Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Scenes 1 - a miscellany of news

21st December is the Winter Solstice complete with lunar eclipse. This last occurred in 1638 - see National Geographic.

The Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee has published its report on firearms control and is especially critical of the complexity of the law - see Home Affairs Committee.   Various other recommendations are made.  Earlier post - "Tragedy in Cumbria: will it lead to an overhaul of gun laws."

The Ministry of Justice has published a report about trials of "Virtual Courts" which took place in the period May 2009 to May 2010.  One pilot involved one Magistrates' Court in London linked with 15 Police stations.  Another pilot involved a court in Kent linked to a Police Station.  Any savings made were outweighed by the costs of the pilot particularly those associated with the technology used.  See the report. Comment from the Solicitor's Journal may be read here.  See also the Law Society - "Virtual justice cannot be justified after damning report." 

The Solicitor's Journal 20th December points out
an inconsistency in the official line about Virtual Courts.  The Ministry's own report was adverse and yet the Ministry seems content to pursue the idea along with the closure of many Magistrates' Courts.  See "Virtually Pointless."

Legislation is to be brought forward during 2011 to address the issue of Prisoner Voting Rights - see Cabinet Office 17th December 2010.   There has been little enthusiasm in either the present or previous governments to address this question which arises because of rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.  The Head of Legal blog offers a more detailed look at this topic.  See also UK Human Rights blog.

The Information Commissioner has issued guidance on the sometimes vexed topic of photographing children in schools - e.g. as they take part in school plays and other activities - see here.

The Guardian 20th December published a page showing the Lord Chief Justice's Interim guidance about "twittering" - "The use of live text-based forms of communication (including twitter) from court for the purposes of fair and accurate reporting."  In the Assange bail applications, District Judge Howard Riddle permitted the use of twitter whereas, in the High Court, Mr Justice Ouseley did not.  If the objective of reporting is to supply the public with "fair and accurate"  reports of legal proceedings then brief "twitter" messages are perhaps hardly likely to achieve that objective.  The guidance requires that the court must be satisfied in the individual case that "twittering" will not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice.  The Jack of Kent blog welcomes the interim guidance and it is probably fair to say that it has been welcomed generally.  However, Jack of Kent urges caution.  It is essential that correct information is transmitted.

British Aerospace (BAE) have been fined £500,000 for an offence under the Companies Act 1985 s.221.  Payments had been made to a Tanzanian "middleman" in order to secure a radar contract - see The Independent 20th December.  The judge (Bean J) was highly critical of those involved and it is particularly good to see that the judge's sentencing remarks have been published - here. The judge looked at the "Settlement Agreement" between BAE Systems PLC and the Serious Fraud Office.  This agreement was, in the judge's view, "loosely and perhaps hastily drafted."  The judge was surprised to find a prosecutor granting a blanket immunity for all offences prior to 5th February 2010 whether the offence had been disclosed or not.  Bean J asserted the fact that, in English law, sentencing is for the judge to decide and that judges are not bound by agreements - R v Underwood [2004] EWCA Crim 2256 (Judge LJ, Douglas Brown and Bean JJ).  The matter is also addressed in the Consolidated Criminal Practice Direction - IV 45.  A point in mitigation was that, since January 2009, BAE have operated under a new Code of Conduct which was brought about by them appointing a committee chaired by Lord Woolf (formerly Lord Chief Justice) to consider ethical standards.  [Note: Companies Act 1985 s221 was repealed from 6th April 2008.  Company accounts and reports are now subject to Companies Act 2006 Part 15.  However, the s.221 offence was applicable to BAE at the relevant time].

The Coroner who will preside at the Ian Tomlinson inquest is reported to have said that the inquest will require "thoroughness, fairness and fearlessness."  Why this was said is unclear and ought not to be necessary.  Those are precisely the requirements of EVERY hearing in our courts and they are displayed frequently throughout each and every year by judges, magistrates, jurors and witnesses.  They are requirements which we have come to assume exist and maybe we sometimes take them for granted.    See The Guardian for the report. 


Winter Scene in New England - George Henry Durrie:
Frost Fair on the Thames near the Temple Steps 1683-4 - Thomas Wyke
Blow blow thou winter wind - Sir John Everett-Millais

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