March 2019 Dinner Briefing

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The role of technology in the workplace has evolved dramatically and digitalisation has reshaped the processes and efficiency of businesses throughout Milton Keynes.

Many of the MKBLP members from those businesses were audience members at a recent MKBLP Quarterly Dinner, where His Honour Judge Francis Sheridan presided and discussed everything from the impact the digital age has had over the judiciary system – to tackling knife crime and domestic abuse.

Introducing His Honour, Chair of MKBLP Dr Philip Smith MBE, who noted the fact that Judge Francis had brought his own lectern for the occasion, raised the technological age in which we live and the impact digital processes has had on how businesses operate today.  Dr Smith referenced how digitalisation has heightened the need to ‘get things done correctly’ and the impact this has had on the Government and businesses, before asking Judge Francis to elaborate the effect this has had on the courts.

One of four new deputy lieutenants for Buckinghamshire, and presiding judge at Aylesbury Crown Court, Judge Francis has had a long, well-documented career within the judiciary system. 

At a time when courts are moving to systems in which documents are submitted electronically, file rooms are disappearing and the judicial departments are going paperless, following the Government’s £1 billion reform to bring new technology and modern ways into the UK’s courts,  Judge Francis conceded that he had avoided using technology for as long as possible!

Whilst admitting that using digital systems are good if used properly, he reminded business leaders that they are also dealing with human beings and their businesses can not manage without them.

“In this digital age, technology has evolved and the way we work has changed dramatically. Traditional processes have been superseded, but in the judiciary system, in the same sense as government, we have to make sure these digital processes are appropriate and  fit for purpose.”

Recounting tales from his court days in the years before technology took over, Judge Francis commented that common sense ruled – and this was still needed in court today, above and beyond digitalisation. Referencing his declaration that domestic violence should be a top priority throughout Crown Courts in England and Wales, and testament to his statement that common sense should prevail above all else.

Further fuelling his argument that digitalisation has overtaken common sense, Judge Francis  acknowledged the case of a lorry driver responsible for the 2017, M1 mini bus crash which saw 8 people die. “Due to computer systems being out of date the lorry driver’s disqualification letter was sent to an old address – the driver was unaware, and his insurance was negated so compensation was left to the Motor Insurers Bureau.”

Nevertheless, reflecting on an incident when, through technology, his 9-year-old son completed a task in one sitting which should have taken two men three months to process manually, Judge Francis stressed that; “technology lies in the hands of the little ones coming up behind us.”

Reinforcing this fact, he called for the attending business leaders to welcome children, particularly those in their first year of GCSE’s, into their place of work, to encourage the future generation into business. “Even if it’s just for a day, it won’t take long to sew the seed.”

Lamenting on the days when children used to be more afraid of the possible repercussions they would face from their parents rather than the law, Judge Francis admitted that now, UK courts face a struggle to encourage parents to accompany their child to hearings. “We need to keep families together and steer people away from the justice system – in favour of rehabilitation.” Urging businesses to consider offering jobs to people who had faced the court system: “Otherwise they hit a slippery slope of living life through the bottom of a bottle or the wrong end of a needle.”

Acknowledging that mental health plays a pivotal role in rehabilitation, Judge Francis is an advocate for the Milton Keynes P3 Health team.

Questions raised at the end included how police should be tackling knife crime. Raising comparisons to the ‘Glasgow Smile’ crimes, Judge Francis concluded that when the harsh, consistent sentences of 18 year prison stretches were brought in, it put an end to the razor blade epidemic.

Reinforcing his belief that above all else common sense should prevail, Judge Francis concluded: “There’s something in that message. When dealing with knife crime today, we don’t just need to be tough - we need to be consistently tough.”

Caption: (from left to right) Chair of MKBLP Dr Philip Smith MBE, His Honour Judge Francis Sheridan and Julia Upton MBE, the new High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire.