“The first real principle which should guide anyone trying to establish a good system of prisons should be to prevent as many people as possible getting there at all. There is an injury to the individual, there is a loss to the State whenever a person is committed to prison for the first time, and every care, consistent with the maintenance of law and order, must be taken constantly to minimise the number of persons who are committed to gaol.”
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.
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.
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”
Barristerblogger generally avoids religion. It is a subject of enormous importance but I have little enthusiasm for most of the arcane disputes over which religious people love to argue, and sometimes to kill each other.
Sometimes, though, it is unavoidable. The story about John Smyth QC flogging posh teenage boys in the name of Christianity is hard to ignore.
First, however, a warning. Channel 4 is a far more responsible outfit than some other news organisations that have peddled salacious stories about boys, sex and “top people.” Nevertheless, fairness to Mr Smyth demands that we keep an open mind, especially if he volunteers an account of his own.
That said, there is no doubt that the Channel 4 story is grounded in a solid basis of fact. That Mr Smyth knew the named complainants seems incontrovertible. That he espoused (and probably still espouses) a conservative Christian evangelicalism also seems pretty much beyond doubt. When surprised by Cathy Newman’s microphone Mr Smyth chose not to answer any of herquestions – we should not blame him for that – and so we do not know his explanation.
We should also bear in mind that even if Channel 4 has behaved responsibly, any story involving sex, teenagers and the privileged classes is liable to get out of hand; throw in floggings, a top QC (and part-time judge) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and you can bet that before you can say “Operation Midland” the internet will be awash with hogwash about Uncle John and Uncle Justin bringing out their canes at parties attended by Leon Brittan, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris. Continue reading “Beating posh boys for Jesus: John Smyth and his fanatical evangelicalism”
Last Friday the Court of Appeal refused to allow a Mr Mehmet Ordu to appeal against his conviction. Nothing very unusual about that. Every year hundreds of would-be appellants are refused leave to appeal. The peculiar thing about this case, though, is that everyone involved – Mr Ordu himself of course, but also the prosecution and most remarkably the three judges who heard his case, all accept that he was in all probability innocent of an offence for which he has now served a 9 month sentence. The judges nevertheless decided that there would be “no injustice” in allowing his wrongful conviction to stand. Most people might think that a wrongful conviction demands a remedy, and the obvious remedy – even if nothing else can be done – is to quash the conviction. The Court of Appeal thought that there was no injustice in leaving a wrongful conviction in place. It was a very bad decision. Continue reading “The Court of Appeal was wrong to refuse to hear the appeal of a man it believed to be innocent.”
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 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.