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”
We must wait until 22nd September to discover exactly what District Judge Adrian Lower has in mind for John O’Neill, the York man who, despite having been acquitted of a charge of rape, is now not allowed to have sex unless he gives the police at least 24 hours notice of his intention.
Mr O’Neill has been subject to a peculiar and, as far as I know, unique interim “Sexual Risk Order” since January. At a hearing yesterday the judge announced that he would be making a final order, although in the same breath he also strongly implied that he would amend its terms, describing the notice provisions as “wholly disproportionate” and “frankly unpoliceable.” Continue reading “Judge Lower was right not to lift the Sexual RIsk Order on John O’Neill”
I am grateful to a reader for pointing out that I have committed an offence under S.58A of the Terrorism Act 2000.
This morning the Daily Mail published a story about various senior police officers who have apparently been very well paid. Foremost in the Mail’s sights was Stephen Kavanagh, Chief Constable of Essex. Continue reading “You don’t need to be a terrorist to commit a terrorist offence”
Over the next few days I’m going to recommend some good books for summer reading for anyone interested in the law, especially the criminal law.
The first is Sally Smith’s biography of Marshall Hall: “A law unto himself.” (Wildy, Simmonds & Hill £25, although available for a bit less on Amazon). Smith is a barrister, a very good one too, who since taking silk has specialised in medical cases, although she obviously knows her way around the criminal law too.
Her subject, Edward Marshall Hall – known to many simply as Marshall – was what we would now call a “celebrity:” a barrister whose oratory saved numerous men and women from the gallows. He was not always successful of course, and these days it is mainly the clients he failed to save that are remembered: George Joseph Smith, the “Brides in the Bath” murderer; and Seddon, who was said to have poisoned his lodger with arsenic in order to get his hands on her annuities. Continue reading “Sally Smith’s Biography of Marshall Hall is a wonderful read.”
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”
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?”
R v. Helen Titchener
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”
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 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?”
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***”