Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Judicial training to keep members up to date on service and conduct

Even judges and the rest on the bench need some training once in awhile to keep them up to date on issues of both conduct and service ...

The Scotsman reports :

Varied courses keep judiciary up to date

By Frank R Crowe

I WAS disappointed to read in Anne Houston's article in The Scotsman on 28 April an assertion that only a small proportion of sheriffs have received training on the Vulnerable Witnesses Act.

It is not the job of the Judicial Studies Committee, of which I am director, to "train" judges to tackle cases in a particular way. The judiciary must remain independent and free from influence. It is, however, recognised that the judiciary must have access to good quality information and discussions at training sessions so that the highest standards of conduct can be seen.

The Judicial Studies Committee was formed in 1997 to provide the judiciary with training materials, seminars and opportunities to discuss points of practice.

On average, each judge (of all types) receives about three days of training each year from the JSC, as well as seminars organised by other bodies. In addition, briefing papers on new legislation, case summaries, check lists and manuals are circulated for use in court.

About 50 training day events are provided each year. This involves around ten day seminars and a number of residential courses as well as refresher and judicial skills courses. As with any organisation resources are finite and priorities have to be made. Some areas can be addressed with written materials, however there is no substitute for face-to-face sessions.

One of my first duties as director was to finalise the training syllabus for 2005 and I arranged for presentations on the Vulnerable Witnesses Act to be given at all refresher courses. These sessions ran until the middle of last year, by which time, most of the legislation had come into force. Since judges are invited to a refresher course on a three year cycle the majority attended one of these sessions.

Judicial skills courses began in 2000 and focus on communication in court and dealing with situations including when vulnerable witnesses give evidence. Judges attend these on a five year cycle and as such, most judges of any experience have attended at least one event and some have attended more. We use actors to simulate court and judges perform in front of small groups of their peers.

Situations involving child witnesses have been a particular feature of these courses since their inception.

Since 2003, ten one-day courses on sexual offences have run with over 200 judges in attendance. More recently, visits have been made to courts with CCTV equipment and colleagues have tried out this equipment first hand. A special event was held on this topic last year.

Since 2004 the JSC has run an annual course for sheriffs who wish to develop skills in interviewing children. This highlights the need to establish a rapport to build the child's confidence.

Last year, JSC helped Children 1st produce a DVD showing a child giving evidence according to current legislation. This film was made to provide a focus for discussion and we await the decision of the Scottish Government about whether legislation will be promoted to bring such procedures into force.

The JSC is also helping with the production of a DVD about children giving evidence using CCTV. It is hoped that professional bodies and voluntary organisations will use it as a focus for further discussion on this area of law.

• Sheriff Frank R Crowe is the director of the Judicial Studies Committee

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