Judges have been told ‘in no uncertain terms’ by the head of the judiciary that they should not proceed with a hearing if they feel their safety is at risk, MPs heard today.
Appearing before the House of Commons justice select committee for the first time since becoming lady chief justice this afternoon, Dame Sue Carr was asked about an assault on a family judge at Milton Keynes County Court last year that left the judge hospitalised. HM Courts & Tribunals Service said the incident was ‘shocking’ but ‘extremely rare’.
Asked how HMCTS and the judiciary respond to the growing concerns around security, Carr said: ‘My response would not have been that these incidents are isolated. Such a serious attack as the one that took place here is rare, but that’s not really the point, is it?’
Carr told the committee she was unable to say much about that particular incident because criminal proceedings are ongoing. However, she said she visited the judge and the court on 4 January.
‘It does mark a real issue of concern,’ she added. ‘I take my hat off to the civil and family judges up and down the country who do this incredibly challenging and demanding work in circumstances sometimes when they are entitled not to feel very safe.’
The incident sparked a ‘very serious incident review’ being led by the senior presiding judge and others as well as an internal review.
It also triggered a review of security protocols to make sure they are up to speed, Carr said. ‘And more than anything else, to make sure our judges are all aware of what protection they have available to them, what the protocol entitles them to, when they are entitled to call for police protection, when they are entitled to say “I need to be in a Crown court for this hearing” to make sure we identify potentially violent people in advance of hearings so that everything can be set up in good time.
‘And ultimately I have told the judges in no uncertain terms that if at the end of the day they do not feel it is safe for them to conduct that hearing in those circumstances, they should not proceed.’