The collapse of Jonathan King’s trial raises questions about Surrey Police that go beyond disclosure failures

Last May the journalist and author Bob Woffinden died of mesothelioma. He will be remembered as a formidable campaigner against miscarriages of justice.

While judge after judge rejected the legal attempts of the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 to obtain justice – per Lord Denning MR“appalling vista …;” per Lord Lane LCJ “the longer this case has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct ….” – Woffinden and other journalists such as Ludovic Kennedy and Paul Foot, (and of course lawyers like Gareth Pierce, too) doggedly chipped away, until eventually the cases were revealed for what he had believed them to be from an early stage; grotesque miscarriages of justice, brought about by a combination of systemic disclosure failures, bungling by expert witnesses, police malpractice, prejudiced jurors and judicial complacency. His 1987 book on the cases, Miscarriages of Justice, remains a classic.

In his final 2016 book, The Nicholas Cases, Woffinden turned his attention to more contemporary possible miscarriages of justice. One of these was the 2001 conviction of Jonathan King on charges of historic abuse of boys. He made a compelling case that the original trial had been unfair and produced evidence that suggested King had a strong alibi for one of the offences – he was in America at the time, as attested by several witnesses and documents discovered after the trial. Another of Woffinden’s revelations was that the main complainant in the case against King had, reportedly, after the trial, admitted lying against King for money: he had also apparently sold his story for £45,000 to one newspaper and £5,000 to another.

There was, in fact, a second trial, but that ended in King’s acquittal on all charges. Continue reading “The collapse of Jonathan King’s trial raises questions about Surrey Police that go beyond disclosure failures”

A busman’s holiday at the Tommy Robinson Appeal

Barristerblogger had a day in Town on Wednesday; coinciding with both the Cliff Richard judgment and the Tommy Robinson appeal.

A New Attorney-General

While the Cliff Richard judgment was being delivered, a little down the corridor in the Lord Chief Justice’s court a new Attorney-General was being sworn-in before a bench full of colourfully be-robed (and in the LCJ’s case be-chained) judges in their splendidly absurd full-bottomed wigs. Down in counsels’ row the new Attorney-General too was full-bottomed. Someone in the court clerk’s usual seat even had an extraordinary black tricorn contraption which she seemed to have some difficulty balancing on her own full-bottom wig – I have since learnt that she was the Queen’s Remembrancer.

Who, though, was that nice but ordinary-looking man squeezed in at the end of the judges’ bench? Nobody seemed to know, but eventually it turned out he was David Gauke, the Lord High Chancellor of England. He had acquired a yellow and black robe from somewhere, but no wig, so amongst all the bigwigs he looked like a man in a lounge suit at a white tie dinner. He gave a short but sensible speech, leavened with the sort of bland humour that is expected on these occasions.

Pushing and shoving for the best seats

Whilst this solemn ceremony was going on, there was a great deal of polite pushing and shoving in the stalls as members of the public, Barristerblogger included, manoeuvred to grab the better seats in the house. For a time, it was standing room only and as the encomiums to the new Attorney-General continued to flow from the bench, who should slip to the front of the queue, face down in his twitter notifications, but Tommy Robinson’s greatest supporter, PR Svengali and chief fund-raiser, flown over from Canada at Tommy’s special request, none other than Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant. Continue reading “A busman’s holiday at the Tommy Robinson Appeal”

Tommy Robinson’s appeal: will his world class legal team get him out of prison?

According to Tommy Robinson’s family’s “authorised spokesman,” Ezra Levant, the gaoled activist has appealed against his 13 month sentence for contempt of court.

We will have a look at what is actually likely to happen when his case gets to court in a moment, but there may be some readers who have not been following the story closely.

Why is Tommy Robinson in prison?

Since 25th May Mr Robinson, real name Steven Yaxley-Lennon, has been serving a sentence of 13 months imprisonment for contempt of court. The sentence is made up of a 3 month sentence passed for contempt of the Canterbury Crown Court in 2017, originally suspended but now activated, and a 10 month consecutive sentence imposed for a separate contempt of the Leeds Crown Court on 25th May 2018. The Judge who sent him to prison, Geoffery Marson QC, was at the time presiding over a trial involving allegations against a number of defendants.  Unfortunately we do not know many more details because reporting restrictions are in place, probably to prevent jurors in another case hearing inadmissible evidence.

Reporting restrictions? What’s that about? If something is said in court surely it can be reported? Continue reading “Tommy Robinson’s appeal: will his world class legal team get him out of prison?”

Rape juries: Jolyon Maugham hits the wrong target

Last month Britain’s favourite tax barrister, Jolyon Maugham QC, suggested in an article in the New Statesman that juries ought to be abolished for rape trials. I had meant to reply to him much earlier, but did not have the time to do so until now.

As he is in some ways a stickler for accuracy I should quote him:

These few hundred words are not the place to remake the system by which rape is deterred. But we might start by asking, as Julie Bindel has urged, whether trial by jury serves the public interest in rape cases.”

I don’t think he is quite advocating the abolition of juries for rape cases, but he is certainly suggesting that it is something that should be discussed. Indeed, trial by jury, he says, is the place to start.

He was immediately criticised by some criminal lawyers for stepping outside his area of expertise. Not by me though; not least because my limited expertise as a criminal lawyer has never stopped me offering my thoughts on any number of other subjects, some of which are only vaguely related to the law (I can’t help you with tax avoidance though). Mr Maugham’s insights into what is undoubtedly a thorny area should be entirely welcome. Continue reading “Rape juries: Jolyon Maugham hits the wrong target”

No, we don’t need an Alfie’s law.

I thought I’d experiment with an audio post.

This is closely based on an article that appeared in Quillette yesterday.  Be warned: there are no pictures, there is no music (unless you count dogs barking in the background), no gimmicks and no technical wizadry. It’s just me talking for nearly half an hour.

I hope you’ll find it interesting if you haven’t read the article, or at least a cure for insomnia if you have.

Let me know if you think this is a good or a bad idea.

It seems to work on mobile phones, but I’m having some technical difficultites making it play on an ordinary laptop, especially using Firefox

For anyone who would prefer to read, or who is unable to listen, the piece is set out below.  I’m doing my best to make the audio work but I think at the moment it’s about 50:50!
Continue reading “No, we don’t need an Alfie’s law.”

The barber of Bedford should not have gone to prison

A 21 year old barber from Bedford, Abdulrahim Omar, was yesterday given an 8 month prison sentence for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. His crime was to have shaved the head of a ten year old boy as a punishment for playing with a razor. He gave him what is termed a “number 1” cut.

Continue reading “The barber of Bedford should not have gone to prison”

So you want to be the next DPP?

The Attorney-General has begun the recruitment procedure for the next Director of Public Prosecutions who will take up the position in October when Alison Saunders, the present incumbent leaves her post to go and work for the City law firm, Linklaters.

Mr Attorney is looking for an “extraordinary candidate” to replace her.

The prize, for the lucky man or woman is a £206,000 salary, a stonking great Civil Service solid gold pension, the “Sir Humphrey” status conferred by holding a post “at Permanent Secretary” level and best of all, perhaps, a highly civilised 42 hour week. Many Barristerblogger readers can have a crack at the job. Under the heading “qualifications” the Government website gives but a single word: “legal,” although closer inspection of the website of Odgers Berndtson, the company running the selection on the Attorney General’s behalf, makes it clear that you must have been a qualified barrister or solicitor for at least 10 years. As well as the Bar and Solicitors’ profession Odgers Berndston are actively inviting applications from the judiciary. It would certainly be a first if the next DPP was a former judge. Continue reading “So you want to be the next DPP?”

It’s time to change the bad law used to prosecute Count Dankula

The prosecution of the online controversialist and comedian Count Dankula was a great mistake. Earlier this week he was convicted by the Airdrie Sheriff Court of sending a grossly offensive message by a public telecommunications network.

The Count, otherwise known as Markus Meechan, is a man of whom I had never heard, and nor, I suspect had you, until he made a video of his girlfriend’s pug giving a Nazi salute in response to him saying things like “Sieg Heil!” and “Gas the Jews!” Although showing the video must, I suppose, be regarded as a criminal act in Scotland, it is easily available online. Indeed, one of the predictable ironies of the case is that as a result of the prosecution it will have been viewed by millions more people than would otherwise ever have heard of it.

As a demonstration of dog training it is moderately impressive; as a comedy sketch it is embarrassingly unfunny, although of course comedy is a very personal thing. Some people, for example like Mrs Brown’s Boys, or that ghastly ratty comedian who gets paid millions through a Cayman Islands shell company. Continue reading “It’s time to change the bad law used to prosecute Count Dankula”

The Met has a problem with hate-crime. It can’t explain what it means.

The Metropolitan Police has a rather strange notice about “hate crimes” on its website.  It has attracted quite a bit of attention on social media.

Hate crimes and hate incidents

If someone commits a criminal offence and the victim, or anyone else, believes it was motivated by prejudice or hate, we class this as a ‘hate crime’. It means the offender can be charged for the crime itself and also their reasons for doing it.

If someone does something that isn’t a criminal offence but the victim, or anyone else, believes it was motivated by prejudice or hate, we would class this as a ‘hate incident’. Though what the perpetrator has done may not be against the law, their reasons for doing it are. This means it may be possible to charge them with an offence.

Let’s break this down, sentence by sentence. Continue reading “The Met has a problem with hate-crime. It can’t explain what it means.”