As you may be aware from recent posts, his Right Honorable Judge Altman invited myself and several others from NYAS to inspect his court, this is in no way a comprehensive or official report but rather my musings on the day and my personal opinions unless otherwise stated.
So I arrived early, as I had spent the night in a hotel around the corner, awaiting the arrival of my three companions for the day and partners in mischief. I wandered the foyer aimlessly for over half hour and was not approached once, except for when a security guard went for some fresh air and asked if I was okay in passing; now it may have been because I was smartly dressed and had a suitcase and bag that they thought (rightly may I add) that I was there in some sort of official capacity, if however I had been a young person this would be unacceptable. After a while our escort for the day cottoned on to who I was and we waited for the others.
When everyone arrived we had a brief hello before walking outside and pretending we were normal people there for a proceeding, due to my milling about I knew where the court allocations where but there was no clear indication and only a small A4 sized piece of paper indicating to have your ‘Court Case number ready”. There was no real indication as to where you should go or what you should do at this point.
We proceeded to the security check point where we walked back and forth, as security watched, looking as lost as a sheep in the mince sauce isle at the supermarket. After a while I ensured everyone was aware of what to do with their mobiles, and that they had done so before proceeding to put our things through the x-ray machine and walk through the metal detector without prompts. The member f security sat at the machine (playing on their phone) was telling us what items had to be checked although you could not hear them properly and the guard at the check in desk had to shout over several times to double check.
Once that kerfuffle was done with we were finally faced with some blunt instructions in black and white on a pin board, and another board with cases next to it which we stared at blankly painfully waiting for somebody to ask if we needed help. Eventually we walked over to the reception desk where the receptionist very helpfully looked up our case number and told us exactly how to get to our designated court room, as well as where the amenities were (although this could have been because they were on the way through).
When we arrived on our floor there was no one to greet us, instead you were greeted by lawyers having to take meetings in the corridors because there were no consultation rooms available, children sitting on the floor and a rather uninviting office for the PSU (Personal Support Unit). As you turned you were faced with a daunting door for the CAB (Citizens Advice Bauru) before finding the corridor to an unmanned usher’s desk, and to that how is a child or young person supposed to know what an usher is or what they do?
As we stood in front of the desk the usher arrived, not in robes or a suit but rather casual attire with no indication as to their role. This man may well have been someone off the street who wanted to play for the day for all we knew, at least in a criminal court you could think ‘Oh look there’s another person dressed as Batman ready to help!’ Trust me I have seen lawyers amusing themselves with that one. Anyway the usher told us that our court had been reallocated to court 1 on the ground floor, but not where on the ground floor or that we had to sign in with the usher down there. When we finally got to the ushers desk we had to be explained the attendance sheet, as a lay young person you would just be completely perplexed by the legalese.
Finally we got escorted into the court where the allusive Right Honourable Judge was sitting and awaiting to explain what we were there to do, and more to the point what they intended to do with both our qualitative and quantitative data. All of the courts had nice natural lighting or were in large rooms with the best artificial lighting that could be fitted allowing for a more open and less oppressive vibe to the building.
Now I have heard of cases before from kind judges who allow young people into their courts similar to the one he allayed, whereby a young person was in the middle of a case deciding where the young person should live. The judge actually instructed for a chair to be set beside his so that the young person had direct input and was able to hear the case. Although an unusual one I think that acts like these leave the young person feeling empowered and listened to as they sit above the court. Now in cases of giving evidence video linking is available, even from other courts which would mean that a young person would not necessarily have to face those involved and could be made more comfortable than having to appear in the court itself.
At this point I pretty much gave up on taking notes on the paper we was provided and resorted to my trusty NYAS notepad. We were taken outside of the courts to view the new proposed entrance for young people around the corner so they did not have to face anyone involved in their case who they did not want to or who may be intimidating, which I think we can all agree is the best for all involved. Now as of yet there is no clear signage, bags will have to be intrusively searched (unless an x-ray is installed as well as a new metal detector), the young person will have to ring a buzzer and speak on an intercom waiting for security to arrive and there are no toilets which may be the only thing on their mind after a long journey.
As we entered the proposed rout there was a plush red carpet, well lit corridor and all the back entrance to each of the ground floor courts. Unfortunately as we turned the corner this beautiful façade was killed by a dark and oppressive stairwell, with a cramped and dull lift leading to the fourth floor where they were most likely to be going.
Now we had already been to this floor to try and find our first allocated court (21), but we had not seen the consultation rooms which all read ‘ENGAGED’ even though most were left derelict, and I use this word purposely as they have pale walls and dull uniform furniture and each looked as if it had been evacuated in a hurry.
We left this section to then see the proposed contact centre with the working title ‘Building Blocks’ which sounds more like a barrier than NYAS own ‘Butterfly Room’. I do invite you to get in contact with a new suggestion for a name until early November 2014. These rooms were not yet made to measure but we had a sense for the plans, being the only rooms with any colour and (although needing more comfortable and modern) laid back seating. Whilst in these rooms we discussed that there would need to be age appropriate amenities, a kitchenette had already been discussed but we though age appropriate toys and media would be necessary as well as access to the internet and perhaps some sensory toys for the less able bodied and babies.
Just before we retired to the Judges dining room where we were waited on hand and foot by the judiciary we got to meet with Anne Dillon, a barrister and member of the trustee board of contact centres. She asked for our feedback and we told her what I have already said as well as suggestions for televisions, computers, consoles and other modern conveniences many of us have come to take for granted.
Now in the dining room we were met by a few district and circuit judges, some of whom took an instant liking to us and were keen to get our insight and tell us about what they do and wanted out of our unique visit. It quickly turned from several convocations into a round table discussion where we gave a quick summary off what we had observed and the potential problems, one circuit judge even asked me to provide a template idea for them of what I thought should be in an introductory letter such as where best to get a drink or food before going into the court as they do not have any real amenities other than water fountains which I had not spotted and any signage for seemed completely absent.
The final part of this saga was when one of the Judges who had just presided over a case involving a young person who was receiving services from NYAS took us to his chambers before we tried to track down the young person to get their perception of the court and what they had just been through (with their permission of course). Unfortunately this young person had already left and so it was our turn to retrieve our belongings from security and meet with Dr Julia Brophy before our meeting with Sir James Munby which shall be discussed in my next post.