Friday, 23 June 2017

Swift justice ~ Communications Act 2003 s.127

There are times when the administration of justice can be swift as demonstrated by the case of Mr Omega Mwaikambo (M).

It is reported - Mirror 16th June - that M made cups of tea for firefighters as they battled the Grenfell Tower fire.  He noticed that a body had been placed into a body bag and left on the ground.   According to the prosecutor (Tom Little) - M uploaded photographs and video of the deceased inside the body bag and then five photographs of the upper body and the face and the blood that had drained from the body.  According to the defence (Michelle Denney), M found the deceased person and was shocked by the fact the body was there and felt a sense of shock that the body was unattended.  He tried to find someone to come and help but "there was not one else in sight" and he took the photos to "show how the victim was being treated" and get someone's attention.

The offence:

M was charged with two offences under the Communications Act 2003 section 127(1) - Improper use of public electronic communications network. The case was dealt with at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

State Opening ~ Confidence and Supply ~ Concerns over Good Friday Agreement

21st June 2017 is the Summer Solstice and, on this occasion, it is also the State Opening of Parliament when HM The Queen delivers the Queen's Speech setting out the government's plans for the coming session of Parliament.  There will not be a Queen's Speech in 2018 and so this session of Parliament will last for 2 years.  The government's reason for this is the amount of legislation to be considered including what has been referred to as "the Great Repeal Bill" dealing with the legal consequences of Brexit.  The Queen's Speech will be the subject of a 6 day debate in the House of Commons commencing 21st June and ending 29th June.  Proposed amendments to the Queen's Speech will be dealt with on 28th and 29th June.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Criminal liability of corporations

The Grenfell Tower fire on 14th June is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police.  Mr David Lammy MP called for charges of corporate manslaughter to be brought - see The Guardian 15th June.  Here is a brief look at the relevant law.

Corporations such as limited companies are, in law, legal entities distinct from the individuals who direct them or are employed by them.  The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 introduced a statutory offence of corporate manslaughter and abolished the common law liability of corporations for manslaughter.

The offence is defined in section 1 and certain types of organisation may be found guilty of the offence.  The offence is concerned with the way in which the activities of an organisation (e.g. company) are managed or organised.  It has to be shown that this caused a person's death and amounted to gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Mrs May is right to decide on an INQUIRY into Grenfell Tower fire

Today, 17th June, it has been announced that 58 people have died as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire which occurred on 14th June.  There has been debate about whether the correct legal response is an inquest or an inquiry.  The Prime Minister has announced that there is to be an inquiry led by a judge.   Fuller details of the inquiry are awaited but it seems likely that it will be held under the Inquiries Act 2005.

It is not that the Inquiries Act 2005 is a perfect tool because the legislation gives Ministers considerable power in relation to certain aspects of an inquiry.  Criticism of the Act may be seen in this Select Committee report at paragraphs 197 and 198.   The Act replaced the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 and was hurriedly enacted as part of the so-called "wash-up" process just prior to the 2005 general election.  Nevertheless, the Act was subjected to post-legislative scrutiny by a Select Committee which made 33 recommendations - Committee Report 11th March 2014.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Civil Contingencies - a brief note

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is the location of the 14th June disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower - a high-rise block of flats.  The Borough also has a large number of empty properties and the Council has put in place a number of measures to try to reduce the number - see RBKC Empty Homes and CityA.M 21st April 2017 where it is said that the Borough has the most empty properties of any London Borough.

The Independent 15th June reports that Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn has called for homes left vacant in Kensington and Chelsea by overseas investors to be “requisitioned” in order to rehouse those left homeless due to the Grenfell Tower fire. Is there a legal power to do this?

The (elusive) decision to leave the EU

Has the UK made a legally valid decision to leave the EU?

Article 50:

Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union states that "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements."  Article 50(2) commences - "A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention ..."

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Baby Charlie Gard ~ European Court of Human Rights interim measure

The European Court of Human Rights has decided to continue to indicate to the United Kingdom Government that they should provide Charlie Gard, a baby suffering from a rare genetic disease, with such treatment and nursing care as may be appropriate to ensure that he suffers the least distress and retains the greatest dignity consistent, insofar as possible, with maintaining life.  The court's Press release dated 13th June 2017 is available via THIS LINK.  The Press Release states that the "interim measure" continues until the court decides on any substantive application that may be submitted.  In the event that no substantive application is submitted, the interim measure shall be maintained until midnight on Monday 19 June 2017.

Swearing in of MPs

It is a long standing legal requirement that Members of Parliament (House of Lords and House of Commons) are required to pledge allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen.

Based on their opposition to British Sovereignty over Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin representatives have traditionally refused to take their seats in the House of Commons.  It follows that they refuse to pledge allegiance to the Queen.  The consequence is that they may not participate in proceedings in Parliament - e.g. debates, voting, committees etc.   They are permitted to use office accommodation and to claim MP's expenses - Sinn Féin, Allowances and Access to Commons Facilities - 2006.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Monday 12th June - New Lord Chancellor and other matters

The Prime Minister is forming her government and the appointments may be seen via the No. 10 Downing Street website.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice:

Rt Hon David Lidington MP becomes Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.  His appointment has been welcomed in some quarters (Law Society, Bar Council) but, for my part, I will wait to see how he performs. There is much to be done in relation to the prison system.  There are also serious issues concerning the reduction of legal aid which took place following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011 (LASPO).  Then there is the major programme of modernisation of the court system.  A Prisons and Courts Bill

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sunday roundup

Baby Charlie Gard:

The Supreme Court has rejected an application for appeal in the terribly sad and distressing case of Baby Charlie Gard.  The application hearing in the Supreme Court may be heard HERE.   See also the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) judgment and the judgment of Mr Justice Francis in the High Court.

The case is now before the European Court of Human Rights with a view to that court hearing the parent's application - BBC News 9th June

Friday, 9 June 2017

General Election June 2017 - the immediate outcome

Updated 10th June:

The General Election held on 8th June 2017 produced what is referred to as a "Hung Parliament" - that is, one in which there is no political party in the House of Commons with an outright majority over all other parties.  The outcome was that the Conservative and Unionist Party won the most seats in the Commons.  The result may be seen at BBC - Election 2017.  The 5 parties with the most seats were:

Conservatives - 318 seats (loss of 12) - 42.4% Vote share

Labour - 261 seats (gain of 29) - 40.0% vote share

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Reflections on Theresa May's human rights comments

Speaking to voters in Slough on Tuesday 6th June, the Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May) said that she will make it easier to deport foreign terror suspects back “to their own countries” and would “restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects” if re-elected on 8 June - The Independent 7th June 2017.  Mrs May referred to changing laws if they impeded efforts to fight the increasingly “complex” terror threat.  It was essential to ensure that the Police and Security services have the powers they need as the threat changes, evolves and become more complex.  Mrs May went on to say: “I mean longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terrorist suspects back to their own countries. And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.  And if our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it."

Monday, 5 June 2017

Responding to terrorist attacks

Terrorist crimes in Manchester (May 2017) and London (June 2017) prompted the Prime Minister to make this statement in which Mrs May said: "We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change, and they need to change in 4 important ways."

1.  The attacks were 'bound together by the single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division, and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sentencing - new guidelines

The Sentencing Council has issued new Guidelines for cases where there is a guilty plea.  One guideline applies regardless of the date of the offence to all individual offenders aged 18 and older and to organisations in cases where the first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017. The guideline applies equally in magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court.

Reduction in sentence for a guilty plea: Definitive guideline

New guidelines are also in force for sentencing of children and young people where sentencing takes place on or after 1st June 2017, regardless of the date of the offence.

Sentencing children and young people

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Some current legal stories

Here are some current legal stories - in no particular order:

"Sometimes you try and you do not succeed" says the Waiting for Godot blog.   The Dublin Case - brought in Ireland by Jolyon Maugham QC and others - sought to establish whether the Article 50 notice could be withdrawn unilaterally.  The litigants hoped that the Irish court would make a reference to the Court of Justice of the EU.  This litigation has now been abandoned for reasons set out HERE.

Professor Mark Elliott of Cambridge University

Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Manchester Arena atrocity

Here in Manchester, it has been a week blessed with the finest of weather that only an English spring can produce.  It was also a desperately sad week in which we saw both the worst and the best of humanity played out in this great northern city. 

 On the evening of Monday 22nd May, at 22.33 hrs BST, a bomb was detonated in the foyer of the Manchester Arena – BBC News 23rd May.   22 people were killed and 116 injured (many seriously) – BBC News 27th May.   The bomb was detonated as people were leaving the Arena following a concert by US singer Ariana Grande.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Lady Justice Hallett and the jury

On 20th May, Lady Justice Hallett gave the 2017 Blackstone Lecture at Pembroke College, Oxford.  Her topic was Trial by Jury - Past and Present.   This was an interesting lecture, offering a good account of the pros and cons of the jury system.  It concludes by Her Ladyship advocating a continued role for the jury in criminal trials "of sufficient seriousness to society or to the individual accused to justify the use of resources."

"Justifying the use of resources" may not prove to be a primrose path for the jury system and it could prove to be a temptation to politicians who seek to reduce the amount of money spent on justice.  It begs the obvious question as to what level of seriousness will justify the use of a jury.  A commonly offered example is low-value theft where some argue that the right of defendants to elect for jury trial should be abolished.  The right remains but recent reforms to the law in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 s.176 should be noted - (Explanatory Notes).

The Trial: Murder in the Family

The Trial: Murder in the Family was screened by Channel 4 over 5 episodes in May 2017.  Simon Davis (played by actor Michael Gould) is charged with the murder of his wife Carla.  The programme has a fictitious script but counsel are practising barristers Max Hill QC and Michelle Nelson for the prosecution.  John Ryder QC and Lucy Organ appear for the defence.  The judge is played by retired judge Brian Barker QC who had a very distinguished career at the Bar and as a trial judge.  He sat in the Central Criminal Court from 2000 to 2015.  The jury is made up of 12 members of the public and we get to see how they go about their consideration of the evidence and their individual viewpoints.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

General Election - What will happen to Fixed-term Parliaments and Human Rights

Updated 25th May 2017

Fixed-term Parliaments:

The Conservative Party manifesto commits to repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.  The Act was passed to underpin the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition established after the 2010 General Election.  It sought to prevent the Prime Minister - (then David Cameron) - from "calling an election" at a time of his choosing.

As we have seen recently, the Act did not prevent Prime Minister Theresa May from getting the general election she wanted but she had first to secure a favourable vote from the House of Commons. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Party manifestos and Brexit

The political party manifestos for the 2017 General Election have been published and they offer rather different positions regarding Brexit.  The Conservative and Unionist Party - (unlike 2015, they use their full title in the manifesto) - seeks a "deep and special partnership" with the EU but also states starkly that "no deal is better than a bad deal."  The Labour Party accepts Brexit but puts forward its case for a new approach to negotiations.  The Liberal Democrats will fight against a "hard Brexit" and offer a referendum on the deal reached with the EU.

The 2 year Article 50 clock is already ticking - Article 50(3) TEU -  and the immense amount of negotiation to be conducted is scheduled to begin on 19th June and negotiations will be conducted in accordance with EU Council guidelines - (previous post). The 2 year period is intended to be used to "negotiate and conclude an agreement ... setting out the arrangements for ... withdrawal, taking account of the framework for ... future relationship with the Union."  It is not entirely clear what a framework for future relationship entails but it seems likely that it will have to address fundamental points such as the UK's financial settlement and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU(27).  Whatever the final content of the withdrawal agreement, much detail will remain to be addressed after the 2 year period expires.  Any view that everything can be concluded by March 2019 appears to be unrealistic.