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Thursday 16 September 2021

“My colleagues and fellow FDA members are working flat out trying to deliver justice”

FDA Section Convenor Stephen Head talks about the benefits of being in the FDA, how it feels to help members resolve their problems, and the challenges of delivering justice in a pandemic.

What brought you into the Crown Prosecution Service?

I had a variety of weird and wonderful jobs prior to settling down as a solicitor - including an aerial photographic consultant. When I qualified, I naturally drifted towards crime (professionally speaking) and spent a couple of years as a defence solicitor, but public service always appealed to me. As soon as the CPS began recruiting back in 2001, I applied and was successful. I still think it is one of the best decisions I made.

How did you got involved with the trade union movement?

Once I turned 16 I began a Saturday job (Littlewoods Pools if anyone remembers them) and have been working ever since. Wherever I have been employed I always joined the union straight away and have previously been a member of USDAW and CWU. Trade unionism is so important and necessary for a healthy balanced democracy. It is no surprise that when democracy fails, trade unionists are some of the first people to be targeted – that may sound a bit dramatic but it is reality. I grew up with a sense that we are better and stronger together.

What do you like about being an active member of the FDA?

It sounds glib, but representing someone who has not been treated fairly or justly and getting them justice is a wonderful feeling and strikes a chord with being a lawyer. It really is the best feeling – sometimes you can feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall or not being listened to…but that one email or call or thank you afterwards reminds you of why you do it.

What does your job involve day to day?

Anything and everything! Usually it is wading through emails and keeping tabs on all that is going on, sometimes it’s meetings all day until 5pm, and there are always member issues to look at. You can plan the day and have great ideas about what you want to do and by lunchtime you are doing something totally different, using skills I didn’t think I had and hopefully resolving and sorting out problems. I have developed so many new skills and hopefully sharpened a few old ones.

How has your work changed during the pandemic? What have been the major challenges?

The pandemic has made me realise how many meetings I attended which could be done remotely. This has saved me and my colleagues so much time that can be utilised in better ways. I am sure there are many members who feel less stressed with not having to worry about the daily commute or travelling to the office just for the sake of it. Of course, the lack of social activity and interaction can be a real challenge, and it is important to find a balance and make sure we still check in with each other. My own CPS team set up an online team quiz on a Friday night every couple of months. Great fun and kept people in touch with one another.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

The role of a prosecutor is hard – there are huge challenges in preparing cases and some of the things we deal with are horrendous, but when you get justice for a child or a victim of crime, you know you’ve made a difference. I recall prosecuting a defendant for repeated domestic abuse and the victim, the ex-wife of the defendant, thanked me afterwards, telling me I had probably saved her life. I don’t think that was true in itself but I had done something which had improved her life and made her feel safe again.

What do you most enjoy about your FDA work?

There are so many aspects I enjoy. Pay negotiations are always challenging but so interesting too, and consulting with management over members’ terms and conditions throws so many different things at you. Ultimately, however, it comes back to the people – people in the FDA, fellow activists and members who come to us for help. For anyone in the FDA who isn’t yet an activist: give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised.

If you could improve one thing for our members, what would it be?

Workloads. It is an acute problem in the Crown Prosecution Service, and other departments, I’m sure. The issue has been caused by a combination of longstanding underinvestment, delays and backlogs caused by the pandemic, and a massive change to how much material is involved in each case. My colleagues, friends and fellow FDA members are working flat out trying to deliver justice, working extra hours they will never get back and going the extra yard when called on - sometimes risking their health in order to do so.

What do you do to take your mind off work and union business?

I have always been interested in military history and play a lot of wargames with model figures (not toy soldiers!) Fighting battles on the tabletop. My particular area tends to be fantasy stuff such as Lord of the Rings- when I attend our gaming group or conferences or competitions I seem to spend a lot of time stepping over beards and avoiding real ales! I like to think of myself as the cool face of wargaming…however my partner reminds me there is no cool face of wargaming, but it keeps me out of trouble.

4th Nov 2021
FDA General Secretary Dave Penman has condemned “completely unacceptable” personal attacks on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards – “a public servant who cannot answer back”
1st Nov 2021
General Secretary Dave Penman welcomed the “comprehensive report”, which details “where urgent action is needed to restore public faith”
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