Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Civil Route - Stronger Justice

I've been beaten down by the criminal justice system and like many others just accept it as a waste of time. There is no fear of it from young offenders and in the Fiona PILKINGTON case a criminal prosecution would have had little effect.

Here is the sentence handed down to a youth convicted of attempted robbery that I was involved in.

Supervision Order 9 months to follow directions in the order:
  • Supervised by a member of YOT (Youth Offending Team)
  • Participate in young black men's group work programme
  • one to one sessions with victim liason worker to address the impact of offending on the victim
  • reparation sessions as assessed by specialist worker
  • one to one sessions to consider thinking and behaviour and appropriate responses to situations
  • one to one sessions to identify and engage in appropriate training or employment.

Now for non recidivist offenders the above might well be worthwhile. I'm sure that for many it might divert them from a life of crime. More minor offences would also be subject to intervention by the youth offending team. Non compliance can result in curfew by Tag and being taken back to youth court. You need to be convicted though for any of this to take place, very difficult in itself. In the case I allude to above the best result was having the lad and his mates on conditional bail for several months on a night time curfew before trial. I'm sure it was a coincidence that the little series of robberies I'd suffered locally ceased during that time. Robbery is of course seen as a more serious offence.

For the minor public order offences I've seen the civil law used to good effect. One particular tool I like is the ASBI (Anti Social Behaviour Injunction) which despite the fancy handle is just a civil injunction. This can however come with a power of arrest if the civil judge decrees.

It would appear from what I've read that the Leicestershire council had taken over the lead on the Pilkington case and gone down the proportionate route by first getting an ABC (Anti-Social Behaviour Contract) signed by some young people. This is basically just the first step to getting an ASBO where conduct is challenged and a contract signed where they promise to behave and not contravene certain conditions like throwing stones etc. The local authority was in the process of getting things done as an ASBI was also granted but this was after the suicides. They were actually getting there and I think the orders in place may have helped. Perhaps the local police should have put their remarks about the criminal justice system more bluntly.

I would assume an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) was not sought as this would have meant researching and compiling a massive pack of incidents and statements to put before the magistrates court. These are somewhat time consuming to say the least.

Let me give you an example of when my local authority sought an ASBI. A young man came onto one of my estates and abused one of the caretakers threatening to hit him. The caretaker only knew his first name, so things were discussed at the joint ASB meeting. Yours truly puts forward the likely suspect and supplies an address and police image. I'm set for an investigation knowing full well that the lads friends would back him and it's the caretakers word against them, CPS would say unrealistic chance of conviction = No Further Action.

The ASB manager who I've worked with for years is a good bloke knows this too well. He wants to protect his staff and is committed to getting an ASBI. I supply a few bits and pieces he requires, he gets a statement and their legal department get an injunction. The result being said individual is banned from the estate for 12 months WITH A POWER OF ARREST for me should I catch him. I was convinced he would breach it but he didn't or not to my knowledge. I was still on his case but when I spoke to him he saw this as a stronger punishment than if we'd gone down the criminal route, even if we'd got a conviction. The caretaker was happy too as he'd been supported by his employer.

I should just add that I worked with a very much "can do" authority that did actually allocate many resources to ASB. They had better vehicles, better kit and better administration back up than I could ever muster.

I suppose it depends on the judge who sits in the county court. I'm not so sure that they would be keen to grant injunctions in similar circumstances against juveniles. Civil route is definitely the way forwards. Lets just get an injunction to ban travelling criminals from being in certain areas where they've been caught doing crime. They can then be arrested and placed in front of a civil judge to explain why they breached their order.

But we shouldn't even be contemplating the civil law should we? Shows how badly things have gone. Tough On Crime Mmmm ..


Anonymous said...

Youth Court is a joke they show more concern for the rehabilitation of the offender than punishing them for the offence!!! Unless it is a very serious offence it is rare for anyone let alone a youth to appear in court for an offence! i recently was involved in a case where a youth attacked another with a hammer. The victim meets the youth the following day and threatens him with a knife1 He got 18 months in a Young Offenders Institute and it was not his first violent offence!

Tom said...

A robust and informative post.

The 'civil law' route may well have its attractions, and I compliment those who use this initiative. However I get the feeling that the CJS has surrendered the whole issue of punishment and retribution in favour of the path of least resistance.

Cynical I know. But can we not let the service go about the business of policing, and not molly-coddle the feral youth we are now burdened with.

Dandelion said...

Lets just get an injunction to ban travelling criminals from being in certain areas where they've been caught doing crime. They can then be arrested and placed in front of a civil judge to explain why they breached their order.

Yes. Or they can just do their crimes somewhere else. Pushing the problem onto someone else isn't a fix.

As you probably know, civil route is a stronger justice because it has a lower burden of proof. It's not a case of CJS not being tough on crime, but of not being able to get, or fabricate (as is sometimes the case) sufficient evidence.

Merlin said...

The ASBI is a very useful tool, indeed. Especially if attached to a tenancy / address. Threat of eviction does seem to make a difference. Yes, the idiot(s) in question will probably end up "homeless" & be re-housed next to some new poor victims-to-be, but the real threat of disruption & the uncertainty does seem to make a great many wind their necks in. Additionally, in terms of "sorting" a neighbourhood, the ASBI can get shot of a pain in the &rse tenant (& family) a hell of a lot quicker than the conventional posession order via a court; most of the work's already been done & the council can take the decision itself, subject to appeal.

Very under-used in my area; they take time to prepare & the poor suckers in housing / enforcement / tenancy management are too busy coping with crisis management in an understaffed office. Don't know about other areas..

I wouldn't see the civil route as the "soft" option; quite the opposite. It can give the joined-up approach we've been promised for years by hitting the problem from all sides - providing everyone plays ball.

When it works; magic. It takes a police officer with a strong local focus & a wish to take charge of their patch; a keen & committed housing bod; and an avenue for decent residents to have input. Oh - and managers need to step back & let people do their jobs. Nightjack did a brilliant post on this. Wish I'd kept it, now he's been nobbled.

Only ever see it work at local level; never county / division, but it's a good model for much-maligned "partnership working" - which doesn't have to be a waste of time.

Bit of an essay; apologies.

Crime Analyst said...

Excellent post. A balanced and informed perspective.

The civil route may be more effective in certain areas and circumstances. Whatever tools get the desired result.

If police officers are granted with commons sense to use their discretion more, then we would hope to see a more balanced result like this.

Some kids are beyond this sort of help and the court process is the only way. Others don't necessarily deserve criminalising for their actions.

As you say, the frustration lies in the fact that the CJS is more likely to fail the victim and society.

The next Government should perhaps adopt a new mantra "Tough on the weak Criminal Justice System, tough on the causes of a weak CJS"

The public need to start seeing the CJS work as it should if confidence is to be rebuilt.

Stressed Out Cop said...

The sad thing is .. there are loads of others suffering the same thing all over the country.