Cambridge magistrates have been removed from Cambridge’s community safety partnership – the body which co-ordinates the city’s police, probation services, councils, health bodies, universities and others in their efforts to prevent and reduce crime and generally make Cambridge a safer and more pleasant place to live.
Labour councillor Ann Sinnott, representing Cambridge residents, voted for the magistrates’ removal at a meeting of the partnership on Tuesday the 10th of February.
I used the public speaking slot at the meeting to make the case against removing the magistrates. I said:
I’d like to use this opportunity that you give to the public to contribute to your meetings to make a statement and to lobby you. Not to ask questions to which I’m seeking answers.
Now later on, on your agenda, you are being asked to update your terms of reference. I think what is being suggested here is that you formalise the removal of the magistrates from the community safety partnership.
I think today’s papers don’t really make the history clear because as recently as February last year the magistrates were on the membership list.
No I think it clear the magistrates are a missing element here. We’ve got the police, you’ve got probation or its replacement and you don’t have the magistrates.
We know that magistrates are not participating locally in deliberation and scrutiny or matters the partnership discuss. They’re not involved in scrutiny of the council’s neighbourhood resolution panels, we’re not seeing them doing any public scrutiny of out of court disposals as is happening elsewhere in the country so they’re not as involved in public civic life and debate and discussion in Cambridge as they are elsewhere.
As I’ve commented here at the partnership previously they’re also not operating very openly and publicly. We don’t have court lists and registers that are easily accessible. We just have the noticeboard, brief, list up in the magistates court.
So I’d just like to urge you to consider that when you come to refining or re-approving your list of members.
You’ve said in the past that the magistrates don’t turn up and for some unexplained reason you said it is “impossible” for them to be here.
I think it would be perfectly reasonable to have an empty chair and that would help those people who are lobbying for magistrates to take a greater more public role if you did that. It might even encourage them to turn up and to send somebody.
The committee officer responded:
Richard Taylor mentioned earlier about the removal of the magistrates. We have had a letter Richard that we received previously at one of the CSP meetings saying they were not able to be members of the partnership anymore and I can send that to you if you like.
CSP Chair (Liz Bisset, Salary £91,891/year) stated:
We also had a question about whether or not we would have the magistrates as an empty chair. Louise and Linda have told us how much correspondence has been with the community safety partnership that actually we’ve had a pretty firm response back from the magistrates and they are clearly not going to turn up.
Cllr Sinnott interjected:
Can I just say Liz my understanding is they are severely constrained because I wanted them to be part of the community forum on domestic violence and they were really knowledgeable … they were here on our development day .. they are really knowledgeable on the issue and would have really added a great contribution but they could not, they are unable to, because they have to be so careful about not being compromised in any way at all so. Their hands are tied. That was my impression anyway.
The chair stated:
So I think from the non-response I would take it that we do note with regret that they are not here but we have taken them off the terms of reference
The magistrates have been on the Community Safety Partnership in the past so arguments that it is impossible for therm to attend don’t stand up.
I attend most of the city’s public meetings on policing related matters and input from the magistrates is often missed. Though one Cambridge City Councillor, Cllr Dryden, is a magistrate, councillors considering policing priorities lack input from the magistrates and we lack information on what happens to people in court. Often the police will turn up to a public meeting and say they’re doing all they can but they feel frustrated by the courts but we have no information on what the courts are doing.
Magistrates would benefit from hearing about what concerns the public in Cambridge, what’s causing harm and injuries, and how the police and probation services operate locally. They could also find out about the services offered by our local councils. This would all help inform our magistrate’s decision making.
I had alerted Cllrs Herbert and Sinnott to the upcoming decision and my views prior to the meeting:
— Richard Taylor (@RTaylorUK) February 6, 2015
— Richard Taylor (@RTaylorUK) February 6, 2015
Other Community Safety Partnerships
- Cambridge’s CSP is the only one in Cambridgeshire to hold meetings in public. Huntingdonshire’s publishes its papers. The others operate in almost complete secrecy.
- In Huntingdon the Community Safety Partnership has the Crown Prosecution Service as a member; perhaps that would be something else to consider in Cambridge. (As of February 2015 according to its webpage Hunts CSP hasn’t met since July 2014.)
Elsewhere many Community Safety Partnerships involve magistrates:
- Magistrates are represented on the South Worcestershire Community Safety Partnership
- Magistrates are partners on the Lewes District Community Safety Partnership.
- The Hounslow Community Safety Partnership includes “the Hounslow Magistrates Court”
- The Bexley Community Safety Partnership includes a representative of Bexley Magistrates Court
- The East Lincolnshire Community Safety Partnership has magistrates who contribute to the work of the partnership.
- Merseyside’s Community Safety Partnership is notably chaired by the Police and Crime Commissioner.
- My articles tagged “Magistrates Court”
- My article on the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership – July 2013 – includes discussion of the role of magistrates.
- Cambridge Magistrates Court Lists Obtained via Freedom of Information Request – January 2013
- My articles mentioning the Community Safety Partnership