Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Party conference time madness and other business


A news round up today since there seems to be a lot going on the moment!  So, in no particular order, here we go!!

Matthew Woods (aged 19) posted on Facebook some offensive remarks about the missing child - 5 year old April Jones.  A number of the remarks, it is said, were of a sexually explicit nature.  Woods pleaded guilty to an offence under the Communications Act 2003 and was sent to prison for 12 weeks by Chorley Magistrates.  The 2003 Act is aimed at dealing with communications which are "grossly offensive", "indecent", "obscene" or "menacing."  Talking to some members of the public about this, their view was that the sentence was well deserved but there is a different view in some legal circles that the sentence is excessive - see UK Human Rights blog "12 weeks in prison for sick jokes on Facebook?  Really?  We shall see whether Woods appeals the sentence to the Crown Court as is his right.  Comment about the case by Joshua Rozenberg is here.  Woods' sentence comes as the CPS reviews how to treat social media and electronic communication in the light of several cases where substantial sentences have been handed down after people have posted offensive remarks on Twitter and Facebook or sent them directly via email.  For example, Liam Stacey, 21, received a 56-day jail term after tweeting "LOL" ["laugh out loud"] in response to the on-pitch collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba and subsequently posting racist and offensive comments when other users criticised him.  A number of lawyers have been invited by the DPP to meet with him to discuss prosecution policy in this area.

Interestingly, another "Facebook case" was dealt with by a District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) sitting at Huddersfield Magistrates' Court - a community sentence was imposed - Case of Azhar Ahmed.

The Magistrates’ Court sentencing guidelines of the s127 offence really do require updating. You would think that only telephone calls were covered – see page 42 of the Sentencing Guidelines

See also The Guardian's editorial "Jaw-jaw and Law-law: freedom of speech online"

Flushed with her "success" at getting Abu Hamza and others out of the UK, the Home Secretary (Theresa May) - (see Court full judgment) - is thinking of some more reforms to the criminal justice system (Daily Mail) including allowing victims of crime a say in how the criminal will be punished and scrapping the Human Rights Act (HRA).

It seems that May has ordered her own study into replacing the HRA with a bill of rights and responsibilities which might well be seen as a vote of no confidence in the Commission on a Bill of Rights which, of course, has not yet made its decisions public but there's nothing like "heading 'em off at the canyon" is there? Perhaps Mrs May is annoyed that it is "human rights" which seems to be preventing the removal of a considerable number of very nasty individuals who have managed to get into the UK - Telegraph 9th May 2012 - 200 War Criminals identified in Britain but only 3 deported.  The latest "war criminal" to be allowed to remain in the UK is from Sudan - Telegraph 8th October.

The new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayson) has his first opportunity to posture for the party faithful and seems to be talking about allowing householders to use "disproportionate" force against burglars (Guardian 9th October)  despite the Lord Chief Justice saying recently that it is not possible to get away from the "reasonable force" formula in the present law.

Speaking of what is "disproportionate", the Daily Mail has devoted a lot of newsprint to covering the funeral of "Crime Lord" Charlie Richardson.  He used to torture his victims with electricity.  Nice man !!

The Coalition government is reconsidering its plans to reform criminal injuries compensation (Guardian).  A revised scheme was planned for 1st October 2012 but this was put on hold whilst Ministers reconsider the proposals.  Nevertheless, changes will be forthcoming since the government wishes to put the scheme on a "sustainable financial footing" - i.e. save money.  Details of the present (2008) scheme are here.

Whilst on the subject of saving money, a National Police Air Service has been set up (Home Office).  Reckoned to save £15m per year, the new "air force" will be only 20 minutes away from 98% of the population!

The Home Office has published statistics - (don't yawn yet) - on  the Operation of Police Powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation.  Lots and lots of interesting data here if you are into this sort of thing!   Also, the Home Office has issued its response to the report by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws (David Anderson QC).  The Ministry of Justice also has statistics coming out its ears!

The Commission on a Bill of Rights has completed its consultations and a report is expected by the end of the year.  The Howard League has published its response to the latest consultation.  They say that there is no need to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998(HRA) and replace it with a Bill of Rights. This would be a costly and lengthy process which would only serve to complicate the legal position and the public’s understanding of their rights and entitlements. Properly applied, the current Human Rights Act provides adequate protection of our rights in the UK.  The Howard League would also like to see the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) fully incorporated into UK law.  The League has also called for adequate legal aid to be available for those who need to protect and enforce their fundamental rights.

Individuals who stood surety for Julian Assange are going to be considerably out of pocket as a result of a decision by the Chief Magistrate that monies be "estreated" under the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 s.120.  The written decision is available and is, as far as I can see, a straightforward application of long-standing law.   The duty of a surety is to ensure that the defendant attends court.  Assange let down those who stood surety for him but they were aware of the risk to their money.   The amounts must be paid in full by Tuesday, 6 November 2012. If any amount is outstanding the person in default must appear in front of the Chief Magistrate on that day (6 November) at 2pm for enforcement measures to be considered. The person may be required to show cause why he/she not be committed to custody for non-payment.  The moral in the tale?  Don't offer to stand surety unless you really do have some control or influence over the defendant and you can also afford to lose the money.  (13th October: For a view that the Chief Magistrates should, in the special circumstances of this case, not have held the sureties liable see Diary of a Legal Eagle).

Given that my memory now goes back quite a way, I recall the Mau Mau period in Kenya.  Not that I was there ~ (I was doing O and A levels) ~ but there was much in the news about it at the time.  Litigation has been brought in the High Court by Kenyans who allege that they were tortured by the British authorities.  I think there can be little doubt that brutality occurred and it was by no means one-sided.  The claimants have won a preliminary point - see Matua and others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office [2012] EWHC 2678 (QB).  The point of law was about whether the men's claims were time-barred by the Limitation Act 1980 and the men were successful at this stage.  However, the case has probably got a long way to go since the recent decision just allows it to proceed to trial.  Writing in The Guardian on 8th October, George Monbiot takes the view that the Empire's poison affects us all even to this day.  An interesting read there and he has something of a point.

A further interesting case is Stannard v Gore [2012] EWCA Civ 1248 which was concerned with liability for fire. Definitely a MUST read for law students here.  The moral in this story - pointed out by David Hart QC writing for the UK Human Rights blog -  is to be sure that you have insurance cover for losses occasioned by fire on your premises.  Mr Hart entitled his article - Why is the Law of Fire like a student's fridge? .  Now, most student fridges do not bear thinking about !!

There have been many more cases recently in the family law area.  These merit another post.  Please watch this space!  Also, in around a month's time the Police and Crime Commissioner elections are coming up.  This is a MAJOR reform of Policing but are the elections capturing the interest of the electorate?   The Runnymede Trust video explains why the elections are so important and why a good turnout of voters is vital.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. Benjamin Davies of Rhyl and Michael Ashton of Conway were charged today over the Ched Evans Twitter debacle. We will see far more of this, free speech versus what the police see as targets to prosecute. Assange bears on this, as with Evans no anonymity for rape trial defendants. But that is another story...