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.
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.
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.
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***”
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.
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.
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.
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”
What should happen to people who make false allegations?
The issue has been put into stark focus by the publicity given this week to the case of Geoff Long.
Mr Long had a daughter called Tina from an unsuccessful first marriage. In 2010 she went to Brighton police and claimed that he had systematically abused her over thirty years earlier when she was aged between 8 and 16.
There was apparently no corroboration to her allegation, but it led to Mr Long’s prosecution. The jury believed Tina, and he was convicted. He received a sentence of 5 years imprisonment.
I had rather naively thought that a central part of Conservative philosophy was that, unless there is strong evidence of harm that can be prevented or alleviated by Government action, it’s usually best to let people live their lives without interference from the state. Theresa May’s Home Office thinks rather differently. It proudly announced last month that since 2010 it has banned more than 500 new drugs, as though this were an end and a self-evident good in itself.
Well, we now know it was not an end, it was a beginning, and 500 banned substances were just a taster. In its Psychoactive Substances Bill the second reading of which is to take place in the House of Lords next week, it has made proposals to ban all “psychoactive substances” apart from a few defined exceptions.
I was a pupil at a boys only boarding school. Every Sunday – this was back in the 1970s – we all had to attend a religious service. Mostly these took place in the school’s wonderful chapel but every so often speakers were invited to give a religious talk in a more secular setting. One of these was Cliff.