CWO Forum - Women in the Justice System

Forum Report

  • Pauline Lucas, President CWO (Chair)
  • Fiona Parkin QC, Atkin Chambers
  • Julie Iles JP, Surrey Magistrate
  • Jackie Sebire, Acting Detective Superintendent, Hackney
  • Margaret Vallance, Director - Prisoners' Families and Friends Service
Fiona Parkin
  • Acted for parliament in building of Portcullis House. When taking bar exams the split was 50/50 men to women, approximately 80 got pupillage of which 35 were women. Fiona was the only female pupil in her chambers and was told "Don't expect to be taken on".
  • She commented that women tend to offer to do everything in order to be accepted/get given work; also the more senior a woman climbs in law the less women are at the same level as the dropout rate of women is higher.
  • Need to put in about 18 hours a day, 6 days a week when you are litigating.
  • Most female QCs don't have children or are very 'steely'.
  • Face overt sexism and unspoken sexism from colleagues however clients tend to be very loyal when they see that you are giving their case 'your all'.
  • Clients also tend to be more forgiving then colleagues.
  • The judiciary are keen to get more women into roles, however demands on time within judiciary are very taxing. As a barrister it is difficult to say 'no' to work because of how it is allocated.
Jackie Sebire
  • Investigation into serious crime, paedophiles and high profile cases e.g. Amy Winehouse.
  • There are 3 women in senior management team at Hackney. You have to work all hours in order to get promoted and you are always on call.
  • Deals with women as victims, witnesses and suspects.
  • Homicide rates have gone down in London but rise in domestic killing.
  • Specialist domestic violence teams. Looking at teenage domestic violence and ASB. Girls brought into gangs/exploited.
  • Key challenge is data sharing.
Margaret Vallence
  • Started work at DWP which was a very male macho environment. Headed up team of men who were not impressed but MV used her analytical skills to 'prove' herself.
  • Conviction rates increased under her management; MV paid more attention to details whereas men tend to dive in.
  • Child protection – paedophiles are very good at covering tracks and are often in a position of power.
  • MV shut down Barnado's flagship home due to abuse issues.
  • She moved through Home Office then into small voluntary organisation – Prisoners' Familites and Friends Service, which was established in 1967, at the time there was no organisation to help families of prisoners whom are stigmatised and condemned; the organisation helps by working on self-esteem issues.
  • More mothers now coming through service than partners.
  • Focus on needs of families, mental well-being, relationships. Keep family together as a unit as this has better outcomes: 'The state is a poor parent'.
Julie Iles
  • Working at Magistrate for 10 years; voluntary position and they are not legally qualified.
  • Women have only been allowed to wear trousers for the last 20 years. Minimum requirements to sit 1 day a month.
  • Difficult to recruit people from different backgrounds.
  • 97% of all cases start in the Magistrates Court; they will decide whether accused gets bail or is reprimanded in custody. Balance of common sense.
  • Can operate in different areas/specialisms, JI chose youth.
  • Have to retire at 70. It is usual for cases involving women to involve mental health issues.
  • It takes a woman 32 times (on average) of being abused before they report domestic violence and then often they withdraw statement.
  • Ethos is to prevent reoffending rather than criminalising.
Question: To JS – Is the Rochdale case evidence of a more common problem?
A study of 26-30 girls in Hackney showed that 26 had been involved in some form of sexual exploitation; don't know scale and level it is at.
MV - Profile of what to look for in terms of characteristics of an abuser. More to be done on educating young women at school to teach them what is possible, what they can become.
FP – teaching young girls about self-esteem is imperative; some women are not at all supportive but FP had an older woman mentor and mentoring young girls is so important
JS – also educating young boys about what is/isn't acceptable. Role models play such importance; this can be done in schools
MV – her organisation do a lot of advocacy work

Question: If there was one thing each of you could change in the system you are in, what would it be?
JI – Immigration/detainee; would make history of their case available to Magistrates so that decisions can be taken to send them back to their own country
JS – just do the job rather than form filling
FP - when judge says start at 10:30 really start at that time. They don't realise what a lot of work they create for mothers/women when they simply make announcements about reconvening.
MV – Improve mental health education/assistance in prisons
JI - Also test as to whether a person needs translator or not i.e. can they really understand?

Question: What would your working life be like if you worked with all women?
FP – less posturing as men posture/point score, women don't
JS – Physical aspects of the job, just a fact that men are stronger. JS has been told she is too emotional however it's good to be emotional.
JI – Agree with FP regarding sheer logistics, when men make snap decisions about times of meetings etc. this can be difficult in respect of child care etc.

Points to Note and Areas of Focus
  • Fewer than 5% of prisoners are women
  • More women are convicted of manslaughter than murder
  • 51% of women leaving prison reoffend within 1 year
  • Better information sharing
  • Everything starts from the home – parenting
  • For police, training and ensuring officers know about the types of crimes 'out there'
Sophie Stratton - 26th June 2012

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