Working in Partnership – Criminal Courts 1

For probation, the Courts were another sector with which we had to work closely. I must admit that for most of my career I avoided working too closely with criminal Courts. As a practitioner, I had found Court work mystifying or frightening – others were happy to work in courts and even enjoyed it, so I was very happy to leave it to them. However, later in my career as an Assistant Chief Officer, it fell to me to lead on our work with Courts for a while so I had to get to grips with it. Again as a quick summary, Courts were complex to the extent that you had to think about working with sentencers and separately with Court managers. The balance of power was very different in Magistrates Courts from Crown Courts of course – in the latter the Judges ruled whilst in the former, the Court clerks were in some ways more important than the magistrates. Both were preoccupied with issues of process – these are what took up most of the time of all those involved in court whether in terms of the niceties of proper procedure in Court, or in terms of the means by which the interests of a whole range of groups were managed in the Court environment.

Magistrates Courts were also understandably concerned with blame. It was very different in Crown Court where judges, lawyers and probation officers were all professionals managing the system in their different ways. Magistrates were there to represent the community and however sceptically one may have viewed their fitness to do this given the relatively narrow backgrounds from which most were drawn – certainly in the 1970s and 1980s – they were properly concerned to protect the law abiding from the offender. Probation officers’ instincts may have been to be hostile to what we all too easily saw as “hang ‘em and flog’em” attitudes but we had to find ways of giving professional advice that sprang from what we knew rather than from what we believed.

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