Why is it legal to call someone a bull’s pizzle, but a crime to call him a codhead?

Blackpool Magistrates recently came down hard on a Thornton rat-catcher.

Mark Seddon’s love life had had its ups and downs. During one of its downs his girl-friend left him. She took up with a man who Mr Seddon didn’t like.

Some pest control consultants might have resorted to violence, but Mr Seddon was more restrained. He turned to social media. He sent his ex a “Whats App” message setting out succinctly his opinion of the new man in her life:

He is, said Mr Seddon, a “fat-bellied codhead.

As one would expect these days, the police were informed and Mr Seddon was prosecuted under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending:

by means of a public electronic communications network a message … that [was] grossly offensive.

It is a surprisingly serious charge, carrying a possible sentence of 6 months imprisonment. Continue reading

Is Helen guilty of murdering Rob? My Advice

R v. Helen Titchener

ADVICE

1. I have been asked to advise those instructing urgently in relation to their client Helen Titchener, who has been arrested on suspicion of a serious crime of violence against her husband, Robert. At the time of writing matters are still a little unclear, but Mrs Titchener believes she has killed her husband by stabbing him with a kitchen knife. It seems likely, though not certain, that he will have been certified dead on arrival at Borchester Hospital. Those instructing expect to be representing Mrs Titchener in the police station where she is expected to be interviewed sometime after 19.00 hours this evening.

2. Because this advice is required so urgently I will not trouble those instructing with a detailed recital of what I have been told is the unhappy history of the Titcheners’ relationship. It suffices to say that in recent months their marriage had become increasingly strained and (at any rate as far as Mrs Titchener was concerned) unhappy. Mrs Titchener is heavily pregnant, and it seems that this has been used by Mr Titchener as a means of exerting ever increasing emotional control over her. Indeed, such had been the level of control that she had even, at times, begun to doubt her own sanity, and had recently sought treatment from a psychiatrist. Continue reading

Criminal Justice Secure Email to be axed as Gove performs another U-turn

Criminal lawyers have given a cautious, if somewhat bemused, welcome to the news (due to be formally announced later today) that Criminal Justice Secure Email is to be officially discontinued from June 1st.

They may be less pleased to learn that the Government plans to enact emergency legislation requiring them to acquire new computer programming skills. The radical plan is designed to ensure that despite the admitted failure of CJSM, the Ministry of Justice’s vision of an entirely digital courtroom nevertheless becomes a reality.

Under the proposals the widely disliked secure email system is to be temporarily “mothballed” whilst the Digital Case System will, in the words of the MoJ’s press release, be “simplified and streamlined.” Senior civil servants have reportedly accepted representations from the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the Criminal Bar Association that the current systems have not produced the benefits expected. The department yesterday published official statistics showing that the average time from receipt of a case by the Crown Court to its completion has increased from 164 in 2013 to a disappointing 204 days now. Continue reading

Operation Midland: a miserable end to a miserable affair

The announcement from the Metropolitan Police that Harvey Proctor will face no charges over extraordinary allegations of sadistic rape and murder is unsurprising. It has been obvious for weeks that the police were simply waiting for a convenient time to drop the case, so embarrassing had it become. A cabinet minster’s resignation and the ensuing political turmoil have provided as good a time as any to make the announcement. Continue reading

I don’t blame the Top QC for bringing an unsuccessful private prosecution but should we have to pay for it?

The subject of costs in criminal cases is not, it must be admitted, a sexy one but it is important. The rules are often opaque and often misunderstood even by lawyers. Perhaps for this reason some of the grotesque injustices at the heart of the system are seldom given the attention that they deserve. Bear with me if you will, because even if the topic is not very exciting, it is important.

Martin Porter QC is a campaigner. He was in the news this week after he brought a private prosecution for dangerous driving against a man called Aslan Kayardi. The prosecution failed. Despite this the judge ordered that Mr Porter be awarded his costs from “central funds,” in other words from public money.

Lest anyone think that what follows is intended as in any way a personal attack upon Mr Porter, it is nothing of the sort. He is a highly respected lawyer, and has behaved perfectly properly and honourably. Had I been advising him (not that he would want or need me to do so) I might well have advised him to do everything that he in fact did. My complaint is not with him, but with the system within which he and I both operate. Continue reading

Andrew Picard: Did he get a soft sentence for being an Etonian?

Andrew Picard is 18. He is an old Etonian.

Last Friday he received a sentence of 10 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months. The sentence has been the subject of a great deal of criticism. A Change.org petition has been set up asking the Attorney-General to “review” the sentence. It currently has well-over 10,000 signatures.

The signatories to the petition have been disappointed. The Attorney-General has announced that he cannot refer this sentence to the Court of Appeal. That power exists only for “indictable only” offences (Mr Picard’s were triable “either way”), or for certain other specific offences, which do not include those to which he pleaded guilty.

Many online commentators have noted the fact that Mr Picard is an old Etonian, and that his father is a prominent American lawyer. Many have suggested that he has been treated leniently for these reasons.

Are they fair criticisms of Judge Ross? Did he pass an unduly lenient sentence? Are there any grounds for thinking that Mr Picard was treated more leniently because he was an Etonian? Continue reading

If you want to be sure of staying out of prison, don’t ask the judge to suck your d***

In any contested drug case there is always a drugs “expert”. They are police officers who have worked on the drugs squad for a year or two and they have then generally completed an intensive course on the uses of controlled drugs in the United Kingdom. Thus qualified as expert witnesses, unlike ordinary witnesses they are allowed togive their opinions on drugs matters. They can say, for example, that such and such a quantity of drugs is, in their experience, inconsistent with personal use, or that scales, deal lists, cling film and small plastic bags are typical accoutrements of the drug dealer.

They will generally place a value on any drugs that have been found, and the more zealous ones take a pride in calculating the hundreds of thousands of pounds of profit that could theoretically be realised by cutting and selling any drugs found “at street level.” They almost always point out, in a rather snide way that you are likely to be short changed by drug dealers because “they are not known for their generosity” (an observation that in my experience holds equally true for police drugs experts). Despite the vast profits that are theoretically available, there is often a stark contrast between the miserable, sordid and poverty-stricken lives led by the drug-sozzled dealers that it is usually my lot to represent, and the vast sums of money that the police experts calculate they could be earning.

Part of the reason for that contrast no doubt comes down to the peculiar economics of drug dealing. Certainly there are vast profits to be made, but seldom – at least in my experience – by the dealers towards the bottom of the drugs pyramid. Whether that is because they are always in debt, because they smoke away their profits, or because, as happens surprisingly often, someone else simply nicks their stock, I don’t know. But in some cases they fail to make money, or at least to do so consistently, simply because they are very, very stupid. Continue reading

Is the Prime Minister’s Brussels Deal Legally Binding?

Mr Gove, the Minister of Justice and Lord Chancellor, told Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning that Mr Cameron’s hard fought deal in Brussels was “not legally binding.”

Downing Street has replied indignantly that Mr Gove is wrong. The current Attorney-General Jeremy Wright, and his immediate predecessor Dominic Grieve have both joined in with supportive words for the Prime Minister, although interestingly neither has actually used the words “legally binding.”

Gove: Cameron's deal is not legally binding.

Gove: Cameron’s deal is not legally binding.

Who is right?

Lawyers like to sit on the fence, and there are one or two caveats, but essentially Mr Gove is right. The agreement is not legally binding. Continue reading

A massacre is imminent in Syria. What are we going to do about it?

I can’t bring myself to blog about the law today. The situation in Syria is so dire that it seems almost frivolous to write about anything else.

Tens of thousands civilians face imminent massacre. In fact, imminent is probably not the right word: they are being massacred as you read this.

Meanwhile the stand-off between Presidents Erdogan and Putin has led us into perhaps the most dangerous international crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The West has made a series of disastrous decisions and it will require inspirational leadership or good luck to avoid a regional disaster turning into a global catastrophe.

Unfortunately, in recent years Western leadership has been dismal and most of the luck has been bad.

President Obama – to whom, as American President, much of the rest of the world looks for leadership, has been a terrible disappointment. How excited we were to see such a civilised man in the White House; he promised so much. It seemed a little premature when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few months after assuming office, but one understood that the Nobel Committee was reflecting the excitement of the time.

Yet decent men can sometimes make bad decisions and with hindsight Obama’s 2013 decision not to punish President Assad for using nerve gas to kill at least 500 people, many of them children, has had terrible consequences. Not only did it allow Assad to survive in power, it also signalled to the world that you could not rely upon America’s promises, and indicated to Russia that it would henceforth have a free hand in Syria.

Of British politicians, strangely enough it is not so much Mr Cameron as Ed Miliband who must shoulder much of the responsibility for getting our response to Syrian events so badly wrong. In 2013 Mr Cameron proposed military action against Assad. Mr Miliband opposed his plans, and his arguments carried the day. Continue reading

The Met should apologise to Bramall, but what will happen to his accuser?

Two questions:

  1. Should the Metropolitan Police now apologise to Lord Bramall?
  2. What will happen to the main witness, “Nick”, if the police come to regard his evidence as unbelievable?

(This post assumes that most readers will be broadly familiar with the story so far. Allegations have been made by a man known only as “Nick” that he was sexually abused by a “paedophile ring” made up of politicians and senior military men when he was a teenage boy. Nick also claims that he was a witness to two other boys being murdered by members of this ring. Most of these men are now dead. The only ones still living are Lord Bramall, a former Field Marshal and head of the British Army, and Harvey Proctor, a former Conservative MP. It was announced recently that Bramall (who is now in his 90s) would not be prosecuted. Proctor, who is in his 70s, remains under investigation.) Continue reading