.

Toast: To absent friends

Other heavyweight lawyers at the firm were my supervising partner Eddie Preston, Howard Riddle (now Chief Magistrate), Nigel Dean (now DJ Dean) John Lafferty (now HHJ Lafferty, and my good friend and outstanding lawyer Peter Fallen, who I am delighted to see here tonight. 
And not forgetting Paul Harris.

Paul has served 25 years at Edward Fail.

He has served several lifetimes at the LCCSA. He was President, and has remained an active supporter, writing and editing the TT, serving on committees, meeting Secretaries of State, mixing it up with Judges on the CRC.

He is hard-working, loyal, dedicated -and is by unanimous approval of the committee a most deserving recipient of the LCCSA Lifetime membership award, which, previously unbeknown to him, we are now about to present via our guest Karl Turner       Paul , come up please

  

Members , please raise your glasses and toast….Paul Harris!

6 An introduction to the LCCSA

It was whilst at EFBW that I was first introduced to the LCCSA.

I couldn’t join as an “articled clerk” , but came to the Summer dinner- or the “touts ball” as it was still known -when a solicitor couldn’t attend.  I was possibly the youngest attendee there.

It was black tie, and the Grosvenor ballroom was crammed full of hundreds of senior lawyers, Judges, QCs, partners.   I apprehensively descended the staircase, into bacchanalian mayhem.

There was reckless and heavy consumption of alcohol and …c e n s o r e d , the speeches were drowned out in a cacophony of noise, and there was later a disco where portly senior counsel with red braces matching their dickie bows were throwing themselves around like John Travolta.

It was a hideous, Hogarthian display of unrestrained over indulgence. 

I loved it.

After articles I joined a firm in Walthamstow where I began my advocacy, attending daily at WFMC.
Those who say solicitor advocates “don’t have the training”, clearly didn’t have the experience of daily attending a MC with a busy list, and defending in trials before case-hardened magistrates.

It was the very best training.

On my first day I represented somebody with 50+ convictions, which was therefore at 50 more court appearances than I had. 

I worried I may be of little little practical help in offering advice to one so experienced. I asked him about his plea “is it G or NG?”

To which he thought carefully and then replied:- ” remind me- which is which?”

7 HJA and Shearman Bowen

I later moved to HJA 
I built up Civil Libs experience, and enjoyed deploying the HRA. Happy times.

Unfortunately, there was a dark cloud hovering over us at that time, a malevolent, brooding presence.

I refer of course to the Carter review. 

At the time that was considered to portend the destruction of criminal legal aid work as we knew it. Little did we know what was to come.

Next: Shearman Bowen 
There I gained Higher Rights and began advocacy at the Crown Court. I have enjoyed that ever since, but am constantly reminded of the status of HCAs. I know my place!
One of my hopes for this year ahead is to improve and extend Advocacy Training through the LCCSA, working with SAHCA.

SAHCA -who are represented her tonight-battled for better treatment of HCAs, and successfully won the right for Solicitor Advocates to wear wigs in the interests of parity, a right I have myself not chosen to exercise. Last week there was a report published which criticised the experiences of non-lawyer participants at the Crown Court, in which reference was made to the alienation felt by ordinary court users confronted by barristers swishing about in gowns and wigs. 

A spirited defence of wigs  was made by some of our bewigged friends at the bar- “dignity of the court, providing anonymity, staus, the confidence it gives young or junior counsel…” etc

Perhaps after all the wearing of a wig enhances the status of the advocate.

I will try it now, and judge for yourselves whether there is an improvement… (dons wig. Remainder of speech with enhanced advocacy)

  

Finally- freelancing. I think I am the first President who is an independent freelancer. 
But throughout all I have been in the LCCSA.
I have enjoyed the benefits and the camaraderie.

As President, I will keep the traditions and key services, but do some things differently too, I’ve blogged about it, no need to repeat it here tonight.

8 LCCSA Police Station ID card

I even have an LCCSA Police Station ID card, although not renewed mine since 1999. 

  
For several years I had annually renewed and always carried my ID card, but never actually been required to produce it. 

Until….the one day that I forgot to carry the card, which of course was the day that PC Precious demanded one. 

I had other ID of course, and explained my role.

“But how do I know you are a solicitor?” asked our suspicious  Plod.

I looked him steadily in the eye, and replied as follows:-

“It is the middle of the night, this Police station is in the middle of nowhere, and the suspect I am asked to represent is pyschotic….who the hell else but a solicitor would put up with this c e n s o r e d on these hourly rates?”

Ignoring the logic of this, Plod again suggested that I may be an “imposter”, to which I responded that he may want to arrest me for Pervertingthe Course of Justice or impersonating a solicitor, which would at least achieve mr required wish and get me into custody.

PC Plod persisted in his protestations that I would not gain access. Tempting though that thought was, I resolved:-

Firstly, that I would gain access (which I did) and furthermore that I would never again carry an ID card to a police station (which I have not) -and although my childish response has created many an enjoyable argument over the years, it is not a course of conduct that I recommend others to follow….

I still have that 1999 card. (Pictured above)

I still had hair then.I no longer have the hair. Perhaps another reason why I am, after all, better off with a wig….

9 Fighting for Justice

For last 3 years the LCCSA committee have been on a rollercoaster. 

We have been under a sustained attack, and we have fought back. 

We have campaigned, protested, demonstrated, withdrawn services, and been on strike.

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

To be perfectly blunt, he was a total  c e n s o r e d

We have rallied in Parliament square, outside Westminster Magistrates Court, the Old Bailey and MoJ HQ, and we walked from Runnymede to Westminster, and an impeachment hearing for the Lord Chancellor.

Campaigning together, fighting for justice. I carry the scars on my back:-

  

And we took legal action against the MoJ, with our JR at the High Court. I was at all those events, this committee were there, and I know that in person or in spirit you were all there every step of the way.

We now have an opportunity to talk to Mr Gove and the Government,and to make the case against cuts and for a properly funded sustainable justice system.

This year we will by necessity be less focussed on direct campaigning, this is a year for consolidation and focussing on our core commitments. 

 10 And in conclusion…

As a freelancer, I work for big firms and small, private and legal aid, two-tier contracts, single-tier contracts and lots- of -tears no contracts.

I want the Association to represent all those interests too. I want us to be more diverse, broader, larger, stronger.

I want to be representative and democratic- its your association – what do you want from it, what can you give to it?

If you are not already a member, please join.

If you are a member, encourage others to join.

Please give generously to our JR costs appeal.

(fundraising appeal)
I pass now to our guest speaker, Karl Turner MP.

Karl was a barrister who practiced criminal law, and now ably represents his Hull constituency,one of the safest Labour seats. He has been and remains a staunch supporter of Legal Aid, and spoke at our rally in Parliament Square.

Karl, we are very glad to have you here.
Members, friends, thank you all for coming.

With your help and support the LCCSA has a strong future.

Final toast -the LCCSA

  

   

 

 

Community Advice Offer extended to More Courts

Guest blog by Joanne Thomas  (see author note below)

Introduction: “People in Court sometimes need more advice than just legal advice

Many of the people who come through magistrates’ court commit low-level offences and go on to commit them again and again without the underlying causes being tackled. Typically, the seriousness of offences means they receive fines or conditional discharges and therefore no support from statutory agencies. But very often they end up returning to court – 40% of fines go unpaid and a third of people receiving a conditional discharge reoffend within a year.

The South West model

In South West England, action is taken to stop this revolving door via CASS (http://cassplus.org/). CASS is a service that has been running for almost ten years and provides support to people coming to court in Plymouth, Truro and Bodmin. It is open to anyone – defendants, but also victims, witnesses and family members. There are very few limits on the kind of help that the service will provide. While there are some mainstays – namely drug and alcohol treatment referrals, information about community mental health care, practical support with debts or benefits – CASS has helped clients across with a huge range of issues. See our recent evaluation of this service here

The Community Advice Service at Highbury

Inspired by this work, we at the Centre for Justice Innovation worked with partners from the North London Local Justice Area over 18 months to see whether we could set up something similar at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court. The result is the Community Advice service, which has been delivered by RCJ Advice Bureau (http://www.rcjadvice.org.uk/) from the court since January 2015. Attending court can be confusing and intimidating, so the service works to identify those in need of immediate help, engaging the majority through proactive targeting in court rooms and public areas, as well as receiving referrals from solicitors, court staff and probation. The people seen present with a range of difficulties, with the most common being housing, benefits and debt, and mental health.  

Community Advice is currently delivered by a paid coordinator and team of CAB-trained volunteers. It provides immediate help and advice with practical issues such as benefit claims, debt and housing, as well as offering emotional support. It also helps people find out about and access long-term support services in the community such as alcohol treatment, mental health services and supported housing.

But most importantly of all, the service needs to know if it is making a difference to those using it. The team follows up with everyone who agrees to this for up to six months to check on their progress and see if they need any more support. The outcomes being reported are very positive, with 60% of people contacted at six months saying their issues have been resolved. Additionally, at two weeks, a third reported their issues were either resolved or better, rising to almost two thirds two months after using the service. A third of people using the service had visited the referrals that had been made by the service after two weeks, and this increased to 80% by two months. The majority of people at all stages of follow-up reported a high levels of helpfulness from the services to which they had been referred.  


Could More be Done?

With such positive outcomes, the question remains as to why this kind of service is not more prevalent. Pulling together the right partners and identifying funding can be challenging, but tackling the underlying problems that lead people to commit crime not only helps the individual but can also help the criminal justice system to meet its aims as well as being better for society overall. 

Conclusion

We remain keen to identify and work with other courts to recognise the benefits of services such as this and where appropriate to develop similar initiatives that respond to the needs of the people who continue to come through their courts time and again. 

The author

Joanne Thomas is Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation, a research and development charity which works towards a British justice system that reduces crime and in which all of our people can place their trust.

  
 

David Wilson:- 1014-or the Long Prehistory of Magna Carta

Guest Blog by David Wilson (Director, TV Series Producer)Reproduced with his kind permission, this article was first published on David’s website here.

1014-or the long prehistory of Magna Carta 

This year with many books and exhibitions we remember the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. That’s terrific, but however important the events of 1215, as it turned out, don’t imagine that they were only, or even the first time an English king had been wrestled to the conference table by his subjects.
We should perhaps have been celebrating two years ago – and the anniversary would have been millennial. 1014 saw the penultimate crisis in the disastrous reign of Aethelred the ‘Unready’ [978-1016]. Son of the great Edgar, whose prestige dominated the British isles and glowed throughout Europe, this ‘badly-advised’ [unraed in old English, hence ‘unready’] monarch brought his Kingdom to destruction by a mixture of willful politics and military failure. Assailed by renewed attacks from Denmark, latterly led by the Danish king Swein Forkbeard, in the winter of 1013 Aethelred lost control of the country altogether, and was forced to seek refuge with his brother-in-law Duke Richard of Normandy. As he clambered aboard the longship which took him to Rouen, Aethelred may have thought the disaster final. But suddenly, at the moment of triumph, Sweyn Forkbeard died. For the English there was a last opportunity to restore the situation and they took it. Sweyn’s Danish army were for enthroning his young son Canute, but somehow, all pulling together, the English elite resisted, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates:

‘The fleet all chose Canute for king; whereupon advised all the counsellors of England, clergy and laity, that they should send after King Aethelred; saying, that no sovereign was dearer to them than their natural lord, if he would govern them better than he did before. Then sent the king hither his son Edward, with his messengers; who had orders to greet all his people, saying that he would be their faithful lord – would better each of those things that they disliked — and that each of the things should be forgiven which had been either done or said against him; provided they all unanimously, without treachery, turned to him. Then was full friendship established, in word and in deed and in compact, on either side. And every Danish king they proclaimed an outlaw for ever from England. Then came King Aethelred home, in Lent, to his own people; and he was gladly received by them all.’

Here for the first time we can see that conditions are being imposed on the king in return for the throne. The situation must have been not unlike that at Runnymede, more than two hundred years later. This was a king whose political and military failure had made him vulnerable to demands from his subjects.
What those demands were we can surmise from a sermon preached at the time by Wulfstan, Archbishop of York which has become famous as the Sermon of ‘the Wolf’ to the English. It was probably given in the presence of King Aethelred and his council, and it indicates the kind of issues that were exercising them: injustice, excessive taxes and treason.
‘the rights of freemen are taken away and the rights of slaves are restricted and charitable obligations are curtailed. Free men may not keep their independence, nor go where they wish, nor deal with their property just as they desire…

Nothing has prospered now for a long time either at home or abroad, but there has been military devastation and hunger, burning and bloodshed in nearly every district time and again… And excessive taxes have afflicted us…’
Experts think that the wording of the Chronicle is copied from a writ or document which Aethelred issued, which would have detailed the agreement. Eleventh-century writs were letters sent by the King to his governors in the shires, often specifically to be read out in the Shire court; such writs always began with ‘The King greets his people…’ as in the Chronicle. Usually the extent to whiuch kingship relies on the consent of the governed is concealed beneath the rhetoric of royal power. Here, that consent is made public. In the context of the, for this period, unusual sophistication of the English monarchy, working as it did through shire and hundred [district] assemblies, this is even more revealing. In administering the shires, the king’s officials relied, as we have seen, on the empanelment of juries, that is the participation of his subjects in their government. It seems that both at this subordinate level and at the highest reaches of politics, the English felt they had rights, that, as in the forests of Germany centuries before, sovereignty emanated, not just from above, from God, but also to some extent from below, from the people.
 Constitutional encounters of this kind happened elsewhere in Europe at roughly this time, but what makes 1014 special for us is that the agreement comes at the beginning of a continuing series of such deals which would govern the development of the English state down to our own times. Four years later, after Canute had eventually defeated Aethelred’s successor, he found himself making a similar agreement in Oxford, which he was to reiterate in two celebrated ‘Letters to the English’ in 1019 and 1027. King Edward the Confessor [the Edward in fact who crossed from Normandy to begin the negotiations in 1014] inherited this dispensation, and reconfirmed it publicly in 1065. The way he ruled was explicitly the basis of the regime of his Norman successors. That was made clear in the Charter issued by Henry I at his Coronation in 1100, which itself in turn became the basis of the restoration of order by Henry II after the ‘anarchy’ of King Stephen’s reign. Henry I’s Coronation Charter was also instrumental in the negotiations before Magna Carta. Thence, by way of Magna Carta itself, we reach Simon de Montfort, the ‘comune of England’ and the beginnings of Parliament. 

There was nothing inevitable about this, as there was nothing inevitable, indeed, about the survival of England as unified kingdom, but the fact remains that English constitutional history descends in a direct line, not unlike the monarchy itself, from those tense discussions in the aftermath of Danish disaster.
David Wilson 2015

Prison Books: Helping to Turn over a New leaf

The decision earlier this year by Justice Secretary Michael Gove to lift the ban on family and friends sending books to prisoners was welcome

Anybody who describes prison as a “holiday camp” has either never been to prison, or never been on holiday- the reality of contemporary incarceration is boredom from enforced idleness, interspersed with occasional violence (assaults are rife) but little support for rehabilitation programmes or tackling prevalent issues of mental health. Cuts to staffing levels have overlapped with a rapidly rising prison population. Recent reports by the Prison Inspectorate have been damming.

Books do not in themselves provide a panacea, but they are a good start. They provide education, help literacy and personal development, and broaden the mind.

The book ban introduced by Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling was a vindictive, unjustified act.

The purpose of prison is punishment and rehabilitation- the first is implicit in the removal of liberty by being locked up, the second currently not achieved by draconian policies that fail to tackle the root causes of offending behaviour. In Nelson Mandela’s moving autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, he writes of the value and importance of books to him through his long period of imprisonment. Everyone but Grayling could see the value of books within prison.

In March last year I joined a demonstration against the book ban outside Pentonville prison organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and supported by authors including the Poet Laureate. See a short video clip here.

The reversal came initially as a result of a successful Judicial Review brought by solicitor Samuel Genen and counsel (all acting pro-bono) -read more about that here. The High Court ruled the policy was unlawful. Gove then confirmed in July the complete relaxation of the unfair and arbitrary rules Grayling introduced. That is a victory- unlawful policies do not always lead to policy reversal -look at the vexed issue of prisoner voting.

Now we no longer have a book ban, and we now longer have Grayling despoiling the office of Lord Chancellor. So what of his successor?

Gove has said that “the most useful thing we can do is make sure prisoners are usefully employed, and improve literacy, numeracy and work skills”. Will he act or are these just “words”?

I would suggest the most useful thing Gove could do would be to reduce the prison population by crime prevention and successful rehabilitation, and reducing the numbers imprisoned for pointless short sentences for non-violent crime.  This in turn would save money, which could be redeployed to properly fund the Justice system. Government cuts to Legal aid have put our Justice system at risk. The spending cuts were ideological, deferring costs elsewhere in the system.

Grayling was a wrecker, who for what he hoped would gain him short term popularity damaged both the Criminal Justice system and an effective penal system.

Gove has a long way to go to fix these problems, but reversing the book ban was a good start.

Published on International Literacy Day, 08 september 2015

An earlier version of this article was published here in the Islington Tribune in July this year

Legal Workers Trade Union

Legal Workers’ Trade Union (guest blog by Arthur Kendrick)

Why is there a need for a legal workers union?

 Unity 

There are thousands of solicitors, barristers, legal executives, paralegals and legal administrative staff in the UK. We need one voice. Organisations like the CLSA and the LCCSA have done amazing work in fighting the cuts and organising the workforce, but fundamentally, we need one organisation that can speak for us all. We need the Legal Workers Trade Union.

 In the last week we have seen how our divided profession has allowed the government to press on with its agenda of crippling cuts to legal aid. Without a central body to stand for our common interests as legal aid practitioners, this slash and burn government will continue to divide and rule.

 Experience

 It took our profession hundreds of years to go on strike and we’ve learned a number of valuable lessons (not least which handbag to wear…), but it’s difficult to know how to minimise the collateral damage to our clients. The Legal Workers Trade Union, as a part of Unite the Union, will be able to draw on decades of experience that will help us maximise the impact of any action we take and make sure that impact is felt by those responsible.

 Working conditions

It has been only three years since LASPO, but more than thirty since Legal Aid rates have increased. Very few industries have put up with such a savage attack on pay and working conditions. With the next cut due in a matter of days, working conditions across the legal aid industry will continue to fall. We need someone in our corner.

The Legal Workers Trade Union is a movement for fair and sustainable working conditions for all employees on an equal basis across the legal sector. Too many vastly talented individuals are leaving legal aid work, and too many are fearful to enter. Still more are putting up with a gradual erosion of their working conditions, thinking there is no alternative. The LWTU will help provide independent, experienced assistance in any employer/employee negotiations and help protect your rights.

 Who can join?

 LWTU is not just for the legally qualified; our membership includes students, trainees, and pupil barristers, as well as interns and volunteers, personal assistants, legal administrative staff, paralegals, solicitors, barristers and judges.

 Why join?

 We are stronger together. Quite apart from the huge importance of a strong, central voice for the industry, workers stand to benefit in a variety of ways from union membership.

 Workers in unions tend to earn more, receive more training and have better job security. Membership of a union also gives you access to the professional assistance that can help you negotiate better employment terms, like longer paternity/maternity leave or holiday entitlement.

 Perhaps most importantly, as a member of the LWTU you will be part of the fight for fairness and equality across the industry. Even if you are lucky enough to work in a positive and progressive workplace, your membership will help empower the paralegal on less than minimum wage, the legal executive working an eighty-hour week, or the barrister earning £50 (and often much less) to spend their Saturday morning at the Magistrates’ Court.

 How to Join

 You can join Unite online at:

 https://www.unitetheunion.org/join-unite/

 If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet us @Legal_TU, email us on legaltradeunion@gmail.com or take a look at our website https://legaltradeunion.wordpress.com/

We look forward to hearing from you!