Do we need a Victims Commissioner?

On hearing the words “Dame Vera” most people will think fondly of the 102 year old golden-voiced Forces’ sweetheart. Those in the legal world, however, are more likely to conjure up a picture of the 69 year old flame-haired Fabian firebrand Dame Vera Baird QC, formerly a barrister in the chambers of radical lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, then a Labour MP and Solicitor General, then the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria and now The Victims Commissioner for England and Wales.

Baird: poacher turned gamekeeper

In her early career Dame Vera usually defended those accused of serious crimes, but in more recent times she has used her various offices to campaign vigorously for changes in the law that make it easier to convict and imprison them. The former poacher has metamorphosed into a ferocious gamekeeper; it is not hard to imagine her prowling round the estate, setting man-traps, loading the spring-guns and inspecting the rotting cadavers of corvids gibbeted on the boundary fence.

For those who are not familiar with the office of Victims Commissioner, it is a statutory appointment of a person charged with the duty of “promoting the interests of victims and witnesses” and taking “such steps as she considers appropriate with a view to encouraging good practice in the treatment of victims and witnesses.” Continue reading “Do we need a Victims Commissioner?”

The many lies of Carl Beech and the folly of his supporters

It all started with Sir Jimmy Savile.

The platinum-blond disc jockey with a taste for shell-suits needs no introduction to British readers. To others it is enough to record that when he died in 2011 he was at first treated to obituaries that would have made St Theresa of Calcutta blush. He had been a television institution for decades, and when he had not been on television he had been visiting the sick in hospitals or raising huge sums of money, including according to some estimate up to 90% of his own earnings, to charity.

Then, within a few months of his death allegations started to emerge that he had abused children and women on a vast scale. Because he was dead, none of the allegations were ever tried in court but the press, so adoring of him while he was alive, now turned on him with the vehemence of a betrayed lover. The Guardian spoke, unusually, for the majority when it ran an extraordinary editorial comparing him not altogether favourably with Pol Pot, and calling for a public ceremony of commination, as “a ritual expression of public condemnation and disgust.”

The institutions with which he had been associated – mainly hospitals and the BBC – fell over themselves to apologise for his behaviour. Accounts of Savile’s wickedness were collated in various official reports and they were all accepted, without question, by a press that was now as indignant about his criminality as it had been fulsome in his adoration. Anyone – and there were a few – who dared to question so much as a single individual account was considered beyond the pale, even though some of the allegations against him bordered on the incredible. Continue reading “The many lies of Carl Beech and the folly of his supporters”

Lessons from the Ipswich Family Court: 7 mistakes that litigants in person often make

If only I had the near miraculous ability of Gordon Exall, editor of Civil Litigation Brief, to convert complex and often rather turgid case-law into manageably-sized blogposts of crystalline clarity. Sadly he hasn’t yet done that to the extraordinary matrimonial case of VW v. BH, and I doubt that he will because Gordon’s posts tend to be aimed at legal practitioners. The lessons of VW v. BH, a divorce case recently heard by HHJ Lynn Roberts at the Ipswich County Court, are more for those attempting to litigate without lawyers.

HHJ Lynn Roberts

Before we dive into the detail of the case, a warning: I really don’t know a great deal about family law. I tried my hand at it many years ago and found that I was pretty hopeless. If you want to read a blog by someone who really knows about family law, I would recommend either Lucy Reed’s Pink Tape (Lucy has also written the fantastically useful Family Court without a lawyer, a handbook for litigants in person), or David Burrows, who likes to concentrate on broader questions of family law policy.

What I do know is that the disputes are usually about money or about children. The days when the evidence from the latest celebrity defended divorce could fill the Sunday papers – seedy Brighton hotels with private eyes examining the sheets, hoping that the Queen’s Proctor would not smell a rat, and so on – have long since gone the way of co-respondent shoes. Continue reading “Lessons from the Ipswich Family Court: 7 mistakes that litigants in person often make”

No, Ann Coffey, we should not tamper with juries in rape trials

You can read this in The Spectator, here:

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/author/dummy_lr7gb9ly4qieb6kjx3pfnuddn91example-com/

Or, if you are a Patron, listen below:

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Huge pay rises for judges may stave off disaster, but where will the judges come from in 10 years time?

The Top Salaries Review Body has announced that judges should receive a stonking pay rise. High Court judges – who sit near the pinnacle of the profession – should get an extra 32%, which works out at about another £60,000 per year, while middle-ranking, Circuit judges, who sit in most Crown and County Courts should get a smaller but still very helpful 22%, taking their salaries to a basic £165,000.

Some years ago Barristerblogger decided that he had slogged around the criminal courts long enough. He had imbibed enough of the elixir of wisdom that comes from prosecuting burglars in Bournemouth, mitigating the transgressions of sex mini-beasts in Swindon, and eating army packed-lunches in military courts from Bulford to Bielefeld. More to the point, with no pension provision beyond a mis-sold critical illness policy that would, at best, pay for 2 weeks off work if I was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, the time had come to rise above the blood and dust of the arena, to don a purple robe and to accept elevation to the judicial bench. Continue reading “Huge pay rises for judges may stave off disaster, but where will the judges come from in 10 years time?”

Prosecuting Boris Johnson over “Brexit lies” would be an ill-conceived publicity stunt

A 28 year old Norfolk man called Marcus J Ball is trying to bring a crowd-funded private prosecution against Boris Johnson. He says that Mr Johnson lied while campaigning for the Leave campaign in the Referendum. Since he was at the time an MP (and until 9th May 2016 also Mayor of London) he was the holder of a public office. Mr Ball believes that lies told in the campaign mean that he has committed the offence of “misconduct in public office,” a serious criminal offence carrying an unlimited fine and potentially life imprisonment.

Ball: Private Prosecutor

Continue reading “Prosecuting Boris Johnson over “Brexit lies” would be an ill-conceived publicity stunt”

Abi Wilkinson should be ashamed of her abuse of Danny Finkelstein

Danny Finkelstein – or Baron Finkelstein of Pinner to give him the title he hardly ever uses – has become the latest person to be the object of a twitter hate campaign.

He is, according to Abi Wilkinson, a Corbyn-supporting journalist, “a racist scumbag” who is “chill with ethnic cleansing.”

It may seem surprising that Finkelstein, former member of the SDP and since that party’s demise a leading voice of “moderate” Conservatism, should be so characterised, even by Wilkinson who believes that “incivility isn’t merely justifiable, but actively necessary.”

His columns in The Times are typically reflective, considered and measured. This has not prevented him sometimes receiving the most appalling online abuse, accusing him of defending paedophilia, for example, because he expressed scepticism about groundless allegations levelled at politicians. Continue reading “Abi Wilkinson should be ashamed of her abuse of Danny Finkelstein”

Rumpole, 17, and the Codes of Practice

We learnt yesterday from a paralegal called Rob (known on twitter as @RobEdward90) that a 17 year old boy has been told by the Legal Aid Agency that he will not be given legal aid to contest his trial on charges of driving whilst disqualified. The first reason for the decision is that “there is no reason why the applicant would be unable to cross-examine police officers in person.” The youth in question is, as the cliché goes, no stranger to the criminal courts and indeed is currently the subject of a Youth Rehabilitation Order.

We don’t know his name, but given his familiarity with the criminal courts and his evident skill in advocacy we can call him Rumpole.

*** *** ***

Rumpole!”

I turned over and pulled the duvet further over my head. Continue reading “Rumpole, 17, and the Codes of Practice”

Lessons from the Leighton Buzzard vigilantes

One of the great virtues – as well as one of the dangers – of trial by jury is that jurors are able to to take a broader view of justice than a strict interpretation of the law always dictates. The constitutional right of any jury to blow a raspberry at what they consider to be an improper prosecution is a formidable guarantee against state oppression that justifies the occasional perverse acquittal. Older readers will recall that jurors exercised such a right in the teeth of the evidence that Clive Ponting had breached the Official Secrets Act; and – rather less defensibly – to acquit Michael Randle and Pat Pottle of helping the Soviet spy George Blake escape from Wormwood Scrubs gaol, despite the defendants having written a book explaining in considerable detail exactly how they managed it. Continue reading “Lessons from the Leighton Buzzard vigilantes”

Rape juries: Jolyon Maugham hits the wrong target

Last month Britain’s favourite tax barrister, Jolyon Maugham QC, suggested in an article in the New Statesman that juries ought to be abolished for rape trials. I had meant to reply to him much earlier, but did not have the time to do so until now.

As he is in some ways a stickler for accuracy I should quote him:

These few hundred words are not the place to remake the system by which rape is deterred. But we might start by asking, as Julie Bindel has urged, whether trial by jury serves the public interest in rape cases.”

I don’t think he is quite advocating the abolition of juries for rape cases, but he is certainly suggesting that it is something that should be discussed. Indeed, trial by jury, he says, is the place to start.

He was immediately criticised by some criminal lawyers for stepping outside his area of expertise. Not by me though; not least because my limited expertise as a criminal lawyer has never stopped me offering my thoughts on any number of other subjects, some of which are only vaguely related to the law (I can’t help you with tax avoidance though). Mr Maugham’s insights into what is undoubtedly a thorny area should be entirely welcome. Continue reading “Rape juries: Jolyon Maugham hits the wrong target”