Perspective: Safety for Judges and Magistrates at Court Must Be a Priority

Article excerpt

Byline: David Wilson

I gave up on making public comment about the reporting of the new 'crime figures' long ago.

Despite the best efforts of some rather harassed researchers from various programmes - including the Nicky Campbell Show - I refused to make comment about them this week, despite the fact that they seemed to 'prove' there was more violent crime today than there has been previously.

Essentially, I have not moved from my position that these figures are meaningless, and so a debate about whether or not we are a 'more violent society' based on their publication is also in my view without meaning.

That having been said, one violent incident did catch my attention this week, because it has a much wider significance.

The assault on Judge Ann Goddard - who was repeatedly punched in the face by an alleged murder suspect who jumped over the dock at the Old Bailey - raises serious questions about court security, not just at the Old Bailey and not simply for judges.

For since the general tightening of security within our penal system following the escapes from HMPs Whitemoor in September 1994 and Parkhurst in early 1995, it is now much easier if a prisoner wants to escape to try to do so while under escort outside of the prison to court or to hospital.

Thus in 1994 there were only 22 escapes by prisoners from magistrates courts, but last year there were 63 - a percentage increase of almost 200 per cent.

This is certainly why as recently as August of last year two masked men carrying guns chose to free their friends who were on burglary charges from Slough Magistrates' Court, which should also remind us that there are some 30,000 magistrates in this country who might often have to hear the opening salvos of some very serious cases.

All of this has prompted the Court Security Task Force to publish guidelines on how to make our courts more secure, and serious consideration is now being given to assessing the results of a pilot study which has seen the Crown Courts of Preston, Chelmsford, Bristol and Leeds introduce toughened 'glass cages' in which defendants now stand or sit. …