Friday, 14 January 2011

A Year On .... Yorkshire Ripper to serve "whole life" ... more on the climate change case

Law and Lawyers blog is one year old - hence the little birthday card.  It has been an interesting year and 2011 promises to be even more challenging as various policies and legal changes begin to take effect.   The very first post on this blog hoped that, from time to time, the blog would throw at least a little light on the laws which govern us and the lawyers who implement those laws.  That will continue to be the aim of the blog.

Criminal Conduct at the extreme end of horror

Peter William Coonan (formerly Peter Sutcliffe - labelled "The Yorkshire Ripper") made an application to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) against the "whole life order" which was imposed in July 2010 by Mitting J.  He was convicted in 1981 of the murders of 13 women in West Yorkshire in the period October 1975 to November 1980.  He pleaded guilty to the attempted murders of 7 others.  The trial judge - Boreham J -
recommended that Sutlciffe serve 30 years though it now appears that he would have preferred to have made a "whole life" recommendation.  See the judgment of the High Court in July 2010 and also Law and Lawyers March 2010.   The latest Court of Appeal judgment is R v Peter Coonan (formerly Sutcliffe) [2011] EWCA Crim 5.    Lord Judge LCJ makes it clear that this was criminal conduct at the "extreme end of horror" and that the interests of justice require nothing less than a whole life order.  It was also made clear that the correctness of the verdict of the jury was not open to question.  "Judges making the assessments under schedule 22 of the 2003 Act cannot impose a sentence which would reflect a defence which was not established when, as a matter of law, it should have been established by the defendant, or superimpose their own judgments on issues of provocation and self defence, contrary to the verdicts of the jury."

The Ratcliffe-on-Soar case - challenge to convictions possible:
The trial of 6 persons in connection with the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station was discontinued at the beginning of this week since it appeared that a Police Officer who had acted undercover had offered to give evidence for the defence - Law and Lawyers Monday 10th January - "Climate Change Protest - No.2 - Undercover Police Officer."    This has raised much concern about the use of undercover officers - (known nowadays as "covert human intelligence sources" or CHIS).   In The Guardian 14th January - "Mark Kennedy and the strange case of undercover sex" - Afua Hirsch begins - "There are already STDs and contraception to worry about, but it seems this week a new hazard has been added to the already perilous world of sexual relationships – your partner might just be an undercover police officer."  She then goes on to look at some of the issues involved with the use of undercover officers.    Not surprisingly, the collapse of this case has placed questions over the convictions of others for conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass - see Law and Lawyer 8th January - Climate Protesters Sentenced.  It is now reported that a challenge to the safety of those convictions is possible - The Guardian 13th January - "Activists challenge convictions in wake of police spy revelations."

See also - The Guardian (Afua Hirsch) - "Mark Kennedy case: News of sexual liaisons may result in civil actions."

Surveillance raises a considerable array of legal issues.  In recent years there has an increase in the statutory regulation of various activities which have always taken place to some extent.  These activities include interception of communications (now regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part I); the use of "bugging devices" on premises (Police Act 1997 Part III) and covert surveillance (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part II).
Addendum - Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation

It has been announced that the IPCC is to investigate alleged failures by Nottinghamshire Police to disclose relevant material to the Crown Prosecution Service in the Ratcliffe-on-Soar trial which was discontinued on Monday 10th January.  Here is the IPCC announcement.

Addendum 2 - 15th January:  The Guardian published a further story about the use of an undercover officer  in Cardiff - see "Third undercover police spy unmasked as scale of network emerges."  The article also indicates that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary is to examine whether the use of undercover officers in the context of investigating the activities of potential protesters was "proportionate."  "Proportionality" between the objective sought and the method(s) used is one of the tests which has to be applied when considering authorisation for the use of covert sources.

1 comment:

  1. The article also indicates that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary is to examine whether the use of undercover officers in the context of investigating the activities of potential protesters was "proportionate. Best Lawyers