The weekend’s press was dominated by the Sunday Mirror’s scoop that Brooks Newmark MP, the Minister for Civil Society, had sent what the paper describes as “graphic” and “below the waist” selfies to an undercover reporter who was posing as a young female Conservative activist. Mr Newmark – no doubt mortified with embarrassment – has resigned from his very lowly government job and has presumably spent the weekend trying to explain himself to his wife and children.
Of course it is wrong that a married man should flirt, and more than flirt, with another woman: but it is not criminal. It is also, as a general rule, wrong to trick people – even married men – into exposing their genitals to complete strangers, and if there are occasions when it can be justified they are probably rather infrequent. And unlike adultery, tricking someone into sexual activity is potentially criminal.Continue reading “Tricked into sex by fraud. Was the Sunday Mirror’s sting of Brooks Newmark criminal?”
English criminal lawyers were transfixed by the spectacle of Judge Thokozile Masipa delivering her judgement on Oscar Pistorius.
Her calm and authoritative handling of the trial had been exemplary; something that could not be said for the absurdly aggressive prosecutor Gerrie Nel who played to the gallery while, as tends to happen with bullies, losing the sympathy of the court.
Not that Judge Masipa was above a little court-room drama herself. Many judges might have announced the verdict and then given the reasons; instead she delivered several hours of legal reasoning, rendered the more gripping by occasional stumbles over her script and the taking of unexpected breaks. Her occasional pauses to sip water seemed invested with significance; and she eventually arrived at a verdict that confounded expectations: not guilty of murder, guilty only of culpable homicide.
It has also divided opinion, with many questioning how she could possibly have failed to convict Pistorius of murder. Here I found her reasoning a little hard to follow. Once she had – rightly in my view – acquitted him of intending to kill Reeva Steenkamp, she confused me, and perhaps to some extent herself, with the alternative of dolus eventualis murder. It an unfamiliar phrase in English courts, equating to knowingly and unlawfully taking the risk of killing someone. In English law that is not murder but manslaughter: in this country murder requires nothing less than an intent. On the other hand, if discharging a gun in the direction of someone behind a toilet door – even if you believe that person to be an intruder – is not overwhelming evidence of knowingly taking the risk of killing, it is hard to know what would be.
Pistorius was, perhaps, a lucky man.
Judge Masipa’s finding that Pistorius was guilty of culpable homicide was based on her finding that he had acted only “negligently”. Here again the law of South Africa, superficially so similar to English law, differs significantly. In England you can commit manslaughter by negligence, but it has to be gross negligence. If you kill someone through ordinary carelessness that is generally speaking not a crime at all (although there are exceptions, notably causing death by careless driving). The South African law of culpable homicide, on the other hand, seems to be made out even if the negligence in question is less than gross. That does not mean, of course, that Judge Masipa did not in fact think that he was negligent to a very high degree.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has been a constant thorn in the flesh of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. He regards it as a left wing pressure group forever trying to frustrate his plans. There is nothing particularly left wing, however, about objecting to men being raped in gaol, the subject of the League’s latest report. According to data taken from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons “between 850 to 1,650 prisoners” could be raped or sexually assaulted each year.
The problem of who should chair the proposed inquiry into the handling of child sexual abuse by public bodies in past decades has, after some delay, been solved.
Many other problems remain.
Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that it is to be chaired by Fiona Woolf, the current Lord Mayor of London, assisted by Graham Wilmer MBE and Barbara Hearn OBE. Alexis Jay, the author of the recent inquiry into Rotherham Council is to act as an expert adviser to the panel.
“To consider whether public bodies – and other non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. “
The original choice to lead the inquiry was, as readers will remember, Lady Butler-Sloss, a highly respected, retired Appeal Court judge with huge experience of family law. On paper she was an ideal appointment. Unfortunately, she was also compromised because her own brother, former Attorney-General Michael Havers, had been accused by some of being involved in a “cover up” of high profile paedophiles, one of the very issues that the inquiry was being established to investigate. After a little consideration she realised that this put her in an impossible position:
“It has become apparent over the last few days … that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry. It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been attorney general would cause difficulties.”
Among many ghastly proposals to modernise the justice system, perhaps the silliest has been the idea that courts should sit longer hours. The idea, I suppose, is that time spent by a judge not sitting is time wasted.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The best judges are most reluctant to judge at all. They know that if they stay in their rooms quietly engaged in non legal pursuits, counsel will usually be able greatly to reduce the length of the sitting day, if not to dispense with any need to sit at all.