How Balanced Are The Scales of Justice in UK Courts
If you come from an Ethnic Minority group, you are more likely to be stopped by the Police, you are more likely to be arrested and appear in Court, and as a result you are more likely than non minority defendants to receive a custodial sentence. What is not always so readily publicised is that as a member of a minority group you are also far more likely to be the victim of crime. Minorities are greatly under represented within the Criminal Justice System. I became increasingly aware of the disproportionate numbers of those from minority groups within the prison population; I was also becoming aware that it appeared that the Travelling Community seemed to be sent to prison very readily. I wondered if this was due to the transient nature of our lifestyle. I wondered if with some understanding this might somehow in the fullness of time be improved.
With all of the above in mind and after much thought, I applied to become a Magistrate, I felt I had a great deal to offer, and was able to have an insight and understanding of many different aspects of life, due to my quite diverse life experiences.
I passed through each stage of the interview process; having always answered the questions asked of me as honestly as possible, I also passed the checks that are made to make sure I was of good character. It’s quite a long drawn out process but after all checks and interviews were complete I was duly appointed. The aim these days is for a diverse Bench and on face value that is exactly what you appear to get. The training included and afternoon on “Diversity” which to all present, seemed a little OTT, and on times PC gone crazy, but ok, at least the effort was there. All in all the training was impressive.
In September of 2007, I had cause to telephone the Police, my 13 year old daughter had contacted me from school during the lunch break absolutely petrified. She had been the victim of an ongoing bullying campaign that was particularly nasty; it had been going on for 2 years by this time. The gang involved were 2 years older than her, and had terrorised her to the point where her health and education were suffering (she had missed almost a years school before returning in the September). The school had consistently failed to take any action at all, even though 1 gang member had been prosecuted the September previous. My daughter had been subjected to beatings, she had been spat on, cigarettes had been stubbed out in her hair, she had been verbally abused threatened, and thrown into the traffic on a very busy road outside of her school amid a barrage of threats, racist abuse and foul language. On the day in Question 20th September 2007, my daughter had been told by a key member of this gang that she was going to be subject to a beating, possibly during the lunch break, failing that definitely on her way home. Neither the Head Teacher nor the head of year would make themselves available to speak to me, I told the school that in that case I would have to involve the Police.
The Police made it clear that they did not intend to intervene. A very rude and abrasive female officer informed that they were “not body guards”. I asked to speak to her Inspector and when he phoned me back he was equally unhelpful saying there was “Policy in place” which meant the school must deal with this, He could not tell any more about the Policy other than that he believed it existed. I explained that the school were refusing to assist, and therefore the Police must act, he refused saying there was nothing he could or would do. I requested that at the very least Harassment Orders be issued in the hope this would afford my daughter some protection, and if this failed further action could be taken, The Inspector refused saying he could not do that. I explained yes he could I had recently read the Law in relation to this, he jibed at me and asked if I read it on the internet? I explained that I was in fact a Magistrate and had this information from my “Bench Book” so it was most definitely accurate. I also brought to his attention past failings on the part of his Officers, these were personal matters in reference to my disabled son who had been attacked more than one occassion, blunders by his officers meant the perpetrators had escaped prosecution. My daughter had been sexually assaulted at her place of work ( McDonalds), refusal by Officers to collect CCTV footage meant that her assailant escaped . On one occassion an Officer had made mocking comments, and later lied by denying them when I asked his Inspector to intervene. These "personal" experiences were conveniently recorded as matters that had arisen in Court, I had apparently stated that I had heard the Police "fibbing" in Court all the time. This remark was not made, and indeed could be proven to have been very highly unlikely to have been made in my capacity as a Magistrate, but the personal incidents to which I refered would be a matter of record.
I was very angry, and told him that I would contact the Police HQ the following day and speak to the Chief Constable.
The Following day after contact with the Chief Constables Office I had a phone call from a Detective Superintendent. He was equally unhelpful, making various excuses as to just why Harassment warnings could not be issued, The gang in question were motivated by a certain family within the locality, and I was questioning as to why this family appeared untouchable, No mention was made in relation to Police Informants by me, but I was immediately subjected to a rant as to how they were not informants. One excuse was that “these people do not respond to the law”, ( I will leave the reader to muse and draw their own conclusion on this comment ) . The top and tail of it was that he was adamant that Harassment Warnings could not be issued in these circumstances, I was equally adamant that they could, and forcibly telling him that I had read the criteria in a Bench book, and that they could be, and should be and that I would not accept his refusal, I told him it was my intention to revert back to the Chief Constable.
Shortly afterwards a Sergeant phoned he called to our home, took a statement from my daughter, and miracle of miracles the Harassment Orders were Issued that evening. The Orders were issued on the gang leader, her sister and the mother.
Small incidents continued, and were reported, and then I was told by a neighbour of this family that the Harassment Orders were withdrawn. I tried on numerous occasions to contact the Inspector (who had by now been promoted to Detective Inspector). Although messages were left, he never returned my calls.
On 19th October 2007, my daughter went out early evening with some friends, she was due home by 8.30, when she had not returned by 10 my husband telephoned me ( I was away due to Gipsy Kings Tour), we were unsure what to do, and decided to give it another hour and see what transpired my husband called me back at 10.45, my daughter had just returned, in a highly distressed state, a drunken adult male from this family had held her against her will, for part of the time he had his fist in her face issuing threats, only releasing her when the male with him started to get windy about it all, the Police were notified immediately and promised to call the following day.( At the time of writing this, 27th February 2008, and despite reminders the Police still have not called in relation to this).
On October 23rd 2007, I was in London the Detective Inspector phoned ( mobile phone) I asked about the Harassment warnings, he told me they might be removed, the reason he gave was that the family concerned “objected to having them issued against them” I was astounded, The Inspector assured me he would speak to me about this on my return home, I informed him about my daughter being detained and threatened a few days before, he assured me he would follow this up.
As I had heard no more on either the status of the harassment Warnings, or what was to be done in relation to my daughter being detained against her will and threatened, I began to make calls to chase matters up This began on 7th November 2007, my daughter had again been threatened at school, and I was getting worried once more for her safety. I was assured by a Sergeant, that he had left a message for the Inspector to contact me urgently, I got no response so over the next week I left several messages, but still got no response. on 20th November 2007, and by now totally fed up. I was pondering on the position;
were this gang, led by this family untouchables?..they most certainly appeared to be.
If they were not untouchables as the Police assured me they were not, then why was my daughter not being protected by the law? ..if they were not untouchables….then was it then the case that my daughter was “fair game”? ……what could make my child fair game ? She seemed average enough..dressed like all the other kids…liked all the same music….There was only one thing that set my child apart…her accent and/or her origins.
I contacted the Office of the Chief Constable, I spoke to the Assistant Chiefs P.A, she told me she would leave a message and someone would get right back to me, nothing happened and I phoned again the following day (21st) she was surprised I had received no contact and told me she would get another message across there and then, The following day there was still no response, I tried to speak to the PA again on the Friday (23rd) but she was not in her office.
On 23rd November 2007, a letter of complaint was sent to the Bench about my conduct during telephone conversations, on 20th and 21st September 2007, these conversations were with the original female officer , 2 Sergants (with whom I never spoke) and the Inspector on 20th September, and with the Superintendent on 21st September 2007. It was felt that my conduct was one of expressing prejudice against the Police by my comments, thus meaning I could not be impartial if sitting in Court, and also that I abused my position, by telling Officers that I knew it was indeed Harassment because I was a Magistrate and I had seen the relevant criteria for Harassment in my Bench book. So, throughout the remainder of September, the whole of October, and the most part of November, some 2 months and 2 days in total, nobody felt inspired to complain, yet now on 23rd November, 3 days after I had again began to ask questions and direct them via the Chief Constables Office, suddenly I was a threat to the Justice system!
The complaint had come from The Inspector ( now Detective Inspector), The Superintendent, the first Officer I spoke to, who had been rude to me and 2 Sergeants, both of whom were named, who claimed to have been concerned by my conduct when they spoke to me , I knew without doubt that I had not spoken to these 2, the Police log later proved that I had not !
I was told I could not sit in Court until this matter resolved, I was also told there would be a hearing before a Panel of Lord Chancellors Advisory Committee for the area, I was allowed to take some one with me for moral support, and asked what days I would be available, I said that the person I wanted to go with me could go any day at all , except for a Wednesday. A hearing date was set for 30th January 2008 ..a Wednesday..apologies were made for the fact it was a Wednesday . This date was arranged in early/mid December; it seemed that it must be a Wednesday, as some “key” people needed it to be a Wednesday. To say I was beginning to feel “stitched up” is an understatement!
The Inspector and Superintendent submitted Statements, both of which were utter fabrications of the truth. The Superintendent claimed that I had phoned him, when in fact he had phoned me, a small point maybe, but important, as he is a Professional Officer who should be used to recording facts accurately. The tone of his statement was one of me using my position as a Magistrate to gain favour, which was totally wrong, I was phoning as a mother, I was stating I was also a Magistrate to try to make him listen to me, because I was correct, it was harassment, and he could and should take action, which of course he was forced to do. So clearly I was correct, I should not have had to go to such lengths of phoning the Chief Constable and quoting the law to get the help my daughter was entitled to ..”by law”.
I had attended the hearing alone, I had no choice, I was shocked that after hearing evidence from the Inspector,which took about 20 minutes at most, a break was decided upon while we waited for the Superintendent to arrive from the Police Station. The Panel were made up of 3 Magistrates who were from another Bench and whom I did not know . My disabled son was ill on that day, and I was keen to get this hearing over with to return home, the panel were aware of this, but a fiasco then took place that I found both incredulous and insulting. We had not been there long before this enforced break while we waited for the Superintendent, the inspector had left and we were stood out on a landing where coffee, and biscuits were ordered and delivered, on arrival it was decided that toast would be better having ordered the toast there was concern over whether this would be white or brown toast. There was great joviality and silliness, which I found somewhat misplaced as they were there to decide on my integrity.
The Superintendent gave a wonderful performance which was a greatly enhanced version of his original statement, and it was accepted with enthusiasm. I had written(faxed) to the Chief Constables PA on 24th January 2008 to ask if the conversations I had with the various officers would have been recorded, and also to clarify that I spoke to their office and they had the Superintendent to call me. I got no reply) On the day of the hearing (30th), his account had been nicely tailored , he now stated that he phoned me as the Chief Constables Office had asked him to, and nobody on the Panel batted an eyelid. His evidence was peppered with lies and innuendo that led me to believe that he was very subtly drawing attention to my ethnic background, and was claiming that I had told him that I was frequently racially abused within the community, and that I had sworn, I had told him about the vile racist abuse my child had been subjected to and the foul names she had been called. I was not swearing at him, I was outlining what my daughter, a child was going through.By making it sound as if I was claiming to be racially abused and name called, he was effectively making me appear an outcast in the community that as a Magistrate I was to serve!
His evidence was twisted and distorted and accepted without question by the Panel.Even though some of his claims could be proven wrong as a matter of official records.
When I had my chance to speak I pointed out that 3 of the complaining Officers had neither made statements against me or attended on that day, The Secretary to the Panel had said that he had contacted all 3 officers on several occasions asking for statements but none had responded in anyway. I had told how the 2 Sergeants mentioned had not even spoken to me, therefore the complaint against me if not proven to be false was at least exaggerated. The claim that they had spoken to me was a lie! The Polices own log proved it.
I told the Panel that I only kept repeating the fact I was a magistrate in order to make them listen to me, to prove I knew there was Law in place to protect my daughter. It was claimed that I was trying to gain some advantage…..to this day I cannot see how, asking for a child to be afforded protection from the law, and using the knowledge I had gained in my position as a Magistrate was gaining advantage? I was only asking for what any citizen is entitled to, how can asking for what is rightfully yours be in any way be gaining advantage?
I told the panel how I was not prejudiced against the Police, I saw the Police as I did any other organisation, with both good and bad within its ranks, this is a realistic view point surely?. I had only the month before given up my own time to see 2 senior officers from a neighbouring force, in order to try and help the Police understand the needs of the Gypsy and Travelling people. Far from harbouring prejudice I am keen to break down barriers and get people talking.
I made it clear that I found it abhorrent that the Police should try and have me removed from the Bench for my conduct in a personal matter, but also how I found it equally abhorrent that any Magistrate who airs concern about the Police should be subject to such an assault.
The Panel agreed with the Police, and have recommended The Lord Chancellor should remove me from my position. They failed to see that I was acting as the mother of a terrified child, and went on to say that in regard to the Police they feel that I am incapable of recognising my own prejudices! I was outraged by this comment, from 3 people who had met me for a limited time in difficult circumstances. If anything on the day I feel the Panel failed to be impartial, indeed I would go so far as to say that I felt that it mattered not a jot what I said, the Police had made a complaint and that was that.
Taking all of this into account, if any Magistrate who speaks out or airs concern about the Police should be ousted, how diverse is the Bench? All the PC diversity training in the world is useless in this environment. Magistrates sit in three’s for the purpose of balance and fairness. To my mind each case should be taken on merit and ALL of the evidence, and of course the evidence should be questioned thoroughly, a person’s liberty can depend upon it. If the Police want compliant Magistrates, and that’s certainly how it appears to me, then the integrity of the Bench and Justice itself is in jeopardy. And where in Gods name does this leave a Defendant? Doesn’t he or she have the right to expect to be in front of a Bench with a balanced and realistic outlook?. In this climate surely there would be hardly any need for a Court at all. It would be more or less a fore gone conclusion that if you stand accused by the Police, then you must be guilty, a frightening prospect.
I have been falsely accused by the Police, and the Panel, all of whom are experienced Magistrates, either failed to see, or refused to see the truth of the matter and the flaws in the complaint made against me, a worrying state of affairs to say the least, Thankfully it was my integrity alone that was at stake and not my liberty and my ability to earn a living.
The Coat of arms in the Court room bears the words ;
Dieu et mon droit(God and my right)
Honi soit qui mal y pense('Evil to him who evil thinks')
I'll second that !