Saturday 29 December 2012

The death of a drug seller ~ Fixing the minimum term of imprisonment

Adam Vincent was a drug addict and in bad health as a result.  He sold drugs on the streets for the Griffiths family who operated their drug operation from a bungalow in Grimsby.  Lee Griffiths, Luke Griffiths, Thomas Griffiths and Mark Jackson were convicted before a judge and jury of the brutal murder of Vincent.  They appealed against the minimum terms of imprisonment determined by the trial judge who applied the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sections 269 and 270 and Schedule 21.

Lee Griffiths, Luke Griffiths, Thomas Griffiths and Mark Jackson v R [2012] EWCA Crim 2822 Hughes LJ, Ramsay and Irwin JJ

Friday 28 December 2012

Guilty Pleas ~ sentence reduction

The last day of the Michaelmas Law term 2012 was 21st December and no less than nine Court of Appeal (Civil Division) judgments and four Criminal Division judgments were handed down that day.  These can all be seen on the Bailii website along with the numerous judgments of other courts and tribunals.

The Criminal Division considered the effect of guilty pleas in relation to sentence - Caley and others (Guilty Pleas) v R [2012] EWCA Crim 2821 Hughes LJ, Wilkie and Popplewell JJ.

It has been long standing practice to give a "discount" on sentence when there is a guilty plea.  The amount of the discount depends on the time at which the defendant indicates "his intention to plead guilty."  Here is a powerful incentive to indicate an intention to plead guilty at the earliest possible stage since the discount can be as high as one-third.  Such a discount can amount to several years in cases where lengthy sentences of imprisonment are inevitable.

Thursday 27 December 2012

The Lord Chief Justice warns

In a light hearted speech with a serious message, the Lord Chief Justice has warned of the need for vigilance where the rule of law is concerned.

"I am not sounding a clarion call against any imminent threat to the rule of law.  What I am, however, saying is that even in a country with the values with which we are blessed, it is unwise to take them for granted or to assume that we can be sure that in years to come that some new force may not emerge to undermine them; it may be insidious, maybe almost imperceptible. Indeed if insidious and almost imperceptible it is probably more dangerous. So in this context the “may be” is enough.  The future, after all, is long as well as short and the world is changing fast."

Speech at Mansion House, London.

The tragedy is that, in 2012, Parliament enacted the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which will soon come to remove access to justice for thousands of people who, when in conflict with authority, need an advocate with good understanding of the law and its practical application.

Monday 24 December 2012

Seasons Greetings

The Greetings of the Season to all readers.  Thank you for your interest in the various stories and for your interesting comments.  All much appreciated.

Christmas tree in the foyer of the Supreme Court.

Please return to the blog over the coming period for some more stories.

It's interesting to note that Fairytale of New York (The Pogues & Kirsty McColl) has recently been voted the nation's favourite Christmas song.   For me, there is no doubt that the greatest of all Christmas songs is "In the Bleak Midwinter" - here it is sung by Sissel.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Sentencing ~ Common assault

A father attends a school and assaults the Head Teacher.  Should this merit a custodial sentence?  This was the issue in the case of Paul Stratford  - see Daily Mail 21st December.   The Head Teacher wished to exclude Stratford's son from school for 1 day for 'racial abuse.'  On attending the school, Stratford punched and pushed the teacher and later claimed that he was protecting his son's eye from the teacher's pointing finger.  Stratford's attack on the teacher ended when the caretaker intervened and it is reported that Stratford 'continued to rant' as he left the school.  The Daily Mail commented:  "Despite the gravity of the offence, magistrates decided to impose only a community sentence, telling Stratford to pay his victim £100."  Of course, here was a case which is grist to the mill of a "get-tough-on-criminals" newspaper but it is not unreasonable to think that many ordinary people will agree that the sentence was light.

Let us leave aside Stratford's case for a while since we just have a media report and do not know every detail.  Instead, let us focus on the sentencing guidelines to see what they indicate as a sentence for an assault on a teacher when, perhaps fortuitously, there is no injury despite the teacher being punched once and pushed.

Friday 21 December 2012

Drinking and driving ~ the government's consultation

With the festive season upon us, here is a timely reminder that the government has plans to amend the law of drinking and driving. 

Have a look at the government's consultation:

This consultation encompasses the legislative changes the government proposed in its response of March 2011 to the reports by Sir Peter North and the Transport Select Committee on drink and drug driving (“the government’s response”). The changes covered in this consultation do not, however, include creating a new offence related to driving with a specified impairing drug in the body, which is also being progressed by the government.

The only safe advice which can be given about drinking / driving is do not do it. 

The changes are considered in an excellent post on CharonQC's blog - Timely advice on the drink driving laws from Jeanette Miller - solicitor.

Thursday 20 December 2012

A man and his bicycle on an important street

The original event:

On the evening of 19th September 2012, the former government Chief Whip (Mr Andrew Mitchell MP) cycled along Downing Street in the direction of Whitehall.  The Guardian (19th December) has some CCTV pictures - Pleb row: what does CCTV show?    Mr Mitchell can be seen, on his bicycle, at time 19:36:01 proceeding toward Whitehall.    A short time later, he arrived at the gates across the entrance to Downing Street.  The Police Officers on duty can be seen by the gates.  He probably arrived at the gates by around 19:36:20 (latest).  At time 19:36:47, Mr Mitchell can be seen, with his bicycle, walking out of the side gate - a further CCTV picture of him leaving via the gate is here.  An Officer opened the gate for him and closed it afterwards.

There is no sound recording with the CCTV.  What happened in the short time between Mr Mitchell arriving at the gate and him leaving the street - a period of time of around 27 seconds?   It appears that the officers did not wish to open the main gates and so Mr Mitchell was asked to exit via the side gate.  Mr Mitchell has admitted making some remarks to the officers and, afterwards, he apologised for whatever he had said and the apology was accepted.   Two Police Officers stated that Mr Mitchell had called them "fucking plebs" but Mr Mitchell has consistently denied using those words.

The event was reported

Hillsborough Disaster ~ New inquest to be held

Update:  The judgment of the court quashing all the inquest verdicts - Her Majesty' Attorney-General v HM Coroner for South Yorkshire (West) and HM Coroner for West Yorkshire (West)  [2012] EWHC 3783 Admin  - Lord Judge LCJ, Burnett LJ and HHJ Peter Thornton QC (Chief Coroner)


Following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, the Attorney-General applied to the High Court for a new inquest to be ordered into the deaths arising from the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989 - BBC 19th December 2012.  The High Court sat with Lord Judge CJ presiding and quashed the earlier inquest verdicts and ordered a new inquest.  Their legal power to do this is in the Coroners Act 1988 section 13.

The Home Office has announced a fresh Police investigation    Former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart will lead the new inquiry, which will focus specifically on the 96 deaths of Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989. Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough Disaster, nor those who have worked in West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.  He will be required to work closely with the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation and pass any findings of misconduct against officers to IPCC investigators to ensure the police are not being investigated by the police.

In addition

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Commission on a Bill of Rights ~ A UK Bill of Rights? Perhaps, but not yet !

Long grass
19th December ~ Updated with some additional links

On Tuesday 18th December, the Commission on a Bill of Rights produced its report - A UK Bill of Rights? - The Choice Before Us

Ministry of Justice -  Press release and Commission on a Bill of Rights web page

There are two volumes to the report though it is Volume 1 which contains the substantive material: Volume 1 and Volume 2

Volume 1 contains a brief Letter to Ministers, the Commission's Terms of Reference, an outline of the Commission's approach to their work and an Overview.  12 chapters then follow and a further 8 individual papers.

According to the section headed "Our approach to our work", we are informed that the Commission members were nominated by the two coalition parties.  The Commission described itself as "politically disparate" but also claimed to have "surprisingly wide areas of agreement." 

: The report draws the conclusions together in Volume 1 Chapter 12 :

The Commission did not wish

Sunday 16 December 2012

Commission on a Bill of Rights ~ the report is a-coming !

The Commission was appointed by the government on 18th March 2011 and, at the time, comprised
The Chair of the Commission was former Civil Servant Sir Leigh Lewis

Law and Lawyers blog - Commission on a Bill of Rights -18th March 2011

Dr Pinto-Duschinsky - (a non-lawyer) - later resigned from the Commission and was replaced by Lord Faulks QC.    The make up of the Commission was considered by Liora Lazarus - "The composition of the UK Bill of Rights Commission" - 24th April 2011.

Friday 14 December 2012

Friday News roundup

Here is some of the legal news not covered in other recent posts.

Rendition and torture:

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has given judgment in El-Masri v The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (application no. 39630/09).  The case concerned the complaints of a German national of Lebanese origin that he had been a victim of a secret “rendition” operation during which he was arrested, held in isolation, questioned and ill-treated in a Skopje hotel for 23 days, then transferred to CIA agents who brought him to a secret detention facility in Afghanistan, where he was further ill-treated for over four months. The Court found Mr El-Masri’s account to be established beyond reasonable doubt and held that “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial “rendition”.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Many dimensions to the law ~ Supreme Court judgments of 12th December

The Supreme Court handed down three judgments on 12th December.

X (Appellant) v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and another (Respondents)  

Judgment PDF

Press summary (PDF)

In the matter of A (A Child)

Judgment PDF

Press summary (PDF)

Imperial Tobacco Limited (Appellant) v The Lord Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland)

Judgment PDF

Press summary (PDF)
The cases were concerned, respectively, with the position of a volunteer adviser in a Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB); whether social work records should be disclosed to the parties in proceedings concerning a child (A); and whether the Scottish Parliament was legally competent to legislate to prohibit the display of tobacco products.  The cases illustrate some of the numerous dimensions of modern day law.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Northern Ireland ~ the 1989 Finucane murder ~ Independent Review Report

Patrick Finucane and his wife Geraldine were the parents of three children. He was a solicitor practising in Belfast. Like many in the legal profession he appeared in high profile cases that were often controversial. He acted frequently for those who were alleged to be members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) when they were charged with terrorist offences. Yet he also acted for Protestants in similar situations. There can be little doubt that it was his role as a solicitor that led to his murder  which took place in February 1989.

In October 2011, the Rt. Hon. Sir Desmond de Silva PC QC was requested by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson MP) to review aspects of this murder.  Sir Desmond's brief was:
Drawing from the extensive investigations that have already taken place, to produce a full public account of any involvement by the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Security Service or other UK Government body in the murder of Patrick Finucane.
The Review will have full access to the Stevens archive and all Government papers, including any Ministry of Defence, Security Service, Home Office, Cabinet Office, or Northern Ireland Office files that you believe are relevant. The account should be provided to the Secretary of   State for Northern Ireland by December 2012, for the purpose of publication.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Press regulation ~ The Labour Party's Draft Bill ~ a new role for the High Court?

The Guardian has linked to a draft Press Freedom and Trust Bill published by the Labour Party.  They are keen to provide a form of statutory underpinning for an independent press regulator.  It is a short bill - as bills go!

Clause 1 of the Bill is a guarantee of media freedom and independence.  This will be achieved by placing a duty on the Secretary of State, every Minister of the Crown and every other person exercising any public function relating to the media to uphold the freedom of the media and its independence from the executive.  Such duties are, in their nature, imprecise and they are usually enforceable only by political means - perhaps including public opinion.  Of course, the fact of including a guarantee of media freedom in a statute might be seen to have made it, effectively, something in the gift of the politicians as opposed to a basic fundamental of democracy.  The guarantee offered by Clause 1 would be in addition to the Convention rights of any person - where "convention rights" are those rights protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Clause 2 is concerned with an independent and effective system of self-regulation by the press.  The word "press" has a wide definition and will include online content published by newspapers.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Prosecution of Historical Child Abuse

Among the most difficult criminal cases to investigate and prosecute are those relating to allegations of historical child abuse.  Following the emergence of allegations against the late Jimmy Savile, a number of other cases have appeared as a result of Police investigations such as the Metropolitan Police's Operation Yewtree .

In October 2012, Commander Peter Spindler of the Metropolitan Police said:

"We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale. The profile of this operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood."

The investigation of such cases is complex, the decision for Crown Prosecutors as to whether to prosecute is very difficult and the conduct of a trial presents formidable difficulties in ensuring that, many years after the alleged events, the defendant receives a fair trial.

It is not appropriate to comment about any specific cases which may be likely to go to trial.  However, it is to be hoped that those involved in these cases have read the incredibly impressive study by Professor Penney Lewis - "Delayed Prosecution for Childhood Sexual Abuse."   The book is available for purchase - here

Wednesday 5 December 2012

LASPO 2012 ~ Some materials

Updated 9th March 2013

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is gradually being brought into force.  LASPO is one of 18 Public General Acts enacted in 2012.  On top of that, 3001 Statutory Instruments have been added.  The sheer volume of legislation is astounding and the increase seems set to continue despite calls for someone to somehow get a grip - (e.g. article by Dr Ruth Fox - Public Service 28th January 2011 - Getting a grip on legislation).

LASPO - recent commencements:

1st September  - new offence of squatting in a residential building - LASPO s.144 - Earlier post New squatting law in force 1st Sept

1st October - amendment of law relating to "Victim Surcharges"

3rd December -

new youth remand framework and amendments to adult remand provisions.  For adult defendants, the Bail Act 1976 is amended to remove the option of remand in custody in most circumstances where there is no real prospect of the defendant being imprisoned if convicted. These changes apply to adult defendants who have not been convicted. They do not apply to extradition proceedings.  Provision is also made for prosecution appeals to the High Court from a decision of the Crown Court to grant bail.

Youth Justice - new referral order provisions

Dangerous Offender provisions - ss. 122-128 and Schedules 18-22 - Earlier posts -  LASPO Part 3 Chapters 2 to 8 and  From the Party Conferences No. 2 Dangerous Offenders

New offences - s. 142 (threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon in public or on school premises); s.143 (causing serious injury by dangerous driving); s.146 (buying scrap metal for cash) - Earlier post - LASPO Part 3 Chapter 9 Criminal Law

Full list of LASPO provisions coming into force on 3rd December

Monday 3 December 2012

Guarding the guardians - the Leveson report and the Rubicon

Updated 5th December

Cameron makes the editors an offer they can't refuse!!  Culture Secretary chairs meeting with newspaper editors - Dept. of Culture, Media and Sport


Lord Justice Leveson recommended legislation to (a) place a duty on government to uphold and protect the freedom of the press;  and (b) to give recognition and certification powers to a Recognition Body (such as Ofcom).   

The Recognition Body would be responsible for the recognition of the Regulatory body and for its certification and the Recognition Body would have powers to review the regulator at specific intervals.   

The Regulatory Body itself would be set up by the press and membership would be voluntary but there would be powerful incentives to join.  Life outside the fold might prove to be very risky legally!   

Other bodies would also have responsibilities – in particular, the Information Commissioner in relation to Data Protection and the Independent Police Complaints Commission in relation to Police matters.  Various amendments to the Data Protection Act 1998 were suggested as well as amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.