Tag Archives: Highbury

No fireworks in Islington

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,

Labour losing the plot.

Prior to the 2006 local elections, a promise was made by Islington Labour to restore the bonfire night firework display to Highbury Fields. Councillor Convery made the pledge, which was an unqualified promise, not hedged with “subject to finances”.
Post election, no fireworks.
Like fellow 2006 election promise-breaker Lib Dem Nick Clegg and his infamous reneging of the tuition fee pledge, it later turns out that this, if not a blatant lie, was more of a wish than a promise.

The Islington Gazette reported the original broken pledge back in 2010 here
Each subsequent year the promise remains unfulfilled.
And alas, in Islington there are no fireworks once again this year, just the traditional annual disappointment of another broken promise.
So the  whizz-bang election pledges by Islington Labour turned out to be no more than a damp squib, and a bonfire of the vanities.
They say it can’t be done for budgetary reasons, ignoring the fact that a properly organised display is self-financing. Other London Labour Boroughs  host successful events, and unsurprisingly the Ally Pally event in neighbouring Haringey is once again sold out.

A Playlist of songs about Islington’s firework flop here

Updated article in Gazette here


Offending in Islington

Crime in Islington is on the rise, and questions have been asked of the Council’s “Crime tsar” Councillor Paul “crack-down” Convery under whose watch mobile phone thefts, robberies and knife crime rocketed.

In an internal “scrutiny” report, LBI Councillors have swallowed Convery’s explanation that this is all down to “soft-touch” magistrates letting offenders off too lightly, as reported in the Islington Tribune here (“Fears young thieves and drug dealers are getting an easy ride from Islington magistrates”)

In fact, the report, even after making allowances for the sloppy drafting and poor grammar, shows a shocking lack of knowledge about the causes of crime, the prevention of crime, and the workings of the Criminal Justice System.


Islington Labour has always had a default position of cracking-down on crime by deterrent and retribution rather than prevention and rehabilitation, and were early and enthusiastic supporters of the ineffective counter-productive ASBOs.

There has also been an over-reliance on CCTV, turning Islington into a closed-circuit saturation State, but without proper investment or supervision on those agencies who can actually work within communities to prevent crime.

The writing was on the wall by January this year, with a damming report into a failing Youth Offending Service , and rising crime figures.

Scrutiny” Report

In a belated attempt to examine the “causes of crime”, it is clear Labour Councillors have looked for excuses rather than reasons as evidenced in the attempt to blame “lenient sentencing” for Islington’s crime figures, predictably grabbing the headlines and deflecting attention from their own failings.

Nowhere is this clearer than in “recommendation 1” which calls for a “briefing meeting” with the “Clerks” at Highbury Court. 

It shows how out of touch the Councillors are when they refer to “clerks” where they presumably mean Legal Advisers, the name being changed over 10 years ago, and demonstrates the first failing of their review- a failure to actually visit the Court, and witness sentencing in practice (albeit there is no public gallery in the Youth Court, a quick observation in the Adult Court would show the rigour with which sentences are applied) 

The “clerks” (legal advisers) do not pass sentence, but advise the Magistrates on sentencing powers- and any attempt to interfere with that process by “briefings” to magistrates would be an intolerable interference with Judicial Independence. In any event, there is NO evidence to show that sentencing at Highbury is “more lenient” than at any other Court- which is unlikely as sentencing guidelines ensure consistency across Courts.

The fact is that far from leniency, in England and Wales we lock up more young people, and for longer, than any other European Country, with nothing to show for this draconian incarceration but recidivism and failure. In 1997, the Government lowered the age of criminal responsibility for children from 14 to 10, and presided over a five-fold increase in youths imprisoned in the following decade.

The reoffending rate for children who have been in custody is around 75%, suggesting that child custody is not an effective rehabilitation strategy. Nonetheless, we are seeing an increase in prison sentences and decline in community punishment.

Islington Labour Councillors responsible for the report are out of touch. Cllr Convery has been challenged by Frances Crook of Howard League for Penal Reform to produce evidence in support of his assertions, and is awaiting a reply.


A variation of this article was published in the Islington Tribune, 13th May (Forum pice)

Guardian summary of PRT report explaining why so many young people end up in custody here 

Howard League: Publications on youth offending 

Current Sentencing Guidelines Council consultation on Youth Sentencing here

Read about Cllr Convery’s Late Night Levy Madness (a privately funded barmy army patrolling Islington streets)

Playlist for Crime in Islington.

Gove and Prison Reform – need to cut prison numbers (argues Simon Jenkins in the Guardian)


1 Councillor Convery Cannabis Crackdown

2 Cllr Convery on CCTV

Community Advice at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court

Community Advice offered in Court

A new court-based Advice Service at Highbury Court is most welcome!

 See also this blog by Joanne Thomas

The Magistrates Court is not somewhere people associate with receiving advice, other than the occasional finger-wagging lecture from a Justice of the Peace, usually warning of the consequences of not complying with their instructions. Yet the vast majority of people who pass through their doors are clearly in need of advice and help in tackling the kinds of problem that brought them to Court in the first place.

Homelessness, mental health, unemployment, poverty, debt, alcoholism, drug addiction, illiteracy, overcrowded accomodation, domestic violence, the Courts often see some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Of course the Probation service can sometimes help, but are suffering from funding restraints as well as outsourcing, and  Community Orders are increasingly targetted at punishment rather than rehabilitaion.

Often solicitors defending at these Courts try to plug the gap in the lack of advice available, but apart from constraints on time and money have to be careful not to blur the professional boundary between lawyer and client, as well as acknowledging that we are not trained counsellors or social workers, lacking the resources and knowledge to advice on the areas that need addressing outside the immediacy of legal representation. Often lawyers do not even know where to direct clients who need help in other areas.

All this has changed with this exciting project at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court.From January of this year, the project has been offering help and advice from a small room accessed from the same waiting area as the Courtrooms on the first floor. And as there is plenty of waiting at Court, there is time for the people who desperately need help and advice to talk about their problems and receive practical help and guidance.

Last week I popped in to see how they were getting on. I was impressed by the set-up and those running it, but more so by the verifiable results they could demonstrate, and the numerous cases they could describe showing practical examples of problem-solving for clients.

The community Advice is run by Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau incorporating Islington Citizens Advice. It follows a longer running pilot project in Plymouth. Since opening they have helped hundreds of court users with issues such as homelessness, debts, housing, family, mental health, benefits, alcohol and drug related issues.

I met Jess, a volunteer (working there one day a week) and Ross, the co-ordinator for the project who told me:- 

We work with people who are using the court and their families to give advice and help them to find out about and access support services in the community. We also provide immediate help with practical issues and offer emotional support. We are independent of the judicial process. We operate independently from other agencies in the court. The service is delivered primarily by a team of 10 volunteers and one paid staff (co-ordinator) and focuses mainly on those who are not working with probation, though we are open to all” .

Ross provided numerous case studies. I attach an edited version of one below. 

I later spoke to Joanne Thomas from the Centre for Justice Innovation who proudly told me the Advice Service at Highbury was “doing an incedible job”. Joanne has previously written about the project here.


For too long the criminal justice system has been used to punish criminal acts, without addressing the causes of crime, even where the perpetrators are crying out for help. Judges, like lawyers, are not social workers, and have to uphold the law. But if we are to avoid the “revolving door” syndrome, and break the cycle of recidivism, then taking an opportunity to tackle root causes with practical help, is not only humane and just, it is likely to prove a cost-effective way to reduce crime 

Case Study

Paul (not his real name) was 35 years old and homeless when he attended court because of drug offences. He had a large number of previous convictions and his relationship had broken down. He was suffering severe financial hardship, receiving no income and owing money to a number of people on top of the court fines he had just received. He was also suffering from drug and alcohol dependence that was affecting his mental health. In addition, he had lost his birth certificate and wanted help to apply for a CSCS card.

Paul was empowered to make his own decisions about what to do, assisted in applying for jobseekers allowance, and referred him to a number of services for his mental health, drug and alcohol use and homelessness. He was also guided on applying for his CSCS card and birth certificate as well as helped to access support for his debts.

There were Follow up appointments. He is now in receipt of jobseekers allowance and is managing to pay his priority debt (his court fines) as well as sorting out his other debts. He has received his CSCS card and is looking for work in construction, and has received his birth certificate. He is also receiving counselling for his mental health.