Monthly Archives: March 2016

Air Quality in Islington

Air pollution is rising at an alarming rate in major Cities including London (as reported in the Guardian (May 2016))

Islington, like much of London, continues to suffer from polluted air, whilst the Council takes inadequate action to improve air quality. It is time for real action, and the new London Mayor should widen the Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) proposed for 2020 to include more areas such as Islington.


Labour (who run Islington) should have campaigned to get TFL to include LBI in ULEZ. Instead, they voted against that proposal by Green Cllr Caroline Russell when raised in December 2014 (as she explains here.)

Air quality in Islington is terrible, the air we breathe being potentially deadly. Respiratory illnesses, asthma, heart and lung problems, cancer, and dramatically reduced life expectancy are the consequences of the polluted air, and the lethal micro-particles we inhale along with nitrogen dioxide. Two years ago I called for the council to aim for a diesel-free borough (as reported here in the Islington Tribune)
Air pollution levels in Islington- even near schools- are double EU limits (as reported in Islington Gazette)
In the great smog of 60 years ago, people could see and taste the polluted air around them- and Government acted quickly, passing the Clean Air Act. The pollutants we ingest now are on the whole invisible*,odourless, but arguably more deadly.But because they are an unseen killer, it is easy for politicians to fail to act. There are policy failings at National, London(mayoral) and local levels.

In the absence of proper monitoring by LBI, Islington Green Party funded air quality checks which showed illegal and dangerous levels of pollutants including near schools (figures here)


Islington Council is not funding the actions that are needed to protect residents, especially young children, from harm. Sadly, in February 2014 at the Council’s budget Labour Cllrs voted against a modest expenditure on air quality, choosing instead to spend Council Tax money on their allowances and political spin doctors. They then voted against a budget amendment proposed by Green Councillor Caroline Russell in February this year (
see here)

The scrutiny report of May 2013 which recommended a number of changes the Council should implement has been largely ignored and now removed from the Council’s website.

Mayor Sadiq Khan made great promises to tackle air pollution, after 8 years of inaction by Boris, but his first act on taking office was to withdraw opposition to City Airport expansion!


What residents want is clean air, not hot air.

Check out music on this Clean Air Playlist

For more info on clean air in London generally, check out Clean Air in London

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*although on some sunny days you can see the discoloured air! especially from high up- as in the photo above on Town Hall roof

Below:- receiving award from Clean Air in London

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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.

  
 

 

 

 

 

 

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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! 

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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)