Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Waiting Game

With chaos all around and as we all collectively hold our breath for news, this from Napo Greater London Branch seems to capture the mood:-
The Countdown Commences
Those in the know will realise the probation world is currently holding its breath in restless anticipation as we appear to have reached an important intersection.
Hope or darkness.

As much has been said that can be said without losing advantage. Various players making or about to make what they calculate will be their strongest moves in what has been a lengthy sometimes bitter struggle.
No doubt the press releases have been written and targeted response strategies agreed. Media contacts primed, lawyers consulted, simulations run, and respective teams now stand by.
Both sides await a signal.
Possibly a simple text.
A single word.
I'm hoping that hope prevails.
October 28th, the appointed day, has arrived. It's the day when the MoJ had secretly plotted to announce the winning preferred bidders, but it hasn't been a secret for quite some time. So, will they, or won't they? Astonishingly, we're told it's none of our business! But as we also await news regarding our legal challenge, we can all enjoy reading about Chris Grayling's humiliation at the hands of the House of Lords last night and his plans to try and limit Judicial Review. Here's the Guardian:-
House of Lords votes against Grayling’s plans to restrict judicial review access
Ex-Tory cabinet ministers defy party to keep judges’ discretion as Labour says defeat is ‘humiliating slapdown’ for justice secretary
The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has suffered a defeat in a key House of Lords vote on his plans to curtail access to judicial review, which would have made it harder to challenge government decisions in court. Peers voted by 247 to 181, a majority of 66, to ensure that the judges keep their discretion over whether they can hear judicial review applications after a warning from a former lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, that the alternative amounted to an ‘elective dictatorship’. “It’s dangerous to go down the line of telling the judges what they have to do,” he told peers.
Peers who voted against the government included the former Conservative cabinet minister John Selwyn-Gummer, who sits as Lord Deben, the former Tory chancellor Lord Howe, and 17 Liberal Democrat peers, including the former party leader, Lord Steel, and Baroness Williams, who said they were very troubled by the proposals. The key set of amendments restored judicial discretion to several elements of Grayling’s plans to curtail judicial reviewHe has in the past said the reforms are needed to end unnecessary delays and curb the activities of “leftwing” campaigners who have used judicial review to frustrate government initiatives.
But peers were unimpressed when the justice minister, Lord Faulks, cited a six-month delay in the development of a supermarket as being a key reason why the reforms were necessary to prevent major projects being held up for months or even years. He went on to accuse critics of mounting an “outright attack” on a government bill that had already been backed by MPs and said the reforms were needed because there had been a threefold increase in judicial review cases in recent years, up from 4,200 in 2000 to 15,600 in 2013. He said that judicial review could be used to hold up official decisions even in “hopeless” cases.
Deben, the former Tory cabinet minister, reminded peers that while judicial review might be used by leftwing causes in Britain, in America the separation of powers was mainly used by rightwing organisations to challenge executive actions. “It is unacceptable if we have a system whereby if the government has acted illegally it can’t be brought to account in the courts,” he said. “The British defence of freedom is judicial review.”
The Conservative justice secretary is likely to try to overturn the defeat when the criminal justice and courts bill returns to the House of Commons but the closer the election comes the less likely it is that it will be a foregone conclusion he will succeed. The defeat in the House of Lords followed repeated warnings that Grayling’s restrictions on access to judicial review would have a “chilling effect” on those seeking justice.
The three main legal professions in England and Wales last week also condemned Ministry of Justice plans to prevent charities and non-governmental organisations from intervening in judicial review cases which contained matters of public interest.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, responding to the government defeat, said: “This is a humiliating slapdown for the government. These changes would have weakened judicial review, and would have placed the government above the law. This was a massive grab for power which is why Labour voted against. Judicial review is a crucial tool for the British people to hold to account the actions of those in positions of power and responsibility. “If these plans had gone through it would have been a recipe for bad decision making allowing governments and ministers to get away with pushing through actions that were potentially unlawful.”
Grayling later suffered a second defeat. Peers voted 228 to 195, a majority of 33, over the issue of requiring applicants for judicial review to provide information on the financing of the application.
Lord Pannick, moving the amendment, said its aim was to ensure that a court had discretion rather than a duty in relation to information about funding. But Faulks denied the bill removed judges’ discretion and insisted the government’s change was about ensuring greater transparency. He said the aim was to enable judges to have better information before exercising discretion to order costs and insisted this would have no “chilling” effect on applications.
The division list showed the amendment was also supported by four bishops, 157 Labour peers, 54 crossbenchers and 12 others. The government supporters were 131 Tories, 43 Lib Dems, five crossbenchers and two others.


  1. Some good news in the mass of oppressive and unjust directives affecting the great British public and Probation in particular. I had a conversation with a solicitor yesterday, about JR's and her firm are currently revisiting the issues raised by IPP/Life sentenced prisoners in respect of the waiting time for access to PB directed 'treatment' such as E-SOTP. They are making the point that their client, well past tariff, expects to be on a waiting list for at least 5-7 years, based on numbers waiting and diminishing provision. Experience tells us this is happening all over the place - the waiting, and it's getting worse on my caseload, as the new rotl investigative procedures kick in and the availability of spice, is resulting in the return to closed conditions of those same groups of prisoners- I have 3 such cases in the last 4 months.

    Some more good news. I attended an Oral hearing yesterday, for a 20 year old, recalled for further offending in May this year. He has a number of personality difficulties, ADHD, and an IQ of only 59; he;s currently on the seg having assualted staff, and generally challenging to the regime. His solicitor asked for a cancellation, a he enered a guilty plea at CC last week to the new charges, and they consider a prison sentence inevitable, but he hasn't been convicted of murder, so they must be working with a crystal ball - but the Parole Board wantedoot go ahead, as I was pushing for an imaginative and helpful way forward, irrespective of the Crown Court's powers to send him into custody for a long time. My client threw a bit of a strop, as he had receieved conflicting information at the end of last week about whether the oral hearing would go ahead; and he refused to attend. Rather than go ahead without him, the Chair and Parole Board member made the decision to go to the Segregation Unit and attempt to encourage him to attend. Following a brief adjournment, they returned, with my client. It was magical, and we had a very productive and helpful hearing, giving me some further hope, in relation to the task of the PSR due 18/11. The PB chair I am told used to be an ACO in Probation, and the other PB memeber a Psychologist, which probably acocunts for their sympathetic and determind approach to the situation. In addition, Ogrs, Oasys not mentioned once and I was asked questions which played ot my strengths, my extensive experience, which the Chair suggested that was what he wanted to hear. However on a less positive note, I heard also that 2 very experienced PO's at this jail, are leaving, one to the YOT and the other, early retirement.

    Nevermind, extra pleased today that CG is waking up to a reminder that he is not the Messiah...he's a very naughty boy!

    1. Great tale that 30 years in! It reminds us all that, despite everything, this line of work has to be about people, not systems or targets or profit or forms or precedures. Good to hear from you and keep up the excellent work.

    2. No mention of oaysy or ogrs?how would the new breed cope without their comfort blankets ?

    3. Here, here, what a positive yet sad report.

      We need a CJ system that proects vulnerable disabled people from being in situations where they might do very serious harm to others.

      Such a place is definitely not a prison. Lets hope for an equally imaginative Judge at the Crown Court case.

      He seems just the sort of person for the old 'Windyridge' probation hostel, set up by the Whitechapel Methodist Mission and providing a haven for vulnerable folk and an opportunity to learn to contribute to community living so that on eventual discharge (3 year orders were not uncommon) he might transition to a suitable living arrangement in his home area

      Sadly Windyridge, on the Essex Suffolk border is long gone and I fear most probation folk nowadays do not get to experience such facilities, managed by probation people on behalf of an Inner City charitable organisation, it closed in 1994!

    4. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/compensation-warning-on-parole-delays/5044711.article

  2. Please read this. Published 2 mins ago.


    1. That seems to reveal Napo's bargaining strategy to delay starting a Judicial Review if Grayling will delay announcing bid winners for 21 days after he has answered the questions submitted about the dangers of the split, as submitted by members.

      It seems a good ploy and the timing important because it can take the whole business past the time of the General Election purdah after which a government by convention starts no new policies.

      I think the critical date is 17th December - or that is what I read, I would like to know more about this convention it is an aspect of government of which I am almost ignorant.

    2. Officers say public are in danger - so why won't MoJ publish its safety test?

      Before the killing, he already had a history of domestic violence. Back in the day, before the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) separated out the probation service into multiple units to prepare them for privatisation, he would have been allocated to a trained officer. But under the chaotic new system, he was put under the supervision of a trainee probation officer. Home visits were supposed to have been undertaken every four months, but this didn't happen. In the end, he murdered his partner and then took his own life.

      That was one of the stories told by probation staff to lawyers representing the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) after they asked for evidence of dangers in the MoJ's new system. There are many more.

      People don't really have a clear idea of what probation is. They are much more worked up by the privatisation of forests or mail services than they are about the supervision of those who have committed a crime. But when forests are privatised, we lose somewhere to take a walk. When probation is privatised, people die.

      The problem with Chris Grayling's probation policy is very common to privatisation, regardless of the sector. The first thing which happens is you atomise the service. What was once one organisation with clear lines of communication is sliced up into multiple bodies, where responsibility is unclear and information is not shared efficiently.
      Grayling cut the probation service in two, keeping high-risk offenders with the still publicly-owned National Probation Service and handing low-and-medium-risk offenders to various 'Community Rehabilitation Companies'. These were then given a bit of time to bed-in until they are sold off to private firms to run.

      The problem is people are not units in an Excel spreadsheet. They are complex beings, who migrate from low to medium to high risk and back again without regard for a probation officer's formal responsibilities or the commercial contracts handed out by the MoJ. Officers do not have easy access to information about the people under their care.

      Cases passed up to the national service from the rehabilitation companies are sometimes not taken, or left to sit there for a while. Overwork in both the companies and the service has led to dangerous cases being missed.

      A legal warning sent to Treasury solicitors by lawyers acting for Napo lays out the evidence for their concerns. Lawyers had gone to Napo's annual general meeting and asked members about their personal experiences. What follows is what probation officers themselves thought the splitting-up of the service had done, in their personal experience. It's not perfect data. By virtue of being Napo members, officers are likely to be extremely critical of the privatisation plan. But we do not have any other evidence. The MoJ refuses to publish its own safety evaluations.

      Staff in the rehabilitation companies say they are dangerously overworked, with their targets being significantly ratcheted up. One officer was mistakenly allocated three high risk cases. She says she was already overworked, so the arduous process of reallocating them prevented her devoting sufficient time to an offender convicted of serious assault in a pub. The offender has since been charged with murder committed while under the supervision of the rehabilitation company.

      Another officer says they were so overworked they could not dedicate sufficient time to a female offender who was being bullied by her partner. She was found dead from a drugs overdose, with an investigation ongoing as to whether it was deliberate or accidental.

    3. An offender convicted of child cruelty was assessed by staff at a rehabilitation company to be high risk, but the probation service rejected the transfer request. Rehabilitation company staff have therefore been left with it, even though the offender downplays the abuse and has now entered a relationship with a partner who has two children under the age of 16. Staff believe the children are at an unacceptable risk of harm.

      Overwork at the probation service means oral reports are often given to courts instead of standard reports. Officers believe this leads to inadequate risk assessments. One offender with a history of domestic violence had threatened a 13-year-old child with a samurai sword. Following an oral report they were sentenced to a community order. Ten days later they broke into their partner's home and held her underwater with a bike chain.

      And then there are the more minor cases, stemming from lack of information about the offender. A female rehabilitation company staff member was unable to access the risk assessment of an offender she was required to interview. If she had done, she would have known it was unsafe for a single female officer to be alone with him. During the meeting he took out his penis and started masturbating in front of her.

      Another delivering a cognitive-behavioural programme aimed at reducing violence also found they were unable to access offender records. They ended up with two rival gang members in the same building at the same time.

      Or there are the flashes of danger and violence which come from top-down ministerial initiatives imposing themselves on delicate real world situations. One probation service officer was asked to accompany another officer to her first meeting with an offender who had been reallocated to her. The offender had made good progress, but was aggrieved at being reallocated and became very aggressive. The probation service officer, who had been in the service for six years, said it was the single most dangerous incident he had faced in that time.

      Napo feels the current system is unsafe for staff, offenders and the public. Rigorous safety tests are therefore needed before the contracts are signed and it is made permanent. The MoJ says it has conducted safety tests. But it refuses to make them public.

      It did not conduct a full pilot. Instead it froze the system post-break-up but pre-sell-off and treated that as a pilot. It says it has built in "a process of ongoing rigorous testing". The MoJ insisted it would not enter into a binding contract unless Grayling was "satisfied that he had sufficient evidence that it is safe to do so". But it's not prepared to release information on what basis he's making that decision. We are being asked to trust him.

      The MoJ refused a freedom of information request on the safety tests, saying it would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.

      In an act of almost Kafkaesque logical contortion, the MoJ criticised lawyers for failing to provide evidence of the deficiencies, the very nature and content of which they refuse to disclose. This is what forced lawyers to start gathering evidence from probation officers themselves. They've now sent the evidence above, together with many other cases, to Grayling. They ask that he considers it. If he thinks there are risks to be assessed, he should explain how he will do so. If not, he should say on what evidence he bases this view.

      Failure to do so means Naop will pursue a judicial review, just days after the Lords prevented Grayling from effectively getting rid of the legal mechanism. One wonders why he took such dislike to it.

      Lawyers are also threatening Grayling with a private law duty in his duty of care to probation staff, who they say are being put needlessly at risk by the break-up.

    4. This is now down to the wire. The Treasury solicitors, who deal with these sorts of letters, had until 16:00 last Friday to reply to the letter. They did so at 16:05, asking for another two days. The new deadline is today at 16:00. But there are rumours that the sell-off of the companies may also be announced today. We've been expecting it since last month.

      There is an easy out for Grayling here. Lawyers say they will give more time if he undertakes not to sign contracts on the rehabilitation companies until 21 days after he provides a "substantive response" to the evidence provided by Napo. As a basic standard of ensuring public safety, that should not be an arduous undertaking to give. But the suspicion remains that, as with other privatisations, it is ideology, not facts on the ground, which are driving the policy.

      Ian Dunt

    5. Even if Grayling did have evidence of safety tests, publishing them would probably be as damaging to his plans as JR would be.
      He's found himself between a rock and a hard place on this one, and it's all his own making.

  3. Does any one else feel the fight back is only just starting? Also, my view about the threats of disciplining staff for speaking out is, you had plenty of time Allars, Spurr, Brennan et al to find out the truth and failed to do so, now don't dare blame staff for speaking up when you failed to protect the public and the staff.

    1. Exactly. If they were so confident in the reforms why the secrecy about this risk register and why are they trying to gag staff.

  4. http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2014/10/28/officers-say-public-are-in-danger-so-why-won-t-moj-publish-i

  5. I wonder how many CRCs Crapita will get its hands on.

  6. I think capita will be offered london

    1. Well with the big papers being mostly based in London any serious further offences will get major publicity as well as the winning bidders brand name being splashed with it.