Commons Sense 03 – How to help your vulnerable service users in the criminal justice system

February 25, 2020

Our first community criminal justice training event took place on 22nd November, and it turned out to be a thought provoking and inspiring morning. Members of a diverse range of organisations – from youth work foundations, to disability rights organisations and homelessness charities – came to Lambeth to find out about how the criminal justice system works in relation to their vulnerable service users, and to share their own experiences and objectives.

Over tea, coffee and pastries, we heard from three speakers with special experience in the field: first on was our own co-founding solicitor Rhona Friedman, who gave an account of the state of criminal justice today. We then heard from Dr Penny Cooper, who gave expert insight into how intermediaries can help vulnerable defendants engage with the investigation and trial process. Finally, barrister Zeenat Islam gave a rousing call to arms on giving young people the knowledge and support they need to face the youth justice system with confidence – only through understanding their rights, she argued, can young people begin to feel empowered enough to engage properly with the process.

Inspiring the confidence to engage was also a key factor for the attendees themselves. A clear take-away point from the event was that one of the most powerful ways to help vulnerable people is for service providers to engage with the police, prosecutors and courts. Whether that be attending police interviews as the appropriate adult, providing written character witness statements or simply attending court to provide support on the day of trial.

Discussions between attendees after the presentations proved to be just as valuable as the training itself. Sharing stories, contacts and strategies is essential if we are to build the networks and coalitions necessary to help bridge the gap between ‘the law’ and the community.

With future events and projects like this one, the work to forge closer relationships, and share vital knowledge, will continue. We envisage that creating a criminal justice hub of useful contacts, easily accessible legal representation and increased resources for understanding the system, will help vulnerable people – indeed everyone – get the justice that they are entitled to.

You can access our Short Guide to the Criminal Process, listen again to the speakers’ talks, and download the slides from Zeenat’s presentation here: www.commons.legal/resources
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