Authors:Fiona Bawdon
Last updated:2024-05-24
Concerns over behaviour of Stratford Magistrates’ Court security staff escalate
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Lady Justice close up (Hermann Traub_Pixabay)
More than a month after criminal lawyers made an official complaint about ‘extremely concerning’ behaviour by Stratford Magistrates’ Court security staff (see May 2024 Legal Action 5), allegations about treatment of legal representatives continue.
The latest ‘serious incident’, on 1 May, led to a duty solicitor reportedly being injured before police officers intervened. Following the most recent allegations, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) wrote to HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), calling for the ‘immediate suspension’ of the staff involved ‘pending a full, independent investigation’. LCCSA warned that if the officers involved were not taken off duty, ‘we may recommend to our members that they do not attend Stratford Magistrates’ Court until this situation has been resolved’.
Garden Court Chambers has already stopped sending pupil barristers to the court, due to safety fears. It issued a statement on 8 May, saying: ‘As a chambers we have a duty to ensure our pupils’ safety and wellbeing. In light of these reports, we consider that we would risk breaching those obligations should we require them to attend Stratford Magistrates’ Court.’ The ban will remain in place until the issues have been ‘fully investigated and resolved’.
LCCSA president Edward Jones told Legal Action: ‘We have been engaging with HMCTS at a high level about the issues at Stratford Magistrates’ Court and are hoping to put out some further messaging in the near future.’
Incidents catalogued by LCCSA at Stratford Magistrates’ Court to date include:
On 1 May, as he tried to enter a courtroom, a duty solicitor was grabbed by security guards who then pinned him to the ground with their knees, making it difficult for him to breathe, before police at court intervened.
A woman solicitor was subjected to a pat-down search by security staff who put their hands inside the neckline of her dress, patted down the sides and in between her breasts, and felt her leg ‘under her dress up to her inner thigh’.
Security staff checking inside the mouth of a male solicitor, who was also asked to remove his shoes; inspection of privileged legal documents; confiscation of harmless personal items such as make-up compacts; and requiring solicitors to test spray themselves with any perfume in their possession.
In January 2024, a woman solicitor was forcibly ejected by security staff and her lunch thrown out after her onto the pavement.
After LCCSA’s official complaint in April, a post on the HMCTS X account said: ‘We … can assure you that a comprehensive investigation will be undertaken’. However, a statement released by HMCTS (via the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)) to the press on the same day (24 April) appeared to row back on the pledge for a full investigation, stating: ‘While we have a duty to ensure the safety of all court users and members of the public, we will carefully consider the points raised and respond accordingly.’
Since then, and despite the further incident, there has been no public comment from HMCTS.
The MoJ has been approached again for comment.