Julia Hartley-Brewer: My Day

Up early to get into TalkRadio by black cab. Driver asked me what I did for a living. I cleverly told him it was none of his business. That shut him up for the rest of the journey.

Bought cappuccino to take into work. Idiot trainee barrista asked if I wanted to try the new Columbian blend. “I really don’t care,” I told him, “your coffee is always awful. Why should it be any better just because it comes from Colombia.” Rather pleased with this response. Continue reading “Julia Hartley-Brewer: My Day”

The unfortunate silencing of Alex Cavendish

What obligation does a convicted sex offender have to reveal his true identity? A storm over the issue has arisen in the world of prison blogging.

One of the best criminal justice blogs on the internet is Prison UK. Over the last 3 years it has described the life of prisoners in British prisons with a remarkable and unprecedented vividness. Anyone wanting to know about the realities of prison life should read it. I have even recommended it as preparation for clients expecting to receive a prison sentence: one of the most widely read posts (because it was eventually published in Metro) was about what to pack for somebody who is expecting to go to prison (flip-flops for the showers, earplugs and headphones being top of the list). If you want to know about food in prison, illness in prison, sex in prison, old men in prison, drugs in prison, suicide in prison and death in prison the blog has covered all those subjects superbly. Continue reading “The unfortunate silencing of Alex Cavendish”

The dress code for Long Lartin visitors makes dressing for Royal Ascot seem easy

Visitors to Long Lartin Prison, home to a number of tough cookies, has introduced a strict dress code for visitors. Relatives of Ben Geen, the nurse who was very possibly wrongly convicted on the basis of misunderstood statistical evidence, have reported visitors being turned away for wearing open-toed sandals.

In fact, the Category A establishment bans any footwear which is not “enclosed at the heel and toe.” It turns out that the prison, which houses some of Britain’s worst murderers, enforces a sartorial code for visitors, updated at the end of last month, which makes dressing for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot seem straightforward by comparison.

Indeed, Long Lartin and the Royal Enclosure share a number of similarities, although the Ascot rules have little to say about shoes, except that gentlemen’s shoes must be black. Unlike Long Lartin, Ascot imposes no specific ban on “slippers” possibly because racegoers, unlike prison visitors, simply aren’t tempted to wear them.

HMP Long Lartin

Continue reading “The dress code for Long Lartin visitors makes dressing for Royal Ascot seem easy”

It’s time for a Churchillian approach to our disgraceful prisons

In 1910 the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, told the House of Commons:

The first real principle which should guide anyone trying to establish a good system of prisons should be to prevent as many people as possible getting there at all. There is an injury to the individual, there is a loss to the State whenever a person is committed to prison for the first time, and every care, consistent with the maintenance of law and order, must be taken constantly to minimise the number of persons who are committed to gaol.”

Churchill was as good as his word. He did his best to reduce prison numbers and his immediate successors agreed with him. Prison numbers fell until 1915. They then remained roughly stable until the 1940s, since when, with the exception of a blip here and there, they have continued to rise. Continue reading “It’s time for a Churchillian approach to our disgraceful prisons”

An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Ryan

Like many of your fellow countrymen and women, you have been following the heart-breaking case of Charlie Gard, the little baby who is desperately ill with mitochondrial disease in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Despite a ruling from our highest courts that doctors would be acting lawfully if they turned off the ventilator which is keeping him alive, a tiny flame of hope continues to flicker. Charlie’s remarkable parents refused to concede that his condition was hopeless and – despite having had the legal authority to stop treating him – his doctors have in fact continued to keep him alive.

The Family Court has now agreed to re-examine the case in the light of possible fresh evidence. The latest development is that Dr Michio Hirano, a neurologist and specialist in mitochondrial disease from Columbia University, will examine Charlie at Great Ormond Street tomorrow. Dr Hirano has been very cautious. At best he gives about a 10% chance of his treatment being effective, and even if it does work to some extent it may not produce much improvement. Charlie has suffered brain damage and even Dr Hirano is not optimistic that that can be reversed. The odds are still against him surviving and even more against him improving but we all hope, and those who share your strong religious faith will pray.

You have tweeted about the case. As Speaker of the House of Representatives your tweets are seen by millions. There is no problem with that. It is a good thing to contribute to the discussion about our healthcare and legal systems. No doubt there is a great deal that we can learn from each other about our respective medical and legal systems. We are some way off perfection in both, as (if you will forgive me for saying) are you. But I am just a little concerned that in your rush to support Charlie’s parents you may have inadvertently overlooked some of the complicated issues that the case has highlighted.

You tweeted this:

I stand with #CharlieGard & his parents. Health care should be between patients & doctors—govt has no place in the life or death business.” Continue reading “An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan”

The sad story of Simon Spence and Max Hill

Simon Spence QC

Many, many years ago I shared a flat in a high rise block somewhere East of Richmond and West of Sheen. My only flatmate was a then rising star of the bar, Simon Spence. I can’t even remember how we were thrown together. Probably I rang a telephone number on the Inner Temple noticeboard, Simon interviewed me, satisfied himself that I didn’t have untreatable halitosis and offered me his spare room. We didn’t see much of each other after that: he was a silver-tongued advocate, already greatly sought after by bling-flashing Essex armed robbers, whilst I was trying to eke out a living from the less glamorous but at least endlessly renewable resource of Swindon alcoholics.

Sadly, and through no fault of his, Simon’s flat was not for me. After 6 weeks or so of a rather lonely life I decided – I am sure it was by mutual agreement – that my experiment in high rise living was over and I moved out. Since then I don’t think I have come across my former flat-mate at all, although I have followed his steady rise to the ranks of Queen’s Counsel with interest and just a little of that envy that all ordinary barristers have when their student contemporaries take silk or become grand judges.

Continue reading “The sad story of Simon Spence and Max Hill”

For the sake of party and country Theresa May should resign immediately

Theresa May is an embarrassment to the Conservative Party and to the country. She has to go immediately.

She has run the most disastrous Conservative campaign since Ted Heath lost the “Who Governs Britain” election of February 1974, and probably worse even than that. Every decision she took during the campaign turned out to be a misjudgement, and she managed to lose a lead of 20% in just seven weeks of campaigning. Her incompetence alone is breath-taking.

She didn’t need to have an election at all and she certainly didn’t need to have it shortly after issuing the Article 50 notification, thereby guaranteeing a delay of weeks and risking a delay of months in getting the strictly time-limited Brexit negotiations under way. The chaotic election result may well now mean that nothing useful can be done for months. Continue reading “For the sake of party and country Theresa May should resign immediately”

Mark Webb’s sentence for perverting the course of justice was richly deserved and possibly too short

A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow. Proverbs 25:18

HHJ Hart’s sentence of 15 months imprisonment which he gave today to Mark Webb for perverting the course of justice deserves wide publicity, even though to my mind it is too short.

For reasons that are far from clear, Mr Webb took it upon himself to complain repeatedly and falsely about his neighbour, a blameless and rather vulnerable former Health Care Assistant called Frances Avis.

Avis’s flat in Brook Road, Bath, was managed (like most of the social housing in the city) by a company called Curo – the same company, incidentally, that is running a crazy campaign for a cable car service from the centre of Bath to one of its new estates). Mark Webb and his wife Susan lived in a flat next door.

Their paths crossed with unfortunate consequences.

Frances Avis

One day Ms Avis was doing some stretching exercises outside her front door. She was in training to run a half-marathon to raise funds for DHI, a charity that helps people recovering from alcohol and drug problems. She spoke to her neighbour for the first time and, because she is a dog lover and because Mr Webb’s newly acquired Jack Russell, Patch, didn’t seem to be getting much exercise, she offered to take him out when she went running. They got on, and soon she was walking Patch regularly.

But then things began to turn rather weird. Continue reading “Mark Webb’s sentence for perverting the course of justice was richly deserved and possibly too short”

The Trial: Television at its best

If you haven’t started watching Channel 4’s The Trial, should you bother?

Yes you should. It is good television, legally accurate and most importantly gripping drama.

For those that didn’t watch last night, what Channel 4 has done is in some ways a homage to the 1970s Anglia TV series Crown Court, the day-time TV show that featured actors playing the part of lawyers, defendant and witnesses, and randomly selected members of the public acting as jurors. For me, Crown Court was one of many perks of being too ill for school, and many current leaders of the profession were enthused to become barristers by watching the programme. The often rather wooden acting, the slightly tacky sets and the trivial nature of most of the cases made the programme remarkably realistic.

But where Crown Court was true to the Poundland end of the legal system – where you would most likely find Barristerblogger plying his day job – The Trial is more Fortnums and Masons. The crime is murder, the set is a real (though decommissioned) court-room, and most importantly the judge and the barristers are not actors but real lawyers drawn from the top drawer of the profession. Continue reading “The Trial: Television at its best”

Gruesome but gripping: Perfect Remains by Helen Fields

One moment she was there; a fair but formidable opponent in court, and a friendly colleague in chambers. Then – before I’d even realised that she’d gone – Helen Fields suddenly reinvented herself, not as a judge (as one might have expected) but as the Western Circuit’s answer to Karin Slaughter, with a Harper-Collins book deal to produce a series of detective stories in the genre euphemistically described as “gritty.”

In fact, judging by Perfect Remains, the first in the series, Fields’ style would be more accurately characterised as sanguinary, bordering on stomach-churning.

Continue reading “Gruesome but gripping: Perfect Remains by Helen Fields”