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MA ENEWS 27 June 2019

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27 June 2019
MA ENEWS 27 June 2019

MA Conference, Awards and AGM 2019

Just three days left to get the Early Bird rates!

CLICK HERE TO BOOK BEFORE 1 JULY 2019 AND GET THE REDUCED EARLY BIRD RATES!

We have now produced a conference poster for display in retiring rooms. A PDF version has been emailed to branch secretaries and chairs and a copy is available here.

Our keynote speakers for the day will be the Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, Lady Justice Macur and the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, who will share his views on the current challenges facing the family justice system and the future reforms that may be required.

Then, to discuss the changing face of the magistracy will be HM Courts and Tribunals Service Chief Executive, Susan Acland-Hood, and Chair of Triple A (All About Autism), Karen Quinn.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust will lead a session on Stalking and the Sentencing Council will address questions about the new general guideline and expanded explanations.

The Director of the Centre for Justice InnovationPhil BowenProfessor Peter Squires of the Institute of Criminal Research and Mary Ryan, Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, will explore the role of the courts in responding to societal problems.

A session on Innovations and technology in justice will be led by the Head of Research at the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, Dr Paul Dawson, Lecturer in Law at Cardiff University, Trustee and founder member of the Transparency Project Dr Julie Doughty and Senior Lecturer of Essex University School of Law, Dr Daragh Murray.

Sentencing Council member, Dr Alpa Parmar, Chief Executive of Stopwatch, Katrina Ffrench, founder of The Sharan ProjectPolly Harrar and Chief Executive Officer of Children and Families across BordersCarolyn Housman, will be looking at interactions between inequality and justice.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK BEFORE 1 JULY 2019 AND GET THE REDUCED EARLY BIRD RATES!

For a full list of speakers, or to book a place, click here.

MA Elections 2019

Last chance to apply to become a trustee of the MA!

Woman posting vote

At an exciting time for the MA, with our centenary taking place in 2020 and a new three-year organisational strategy due to be launched imminently, we are inviting members to put themselves forward for election to the MA's Board of Trustees.

The Board of Trustees are the custodians of the MA and our work. They set our strategic plan, annual work plan and budget, and hold the staff team, through the Chief Executive, to account for delivery. Any ordinary member with three or more years left to sit on the bench is eligible to stand for election as a trustee.

It is a challenging and enjoyable role. As a trustee, you will get involved in:

  • Developing and regularly reviewing the strategic aims and objectives of the MA
  • Ensuring that the policies and practices of the MA are in keeping with our charitable objectives
  • Ensuring that the MA complies with our legal and statutory obligations and strives to achieve best practice
  • Supporting the MA's fundraising activities, and contributing your skills and interests for the benefit of the MA
  • Being an active and collegiate member of the Board in exercising its responsibilities and functions, and maintaining collective responsibility at all times

To find out more about what that means in practice, and what your colleagues on the current Board of Trustees value and get out of the role, see their testimonials - published in the June-July edition of MAGISTRATE - here

There will be at least three vacancies on the Board of Trustees this year. To put yourself forward for election, please download the trustee application form, complete it and return it to Jon Collins, the MA's Chief Executive, by this Sunday 30 June 2019. Elections will be held in September and the new trustees will take up their role at the AGM in October.

If you have any questions about the role, please contact the MA's Chief Executive Jon Collins

Election timetable

1 June

Trustee nominations open

30 June

Trustee nominations close

2 September

Ballot opens to vote for Trustee (and Honorary Officer) nominees

23 September

Ballot closes
 

Justice Select Committee report on The Role of the Magistracy

Magistrates' Court crest

The Justice Select Committee's report The Role of the Magistracy: Follow-Up, developing from the 2016 inquiry, is a timely report that highlights the challenges facing the magistracy and what needs to be done to address them. The MA is urging the government to take note of the report's recommendations and respond promptly.

The MA agrees with the report's call for an overarching strategy for the magistracy, but this must receive demonstrable support from the Ministry of Justice. We share the report's concerns regarding the present shortage of magistrates and agree that the steps being taken to resolve this issue are insufficient. Resources must be invested in recruitment and attracting diverse applicants – particularly underrepresented groups. We were pleased to see that the report agrees with the MA's call to increase the retirement age to 70 where necessary. The report's proposal for a 'kite-mark' scheme for employers would be welcomed, alongside greater input from the Ministry of Justice to encourage and recognise the contribution employers make in enabling magistrates to take time off to perform their duties. The MA also agrees with the committee that there should be greater investment in and better co-ordination of magistrates' training so that they get the training they need in a format and at a time that suits them.

The MA endorses the report's recommendation that the jurisdiction of magistrates' courts should be increased so that they are able to retain more serious cases, where a custodial sentence of over six months but under 12 months is necessary, relieving pressure on the crown court. We also support the report's recommendation that magistrates should have review powers for community sentences. This would improve confidence in sentencing and help ensure that offenders are appropriately supported and monitored.

The MA has repeatedly raised concerns about the current reform agenda and the potentially negative impact of court closures. We share the report's particular concern about whether the court reform programme can be delivered to the set timescale in a way that is fit for purpose and that maintains access to justice.

See our full position statement here.

New Treasurer needed

Could you take on this important MA role?

Finance graphicAt this year's AGM Shyam Sharma JP will be standing down as Honorary Treasurer.

The MA is therefore recruiting for a new Honorary Treasurer, to be in post from 19 October 2019.

Applications are now open with a deadline for submission of 8 July 2019. It is hoped that an appointment will be confirmed by the end of July so that the new Honorary Treasurer would be able to observe the audit taking place and would be able to attend the next MA board meeting on 10 September 2019.

The role description and person specification are available here. To find out more about what it involves in practice, and Shyam's experience of the role, see his article, published in the June-July edition of MAGISTRATE. Please apply by completing the application form and emailing it to Jon Collins by 8 July 2019.

 

Farmer Review for women

Mother and child prison visit

Lord Farmer has published his review on women, which looks at the value of supporting positive family relationships for women in prison. The review highlights issues around the availability of information for courts when making sentencing and bail decisions involving women. The MA supports the review's assessment that a relevant pre-sentence report is vital to ensure sentencers have the most recent information about the background and individual circumstances of women offenders, as well as any dependants. The MA welcomes the review's proposal of a Personal Circumstances File, to improve the availability of this information and ensure that sentencing and bail decisions are appropriately informed.

The review highlights the impact upon both women in prison and their dependants, citing a Crest Advisory report that indicates that as many as 17,000 children could be affected by maternal imprisonment every year. The National Probation Service must advise on available sentencing options including community options, which may be more appropriate and proportionate than custody in cases where a woman is a primary carer. Robust and effective community sentences that will support rehabilitation must be available as an appropriate alternative to custody, and the MA supports the review's recommendation for more sustainable funding to increase their availability. The presence of these alternatives, together with the most recent and relevant information about the individual, would reduce the use of short prison sentences.

Good communication between women in custody and their families helps to provide a better foundation for re-engagement and support upon their release, with all prisoners (not just women) receiving family visits being 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not, and the MA supports the report's recommendations which focus on improving communication. Women in custody should also receive the appropriate support to participate in family court proceedings, and any measures which improve their understanding and engagement, including onsite social workers, are to be welcomed.

See our full position statement here.

The Bradley report – 10 years on

Young man looking pensive

The MA welcomed the opportunity to input into this update and were pleased that many of the points we raised were included as potential areas for improvement. In particular, the sections on liaison and diversion (L&D), the reform agenda, pre-sentence reports and the community sentence treatment requirement (CSTR) programme are very relevant to magistrates.

L&D schemes have been incredibly successful where they have been fully embedded in both police stations and courts. The information provided by L&D is invaluable to magistrates in both making decisions about what reasonable adjustments are needed to support participation of vulnerable defendants and in deciding appropriate sentences following conviction. We agree with this report, which asserts we now need to push for full coverage of L&D everywhere and support front line staff to be able to identify all relevant vulnerabilities (including learning disabilities and acquired brain injury).

We support the concerns raised in this report about the potential negative impact of the current reform agenda on access to justice for vulnerable defendants. Digital access to a hearing (whether via online procedures or use of video link technology) is likely to impede engagement amongst the most vulnerable cohort and the consequential risks to ensuring a fair process for all must be mitigated.

We agree that information from L&D should be fed into pre-sentence reports, to ensure sentencers understand any vulnerabilities that might affect culpability or the appropriateness of certain sentencing options.

The MA is supportive of the CSTR programme, as described in this report, as it provides magistrates with more community options which can support offenders to address problems which might be linked to offending behaviour. The government announcement on 20 June highlighted the success of pilots to reduce reoffending and we are pleased rollout for two new areas has been agreed. We look forward to new areas being added over time.

Read our full statement here.

Transparency in the family court

Solicitor outside a family court

A recent judgment involving legal bloggers seeking permission to publish reports on family court cases has led to draft guidance being produced for the judiciary on the issue. While everyone is keen to improve the transparency of the family court in order to increase public confidence in proceedings, as well providing a check on decisions, there are still concerns about how to do this without compromising privacy, and the rights of individual children.

The President of the Family Division has published new draft guidance on reporting in the family courts, to try to clarify the approach that should be taken where a journalist or legal blogger attends a family court hearing and then applies for statutory reporting restrictions to be lifted. It was prompted by a recent appeal by journalist Louise Tickle in February. A useful summary of that case can be found here, and the full judgment here. At the moment, it is not clear how many of these applications will be heard by magistrates, but it is an area that may well increase in the future, so magistrates may require specific training for this at some point.

A case last week highlighted the complexity of the issue, when there was extensive media interest in a case that resulted in very negative headlines. One of the lawyers acting for the family, who had previously been a vocal supporter of increasing transparency, responded via a blog, stating that she now had concerns about the negative impact of media reporting about complex cases involving vulnerable people. She finished by saying:

'I will not support further opening up of the family courts. I will no longer support the pain and misery of my parent clients being offered up for public entertainment. I will no longer agree to the publication of any judgment in a case where I act, unless and until I can see some recognition from our Fourth Estate of the power they wield, and the harm they do.'

This underlines the importance of any decisions involving publication of family hearings and the seriousness of potential impacts where it goes wrong.

Ministry of Justice review into the family court response to domestic abuse

Sad young girl

As part of their review into how the family court protects children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences, on 21 May the Ministry of Justice announced a public call for evidence steered by a panel of key representatives from across family justice. The inaugural panel meeting took place on Friday 14 June 2019, marking the start for the three-month call for evidence. The panel members represent key organisations from across family justice, including the judiciary, academia, social care, policy officials and third sector organisations which represent and advocate for victims of domestic abuse.

The three-month project aims to ensure that the family court works first and foremost in the explicit interests of the child, such as their safety, health and well-being. It follows responses received through the government's domestic abuse consultation in which concerns were raised around the family court response to potential harm to children and victims. In addition to calls for better protections for children, some claim that domestic abusers are using the court system to re-traumatise their victims.

The panel will consider how the family court handles a range of offences including rape, child abuse, assault, sexual assault, murder and other violent crime, with the government committed to ensuring the right protections are in place for victims and their children.

Every day family court judges do outstanding work, making difficult decisions in highly emotive cases where the paramount consideration is the welfare of the child. Ministers now want to take a closer look at how existing safeguards in the court process are working in practice and, if necessary, strengthen them.

The call for evidence will specifically focus on the application of Practice Direction 12J, Practice Direction 3AA, The Family Procedure Rules Part 3A, and s.91(14) orders, and will build a more detailed understanding of any harm caused during or following proceedings in the family court. We will be asking family magistrates to assist us in responding.

Draft Domestic Abuse Bill

Draft Domestic Abuse Bill report detail

The Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill has published their final report on the Bill, calling for it to be amended to give greater protection to victims of domestic abuse. The committee welcomed the proposed measures in the Bill, but was concerned with ensuring their effectiveness in practice. Their recommended changes aim to ensure that all those affected by domestic abuse receive protection and a tailored response to their differing needs.

The MA response to the draft Bill welcomed its underlying aims, particularly with regard to its intentions to promote awareness of domestic abuse and to reform the justice system with victim safety as a priority. We expressed concerns, however, about some specific proposals put forward in the draft Bill. The Joint Committee's report referenced some of the MA's concerns, including:

  • That it is important to maintain reference to single incidents, as well as patterns of behaviour, when developing the statutory definition of domestic abuse. The committee recommended that the statutory definition be redrafted to make it clear that single occurrences may constitute domestic abuse, and it is not necessary to prove a 'course of behaviour'.
  • The MA's concern that in mirroring procedures in criminal court to prohibit cross-examination by alleged perpetrators in family court, the significant differences between family and criminal proceedings were not reflected.
  • The MA's evidence, along with others, raised the issue of accreditation of domestic abuse perpetrator programmes and the committee made a consequential recommendation that all such programmes should be properly accredited and evaluated.

Other recommendations the committee made for changes to the draft Bill include: for the provision of special measures such as video links and separate waiting rooms to be extended to family and other civil courts, and for a mandatory ban to be introduced on survivors of abuse being cross-examined by their perpetrators in family and other civil proceedings.

The Justice Committee publishes government response to their report Prison Population 2022: planning for the future

Barbed wire on perimeter wall

The government has published their response to the Justice Committee's report on the prison crisis.

The Justice Committee's report argued that the government's current approach to prison funding to accommodate growing population forecasts was inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable in the medium or long-term. The prison population has become increasingly challenging in nature, both due to prisoners having complex health and social needs, and the rise in the prison population resulting in many prisons being overcrowded.

The report concluded that focusing increased funding towards building prisons to accommodate the number of prisoners estimated by current projections was not a sustainable approach, and instead the focus should be on rehabilitation. The report said there must be a focus on investing in services to reduce the £15 billion annual cost of reoffending, and prevent offenders from continually returning to prison. Among a range of recommendations, it set out why there should be a presumption against sentences of six months or lower and argued that the Ministry of Justice needed to ensure safety and decency in prisons was maintained, as well as improving rehabilitation of offenders when they leave prison through positive resettlement programmes.

The government response welcomed the committee's report on the prison population, and agreed with the premise of many of the committee's recommendations, including their recommendation for reform of short custodial sentences, having robust alternatives to custody and a probation system in which sentencers and the public have confidence. However, the response notes that the committee offers little in terms of action in addition to what has already been announced.

The Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, has written back to the Secretary of State saying ‘The current crisis in our prison system requires a clear plan of action to deal with the many challenges our prisons are currently facing. The government's response to our report Prison Population 2022 does not give the committee confidence that such a plan exists.’

Police chiefs guide officers to impose bail conditions protecting victims and vulnerable people

National Police Chiefs' Council logo

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced a presumption in favour of release without bail unless it is deemed 'necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances'. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services found that in the six months following the new legislation, use of bail fell by 75% overall and by 65% in domestic abuse cases.

New guidance has been published which states that investigators 'should aim to finalise investigations during the first period of detention wherever possible', allowing 'a more expedient investigation.' However, it recognises that due to the nature of the crimes being investigated, this may not be practical and that investigators may often deem it necessary to arrest the suspect at an earlier stage in the investigation. Decisions should be made by investigating officers, custody officers and supervising officers. The guidance states that bail decisions must take into account all circumstances of a case, including the need to support and protect victims and witnesses, and to ensure public safety. The guidance sets out the circumstances in which pre-charge bail should be used:

  • If there is a risk of a suspect committing further offences or failing to surrender to custody
  • If the suspect is a threat to the public
  • If the suspect interferes with an investigation or witness
  • For the suspect's own protection (if they are vulnerable)

In cases involving vulnerable people or domestic abuse, serious consideration must be given to the use of bail with conditions in order to safeguard victims. Officers should document their decision making where pre-charge bail is not used. In all cases, victims and witnesses should be informed when a suspect has been released under investigation and should receive advice on what to do if the suspect targets them. The guidance encourages officers to seek counsel from senior colleagues in these cases.

Home Office allocates £35 million to police forces for violence reduction units

Police officers from above

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that he has allocated £35 million to police and crime commissioners in 18 local areas to set up violence reduction units. The units will take a multi-agency approach, bringing together police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to tackle violent crime and its underlying causes. They will be responsible for identifying the drivers of serious violence locally and developing a coordinated response to tackle them.

The funding is in addition to the recent £63.4 million funding provided to the forces across England and Wales that are the worst affected by serious violence and knife crime, and is part of the government's focus on early intervention, as set out in the Serious Violence Strategy published in April last year. The government has also made it easier for officers in seven areas most affected by knife crime to use Section 60 stop and search powers, which allow the police to search people in a designated area without suspicion, where serious violence is anticipated.

A consultation on a new public health duty recently took place and the results will be published in due course. This new public health duty would mean a range of agencies such as police, education and health partners, local authorities, offender management, housing, youth and victim services would have a new legal duty to take action to prevent and tackle violent crime.

The full press release can be found here.

MA survey on immaturity of those who appear in adult criminal court

Please share your views with us graphic

The MA has received funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust to undertake a project into the lack of maturity among 18-24 year olds who appear in criminal court, how it may affect behaviour and how it should be dealt with as a potential mitigating factor. The purpose of the project is to carry out research to assess magistrates understanding of this issue, then develop resources to help magistrates better understand the concept of maturity, its impact on offending and courtroom behaviour, and its implications for sentencing and other court decisions.

For the first phase of the research project, we are asking members who sit in adult criminal court to complete this survey exploring magistrates' experience of immaturity as a mitigating factor in relation to both how it affects defendants opportunities to effectively and fairly participate in proceeding and in relation to sentencing 18-24 year olds, where lack of maturity is raised as a mitigating factor. The survey is for any magistrate who currently sits in adult crime court: it takes five minutes to complete and can be found here.

London Legal Walk 2019

MA team at London Legal Walk 2019

The London Legal Walk took place on Monday 17 June.

Walking for the MA team were: Jon Collins, Bea Crayford, Douglas Dowell, Jo Easton, Sarah McLaughlin JP, Halita Obineche, Hattie Stair, Alan Vincent JP, Lisa Whitehead, Angelina Williamson, Susan Williamson and Jude Zendle, along with Allie, the MA dog!

This year the MA broke its previous record by raising £1,210 – £422.50 more than last year!

A record-breaking 15,000 people took part this year. As part of the First 100 Years of women being allowed to practice law, Lady Hale, Baroness Kennedy, Solicitor General Lucy Frazer QC MP, President of the Law Society Christina Blacklaws, and Millicent Grant, ex-President of CILEX took part in a symbolic short walk along Chancery Lane. On arrival at the Law Society, they had the chance to view the First 100 Years Exhibition 1919-2019, where they were joined by the Lord Chief Justice, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC MP, among many others. We worked closely with the Law Society and First 100 Years to put this pre-event together to inspire and encourage new generations of young women to join the legal community, making it more inclusive and representative. Look out for our own commemoration of women in law in the October-November issue of MAGISTRATE.

We thank everyone who gave up their evening to take part and convey our sincerest gratitude to those who sponsored us so generously – with many giving donations of £50 and even one donation of £100. We are very grateful for your support and delighted to be able to make a substantial contribution to such a good cause as a result.

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