Guest Post on Catalonia: Was the Spanish Supreme Court crushing legitimate dissent or properly upholding the law?

The decision to gaol the Catalan leaders has caused widespread outrage.

Is the outrage justified? When regional nationalist leaders openly defy the law, what is the proper response of central Government?

These are questions with which the Spanish Supreme Court has had to grapple. They may yet come to be asked in the United Kingdom.

In this thought-provoking guest post, Jaime Campaner, practising lawyer and Associate Professor in procedural and criminal law at the University of the Balearic Islands, does not provide all the answers, but he vigorously defends the Spanish Supreme Court from what he believes to be misplaced criticism.

Campaner: Argues that criticisms of Spain’s Supreme Court are misplaced

Last Monday, after months of open-court trial which everyone could follow on internet and TV, the Spanish Supreme Court delivered their judgment on the so-called “Catalonia case”, convicting the main defendants of sedition, misuse of public funds and/or contempt of court.

The first issue to highlight is that the ruling has been written to make it understandable for every citizen who might be interested in it, bringing the judiciary closer to the people.

The second point which should be explained, mostly in the light of the massive protests against the ruling, is that the defendants were not convicted for their ideas nor for exercising the alleged right to secede from Spain. They were convicted for avoiding compliance with legality in Catalonia and impeding the enforcement of court orders. To cite just one case (the ruling runs to almost 500 pages), there were mobilizations that exceeded the constitutional limits of the exercise of the rights of assembly and demonstration and which created a coercive and intimidating environment which prevented the judicial police from transferring the detainees, in accordance with their rights, to the building where the search and seizure was to be carried out as per a court ruling. Moreover, this search and seizure was hindered for over twelve hours. Continue reading “Guest Post on Catalonia: Was the Spanish Supreme Court crushing legitimate dissent or properly upholding the law?”

Did Carl Beech have a fair trial?

Mark Watts, former editor-in-chief of Exaro News, has written a long and detailed argument explaining why he considers that the conviction of Carl Beech was a miscarriage of justice. He points out that he is “a lone voice” amongst journalists:

While many journalists join in the official narrative, some who know otherwise in the national media either go along with them in a desperate attempt to protect their cowardly backsides or elect, understandably, to keep their heads down.”

As well as cowardly journalists who “join in the official narrative,” Mr Watts has particular contempt for what he calls “the falsely accused brigade.”

The falsely-accused brigade and its cheerleaders in the media have exposed their hypocrisy in their celebration of this trial. If they were genuinely interested in fair justice, they would not be ignoring the dubious way in which Beech was found guilty.

In truth, members of the falsely-accused brigade are not remotely interested in justice, but in proclaiming with a pseudo-religious fervour that they or their loved ones or their friends or associates are innocent of accusations of sexual abuse levelled against them.”

Mr Watts is rather vague about exactly who is in the “falsely accused brigade,” although presumably it includes Harvey Proctor, Lord Bramall and Greville Janner’s son Daniel. All three have fervently “proclaimed that they or their loved ones are innocent of accusations sexual abuse levelled against them.Confusingly, though, Mr Watts concedes that Beech’s allegations against anyone have no credibility,” in view of which it seems mildly ungracious to sneer at his victims for “proclaiming” their innocence. Continue reading “Did Carl Beech have a fair trial?”

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?”

Expert witnesses: a crisis in the criminal courts

Last month the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report on the critical state of forensic science in the United Kingdom. Several private forensic science providers are close to financial collapse. At the same time the police are increasingly taking forensic science in-house – raising obvious questions of independence and impartialityor outsourcing it to unregulated providers that do not met minimum quality standards.

The evidence we received points to failings in the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system and these can be attributed to an absence of high-level leadership, a lack of funding and an insufficient level of research and development. Throughout this inquiry we heard about the decline in forensic science in England and Wales, especially since the abolition of the Forensic Science Service.”

Professor Claude Roux, President of the International Association of Forensic Sciences, told the Committee:

When I was a student, England and Wales held, essentially, the international benchmark. It was the “Mecca” for forensic science. Some 30 years later, my observation from the outside … is that it has been an ongoing national crisis and, at this stage, is more of an example not to follow.”

This report was alarming enough, but the problem with expert evidence in criminal cases goes much deeper even than the alarming House of Lords report suggests. Continue reading “Expert witnesses: a crisis in the criminal courts”

Pozner & Dodd: Cross-Examination Science and Techniques. A review

Cross-Examination: Science and Techniques

Larry S. Pozner and Roger J. Dodd

This is quite simply the greatest book on cross-examination that I have ever come across and worth every penny of the hundreds of pounds that it will cost you to buy. It is not easily available. The latest (third) edition is currently unavailable on Amazon, although rather strangely several second editions are, priced at about £600.00 new, or between £330.00 and £745.00 second hand. I was distraught when, just a few days after my copy finally arrived (stamped ex libris Filosa & Filosa attorneys at law 501 Main Street, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico) I left it in a taxi. Fortunately, thanks to the honesty and good sense of a London black cab driver, instead of flogging it on the dark web, or sending it back to Truth or Consequences, like a forensic pathologist he traced me through dental records, in this case a dentist’s receipt, in the same bag. Thank goodness for rotten British teeth.

It is written for an American audience, so some of the terminology is a little obscure. They have “direct” examination, we have “evidence in chief,” they “impeach” a witness, we “contradict” them, and so on. There are references to procedures that we no longer have in England and Wales, such as cross-examination at committal hearings. Voire dires, motions in limine and other pre-trial manoeuvres that we either don’t have, or that mean something different, crop up regularly. Our courts don’t have “podiums” to and from which counsel can walk while asking questions, more’s the pity perhaps. Continue reading “Pozner & Dodd: Cross-Examination Science and Techniques. A review”

Sometimes it’s right for the police to examine complainants’ phones. It’s called investigation.

Jeremy Corbyn, Shami Chakrabarti and Harriet Harman all have difficulties with the idea of complainants in rape cases being asked to hand over their mobile phones as part of the police investigation. Mr Corbyn has described it as a “disturbing move.”

It is nothing of the sort.

No change in the law has taken place. Instead, rightly stung by a series of recent cases in which evidence from mobile phones suggesting innocence was withheld from the defence until the last minute, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Crown Prosecution Service have agreed a standard form to give to complainants for use when investigating sexual offences.

It deals with those cases – not every case – in which the police believe that a complainant’s mobile phone should be examined as part of an investigation into a sexual offence.

Rape allegations almost always relate to incidents which took place in private. Without any independent witnesses juries can be left trying to decide who is telling the truth based upon little more than whether the complainant or the defendant looked the more plausible or shifty. Since most human beings are hopeless at spotting liars, this is a task fraught with the danger of producing the wrong verdict. Continue reading “Sometimes it’s right for the police to examine complainants’ phones. It’s called investigation.”

Should a convicted man stay in prison if his accuser says he is innocent?

Last week in the unreported case of SB [2019] EWCA Crim. 569 the Court of Appeal gave its reasons for upholding a 68 year old grandfather’s conviction in a historical sex case, even though the only witness against him had told them, on oath, that he was innocent, and that she had lied at his trial. 

It was, with respect to the judges, the sort of decision that might cause people to say that the law is an ass.

In another separate, and very well reported, legal development last week, the inquest into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings concluded with verdicts that the victims had been murdered by the IRA.

On the face of it the two cases are entirely unrelated. The case of SB may or may not be a miscarriage of justice; while the inquest was not directly concerned with the undoubted miscarriages of justice that followed the terrible events of 21 November 1974 when six innocent men were wrongly convicted of mass murder.

The link between SB and the Birmingham Six, is that in both cases the Court of Appeal decided to hear, and to disbelieve, evidence which ought to have led to their respective convictions being quashed. The Six were finally exonerated, while SB remains very firmly behind bars.
Continue reading “Should a convicted man stay in prison if his accuser says he is innocent?”

Are you committing a crime if you sign a Parliamentary Petition in a false name?

Given the overwhelming evidence that Leave campaigners stretched funding rules beyond their legal limits, used covertly acquired Facebook data to target political advertising, and to put it bluntly cheated during the Referendum campaign, there is little surprise in the fact that Leave supporters are now urging their followers to use underhand methods to undermine the legitimacy of the Parliamentary Petition to revoke Article 50.

A handsome but somewhat callow-looking youth called Steven Edginton, the digital strategist for “Leave means Leave,” for example, claims – no doubt correctly though one never knows with people who consider their dishonesty virtuous – to have signed the petition three times in the names of Jean-Claude Junker, Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier.

Edgington: signed in various names

Julia Hartley-Brewer has encouraged others to do the same, using, like Mr Edgington multiple email addresses. The purpose, obviously, is to undermine the legitimacy of the petition, so that however many signatures it garners it can be written off as untrustworthy and irrelevant. Continue reading “Are you committing a crime if you sign a Parliamentary Petition in a false name?”

Fiona Onasanya: what is it like to represent yourself in the Court of Appeal?

Fiona Onasanya’s attempt to appeal against her conviction for perverting the course of justice failed at the Court of Appeal yesterday. It leaves the way open to her constituents recalling her and forcing her to contest her seat in a by-election. She will not be the Labour Party candidate and surely has literally no hope of winning the seat as an independent. Sadly for her, her political career will have to be put on ice for a few years, and her legal career – she is a qualified solicitor – is unlikely to be available to her for much longer either. A conviction for perverting the course of justice is simply inconsistent with that profession.

I have no wish to add to Ms Onasanya’s woes. Even though she was responsible for her own downfall, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for a woman who has recently been diagnosed as suffering from multiple sclerosis and who committed a crime that – to many members of the public, although not to the higher courts – is often regarded relatively minor. Perhaps she can take comfort from the near complete rehabilitation of Vicky Pryce, the economist who served a longer prison sentence than that imposed on Onasanya for wrongly agreeing to take her politician husband’s speeding points. She is now a regular media commentator on economic affairs and nobody seems to hold her conviction against her.

One of the curious and so far unexplained aspects of the case is that Ms Onasanya chose to represent herself in the Court of Appeal. She had been represented by leading counsel Christine Agnew QC at her two trials, and normally one would expect the same advocate to appear at her appeal. Continue reading “Fiona Onasanya: what is it like to represent yourself in the Court of Appeal?”

Can the Home Secretary prevent Shamina Begum returning to the UK?

The Home Secretary has said that he will prevent the return to the UK of Shamina Begum, the Isis bride from Bethnal Green:

My message is clear” he told The Times, “if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.”

Opinions differ on whether it would be right to allow her to return to Britain. The brother of the murdered hostage Alan Henning, for example, believes she should “absolutely not” be allowed back into the country. He speaks for many.

Others take a more forgiving line, arguing that when she left she was only 15 years old; she has been groomed or brainwashed, and is perhaps not without hope of rehabilitation. Moreover, she now has a new-born baby. Whatever she may have done, her baby is innocent.

Ms Begum’s recent media appearances have been a master-class in digging from the bottom of an already deep hole.

What, though, is the legal position? Can the Home Secretary “prevent her return”? Continue reading “Can the Home Secretary prevent Shamina Begum returning to the UK?”