Friday, 27 April 2012

BIker Defence Solicitors

It's that time of the year when a bit of unashamed self-publicising is called for.

As a biker I have decided to set up a firm specialising in defending motorcyclists who have been accused of driving offences, such as drink driving, speeding, etc.  It's called Biker Defence Solicitors and has a website, which you can find at www.bikerdefence.com.

While we specialise in defending bikers, I also drive a car and could probably be persuaded to defend anybody up to no good behind the wheel as well... feel free to drop me an email at nick@bikerdefence.com for more information.

There endth the blatant ad.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Lords reform and why it shouldn't happen

A new report by MPs says that the House of Lords should be reformed into an elected chamber, I think the current proposal is for a split with 80% elected and 20% appointed. Let's think for a moment about who has produced this report: it is a report by MPs whose job is to fight elections and sit in parliament. Them arguing for an expansion to the number of elected seats available for them to contest is a bit like me arguing for more criminal offences to be created so I get more business.

When I was growing up the argument against the Lords was that it was wrong to have a chamber of parliament made up in a very large part by people who get to sit in the legislature by virtue of their birth only. I believe about 80 hereditary peers remain and I have no problem with removing their seats.

The overwhelming majority of the modern lords are appointees. These are people who have spent their lives doing important and good work that has been recognised by their elevation to the upper chamber. Now I know that their are a lot of ex-MPs who have been stuffed in there and plenty of people who have obtained their Peerages through what looks like the old boys network. There are also a lot of lawyers in there... good chaps one and all. One thing that most members of the Lords have is experience and expertise. Both factors lacking in many members of the Commons, in my humble opinion. This experience comes to the fore when elected politicians seek to pass bad laws.

The Government recently tried to remove legal aid from people seriously injured through clinincal negligence. The proposal was for the legal costs to be met from compensation, which is bad because that compensation is often required to provide care for the injured person through the rest of their life. It was the experts in the Lords who opposed the government and stopped it happening. When the last government tried to introduce ID cards they met with stiff opposition from the Lords and the legislation was ultimately dropped.

The experts in the Lords provide a good and very helpful reviewing service to the elected Government. They cannot prevent the elected chamber from passing whatever legislation they like, but they can and do put up opposition to the commons that forces the government to reconsider its position. Because the Lords exist the laws passed by Parliament are better.

Don't forget they give value for money. Like leaders in the Boy Scouts, Lords do their duty free of charge.

Let's think about the position if we do away with the lords and switch to an elected second chamber. First, we'd have to pay a salary. Will it be a salary close to the average wage? I wouldn't put money on that of I were you. So, already the new Chamber will go from being cheap to very expensive. Will the new MPs of the new chamber by experts? No. Experts become expert through hard work and dedication to their subject area. The majority are unlikely to want to spend time campaigning for election. Presumably, they would then be expected to turn up to vote at their party's behest meaning that they would be required in Parliament far more often than might be the case under the current arrangements, making it even less likely that real experts will be interested in serving in the new chamber.

So, now we have a new chamber that costs more and has none of the expertise of the current Lords, so far it's sounding like a great plan.

It's an assumption, but I think it's safe to say that the existing Commons isn't going to want its own power and importance diluted by this new chamber - have you have encountered a politician who has really tried to give away power rather than just talking about it? The reforms thus lead to a more expensive, less expert chamber that has less power that the other elected chamber next door.

Maybe the new chamber should be called Commons Lite? Will Commons Lite attract the brightest and best? Well, you could argue that the full flavour House of Commons doesn't manage to attract the brightest and best in our society so why should Commons Lite be anything more than a second division debating group for the beginners cutting their teeth, the not good enough for the real commons and those who made the leap to the big league but got relegated through poor performance.

You may think that this more expensive, less expert, under powered Chamber filled with second rate advocates is a good idea. But, there you and I are in disagreement. I hope this post looks and reads okay. I should say that I am writing in court while waiting for something to happen on my iPad and it's not ideal for writing with blogger.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Baby Jayden Wray

The BBC is today reporting on the demand by the parents of Jayden Wray for a full inquiry into the death of baby Jayden who died at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2009.

Prior to Jayden's death both parents had taken their son to their GP and to University College Hospital on  numerous occasions complaining that they thought something was wrong with their child.  They were ignored.  The baby underwent his check up by the GP shortly before he died and the GP found nothing to be wrong with him - yet at this point according to the prosecution the baby had already suffered multiple bone fractures as a result of constant and ongoing abuse! 

The final insult came when one morning the parents woke to find Jayden was very ill.  As any normal parent would do they took him to the GP where he was examined by a trainee GP who, after consulting briefly with a senior doctor (who did not take the time to examine Jayden), told the parents that they should take the bus to University College Hospital, which they did immediately.

At the hospital they were kept waiting for hours in a corridor while not much seemed to happen.  Eventually, the baby was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The parents were arrested and accused first of abusing their child and then of their son's murder.  They were prevented from comforting their child as he lay dying at GOSH and the father was told in the most brutal manner imaginable of the death of his son.

The parents were in a no-win situation.  It was claimed that the father was cold, manipulative and controlling because at the police station the mother was upset and kept looking to him for help - bear in mind that at this point her son is laying dying in hospital and she's being denied all contact with him. Later at a family court hearing in the waiting area he lost his temper and was then accused of being violent and aggressive.

In the first weeks after their son's death the parents were denied even the small comfort of being able to spend time together due to bail conditions sought by the prosecution at the instigation of the Detective Inspector in charge of the case on the basis of the conduct already described at the police station.

An autopsy was conducted by not one but two Home Office approved pathologists who formed the conclusion that the vast majority of the injuries were clearly the direct result of rickets.  The police employed a pathologist who is well known by lawyers to be very prosecution minded and, unsurprisingly, he found evidence that the injuries were the result of child abuse not rickets.

The medical evidence for the prosecution was at best weak and was proven to be so at the trial.  The BBC report doesn't really do justice to what happened at the trial, which lasted six-weeks before the prosecution suddenly realised their evidence made little sense and dropped the prosecution.

Not being able to comfort their dying son wasn't the final hurt caused to the parents by this case.  Because legal proceedings were continuing they were prevented from burying their son for years after his death!  Indeed the poor baby spent several times the length of his short life being stored in a freezer in the morgue.  Imagine living with the knowledge that not only was your child dead but you hadn't been there for him when he died and, more than two-years later, he was still lying un-buried in a freezer just a mile or so from where he had lived.

When I first heard of this case I predicted that it had the potential to become as infamous and disastrous for those charged with caring for children as the Baby P case was for child protection services.  If there is a formal inquiry I find it difficult to believe that any of the medical institutions involved would come out smelling of roses.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

TV in court

I was asked to appear in a debate on Sky News this evening to talk about TV cameras being allowed into court rooms.  I didn't do it for one simple reason.  I've put my back out and can barely walk never mind ride a motorbike to a TV studio then concentrate on and take part in a serious debate.  So, I thought I'd put a short discussion up on here instead.

I am personally quite apathetic toward the whole idea.  As a lawyer I obviously love the sound of my own voice so any chance to appear on TV and have a video of myself talking is a very welcome opportunity.

On the one hand, I can see that witnesses might be put off by the idea of appearing in court knowing that what they say will be filmed.  But, I suspect that you might also find that some victims welcome the idea of the chance to tell their side of the story and expose the person who has done something to them as dishonest, violent, or whatever the offence happens to be. 

It's also important to remember that courts already have powers in place to protect witnesses and make the giving of evidence much easier for them.  For example, I conducted a trial recently where the defendant was accused of ABH on his two-year-old daughter.  For obvious reasons the daughter wasn't giving evidence; however, her mother did give evidence.  In that case the mother had told the police that she wasn't happy being questioned by the defendant so the court barred him from asking her questions.  He therefore had to instruct me to conduct the cross-examination.  The court can also order screens to be put in place that prevent both the defendant and anybody in the public gallery from seeing the witness.  There is also the option of evidence being given via a video link where the screens are only viewable by the lawyers, judge and jury. 

So, we can see that in reality there is no reason why the quality of evidence should be hampered by the introduction of televised trials.

In favour of introducing television cameras to court is the argument that at present many people seem to think that courts let people off easily or that courts are heavily biased in favour of the guilty.  People also have the odd idea that sentences are far more lenient than they would like - something which is consistently disproved when the public are given the facts of crimes and asked to pass the sentence they feel appropriate.  Allowing courts to be televised will let people see what really happens, why decisions are really made and how courts arrive at the sentences they impose on people.

On the whole I think that televised court rooms is probably a good idea.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Searches that find me

I always like to check the searches that people have used to find this blog.

This week I have mostly been wondering about this search phrase:

"boyfriend smashed in girlfriends face"

What surprised me is that through the week I've noticed the number of people finding this blog using that phrase increasing.  As of right now, five people this week have found this blog by typing that in.

Plain cover

I have just heard what struck me as an extraordinary claim by a lady from Ash about cigarette smokers.  She told the television news that people buy the cigarette brand that says something about them.

Rubbish.

I only smoke socially, which means whenever somebody offers me one.  But, the smokers I know all fall into two camps.  There are those who buy their favourite brand because they like the taste/feeling that brand gives them when they smoke.  The other group are those who buy whatever is cheapest - in my experience that generally means Lambert & Butler for women and loose tobacco for men.

The only person I have ever come across who could be described as making a statement about herself through her tobacco choice was a lady who smoked only pastel coloured cigarettes.  They all came in a simply plain little box but each cigarette was a different, very attractive, colour.  Even she didn't flash her fags about and when asked claimed that those cigarettes were the nicest to smoke.

Will putting cigarettes into plain packets stop smoking?  I doubt it.  My iPod was plain white, my iPhone is plain black as is my iPad yet they seem to sell pretty well.  The beer I plan to drink tonight will actually come in an unbranded see-through container and yet I am still going to drink the stuff.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Non-payment of council tax and business rates

It's not normally my area of expertise, but I went to Thames Mags today for a non-payment of business rates case.

Straight forward case, business had left the premises before Christmas and the Council had failed to act on the letter and emails they had been sent.

The Council weren't willing to take a view on the case and discontinue proceedings immediately despite admitting that they had receiving the emails and had not acted upon them - although they denied receipt of the letter.  They suggested that we should simply agree to them applying for a Liability Order against us and that we could then have it withdrawn later on.

The very nice lady from the Council informed me that this is the usual way they deal with cases where there is a dispute.  I believe her as well.

Let's be clear on this, if you accept a Liability Order you are accepting you are liable to pay the debt!  In criminal law it's tantamount to pleading guilty to something you haven't done on the basis that you can always appeal later on once you've got your evidence together!  It is always harder to overturn something that you have accepted than it is to fight it off from the start.

That court room as was full of people accepting Liability Orders, at least some of them I am sure were accepting them incorrectly.

Incidentally, the lady handing out the advice was not a qualified lawyer.  I suspect the reason for that is simple.  A qualified lawyer would certainly have been in breach of their professional obligations by handing out impartial sounding advice to the person being prosecuted by their client and twisting that advice in favour of their client.

Courts are not fun places to be.  They are not there as a joke.  They do not make Orders for a laugh.  If you go along without a solicitor then you will be at the mercy of the court and the prosecution.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Shambles at court

I spent the day at Thames Magistrates Court today.  The court is a mess, completely disorganised and in total confusion.  I was told that the court was understaffed, which is probably due to the constant cuts in the criminal justice system.

One man I saw appeared charged with theft.  The brief facts were that he had printed his own bar codes, which matched genuine products from the store, onto sticky labels that he then used to put on items in the shop so that when he took the products through the checkout he would be charged only a fraction of the true value of the good.  Quite a clever way to steal items normally too large to get out of a shop un-noticed.

If I had been prosecuting I would have made the blindingly obvious decision to amend the charge to fraud and attempted theft.  The reason being that the use of fake bar codes is intended to deceive the person working the checkout.  Had I been the judge I would have taken the view that the offence was aggravated by a high level of planning and sophistication.  As the judge I would have given serious thought to whether my sentencing powers were sufficient to deal with an offence like this.

None of that happened and the defendant received a conditional discharge.  Why did he receive such a low sentence?  Because the prosecutor had been too busy to properly consider the papers that had arrived in court just a few minutes before the hearing.  Therefore, instead of amending the charge he simply went with what was on the papers and read out the case summary.  The magistrates heard an exceptionally mild version of the offence to the point where no mitigation of the offence was necessary.

Underfunding of the criminal justice system leads to rushed decisions and rushed decision are rarely good decisions.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Big brother (and his mates) are watching

There is a programme that I am told is shown on the television called "The News".  This television programme has a number of, what I assume are spin-off daily and weekly pamphlets, called "Newspapers".  I try to avoid both the television and printed versions as they drive me right up the sodding wall!  However, I've been unable to escape the story of how the Government is planning to introduce legislation, similar to that it opposed in opposition (lying bastard politicians), that will allow the police and MI5 (and no doubt your local council) to intercept you electronic communications.  Obviously, they won't be allowed to read any of the intercepts (and I'm sure we all trust government employees not to sneak a peek) without a warrant from a judge.

If this story is true then it is an outrageous intrusion into our privacy. 

There are already procedures in place that allow intercepts to be performed.  But they do have a lot of rather boring and tedious rules associated with them.  Given that intercepts can already be performed lawfully with good reason, I can only assume that the new information will be sought where there is not good reason, i.e. the Government is arranging a fishing expedition for the security services.  As with most things politicians do, it's not the doing that is important but the being seen to appear to be doing.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter what our lot get up to because as usual they do it bigger and better in the USA.  The US Government, through the National Security Agency (NSA) is currently spending about $2 billion on a brand spanking new home for its cyber spies.  The facility in Bluffdale is designed to house up to a yottabyte of data (that's about 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pages of text or about a quadrillion gigabytes), which will be processed by a supercomputer capable of speeds over 1.75 petaflops (one petaflop means the execution of a quadrillion operations every second).

The purpose of this facility is to monitor and read all electronic communications.  To be clear, electronic communications includes emails, website visits, web searches and most telephone calls.  The NSA, like our own GCHQ, already has the ability to monitor communications for certain key words and flag up those words for more detailed examination.  However, the new NSA facility will do this on a truly industrial scale and it will monitor ALL communications not just particular ones from specific targets.

Why should we care about some secret US listening post?  It has nothing to do with us because we're not American, right?  Don't forget that our own Government already allows a giant US satellite listening post at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, which has just undergone a multi-million pound refit and currently sports 33 eavesdropping domes.

So while the UK Government plans to allow British intelligence services to listen into our communications for somewhat vague reasons, it seems that the US will also be monitoring us.

I am a little surprised that there's been very little press attention paid to the US plans.

On a side note, I suppose if we really wanted to annoy the NSA we could all sign up for huge amounts of spam mail and let the NSA fill its data centres with that rubbish for a bit... they probably have quite good spam filters though I imagine.