Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial

I don’t know whether Rolf Harris is in fact a serial sex offender and last week’s judgment by the Court of Appeal leaves the matter in a thoroughly unsatisfactory state.

Before looking at the judgment in detail let’s put a few misconceptions to bed.

First of all, it gives no support to those who suggest that Rolf Harris is the victim of some sort of police or CPS conspiracy. It would be quite extraordinary if there had been and there is no evidence of it. It is true that there was a failure in the disclosure process. Some very old, and as it turned out rather significant, convictions of an important witness were not disclosed at the trial. They were not disclosed because the police had not found them. That does not suggest a conspiracy, it suggests at most a lack of diligence in seeking out old records. Faults in disclosure are endemic in our creaking justice system. Even today, when criminal records are fully computerised mistakes in criminal records are far from unusual. The relevant records dated from the 1960s, long before computerisation, and were found by the police on microfiche after the trial and before the appeal. It is hardly likely that they would have done so had they been part of a conspiracy to suppress the truth.

There are other criticisms of the police which appear in the judgment, or are at least suggested by it; in particular a certain lack of enthusiasm in looking for exculpatory evidence, but there is certainly nothing to suggest a wilful attempt to stitch up an innocent man. That is not to excuse the police of all blame: a lack of diligence in a case as serious as this is a worrying matter, but it is a great deal less worrying than evidence of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Secondly, the judgment gives no support to some of the unpleasant and unfair comment that has circulated about the original prosecution counsel Sasha Wass QC. There is no criticism of her whatever in the judgment, and no reason to think that she did anything other than a proper and professional job in prosecuting Mr Harris.

Thirdly, anyone searching the internet for information about the case may have come across the information that one of Harris’s jurors was a member of the Metropolitan Police. That is true, but it is not something that featured in the appeal. Opinions differ on whether police officers (or for that matter lawyers and judges) should be able to sit on juries, but the law is clear: they are unless they have some close connection with the investigation. (For what it is worth I have changed my mind on this issue after representing a man at a trial at which the serving police officer (whom I had originally and unsuccessfully asked the judge to exclude) turned out to be the only member of the jury with the wit to notice that the foreman, confused by the judge’s complicated “route to a verdict” direction, had accidentally returned a guilty verdict when they had in fact meant it to be not guilty).

The 12 charges of indecent assault against Mr Harris were based on the evidence of 4 different women. Evidence was also given of alleged criminal behaviour towards a further 5 women or girls which, because it took place abroad, could not form the basis of any charges in this country. The evidence of the 5 “extra-territorial” women was only summarised in the judgment and we have no way of knowing for sure whether the jury believed all or any of them, although given their unanimous verdicts of guilty of every count on the indictment it seems very likely that they were inclined to disbelieve anything Mr Harris said. Continue reading “Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial”

The deaths of the Aberystwyth lynxes: a reappraisal and an apology

Sometimes Barristerblogger rushes to post a blog, often over the weekend, and often about a subject which he only half understands. Sometimes it hits the right target, sometimes it misses spectacularly. That’s the risk with a blog. Generally speaking I will leave the post up unaltered, leaving it to the commenters to eviscerate it if necessary. Just occasionally I am left with serious regrets that a well-intentioned post may have serious consequences for innocent people, and that is the case with my last post, which I could not resist titling The legalised lynching of Lillith the lynx.

When it was first posted I was quite happy with it, the only immediate regret being that I couldn’t somehow work a Welsh word beginning with “ll” into the title. Continue reading “The deaths of the Aberystwyth lynxes: a reappraisal and an apology”

Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification

The heavily “redacted” Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath consists of 109 pages of self-justification and virtually no evidence of any kind. It is a document that is as empty as it is verbose. Its central conclusion, that were he still alive he would be interviewed under caution, tells us almost nothing.

It fails to make any sort of case against the former Prime Minister, but equally fails to lift the miasma of suspicion that will probably now surround him for all time. Speaking last December Wiltshire Chief Constable Mike Veale said he hoped that the inquiry would “contribute to the wider picture of truth seeking and reconciliation.” If that was indeed the purpose, it will certainly not succeed. Those who already believed that Heath was a villain will claim that the Report lends them support. Those who were sceptical will point to the fact that the vast majority of allegations have been judged so weak that they could be dismissed without even troubling to ask Heath about them, had he still been alive. The idea that the truth can be divined from the report, or that its publication will do anything to reconcile anybody to anything is risible. Continue reading “Operation Conifer Report into Sir Edward Heath: an empty exercise in self-justification”

Julia Hartley-Brewer: My Day

Up early to get into TalkRadio by black cab. Driver asked me what I did for a living. I cleverly told him it was none of his business. That shut him up for the rest of the journey.

Bought cappuccino to take into work. Idiot trainee barrista asked if I wanted to try the new Columbian blend. “I really don’t care,” I told him, “your coffee is always awful. Why should it be any better just because it comes from Colombia.” Rather pleased with this response. Continue reading “Julia Hartley-Brewer: My Day”

The dress code for Long Lartin visitors makes dressing for Royal Ascot seem easy

Visitors to Long Lartin Prison, home to a number of tough cookies, has introduced a strict dress code for visitors. Relatives of Ben Geen, the nurse who was very possibly wrongly convicted on the basis of misunderstood statistical evidence, have reported visitors being turned away for wearing open-toed sandals.

In fact, the Category A establishment bans any footwear which is not “enclosed at the heel and toe.” It turns out that the prison, which houses some of Britain’s worst murderers, enforces a sartorial code for visitors, updated at the end of last month, which makes dressing for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot seem straightforward by comparison.

Indeed, Long Lartin and the Royal Enclosure share a number of similarities, although the Ascot rules have little to say about shoes, except that gentlemen’s shoes must be black. Unlike Long Lartin, Ascot imposes no specific ban on “slippers” possibly because racegoers, unlike prison visitors, simply aren’t tempted to wear them.

HMP Long Lartin

Continue reading “The dress code for Long Lartin visitors makes dressing for Royal Ascot seem easy”

An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Ryan

Like many of your fellow countrymen and women, you have been following the heart-breaking case of Charlie Gard, the little baby who is desperately ill with mitochondrial disease in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Despite a ruling from our highest courts that doctors would be acting lawfully if they turned off the ventilator which is keeping him alive, a tiny flame of hope continues to flicker. Charlie’s remarkable parents refused to concede that his condition was hopeless and – despite having had the legal authority to stop treating him – his doctors have in fact continued to keep him alive.

The Family Court has now agreed to re-examine the case in the light of possible fresh evidence. The latest development is that Dr Michio Hirano, a neurologist and specialist in mitochondrial disease from Columbia University, will examine Charlie at Great Ormond Street tomorrow. Dr Hirano has been very cautious. At best he gives about a 10% chance of his treatment being effective, and even if it does work to some extent it may not produce much improvement. Charlie has suffered brain damage and even Dr Hirano is not optimistic that that can be reversed. The odds are still against him surviving and even more against him improving but we all hope, and those who share your strong religious faith will pray.

You have tweeted about the case. As Speaker of the House of Representatives your tweets are seen by millions. There is no problem with that. It is a good thing to contribute to the discussion about our healthcare and legal systems. No doubt there is a great deal that we can learn from each other about our respective medical and legal systems. We are some way off perfection in both, as (if you will forgive me for saying) are you. But I am just a little concerned that in your rush to support Charlie’s parents you may have inadvertently overlooked some of the complicated issues that the case has highlighted.

You tweeted this:

I stand with #CharlieGard & his parents. Health care should be between patients & doctors—govt has no place in the life or death business.” Continue reading “An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan”

The Trial: Television at its best

If you haven’t started watching Channel 4’s The Trial, should you bother?

Yes you should. It is good television, legally accurate and most importantly gripping drama.

For those that didn’t watch last night, what Channel 4 has done is in some ways a homage to the 1970s Anglia TV series Crown Court, the day-time TV show that featured actors playing the part of lawyers, defendant and witnesses, and randomly selected members of the public acting as jurors. For me, Crown Court was one of many perks of being too ill for school, and many current leaders of the profession were enthused to become barristers by watching the programme. The often rather wooden acting, the slightly tacky sets and the trivial nature of most of the cases made the programme remarkably realistic.

But where Crown Court was true to the Poundland end of the legal system – where you would most likely find Barristerblogger plying his day job – The Trial is more Fortnums and Masons. The crime is murder, the set is a real (though decommissioned) court-room, and most importantly the judge and the barristers are not actors but real lawyers drawn from the top drawer of the profession. Continue reading “The Trial: Television at its best”

Wiltshire Police is acting like a public relations tool for David Icke

On 3rd August 2015 Wiltshire Police Superintendent Sean Memory held a dramatic news conference outside the late Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath’s former home, Arundells, a beautiful house in Salisbury Cathedral close.

He told the gathered reporters he had information that:

a trial had been due to take place in the 1990s and information was received in that trial that Sir Ted Heath was involved in the abuse of children and the allegation is from the result of that information that the trial never took place.”

The police were now opening an inquiry into possible child abuse by the former Prime Minister, and were encouraging anyone who had been abused by him to come forward. Continue reading “Wiltshire Police is acting like a public relations tool for David Icke”

Trump should not have been invited to meet the Queen but it’s too late to cancel the visit now.

Donald Trump has been invited to visit the United Kingdom for a State visit. This means horse-drawn carriages through Whitehall, troops of Household Cavalry on parade, and a glittering state banquet with the reality TV President sitting at the head of the table next to the Queen.

Downing Street confirmed this morning that the visit would go ahead despite the extraordinary Presidential decree banning nationals of seven countries visiting, or returning to, the USA.

There is a petition on the UK Parliament website urging the Government not to invite him to make a State visit on the grounds that “it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

I signed the petition yesterday, but on reflection I think I was wrong to do so.
Continue reading “Trump should not have been invited to meet the Queen but it’s too late to cancel the visit now.”

Some footnotes to the conviction of Thomas Mair

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.

There may be people wishing to speculate on the political ramifications of the case. I offer just 5 law-related observations. Continue reading “Some footnotes to the conviction of Thomas Mair”