The Psychoactive Substances Act is a bad law and the Government doesn’t even know what it means

The Psychoactive Substances Act, which came into force last week, has been much criticised.

There have been two broad criticisms: first, that it will fail to control the harm done by new psychoactive substances; secondly that it will prove largely unenforceable.

It will certainly have the effect of driving the sale of formerly legal highs underground. Possession of such substances remains legal (except in prisons), but their supply, possession with intent to supply, import and export have become criminal offences. Thus, the only means of obtaining substances that are in themselves legal to possess, will be through criminals. Businesses that once traded openly, and paid taxes, have now closed. Continue reading “The Psychoactive Substances Act is a bad law and the Government doesn’t even know what it means”

Why is it legal to call someone a bull’s pizzle, but a crime to call him a codhead?

Blackpool Magistrates recently came down hard on a Thornton rat-catcher.

Mark Seddon’s love life had had its ups and downs. During one of its downs his girl-friend left him. She took up with a man who Mr Seddon didn’t like.

Some pest control consultants might have resorted to violence, but Mr Seddon was more restrained. He turned to social media. He sent his ex a “Whats App” message setting out succinctly his opinion of the new man in her life:

He is, said Mr Seddon, a “fat-bellied codhead.

As one would expect these days, the police were informed and Mr Seddon was prosecuted under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending:

by means of a public electronic communications network a message … that [was] grossly offensive.

It is a surprisingly serious charge, carrying a possible sentence of 6 months imprisonment. Continue reading “Why is it legal to call someone a bull’s pizzle, but a crime to call him a codhead?”

Is Helen guilty of murdering Rob? My Advice

R v. Helen Titchener

ADVICE

1. I have been asked to advise those instructing urgently in relation to their client Helen Titchener, who has been arrested on suspicion of a serious crime of violence against her husband, Robert. At the time of writing matters are still a little unclear, but Mrs Titchener believes she has killed her husband by stabbing him with a kitchen knife. It seems likely, though not certain, that he will have been certified dead on arrival at Borchester Hospital. Those instructing expect to be representing Mrs Titchener in the police station where she is expected to be interviewed sometime after 19.00 hours this evening.

2. Because this advice is required so urgently I will not trouble those instructing with a detailed recital of what I have been told is the unhappy history of the Titcheners’ relationship. It suffices to say that in recent months their marriage had become increasingly strained and (at any rate as far as Mrs Titchener was concerned) unhappy. Mrs Titchener is heavily pregnant, and it seems that this has been used by Mr Titchener as a means of exerting ever increasing emotional control over her. Indeed, such had been the level of control that she had even, at times, begun to doubt her own sanity, and had recently sought treatment from a psychiatrist. Continue reading “Is Helen guilty of murdering Rob? My Advice”

I don’t blame the Top QC for bringing an unsuccessful private prosecution but should we have to pay for it?

The subject of costs in criminal cases is not, it must be admitted, a sexy one but it is important. The rules are often opaque and often misunderstood even by lawyers. Perhaps for this reason some of the grotesque injustices at the heart of the system are seldom given the attention that they deserve. Bear with me if you will, because even if the topic is not very exciting, it is important.

Martin Porter QC is a campaigner. He was in the news this week after he brought a private prosecution for dangerous driving against a man called Aslan Kayardi. The prosecution failed. Despite this the judge ordered that Mr Porter be awarded his costs from “central funds,” in other words from public money.

Lest anyone think that what follows is intended as in any way a personal attack upon Mr Porter, it is nothing of the sort. He is a highly respected lawyer, and has behaved perfectly properly and honourably. Had I been advising him (not that he would want or need me to do so) I might well have advised him to do everything that he in fact did. My complaint is not with him, but with the system within which he and I both operate. Continue reading “I don’t blame the Top QC for bringing an unsuccessful private prosecution but should we have to pay for it?”

Andrew Picard: Did he get a soft sentence for being an Etonian?

Andrew Picard is 18. He is an old Etonian.

Last Friday he received a sentence of 10 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months. The sentence has been the subject of a great deal of criticism. A Change.org petition has been set up asking the Attorney-General to “review” the sentence. It currently has well-over 10,000 signatures.

The signatories to the petition have been disappointed. The Attorney-General has announced that he cannot refer this sentence to the Court of Appeal. That power exists only for “indictable only” offences (Mr Picard’s were triable “either way”), or for certain other specific offences, which do not include those to which he pleaded guilty.

Many online commentators have noted the fact that Mr Picard is an old Etonian, and that his father is a prominent American lawyer. Many have suggested that he has been treated leniently for these reasons.

Are they fair criticisms of Judge Ross? Did he pass an unduly lenient sentence? Are there any grounds for thinking that Mr Picard was treated more leniently because he was an Etonian? Continue reading “Andrew Picard: Did he get a soft sentence for being an Etonian?”

If you want to be sure of staying out of prison, don’t ask the judge to suck your d***

In any contested drug case there is always a drugs “expert”. They are police officers who have worked on the drugs squad for a year or two and they have then generally completed an intensive course on the uses of controlled drugs in the United Kingdom. Thus qualified as expert witnesses, unlike ordinary witnesses they are allowed togive their opinions on drugs matters. They can say, for example, that such and such a quantity of drugs is, in their experience, inconsistent with personal use, or that scales, deal lists, cling film and small plastic bags are typical accoutrements of the drug dealer.

They will generally place a value on any drugs that have been found, and the more zealous ones take a pride in calculating the hundreds of thousands of pounds of profit that could theoretically be realised by cutting and selling any drugs found “at street level.” They almost always point out, in a rather snide way that you are likely to be short changed by drug dealers because “they are not known for their generosity” (an observation that in my experience holds equally true for police drugs experts). Despite the vast profits that are theoretically available, there is often a stark contrast between the miserable, sordid and poverty-stricken lives led by the drug-sozzled dealers that it is usually my lot to represent, and the vast sums of money that the police experts calculate they could be earning.

Part of the reason for that contrast no doubt comes down to the peculiar economics of drug dealing. Certainly there are vast profits to be made, but seldom – at least in my experience – by the dealers towards the bottom of the drugs pyramid. Whether that is because they are always in debt, because they smoke away their profits, or because, as happens surprisingly often, someone else simply nicks their stock, I don’t know. But in some cases they fail to make money, or at least to do so consistently, simply because they are very, very stupid. Continue reading “If you want to be sure of staying out of prison, don’t ask the judge to suck your d***”

Why is it wrong to overturn wrongful convictions, Mr Bone?

It is a pretty safe bet that whenever Peter Bone MP opines on the criminal justice system he is wrong. He has voted to lower the abortion limit to 12 weeks, to retain the criminal offence of blasphemy and to reintroduce the death penalty (although not for blasphemy). One of his typical interventions last year was to sponsor a bill which would have forced judges to pass lengthy prison sentences even when they knew that it would be unjust to do so.

In fairness to him, he is wrong about plenty of other things too. In 2010 he signed an Early Day Motion in support of homeopathy (Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were fellow signatories, as well as the completely barmy Conservative MP David Tredinnick, who believes in astrology). Continue reading “Why is it wrong to overturn wrongful convictions, Mr Bone?”

The law on transsexual sex has lost touch with humanity and common sense

There has been widespread concern expressed at the 8 year prison sentence passed on Gayle Newland, the 25 year old Chester University student who was recently convicted of assaulting her sexual partner by penetration.

Just weeks later, female to male (but pre-op) transsexual, Kyran Lee, appeared before the Lincoln Crown Court and received a suspended sentence for assault by penetration. The judge’s relative leniency spared the Ministry of Justice the dilemma of deciding if he should be sent to a male or female prison.

There were many differences between the two cases, not least the fact that Newland had been convicted after a trial, whilst Lee pleaded guilty. Lee also faced only a single count.

Nevertheless, the different treatment afforded to the two defendants was striking, and it perhaps serves to emphasise the confusion that now surrounds the law relating to transsexual people and the criminal law.

From shortly after Newland was dragged to the cells, screaming “I’m scared!” press comment has been almost universally critical of HHJ Dutton’s sentence (even though he was faithfully following the Sentencing Guidelines). An entirely unscientific online poll by the Daily Telegraph found that 72% of respondents thought the sentence was too severe, and a similar poll for the Chester Chronicle produced nearly identical results.

Gayle Newland: 8 year sentence widely criticised
Gayle Newland: 8 year sentence widely criticised

Continue reading “The law on transsexual sex has lost touch with humanity and common sense”

Neil Fox’s character has not been vindicated, it has been assassinated

The disc jockey Neil Fox was yesterday acquitted of ten charges of indecent and sexual assault against women and girls. The accusation was that he had committed the offences between 1988 and 2014.

As these things go, the allegations were not particularly serious. They involved unwanted “French” kissing, bottom and breast grabbing and the allegation that Mr Fox had put his hand up various skirts. The worst was perhaps an allegation that he had engaged in sexual activity with a 15 year old girl.

One of the more unusual aspects of the case is that Mr Fox chose to be tried in the Magistrates Court rather than in the Crown Court. This meant that the verdict would not be decided by a jury, but by a bench of magistrates or a (professional and legally qualified) District Judge. In fact, as things turned out he was tried by the Chief District Judge, Howard Riddle and a pair of lay magistrates. This is the Magistrates Court equivalent of a seven judge Court of Appeal. It is very unusual.

Continue reading “Neil Fox’s character has not been vindicated, it has been assassinated”

A few thoughts on Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius has had his conviction and 5 year prison sentence for culpable homicide overturned by the South African Court of Appeal. It has been replaced by a finding that he was guilty of murder. Instead of re-sentencing him itself, the Court of Appeal has sent the case back to the trial judge, Thokozile Masipa. Continue reading “A few thoughts on Oscar Pistorius”