Blog & Update 5

Honours

The number of people in the NHS who could be awarded an honour following Covid-19 must be immense – from consultants to cleaners. The system risks either being overwhelmed or failing to do justice to all the deserving. As well as singling out some, we need something else. In 1942 King George VI awarded the George Cross to the Isle of Malta, then part of the British Empire, for the collective heroism the Maltese people had shown in the face of the Nazi enemy. The medal appears on the Maltese flag. We need a collective honour for the NHS, a permanent reminder in the years to come of what they did for us.

Business, though not quite as usual

Last week was another busy one with conference calls and even some use of Zoom and Teams. I chaired my monthly Public Accountability Board (PAB) as usual – a time when I more formally hold the Chief Constable to account. Several journalists dialled in, so it could be reported, and there were representatives from the Police and Crime Panel, who in turn hold me to account.

I joined a meeting called by Mayor Dan Jarvis where we were considering the economic and social future of South Yorkshire after Covid-19. My contribution was to talk about what had happened to crime during the lock-down (it fell at first by about 24% but is creeping back now) and what might happen when that is relaxed – and the possible implications for businesses.

And I chaired the Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) to think about how the wider criminal justice system is coping now and will cope after the crisis. The LCJB brings together: my office, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, probation, youth offending teams, services for victims and witnesses, prisons and the courts. And I joined other PCCs from across the country on a conference call with the policing minister, Kit Malthouse. This week I have a similar call with the courts minister, Chris Philp.

I see no reason why these dial-ins with ministers should not become regular features of business as usual in the future. They are just as productive as travelling down to London for a big meeting with all the costs and travel time that involves – rail fares and accommodation.

The Courts

Covid-19 has seriously disrupted the work of the courts. Jury trials have been suspended and, at the time of writing, still not restored. The magistrates courts have also been struggling with only Doncaster open, though Sheffield magistrates have been using the Combined Courts.

The main problem has been the need for social distancing. You need a lot of space to accommodate twelve jury members, lawyers, suspects, witnesses, victims and court officials – and keep them all two metres apart. Some courts are held remotely, using the custody suite at Shepcote Lane.

Defence lawyers are being permitted to telephone their clients in their cells rather than see them in person. And the judiciary are looking at the possibility of resuming jury trials by using several court rooms for the bigger trials linked by video.The common perception that judges are out of touch with the modern world is contradicted immediately these days when you see how adept everyone is becoming with digital technology.

In the meantime the backlog of cases is building up. And justice delayed is justice denied.

VE Day and Covid-19

A couple of weeks ago we were commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day in that strange muted way that Covid-19 has driven us to. We probably didn’t appreciate the irony of it at the time. We overcame Nazism so that we could keep all our democratic freedoms – to hold elections; to gather and assemble; to worship in our own way; to be able to criticise the government in the press without being censored.

Yet most of these freedoms, and more, we surrendered at the behest of government with hardly a squeak – the local and PCC elections were just suspended; we were forbidden to gather; churches, synagogues, temples and mosques were closed; we were required to work from home; travel was restricted; and so on.

Only the free press remained, though its survival is now threatened: they have less to report because little is happening; and there are no advertisements for non-events. In fact, they seem to survive only because the government chooses to place so many notices with them on a daily basis. Strange times indeed.

New Guidance

As we move from one phase of the pandemic to another, the government is beginning to relax the regulations – though not in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where the devolved administrations seem more nervous about lifting lock-down too early.

I asked the Chief Constable at our monthly Public Accountability Board whether he thought the new guidance was confusing for the police, as some have claimed. He thought not. He thought it was only a change of emphasis. We can all go out more, for longer and for more distant places – as long as we don’t gather in groups that include people other than our own household. So the police will not be asking where we are going so much as who we are with.

So far the public in South Yorkshire, as in the country as a whole, has been overwhelmingly supportive of the measures taken. But the next phases are likely to be much more difficult to explain and implement. We need the conversation between government and the public to continue so that we can maintain government by consent. And that makes possible the continuation of policing by consent.

Grants

Our grant scheme has had its terms and conditions modified to allow organisations that are adapting to meet the Covid-19 challenge to apply for funding. See the appropriate part of the website. Click on this link for more details.

Joining the Dance

A visitor from Mars observing the social customs of people today would draw some pretty strange conclusions. If, for instance, the Martian were to stand on the balcony of my flat s/he would overlook a playing field and some pathways. During the day and evening s/he would see dozens of people walking on the paths and enacting a strange ritual. They walk towards one another but then step to one side, at quite a distance. Everyone smiles, some bow politely, but few talk. It’s like watching a dance. I call it the choreography of Covid and we have all learnt it. The question is, will we unlearn it? Or will the dance go on?

I hope you are staying safe and well.

Contact Me

My office is now closed and we are all working from home. But you can still contact us:

General queries and correspondence:

Email: info@southyorkshire-pcc.gov.uk

Telephone: 0114 2964150

Media Enquiries:

Fiona Topliss, Communications and Engagement Manager:

Email: media@southyorkshire-pcc.gov.uk

Telephone: 07468 472975