853 exclusive: A Greenwich councillor is at the centre of an investigation after she acted as a magistrate on cases brought by her own council, potentially jeopardising convictions of people who have committed crimes in the borough.
Ann-Marie Cousins, a Labour councillor for Abbey Wood, sat in judgment on cases brought by Greenwich Council, despite being elected to the same council herself last year. Court law bans magistrates who are also councillors from sitting in cases involving their authorities.
While most criminal cases are brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, local authorities can also bring prosecutions in areas such as trading standards, housing fraud, breaches of planning law, school absences and environmental crimes.
The discrepancy was only picked up this month, 853 understands, and this website has been told that letters are now being sent to people who have been involved in cases to tell them about the situation.
Cousins, who was elected in 2018, has sat as a magistrate since 2000. It is not known how many cases are affected by the issue. Cases from Greenwich are usually sent to courts in Bromley and Bexleyheath.
Magistrates typically sit in benches of two or three, holding trials for less serious crimes and preliminary hearings for more serious offences before they are sent to crown courts. They are only paid expenses, and it is recognised that some magistrates may also want to serve their communities as councillors. However, guidance to magistrates tells them to seek advice on cases where there may be a conflict of interest with their past or present town hall roles.
Cousins did not respond to a request for comment, while a spokesperson for the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary referred 853 to Greenwich Council. A council spokesperson said: “The council was made aware that a councillor in their role as a magistrate presided over a number of cases brought to the court by the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
“As soon as we were made aware of this, we reported it to the Local Magistrates Court Advisory Committee. The committee will investigate the case and decide on the appropriate course of action.”
The situation is one that might have been picked up earlier with a stronger local press that was more familiar with the area’s judicial system. Court reporting was once a staple of local journalism, but magistrates’ hearings are now very rarely covered – and more often by press release than by reporters attending court.
A study published earlier this month found that of 240 cases observed during a week-long study in Bristol, only three stories appeared in the local press and just one was attended by a journalist.
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. It was the only media outlet at Wednesday’s meeting. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
– join well over 100 monthly patrons at www.patreon.com/853.
– switch power supplier! Low-cost renewable Bulb energy will pay you and this site £50 each if you switch
– buy the author a coffee at ko-fi.com.
– make a one-off contribution at paypal.me/853london