Sunday, 31 March 2013

Is this a sensible way to do things?

It's Easter Sunday and I've been sat about for the past 14-hours waiting for clients to be interviewed in the police station.

I have one in Chiswick.  I have called the police several times through the night and day.  So far, there doesn't seem to be a police officer assigned to interview this chap.  I therefore have no idea when he will be interviewed.  I do know; however, that if officers ask for an extension to the 24-hour period they can hold him for I will be objecting on the basis that for the first 15-hours of his detention they appear to have done bugger all.

I have two clients being held in Hounslow.  They have also been in custody about 15-hours.  I understand an officer has been assigned to interview these boys.  However, the officer is based at Acton.  The obvious thing to do would be for the officer to take the 20 minute drive to Hounslow, interview them and get on with it, particularly as Acton has no cells available to hold them.  For some reason, the plan is to have 4 or 5 officers travel from Acton to Hounslow, drive both suspects back to Acton where the investigating officer can question them, but only once cells become available at Acton.  Having spoken to the custody sergeant I understand that these two with be the third and fourth suspects to be transferred in this way today!

All three suspects have been arrested as they have been named as being involved in offences, so it can hardly be a surprise to the police that these people are in custody.

Admittedly, I'm probably more annoyed than usual because I had to cancel dinner and my little boy's easter egg hunt at my mum and dad's house to wait for these interviews.

UPDATE.  It's now 18.15, which is about 18-hours after the people mentioned in this post were arrested. The suspects at Hounslow have been transferred to Acton.  As this has freed up some space at Hounslow the obvious thing to do is to transfer prisoners from Chiswick to Hounslow.  So, that's what's happening.

Incidentally, having spoken to custody I am told that officers have been assigned to these cases but have not bothered to make any substantive contact with custody staff since being assigned and that the officers have not been answering their telephones all day. 

I honestly hope that these people are never asked to organise anything as difficult as a piss up in a brewery.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Addicts

I dealt with a man at the police station today who is an alcoholic.  Unlike most addicts I come across he accepted he had a problem and genuine appeared to want to change but also recognised that he isn't capable of doing anything about his problem alone.

The first response of many people when they think about addicts is to say either that they decided to do the drug and so they brought the addiction on themselves or that the addict should do something to sort themselves out.  In reality, neither of these ideas is helpful.  First, whether the person brought it on themselves or not is irrelevant insofar as them beating their addiction is concerned.  Secondly, it's often not so easy to simply do something about it.

I am quite fat.  I need to lose weight.  I know how to do this.  Eat healthily and cut down on the booze for a while (I'm writing this with a pint in hand waiting for a takeaway delivery).  In reality it's not that easy.  I ate a lot of healthy foods a couple of weeks ago and lost half a stone.  I then had what seems like not very much bad food at all and put most of the weight back on last week! 

If I'm completely honest, I don't really like chocolate that much.  But, I know there's some in the kitchen and I know that come the morning there won't be any left.  When I eat chocolate I usually feel a rush as I bite into it followed by an urge to eat it until it's all gone.  I know why this happens, because the chocolate is associated with pleasure and reward and so activates the reward centres in my brain causing a release of dopamine.  This is exactly what happens when a drug addict uses his or her drug.

If I can't give up eating like a fat bastard then imagine how hard it must be for somebody who is addicted to alcohol or drugs.

I gave this chap some homework to do from the police station, namely call some agencies and see if they can help him find temporary accommodation, normally a client who isn't really motivated will get annoyed by this suggestion.  But, this fellow was straight on it the moment we left the consultation room. 

The problem he has is that all of the agencies who might be able to help are closed for the Easter break.  To be honest, when they are operating they aren't much use.  He will be produced in court tomorrow morning and I can guarantee that there will be nobody there who can help him find a place to stay.  The upshot is likely to be that he is remanded in custody, misses the opportunity to continue the work he has already started and is released in a month with his will to fight his addiction shattered.

I've said this before and I'll say it again.  We, as a nation, have the choice of deciding to accept that people become addicts and telling them that it is their problem or actually investing resources into fighting addictions and preventing people from becoming addicts in the future.

Real investment (by which I don't mean huge sums of money spent shotgun fashion as seems to be the case with much of government spending) targeted in the right places coupled with meaningful changes to the law will do more than anything else to reduce crime across the board.

PS just so we're clear, if you want to criticise the typos that certainly exist in this blog then feel free and, to answer you question, no I don't usually bother to proof read these things - I already told you I have been in my hand and a takeaway en route... a fat man's gotta prioritise!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Huhne, Pryce and Grayling

Earlier today the former wife of former minister and former MP, Chris Huhne, was convicted of perverting the course of justice after the failure of her defence of marital coercion.

The failure of that defence is no great shock.  To succeed the wife must convince a jury that she was so completely under the control of her husband at the time that she had no free will and no choice but to obey her husband.  It is a defence that made sense when it was introduced in a time when women had practically no rights and were expected to obey their husbands in all things.  In the modern world it is a defence that will succeed only in the most extreme circumstances.  It is probably time for this archaic defence to be removed from the statute book.

What is more interesting, from a criminal lawyers point of view, about this case is the rank of counsel instructed.

Like all Lord Chancellors, the current inhabitant of the office was appointed because of his lengthy experience of our legal system and his thorough understanding not only of the law but also of the courts and processes by which justice is achieved.  Hang on.. sorry... now I think about it that's total bollocks.  He has no idea about the law, legal system or anything else so far as I can tell.

In Mr Grayling's expert opinion senior lawyers should not be available to the sort of oik who receives legal aid.  I suppose the reasoning must be that if they want the best then they should pay... why should "ordinaries" receive the top-level of lawyer available?  Obviously he didn't say that.  He claimed that junior counsel are just as good and that most QC's are over the hill any way.  He made the point that a junior a month away from taking Silk is just as good the month before he or she becomes Queen's Counsel and they cost half the price.  That makes sense, if only there were a pool of junior counsel constantly a month away from taking Silk.  For obvious reasons there isn't such a pool.

Since our esteemed Lord Chancellor believes that even murder cases should be using junior counsel in place of QC's I was surprised to see Chris Hunhe and Ms Pryce (sorry I can't recall her first name and I refuse to waste my time looking it up) were being prosecuted by a QC.  Was the CPS lawyer who instructed Counsel not aware that a junior a month away from taking Silk is just as good but only half the price?  Did the Lord Chancellor not drive home the importance of not using Silks to the Director of Public Prosecutions?  Incidentally, the DPP is paid significantly more than most legal aid lawyers.  I can't be the only one thinking that the head of the CPS could just as easily be a junior lawyer as a QC, which is what Keir Starmer is.  They could save millions over the entirety of his tenure in the top job.  I hope therefore that we will see Mr Starmer ousted from his cushy job, for which Mr Grayling must believe he is greatly over-qualified.

Returning to the Huhne's (former and current), the case was historic and not very complicated.  It presented no significant challenges out of the ordinary for that type of case that I can see.  So, why did the CPS instruct a QC?  The answer is surely because, as the commercial bar readily admit, the reputation of the criminal bar around the world acts as a great driver for legal tourism to the UK, which is very big business with over-seas companies and oligarchs choosing to settle their differences in London's courts.  Grayling, Starmer, et al do not want the UK to look bad in front of the world's press.

Let's be clear.  The reason Grayling and co want to prevent defendants receiving representation from QC's is not because they want to save money.  I am informed that so far there have been a number of murders handled by junior counsel that have gone bad necessitating retrials with QC's instructed.  These cases cost more than double the price of simply instructing Silks from the start!  The reason Grayling and friends is pushing this nonsense is a) they want to look like they are cutting back on spending on criminals; and b) they no doubt hope that by using less experienced and less senior advocates they will get better conviction rates.  As usual it's a case of politicians trying to look like they are doing something rather than them actually doing it.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

My Week

Justice atop the Old Bailey
I hardly ever blog about what I actually do so I thought I'd take the opportunity to describe my activities over the past week.

Monday - Wednesday

The week began with a trial for violent disorder at the Old Bailey.  The trial was scheduled to last 4-days for reasons unknown to me since it was really a two-day case.  But, as these things tend to do the trial managed to run far longer than it should have done.

The major problem was that the defendant is deaf and requires the assistance of speech-to-text technology.  This sounds much grander than it is.  Two stenographers take turns to type what is being said in court and that appears on the defendant's screen so he can follow proceedings.  For some reason, only one of the stenographers had a wireless keyboard while the other had only a very short wire.  They couldn't sit in the dock because then they couldn't hear what was being said.  Nor could they sit at the back of the court because they also could not hear.  The judge was unwilling to allow the defendant (who was in any case on bail) to leave the dock.  That little conundrum took up the entire morning of the first day.

We had further similar delays, which all made for one unhappy judgey.

I think the point at which the judge really got angry was when I demanded he re-open the evidence after both sides had made closing speeches.  You see, I had agreed an admission about the fate of some money.  It was information only within the knowledge of the police and not something I would expect my client to be able to contradict.  However, it emerged subsequently that the admission was wrong and I had been misled.  The judge had a minor fit and refused to allow the admissions to be corrected.  I sat down mumbling about an appeal, at which point the prosecutor kindly joined me in calling for the admissions to be edited.  Judgey was nonetheless unmoved.  Eventually he begrudgingly accepted that I could make an application to re-open the evidence, which I did saying I wished to call the police officer as a defence witness.  At that point his Judgeliness gave in and allowed us to just amend the admissions.  A good 30 minutes was wasted in this way and put the summing up back to after lunch.

The trial ended with the defendant convicted.  Not a great surprise given the overwhelming evidence.  He had offered to plead guilty a couple of times through the case but had always changed his mind after discussing it with his mum.

That took us to 4.30pm on Wednesday.  I then went directly into a police station duty, which lasted until 11pm and threw up three cases.

The first case I dealt with late on Wednesday evening was a lady who had been accused of cultivating cannabis.  She was interviewed and bailed to return next month.

Thursday

On Thursday I was expecting to deal with a death by dangerous driving case for Biker Defence Solicitors in south London.  However, the police notified me late on Wednesday that it was to be a re-bail, so I was free to deal with the two remaining police station cases from my duty the previous evening.

I got to the police station for 10.30am for the first case was an ABH in which a woman was accused of causing ABH to a man and simultaneously assaulting a second man and a woman.  For the first time I can recall in my career I had serious concerns about whether this lady understood the caution.  I spoke to her immediately before the interview, which was about 40 minutes after our first consultation, and she did not appear to remember what we had discussed!  Nonetheless, we managed to get through the "no comment" interview without a hitch and my notes are marked that I do not think she understood the caution just in case I am ever called to give evidence on the point.

My second case was a far more complicated fraud in which tens (possibly thousands) of pounds worth of goods had been fraudulently purchased using false documents, stolen credit cards, etc.  The final interview in that case finished around 10pm and the suspect was bailed to return.

Friday

Last year I swapped a couple of court duties with other solicitors.  It was now my turn to cover one of their court duties.  I spent the day at Ealing Magistrates' Court where I dealt with three case.  The first, a drink driver, received a short ban and very small fine given the circumstances of the offence were aggravated by a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre of a marked police van at speed in the face of on-coming traffic.

The second case is the sort of thing that makes me quite angry.  A lady was accused of failing to notify the local authority of a change of circumstances - basically this is benefit fraud.  She was claiming housing benefit and is still entitled to housing benefit, as evidenced by the council still housing her, so I am not sure how real a fraud this is!  She had been summonsed to court last week but failed to attend.  The authority requested a warrant for her arrest, which is how she came to be at Ealing Mags.  The thing that makes me angry is that the authority sent the summons to her old address, knowing she had moved - they know because they re-housed her themselves!  They then failed to tell the court about their own error and asked for her to be arrested.  She is somebody who has never been in trouble but was arrested and held in the cells over night for no good reason.  The local authority couldn't even be bothered to send anybody to court for this hearing.  She was released on bail.

The final case was an assault in which the "victim" states no assault took place but somebody else insists it did happen.  Client appears in custody as he had failed to attend the last hearing.  The reason he failed to attend was they the police bailed him to a day the court wasn't sitting. The CPS accepted this and no Bail Act offence was put to him.  A trial fixed with the "victim" to appear as a defence witness.

Saturday

Back on duty to cover a local police station from 7am - 3pm.  Spent the day sitting about waiting for the phone to ring while my girlfriend and son went house-hunting.

In the end I received no calls.