Just like many Napo members, magistrate Malcolm Richardson has been effected by government cuts. For the last twenty five years he has been sitting in a court in North Avon which now, along with many more up and down the country, has heard its last case.
While driving into Bristol to preside over future cases may be a minor inconvenience for Mr Richardson, the greater issue is the loss of a courthouse with a probation office attached to it.
Granted, the probation office at North Avon had closed a while ago following a previous reorganisation, but Mr Richardson could not stress enough how important that link was for the delivery of justice.
“We had local probation officers which we knew, in whom we would build relationships, in whom we could build trust and confidence,” the magistrate said adding: “As sentencers, we need to have confidence that the sentences we pass are going be administered and achieve the objectives.”
Conference was told that two of the five purposes of sentencing were rehabilitation and reducing re-offending – both of these most likely to be engaged during a community based penalty.
“Despite what those in the Twittersphere may tell you, no magistracy wants to send people to custody,” Mr Richardson told conference. However, there seems to be a lack of confidence in provisions available in the community and the people making these recommendations.
“That confidence will come by building a relationship. Building those relationships become harder with physical distance and are impossible when you are told you are not allowed to meet with anyone from a CRC,” Mr Richardson admitted.
Napo members were as bemused as the magistrate at the ban on interacting with CRC staff. “There seems to be someone who has this bizarre notion that if I meet someone from a CRC, they are going to sell me a sentencing provision and I am going to be influenced by it,” he told the laughing auditorium.
Jokes aside, the magistrate admitted gaining confidence had been challenged further by the introduction of the Rehabilitation Action Requirement (RAR). “It is sensible that probation be given the opportunity to make decisions if a particular person keeps reoffending under their supervision,” conference were told, but Mr Richardson said when magistrates are not informed of what is written in the RAR “it will undermine the trust magistrates have in recommendations made by probation officers.”
Mr Richardson told members that problem solving was an integral part of the job for everybody working in the justice system. “If we are going to do more than just the ‘punish bit’ we need to engage in problem solving. But to do meaningful problem solving there has to be a service to which we can direct people to help do that problem solving.”
A management consultant by profession, Mr Richardson said: “A fundamental part of all businesses are the three Es: economy, efficiency and effectiveness.”
Private companies are extremely good at measuring and driving towards the first “E” in a bid to make more money, he claimed before saying not enough was being done towards efficiency.
Effectiveness is much more challenging as you are required to “work out the effectiveness of what?”
Finishing his address to conference, Mr Richardson said: “I sometimes feel someone should say: ‘shouldn’t we be looking at it as a justice system?’ and ‘what happened to justice?’”