Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mid-week news roundup

* Stephen Lawrence / Undercover Policing and execrable behaviour:

The BIG story (so far) of the week takes us back to the Stephen Lawrence murder on 22nd April 1993.  On 23 June 2013, an interview with Peter Francis, a former under-cover police officer, was published in The Guardian.  In the interview Francis disclosed that while he was working undercover within an anti-racist campaign group in the mid-1990s, he was constantly pressured by superiors to "smear" the credibility of the Lawrence family so as to put an end to campaigns for a better investigation into Stephen's death.    After the revelation, Theresa May, the UK's home secretary pledged to be "ruthless about purging corruption from the police" (see her statement in Parliament), and Prime Minister David Cameron ordered Police to investigate the allegations, saying of them that he was "deeply worried about the reports".   Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who is leading Operation Herne, an ongoing inquiry into Metropolitan police undercover work against protest groups, said he would investigate the allegations as part of the inquiry

In February,
the Home Affairs Committee published their interim report about Undercover Policing.  This refers to Operation Herne which commenced in October 2011 and seems set to run until 2016.  The interim report noted that Herne had already cost £1.25m.

Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, has called for a Judicial Inquiry into police spying and he is unhappy that this additional investigation has been tacked on to other inquiries.

Since 2011, some 12 to 15 inquiries have been created to look into different aspects of undercover operations.   This is highly unsatisfactory and the case for a fuller examination of the whole process is surely becoming unanswerable. The Home Affairs Committee interim report noted - at para 10 -

Undercover operations carried out by police forces and others are governed primarily by the Regulation of  Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). The Home Office Code of Practice on Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) made under the Act provides detailed rules about a range of subjects related to the use of undercover officers.   An undercover operation must be necessary and proportionate to the intelligence dividend that it seeks to achieve and it must be fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. Measures should be taken, wherever practicable, to minimise interference with the private and family life of those who are not the subject of the investigation (known as "collateral intrusion"). The Code of Practice specified procedures for authorising undercover operations, managing undercover officers in the field, and record-keeping, among other things. As well as RIPA, undercover operations will be governed by a range of other legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985. Undercover officers are not above the law, and may themselves be held criminally liable for offences committed.

Despite this strong framework of statutory regulation, supplemented by guidance from ACPO, the Surveillance Commissioners and others, there is an alarming degree of inconsistency in the views of Ministers and senior police officers about the limits of what may and may not be lawfully authorised.

* Supreme Court

It has been announced that Baroness Hale is to be the next Deputy President of the Supreme Court.  She will assume those duties on 28th June and be sworn in at a later date.  The retiring deputy is Lord Hope and, in the Scotsman 10th June, he reflected on his life in the law.   Lord Hope's Valedictory Remarks are available via Supreme Court Youtube.  

The latest judgments are:

26 June 2013

R v Brown (Appellant) (Northern Ireland)
Abela and others (Appellants) v Baadarani (Respondent)
North and others (Appellants) v Dumfries and Galloway Council (Respondent) (Scotland)
Forthcoming appeals will be considering the withholding of life sustaining medical treatment and another case will look at conscientious objection to abortion.

* Birmingham Law Centre closes due to lack of legal aid:

There was particularly depressing news with the closure of the Law Centre in Birmingham.  Since 1st April, legal aid has been axed in many legal areas where law centres did much of their work.  On the funding for Law Centres see Geoffrey Bindman's article on Halsbury's Law Exchange 15th April 2013  - Legal aid cuts: Law Centres must not be allowed to die.  Bindman wrote:

'It has often been pointed out that the denial of legal assistance is a false economy. Judges have frequently warned of the extra court time needed to deal with complex cases where the litigant is unrepresented, and the social costs of unresolved disputes will often fall on other public agencies. Such research as has been done in this field has demonstrated that legal advice and representation saves public money. So one would expect that government funding for legal aid and for law centres would remain a priority, and it should. The legal profession too must make a substantial contribution. It has a unique status which is often overlooked. It is there to uphold the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law.

There is a professional commitment by lawyers to promote equal access to justice, ...  That commitment clearly needs to be reinforced by an obligation to contribute financially.

So there are three sources of funding which need to be pursued to maintain the law centres. They are: public funding, both central government and local government; funding by the profession, and there is a third: funding by selling paid services to the public. This last has only recently become available by a relaxation in the regulations which previously prohibited law centres from charging fees.'

Bindman then pointed out that some law centres have embarked on fee-paying work but, he concluded: 'It is bound to be limited unless law centres stray far from their traditional expertise. Personally I would like to see the law centres remain a free public service but in these hard times it may be that this source of income cannot be ignored.'

Law Centres Network

On Twitter, retired Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Henry Booke said:
* Court Privatisation:

Joshua Rozenberg - The Guardian 25th June - Privatising the courts: if anyone needs advice it's the judges.  The judges may be willing to give a very conditional agreement to considering some form of privatisation but there are many concerns.  Previous post on this 29th May.

* Offender Rehabilitation:

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill commenced its progress through Parliament in the Lords and the Bill is now at Report Stage.  The Bill, as first published, has 22 clauses and 7 schedules.  It makes new provision about the release, and supervision after release, of those offenders sentenced to less than 2 years imprisonment.  It also deals with the extension period for extended sentence prisoners.

The law relating to Community Orders and Suspended Sentence Orders will be amended.  In particular, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will be amended in relation to certain 'requirements' which may be part of a Community Order.

There is a view that placing ALL released offenders under supervision in the community will result in some 13000 more people being jailed every year - Telegraph 24th June.  All those imprisoned for over 1 day to less than 2 years will be subjected to supervision requirements when released from prison.  It is in the nature of things that there will be breaches and these will frequently lead to the offender being returned to prison though, it should be noted, breaches can also be dealt with by a fine or unpaid work requirement or a curfew.

A further significant change is that supervision of offenders is likely to become the responsibility of privatised providers of such services rather than the Probation Service.

The House of Lords report stage is reported here.  Lord Ramsbotham: 'I wonder whether the real reason why the Secretary of State is unwilling to reveal an objective assessment of the impact of his proposals is that he dare not, because they are so undermined by the sheer scale of the risks as assessed by his own officials in the Ministry of Justice. He cannot have welcomed the chairman of the Justice Select Committee in the other place saying last week that the Ministry of Justice, responsible for carrying out his ambitious plans, displayed naivety about the contracting out of key services and lacked the capacity to know what it was doing.'

Update 26th June - Parliament - House of Lords Report Stage completed.

* The Court Martial

The Judge Advocate General has raised concerns about the court martial system because members of the armed forces can be convicted of serious offences by a majority of just one member of a military 'jury'.  The 'jury' is actually a 'board' usually consisting of five officers from other units.  A simple majority suffices to obtain a conviction.  Also, Board members have a say in sentencing a convicted person although the judge has the casting vote.

* Call for Royal Commission:

The Chair of the Bar Council (Maura McGowan QC) has called for a Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice System - Law Society Gazette 24th June.   McGowan QC has called for a root and branch review which would create a system that works more efficiently and cheaply while avoiding any repeat of the mistakes of previous reforms.   It is probably unlikely that McGowan's wish will be granted.  As the Law Society Gazette leader commented - Commissions are usually lengthy - 2 to 4 years.  The present Secretary of State for Justice - an ambitious politician keen to make his mark - would be most unlikely to agree to any reforms being left until long after he has left office.  Whilst the suggestion has merit, it might have resonated with a generation of politicians that is long defunct.  It looks like a long shot in today's climate.

* Legal Education:

The Legal Education Training Review (LETR) has reported.  As pointed out in The Guardian 26th June, not much has changed.  The report is available here.   There are 26 recommendations. 

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