It’s not wrong to consider John Beggs QC for barrister of the year

John Beggs QC has made the shortlist for The Lawyer Magazine’s award for “Barrister of the Year.”

The decision has caused outrage in Liverpool because Mr Beggs represented the Hillsborough Police Match Commanders, including David Duckenfield, the officer who, catastrophically, ordered the Hillsborough gates to be opened.

I have no idea whether he would be a worthy winner of the accolade. The entry form asks, amongst other things, for:

Full details of one benchmark case, illustrating how the individual barrister’s contribution made a significant difference to the outcome, including details of other parties / instructing groups”

The verdicts in the Hillsborough Inquest went against his clients in every possible respect, so it is difficult to see how that case could further his credentials very far, but there are other criteria too, so perhaps he could still win.

Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was killed in the disaster, told the Liverpool Echo:

Whoever proposed and supported this nomination has clearly not spent even a day at the Hillsborough inquests.”

We and the jury listened to Mr Beggs for the last two years and the jury’s verdict tells you all you need to know about how good a barrister he is.” Continue reading “It’s not wrong to consider John Beggs QC for barrister of the year”

Criminal Justice Secure Email to be axed as Gove performs another U-turn

Criminal lawyers have given a cautious, if somewhat bemused, welcome to the news (due to be formally announced later today) that Criminal Justice Secure Email is to be officially discontinued from June 1st.

They may be less pleased to learn that the Government plans to enact emergency legislation requiring them to acquire new computer programming skills. The radical plan is designed to ensure that despite the admitted failure of CJSM, the Ministry of Justice’s vision of an entirely digital courtroom nevertheless becomes a reality.

Under the proposals the widely disliked secure email system is to be temporarily “mothballed” whilst the Digital Case System will, in the words of the MoJ’s press release, be “simplified and streamlined.” Senior civil servants have reportedly accepted representations from the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the Criminal Bar Association that the current systems have not produced the benefits expected. The department yesterday published official statistics showing that the average time from receipt of a case by the Crown Court to its completion has increased from 164 in 2013 to a disappointing 204 days now. Continue reading “Criminal Justice Secure Email to be axed as Gove performs another U-turn”

Operation Midland: a miserable end to a miserable affair

The announcement from the Metropolitan Police that Harvey Proctor will face no charges over extraordinary allegations of sadistic rape and murder is unsurprising. It has been obvious for weeks that the police were simply waiting for a convenient time to drop the case, so embarrassing had it become. A cabinet minster’s resignation and the ensuing political turmoil have provided as good a time as any to make the announcement. Continue reading “Operation Midland: a miserable end to a miserable affair”

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?”

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***”

A massacre is imminent in Syria. What are we going to do about it?

I can’t bring myself to blog about the law today. The situation in Syria is so dire that it seems almost frivolous to write about anything else.

Tens of thousands civilians face imminent massacre. In fact, imminent is probably not the right word: they are being massacred as you read this.

Meanwhile the stand-off between Presidents Erdogan and Putin has led us into perhaps the most dangerous international crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The West has made a series of disastrous decisions and it will require inspirational leadership or good luck to avoid a regional disaster turning into a global catastrophe.

Unfortunately, in recent years Western leadership has been dismal and most of the luck has been bad.

President Obama – to whom, as American President, much of the rest of the world looks for leadership, has been a terrible disappointment. How excited we were to see such a civilised man in the White House; he promised so much. It seemed a little premature when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few months after assuming office, but one understood that the Nobel Committee was reflecting the excitement of the time.

Yet decent men can sometimes make bad decisions and with hindsight Obama’s 2013 decision not to punish President Assad for using nerve gas to kill at least 500 people, many of them children, has had terrible consequences. Not only did it allow Assad to survive in power, it also signalled to the world that you could not rely upon America’s promises, and indicated to Russia that it would henceforth have a free hand in Syria.

Of British politicians, strangely enough it is not so much Mr Cameron as Ed Miliband who must shoulder much of the responsibility for getting our response to Syrian events so badly wrong. In 2013 Mr Cameron proposed military action against Assad. Mr Miliband opposed his plans, and his arguments carried the day. Continue reading “A massacre is imminent in Syria. What are we going to do about it?”

The Met should apologise to Bramall, but what will happen to his accuser?

Two questions:

  1. Should the Metropolitan Police now apologise to Lord Bramall?
  2. What will happen to the main witness, “Nick”, if the police come to regard his evidence as unbelievable?

(This post assumes that most readers will be broadly familiar with the story so far. Allegations have been made by a man known only as “Nick” that he was sexually abused by a “paedophile ring” made up of politicians and senior military men when he was a teenage boy. Nick also claims that he was a witness to two other boys being murdered by members of this ring. Most of these men are now dead. The only ones still living are Lord Bramall, a former Field Marshal and head of the British Army, and Harvey Proctor, a former Conservative MP. It was announced recently that Bramall (who is now in his 90s) would not be prosecuted. Proctor, who is in his 70s, remains under investigation.) Continue reading “The Met should apologise to Bramall, but what will happen to his accuser?”

The Henriques Report Contains No Evidence Of An “Establishment Conspiracy.”

 

Two days before the publication of the Henriques Report into the CPS and Leicestershire Police inquiries into allegations against Greville Janner, I took part in a BBC Big Questions debate on whether – in the light of the Janner case – a corpse should be put on trial. As it turned out everyone on the panel seemed to accept, some a bit more reluctantly than others, that perhaps that was going a bit far, so that particular debate never really got off the ground.

What was more striking was that, almost nobody in the room expressed the slightest doubt over the proposition that Lord Janner had been “protected by the establishment.” Anyone making that point, or hinting at it, was guaranteed a thunderous round of applause. Continue reading “The Henriques Report Contains No Evidence Of An “Establishment Conspiracy.””

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?”

Simon Danczuk vacates the moral high ground

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk made his name by campaigning against child abuse, and in particular by exposing the sexual misbehaviour of one of his Parliamentary predecessors, Cyril Smith. He now faces political and perhaps personal ruin after his own sexual behaviour has been criticised, ironically enough in The Sun, a paper for which he wrote regularly. Continue reading “Simon Danczuk vacates the moral high ground”