Tag Archives: ban

Keep Off the Grass

In the robing room at Bolton Crown Court there is a sign that announces the prohibition of smoking. Transgressors will be reported to the “senior judiciary”, or so it tells us. Some wag has added “what? The Supreme Court??” Although when I say “some wag” I, of course, mean prescient sage. 

Today the Northern Circuit has been issued with an edict from the Presiding Judges. It has come to their attention that meetings have been held in the robing rooms of Liverpool and Manchester to debate the future of the professions. Apparently “no further meetings are to be held or arranged in court buildings.” By order of Her Majesty’s Judiciary. 

On a plus point, at least the dire future of the professionals that appear before them has come to the attention of the senior judiciary. Their conduct otherwise could leave you wondering. But now we know they have it at the forefront of their mind. Not access to justice but access to the robing room. 

From today onwards each practitioner is on a DAPO, a Direct Action Prevention Order. The terms of the Order are that no relevant person (for the purposes of the Order relevant person is anyone paid from the Legal Aid Fund) may gather together in groups of three or more within the curtilage of the Court Building save for in circumstances unavoidable in every day life and the conduct of multi-handed cases. Furthermore, relevant persons are expressly prohibited from discussing, chatting or whining about the level of remuneration. Participation in a ballot and/or survey whilst within the boundaries of the provided map is also strictly forbidden. 

This prohibition is not “taking sides” or an effort to stifle debate. We are reminded that “robing rooms are provided to facilitate the day to day business of advocates in the court building. They are not made available for any other purposes including meetings – regardless of the perceived merits or demerits of the proposals being debated.”

Plain and simple. Court buildings are reserved for court business and court business only. Rules are rules after all. 

Which is a shame, because the concourse at Crown Square is regularly used to host a Macmillan Coffee Morning to raise money for the cancer charity during normal opening hours. This does nothing for the day to day business of the staff and users in the building. So it can no longer happen, regardless of the perceived merits or demerits of charity. 

And then there are the countless retirement parties of the Judiciary that have been hosted in the Court Buildings of Manchester and Liverpool. A table set out with wine and nibbles as the Judiciary chat about their pensions (conversations which I presume are now verboten in the Judical dining room). All banned. 

Of course these other things are not banned. Just the hard pressed criminal practitioner grabbing a few moments before the court day to discuss their future and the health of the CJS. That is banned. 

What a terrible message that sends. 

I am reminded of the park-keeper from days gone by who would chase off the girls and boys whose only crime was to use the public facilities. Who would imagine that one of the core competencies for senior judicial office was policing what counsel did in the robing room?

I am currently on holiday. Next week, when I am back, I suspect I may want to catch up with my colleagues to find out what has been going on. I will now arrange that in a nearby coffee shop. And then we can all turn up to get through security at 10.15. That’ll make the day run smoothly. Particularly if lots of you join me. 

I really despair that the Judiciary have done this. It serves no purpose, other than to leave a bewildered profession wondering how the Judicary can have their priorities so wrong. 

The Book of Moron

This weekend I watched a little bit of Sport Relief. Davina McCall was visiting a quarry where young children worked. She returned with one of the children to her corrugated tin home. The child produced from a bag her most treasured possessions – two tattered school books without covers that had been given to her by a friend. In these books she carefully copied any word vaguely medical as she wanted to be a doctor. In the midst of all that poverty, deprivation and struggle books were a true symbol of hope.

Thankfully we do not have children working in quarries. We do have people in custodial institutions. The vast majority of them are richly deserving of punishment. We have to hope that most of them are capable of redemption. Many of them will be poorly educated. Thanks to the Lord Chancellor all of them will now struggle to have books sent into them from their family of friends.

We know that the Lord Chancellor is not a man to let a sensible policy get in the way of a headline. We know he likes that photograph of him, arms folded, locked prison gate in the background, looking all tough. But books? Really?

I have delivered many a lame mitigation in my time but I have never ever uttered the phrase “what started out as a few social stanzas with friends soon grew to an out of control spiral of book abuse and so began my client’s descent into criminality”. Not once.

What ill is the book ban hoping to stamp out? Is Grayling worried that prisoners may be given ideas from “Escape from Colditz”? Has there been an outbreak of prisoners getting over the wall by climbing a tottering pile of Enid Blyton? Has tobacco and cannabis been replaced by “Pickwick Papers” as the currency of the landings? Has the front page of the Daily Mail been filled with stories of how prisons are becoming more like holiday camps because of the endless supply of autobiographies?

The answer it seems is that they want to encourage prisoners to earn money to buy books. Having looked at the prison incentive scheme it strikes me that it is probably easier for a prisoner to have a TV in his cell and a Playstation than it is for his family to send him a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

I appreciate that the system of reward and privilege is an essential part of prison discipline. It would be more reassuring if the Lord Chancellor would expend more energy explaining that to the public than he does on endless tinkering. However books are such a powerful, positive influence on people that their widespread availability is something to be cherished and promoted.

Rights and privileges are a hallmark of a decent society. Whilst I pause to observe that there is an irony in a Minister of Justice who wishes to lessen the rights of prisoners whilst making privileges out of rights I will say that the access to education through literature is to be cherished as a right, not dangled as a reward. I do not for one moment kid myself that every violent thug is going to have his life transformed by reading Proust but surely we have to see that if a starving child in Africa can be touched by the power of the written word then there is a man in Strangeways who may find a inspiration in life through reading.

I am tempted to send Mr Grayling one or two books. “The Rule of Law” and “The Morality of Law” might be good places to start. Or maybe just “Nutshell’s Guide to Being Lord Chancellor”. You see I believe even our errant Minister of Justice can find redemption in the written word. That is testament to how powerful it can be.