Sunday 2 October 2011

Michaelmas News Roundup

Northern Viewpoint - Friar's Crag
The "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" has begun, not with mists, but glorious sunshine and, for the UK, stunning temperatures - "the HOTTEST 2nd October since the dinosaurs were wiped out" (per CharonQC "Postcard from the Staterooms ..").  29th September is Michaelmas - one of the old "quarter days" - and, this year, the Michaelmas Law term begins on 3rd October and ends 21st December.   Not that the senior courts have been entirely quiet during August and September as even a quick glance at the excellent Bailii database of judgments shows.   This is a database which provides a superb service to lawyers and public alike.  Without it we would all be the poorer and access to this essential legal resource would be lost.  It is independent of government and needs funds - please see the article by barrister Adam Wagner in The Guardian 27th September - "Let's not forget Bailii in campaign for open justice online."

Having just written the previous Law and Lawyers post entitled "Protection of Rights", up pops Theresa May - (Home Secretary) - to let us know that she "personally" would like to see the Human Rights Act axed.  After all, it sometimes causes problems for the Home Office !!   Of course, we already knew that she was no fan of the Act or, for that matter, of some decisions of the Supreme Court which have gone against her department - see 16th February - "The government is disappointed and appalled by this ruling."  Mr Cameron joined in the chorus on the Andrew Marr show to inform us that he backs Theresa May over the Act and he referred to it creating a "chilling culture."  He then reiterated the point that he wants a British Bill of Rights.  Combined with the drastic cuts to legal aid embodied in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the future for good human rights protection in the UK is looking increasingly depressing.

A more optimistic viewpoint regarding the future of human rights protection in the UK is Adam Wagner's post on UK Human Rights blog - "Reports of the Human Rights Act's death have been greatly exaggerated." 

From 1st October, it has become illegal to sell tobacco products via vending machines.  This change in the law came about because of the Health Act 2009 s.22 which inserted s.3A into the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991.  See the Protection from Tobacco (Sales from Vending Machines)(England) Regulations 2010.

In criminal law, the Court of Appeal has commenced hearing
appeals in relation to offending in the August disorder.  It seems that His Honour Judge Gilbart QC (Recorder of Manchester) has already had his knuckles rapped for giving sentence ranges for offences with which he was not concerned - see The Guardian 30th September 2011 - "Appeal Judges rule on riot sentencing ..."  The final judgment of the Court of Appeal has yet to be issued so we must wait a while longer to see just what approach is taken.    Law and Lawyers looked at sentencing for these matters on 20th August (Recent Disorder: bail and sentencing) and also on 26th August (The August disorder - more sentencing ....).   Questions continue to be raised as to just what the underlying causes of this disorder were.  The Guardian, in conjunction with the LSE, is looking at this question - "Reading the riots ...".

The Law Commission is working on simplification of the common law offence of Kidnapping - see Consultation.   The Commission states: - "Under the existing law it is not enough simply for a victim to be taken away – a number of other conditions need to be met, and several parts of the definition are ambiguous. And currently kidnapping can be tried only in Crown Court. The Commission is seeking to clarify the definition and suggesting that in appropriate cases the offence should be capable of being tried in the Magistrates’ Courts.   Law Commissioner Professor Ormerod says “The definition of kidnapping is both vague and arbitrary. Reform is needed to clarify the nature of kidnapping for the courts and allow practitioners to deal effectively and proportionately with the range of criminality”.

The Lord Chief Justice has managed to pop over to Sydney, Australia and made a speech about "Vulnerable witnesses in the administration of justice."  It is an interesting read.   As for the UK Supreme Court, five of the justices have paid a visit to China including the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong - see Supreme Court blog.

The blogs have been quite busy during recent weeks.  First, there is a UK Blawg Roundup #8 prepared by solicitor Victoria Moffatt.  The Clerkingwell blog has an interesting post entitled "The Legal Services Act - what now for chambers?"   There is little doubt that serious winds of change are blowing and few, if any, aspects of legal practice will continue untouched.  UK Human Rights blog looks at the case involving Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand who sought to prevent the media revealing his sexual antics.   On this occasion, the court (Nicol J) held - (see judgment) - that it was in the public interest to allow publication of the story.  The legal costs have probably set Rio back a few weeks' wages.    Law Think is a blog which carries some challenging posts.  Their latest refers to the execution in Florida of Manuel Valle who spent 33 years on death row before being finally despatched by injection of pentobarbital.  For Supreme Court Associate Justice Breyer this was unconstitutional since it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment contrary to the 8th Amendment to the USA Constitution.  It is now almost 40 years since the great American judge Thurgood Marshall made a similar point in Furman v Georgia - (Watching the Law).    However, it beggars belief that, in Texas, the condemned man on the day of his execution is now to be denied his own choice of meal.

Finally, for now, the irrepressible CharonQC has his latest podcast - "Without Prejudice 12 - Riots, Sentencing Appeals - Troy Davis execution - Legal Aid Cutbacks and Clause 12."

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