"I am exercising my right not to self-incriminate"

Mike Guilfoyle
Thursday, 12 May 2022

Ned (not his real name) had been sentenced for offences of assault and criminal damage at his ex-partner’s address.

He made a flamboyant entrance to his first appointment at the probation office.

“Mr Guilfoyle, you should know that I have spent many years at the bar, and will most surely be appealing my conviction”.

After several moments of tense and awkward interaction, I explained the timeline for our appointments, sensitive to what appeared a fruitless appeal process. Not only was it out of time, but a number of other troubling incidents of abusive behaviour towards his ex-partner had been logged by the police. No further action had followed.

While I made limited headway on supervisory expectations, Ned insisted on holding forth, as though in the full flow of courtroom advocacy. I sensed a challenging (and legally challenged) casework outlook for the duration of supervision!

Shortly after the outset of the probation order, I had a telephone call from a colleague who was now working as a probation officer in the newly-formed Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). She outlined a raft of concerns.

At our next appointment, I was taken aback at the vehemence with which Ned voiced his objections to any judicial intervention that might mean him not seeing his children. He pointedly accused me of being complicit in what he termed “a state run racket”, aimed at ruining his chances of returning to the Bar and destroying his family life.

There was no middle ground or sense of compromise, and his noisy, quasi-judicial ranting attracted the attention of nearby colleagues. “Even Rumpole of the Bailey knew when to draw the line”, one colleague wryly noted later on.

It was evident that each meeting with Ned merely served to heighten his animosity towards anyone in authority seeking to thwart his aims of returning to the Bar. In spite of this, his reporting remained exemplary and, although his outbursts were often obstreperous, he deftly navigated the borders between angry compliance and verbal threats.

That phase of supervision was rudely interrupted after Ned had met with my Cafcass colleague for an interview, prior to her report going before the Family Court.

I was braced for a stormy supervision session. Ned duly obliged, with a withering and jaundiced account of what he described as a “travesty” of an interview with that “f****** cocky woman” who had already “decided against me”.

I admonished him for his abusive language and explained that if his outbursts continued, supervision would be deemed unworkable and a return to court for breach action would follow.

As the date of the hearing drew closer, Ned would sit in a constricted posture and sullen mood in our meetings. “Mr Guilfoyle , I am exercising my right not to self-incriminate”, he opined theatrically on more than one occasion.

In one meeting, he mentioned he was undertaking some pro-bono work for a community law charity, work I strongly encouraged if he was able to offer fair-minded legal advice to those without ready access to representation. “You mean that I should offer unfair legal advice?”, he snarled.

The Family Court hearing went ahead and the outcome conformed to the preliminary indications of restricted access to his children, based on the risk of harm that might arise if such encounters were left unsupervised. Ned’s hoped-for return to a career at the Bar was also ended, after he was disbarred following a formal disciplinary hearing.

The probation order stuttered on through its final and argumentative phase before expiry. There appeared some tentative and encouraging signs of limited insight from Ned on how he might restore healthier family relationships and remain within the wider field of legal advice (albeit out of the court setting).

As he left the probation office for the last time, he stopped for a moment.

“If I can do the right thing, Mr Guilfoyle, who knows where I might end up”, he said with a grimaced smile. “After all, finishing my probation order is some kind of achievement”.

Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer.