Wrongful convictions are a terrible risk in our frighteningly imperfect justicesystem.

There is a somewhat distasteful expression that prosecuting barristers occasionally use after a jury has convicted: “I potted him,” they will say to anyone who happens to be listening, usually with a faintly repellent smugness.

There is more to prosecuting than potting a defendant as though he were a celluloid ball, important public service though that can often be. Prosecutors also have a critical role in protecting the innocent. A good prosecutor should never take an unfair point, should never try to adduce clearly inadmissible evidence and above all should always disclose evidence that undermines their own case or supports that of the defence. The police too are under a duty to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry and to reveal what they discover to the prosecutor even if it undermines a case they thought they were building against a guilty man. Continue reading “Wrongful convictions are a terrible risk in our frighteningly imperfect justicesystem.”

Liam Allan’s case shows why our criminal justice system is becoming a matter of national shame

Another day brings another terrifying near miscarriage of justice.

Liam Allan, a 22 year old criminology student, was yesterday cleared at Croydon Crown Court of a string of rapes against a woman who claimed that she “did not enjoy sex.” Mr Allan had always maintained that she had consented, and that her complaint was malicious.

The case collapsed after three days  when  analysis of the complainant’s mobile phone was finally revealed to the persistent prosecution barrister, former Tory MP (and now incidentally the renowned legal blogger) Jerry Hayes. It showed that amongst the 50,000 or so messages sent by the complainant (or to use the official term approved by the College of Policing, “the victim”) were messages to Mr Allan pestering him for sex, and fantasising about “rough sex and being raped.” Mr Hayes, a member of the independent bar rather than an employee of the Crown Prosecution Service,

Jerry Hayes: old school prosecutor averted miscarriage of justice

saw immediately that the messages destroyed the prosecution case, and invited the judge to find Mr Allan Not Guilty. The judge did so, and has called for an inquiry into why the messages were not disclosed earlier. Continue reading “Liam Allan’s case shows why our criminal justice system is becoming a matter of national shame”

How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?

The assertion that thousands of British Muslim girls are getting mutilated with the passive acquiescence of the police and CPS seems to have settled  into public consciousness as a matter of established fact. Last month the Crown Prosecution Service proudly tweeted that it was:

“Prosecuting more people than ever for hate crime and ensuring they receive tougher sentences.”

The response to the tweet was instructive. I haven’t read through all 671 replies. One or two questioned whether it was actually proper or desirable for the CPS to be “ensuring heavier sentences,” but the tone of a huge proportion was the same: why are you bragging about prosecuting hate crime when you haven’t prosecuted anyone successfully for FGM? Continue reading “How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?”

Why is it legal to call someone a bull’s pizzle, but a crime to call him a codhead?

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?”

Should we always prosecute people who make false allegations?

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.

To rub salt into his wounds Tina then gave her story to a magazine, which published it under the headline “34 years on I finally made him face up to his hideous crimes.” Continue reading “Should we always prosecute people who make false allegations?”

Free the Naked Rambler

It is rare for anything in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying to make much of a splash. Articles such as “How to tie a Hairy Hotchkiss” or “Agostino Roncallo demonstrates how to tie an extended body dry fly purely from cul de canard feathers” emerge (if at all, because the latter is sadly paywalled) onto the surface of the general public’s consciousness with all the fanfare of a mayfly hatching on a misty morning in a quiet meander of the Itchen.

But fishermen are patient, so it is not surprising that having cast his damsel onto the limpid waters of the letters pages of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying last November, eventually the wider press took an interest in Nigel Bond’s complaint about skinny dippers in the River Dart. According to Mr Bond, there is a growing “scourge” of swimmers disturbing the peace of Devon rivers:

On a recent visit to Black Pool upstream of Buckfastleigh, I found the peace of the river shattered by several very aged, lily white and scrawny humans cavorting stark naked in what is one of the best pools on the lower river.”

It was not the effect on the fish that he objected to, but the effect on his own peace and quiet:

I don’t think that the fish would have been too disturbed – the passage of an otter would have disturbed them more – but to an angler, having paid good money to enjoy a little tranquillity by the river, the sight was altogether too much.” Continue reading “Free the Naked Rambler”