Veiled defendants should be allowed to give evidence

The judgement by Judge Peter Murphy that a defendant cannot give evidence while wearing a niqaab covering her face was written with crystalline clarity. He acknowledged all the difficulties of trying to balance sincerely held religious convictions with the imperatives of justice. He gave due consideration to the Bench Book, the Judicial Studies Board publication that is meant to give practical guidance to judges, and rightly concluded – in very measured and judicial terms – that it offered only anodyne and useless pieties. He analysed any number of British, European and Commonwealth cases on the subject. Nevertheless his judgement was wrong and, unless overturned by the Court of Appeal it threatens to wreak grave injustice on devout Moslem women. Continue reading “Veiled defendants should be allowed to give evidence”

The decision to prosecute Michael Le Vell


The acquittal of Michael Le Vell has reminded us, as though it were necessary, that not all rape suspects are guilty. But however terrible his ordeal has been, the fact that he has been acquitted certainly does not mean the CPS was wrong to bring the case to court.

There are, nevertheless legitimate questions to be asked about how decisions to prosecute cases of this sort should be taken. Continue reading “The decision to prosecute Michael Le Vell”

Criticism of Robert Colover was unfair

A respected criminal barrister, Robert Colover, has been suspended from prosecuting sex cases and has had his name dragged through the mud. He has been called a disgrace, a scumbag, a mysogonist, a nonce and worse. Whatever the outcome of the present inquiry he will be for ever known as the barrister who called a child victim a “predator”.

The reason for all this was a routine sentencing hearing earlier this month at Snaresbrook Crown Court at which Neil Wilson, a 41 year old man with no relevant previous convictions, was given an 8 month suspended sentence, together with a supervision order under which he was required to attend a Sex Offenders’ Treatment Programme, for sexual activity with a 13 year old child. Continue reading “Criticism of Robert Colover was unfair”

Would a British attack on Syria be lawful?

With the announcement that Parliament is to be recalled for an emergency session this Thursday we seem to be heading for involvement in another Middle Eastern war.

Before the 2003 Iraq war Tony Blair and his government went to elaborate lengths to find a legal justification for joining the United States attack on Iraq. The then Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, swung first one way and then the other on the question of whether the invasion would be legal. Presumably the current Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, has been asked for his opinion on the legality of an attack -perhaps with cruise missiles and bombers – on Syria.

Mr Grieve, an honourable and humane man whose high regard for the rule of law is self-evident, will not have an easy task.

Before answering the question, he will need to clarify it somewhat. An action that is lawful under domestic law might nevertheless be unlawful under international law. Continue reading “Would a British attack on Syria be lawful?”

Is it in the public interest to prosecute Caroline Lucas?

Just as some children smile nervously but infuriatingly when they are being scolded, it was impossible to be sure about the enigmatic grin on Green MP Caroline Lucas’s face as police frogmarched her to the meat wagon on Monday afternoon. Officers, who are trained to describe gold cautiously as “yellow metal” and a drunk as someone whose “eyes are glazed, is unsteady on his feet and smells strongly of intoxicating liquor,” invariably have no difficulty in calling the slightest facial rictus on a suspect’s face a “smirk;” and that is a word that might have occurred to some television viewers. Nevertheless it is equally likely that it was a nervous reflex at the anticipation of the prosecution she may face, or triumph at having achieved at least one of her objectives. Or it may just be, as those who know her well assure us, that Ms Lucas is a naturally polite and cheerful individual with a sunny and optimistic disposition, even towards police officers who are arresting her. Whatever the explanation for Ms Lucas’s sphinx-like physiognomy it raises the question of how the law deals with political protests of the sort that have been staged at Balcombe in the last few days. Continue reading “Is it in the public interest to prosecute Caroline Lucas?”

Drilling at Balcombe must go ahead. Law breakers must not win.

Celebrity opponents of the drilling operations in Balcombe who include Bianca Jagger, Vivienne Westwood, Russell Brand and even, God help us, the neo-fascist Nick Griffin, are celebrating Cuadrilla’s decision to “temporarily suspend operations” in the face of the potential disorder that they fear may be imminent.

Leaders of the anti-fracking demonstrators have called for “civil disobedience,” – what is otherwise known as breaking the law – to stop the drilling permanently. The protesters have set up a camp on private land from which to co-ordinate their campaign. They do not have the landowner’s permission. The certainty in the rightness of their cause appears to have led some to consider themselves above the law.

It is of crucial importance that their campaign does not succeed. Continue reading “Drilling at Balcombe must go ahead. Law breakers must not win.”

Monty Panesar urinates into a legal minefield

The always informative and often fascinating UK criminal law blog has given us some interesting background to the fixed penalty notice for being drunk and disorderly received by Monty Panesar on 4th August. Panesar apparently urinated on two bouncers from a night-club balcony. The learned editor, Dan Bunting, points out that Mr Panesar was lucky to be dealt with in this lenient way because he might have committed at least 5 other separate offences, and he set law students a challenge to see if they could identify them all.

As no law student seems to have taken him up on it, here are my answers: Continue reading “Monty Panesar urinates into a legal minefield”

If Robert Colover made a mistake it does not make him a scumbag

Neil Wilson probably thought that he had escaped lightly on Monday when he walked out of Snaresbrook Crown Court with a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to a single count of sexual activity with a child and 2 counts of possession of images of extreme pornography possibly involving horses or dogs. There was some suggestion that he may also have possessed images of child abuse, but puzzlingly the press reports do not suggest that he was actually sentenced for such an offence.

Unfortunately for Mr Wilson his good fortune quickly turned sour with the news that the Attorney General is considering a review of his sentence. Continue reading “If Robert Colover made a mistake it does not make him a scumbag”

A way out of the naked rambler dilemma: let a jury decide

I have blogged recently about The Naked Rambler, and apologies to readers who feel that it is becoming something of an obsession. There are, I suppose, many more important legal issues than the largely self-inflicted fate of one obsessive individual. On the other hand law is nothing if it is not about the protection of individual rights and Stephen Gough’s lengthy campaign does raise a number of important questions. Should we really go to great lengths to prosecute a man for doing no more than expose his un-air-brushed, and un-hair-brushed, body in a society in which highly sexualised near nudity is widely accepted? Is the ASBO regime appropriate to criminalise activity which might well not otherwise be criminal? Does the existence of Mr Gough’s ASBO mean that he is in effect denied the chance of a jury’s verdict on his behaviour? And do we not have many better ways to spend public money than to prosecute and incarcerate Mr Gough until the day he dies? Continue reading “A way out of the naked rambler dilemma: let a jury decide”

Banning rape pornography won’t work and is wrong in principle

Now that the Boy George is safely home, thoughts are turning to who will be the next Royal Nanny. Although it is said that Kate’s mother Carole is to be a very “hands-on” mother-in-law my guess is that before long the strain will tell on her and a nanny will be appointed. In these enlightened days they will probably avoid someone like Prince Charles’ former nanny, Helen Lightbody, who was said to be “as imperious as old Queen Mary”. According to she would insist “… on the infant Prince having his own special lunch, something quite different from what was served to anyone else. Helen would then reject the meal that was first offered and demand another choice.” One would hate to think that the next but one heir to the throne would inadvertently be taught such finickiness by those who have charge of his moral welfare. My guess is that they will opt for someone a little more chilled out, probably an Australian. Their Royal Highnesses could perhaps start their search by seeking advice from the Prime Minister’s fair dinkum blunt speaking special adviser Lynton Crosby. Continue reading “Banning rape pornography won’t work and is wrong in principle”