Monday 18 May 2015

Ramblings on a wet Monday evening ...!

In no particular order, here are some ramblings on a very wet Monday evening.

Transforming summary justice:

The Law Society Gazette (Monday 18th May) points out that:  "Less than 50% of people detained in police stations are represented by a lawyer, which means that most have to decide what to plead without having had legal advice. Some may bow to pressure from the arresting officer and plead guilty. Others may plead guilty even if they are innocent of any offence rather than risk paying the new set of criminal court charges that, since 13 April, can be as high as £1,000 in the magistrates’ court" - see the full article by Richard Atkinson (Chair of the Law Society's Criminal Law Committee) - Mind the GAP.   Also see, Crown Prosecution Service (Transforming Summary Justice) and the report earlier this year (Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings).  Experience shows that in Magistrates' Courts
all over the country there is always a bench there at the start of the court day.  Experience also shows that it is often the prosecution that seems to be ill-prepared.  One hopes that these initiatives will improve matters.

Forensic Science:

Staying with the Law Society Gazette, there is an article by Alastair Logan - Junk science threat to justice. The article uses characteristically moderate language but here is a real and present danger to criminal justice in those cases where forensic science is essential. In December 2010, attention was drawn by scientists to the risks inherent in closing the Forensic Science Service (FSS) - see this blogpost.  Since 2010, the funding available to the Police has been markedly reduced as part of the government's austerity measures. Further cuts are expected (BBC News).  Is a serious risk with public safety being created?

Joshua Rozenberg on Michael Gove and Human Rights:

Finally from the Gazette, Joshua Rozenberg asks - Will Michael Gove respect the principles lawyers stand for?  See A Cabinet post like no other.  One certainly hopes so but his department will have to deal with the manifesto commitments relating to human rights.  Those commitments are a concern.  Last week, a considerable amount of what might be seen as free advice (or sensible warnings) to government appeared.  Perhaps they will be read somewhere in the corridors of power by someone with the will to listen and act.  I certainly hope so!  Previous post -Human Rights - some weekend reading!  Gove will certainly need to be strong with some of his government colleagues as he discharges his duties as Lord Chancellor.  The duties include  - respecting the rule of law, defending the independence of the judiciary and ensuring (against an aggressive Treasury) the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts.

Criminal legal aid work:

One of the last things put into motion by Mr Gove's predecessor was to start the ball rolling toward what are being referred to as Dual Contracts for criminal legal aid work.  Here is a note on this from the A View from the North blog - A Brief Note for Briefs.  Had Labour been elected, they would have at least reviewed these plans and might even have scrapped them.  There is no reason why Mr Gove cannot have this matter reconsidered rather than just accept it as a given from his predecessor.  In November 2014 the government issued its response to the consultation on this matter.  See the Court of Appeal's judgment in  R (The Law Society and others) v the Lord Chancellor [2015] EWCA Civ 230.

Counter-terrorism and other matters:

The ICLR blog weekly notes are always a fine source of legal information - see the issue 15th May.  The issue looks at the new government's Counter-Terrorism plans in relation to which it was announced by 10 Downing Street that the Prime Minister would tell the National Security Council -

" For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation, and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
 The last bit is interesting.  Aren't they some of the "values" protected by the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights?  On any analysis, Human Rights are at the very heart of democracy.

The ICLR blog also looks at the appointment of Dominic Raab as a member of the government's Justice team; legal aid and also Human Rights.  There is then a little bit of a world tour looking at some of the stories from other nations including the death sentence imposed on the Boston Bomber -

"Should the punishment fit the crime, or the criminal? Or should it, perhaps, fit the society that imposes it, and thereby reflect and enhance that society’s values? Perhaps this question is not asked often enough, or at all, by those who feel that sentencing should begin and end in the Biblical era (an eye for an eye, etc). These thoughts were prompted by the news (from the BBC) that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving culprit in the fatal bombing of the 2013 Boston marathon, having been found guilty of murder, has been sentenced to death. As a state, Massachusetts ended the death penalty in 1984, but Tsarnaev was tried on federal charges, meaning he was eligible for execution. "

Lord Janner - review:

Finally, the Lord Janner case rumbles on with the news that an unnamed QC is to review the decision of the DPP not to bring charges against Lord Janner  I'm not sure why the QC cannot be named.  Are we in a secret society?  However, there may be some good reason though I have not thought of it.  This blog took a look at the DPP's decision in this blogpost


  1. Re the Lord Janner review, I’m puzzled. Obviously no problem if the review supports the DPP’s decision. But, if it doesn’t and the DPP (with the personal statutory responsibility) still believes her decision was correct, what then?

    1. It may be possible to bring proceedings BUT (as I see it) there is no obligation on the CPS to do so. At this level (i.e. a personal decision of the DPP) the matter is actually untested. If, after a finding that proceedings ought to have been brought, the DPP still refuses to bring proceedings then judicial review would be the only recourse for the victims. That route would not guarantee a prosecution either. In the (perhaps unlikely) event that charges are brought, the matter would go NOT to a trial but to a finding of fact hearing and the outcome of that would (I believe) be no more than an absolute discharge. Janner is old and clearly there is no public risk from him. The Sex Abuse Inquiry has agreed to examine these cases and that may yet prove to be the better way forward.

    2. What perplexed me was the statement in the Guardian report that you linked to “if the QC decides that her assessment was wrong, the DPP’s decision will be reversed and the peer would face charges …”. This doesn’t look right to me. Surely the decision remains with the DPP who should only reverse her decision if the reviewing QC persuades her she initially had got it wrong. If she’s not so persuaded, she must stick with the original decision. As to the possibility of judicial review of whatever CPS decides, would there not be at least an equal chance that an application would be made on Lord Janner’s behalf should charges now be brought?