Asia Bibi’s life is in the hands of the Pakistan Supreme Court

The Pakistan Supreme Court will shortly rule on whether 47 year old Asia Bibi must hang for blasphemy. If she loses her appeal, she is likely to become the first person to be executed under Pakistan’s extraordinarily harsh blasphemy laws.

To read the judgments of the Pakistan courts is, for an English lawyer, to enter a world which seems strangely familiar and yet utterly alien.

The language of the judges bears a close relationship to the language of the English courts: there are “Honourable Judges” (though usually abbreviated to “Hon’ble”) the senior judges are called “Mr (or very rarely “Mrs” or “Miss”) Justice,” all counsel are “learned” and many of the laws enforced still date from the days of the British Empire. The Penal Code, for example, still contains reference to [the admittedly repealed] Section 58, with its Dickensian “Offenders sentenced to transportation, how dealt with until transported,” and Section 56 which deals with “Sentence of Europeans and Americans to penal servitude” (in the days of the Raj, European prisoners were accommodated in a special “European only” prison, or repatriated to serve their sentences in a cooler climate). Still very much in force, however, is a death penalty, carried out just as the British liked it, with an old fashioned noose, gallows and long drop. Continue reading “Asia Bibi’s life is in the hands of the Pakistan Supreme Court”

The silent man of Swansea and St Margaret of York: muteness, malice and mercilessness

An unusual trial took place in Swansea last week. Forty-eight year old David Hampson was convicted of breaching a criminal behaviour order and sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment. Mr Hampson’s peculiar modus operandi is to stand in the middle of a busy Swansea street and stop the traffic. It is annoying but not terribly serious behaviour. But he has been doing it since 2014. For his first offence he was given a conditional discharge, a magisterial slap on the wrist. He immediately re-offended again, and then again, and in due course was convicted in the Crown Court of the more serious offence of public nuisance. In an attempt to stop him once and for all, he was imprisoned and made the subject of a criminal behaviour order. This meant that if he obstructed traffic again he would face a possible maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. It made not the slightest difference. As soon as he was released he proceeded to stop the traffic again, “draping himself over a Royal Mail van with his arms outstretched and his face pressed up against the windscreen.” Continue reading “The silent man of Swansea and St Margaret of York: muteness, malice and mercilessness”

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”

How can Mr Loophole defend David Beckham when he knows he is guilty?

David Beckham has been charged with speeding. According to his lawyer, Nick Freeman, who styles himself “Mr Loophole,” there is no dispute that he was driving a Bentley at 59 MPH on the Paddington flyover in west London, and that the relevant speed limit was 40 MPH. Beckham’s defence is the highly technical one that a Notice of Intended Prosecution (a legal requirement for a successful conviction) was served outside the 14 day period that the law requires. Continue reading “How can Mr Loophole defend David Beckham when he knows he is guilty?”

A busman’s holiday at the Tommy Robinson Appeal

Barristerblogger had a day in Town on Wednesday; coinciding with both the Cliff Richard judgment and the Tommy Robinson appeal.

A New Attorney-General

While the Cliff Richard judgment was being delivered, a little down the corridor in the Lord Chief Justice’s court a new Attorney-General was being sworn-in before a bench full of colourfully be-robed (and in the LCJ’s case be-chained) judges in their splendidly absurd full-bottomed wigs. Down in counsels’ row the new Attorney-General too was full-bottomed. Someone in the court clerk’s usual seat even had an extraordinary black tricorn contraption which she seemed to have some difficulty balancing on her own full-bottom wig – I have since learnt that she was the Queen’s Remembrancer.

Who, though, was that nice but ordinary-looking man squeezed in at the end of the judges’ bench? Nobody seemed to know, but eventually it turned out he was David Gauke, the Lord High Chancellor of England. He had acquired a yellow and black robe from somewhere, but no wig, so amongst all the bigwigs he looked like a man in a lounge suit at a white tie dinner. He gave a short but sensible speech, leavened with the sort of bland humour that is expected on these occasions.

Pushing and shoving for the best seats

Whilst this solemn ceremony was going on, there was a great deal of polite pushing and shoving in the stalls as members of the public, Barristerblogger included, manoeuvred to grab the better seats in the house. For a time, it was standing room only and as the encomiums to the new Attorney-General continued to flow from the bench, who should slip to the front of the queue, face down in his twitter notifications, but Tommy Robinson’s greatest supporter, PR Svengali and chief fund-raiser, flown over from Canada at Tommy’s special request, none other than Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant. Continue reading “A busman’s holiday at the Tommy Robinson Appeal”

Tommy Robinson’s appeal: will his world class legal team get him out of prison?

According to Tommy Robinson’s family’s “authorised spokesman,” Ezra Levant, the gaoled activist has appealed against his 13 month sentence for contempt of court.

We will have a look at what is actually likely to happen when his case gets to court in a moment, but there may be some readers who have not been following the story closely.

Why is Tommy Robinson in prison?

Since 25th May Mr Robinson, real name Steven Yaxley-Lennon, has been serving a sentence of 13 months imprisonment for contempt of court. The sentence is made up of a 3 month sentence passed for contempt of the Canterbury Crown Court in 2017, originally suspended but now activated, and a 10 month consecutive sentence imposed for a separate contempt of the Leeds Crown Court on 25th May 2018. The Judge who sent him to prison, Geoffery Marson QC, was at the time presiding over a trial involving allegations against a number of defendants.  Unfortunately we do not know many more details because reporting restrictions are in place, probably to prevent jurors in another case hearing inadmissible evidence.

Reporting restrictions? What’s that about? If something is said in court surely it can be reported? Continue reading “Tommy Robinson’s appeal: will his world class legal team get him out of prison?”

No, we don’t need an Alfie’s law.

I thought I’d experiment with an audio post.

This is closely based on an article that appeared in Quillette yesterday.  Be warned: there are no pictures, there is no music (unless you count dogs barking in the background), no gimmicks and no technical wizadry. It’s just me talking for nearly half an hour.

I hope you’ll find it interesting if you haven’t read the article, or at least a cure for insomnia if you have.

Let me know if you think this is a good or a bad idea.

It seems to work on mobile phones, but I’m having some technical difficultites making it play on an ordinary laptop, especially using Firefox

For anyone who would prefer to read, or who is unable to listen, the piece is set out below.  I’m doing my best to make the audio work but I think at the moment it’s about 50:50!
Continue reading “No, we don’t need an Alfie’s law.”

It’s time to change the bad law used to prosecute Count Dankula

The prosecution of the online controversialist and comedian Count Dankula was a great mistake. Earlier this week he was convicted by the Airdrie Sheriff Court of sending a grossly offensive message by a public telecommunications network.

The Count, otherwise known as Markus Meechan, is a man of whom I had never heard, and nor, I suspect had you, until he made a video of his girlfriend’s pug giving a Nazi salute in response to him saying things like “Sieg Heil!” and “Gas the Jews!” Although showing the video must, I suppose, be regarded as a criminal act in Scotland, it is easily available online. Indeed, one of the predictable ironies of the case is that as a result of the prosecution it will have been viewed by millions more people than would otherwise ever have heard of it.

As a demonstration of dog training it is moderately impressive; as a comedy sketch it is embarrassingly unfunny, although of course comedy is a very personal thing. Some people, for example like Mrs Brown’s Boys, or that ghastly ratty comedian who gets paid millions through a Cayman Islands shell company. Continue reading “It’s time to change the bad law used to prosecute Count Dankula”

If Russia was probably responsible for the attack on Skripal, England should not play in the World Cup

In just over 3 months the World Cup is due to kick off in Moscow with a match between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Like all big sporting competitions the World Cup will be designed to show the host country in as good a light as possible.

Meanwhile in a Salisbury hospital Sergei Skripal and his daughter are fighting for their lives, having been poisoned by a nerve agent; and a Wiltshire police officer who went to help them is also in intensive care.

If Russia is shown to have been responsible it would be grotesque for the England football team to play any part in what the Russian government no doubt hopes will be a propaganda coup. Boris Johnson at first seemed to suggest that the team should not go to Russia at all, but he then “clarified” his remarks to the absurd idea that an appropriate response might be merely for “UK officials and dignitaries” not to attend the competition. “Try to kill our people and we won’t let you have our referees” seemed to be the message. Continue reading “If Russia was probably responsible for the attack on Skripal, England should not play in the World Cup”

The proposed ban on circumcision in Iceland raises some uncomfortable questions about our own law

News that the Icelandic Parliament is to consider a Bill to ban male circumcision has sparked outrage across Europe, amongst Jewish, Muslim and even Roman Catholic leaders. The English translation of the relevant part of the Bill reads:

[Anyone found] removing sexual organs [from any child or woman], in whole or in part, shall be jailed for six years.”

A spokesman for Milah UK, a Jewish group which campaigns to protect the right for parents to circumcise their children said:

Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Although the number of Jews in Iceland is tiny – about 250 – there are serious campaigns to ban male circumcision in other parts of Europe, especially Scandinavia. The issues involved are far from straightforward. Continue reading “The proposed ban on circumcision in Iceland raises some uncomfortable questions about our own law”