Wednesday, 30 November 2016

News Roundup 8

This article in the Guardian reveals the magistrates are not happy:-

Magistrates quitting in 'considerable' numbers over court closures

Magistrates are resigning in “considerable” numbers, the head of their national body has said, after scores of court closures and swingeing government cuts. Forty-seven magistrates courts have shut this year, one-tenth of courts in England and Wales, with significant numbers of judges resigning early from the unpaid position.

Malcolm Richardson, the chairman of the Magistrates Association, said: “Magistrates deal with more than 90% of the criminal cases that come to court and they cost 1% of the HM Courts and Tribunal Service budget. But we’re getting a bit tired of being treated like the 1% and not the 90%.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would not disclose the number of magistrates who had resigned this year, but the association said the figure was considerable. It comes after at least 75 magistrates resigned last year over the controversial criminal courts charge, which caused outrage among law groups before it was scrapped by Michael Gove.

The mass resignations and court closures have left the magistracy stretched, Richardson said, adding that “nobody [in government] seems to have a plan” for the future of the volunteer judges.

“There is no evidence of a strategy for the use of magistrates. What are we for in the 21st century? What are we for in the brave new world, which is starting to be revealed under the courts reform programme?” he said. “Magistrates feel they are not, and have not been, engaged with in the determination of what that future looks like … The consequences of that for some magistrates, particularly those who are getting towards retirement, is to say ‘why am I carrying on?’ It’s a difficult question to answer.”

Three magistrates who have resigned or retired since September told the Guardian morale was at rock bottom among the judges, who are only paid expenses. They said magistrates felt ignored and unappreciated as a result of cost cutting, ranging from court closures to buildings falling into disrepair. More trivial money-saving measures, such as cutting back on coffee and newspapers in the judges’ quarters, and using cheaper, thinner paper, had also irritated the magistracy, they said.

Janet Alcock, a Conservative councillor in Clitheroe, Lancashire, said she “resigned in despair” in September after 20 years as a magistrate. The role has been reduced to a “soul-destroying production line” of speeding fines and licence fee evasions, Alcock said, adding that she gave up encouraging people to become magistrates a long time ago.

Alcock said she had become “extremely frustrated” at having to issue fines to defendants who would never be able to pay, and the victim surcharge, which “just seems to be another way of dressing up that they’re taking more money off them”.

“You know, realistically, from the point of view of collecting the fines, you’re not going to get it, which makes it extremely frustrating,” she said. “Everybody’s always calling me ‘the hanging judge’ because I’m saying things like instead of fining people who can’t afford it, send them out working … Political correctness wouldn’t allow you to do anything like that.

“But that would be far more satisfying to the public, I think, than for people to appear six months later owing even more than they did at the beginning. It’s just frustrating for everybody.”

Myra Robinson, who retired last month as a bench chairman of Newcastle magistrates, said fining those who could not afford to pay was morally wrong, but there was little that magistrates could do about it. “It’s just ticking boxes and following down – if someone did this then that’s the punishment. There’s no flexibility,” she said.

“I’d worked all my career with young offenders and kids with problems. I felt I knew a lot of the families with problems in Newcastle, and I could see behind what they’d just done and think what would be an appropriate way of dealing with it. My hands have been tied for many years now. People can’t afford fines.”

A third recently resigned magistrate, who did not want to be named, said the court closures meant “losing local justice for local people”. In some cases, proposed closures meant it would be impossible for defendants or witnesses travelling by public transport to get to a court for 10am.

“I was constantly getting emails or texts or phone calls to say that we urgently need magistrates to sit in places like Scarborough. That would imply there is a shortage,” said the magistrate, who was based nearly 90 miles (145km) away in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Forty-seven magistrates courts closed their doors between March and September under government proposals to reduce the £500m annual cost of the courts estate. A further 45 are due to shut by September 2017, meaning one-fifth of all courts in England and Wales will have disappeared in 19 months.

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “The magistracy remains at the heart of our justice system. We are investing £1bn to reform and digitise our courts to deliver swifter justice, and we are working closely with the judiciary to encourage the recruitment of underrepresented groups.

“Closing underused and dilapidated court buildings will allow us to reinvest in the justice system and make the best use of technology, improving the experience for all court users, in particular vulnerable victims and witnesses.”


The reports on prisons are getting worse. This from the Guardian:-

Regime at HMP Hindley one of worst ever seen, say prison inspectors

The regime at the category C Hindley jail near Wigan is “one of the worst and possibly one of the very worst that inspectors had ever seen in this type of prison”, an official watchdog report has said. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said the Hindley regime includes regular shutdowns when inmates, including young adults, are locked in their cells for more than 24 hours at a time.

His report published on Tuesday also highlights poor food, including mouldy bread, filthy cells, and a high level of violence with 126 assaults in just six months, including 35 fights. Half the prisoners told inspectors it was easy to get hold of illegal drugs, which were more accessible than clean clothes, sheets or books from the library.

Peter Dawson, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said although they were used to dreadful inspection reports about dilapidated, overcrowded Victorian prisons, HMP Hindley “is none of these things, and this damning verdict is all the more troubling as a result”.

The latest critical inspection report comes after peers in the House of Lords cited the record level of prison suicides so far this year. Justice ministers responded by acknowledging the seriousness of the crisis and highlighting their plans to recruit 2,500 more prison officers, including 400 immediately for the 10 most challenged prisons.

Hindley in Greater Manchester opened in 1961 as a borstal and in 2015 was converted from a youth jail into a category C prison for young offenders and adult males serving sentences of up to four years. The inspection was carried out in July, when the jail held 515 inmates and was within its operational capacity.

But the inspectors found a “totally inadequate regime” in which more than two-thirds of prisoners said they received less than six hours a day out of their cells and many experienced less than that on a daily basis.

“The inadequate regime was made worse by significant slippage and regular shutdowns, which meant that most prisoners regularly experienced being locked in their cells for more than 24 hours. As a result, prisoners were often not unlocked to attend work or education, and were denied daily access to showers and telephones,” the report said. Residential wings and landings were dirty, with inspectors finding mould and fungus, while single cells were small and poorly ventilated, and many were filthy.

“The regime at Hindley was one of the worst, and possibly the very worst, that inspectors had ever seen in this type of prison,” said Clarke. “The length of time for which young adults and adults alike were locked up was, in our considered view, unnecessary, unjustifiable and counterproductive. Almost every aspect of prison life was adversely affected by the regime.”

He cited the problem of the staff association opposing a move to put microwaves on the wings as “symptomatic of what seemed to have gone wrong at Hindley”. He said many prisoners locked up all day only received a hot meal at 4pm and were given an inadequate breakfast pack to see them through to lunchtime the next day. A move to install microwaves would have been an improvement but “good intentions were not being translated into action on the wings”.

He added: “To make progress, there needs to be a very clear recognition of what is good at Hindley, and also where there needs to be fundamental change. Many examples of good practice could be found in the chaplaincy, education and healthcare. The same could not be said for residential areas. There needs to be an honest appraisal of the culture that predominates among some staff in these areas.”

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said since the inspection a detailed improvement plan had been developed to address the weaknesses identified by inspectors.

“Progress has been made to improve safety and purposeful activity with more prisoners engaged in high-quality work and training opportunities,” said Spurr. “Additional staff have been transferred into the prison to support the improvements required and the governor is working closely with Greater Manchester police to tackle gang behaviour and violence in the prison.”


Finally, this from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies reminds us how politicians of all hues have done much to create the mess we now find ourselves in:-

Tough talk costs lives

The endless calls for tough community sentences do more harm than good, argues Richard Garside

Michael Gove is the latest politician to accept that we lock up too many people in prison. 'It is an inconvenient truth – which I swerved to an extent while in office – that we send too many people to prison', he told an audience in London last week. 'Prison is expensive, anti-social, inefficient and often de-humanising', he added.

Mr Gove's 'swerve' while Justice Secretary unfortunately took in the distracting irrelevance of 'reform prisons'. He would have done better to take on the far more important task of reforming prisons. Key to this task, as Mr Gove now appears to recognise, is a reduction in the number of prisoners needlessly locked up.

Appearing before the House of Commons Justice Committee earlier this week, Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, said that with the prison population being 'very, very high at the moment', there was a strong case for 'really tough, and I do mean tough, community penalties'. Such is the state of the debate about alternatives to imprisonment that the most senior judge in the land is reduced to emphasising just how tough he wants to be.

The problem here is that no community sentence is ever likely to be as 'tough' as six months in Pentonville prison. David Cameron appeared to understand this when, in a speech in February this year, he called for 'a new approach' to prisons policy, one that did not 'trap us into often false choices between so-called tough or soft approaches'. In the same speech, and with no sense of irony, Mr Cameron promised to 'dramatically toughen up community sentences'.

Last year, Michael Gove, told the Justice Committee

'I do believe that there is the possibility through electronic monitoring, tagging, to find ways of making sure there are some offenders in the future who can have genuinely tough and effective community sentences'. 
In March 2013 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government promised 'tough and effective' community sentences for women. The previous October, Mr Gove's predecessor as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, wrote in a Foreword to a consultation response that 'tougher community sentences may give more options to sentencers who currently feel that prison is the only robust choice'. Ken Clarke, another former Justice Secretary, announced in March 2012 that the government was 'overhauling community sentences to ensure they are tough, credible and robust'.

Jack Straw, Justice Secretary during the last Labour government, said in February 2008:

Prison is the right place for the most serious and violent offenders but there are currently people in prison who would be better rehabilitated and therefore less likely to reoffend elsewhere... so we must ensure that courts have tough community sentences at their disposal to deal with less serious, non-violent offenders.
The government was 'bringing in tough new community sentences', the former Labour government's strategic plan for criminal justicestated in July 2004. The Halliday review of sentencing, published in July 2001, found evidence of a 'toughening up of sentencing', including 'increased numbers of the more intensive of community sentences'.

Where has all this tough talk got us? In 2001, when Halliday was being published, the prison population stood at around 65,000. When Lord Thomas was speaking of 'really tough' community sentences earlier this week, it stood at over 85,000.

Far from acting as 'alternatives' to prison, community sentences tend towards widening the net of punishment and coercion, as research by the Centre some years ago, as well as more recently, has shown. Tough talk on community sentences merely feeds this particular beast. This year's 'tough' community penalty becomes next year's 'soft' one. And so it goes on.

The collateral damage of all this rhetoric can be found in the high levels of suicide and self-harm among prisoners; of stressful working conditions for prison staff and living conditions for prisoners; and of deteriorating buildings and infrastructure. Tough talk really does cost lives. It is time for it to stop.

Richard Garside


  1. Could the author of The Magistrate's Blog offer any more accurate figures or observation about the magistrates' quiet revolution?

    1. I think the magistrates stopped reading this blog some time ago.

  2. HMP Hindley Report: The POA are still part of the problem in achieving decent regimes. Even microwaves that would make a difference for the better are opposed.

    'Many examples of good practice could be found in the chaplaincy, education and health care.
    The same could not be said about the residential areas. There needs to be an honest appraisal of the culture that predominates among some staff in these areas. Inspectors were disappointed to be told things by some members of staff that were at variance with the very clear evidence before us' (p.5)

  3. Should I divide by pi, or multiply by the current VAT rate?


    1. A new way of measuring crime in England and Wales has been devised that ranks offences according to their seriousness.
      The Crime Severity Score is designed to reflect the relative harm of offending, rather than how many crimes there are.
      Under the new system, murder is given the top weighting - 7,979 points per offence - while cannabis possession has the lowest of three points per offence.
      West Yorkshire had the highest crime severity score, Dyfed-Powys the lowest.
      The Metropolitan Police's score was second highest.
      The Office for National Statistics compiled the new system, and said over the past 14 years the police recorded crime rate and the Crime Severity Score (CSS) have shown similar trends - both have generally decreased but in recent years showed slight increases.
      Drugs and damage
      However, the ONS says the value of the CSS is in providing additional information to understand crime at a local level - although like other police figures, the CSS may fluctuate according to changes in the way forces record offences.
      The weighting for each offence is calculated by analysing sentencing data - the tougher the sentence imposed for a particular crime; the greater the weight for that offence.
      Once a weight has been calculated for each offence, it is multiplied by the number of incidents.
      That total is then divided by the population for the area in question to give the Crime Severity Score.
      In England and Wales, the CSS in 2015-16 was 10.1, compared with 14.3 in 2002-03.
      After murder and other homicide offences, the next highest individual crime weightings are for attempted murder, aiding suicide, and rape.
      The lowest weighted offences after possession of cannabis were soliciting for prostitution, possession of controlled drugs more generally, criminal damage to buildings, and dishonest use of electricity.
      'Blunt instrument'
      The law and order debate has been hampered for many years by the absence of statistics that reflect the reality of offending.
      The police recorded figures are a blunt instrument: they measure only the volume of crimes reported and logged by forces - a murder and a theft each count as one crime, for example.
      The other long-standing crime measurement tool is the Crime Survey of England and Wales, the main benefit of which is that it includes offences that aren't reported to police.
      But the survey has its limitations as well - some categories of crime are not measured and when it estimates the number of crimes no distinction is made between offences which cause severe harm and those that are less serious.

  4. Most interesting article by Richard Garside.
    I don't know about wanting tough community sentences, but I think many magistrates would like to have far better options for community penalties.

    I am not sure that magistrates sentence to custody excessively - the guidelines now prevent this quite effectively. Breaches are possibly a different matter, particularly breach of Post Sentence Supervision.
    Here's a regular problem with Community Orders:
    First, Probation recommends a number of days of RAR - a maximum number of days, note, not the actual number. Does any magistrate know what actually happens in RAR? I doubt it.
    Want to impose some unpaid work (community payback)? No, defendant is on ESA so can't do it. How about a curfew then? No, indications of domestic abuse in an earlier relationship so not possible. And so it goes.
    So a high level community order may end up as some RAR and a fine - which won't be paid or payable as defendant is on benefits and already has the maximum deduction.
    In stead of worrying whether community orders are tough enough let's have some imaginative options which make them meaningful.

    1. On sentencing variability:

      A Post-code Lottery? The Different Rates of Custody

      Criminal justice areas where benches have curbed their use of immediate custodial sentences include Bedfordshire, Dorset, Durham, Kent, Northumbria, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. However, magistrates’ courts in areas such as Derbyshire, Gwent and Northamptonshire imposed immediate prison terms more frequently in 2011 than they did in 2001.

      The areas which imposed the highest rates of imprisonment in 2011 were:

      Northamptonshire: 6.5 per cent
      Derbyshire: 6.2 per cent
      West Midlands: 5.8 per cent

      The areas where magistrates’ courts imposed the lowest rates of imprisonment were:

      Northumbria: 1.6 per cent
      Warwickshire: 1.5 per cent

    2. Regarding ESA and Unpaid work.Guideline V0322
      Community service
      1 R(S) 5/51; R(S) 13/52; R(S) 24/52; R(S) 34/52; R(S) 37/52; R(S) 8/55; R(S) 2/61; R(S) 2/74; R(S) 10/79
      V3022 Community service should not be regarded as work. Courts will take account of a person’s limited capability and the type and extent of activities prescribed by the court should be appropriate to the limited capability.

    3. Article here in the Telegraph. Lord Chief Justice wants much tougher community payback sentences, and more visibility to public.


    4. Community service is not tough enough and needs to be a more visible punishment, Britain’s most senior judge has suggested as he says offenders view non-jail sentences as “getting off” free.

      The Lord Chief Justice called for harsher community penalties as an alternative to imprisonment at a time when jails are “overstretched” and unable to cope with overcrowding.

      Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said making offenders more “visible” while they are carrying out work could deter offenders from seeing community service as an easy way out.

      He stressed both sides of the “controversial issue” needed debate and said there are “plenty of ways” to make workers stand out without “dressing people up” in striped uniforms.

      His comments come amid mounting questions over the prison population in England and Wales.

      This month thousands of prison officers staged a walkout after claiming the system was “in meltdown”.

      Around 85,000 people are currently behind bars and campaigners have repeatedly warned about overcrowding and rising levels of violence and self-harm.

      Speaking on Tuesday Lord Thomas said: “If you are sending someone to prison for a very short time, the ability of the prison to cope with that person is limited in the current circumstances.

      “What is absolutely essential is that you have, for magistrates in particular but also for judges, really good alternatives to prison.”

      He added: “There are two issues: how do you balance rehabilitation and punishment and what should the punishment be. Should you have some really tough kind of work for them to do? Should you make the punishment visible? These are issues that need to be debated.”

      Lord Thomas also said more work needed to be done in ensuring community sentences were not viewed as a soft option for those who have broken the law.

      He said: “We need to look much more carefully at how we give the public confidence, and the judiciary and particularly the magistracy.

      “Many defendants often say, ‘Phew, I’ve got off,’ and that is a terrible, terrible indictment of the system.

      Earlier this month Michael Gove said criminals should not be sent to prison unless there is no alternative.

      But director of Voice for Victims and former probation union official, Harry Fletcher, said "toughening up" community penalties was not simple.

      He said: “There have been calls to harden up community service and make it more visible for the last ten years. It has proved highly impractical to do it.

      “First, there is a shortage of placements and second there is a risk of abuse from the public to offenders and if the offenders are highly visible there’s a tendency for them not to show up, which defeats the point of it.

      “Community service must not be a vehicle to replace work down by local authority councils because it would put people out of work. It’s easy for the Lord Chief Justice to call for tougher community service but how do you do that? Make offenders break up rocks? Or do hard physical labour?

      “The reality is most of them are addicted to drugs or alcohol or both, and many have mental or physical health issues so therefore are incapable of doing hard, physical work.”

      Community sentences range from unpaid work to treatment programs and group activities.

      Offenders doing tasks such as removing graffiti, clearing wasteland and decorating public places are required to wear a high-visibility orange vest under the current regime.

      In 2008 Labour controversially introduced vests with the words “Community Payback” written on the back for criminals on community service.

  5. Guardian on line asking for feedback from probation staff on impact of privatisation

    1. Here's the Guardian link.

    2. Last year 8,600 probation staff were outsourced as part of the privatisation of more than half of the probation service in England and Wales.

      In 2014, seven-year-long contracts for rehabilitation services worth £3.7bn were awarded to companies such as Staffline, Sodexo and MTCnovo to supervise low and medium-risk offenders. Those who are deemed high-risk are still supervised by the National Probation Service.

      If you work in probation services we’d like to hear from you. What do you think of their current state, and how have you been affected?

      You can share your experiences with us by filling in the form below - anonymously if you wish. All information will be kept confidential and we will feature some of the submissions in our coverage.

  6. Not just Magistrates leaving in high numbers so are Probation Officers more notably in the CRC,s.

    1. PO's are leaving in the NPS too. Most have had enough. In my area both the NPS and CRC are deserted. Except for a handful of temp PO's and a few PSO's.

    2. Will NAPO provide the Guardian with a statement saying how the union feel privatisation?

  7. OMG as YPT say. Look what just dropped into my emails
    Dear XXX,
    If Christmas is magic, the build-up is manic. We can’t help you untangle your fairy lights. Or write the cards. Or squeeze a small army’s worth of food into an already bulging freezer. But we can help you make amazing savings on your Christmas shopping. (Read: more for your mulled wine budget.)
    Click here to browse a selection of merry, Napo Extra offers available.
    Best Wishes
    Napo HQ

    Off message? Working with head and heart to find accommodation for the homeless, early release for the motivated (but I cant secure any accommodation), supporting vulnerable people caught in the Daniel BLake Catch 22 bullying benefits regime, and they send me this crap. Bah Effing Humbug

    1. Ok I get the point but not all of us live for work. We work hard and should have some benefits. Christmas can be a magic time for some, especially kids and families. Napo is trying to give members some perks which we very much deserve. These actual perks are crap, but crap perks are better than no perks.

  8. NAPO should focus upon it's core business, wages terms and conditions before indulging in bonus points and star prizes.
    What is happening with a pay claim, shortening of the 26 year pay spine, and equal pay for work pf equal value?
    Xmas 'perks,' are simply a distraction

    1. No I disagree because we should expect more rather than less. NAPO should focus upon it's core business, wages terms and conditions AND indulge its members in any perks and benefits of being in a union.

      What is happening with the pay claim is a mystery at the moment, the 26 year pay spine (which is actually infinite due to pay freezes) is not shortening, and the only way we'll have equal pay for work of equal value will be when the last remaining probation officers have been replaced by PSO's.

      I say bring on the Xmas 'perks'. I have no qualms being distracted from the reality that nothing will improve with Napo as it's general secretary is happy being paid £70,000 to achieve less than nothing. No different from all those [privateer arse-licker and MoJ nodding-dog] probation directors and assistant directors sitting pretty with their £50k salaries.

  9. "Toughness "versus "constructive measures to reduce offending" : how would the latter not appeal to the public? How would the latter be less politically expedient than the former? Constructive measures to reduce reoffending sounds scientific, well thought through, proven to be effective. It invites us to focus on the desired end result, less crime.

    1. 'Constructive' does not sound scientific. It more implies they know what they're doing. The fact is they do not and there is nothing constructive or purposeful about any of this governments policies towards crime, punishment and rehabilitation. Everything current our side of the CJS stems from TR which was one of the most flawed policies there's been in a long time.

  10. As with all Government privatizations one of the main assumptions (clearly wrong in almost every instance but the Government doggedly clings to the idea) is that the privatization will bring INNOVATION to the work to be privatized. Not a single one of the successful (dubious!) private companies that bought out the CRC's has stepped forward with any suggestions whatsoever about alternative "punishments" to prison, more refined and worthwhile unpaid work schemes or anything else to help keep people out of prison in order to alleviate some of the pressures on the prisoners and prison staff in our over-full prisons. My grandma shows more innovation in her cooking than all the private owners of the CRC's put together show in any form of innovation in any aspect of Probation work or dealing with those who come before the courts. Miss Truss - Secretary of State for Justice - time to get to work on these privateers and make them INNOVATE like they all promised. As this is totally unlikely then reinstate a "proper" joined up Probation Service and let them show you how it should be done. Remember they were an award winning service before Grayling destroyed them, and they could still rise from the ashes before it is too late.