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Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions – In Conversation with Cindy Butts

Posted on 25 February 2021

On Wednesday 10th February Cindy Butts, trustee of Kick it Out, Commissioner on the Criminal Cases Review Commission, a member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Committee and a member of the Bar Standards Board, spoke with Deputy Chairman Anthony Julius about access to justice, inclusion and equality in the profession, and shared experiences from her many roles.

Cindy Butts has over 20 years of experience in improving access to justice having operated at a senior level in some of the most complex and highly sensitive organisations within the criminal justice/policing sector and Government.

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

Anthony Julius

Well, hello everyone.  It’s, it’s a great pleasure for me to introduce Cindy Butts.  I’m Anthony Julius, the firm’s Deputy Chairman and one of its younger dinosaurs.  Cindy has had a really interesting… is having a really interesting career and, and I invited her along because it’s one which is worth hearing about.  We first met when we were both committee members of the then London Mayor, Boris Johnson’s Race and Faith Enquiry into the Metropolitan Police Force.  And it was my first exposure to public sector work.  So traumatising an experience was it for me that I actually have, I haven’t gone back there!  So, I can only look with awe at Cindy for actually pursuing a career in the public sector.  So… and we’re going to begin to talk about that and who knows where the conversation will, will take us.  But Cindy, first of all welcome to our Mishcon de Reya Academy event.  Let’s begin by, by just getting a little bit of background about who you are, where you so to speak, originated, why you decided to take this route into public sector work?

Cindy Butts

Yeah.  Well, well, Anthony thank you and good afternoon everybody.  It’s a real pleasure to be here.  My! Where do I start?  I guess I start from the beginning.  So, born and bred in Shepherd’s Bush.  My sort of career journey and all the choices that I’d like to think I deliberately made really do stem from my childhood.  So, my mum came here in, in the very early ‘60s from Guyana and settled in, in Ladbroke Grove.  When she arrived there it was a very different place.  My mum soon became really involved, got concerned and then involved in Police community relations and became a kind of community activist.  I remember many a time when we were kids and she would say to me and my three sisters you know, ‘You’re gonna have a day off school’ and we’d be thinking we’d be going up town to do something fancy, only to discover you know, she, she was taking us to a Police station and we were going to do a sit-in.  So, that’s kind of what influenced my desire to kind of be involved in community, policing, in particular work. 

Anthony Julius

The model that you’re kind of following, that you’ve followed, is kind of more institutional. 

Cindy Butts

You’re right and that was a very conscious decision.  So, for many years I was involved in policing but from, from the outside you know, various campaigning groups that I got involved in and I did make a conscious decision that actually I wanted to influence from within.  My career journey has been very strange.  So I went to what was once described as the worst school in Britain.  I left school with no qualifications.  My, my mum’s influence as strong as that was  I don’t think was able to, to counter the other influences that I was subjected to.  But once I’d kind of left school with no qualifications it all started to kick in and I started to mature and then I then I got my GCSEs.  Then I got my A’ Levels.  Then I went to SOAS and studied Anthropology and Politics.  My very first job was in Parliament as a researcher. 

Anthony Julius

Is that post-degree?

Cindy Butts

Yes, that’s right, yes. 

Anthony Julius

Who were you… who were you… were you attached to an MP or were you…?

Cindy Butts

Yes so at the time it was Clive Soley.  He was, he was the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party and then I went to work for Melanie Johnson, who at the time was the Economics Secretary to the Treasury.  So, I spent you know, probably about three, four years working in Parliament which I absolutely loved.  So, so  after I left Parliament that’s when I, I came across an opportunity to join the Metropolitan Police Authority.  So, every, every Police force in the country bar the Met had an independent body that oversaw it.  The Met never did.  It was a recommendation that arose out of the MacPherson enquiry following Stephen Lawrence’s murder and Government picked up on it and said, ‘Yes.  It ought to have its own police authority’.  And I just thought, ‘Yeah this is a great opportunity to inform and influence’ in a way that I was doing at a very local level but meant I could start to do that on a, on a pan-London basis. 

Anthony Julius

So, you, you left, you left a full-time position…?

Cindy Butts

I did, yep. 

Anthony Julius

… for a part-time position?  So, because, because we’re interested in the construction of careers I mean you know, quite apart from anything else politics, colour and all the rest of it just how we manage a career I’m interested in, in what you felt the challenge was of, of that choice.  I mean, how did it work out?

Cindy Butts

Oh, no.  I absolutely knew that I had to… I had to fill it with other things.  They completely underestimated the amount of time that was required.  The remuneration was, was absolutely pants. 

Anthony Julius

Yeah. 

Cindy Butts

But you know, I just thought to myself, there was you know, there was such value in doing the role, I had lots to offer.  I argued and it was Jack Straw at the time that they ought to allow Police authorities to set their own renumeration rates because being a member of the Police authority for the Metropolitan Police Service was very different from being a member of the Police for Derbyshire you know, there’s a lot more involved here, folks.  And actually, they agreed and, and one of the arguments that I put was that it’s a diversity issue.  You know, the fact that here I am not of pensionable age dare I say it, I don’t have you know, a rich husband that I can call on.  I’m not independently wealthy.  But if you believe that I have value then I ought to be paid to be able to do it because otherwise you get the same people who do these things all the time because they’re people who can, who can afford to do it and they made that change.  I ended up becoming the organisation’s deputy chair and there I was, doing that role which was how I met you! Our experience and my experience in particular of chairing the Race and Faith Enquiry was, was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had in my career.  So, it was on the day of the launch – the evening of that launch – that I first had the hard copy in my hand and when I read the foreword, inserted I think paragraph three, ‘I’m pleased that Cindy and the enquiry team have concluded that the Met is no longer institutionally racist’.  Well, we didn’t say that at all. 

Anthony Julius

No. 

Cindy Butts

Our position was much more nuanced than that you know, we acknowledged that actually, in some aspects the Met was absolutely streets ahead.  On the, the gender agenda it was streets ahead of many Police forces in fact, I would probably argue a lot of the public sector more generally.  But in other respects, it was woefully behind and we discovered you know, discrimination etcetera, etcetera. 

Anthony Julius

Yeah, yeah.  What did you do after, after that?

Cindy Butts

After that I went to… I became a commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission.  We effectively dealt in death.  We investigated Police officers mainly for sensitive and serious incidents.  So, for me as somebody who was predominantly used to working on the outside, then moved into the institution and it’s an institution that you know, that the, the black community doesn’t have a lot of love for you know, so, very much seen as, as being a sell-out, quite frankly.  And that was always a really difficult space to occupy for me and it was only when I actually left that I realised, I guess the spiritual tax that I had paid in being in that role…

Anthony Julius

You don’t regret it? I mean, you feel that, that you did some good while you were there?

Cindy Butts

I do feel that.  But I’ve got a lot of frustrations with the system more generally.  I mean we haven’t talked about Black Lives Matter but…

Anthony Julius

Well, I mean this is a, this is a good time to I mean, this is the moment isn’t it?

Cindy Butts

You know, people often talk about, ‘Are there parallels between the British black experience and that of African-Americans?’ and whilst historically we have… there are differences I think there is a relevance that Black Lives Matter has here and it comes across in a lot of the stats you see.  Whether it is about policing or education, health etcetera.  Of the, I think 1000 plus people who have died in, in Police custody since I think 1990 not a single Police officer has, has ever been convicted and some of that is about the, the test, the legal test so, so Police officers can rely on their honestly-held belief. 

Anthony Julius

Right. 

Cindy Butts

That’s a really difficult test to overcome. 

Anthony Julius

Right. 

Cindy Butts

I was… I truly believe that, that you know, I was going to be attacked or…

Anthony Julius

That, that’s the belief that one has to honestly hold?  That whatever one was doing, one was doing for fear of injury oneself?

Cindy Butts

Yeah.  That’s, that’s a very difficult one to… it’s, it’s an incredibly high threshold and one that’s very subjective. 

Anthony Julius

In some ways, what you’re doing now is I would have thought much less kind of emotionally depleting. 

Cindy Butts

Yes, yes that’s true.  I just love being able to curate my own career.  I love politics and that’s why I now sit on the Speaker’s Committee at the House of Commons. 

Anthony Julius

So, what, just tell us what that’s about. 

Cindy Butts

So, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created as a result of the MPs expenses scandal.  And the Speaker’s Committee is the body that oversees and agrees the, the budget for the Independent Standards Authority.  And then I also knew I wanted to have an aspect that related to complaints and good ethics which is why I then got myself on the House of Lords Conduct Committee.  Of all of the roles that I do, the most fascinating.  Dealing with complaints and behaviours and standards.  But how that as an institution rubs up against you know, with its ancient practices.  So, a lot of the things we’re engaged in at the moment are around free speech.  You know, politicians have gone onto Twitter and said things that you know, might have been offensive etcetera,  etcetera and so we’re grappling with you know, what one might be able to say in their conduct in their private life versus in their public political lives and how there isn’t always that clear distinction between the two. 

Anthony Julius

We were talking just before, just before this, this, this interview went live, so to speak, we were talking about vaccinations because I said I’m getting my vaccination tomorrow.  You were saying, ‘oh you have some experience of resistance’.  I just wonder whether we could take a couple of minutes just draw out…?

Cindy Butts

Yeah. 

Anthony Julius

…a sense of that?

Cindy Butts

Well, Anthony I’m really troubled by it.  The lack of take-up by black and minority ethnic communities of the vaccine. 

Anthony Julius

Do you get a sense of the what motivates people?

Cindy Butts

I think it’s a number of things.  I think, I think some of it is around a sort of a mistrust of the establishment.  I think some of it is about the history of black people being used in some of the most horrific ways for you know, as guinea pigs and then I think there are just issues around just conspiracy theories and how rampant they are.  And I’m not sure that a bunch of you know, baying MPs saying, ‘I’m gonna get it when I’m called up’ is really the answer to that. 

Anthony Julius

I really want to thank you, Cindy, for taking the time to come and talk to us.  And it’s a great pleasure for me to find the excuse to chat to you again. 

Cindy Butts

I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve really enjoyed engaging with you again. 

Anthony Julius

Thank you very much. 

Cindy Butts

Thank you. 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit mishcon.com. 

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