Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial

I don’t know whether Rolf Harris is in fact a serial sex offender and last week’s judgment by the Court of Appeal leaves the matter in a thoroughly unsatisfactory state.

Before looking at the judgment in detail let’s put a few misconceptions to bed.

First of all, it gives no support to those who suggest that Rolf Harris is the victim of some sort of police or CPS conspiracy. It would be quite extraordinary if there had been and there is no evidence of it. It is true that there was a failure in the disclosure process. Some very old, and as it turned out rather significant, convictions of an important witness were not disclosed at the trial. They were not disclosed because the police had not found them. That does not suggest a conspiracy, it suggests at most a lack of diligence in seeking out old records. Faults in disclosure are endemic in our creaking justice system. Even today, when criminal records are fully computerised mistakes in criminal records are far from unusual. The relevant records dated from the 1960s, long before computerisation, and were found by the police on microfiche after the trial and before the appeal. It is hardly likely that they would have done so had they been part of a conspiracy to suppress the truth.

There are other criticisms of the police which appear in the judgment, or are at least suggested by it; in particular a certain lack of enthusiasm in looking for exculpatory evidence, but there is certainly nothing to suggest a wilful attempt to stitch up an innocent man. That is not to excuse the police of all blame: a lack of diligence in a case as serious as this is a worrying matter, but it is a great deal less worrying than evidence of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Secondly, the judgment gives no support to some of the unpleasant and unfair comment that has circulated about the original prosecution counsel Sasha Wass QC. There is no criticism of her whatever in the judgment, and no reason to think that she did anything other than a proper and professional job in prosecuting Mr Harris.

Thirdly, anyone searching the internet for information about the case may have come across the information that one of Harris’s jurors was a member of the Metropolitan Police. That is true, but it is not something that featured in the appeal. Opinions differ on whether police officers (or for that matter lawyers and judges) should be able to sit on juries, but the law is clear: they are unless they have some close connection with the investigation. (For what it is worth I have changed my mind on this issue after representing a man at a trial at which the serving police officer (whom I had originally and unsuccessfully asked the judge to exclude) turned out to be the only member of the jury with the wit to notice that the foreman, confused by the judge’s complicated “route to a verdict” direction, had accidentally returned a guilty verdict when they had in fact meant it to be not guilty).

The 12 charges of indecent assault against Mr Harris were based on the evidence of 4 different women. Evidence was also given of alleged criminal behaviour towards a further 5 women or girls which, because it took place abroad, could not form the basis of any charges in this country. The evidence of the 5 “extra-territorial” women was only summarised in the judgment and we have no way of knowing for sure whether the jury believed all or any of them, although given their unanimous verdicts of guilty of every count on the indictment it seems very likely that they were inclined to disbelieve anything Mr Harris said. Continue reading “Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial”

The deaths of the Aberystwyth lynxes: a reappraisal and an apology

Sometimes Barristerblogger rushes to post a blog, often over the weekend, and often about a subject which he only half understands. Sometimes it hits the right target, sometimes it misses spectacularly. That’s the risk with a blog. Generally speaking I will leave the post up unaltered, leaving it to the commenters to eviscerate it if necessary. Just occasionally I am left with serious regrets that a well-intentioned post may have serious consequences for innocent people, and that is the case with my last post, which I could not resist titling The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx.

When it was first posted I was quite happy with it, the only immediate regret being that I couldn’t somehow work a Welsh word beginning with “ll” into the title. Continue reading “The deaths of the Aberystwyth lynxes: a reappraisal and an apology”

The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx

By all means read this post, but insofar as it is critical of Andrew Venables, it is wrong.  Please read this update which sets the record straight. It is in fact rather a good example of rushing to judgement without appreciating the full facts. I am leaving it up here, partly as an example of how dangerous it is to leap to conclusions on the basis of inaccurate evidence, and partly because despite the inaccuracies about the shooting, there is still a good case for lynxes to be reintroduced into the British countryside.

What a sad tale it is of Lillith the baby [“juvenile” would be a more accurate word] Eurasian lynx, shot and killed in an Aberystwyth caravan park last Thursday. Ceredigion Council, who took the decision to kill the escaped animal on the grounds of “public safety,” had a good chance to capture her alive when she was spotted sleeping under an unoccupied caravan. According to Lillith’s owner Tracy Tweedy she could have been caught there and then, had it not been for a bungling council official who seems to have been over-concerned to follow the somewhat impractical official protocol for dealing with a sleeping lynx:

The caravan was boarded in on three sides with decking and all we had to do was sling a net across the back and we would have had her trapped. Unfortunately, one of the officials insisted that he needed to photograph her and make a positive ID before we were allowed close. He slipped and fell going up the bank which startled her causing her to run past him and off across the fields.” Continue reading “The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx”

The new guidance on prisoner voting is not an elegant solution, it’s a cowardly gesture

David Lidington, the Secretary of State for Justice, made a formal statement in Parliament on Thursday about the troublesome issue of prisoners voting. Understandably, in the rather excitable atmosphere gripping Westminster at the moment it did not attract a great deal of attention. It was praised by some of those present as a limited but “elegant” solution to the problem that the United Kingdom has, for at least the last 12 years, been in breach of its obligations under international law. This praise was misplaced. It amounted to no solution at all. It was a dismal, empty gesture which at best may buy a little time, but it will besmirch this country’s international reputation and lead inevitably to further embarrassment in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Continue reading “The new guidance on prisoner voting is not an elegant solution, it’s a cowardly gesture”

We don’t need to longer sentences for drivers who kill, we need more disqualifications for those who don’t.

Over 9,000 people responded to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on driving offences on whether a life sentence should be available for drivers who kill by dangerous driving. Dominic Raab, the Justice Minister has said that it should be:

We’ve taken a long hard look at driving sentences, and we received 9,000 submissions to our consultation. Based on the seriousness of the worst cases, the anguish of the victims’ families, and maximum penalties for other serious offences such as manslaughter, we intend to introduce life sentences of imprisonment for those who wreck lives by driving dangerously, drunk or high on drugs.”

The consultation did not mention that we already have amongst the safest roads in the world. Nor did it point out that we currently have the highest number of prisoners per head of population in western Europe.

Of course we should try to make our roads safer still, but we could almost certainly do so for very little extra cost and without taking up a single additional prison cell. Continue reading “We don’t need to longer sentences for drivers who kill, we need more disqualifications for those who don’t.”

Rupert Myers may be a cad but he should not be driven out of journalism

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Rupert Myers, a barrister and journalist,  was not caught in adultery, and if he had been I daresay most people wouldn’t particularly have cared. Instead he has been caught in: well what exactly?

A couple of years ago he met a young Australian journalist after chatting on Twitter. She was called Kate Leaver. They went for a drink. She told him that she wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship. She just wanted to be friends with him. Two weeks later they went to a pub in “Fitzrovia” for another drink. She again said that she wasn’t interested in a relationship, couldn’t they just be mates?

According to her he tried this line:

I’ve got enough mates, I’d rather fuck you.” Continue reading “Rupert Myers may be a cad but he should not be driven out of journalism”

Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification

The heavily “redacted” Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath consists of 109 pages of self-justification and virtually no evidence of any kind. It is a document that is as empty as it is verbose. Its central conclusion, that were he still alive he would be interviewed under caution, tells us almost nothing.

It fails to make any sort of case against the former Prime Minister, but equally fails to lift the miasma of suspicion that will probably now surround him for all time. Speaking last December Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale said he hoped that the inquiry would “contribute to the wider picture of truth seeking and reconciliation.” If that was indeed the purpose, it will certainly not succeed. Those who already believed that Heath was a villain will claim that the Report lends them support. Those who were sceptical will point to the fact that the vast majority of allegations have been judged so weak that they could be dismissed without even troubling to ask Heath about them, had he still been alive. The idea that the truth can be divined from the report, or that its publication will do anything to reconcile anybody to anything is risible. Continue reading “Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification”

Are 75% of rape complainants cross-examined about their sexual history?

There was a striking headline in today’s Times:

Sexual history of rape victims still being put on trial

Many people will not have a Times Subscription, so if they saw the story at all online they would have seen only the headline, a picture of Ched Evans, and the first sentence of the story which asserted:

Victims of alleged rape or sexual assault are questioned about their sexual history at trial in nearly three out of four cases, a survey shows.

Those able to read the full story would have read that:

Only one in four alleged victims did not have to face such examination.” Continue reading “Are 75% of rape complainants cross-examined about their sexual history?”

How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?

The assertion that thousands of British Muslim girls are getting mutilated with the passive acquiescence of the police and CPS seems to have settled  into public consciousness as a matter of established fact. Last month the Crown Prosecution Service proudly tweeted that it was:

“Prosecuting more people than ever for hate crime and ensuring they receive tougher sentences.”

The response to the tweet was instructive. I haven’t read through all 671 replies. One or two questioned whether it was actually proper or desirable for the CPS to be “ensuring heavier sentences,” but the tone of a huge proportion was the same: why are you bragging about prosecuting hate crime when you haven’t prosecuted anyone successfully for FGM? Continue reading “How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?”

Ian Watkins and Jemma Beale: both cases should make us uncomfortable about our justice system

There were two disturbing pieces of news last week.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission produced a report on the handling by South Wales Police of complaints against the Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins. In a nutshell, the IPCC found that over the course of several years the police failed to take complaints and intelligence about Mr Watkins’s seriously. As a result this most unpleasant and dangerous of paedophiles was able to continue his practice of filming, drugging and raping very young children when he could and should have been stopped.

The other news was about a woman called Jemma Beale who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice. Ms Beale had falsely claimed to have been raped by a man called Mahad Cassim. He was duly prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, while Ms Beale collected £11,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. She then went on to make false accusations about 14 other men, one of whom fled the country after being charged with participation in a gang rape that never happened. Continue reading “Ian Watkins and Jemma Beale: both cases should make us uncomfortable about our justice system”