We all want to live in safe communities and it's the responsibility of the criminal justice system (the term to describe all the organisations involved in seeing justice done, from the police to the prison service) to make that happen. You too can play your part.
You may feel particularly angered by homophobic hate crime, but you may equally feel frustrated by vandalism in your local area. You may want to play your part in making sure that everyone is treated fairly if they're accused of a crime or if they’ve been the victim of a crime. Whatever your interest, there are a number of different ways you can get involved.
There are many reasons lesbian, gay and bisexual people volunteer in the criminal justice system but primarily it is to make our communities safer for everyone and the system of justice fair and considerate of victims and witnesses.
Police forces are now the best performing sector in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index and homophobic hate crimes and incitement to homophobic hatred are criminal offences. However there is still much to be done to ensure that you and other lesbian, gay and bisexual people get a justice system that fully protects everyone. Many gay people want to volunteer so that they can hold the criminal justice system to account about how it is serving gay communities.
Research shows that one in eight lesbian and gay people experience a homophobic hate crime or incident every year and 17 per cent experience a physical attack. Sadly three quarters of victims did not report incidents to the police – a third because they felt the police couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it - and only five per cent of those who did say that it resulted in a conviction.
By volunteering with the criminal justice system you can help deliver safer communities for everyone, as well as making sure that the issues that your local lesbian, gay and bisexual community encounter are dealt with as seriously as all others.
For more information on hate crime, domestic violence, and criminal law click here.
Whether you want to make a regular commitment, or you’re only able to volunteer for a few hours now and then, there are opportunities to suit you. Most roles need the kinds of skills and personal attributes found in all walks of life - such as integrity, good judgement and social awareness - and all of them will allow you to make a positive difference to your neighbourhood and to the people who live there.
Why not take a look at the different ways you can get involved:
You may not have time to volunteer for a specific role but there’s still plenty you can do to help improve the criminal justice system for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. You could:
Individuals in England and Wales (excluding London) can stand to be elected in the new role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for their local police force. In London the Mayor of London fills the role.
The purpose of PCCs is to make sure there is an elected official overseeing the local police force. PCCs do not replace Chief Constables, who are unelected, but will have responsibility for holding the Chief Constable to account (including hiring and firing them), setting and updating a local policing plan and budget and engaging with the local community. To ensure impartiality, operational decisions about how to investigate crimes will continue to be the responsibility of the Chief Constable. For more information on the role of PCCs click here.
Nominations for candidates close on 12 noon on Friday 19 October 2012. There are limitations on who is allowed to stand as a PCC and candidates must pay a £5000 deposit, returnable only if candidates win 5% of first preference votes cast. For more information on how to stand click here.
Elections will take place on 15 November 2012. The role is paid and PCCs will be expected to take office on 22 November 2012.
Special constables are volunteers who work with their local police force. They have the same powers as regular police officers, wear a similar uniform - and they act as a vital link between the police and the local community.
The Special Constabulary welcome applicants from all backgrounds - there are no formal qualifications required, although you do need reasonable reading and writing skills and you must be law-abiding, respectful of others, and community focused.
All special constables receive training in self-defence, powers of arrest, common crimes and preparing evidence for court. To apply you must be at least 18, in good health, and have an unrestricted right to reside in the UK. You also need to be able to commit to at least 16 hours each month, but there’s flexibility as to when you do these hours.
To find out more, and to search for vacancies in your area, see www.policecouldyou.co.uk/specials/overview.html
Magistrates or Justices of the Peace (JPs) are volunteers who deal with around 95 per cent of criminal cases in England and Wales - including many of the crimes that most affect the public, such as anti-social behaviour. Along with two other magistrates, they hear evidence, reach verdicts and decide on appropriate sentences.
Magistrates are selected solely on the basis of merit, and applications are welcomed from all sections of the community - regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. You don’t need any qualifications to be a magistrate - training is provided. It is important that wherever decisions are being made, particularly important judicial decisions, that a diversity of perspectives including those of openly gay magistrates, are available.
The greatest commitment is time - you need to sit in court at least 26 half-days per year. However, employers are required to grant you reasonable time off work for this. Magistrates are not paid. You can claim expenses for travelling, subsistence and financial loss.
For more information and details of how to apply, see www.direct.gov.uk/en/CrimeJusticeAndTheLaw/Becomingamagistrate/index.htm
Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) are responsible for safeguarding the well-being and rights of prisoners and detainees. All prisons and immigration removal centres in England and Wales have an IMB.
IMB members play a role in spotting a whole range of well-being problems that detainees may experience. This ranges from inadequate conditions in cells to the prevalence of homophobic bullying and abuse.
IMB members can go into any part of the prison or removal centre at any time to talk to prisoners and staff and to check on conditions. IMBs meet regularly to raise any matters of concern and produce an annual report.
There are particular issues for lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum-seekers who may be detained in close quarters with people from homophobic cultures. This type of distressing scenario is the kind of thing that board members are there to identify and raise.
No formal qualifications are required, but candidates should have a strong commitment to diversity, equality and human rights, and be able to commit at least 2-3 days per month. For more information and details of how to apply, see www.imb.gov.uk/becoming/becoming-a-member.htm
Neighbourhood Watch is made up of small groups of volunteers across the country that help the police to prevent crime by looking out for signs of crime in their neighbourhoods and by sharing information with their neighbours and with police.
Members get to know their neighbours and look out for each other. By noticing things such as which cars are normally parked on your street, and sharing information like when your neighbours are away, you’re more likely to know when something unusual is happening in your area.
If you’re interested in joining your local Neighbourhood Watch group, contact your local police station or neighbourhood policing team. If there isn’t a local group near you, you could start your own. Take a look at the Police’s new map of crime (www.police.uk) to see if there are problems in your area that you and your neighbours should be aware of. For more information on how to set up a group visit www.mynhw.co.uk/training-kits.php
Victim Support gives free and confidential help to victims of crime, witnesses, their family and friends, and anyone else who’s been affected by crime in England and Wales - you can get involved in a range of different ways.
Some volunteers work with victims in their local community - listening to their fears and concerns and working with other agencies to ensure that their needs are met. Others work with witnesses - providing support and information before and during trials. You can also volunteer to work on the Victim Supportline – offering support over the phone to victims, witnesses and other people affected by crime.
You don’t need any qualifications or experience - full training is provided and can include providing specific support to vulnerable people - such as young witnesses. For more information, visit the Victim Support website, www.victimsupport.org.uk
Each year approximately 200,000 people serve on juries that decide whether people accused of serious criminal, and occasionally civil, cases are guilty or innocent. Jurors are chosen at random from the electoral register and employers are required to allow time off work for those selected. To be selected you must be on the electoral register - so make sure you’re registered! To register go to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/register_to_vote.aspx
You can find more general information about crime, justice and the Crown Prosecution Service at: