Friday, April 29, 2011

How Considerate

How thoughtful of Her Majesty to bestow the title Duke of Cambridge on Prince William. I wish I could have been named after a pub, although there is a Bystander near Abingdon. There is also a Bystander Cafe in Brighton, but Brighton is a little too louche for a dignified old gent such as I.

My home town has a Duke of Cambridge, as well as a Prince of Wales, a Kings Head and a Queens Head. That almost makes us family doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Typical Day At The Coalface

As usual on the day after an extended public holiday the remand court had a heavy list yesterday morning, with something like 45 cases - a dozen or so in custody, and thus taking priority.
There was a good mix of the serious and the run-of-the-mill. A few reports cases were in for sentence, which is not ideal listing practice on the first day of a short week such as this, but we were able to deal with them. One led us to the unusual decision to impose our maximum sentence of two consecutive six month terms. The defendant concerned had simply exhausted every option that the justice system has available, having previously breached all kinds of community penalties, as well as suspended prison sentences with complex punitive and rehabilitative requirements. So off he went down the steel stairs, showing no sign of surprise. We made a number of curfew orders, something that we are finding more and more useful these days. They amount to virtual house arrest, and an order for, say, four months from 7pm to 7am daily, backed up with a tag, is a real loss of liberty. In these resource-driven days they also have the advantage of not needing pre-sentence input from probation, saving time and money, and of being administered by contractors, again freeing probation from the task.
A man denied touting as an unlicensed taxi driver, claiming to have been dropping off a few friends as a favour, an assertion that was undermined by police ANPR records of him visiting one busy local location 200 times in three months.
So the day went on, but by about 2.45 Court 4 had finished their trial, and offered help with our list, allowing us all to finish by about 4.30, in our case with an exceptionally nasty search warrant for the Child Protection squad, the information for which offered some almost-unbelievably revolting allegations about what a father had done to his son.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Is No Farce - But It Is A Problem

This report in the Daily Mail is misleadingly headlined as a farce, following that paper's agenda of sneering at the justice system whenever possible. There is a serious difficulty when jurors (or magistrates for that matter) do their own research on the Internet rather that relying on what they have heard in evidence, but for a juror to contact someone involved in the trial raises matters one more notch.
According to the Mail report, there were also cock-ups with police preparation of the files - I am personally familiar with cases coming to a grinding halt when interview transcripts (ROTI's) have been clumsily or carelessly redacted to exclude inadmissible material.
The senior wigs are working on a policy to avoid the Internet problem, but it won't be easy to devise something that is practical and enforceable.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Plus Ca Change

I have been writing the blog for over six years now, and I had a glance at a few old posts the other day. What was notable is that despite the frantic pace of legislation in the Blair/Brown years, not too much has changed.
Crime figures have just been published and are in today's papers. As usual there is discussion of the ongoing discrepancy between the official police figures and the British Crime Survey, which is commonly accepted as being more indicative of the situation on the ground, based as it is on interviews rather than reported figures that might be skewed for one reason or another.

I wrote this and this six years ago. Most of what I said then still applies today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spot On

I glanced at another court's list during a quiet moment the other day, and one of the cases concerned an alleged shoplifter, who was said to have stolen five items from The 99p Shop valued at - yes you've got it- £4.95.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Miles Off Topic

When I arrived at my local pub yesterday lunchtime, I was surprised to find a coachload of 50 or more Manchester City supporters who had stopped off for a beer and a snack on their way to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final.
They were a good natured lot, even after we regulars pointed out that the landlord is a Manchester United supporter and that Roger, the Saturday barman, is a Millwall fan.
The banter was first class, and as the pints flowed the organiser promised that if City won, the coachload would have to come back to their 'lucky' pub.
Before leaving, the fans assembled in the pub garden with their scarves and banners, and gave us a few of their songs and chants, while their pals filmed them on their mobiles.
I am, as a rule, indifferent to football, but I had to watch the match, impelled by the thought of how happy those MC fans would be if they got a result. One older chap had said to me: "My heart says yes, but my head says no" and added: "If we score just one, the roof will come off Wembley".
I was chuffed to bits when City won, and we now look forward to welcoming them back to the pub next time.
It made my day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Topical Musing

I had a spare hour between meetings the other day, and I decided to pop into the local Aldi store, which is situated, as are so many, in the poorer part of town. In recent years Aldi seem to have realigned their marketing, and the stores are smarter and more user-friendly than they used to be.
The store I visited is smack in the middle of the roughest estates on my court's patch, and the street names recur time and again on my court list.
What struck me this time was the fact that only one of the store staff had an obviously local accent, and all of the others had East European inflections. Aldi pay good money by retail standards, and the staff were busying around but still ready to say something cheery to customers.
Within a few hundred yards of this store there were probably hundreds of healthy young locally-born people lying sluggishly on their sofas, smoking dope and toying with their Playstations.
I don't think that can be right.

Nasty Piece of Work

I was faced today with an unpleasant and resentful defendant. He had a solicitor, paid for by you and me, but he interrupted him several times and as I began to announce our decision he attempted to negotiate it. I gave him short shrift, but in the interests of fairness I allowed his brief to have an unavailing word with him. I summed up the decision in a few crisp words and invited him to leave. He gave me a long hard stare, and slowly made his way out, all the time looking at me, presumably based on his usual technique for dealing with those who disagree with him.
When dealing with this kind of violent thug (as evidenced by his record) I always remember a phrase from an old mate of mine who was a PC nearing the end of his career, back on the beat for one last rota. I asked him if he was worried about being a fiftyish man facing the usual gaggle of hoodies, and he said "No; I always say that my gang is bigger than their gang, and even the dimmest yob can work that out".

Thursday, April 14, 2011

We Haven't Heard The Last Of This Yet

The High Court has ruled about the so-called 'kettling' of demonstrators. There will be an appeal, we hear, but let's get back to first principles:-

I have no problem with the police restraining parts of crowds to protect officers, civilians, and property.
Any interference with the public's freedom needs to be necessary and proportionate.
It also needs to be imposed for the shortest possible time.
What appears to have outraged many people was the prolonged containment of so many, including well behaved bystanders, for hours, while refusing appeals from the unwell, the elderly, and even those desperate to use a lavatory.
The appeal will proceed. If the judgment is upheld, the civil claims will pour in to the Met.
Common sense is more British, and is also a lot cheaper than bungled confrontation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hot From The Interweb!

Solicitor Nick Fluck will become Law Society deputy vice-president in July, and will become president in 2013, Chancery Lane announced today.

I hope that Today Programme announcers will begin their training sooner rather than later. They had a heap of trouble with Jeremy Hunt.

The poor sod must have gone through hell at school, and he is now at the mercy of those naughty headline subs at The Sun.

Who remembers the golden oldie about the late Diana Dors (née Fluck) when she returned to her birthplace to open the church fete?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I'm Going No Comment

I can think of a blogger or two who isn't going to like this piece in the Guardian.

Brief Encounters

The view from the Bench into the well of the court has changed enormously over the years. When I first joined, a grizzled police Sergeant would present cases with Counsel attending for the more serious stuff. Our regular local solicitors numbered a couple of dozen at most, with a hard core who were in almost every day. These solicitors were nearly all white and nearly all men. They knew their clients and they also knew their benches, tailoring their tactics to the known preferences of those sitting.
Today the view is very different. To my right on the front bench is the CPS Associate Prosecutor; to my left, in the defence lawyers' place I am most likely to see a youngish woman of Asian extraction. I used to know most regulars by name, but the duty solicitor rota is now so enormous that I often have to ask.
The missing cohort of young lawyers appears to consist of white men. 62.7% of new trainee solicitors were women last year, and 19.9% were from BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups.
We all have our own theories as to why this is so. My own is that the cohesion and discipline in many Asian families encourages work and discourages the drink-fuelled lifestyle of too many students, just as happened with the Jewish refugees who arrived between the wars. Hence they get good exam results, and in the present climate that is the only way into the legal trade.
The law is becoming a desperately overcrowded profession, with 8,480 new solicitors admitted last year; it is no better at the Bar either, with well over half of newly called barristers unable to get the pupillage that is essential before they may practice.

(later) Here's a Guardian piece about it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Motes and Beams

The U.S. State Department regularly analyses other countries' libertarian credentials. Thanks to the UK Human Rights Blog for this link. Including Bermuda with its population of 60,000 and overwhelming US influence rather muddies the water, but what struck me was the irony implicit in an in-depth analysis of Britain's record by the masters of Guantanamo, the tormentors of Bradley Manning and the owners of the Colorado Supermax prison.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Further and Better Particulars

I am grateful for the thoughtful responses to the previous post about PoCA seizures. One point that I did not clarify is that the case quoted was against the UK Border Agency (which is what Customs is called this week).

Few of us will have any problem with a typical PoCA bust, where a drugs raid reveals £8000 in grubby readies in the attic; few of these seizures are contested, in my experience.

UKBA is different because very large sums are routinely carried through ports (£50,000 plus is by no means a huge seizure). Inflows can be worrying - is it terrorism money, or pump-priming for a big drug deal? As a rule, drugs come in and money goes out, but what do we make of the small-time shopkeeper who tries to fly to India with £30,000 of undeclared cash, or the UK-resident Iraqi community leader with £20,000 worth of mixed currencies that he claims to be taking to the families of his community?.

Some are lying: the cash may be the proceeds of tax evasion, or people-trafficking, or dozens of other practices. Some are telling the truth, and just want to get their savings to their families in some hell-hole such as Somalia that has no functioning government or banking system. All run the usual risk of carrying concealed cash, which is that even if the authorities don't get it the airport loaders might. One of the questions that is always asked is why the banking system was not utilised - a transfer through a UK bank is pretty cheap, and is without risk to the sender. This is where the language problem arises; the bilingual have no problem, but the sesquilingual will struggle.

A long step away from the major banks is the Hawala system of Islamic banking. This is based on trust and on the community and is used to transfer vast amounts every year. As I understand it, the person who has come to the UK from an Afghan village goes to a trusted person in his community, perhaps a small shopkeeper or travel agent, and gives him a few hundred pounds to send to his family. Things happen, and a respected person in that remote village hands over the cash with a very small deduction for fees.

Isn't it a humbling thought for a Westerner, by the way, that such a system can survive on trust?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A Bit of Law

Those of us who are used to dealing with cases arising from cash seizures under the Proceeds of Crime Act will be hearing a lot about Angus v UKBA in future.
Hitherto, we have only been required to find on the Balance of Probabilities that the cash was the proceeds of unlawful conduct or to be used in such. Just what the unlawful conduct consisted of did not have to be proved, but as I understand it it does now: the Court of Appeal said:-

Applying the provisions of section 242(2)(b) of the Act, our answer to the question is as follows: in a case of cash forfeiture, a customs officer does have to show that the property seized was obtained through conduct of one of a number of kinds each of which would have been unlawful conduct.
(I am of course not a lawyer, If any of our leqally qualified readers want to set me right on my interpretation, please do.)

Cash seizures are close to the heart of those directing the justice system. Most of those seizures are dealt with before magistrates, and many of us still have a feeling of unease about the basic fairness of the proceedings. As the proceedings are civil, no legal aid is available, and those trying to resist the loss of their cash even have to fund their own interpreter. I have seen experienced counsel make mincemeat of confused respondents whose first language is not English, still less legal English. It isn't a fair fight, and perhaps it ought to be.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Poisson D'Avril

Some heartless soul arrived early at court today and fixed spoof HMCS notices to the loo doors and the coffee machine, to the effect that there would henceforth be charges to use the toilets, for hot drinks, and to park in the justices' car park.

A handful of colleagues were fooled for a few minutes, but the commonest reaction was along the lines of :"I wouldn't put it past the buggers".