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Picture by Colin Patterson
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NBCPA Profile in Courage Reciepient Sophie Ellis and NBCPA Chair - Shakrat Alli (2nd left)
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Carlene Firmin MBE
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The National Black Crown Prosecution Association (NBCPA) held its 12th Annual Conference in Birmingham recently.
There were key note speeches from the Chief Executive, Peter Lewis CB, Mr Elroy Claxton, Ms Carlene Firmin MBE and Mr Dan Robertson.
Shakrat Alli, the Chair of the Association opened the conference by exploring the Conference theme “Can Impartiality be maintained in a Criminal Justice system where everyone has perceptions?”
Other highlights included thought provoking workshops, a panel of speakers: Dale Simon - the Director of the Equality and Diversity Unit; Zafar Siddique - CPS Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor, West Midlands; Muhammad Idrish, of the Birmingham Asian Resource Centre; Charles Critchlow - President, National Black Police Association and a lively question and answer session facilitated by Baljit Ubhey -Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames & Chiltern Area; the presentation of the “Profile in Courage Award” and the NBCPA Excellence Awards and an introduction to the triple V: values versus violence, Metropolitan Police schools programme.
Elroy Claxton, a Recorder in the Crown Court and a highly successful and very experienced trial lawyer with the Old Bailey Chambers in his key note address answered the Conference theme question in the affirmative saying that impartiality can be maintained. He stated that perceptions, prejudices and biases are regularly put aside when dispensing justice in the Criminal Justice System. Judges have to maintain impartiality. Jurors who display prejudices or biases against those who they are to try would not be allowed to sit on those juries.
Dan Robertson, a Diversity and Inclusion Director for the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, delivered the second keynote address. He explored the concept of unconscious bias and its potential impact within the Criminal Justice System. He said: “we all have biases”! With a series of graphic and powerful and thought provoking images and messages, he demonstrated that unconscious biases are triggered and enacted long before the conscious thinking even begins. The “smart brain is lazy”. The brain is a formidable pattern matching machine. What it fires together, it wires together forming emotional associations. He also looked at explicit and implicit social bias in relation to disability, race, sexual orientation, gender, age and immigration status. He then considered some statistics which he concluded showed evidence of some bias within the Criminal Justice System for instance statistics in relation to stop and search, those more likely to be arrested for drug offences or imprisoned, bias in relation to treatment of those with mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, psychosis, depression, personality disorder psychosis, personality. He said affinity bias can lead us to favour people who are like us. “He reminds me of myself at his age”. He also spoke about the concept of “confirmation bias” which causes us to look to confirm our initial impressions and expectations, screening out information which does not fit the expectation and filling gaps with our default information for the group. Finally he gave some “dos and don’ts” for bias control and how to manage our prejudices and biases and still retain impartiality.
The third key note address was presented by Carlene Firmin MBE - a Principal Policy Advisor at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. In 2010, Ms Firmin founded the Girls Against Gangs (GAG) project, supporting women affected by gang violence to become empowered to act as local advisors on gender and youth violence. She has built a reputation for spearheading research on young people and campaigning on gang violence and issues affecting girls. She was awarded an MBE for her services to women and girls. Her work has had a significant impact on policy relating to girls’ and women’s issues. In 2008, she received a London Peace Award for bridging the gap between policy makers and young people.
Ms Firmin spoke about the concept of “impartiality” defined as a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring to benefit one person over another for improper reasons. She said it was accepted that in a society we all have perceptions and by definition, juries as part of society have perceptions. If perceptions can result in injustice, it is the role of the Criminal Justice System to challenge such perceptions.
She spoke passionately about two examples where perceptions might influence attitudes and decisions within the Criminal Justice System and explained how the criminal justice process can lead to re-traumatisation of child victims: “Girls affected by gangs and serious youth violence” and “Child sexual exploitation cases”. She spoke of some of the myths that girls affected by gang violence love the glamour and they were there by choice, could leave if they wanted to and only benefit from gang association. She said in reality, there were sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and coercion of such girls. Very often there is a victim/perpetrator overlap. There is love/loyalty/fear continuum that plays a part in their so called “choices”. These factors were rarely identified and they were rarely safeguarded.
She also explored some of the myths around cases involving child sexual exploitation. Some common myths are that such children were “prostituting” themselves, they are “consenting”. Other myths are that they are “risky”, they put themselves in danger, they are promiscuous and they are “exploring their sexuality”. The reality is that such children would have been subjected over a period of time to grooming as in the Rochdale case. They would very often be in fear. There is lack of choice. There is powerlessness in relation to their perpetrators. They are often highly vulnerable and non-consenting. In conclusion, she said it was important to understand that in order to seek justice, we have to understand the reality versus the perception. In order to understand the perceptions, we have to paint the reality. She underlined and emphasised the responsibility and place of those in the Criminal Justice System within a wider system to rectify perceptions in order to achieve justice.
The NBCPA Profile-in-Courage Award 2012 was presented to Sophie Ellis. Sophie lost her twin sister Charlene and a friend Letisha Shakespeare in a Birmingham gangland shooting in January 2003 that claimed the lives of these innocent victims.
The NBCPA Profile-in-Courage Award is awarded to someone who has demonstrated exemplary courage, put themselves at risk far above what would normally be expected of a victim or witness and whose assistance has been of benefit to the community at large.
The Award was presented to Sophie Ellis for her work in mentoring young girls on the verge of criminality and helping them to achieve something and to have a better future. She has mentored young offenders, those out on the streets or out of education. She has also reached out to young females, some of whom have been subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. Against the background of tragedy and trauma that Sophie has experienced, these young females have seen her as a positive role model and have been able to draw inspiration from her because of those unique experiences.
The NBCPA also took time to publicly recognise the work of the two bereaved mothers affected by the same tragedy: Beverley Thomas, mother of Sophie and Charlene Ellis and Marcia Shakespeare, mother of Letisha.
Ms Thomas has been involved with the New Year Shooting Memorial Trust and the Letisha and Charlene Educational Awards. The New Year Shooting Memorial Trust Charity came about after the death of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare. Over the years, this Charity merged with the Letisha and Charlene Educational Awards Scheme.
The Letisha and Charlene Educational Awards Scheme helps those in need of financial support into education in memory of Charlene and Letisha. Since 2006, it has been helping young people in financial need from deprived areas or broken homes to make something of their lives through education. The Scheme is a living memorial to the two young girls, Charlene and Letisha who were both students attending a local college. It serves to create a positive future for young people and re-invest confidence back in the community. It aims to give other young people the chance to make a difference and to have the opportunity that Charlene and Letisha did not get.
Marcia Shakespeare was also recognised for all the work that she has done since the death of her daughter, Letisha. Recently in May 2012, she launched a new charity, the Precious Trust with the help of the former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. The Trust will provide practical help to young women aged between 16 and 19 years who are in danger of becoming trapped in the devastating cycle of gangs. Even though Miss Shakespeare was already working with the West Midlands Police and other organisations, in setting up this charity, she wanted to try to raise awareness of the issue of girls and gang culture. She decided to start up a charity to try to directly impact on girls who are already caught up in gang culture or who are at serious risk of becoming so. She said she was aware that many women were being drawn into this type of lifestyle sometime through no choice of their own. In setting up this charity, she has showed courage and vision.
As well as the keynote speeches and panel discussions, the conference included 4 workshops.
There was a workshop on Girls and Gangs - Is this a myth or a reality? The facilitators were: Yvette Williams MBE, Carlene Firmin MBE and Doreen Bogle. This workshop looked at the involvement of girls in gangs and discussed emerging challenges linked to, gang-associated women and girls. It aimed to improve overall understanding of the issues and improve action to tackle this phenomenon such as ways of improving data sharing, better identification and policy change.
There was a workshop on Sexual Violence - Myths, Assumptions & Stereotypes! The facilitators were: Ruona Iguyovwe, Arsha Gosine, Claire Meaney and Hayley Firman. This workshop explored some of the assumptions, myths and stereotypes surrounding rape and other offences of sexual violence and the treatment of the victims of such offences. It also considered the impact of media reporting of such cases. The aim was to show how such myths and stereotypes can wrongly influence people’s attitudes to such victims and to look at how to robustly challenge such attitudes in the courtroom and improve the treatment of victims in the Criminal Justice System.
Domestic Violence - Are there male victims? The aim of the workshop was to raise awareness concerning barriers or concerns that may prevent male victims of domestic violence from coming forward to report this type of crime and to consider what support and/or assistance could be given to such victims. The facilitators were: Olive Essien, Adeyinka Ogunnaike, Dan Robertson and Feizal Hajat OBE. This workshop also explored some of the stereotypes and assumptions surrounding male victims of domestic violence.
There was also a workshop on Stress – Identifying stress and knowing how to deal with it. The facilitators were: Steve Mawaro, Dr George Madine and Viv Cameron. This workshop looked at ways of identifying stress and understanding how to manage it.
Police Constable Richard Graham, a Partnership and Project Officer with the Gangs Task Force of the Metropolitan Police Service spoke about the triple V values versus violence programme, a police in schools programme which is involved in training young people to become value role models within their communities and to promote vision and values in young people in place of violence and other ills like drugs, gang culture, cyber bullying on social networking sites etc.
The NBCPA will be working with the Police in relation to this programme. Over the next year, the NBCPA will embark on a joint training programme with the Police to train triple V facilitators who can go out to inner city schools and referral centres and make a difference to the lives of young people some of whom may be on the brink of criminality.
One of the delegates at the NBCPA conference was a young girl, Chelsea Ives, who was arrested and imprisoned in connection with the summer riots in London. She is now out of prison and involved in a rehabilitation programme with PC Graham, PC Gurjit Gill and their team. The NBCPA is involved in this project. Chelsea spoke movingly of her experiences, going to prison, the impact on her and her family and the efforts that she is now making to get her life back on track.
Addressing the conference in the afternoon, the Chief Executive, Peter Lewis congratulated the NBCPA for the recent Employee Network Public Sector Award - Public Sector Award which was presented at the annual Race for Opportunity Awards. The Race for Opportunity Awards celebrate UK organisations leading the way in unlocking the talent potential and business opportunity of having a diverse workforce.
He praised the NBCPA for its positive work in the CPS and emphasised the need for it to continue to add value.
The winners of the NBCPA Excellence Awards 2012 were announced. A formal presentation ceremony will take place for all winners in March 2013.