Matthew Scott's Legal Comment Argument and Discussion. Comment Awards 2015 Best Independent Blog
I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly
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.
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.
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”
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.
Their paths crossed with unfortunate consequences.
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.
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”
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.
Simon Warr was a languages teacher who was accused of historic sexual abuse of three of his pupils.
The allegations were not, as these things go, particularly serious, although that was of little comfort. The worst was that in the 1980s he had handled a boy’s genitals under the pretext of making sure he had showered properly after PE. Although he had taught in the school, he had never taught the boy (“A”) in question, never taught PE and had no recollection of A at all. After he made his complaint to the police Mr Warr was arrested and bailed. He spent 664 days between arrest and trial. He lost his job – technically a resignation, but in effect a forced one – and the school house in which he was living and he was declared persona non grata on the school premises, cut out, he says, like a cancerous tumour. Two complainants also went to the police – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the police came to them – with seemingly corroborative complaints, although in he end they proved to be as much contradictory as corroborative.Continue reading “Presumed Guilty by Simon Warr: A Review”
An embarrassing software error on the Bar Council’s “Pupillage Gateway” online application system has led to the details of pupillage applicants accidentally being made public. The glitch was spotted at six o’clock this morning, but for 4 hours last night the personal statements of all pupillage applicants were publicly viewable.
A red-faced Bar Council spokesperson this morning apologised for the error but reassured applicants, saying
“We would like to reassure applicants that we take the leaking of personal data extremely seriously. Lessons have been learned and we will ensure that this never happens again.”
Over the last few years there have been a number of powerful nominations for the title of stupidest Parliamentarian. This blog has in the past made what I thought was a powerful case for the prize to be jointly shared between Messrs Peter Bone and Phillip Hollobone, and the Secret Barrister has repeatedly and persuasively argued the case for Phillip Davies, and indeed may do so again at greater length in his eagerly awaited book. Just to prove that Conservatives do not have a stranglehold on the competition along comes Harriet Harman with a legislative proposal which is guaranteed to produce injustice and, for good measure, is virtually certain to be ruled incompatible with the Article 6 right to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights.Continue reading “Harriet Harman’s proposed ban on sexual history evidence would be grotesquely unfair”