Tuesday, 29 May 2012
The Justice and Security Bill and other things
Update 4th June 2012: On the Paul Chambers case see New Statesman article reporting that a fresh appeal will be heard on 27th June with the Lord Chief Justice presiding.
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The much awaited Justice and Security Bill which has finally been published. This post also looks at the medieval relic of "Law terms" though "terms" is the wrong term! Also, Divisional Courts in the High Court; the "Twitter Joke" case; and the imminent Supreme Court judgment in the Assange case.
The Justice and Security Bill has obviously been in preparation for some time but has now been published - see Bills before Parliament - Justice and Security Bill. A sticking point within the coalition government seems to have been whether inquests in Coroner's Courts should be brought within the remit of the Bill. Very soon, I hope to write a post containing a detailed look at the Bill. The UK Human Rights blog is "on the ball" this morning and has published a post linking to various resources which will assist with analysis of the Bill. See also the earlier Law and Lawyer posts concerning the Justice and Security Green Paper.
The fact that this matter has gone straight from Green paper to a Bill shows the importance being attached by the government to getting this highly controversial Bill into law.
Keeping Coroner's Courts out of the scope of the bill will avoid the thorny idea of vetted juries. I cannot imagine that everyone in the present government will be happy about keeping inquests out but the idea of security vetted juries would surely have proved to be unacceptable - see CharonQC - Fancy being a secret juror and be subject to VERY THOROUGH vetting by MI5 and MI6"
Whilst on the topic of inquests, the Home Office has issued a progress report relating to recommendations made by the London Bombings Inquest of 7th July 2005. In January 2011, the Home Secretary claimed that certain material was subject to Public Interest Immunity (PII).
Law "terms" - The Easter Law "term" comes to an end on Friday 1st June. The division of the year into "terms" is a survival
from Medieval times though various statutes have intervened. The medieval law courts came to run their legal sittings around the major ecclesiastical festivals. Interestingly, "sittings" is now the correct word to use and not "term" but the phrase "law terms" has stuck. There are arrangements for some High Court judges to sit during "vacation" - see here. Today, the "sittings" apply to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The Trinity sittings commence on 12th June and last until 31st July. If you are interested in the detail of this legal relic, see the excellent New Square Chambers Calculator
The High Court sits in Divisions: Queen's Bench; Chancery; Family. The present day work of the divisions is set out in a Schedule to the Senior Courts Act 1981. However, a rather odd thing is the use of so-called "Divisional Courts." The Senior Courts Act 1981 Section 66 (Divisional courts of High Court) of the Senior Courts Act states:
(1) Divisional courts may be held for the transaction of any business in the High Court which is, by or by virtue of rules of court or any other statutory provision, required to be heard by a divisional court.
(2) Any number of divisional courts may sit at the same time.
(3) A divisional court shall be constituted of not less than two judges.
(4) Every judge of the High Court shall be qualified to sit in any divisional court.
(5) The judge who is, according to the order of precedence under this Act, the senior of the judges constituting a divisional court shall be the president of the court.
The so-called long-running "Twitter Joke" case was heard initially in the Magistrates' Court where a District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) found Mr Paul Chambers guilty of the offence under the Communications Act 2003 section 127(1) - "menacing" communications. Mr Chambers appealed to the Crown Court and, this time, was found guilty by a judge sitting with two magistrates. The next step was an appeal - "known as Appeal by Case Stated" - to a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division. This was heard by two judges who failed to agree. There will therefore be a rehearing of the appeal before a fresh Divisional Court. Given the notoriety which this case appears to have achieved, might it not have been more sensible to have three judges sitting in the Divisional Court? Certainly, the man in the street would say that this would have been a necessity because the court would reach a decision even if by a majority. However, it appears that a split Divisional Court is actually something of a rarity - see New Statesman, David Allen Green "The High Court is unable to agree on Twitter Joke trial appeal." For an excellent post on this case see Informm's Blog and there is a podcast on CharonQC's blog where CharonQC talks to Chambers' solicitor - David Allen Green.
As the Easter sittings come to an end, the Supreme Court will hand down judgment in the Assange case on Wednesday 30th May - see Supreme Court - Assange v The Swedish Judicial Authority. The point of law in question can be briefly stated: "Whether a European Arrest Warrant (“EAW”) issued by a public prosecutor is a valid Part 1 EAW issued by a “judicial authority” for the purpose and within the meaning of sections 2 and 66 of the Extradition Act 2003." Or, yet more briefly, are public prosecutors judicial authorities for the purposes of the European Arrest warrant? I would hope that the answer to this was a simple NO since prosecutors do not generally have the degree of independence required of judicial authorities. However, I am not holding my breath.