The last 12 months brought numerous legal events and, doubtless, 2012 will do the same. During 2011, it was sometimes difficult to choose which events to focus on but some of the stories were compelling.
January 2011 - "Policing" figured highly, particularly with the use of undercover Police Officers such as PC Mark Kennedy - see Climate Change Protesters sentenced ... use of undercover Police Officer revealed (where it was noted that a second trial, due to commence in early January, had been suddenly "dropped" ... Climate Change No. 3 ... where we looked at just some of the serious questions raised by the use of undercover officers ... Climate Change No. 4 ... where the Policing Minister (Nick Herbert MP) announced that the role of ACPO was to change. These matters raised serious questions about policing in a modern democracy and also about the the criminal justice system. We do not (yet) have really satisfactory answers.
February 2011 - The government's much vaunted
"Protection of Freedoms Bill" was finally published and it was a very lengthy document which I opted to look at over 8 further posts. It was turgid reading since the Bill largely amends other legislation using the cut-and-paste method beloved of legislators. Some important changes will be made (e.g. retention of DNA profiles). Several areas will become governed by "soft law" in the form of Codes of Practice which can be "taken into account" in legal proceedings - e.g. powers of entry; surveillance camera systems etc. However, taken overall, it is a Bill which will actually achieve little to enhance freedom.
- A look at the Protection of Freedoms Bill – No.1
- Protection of Freedoms Bill – No. 2 – Public Reading Stage
- An Englishman’s Home is His Castle but ….. Protection of Freedoms Bill No. 3
- Vehicle immobilisation (clamping) … The Protection of Freedoms Bill No. 4
- “Big Brother” powers – the Protection of Freedoms Bill No. 5
- “Counter-terrorism powers” – The Protection of Freedoms Bill – No.6
- Vetting and Barring and Criminal Records: The Protection of Freedoms Bill No.7
- Freedom of Information and Data: The Protection of Freedoms Bill No.8
March - The Commission to examine a British Bill of Rights was announced. This may yet have far-reaching consequences.
April - The UK government was given 6 months to implement a change to the law relating to prisoners and the vote. It is obvious that the British government has no wish whatsoever to implement the European Court of Human Rights decision in Hirst No.2. The 6 months passed and an outcome to all this is still awaited. There was more about climate change and protest (Ratcliffe-on-Soar) and about arrests in London just before the Royal Wedding.
May - The Ian Tomlinson inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing. A Police Officer stands charged the manslaughter of Mr Tomlinson and and trial is scheduled to held in the summer of 2012. The British people voted NO to the proposed Alternative Vote. The government brought forward proposals for reform of the House of Lords - (here and here) - a matter which has now dragged on for over 100 years and which, despite the immense importance of the subject, appeared to score a "Yawn Factor" of 10 on a score of 1 to 10.
June - the series on "Explaining our Law" eventually ran to 8 posts:
No.2 - Courts of Law and Tribunals
No.3 - The Judges
No.4 - Juries
No.5 - Magistrates
At the very end of June came the Hookway case which raised the question of the length of time for which persons may be held without charge. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 had been interpreted and applied by the Police in a manner which was out of kilter with the actual wording of the legislation. Eventually, an appeal to the Supreme Court was pre-empted by a very brief enactment intended to put beyond doubt the Police interpretation of the law. It is unusual for the government to secure legislation in this way before the process of appeals through the courts is exhausted and it might have been preferable for Mc Combe J's judgment to have been examined by the Supreme Court.
July - The News of the World scandal hit the headlines. What might be seen as "close links" between British politicians and senior figures connected with News International were revealed. Eventually, the Leveson Inquiry was set up and spent much of the autumn taking evidence from "star-studded" witnesses each of whom seemed to have his or her own grievance to air against the media. The Inquiry is set to rumble on for some time - (it will be broken down into four modules) - and I see reason to fear the outcome in terms of media freedom. Whilst there is no doubt that elements in the media have acted unlawfully, disgracefully and irresponsibly it must be remembered that the media is one of the few successful methods by which official iniquity is revealed. Would the scandal of MP's and their expenses have been revealed as clearly with a gagged media? Also, the phone-hacking scandal itself was revealed by the media.
The Riot (Damages) Act 1886; Defence of Property (what the citizen may lawfully do when the Police are not there); Bail and sentencing; Blanket refusal to bail (cases of individual offenders should be considered on their individual merits); More on sentencing and whether Voices of Calm would prevail.
September - The story of Stockport nurse Rebecca Leighton brought the story of CHARGE on Reasonable Suspicion. The charges against her were subsequently dropped but she was subsequently dismissed from her employment. There was also an interim report from the Commission for a British Bill of Rights which put forward points for Ministers to raise with the Council of Europe. The possibility of the Police using the Official Secrets Acts against the media was raised - "Blunderbusses and Armalites" and "Using PACE 1984 to obtain disclosure of journalist sources."
October - The month of Political Party Conferences. Theresa May told us how a cat decided the outcome of an immigration case - in fact, the cat had only a "bit" part. The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) spoke about sentencing for disorder-related offences and it was hardly surprising to learn that most of the offenders received short shrift. After all, the Court of Appeal does not overturn sentences unless they are "manifestly excessive." The government's Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was nearing the end of its time in the House of Commons - see "Rights without access to justice are not rights at all."
November - Mr Julian Assange continued to fight the European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden and retired Lord Justice of Appeal Scott-Baker informed us that the UK's extradition arrangements with the USA were generally acceptable! Many disagree! Next came the Supreme Court's decision in "Jones v Kernott - Cohabitation: what about the house? A cautionary tale" and Jones v Kernott Part 2. This case is of major importance to those unmarried cohabitees who obtain a home together but later split up.
The government's Justice and Security Green Paper was issued and seeks to make major and far-reaching changes to the procedure in those civil cases and Coroner's inquests if it is claimed that national security is involved. I spent much midnight oil on this and I hope - (perhaps beyond hope) - that it was worth it - Post 1, Post 2 and Post 3.
December - A return to the August disorder with "Reading the Riots: Stop and Search powers" which, not for the first time, were said to create distrust between the Police and those frequently targeted. Other December stories included the Supreme Court's interesting decision in R v Armel Gnango; the issuing of a writ of habeas corpus to secure the release of a man held in Afghanistan (here and here). The writ may be made to look exceptionally anachronistic if the Americans decide that they are not going to release this man. Finally, a look at the Norgrove Family Justice Review (here and here).
Those were, at least for me, the major stories of 2011. It was both enjoyable and instructive to produce the blog and the various posts which, I hope, do something to explain our complicated legal arrangements and law. It was also interesting to take occasional dips into matters such as legal history (on which much more could be written); ecclesiastical law; the law and the Royal Family; our very peculiar land law and, occasionally, some obscure areas of law such as the defence of insanity in criminal law etc.
2012 promises to be yet another blockbuster of a legal year and I feel sure that there will be many more stories worthy of attention. To all readers: thank you for following the blog and thanks for your comments. To the many other bloggers - thanks for your support and kind comments and please keep up the good work. Here's to a Happy and, above all, Peaceful 2012.