This Friday, March 7th the criminal bar goes on strike.
What is proposed is a day on which defence barristers will not work (save in exceptionally sensitive cases involving children or vulnerable witnesses), followed by an indefinite period in which they will not accept “returns;” that is they will not take over briefs originally given to a barrister who for reasons of another case over-running, illness, etc becomes unavailable.
Assuming that the “no returns” policy is applied by a large number of barristers – and all the indications are that support is practically universal – the effect will be virtually immediate. Many defendants will turn up at court to find that they have no advocate.
Judges will have to decide whether to insist that trials go ahead with unrepresented defendants. Most will refuse to allow that to happen. Even if they try to proceed prosecution barristers – mindful of their professional and ethical obligations – will refuse to prosecute trials in which defendants are unrepresented.
The disruption to the courts will be immense.
Good. Continue reading
Does Tescos want to encourage its customers to kill themselves? One would have thought not but for some time now some branches have been running a promotion that may well have that effect.
If it piled packets of cigarettes by the checkout it would rightly be vilified; it would also be prosecuted. So instead, it is – perfectly legally – piling up packets of paracetamol in the most prominent position possible, by the check-out queues.
Overdosing is the commonest method of suicide amongst women of all ages, and paracetamol is the drug most commonly used. There are, on average in England and Wales, over 120 deaths each year from paracetamol poisoning, most of which are deliberate. Many are teenagers. Continue reading
“Now listen to this,” said David to Chris
I want you to take over the law.
It’s easily done,
You’ll have some fun
And there’s some things that I need you there for.
Our voters think that long spells in the clink
Should be handed out far more.
So fill up the jails
In England and Wales
Then we’ll sell them all off to Group 4.
Other than that, you have quite a free hand
To change whatever you find
But I am intending
To cut public spending
So please do bear that in mind”
It is hard to keep up with the numbers of “victims” who have failed to convince juries in the last few weeks. Bill Roache was said to have raped or indecently assaulted five women. Dave Lee Travis was accused of indecent or sexual assault by eleven. The jury rejected all Mr Roache’s charges except one: that one never reached the jury having been thrown out by the judge. In Mr Travis’s case the jury found him Not Guilty of 12 counts but could not agree on the remaining two. The Crown Prosecution Service will now have to decide whether to seek a re-trial on these two remaining charges.
Much justifiable praise has been heaped on DLT’s barrister, Stephen Vullo, whose closing speech was widely regarded as something of a tour de force, as well as on Louise Blackwell QC who defended Roache. It is little short of outrageous that despite their acquittals the defendants will recover none of their legal costs.
The CPS, meanwhile has come in for a great deal of criticism. What on earth was it doing bringing these cases which juries have obviously found so unconvincing? Does it take its prosecution decisions on the basis of cold hard reason or, as Simon Heffer has argued – in the course of a rather eccentric and inaccurate but nevertheless welcome attack on the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – is its obsession with political correctness leading it to prosecute cases that it should leave well alone? Continue reading
One of the more curious revelations about the Tottenham Hotspur bestiality case is the fact that the North London club has a training ground of such bucolic charm that it could have been the inspiration for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Mr Lovell is due to be sentenced in March for outraging public decency by trying to have sex with a variety of sheep and cows in a field next to the club’s training ground.
Much of the evidence against him came from Lawrence Stephen, a 23 year old tree surgeon and his girlfriend Natasha Brennan who were picnicking “underneath their favourite oak tree” last September. Not only was it an apparently attractive picnicking spot, it was also full of cows and sheep that, at least at first, were quietly grazing. As they settled down to enjoy their picnic their emotions would have matched those depicted by the maestro in the first movement: “cheerful thoughts upon arriving in the countryside.”
I know North London quite well and, away from the obvious spots such as Hampstead Heath (where there are no longer any farm animals) and a few scattered fields in Finchley there are precious few places with a choice of oak trees suitable for a picnic. We don’t know quite how far they had got with their lunch before matters moved swiftly to an unexpected scherzo. This was not at all like Beethoven’s version of “country folk dancing and revelling” but something a little darker and more bizarre. Perhaps Shostakovich or Bartok would have been better at catching the mood. Certainly Bach’s Sheep may safely graze would have been particularly inappropriate. Continue reading
Amongst the 90% of the population who do not wish the Liberal Democrats well, many will have been delighted by the mess they have made of the investigation into the alleged sexist behaviour of the of the party’s former Chief Executive and psephological Svengali, Lord Rennard.
The police quickly completed a criminal investigation into the allegations and decided to bring no charges.
Normally that would have been the end of the matter but the Liberal Democrats have always prided themselves on openness, fairness and justice. The Party therefore carried out its own inquiry, led by the distinguished Liberal Democrat barrister Alistair Webster QC.
It has been been widely criticised as secret, unfair and unjust.
Almost as bad, far from producing finality or “closure” it appears to have set the scene for further legal wrangling for months and perhaps years to come. Continue reading
The Government is right to cut public spending but the legal aid cuts proposed by Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor and Minister for Justice, will increase the likelihood criminals going free and of innocent people going to gaol. They will devastate both the barristers’ and solicitors’ professions. The savings to public money – even if they are achieved – are minuscule in comparison to the damage that the cuts will inflict. The cuts in criminal legal aid will be felt most by the poorest: many, perhaps most, defendants in criminal criminal cases are penniless. But a decent criminal justice system is essential for everyone whether rich or poor. Continue reading
It is depressing enough that the Labour Party has established a “Victims Taskforce” intended to “transform the criminal justice system into a criminal justice service geared towards protecting the public and supporting innocent victims of crime in bringing those guilty to book.” All of us have become used to politically inspired empty gestures, especially in the field of criminal justice. The newly knighted former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer, has agreed to chair it. We should remain optimistic and assume that the Taskforce is just a pointless gimmick because the alternative that it may succeed is much more worrying. Continue reading
Nigella Lawson’s suggestion that she was the real victim in the trial of the Grillo sisters is, unlike most of her carefully crafted recipes, a little hard to swallow. Her central allegation is that having – somewhat reluctantly – performed her civic duty of giving evidence in court, allegations that she was a heavy cocaine user were made against her which were irrelevant, and which the court process did not allow her to rebut:
“I did my civic duty, only to be maliciously vilified without the right to respond. I can only hope that my experience will highlight the need for a reform that will give witnesses some rights to rebut false claims made against them.”
Does she have a point? Continue reading
Amongst my Christmas post a few days ago was a rather fearsome looking brown envelope. Rather assuming it was the usual threat to send the bailiffs in to collect last year’s tax, I ignored it. In fact, I was about to throw it out with the rest of the recycling when the franking caught my eye. Instead of the usual HMRC it bore a stamp from the Ministry of Justice. I opened it. To my surprise it was not a summons for jury service, but it was the next best thing: a cheery Christmas card from “Chris, Ursula, Damian and family.” Better still, tucked inside the card was a round robin bringing me up to date with all the family news. I thought you might like to read it. Continue reading