The Conference for Ethnic Minority Liaison Judges (EMLJ)
Friday 11 November 2005 Cliffords Inn, London
The Conference got started at 9.45 after attendees had a chance to register and to get themselves acquainted.
There was an uplifting opening from Thomas LJ who stressed the importance of the work of the EMLJ’s, especially at this particular time. He wanted there to be more communication and some accountability in the form of an Annual Report based on the template provided. He suggested that perhaps the best time to complete and return the form to him, would be either the end of the Judicial year or the end of the Financial Year, i.e. 31st March.
Dr. Coles report
We heard Dr Cole speak to his Report about the confidence of BME people in the Criminal Justice System in West Yorkshire. This is one of 6 Reports on BME confidence in the CJS being prepared for different parts of the country .There is an Executive copy of Dr. Coles Report which was circulated to all EMLJ’s who attended on the day. There were several interesting findings including that BME people (in West Yorkshire) tended to base their perceptions of the Criminal Justice System on their view of the Police in their area; there were areas in West Yorkshire where White people formed the minority of the area’s population; and on the whole (all attendees were pleased to hear), the Courts were not perceived as doing a particularly bad job.
The EMLJ’s: A personal perspective
Simon Hammond EMLJ for Leicester gave a very interesting account of the vast amount of work he had been doing in his court area. Simon went on to give many good ‘tips’ on what to do to try and foster good relationships with the communities in each judges respective areas. For example, he talked about meeting with his local Imam to discuss the concerns of the local Muslim community .He explained the benefits that such discussions had for the Criminal Justice System as a whole. He also gave examples of the problems that can and have occurred because of a lack of awareness about the different cultures in the court areas where judges serve. Simon Hammond seems to have undertaken work over and above what would normally be expected and shamed many of us. It raised the question of Judges being given enough time to perform the role properly.
I also gave a short talk about the work and the contacts I had made in my local area. I reiterated the importance of the valuable work we do. However, I did raise the issue about the difficulties I sometimes encountered because I didn’t always have the required administrative support.
The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO)
There was a presentation from NACRO setting out how they could help the EMLJ’s. Contacts were forged and Abi Pointing volunteered to be an initial source of information/contact for any of the judges who needed advice on issues surrounding BME people and Criminal Justice. We were also given some interesting statistics on the effect of Government Legislation -before this Government there was a CJA every 270 days, but since, there has been one every 153 days. ‘Food for thought’.
We were joined for the Afternoon session by Sir Igor Judge, and later by David Keene LJ -what a Court of Appeal bench we had for the day!
The perspective of a community judge: HHJ David Fletcher
The Afternoon session started with David Fletcher speaking with infectious enthusiasm, about his work as ‘The Red Hook’ new Community Judge in Liverpool. He spoke about how the job was set up and the work he does. There was the task of winning over the local residents when they moved into a new building. He did that so well that some of those residents now use the building as a ‘community establishment’ and even help out. There was an amazing relationship between all the components of the Criminal Justice System, and he made us all jealous by telling us he could get a DTTO Report done within the day. As I commented, ‘only a former Stipe’ could do that job so well’! For those of you who receive copies look out for a feature story about the Liverpool Community Justice Centre in this months ‘Hearsay’.
After David’s speech we began the afternoon Syndicate sessions which resulted in robust discussions that included Sir Igor. David Keene LJ Chaired the ‘feedback’ session which looked at the various questions. The main points that came out of the sessions were that:
- There should be more guidance on the role.
- There was difficulty in trying to find who to contact in various areas that had individual needs.
- Resident lodges should be involved in the appointment/notification system.
- There had to be the desire to do the job.
- There had to be knowledge of the culture of the local community.
- There was a need to communicate -indeed; ‘communication’ was a repeated theme of the day.
- Points of contact should include. Race Equality Council, Council of Faiths, Schools/Colleges/Universities, Race Action Partnerships; Court Diversity Officers.
- There could be a course on Comparative Religions.
- There should he a list of contacts of use to all EMLJ’s.
- ET AC could also provide support and be a point of contact.
During the day, there was an impromptu discussion about the Title of EMLJ. There was a suggestion that we should now be called Community Liaison Judges in view of what Dr. Cole had to say about the balance of the population with regards to race and how in some districts the BME population was higher than that of the White population. There was also a feeling that attempts to increase feelings of inclusion among BME communities may create feelings of exclusion among the White community and hence create mistrust because of a perception of bias. It was felt that a new title along the lines of “Community Liaison Judge” may be better to describe the work we do which includes creating contacts with local schools and facilitating student visits to the Courts. There appeared to be strong support for changing the name and nature of the role among the Judiciary.
However, John Thomas LJ who responded earlier in the day to similar concerns and suggestions, felt that changing the name or altering the role may distort the intended focus of the role and may very well end up requiring too much of the judges time. He also added that he was not yet satisfied that the use of the role was now redundant and said that there would need to be more research on this issue. Dr. Cole informed the attendees that the Home Office was going to publish research in this area on national level, and it was suggested that it would be a good idea to see this before any decisions about altering or scraping the role were taken. This information once available will be circulated to all EMLJ’s.
The Conference then concluded with the declaration that it was hoped that we would meet again in about 18 months time.
All our thanks should be given to Thomas LJ for encouraging the Conference and setting up the contacts; also to Kellie Hurst who was thrust into helping with the administration at the last minute due to illness of Jennifer Oldroyd. She did a wonderful job and we could not have done it without her. Many thanks also to Sir Igor and Sir David for their support and valuable time.