Despite last week’s riots in Birmingham Prison, I know that prison works.
I suspect that’s not a popular view amongst readers of this blog. Over the years I’ve tended to write rather sceptically about the value of long sentences, and – all things being equal – I’ve tried to advocate a generally non-punitive approach to sentencing, and if you’re reading this now I’d guess that you’re more likely to be comfortable with a liberal rather than a hard-as-nails penal policy. I don’t like to generalise, but my idea of most of my readers is that you probably think that prison is at best a necessary evil.
But in some cases prison really does work.
I am not mainly thinking about the sort of dangerous people who have to be locked up because if they weren’t they would kill you.
I am thinking about people like my client from a year or two ago – I’ll call him Danny, although that’s not his real name. Continue reading “Prison reform cannot succeed unless we reduce the number of prisoners”
I never thought it would happen that Louise Mensch would have occasion to defend my honour, but so it has turned out.
I hadn’t paid her much attention until the last few days. On the whole I rather liked the little I knew, particularly the fact that she had stood up for Professor Tim Hunt after he was infamously accused of sexism in a talk he gave in Korea. Her main opponent in that spat was Connie St Louis, the controversial Director of the MA in Science Journalism at City University, and by relying on facts and evidence Ms Mensch won the argument and rescued Tim Hunt’s reputation from being unfairly traduced by Ms St Louis and her supporters.
Last week I wrote a short blog-post about the trial of Thomas Mair, the man who murdered Jo Cox. It was nothing very special. I noted a few aspects of the trial which struck me as odd: the fact that a statement from the MP Stephen Kinnock had been read to the jury pre-conviction, even though its contents appeared to have nothing to do with establishing Mair’s guilt; and the fact that psychiatric evidence had not featured as part of Mair’s defence. The piece was written before sentence was passed – in truth most of it was written before the jury returned its verdict, so much of a foregone conclusion did Mr Mair’s guilt seem to be. I also suggested that it was likely that the judge would ask for some psychiatric evidence before passing sentence. In fact, as we now know, he passed sentence – life imprisonment with a whole life term – almost immediately, and without making any reference to any mental health issues. Continue reading “No, Louise Mensch, Thomas Mair’s judge did not act immorally: No, Secret Barrister, she’s not motivated by malice”
Seldom can there have been less doubt about the outcome of a case than there was over today’s conviction of Thomas Mair for the murder of the MP Jo Cox.
The prosecution was able to rely upon numerous eye-witnesses, a compelling battery of scientific evidence, CCTV, weapons, and Mr Mair’s own words at the first hearing in the magistrates court when he shouted “death to traitors, freedom for Britain!” To cap it all, the house where he lived contained a bookshelf full of Nazi-related books, topped off by a metal Third Reich eagle.
There may be people wishing to speculate on the political ramifications of the case. I offer just 5 law-related observations. Continue reading “Some footnotes to the conviction of Thomas Mair”
The Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond, has come under fire from a number of Brexiteers, including Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab, over a speech that she gave to Malaysian law students last week. They have suggested that the speech indicated bias against the Government’s case.
Lady Hale told the Solicitors Journal earlier this week that she will “absolutely not” step down (or “recuse” herself) from sitting on the Article 50 appeal next month.
Most of the now controversial speech amounted to a canter through the short history of the UK Supreme Court. It was doubtless of considerable interest to the students, particularly as it was delivered in Lady Hale’s clear and attractive style. She devoted just one relatively short section of the speech to a discussion of the Article 50 case. She did so partly because, as she put it, it would have been “discourteous” to her hosts not to explain what the case was all about. She summarised both sides’ arguments pithily. Had she stopped at that, she probably would have escaped any adverse comment. Continue reading “Lady Hale is a great judge but she made a mistake in Malaysia”
On Tuesday the retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques published his report into “the investigation of non recent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence.” This was mainly – though not exclusively – related to his investigation of the Met’s handling of allegations made by a man going under the pseudonym of “Nick” and given the designation “Operation Midland.”
The terms of reference were set by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and about 90% of the report has not been disclosed. It is hardly surprising – though very much to be expected in an organisation that prides itself on its public relations as much as on its ability to catch criminals – that it should have chosen to “bury” the report on the day of the US elections.
As well as the bowdlerised report and the heavily redacted recommendations, it’s also worth reading the oddly chummy-sounding (although the two men had never previously met) covering letter which Sir Richard wrote to Sir Bernard. Its conclusion puts the best possible slant on Sir Bernard’s responsibility:
“I trust that commentators will not lay the blame for the grave mistakes in Operation Midland and Operation Vincente at your door. You have been let down by Officers of high rank ….”
The Times’s Sean O’Neill tweeted this morning: “Deputy heads must roll,” and I’m afraid this commentator, if that’s what I am, does not agree with the learned judge.
Nevertheless, there is much good sense in the report and the recommendations.
Continue reading “Henriques Report: “Deputy Heads Must Roll.””
In the wake of the dramatic Article 50 judgment various Brexiteers have been venting their feelings.
On the front page of today’s Telegraph Nigel Farage fulminates against “unelected judges” and the “rich elite” that took the Article 50 case to court. Ian Duncan Smith accuses the judges of an “enormity” which “takes judicial activism to a new level.” Jacob Rees-Mogg says they have caused an “unnecessary constitutional clash.” Daniel Hannan compares Remainers to Western Communists who backed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: “they have gone from deriding parliamentary supremacy as a Victorian hang-up to posing as its defenders.” In a thundering editorial the Telegraph declared:
“The Court cannot simply pretend that the referendum has not happened. It should have taken account of the fact that the constitutional process has been complicated by the vote …..”
And these contributions have been mild compared to others. “Enemies of the people!” screamed the front page of the Daily Mail, an absurd and inflammatory headline that could have graced a 1923 Izvestia story about social parasites and Menshevik counter-revolutionaries in Leninist Russia; while Suzanne Evans, supposedly the more moderate of the UKIP leadership candidates appeared to call for the dismissal of the Lord Chief Justice. Continue reading “Attacks on the Article 50 judges are a disgrace”
Cases in the Administrative Court are often a bit like the Radio 4 programme You and Yours: of limited general interest. Whilst often very important for the development of the law, and for those immediately concerned, they lack the sort of immediate news value of – for the sake of argument – a rape trial involving an international footballer. Typically they will be about planning, or immigration or benefits.
This was different. It was about a question that has occasionally convulsed the nation since at least the seventeenth century: who rules Britain, Parliament or the Queen? In fact nobody contends that the Queen does so in person, but Her Government argued that the Prime Minister can do so by the use of Her prerogative. It was in fact a modern version of the Civil War, albeit conducted – in court at least – with courtesy and law reports rather than muskets and cannon balls.
No wonder the www.judiciary.gov.uk website was creaking under the strain this morning as it dealt with an unprecedented demand to download the Brexit judgment. Continue reading “Some rushed and barely coherent thoughts on today’s Article 50 judgment”
The legal battle over whether Article 50 should be triggered by the Prime Minister wielding the Royal Prerogative (as the Government wants), or by an Act of Parliament (as the Remainer litigants contend is necessary) is proving to be a much tougher fight than many had predicted. The Government won a victory in Northern Ireland last week when the High Court ruled in its favour. Mr Justice Maguire ruled that Article 50 Notification would not breach the Good Friday Agreement. He tactfully declined to express any opinion on the English litigation which raises different issues. It is by no means certain that it will go the same way,
The Lord Chief Justice and his two colleagues will deliver judgment shortly, although it is virtually certain that the case will then go to the Supreme Court which has pencilled in a date in December. The outcome is unpredictable, and there is even talk that the case could be referred to the European Court of Justice to answer the potentially critical question of whether notification given under Article 50 is revocable. Although the demeanour of the judges has given little away, there is a feeling amongst some lawyers that a Government defeat is a real possibility. Continue reading “Conservatives should support the Article 50 litigants”
It is seldom a pleasure to hear the droning, humourless and untrustworthy voice of the Transport Minister Chris Grayling, and never less so than when he interrupts preparations for Sunday lunch.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to the off button quite in time, so I caught Mr Grayling being interviewed by Mark Mardell on The World This Weekend. Yesterday was of course the day when Theresa May announced her Great Repeal Bill, and this was the subject of Mr Grayling’s interview. Before I pulled the plug on him I heard this exchange:
Q: I imagine there are lots of laws in your area of transport both in aviation & road transport that are affected by EU legislation. Any you want to get rid of?
A: Well let’s get back to some practical examples, there are EU laws around the running of railways about the height of platforms, for example. Our rail system, apart from HS1, is not in any way linked to the continental rail network, so there is actually no reason for us to have European platform heights, so that’s one area of regulation that could certainly change.
For some reason this immediately brought to mind lines from the Wilfred Owen poem “Futility,” written about a very different subject matter:
“Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?”
All the sound and fury of the referendum battle, all the political blood that has been spilt, all the poisonous, dishonest and occasionally racist rhetoric: what has it achieved?
It has given us back the freedom to set our own platform heights. Continue reading “Mr Grayling is wrong about the Brexit dividend to station platforms”
These days no prosecutor is considered properly trained until they have attended a course to warn them sternly of the dangers of believing “myths and stereotypes” about sexual offences. The CPS website lists 10 such myths (defined as “a commonly held belief, idea or explanation that is not true”), including, for example:
“Rape occurs between strangers in dark alleys” (obviously it occasionally does, but the myth is that it only or mainly occurs in that way).
“You Can Tell if She’s ‘Really’ Been Raped by How She Acts” (when, as the CPS correctly points out, reactions to rape are “highly varied and individual.”)
It is all to the good that any myth should be expunged by the cauterising effect of truth, but there are even more fundamental assumptions underlying the whole criminal justice system. They are these:
- Jurors can safely rely on the memory of an honest witness;
- Jurors can safely assess when a witness’s memory is mistaken;
- Jurors can safely assess when a witness is lying.
Unfortunately each one of these assumptions is a myth: a “commonly held belief that is not true.” Continue reading “Never mind rape myths, the criminal justice system is built on even more fundamental myths”