Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Forum Report: 'Women in the Justice System'

26-Jun-2012: The CWO forum on ‘Women In The Justice System’ took place at 30 Millbank, Westminister on the 26th of June 2012.
The speakers for the evening were:
Fiona Phillips- QC
Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire- Metropolitan Police
Margaret Vallance- Director- Prisoners’ Families and Friends Service
Julie Iles- JP- Surrey
CWO Chairman, Pauline Lucas welcomed our guests on behalf of CWO and outlined that the purpose of the ‘Women In The Justice System’ forum was to allow exploration of the reality of being a Woman involved or effected by the British Judicial System.
The panel was selected to provide insights into: breaking into the male dominated legal arena, female sentencing and rehabilitation and support thereafter and the underlying treatment of woman within the criminal world.
Pauline Lucas encouraged the panel to discuss candidly their own experiences and also what they were recognising from a wider study of the demographic.
Fiona Phillips is a highly qualified QC wh was instrumental in the building of Portcullia house. Fiona led the discussion by painting the scene for what it is like being a QC whom has climbed the career ladder in what still is a male dominated profession. Fiona explained that the first set of challenges present themselves when Woman are embarking on the role from a litigation stage. The early stages of law bar exams normally have a 50/50 split between Males and Female uptakes which continues until pupillages when the gender split is around 55/45 in favour of men.
The real challenges present themselves as Woman work their way up the Judicial system. Woman tend to be overly generous with their time and the work load which they are prepared to take on just to get ahead or on an equal footing as their male counterparts- This can often mean working 18 hour days, 6 days a week.
The approach to handling cases also varies between Male and Females. Fiona recognises that when she is in discussions with a Female opponent they will be upfront about their angle of defence and stick to that in court. Fiona’s experience is that Men will play games by claiming one position within the consultation and very much change their tact in court.
Overt Sexism is a daily occurrence and upon reaching The Queens Council Woman normally fall into two areas; those whom become deliberately ‘Steely’ to maintain and compete for work and those whom try to balance a family and as a result face ostracism and a diminished workload dictated and enforced by their male counterparts.
The Lord Chancellor is actively promoting getting more women into the judicial system but whilst Fiona says you often face loyalty from clients, the perils of being within this vocation are the pressures to stay ahead of the competition, win the work and also balance a family.
Jackie Sebire spoke of her 20 years experience as a Super Intendant investing serious and complex crime including high profile murder cases and paedophilia. In line with Fiona Phillips, Jackie touched upon the idea of having to work above and beyond the recognised standards in order to make a name for yourself and get promoted. Of the Senior Management team at Hackney Constabulary all have chosen to put their careers above starting a family.
Jackie has extensive experience of dealing with Women suspects, witnesses and victims and the largest area of concern across the UK today is the notable Gang Culture which often results in younger girls and women being introduced to living a violent life of crime and/or becoming sexual abuse victims often at the mercy of the Male gang leaders.
In support of this notion of exploitation, in London specifically, murder is on the decrease but Woman being killed in domestic violence is increasing by 40%. These are grim statistics and on average it takes 35 incidents of abuse for a Woman to come forward and report an issue.
Jackie feels the only way to combat this issue is to start to work with Woman at a younger age to install a sense of confidence and self respect. In conjunction with this the level of data sharing from force to force needs to become more fluid so the Police can spot patterns emerging.
Margaret Vallence summarised her career so far by discussing her work within male dominated environments. Margaret explained the resistance she felt when she was asked lead a 40 headcount male team of fraud investigators within the DWP. Margaret acknowledges she had to prove herself to her peers and those in her charge and demonstrated this through increasing the conviction rate bye introducing a more analytically detail focused ethos to a team who previously seems to just ‘Dive In’
Within Margaret’s career she has witnessed abuse of young females and children on a number of occasions. Some of her achievements in combating this were the 1989 Children’s Act which she pushed through the Home Office and the closing down of Banardos.
At all stages victims of abuse, specifically paedophilia are lured in emotionally on a basis of trust from a perpetrator whom is very good at covering their tracks and in a clear position of power.
Today Margaret devotes her time to a Voluntary Organisation called Prisoners’ ,Families and Friends which was established in 1967.  The organisation recognised that there was little or no support for the families of those whom were sentenced in prison and as a result families of those convicted were stigmatised and condemned.
The organisation works at the core of issues surrounding confidence and self esteem, mental well being and relationships. The main completed the idea is that children develop better.
Some interesting facts support the work of this organisation:
· More Woman than partners use the service.
· Children of offenders are more likely to commit offences themselves.
· All of the Woman within the service suffer some degree of depression and anxiety at some stage.
· 5% of prisoners are female.
· 51% of woman leaving prison reoffend within 1 year.
The aim is to keep families together and reunite them as in Margaret’s word the state is a poor parent.
Julie Iles sits on the bench for Her Majesties Court and Tribunal System, a institution which has been in place as the first point of call for all legal cases for the last 650 years. It is served by volunteers whom wish to engage within their communities to assist with the jurisdiction and enforcement of law.  Over the last 20 years being a woman within the justice system has changed significantly with trousers only being acceptable court room attire in the last two decades. The scope of influence within HMS is broad with 97 % of all criminal cases starting life in a magistrate’s court. 

Decisions as to the granting of bail or remanding someone in custody are often heard in magistrates court and Julie says they are decided by taking a number of factors in to account including the likely outcome of the case, ties to the community, any previous failures to comply with court orders and the nature of the alleged offence. This is to ensure that the community is protected.
Julie chose to work and specialise within the Youth Court matter sector as she feels that this is highly relevant to making a real difference to local communities as good methods and practises within this area can prevent re-offences and steer the demographic back on the right track. The ethos is the idea of prevention of re-offending rather than criminalisation.
Julie says one of the challenges is female detention particularly when children are involved. The circumstances must be deemed grave for this to be enforced as emphasis and consideration is made to any remaining children and what would happen to them should their mother be detained.
Questions and comments from the floor concluded that there needs to be much more groundwork done behind the reasons that Woman turning to criminality and why they may fall victims to abusive situations as a result of being victims of crime. The common thread was that there needs to be a ‘Big Society’ in respect of teaching woman from an early age what they should and how they should expect to be treated. In turn the concept of teaching young men what is acceptable was also discussed. There needs to be more inspirational role models for woman and that it is vital to teach families how to parent in the right ways to break the cycles of abuse and crime from replicating in the future for next generations.
All of our panel said that at some point in their careers they have had a strong, female mentor whom helped them to learn best practice and that they found motivation from.
Each of the speakers summarised their final points and the chairman thanked them for participating in what was an immensely informative discussion.
With thanks to: Sophie Stratton, CWO Director of Forums and Charlotte Argyle

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