Zimmerman verdict: Stand your Ground Florida! There’s nothing wrong with your law of self defence

Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman as well as protests across America there has been a great deal of comment in the British media about the Florida law of self-defence.

Some of the facts are reasonably clear. Mr Zimmerman became suspicious of Trayvon Martin a 17 year old black boy who was walking through the gated community where Mr Zimmerman acted as a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer. He assumed – perhaps on racial grounds – that Martin was “up to no good.” In this country the typical Neighbourhood Watch volunteer might at this point have discretely tweaked the net curtain back into position before making a cup of tea and dialling 999. But they favour a more direct approach in Florida. Mr Zimmerman picked up his legally owned Kel-Tec PF9 semi-automatic pistol, got out of his car and followed Trayvon through the gated streets. Exactly what happened next is unclear but there was a fight – who started it, and why, may never be satisfactorily resolved – but Zimmerman was to say that he feared for his own safety and as a result shot Trayvon dead.

Since the verdict much criticism has been directed at what has been called the law of “stand your ground.” Continue reading “Zimmerman verdict: Stand your Ground Florida! There’s nothing wrong with your law of self defence”

Will The Court of Appeal increase Stuart Hall’s sentence?

Anyone believing that they can predict the outcome of any criminal appeal is likely to be swiftly corrected, and sentencing appeals are no easier to predict than any other case. Mr Hall’s is made still more difficult because it has attracted such widespread comment, not all of it terribly enlightening.

If you want to make your own mind up you ought first to read the sentencing remarks of HHJ Russell QC.

If the Attorney-General’s appeal were a sporting event upon which Mr Hall was commenting he would certainly have quoted the statistics to his listeners, and they will not have reassured him. Once a Prosecution appeal against a lenient sentence reaches the Court of Appeal the defendant is about as likely to win as, say, Aldershot Town in a fourth round FA cup tie against Manchester City. It can happen, but it usually doesn’t.  Continue reading “Will The Court of Appeal increase Stuart Hall’s sentence?”

Abu Qatada & Derrick Kinsasi: The Conservative Case for supporting the European Convention on Human Rights

Both Theresa May and the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling have called for Britain to consider repealing the Human Rights Act and withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a populist call that they probably calculate will win them votes.

 But there is in fact a strong Conservative case for supporting the Act and the Convention, which was drafted very largely by David Maxwell-Fyfe, later a Conservative Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor. Continue reading “Abu Qatada & Derrick Kinsasi: The Conservative Case for supporting the European Convention on Human Rights”

Edward Snowden, Putin and the crawling bots: I prefer GCHQ

My first email this morning revealed that I had been nominated by a “professional colleague” for inclusion in International Who’s Who. At last, recognition that I am no longer just a criminal hack, I have become a somebody. Who needs a puff from Chambers and Partners Legal 500? I was now an international celebrity. Not quite Tom Cruise or Barack Obama but bigger than, say, Jack Dee – who has heard of him internationally? Should I wish to get married again, or at least to renew my vows, I would be able to sell the picture rights to Heat.  Continue reading “Edward Snowden, Putin and the crawling bots: I prefer GCHQ”

Criminal Legal Aid – Is Grayling Hitler, Zhukov, Caesar or The Bastard?

I would love to be able to make some constructive comment on developments in the Criminal Legal Aid saga, but I am as confused as most others about what has happened.

Have criminal practitioners won a great victory? Has Chris Grayling been routed? Or has he merely staged a tactical retreat or a “small u-turn”. Or did he always intend to give way on the proposals to withdraw choice of solicitor so that he could say he was listening? Is he in fact on the verge of a great victory?

Legal aid lawyers would be wise to bear in mind the words of Virgil writing of the Trojan war: “Equo ne credite, Teucri. quidquid id est, timeo danaos et dona ferentes”, generally translated as “Do not trust the horse, Trojans, whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.” Continue reading “Criminal Legal Aid – Is Grayling Hitler, Zhukov, Caesar or The Bastard?”

Can Mr Grayling’s vestigial organ protect judicial independence?

The independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of liberty.  Fundamental to that independence is an appointments process in which promotion does not depend upon the wishes of the government.  The more senior the appointment the more important that principle is.

Any day now we shall know the identity of the next Lord Chief Justice.

 My guess is that it will be the erudite and delightful Lady Justice Hallet. She once decided one of my bail applications in a most courteous manner, displaying in the process many of the qualities now required of a Lord Chief Justice such as “clear vision” (she rejected it) and “decisiveness” (she did so quickly).

 Whoever is chosen to replace Lord Justice Judge will have been chosen by the most modern of selection procedures.

 The new criteria for selection leave much to be desired, managing as they do to combine the bleedin’ obvious – “ability to write high quality judgements” – with the creepily political – “ability to modernise the judicial system … ability to lead change in encouraging a more diverse judiciary”. Continue reading “Can Mr Grayling’s vestigial organ protect judicial independence?”

Let the Naked Rambler go naked into court

The gaoling yesterday of the Naked Rambler, Stephen Gough, for 11 months for breaching an ASBO forbidding him from appearing naked in public raises many questions. One of those questions is whether the trial judge was right to refuse him permission to conduct his defence in the nude.

One sympathises with judges who have to try whoever is prosecuted in their courts. They do not have much official guidance or training on how to try naked men. Continue reading “Let the Naked Rambler go naked into court”

Stuart Hall’s complete ruin is punishment enough

Whatever sentence Stuart Hall had received it would never have been long enough to satisfy the Twitter tricoteurs. It was always inevitable that these high minded guardians of morality would denounce the sentence and the judge who passed it as a disgrace to his profession. Continue reading “Stuart Hall’s complete ruin is punishment enough”

Enoch Powell was right

It was fell just short of an admission of official involvement, but the recent announcement by the Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledges that there is at least strong evidence that British officials, police officers and possibly soldiers were complicit in a system in Kenya in the 1950s in which torture, sexual abuse and murder were pursued as Government policy. Continue reading “Enoch Powell was right”

Pre-trial cross-examination: why can’t Mr Grayling get his facts right?

Mr Grayling has announced that he is to introduce pre-trial cross-examination for complainants in sexual cases. Instead of having to attend court on the day of the trial, complainants will be able to record their cross-examination in advance.

The power to introduce the procedure has been on the statute book for many years but Mr Grayling, a Minister of Justice who likes making sweeping changes by secondary legislation (which he can do without engaging in parliamentary debate), has now decided to activate it. Wisely, the plans are to be piloted in just three areas, Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames, before they are introduced across the country. Continue reading “Pre-trial cross-examination: why can’t Mr Grayling get his facts right?”