Archive for May, 2012

In the late 90s, a black barrister appeared on television. She turned up to the chambers in Kavanagh QC and was instantly confused as an asylum seeker by the chambers stick-in-the-mud Jeremy Aldermartin.

Good old John Thaw took her under his wing and she won out over her plummy white male pupil rival. Of course, she faced racism on the way.

I think that was 1995.

It’s now 2013 – we’re still talking about diversity at the Bar.

In May of this year the Guardian commented, they said the traditions of the Bar were suited to those who were public schooled. The dinners made students from other backgrounds feel out of place. Dinners to me were easy. I went to state school.

Dinners for me were easy for three reasons: 1) I’m gregarious like most criminal barristers are; 2) for the big ones I often sat with ‘Silk Cut’ who would introduce me to the big names; 3) I’d been to Oxford so I’d done the sit next to intimidating figures I didn’t really want to.

Friends of mine who had been to other universities (privately educated before or not) – found it a bit more difficult. But nobody senior at the Bar ever talked down to them or were rude. In fact, they were incredibly welcoming.

So we can keep the dinner dates.

Pick a colour

In terms of diversity, there were 12000 self-employed barristers, of those, 1000 considered themselves as being from a BME background. What’s that? About 8%?

2001 census, the UK population was 92% white.

I don’t think colour is a problem.

One thing I do wonder about is how ethnic diversity is distributed across the Bar. There are senior black and asian barristers at the Criminal/Immigration/Public Law Bar.  The legal aid bit – what about in the commercial/chancery/admiralty sets?

Where were you schooled

I took another Barrister as a date to a party. One of my mate’s girlfriends who was a bit of a toff deployed her opening gambit: what do you do etc. Fair enough. Then, ‘Oxbridge I assume?’ to which the date replied ‘yes’ and toff approved, by the end of the evening she’d established where she’d gone to school and what her parents did.

Cringing yet?

It’s in the news this week. Firstly, the Sunday Times announces that public schooled barristers are disproportionately represented at the Bar and then the Etonian-son-of-a-judge pupil barrister was given a slap on the wrists for possession of drugs.

The Barrister presence on twitter is beginning to twinge and stir.

Why are the public schooled over represented at the Bar?

I think it’s simple. Public school applicants still do better at exams because of the personal attention and quality of education they receive. They are as a result able to access the best universities. And, the Bar wants to recruit the best from the best universities.

And so it should be.

The problem is, people still worry that the Bar is nepotistic. Won’t lie to you, I’ve seen an example of it. But that’s only one example in a much wider pool of entrants.

At the Legal Aid Bar it seems unnatural that nepotism would exist. It’s our job to represent all, I can’t see who ‘Daddy is’ really helping with that, nor where you did your GCSEs.

But for the ‘private bar’ – I don’t really know.

The real problem

The heart of the Bar identity problem as I see it, is that we don’t want to be seen as Jeremy Aldermartin/Clive Reader types. We want to be seen as being open to all who merit entry.  And that’s good as far as I’m concerned.

But, we’ve got a problem with recruitment. The problem is, we don’t know what image we’re recruiting in. Who do chambers want?

We want to be an elite profession but not elitist.

(So, do we fight the Oxbridge/Russell bias?)

We want to be an international profession but maintaining British standards.

(Do we prefer home grown, or try and bring in non-British nationals?)

We want to be service all parts of the community but want to be paid properly for it.

(We want to attract people from all sectors of society, but how do we pay for poorer entrants to train?)

We want to provide a service based on standards but is commercially viable.

(Do we choose candidates who are the best as bringing in the business or doing the work?)

Want to be traditional but yet progressive.

(Some of our traditions are linked to some of the most noble of our values but they may turn off entrants from diverse backgrounds)

We want to (in the most part) remain self-employed but want to support people from non traditional backgrounds

(Self-employment assists our independence but how do we support single Mums/Fathers or Carers who want to enter the profession)

Magic wand

I don’t think we can wave a magic wand, such as targets as to recruitment or such like. It won’t solve the problem. The Bar won’t change until it knows what it is in 2012.

If you’re thinking about the Bar though, I can assure you, we’re not all public schooled, Oxbridge educated, British white men.

FTD

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FTD is never found with a decent pen in his pocket. Whilst his plummy contemporaries pull out beautiful Mont Blanc pieces, no doubt given to them for some achievement by a friend or family member, I’m often without a pen at all, or some broken biro that I’ve chewed the end off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a couple of nice pens (one, very nice bought from my Grandparents), but they inevitably run out of ink and I inevitably have lost the last batch of £10 a pop cartridges I bought for them.

I’ve never been able to hold on to a pen for long since I was a kid.

My solution was generally two fold: 1) smile at a friendly usher and be provided with a piece of bulk bought Court Service stationery, this is now impossible since Court Staff were forbade pens and now must do with eco friendly economical pencils OR 2) hunt around the robing room/advocates’ room for some abandoned ill functioning writing implement.

But nowadays, I have a new solution. The free biro. Ah yes, that little piece of plastic marketing that adorns many a solicitor’s conference desk. I now collect them, in large quantities, probably to the extent that ought to be frowned upon.

Thing is, that little piece of plastic represents the demise of our jusitce system.

‘Eh?

No, haven’t lost my mind, honest.

But it’s back again, the great Solicitor Advocate v Barrister debate.

In short, solicitor advocates are qualified solicitors who take an extra qualification during practice which entitles them to practice in all Courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. They can qualify in civil, or criminal law, or both.

Solicitor Advocates complain that they are treated rudely by the Bar and are assumed to be somehow inferior.

Barristers complain that Solicitor Advocates take briefs which they are not capable of doing and often put profits before representation.

The reality

I have seen barristers be incredibly rude to and about solicitor advocates. I had one particularly unpleasant member of the Bar bark at me for having lunch, in public, with a solicitor advocate.

I have had solicitor advocate friends complain to me that they are pressured into taking cases that they don’t feel ready for or are not capable of. And, I’ve seen solicitor advocates sit behind barristers in cases, commanding large fees where they have done nothing and are merely paid for sitting there.

As a junior junior, I’ve grown up with solicitor advocates. ‘Favourite solicitor’ one of the people who has helped my career most has become a solicitor advocate recently. I don’t dislike solicitor advocates, I don’t feel superior to them, they just do a different job then I do.

I recently co-defended with  a solicitor advocate, I was first on the indictment so took the lead. When we got to the end of the trial and the jury went out he told me that it was his first Crown Court trial but he hadn’t wanted to tell me as he worried I might have taken advantage.

I felt incredibly sad at that. I would have helped out all I could, other members of the Bar would have done too I hope? A number of times in the Magistrates’ I have co-defended with people doing their first trial, they’ve told me and I’ve helped out, especially baby barristers.

I’ve said to ‘Favourite solicitor’ if she wants to do her first Crown Court trial with me then I am happy to co-defend with her. Am I a traitor? Am I taking work away from the Bar? I don’t think so, as I know she’d only ever take on something she was capable of doing.

Back to the biro

The problem with the free biros is what is represents. Big firms of solicitors doing big quantities of work. That’s what the Government wants and they want them to do it on the cheap.

That inevitably will mean that more and more advocacy is kept in house at solicitors firms and that barristers will be used less. Bigger isn’t always better, often means less individual attention for clients.

The free biro is: remember us, we gave you a pen. Not, remember us because we have a relationship and represent your interests to the best of our ability.

Standards count when you’re playing with somebody’s liberty/livelihood.

My reality

I don’t worry about solicitor advocates. Why? Because I’m going to do my job to the best of my ability, put in the hours and hope to be noticed.

The end of the Bar is not nigh, the end of the Criminal Bar might be. But, if the Bar as a concept was outdated, it would have gone already, like Sergeants-at-Law. Look at the other end of things, the Commercial Bar is booming. If Commercial Solicitors wanted to do that job, they would and they could, they don’t – why?

And this is my objection, not to solicitor advocates, but to the ‘bulk buy legal services provider’:

Independence. Solicitor advocates are for the most part employed by their partners. In-house barristers are the same. They are open to pressure from individuals more senior to take on certain cases, or conduct them in a certain way. On the prosecution side of things, the lack of independent advocates creates incredibly odd situations – who has ownership of cases? Quite recently my opponent, at the independent bar took a view about the case, despite her seniority she had to take instructions from an in-house CPS lawyer who knew nothing about the case.

Independence has two further advantages: it means fresh eyes on a case and it means that Court advocates will have a wider range of experience. Why? Because they are not limited to a particular pool of clients, police officers, Judges in a small number of court centres. Independent provides a breadth of experience which helps for continuing learning and development.

Money, money, money: I’m not allowed to give kick backs, or negotiate deals. The Government has set a rate (they get a good deal!) for the services of a qualified Court advocate. That rate takes into account the amount of witnesses, pages of evidence and other matters which will have an impact on how long I have to prepare a house.

If I am giving a bung to a solicitor, or there is a certain arrangement where someone has got an eye on how much they need to make out of a case, then I am not giving my client the best possible service as then I’ll need to take on more work to fill the hole the bung made and so on.

A client, facing imprisonment or the loss of their livelihood, should get the best possible court advocate. That advocate should be picked for their skill and experience and how they will communicate with that client.

Because, that’s how a commercial solicitor chooses a barrister for their commercial client!

Money is no object

I know money is tight for everyone, but the solicitors and barristers engaged in dodgy financial arrangements are just hastening one thing. That’s big, factory firms, defending clients as cheaply as possible.

Criminal Defence PLC, keeping the overheads low. Keeping the standards low.

But you get a free biro.

So it’s not about barrister v solicitor advocate. It’s lawyers who put clients first v lawyers who put their pockets first.

FTD

p.s – the two firms I nick pens from the most are highly rated and very rarely use in house advocates – irony, the bloody irony.

If you follow me on twitter you’ll know I’ve had one of those weeks. There’s a pain in my neck and I’m not entirely sure if it’s from leaning over a computer or sleeping on a train.

When I finally got out tonight I was ready to switch off. So I dialled up ‘Pretty Boy’ – not that he’s inane, but when I phone him I don’t have to talk about crime, criminals, coppers, prisons or anything like that …. the conversation is much more… extra curricular. And, after ‘Pretty Boy’ I was going to call ‘TV Blonde’ – neither answered.

So as I wandered along through the streets of legal London, dragging wheelie bag behind I got thinking.

First, I smiled to myself, a helpful message @MPSWandsworth my local police, they looked into something I had concerns about. And, they’re fans of my blog, I laughed to myself, funny how many police readers I actually have.

Then I looked at twitter as I wandered along. The tweets were quite sad really. Sam Hallam was a happy piece of news in a sense, but sad that justice had taken so long. The Law Society announced what can only be described as a laughable minimum wage for new trainee solicitors and the police continued to talk about Winsor. Meanwhile home affairs correspondents and police commentators were talking about police privatisation. In other feeds human rights heroes, Hugh Southey QC and Mark George QC were talking about the death penalty.

I was shocked to see how many people had retweeted, my simple missive of the day:

‘Cut legal aid, lower advocacy standards, destroy the independent Bar, privatise the police and then #samhallam will be the norm. #legalaid

There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will

I had a total selfish moment. Bloody hell I thought, when I signed up for my wig it was meant to be simple, do a job I love, defend people in a fair forum, be paid a decent wage, get silk if I’m good enough, retire, die happy.

Now it hardly seems possible.

And then I thought, look at what I’ve missed,Bushel’s case, Somersett’s case, defending the suffragette, marching with the civil rights campaigners for racial integration here and in the US, busting the corrupt police squads, the Guildford 4, Birmingham 6.

And it’s only going to get worse, hellish vision posited here: http://forthedefence.org/2012/04/14/the-way-were-going-criminal-justice-2025/

I got quite depressed, as if I’d missed my moment to make a difference.

But then, I actually realised that we’re standing at a moment in history. A fundamental change in how we deliver criminal justice in this country. It started slowly under the Labour Government.

So: PCSOs, unqualified prosecutors in the Magistrates’ Courts, cuts to legal aid, erosion of the rules as to hearsay, the right to a jury trial and bad character evidence going before juries. A prison service which was underfunded and actively supplanted by the private sector. The probation service’s culture fundamentally changed virtually overnight. Indeterminate sentences handed out all over.

And nobody really paid attention to the slow drip. People complained about the individual changes, but nobody stepped back and looked at things in the whole.

In that environment, Barry George, Sam Hallam wrongfully convicted, probably with many others. It took what, almost 20 years to get justice for Stephen Lawrence.

Now, because of the economic circumstances, that drip has become a gush.

The police have marched against Winsor.

Court staff have walked out.

I’m going to have to learn four languages as there’s no interpreters left.

Barristers are trying to work out if there’s a right for them to strike.

Judges are complaining about declining standards in prosecutions.

People are worried about declining standards in criminal defence.

Trainee solicitors in legal aid fields are looking at a better living in Tescos.

People are asking whether you get a better service if you pay for your own defence and some lawyers are saying yes.

Naturally, we’re all concerned about our own position. We’ve all been reviewed individually, the Bar had Carter, the police have Winsor, the prison service have endless reviews and the probation service have a new name every other week.

Now, we’re saying there should be a Royal Commission on Policing, there should be advocacy tests for defence barristers, we ask Serco to fill the gap where public services used to.

When we say, we don’t like that, we’re accused of self-interest. And, of course that’s true, we are self-interested to a certain degree. But I hope people who don’t work in the criminal justice system accept this:

We were never in it for the money. If I’d wanted to earn more, I could have sat in the office next to ‘Pretty Boy’ in the city.

We’re vulnerable, why, because we’re in a vocation, our vocation is to secure justice, that I hope is the same for lawyers, coppers, probation officers and the rest…

And that should be our focus.

Hold the line

Has been a popular hash tag of the police in their campaign. A terribly British phrase which conjures a mental picture of other glorious moments in British history.

So rather than fighting individually (with the risk of being accused of self-interest), explaining how the gush will wash away our part of British criminal justice, why don’t we fight together for a single vision.

My Moses Moment

In my view, the ten commandments of British criminal justice are these:

1) The purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect the individual. Be it, to protect individuals from crime, protect individuals from the coercive power of the state, stop individuals from patterns of destructive behaviour and provide their safety through the passage of the system if Defendant, witness or victim.

2) The police, must police by consent. The police are holders of public office and can never be privatised. They must remain independent from Government, prosecutors and the media.

3)  Every person accused of a crime deserves quality legal representation. Quality of defence should not depend on ability to pay or the financial arrangements between legal services providers and the state.

4) Every person accused of a crime deserves to be tried by an independent body of their peers. The Magistracy must be diverse in age, race and gender and reflect their local communities. The Magistracy must be able to perform their function without excessive interference of the state. If accused of a serious, indictable offence, then every person has an absolute right to trial by jury.

5) Children should not be criminalised for trivial offences. Grass roots discipline comes from teachers and parents/carers not from police officers, lawyers and Judges.

6)The mentally ill should not be punishment for offending. Their treatment is from the social welfare element of the state not the imposition of punishment by the criminal justice system.

7)Prison shall be used as a last resort. Effective community punishment should be the preferred method of disposal. Restorative justice should be common place. For those who custody is the only option, they should be held in public owned prisons where their rehabilitation is the main aim. Punishment, be it in the community or in custody, ought never be for profit.

8) The purpose of the probation service is to prevent re-offending. This  is not an actuarial science, instead it is an idiosyncratic process where well funded probation officers aid offenders in re-integrating into society.

9)The Crown Prosecution Service must remain independent. They must make decisions as to prosecutions free from pressures of the police and the executive. Prosecutions should be based on local need and the prosecutor’s code not concerns of the media and/or pressure groups.

10)The Criminal law protects all and applies to all. Nobody will ever be subject to scrutiny by the police or punishment due to their race, age, gender, nationality or sexual preference. Nobody is above the criminal law due to their occupation, office or income. The Criminal law is deaf to the media but is open and accessible so that the public can see that justice is done.

At the bottom of Mount Sinai

I hope we could all be there together. Those above are my ten commandments. I am sure some of yours would be different. But imagine if we could agree them.

What an amazing message that would be to Government and to the public.

If we all held that line together.

Imagine the march, where I stood there wig and gown, next to me was a Magistrate like Bystander, on the other side a cop, or @Chairforce1, maybe some senior members of the judiciary, QCs too and solicitors from the £6 per hour trainee to the big hitting leaders  of major legal aid firms and the prosecutors, probation officers and YOT workers. Marching behind, coppers in their tunics, Occupy protestors with their banners, victim support workers, legal advisors to the magistrates and qualified criminal justice foreign language interpreters.

That’s not just a line. That’s a dam which could stop the gush from washing away 100s of years of British justice.

FTD

  As said previously, I do not hate the police. I hate bad police officers.

And here is a reminder of what bad police officers can do.

This is a picture of Kelly Thomas. Kelly Thomas died on the 10th of July last year. Now, two American police officers are potentially facing a trial for doing this to him.

A little after 8 o’clock in the evening on the 5th of July last year, police officers in Fullerton California received a call about petty vandalism of cars near the Fullerton bus and train station. Two police officers attended and began to investigate. When they did, they found Kelly Thomas. Kelly Thomas was sitting down without a shirt on. He was homeless and schizophrenic. He was unarmed.

The officers who attended set about searching him. Seems to begin with one of them giving him a slap around the chops.

Then they take their batons out and hit him several times.

They then tazer him.

One of the officers, Ramos, put on latex gloves and asked Thomas “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up.”

They did fuck him up as they punched him, hit him with the butts of their tazer guns. And in the end six police officers piled on top of him. He’d done nothing to resist them.

As Kelly Thomas choked on his own blood, he pleaded with them, they didn’t listen. He cried out, ‘Dad, they’re killing me.’  He even apologised to the officers as they were crushing his face and compressing his thorax.

Nobody deserves to die like this.

Culture

Tomorrow the police march in central London to fight against the Winsor changes in British policing. I think it’s a sign of how great our Democracy is that even the police can show dissent to the state. I am glad that they are unified and have a single voice.

The Fullerton police officers were unified behind their colleagues, to the extent there was a coverup. To the extent that the FBI had to come in and investigate.

So, if you’re marching re: Winsor tomorrow, enjoy that unity. But, if one of your colleagues shows unnecessary violence whilst on duty then expose them, report them and make sure it’s followed up. Unite and show that you’re a great police force, the model of policing by consent. The model of a police force in a Democracy.

If you’re Joe Public and you see the police using violence against someone, don’t simply assume they deserve it. Consider it, report it.

If you’re in power, push for a better IPCC.

If you’re a Magistrate, don’t simply believe that the police would never do such a thing.

And let’s all make sure that we don’t turn into a country where those who we ask to protect us, could turn on one of us like this.

FTD

Yes, I know. We haven’t seen the Bill yet.

Yes, I know. The Bill will be debated and changed.

Yes, I know. The Bill may not even make it into law.

But,

There’s more to life than Winsor

The Police are worried (and I understand why in part) about Winsor. The Police and the public should be worried about any ‘national’  police force. We are not America, we do not need a supra police agency. Why? Because for the most part the criminal law is the same throughout England and Wales. There is no Federal law and Local law. Also, local police forces already co-operate with each other on ‘cross-jurisdiction’ issues. And, national projects are ably co-ordinated by the Met, i.e Counter Terror and specialist protection, Royal protection and diplomatic protection.

And, remember too that the FBI deal with counter-intelligence matters as well. We have MI5 and special branch. Both are older than the FBI and both have sufficed.

Why re-invent the wheel? SOCA deal with extradition matters and larger pieces of international trafficking/fraud – fine, can’t we just leave at that?

Because the risk is this, there’ll be a drain of resources and talent upward into this national agency. That will have a knock on effect on neighbourhood and rural policing. That was very apparent when I lived in the US. The ‘provincial’  policing departments of sheriffs etc had very poor resources compared to their national counterparts and certainly couldn’t attract the talent.

There are two further temptations:

1) That rural/neighbourhood policing can be filled with cheaper options. So what is the cheaper option? Private companies. How are private companies cheaper? Lower entry levels, lower wages, lower training, lower resources.

2) It’s easier to integrate with European policing structures. And European policing structures forward the ‘European criminal law’ project which several  individuals are pushing. A European criminal law makes me shudder. But that’s for another time…

For my vision of where these type of policies lead us see my post on Criminal Justice in 2025: http://forthedefence.org/2012/04/14/the-way-were-going-criminal-justice-2025/

Summary neighbourhood justice

Summary neighbourhood justice. Hmmm, well that’s what Magistrates do already isn’t it?  They are local people, who sit in a summary court of justice. You see, what the Government don’t want is the court bit. Because the court bit is the expensive part. It involves cell staff, buildings, admin, lawyers … all cost. What are the Magistrates going to be doing above what they are doing already.

This: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8941499/Minister-signals-summary-justice-role-for-magistrates.html

So, effectively, putting Magistrates in police stations and having them decide whether or not offenders should be punished out of court there and then or they ought to proceed to Court.

No thank  you:

  1. The police / YOT teams have this discretion because they are full time professionals. They know the prevalence of particular crimes in areas and so on. They have the knowledge to make decisions as to the exercise of a discretion. If that discretion is being exercised incorrectly then that is a matter of training, not importing Magistrates. Magistrates do not sit full time. Magistrates do not have the same feel for local offending and offenders as those professionals that work with them.
  2. Magistrates are meant to be members of the judiciary. They are therefore meant to be independent. This initiative renders that  independence open for encroachment.
  3. Magistrates are not lawyers for the most part. Magistrates are advised as to the law by a legal advisor, without this advice there is a risk of Magistrates acting unlawfully.
  4. Peer pressure. How is a bench of Magistrates to feel if they get halfway through a case and there is scant evidence but it has been sent to Court by one of their colleagues. There will be a certain amount of pressure as they will be aware of the decision one of their number has already made.
  5. Punishment, no matter what type, affects the rights of the individual. If the law is punishing somebody that person deserves to have the protection of a legal  professional guiding them and making appropriate representations on their behalf.

Let’s get real: the Government want less cases  going to Court. The Government want the Magistracy to legitimise this. Please don’t.

Drug driving

Apparently drug driving is to be outlawed. Hmmm, I’ve done a number of drug driving trials already. Have I missed a trick? Was it not an offence. Oh wait, section 4(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988,

 

4 Driving, or being in charge, when under influence of drink or drugs.E+W+S

(1)A person who, when driving or attempting to drive a [F1mechanically propelled vehicle] on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs is guilty of an offence.

? There it is, on the statute book.

I imagine that the Government are going to try and toughen it up, so removing the difficult to prove ‘unfitness’ aspect. Of  course this will mean that the Crown will have to prove the person has been taking drugs. That will of course require expensive equipment. And, because they have learnt nothing from prison law, it means litigation as to the accuracy of the equipment.

Waste-of-time-and-money.

One-for-the-Daily-Mail/Express

Lights, camera, action

Well, all barristers are failed actors so there is no doubt that some will relish the opportunity to appear on screen. This business about demystifying the justice system is utter rubbish. If you’re mystified by the Magistrates’ Court then go and sit in one. If you want to know what goes on in the High Court then you’re welcome to come and visit. Anything else?

There’s nothing mystical about a jury trial. You can watch. Or you can choose not to defer your jury service. They’re not sport/spectacle. They should be allowed to have some dignity. Because I’ll tell you now, if you put a TV camera in a criminal courtroom, then you are putting massive pressure on people, that includes not only lay people like jurors and witnesses, but also Judges and Counsel.

I’ve been in a murder trial in the US where cameras were in the courtroom throughout. It was a circus.

Let’s take a more dignified approach to our justice process please.

They giveth, they taketh away

I was saying just last week how happy I was with some of the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, http://forthedefence.org/2012/05/02/protection-of-freedoms-act-2012-a-quick-guide/ 

The Crime and Courts Bill is not looking as happy a piece of legislation.

Give me liberty or give me death.

Earlier this week I was suggesting that the ConDemNation could afford to be a bit creative and could upset the right wing press.

And this piece of legislation gives me hope that we might see some more liberal legislation (not too much mind). Plus, we may see some restoration of British rights and liberties that were eroded under New Labour.

Samples

The retention of DNA and fingerprints of innocent people was highly controversial. Now the retention of DNA is not a  matter for each individual Chief Constable but laid down in statute.

Sections 1 to 25 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 deals with this.

Some highlights:

  • If the fingerprints or DNA were taken unlawfully then they must be destroyed.
  • The samples must also be destroyed if the person was subject to an unlawful arrest or if the arrest was based on mistaken identity.
  • If somebody is arrested, but not convicted of a ‘qualifying offence’ and their samples are taken, they may  only be retained for 3 years (although this can be extended by a Criminal District Judge – Magistrates do not have this power).
  • Special rules apply to persons convicted once under the age of 18.
  • Voluntarily given samples can only be held until they have ‘fulfilled their purpose (one assumes that large scale voluntarily testing in serial rape/murder cases, destruction of samples upon conviction.)
  • The Secretary of State is to appoint a Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material.

Interestingly as well, sections 26 to 28 deal with the retention of biometric data by schools.

Surveillance

Is dealt with by sections 29 to 38. In short, it changes the law with regard to CCTV and the law with regard to intrusive surveillance.

Highlights:

  • There will be a new code of practice for surveillance camera systems. That code will be put before Parliament and the Secretary of State will keep it under continuing review.
  • A  Court when determining an issue can take into account any breach of this code of conduct.
  • And appointment of another Commissioner, a surveillance Camera Commissioner.
  • Greater judicial scrutiny of the disclosure of telecommunications material/surveillance/

Miscellaneous

More I read this, more I realise it’s a wide piece of legalisation indeed, other features include:

  • A change in the law with regard to powers of entry.
  • Reform of the law with regard to car clamping on private land.
  • The Independent Safeguarding Authority is abolished (another quango in place…)
  • Less activities involving children/vulnerable people are to be regulated.
  • Any men with old convictions for ‘homosexual offences’ i.e sexual activity between men/buggery can apply to have the offence deleted and disregarded.
  • Freedom of Information Act is amended, if you ask for data electronically it ought to be given to you in that form so it is easily reproduced.
  • Stop and search in terrorism cases is reformed

New offences

And new offences, one for stalking, one for trafficking people.

So there’s a start. Important stuff, but not ground breaking. And for anyone who fancies an easy life, there’s two new jobs to apply for…

… wonder what the Magistrates will make of the ‘DJ only powers’,

Do you feel your freedoms are protected?

FTD

 

 

Left a bit. Right a bit. There, perfect. If you’re a regular reader and a bit like me then I imagine that you’re not really sure how to vote at the moment.

I was about to say, ‘I’ll never vote Labour’ – but then I realised I hate people who say, ‘I’ll never vote X’ – kind of takes the thinking out of democracy. What I would say is, it’s unlikely I’ll ever vote Labour. And that’s based on three chapters of life experience.

First chapter, growing up in a rural county, in a rural town. Labour never showed any interest or any knowledge or experience in rural affairs. Quite frankly I never thought they were bothered.

Second chapter, I don’t think we’ve been so close to America as we were in the 00s. Certainly not since Reagan/Thatcher or Roosevelt/Churchill. Did any member of the Labour Government suggest to the American Government that they ought to think about the Federal Death Penalty or Military Death Penalty? Not that I’m aware. And did we persuade them to sign up to the International Criminal Court? Point me in the right direction if they did. Despite this 1000s of Brits are anti-death penalty activists and equal numbers believe in and advocate for the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Present chapter, practice. On a day to day basis it’s rare I use a ConDem law. The law I’m condemned to deal with comes from that Labour decade. And people assume because of my practice I vote Labour. Are you joking? People point toward the Human Rights Act 1998 but they ignore the Criminal Justice Act 2003. If you’re concerned about a ‘British Brand’ of justice, that did more to undermine it than the HRA ever did. Hearsay evidence goes before juries. Bad character evidence goes before juries. Forget the fact that the common law had developed, to balance fairness in these areas for a thousand years. Control orders v Habeas Corpus, the list goes on…

So it’s unlikely I’ll vote Labour.

The promise

David Cameron is…. I don’t know who he is. I thought before the election I did. To me the Tories had made all the right noises in my areas of interest. They were talking about rehabilitation in prisons. They were opposing detention without judicial scrutiny. Maintaining jury trials was an issue they fought Labour on. They opposed the extension of ‘snooping’ powers beyond the security services and police.

And, on a personal level, big society sounded good. In particular, I had hoped that it would support charities like the CAB and help reduce the administrative burden on small charities like the kids’ charity I am involved with.

Labour had already planned to give my colleagues and I a pay cut. I can cope with that, everyone is hurting and I should hurt to as part of my income comes from the public purse. I’m not animated about cuts (although I would like to know how much the Counsel in Leveson for a) the inquiry b) other public bodies i.e the Met are being paid, when we’re having our pay cut…) I understand it needs to be done.

I am animated about stupid behaviour. This constant rhetoric about  the Human Rights Act. Two simple facts: European Convention on Human Rights, we were integral to its instigation, fact two, if you’re not a signatory you cannot be a member of the EU.  The Government knows both these things, they’re banging the drum because parts of the general public like the deafening monotonous thud.

Policing. Winsor is an ill thought disaster. Although I do agree that civilian staff and police officers doing the same job ought to be paid the same, the rest? The rest smells of cutting people. If you want to cut police costs then properly focus their responsibilities and give the public a shock by telling them that an armed response vehicle and helicopter won’t be sent when there’s a child kicking a ball against a wall. And the cultural change needed within aspects of the police, that will somehow be magically achieved by fast tracking graduates. Instead, there ought to have been a full Royal Commission on policing in this country.

And, a manifesto promise, that youth offending would  be dealt with at a grass roots level with increased and earlier social intervention. Young offenders within the system would have the intervention of non-state mentors and access to drug rehabilitation. Yawn, didn’t happen, but don’t worry readers children are still prosecuted for school yard fights and shoplifting paper clips.

I know your secret

I know the Tory Cabinet’s secret. Half of them are in the closet. No, not like that. Another closet. A cupboard actually. A rather regal Chippendale cabinet. A fair few of them are red tories or one nation conservatives.

And there are tell-tale signs:

–          Some of them emphasise development of new green jobs rather than attempting to resuscitate manufacturing industries.

–          Some have attempted to reduce prison numbers and give prisoners purpose.

–          A number shuddered at the thought of privatised police.

–          There’s been moves to reconsider our position on extradition again.

So what do these red tories or one nation conservatives believe in FTD? Simple, we’re one country, united under the law. Building harmony and acceptance between all aspects of society.  It means actively fighting all forms of discrimination and in modern times has focussed on not only this country but promoting the protection of rights abroad. Small government and economic freedoms. And, protecting the rights of individuals and limiting the State’s restrictions on our everyday lives.

Why they’re clearly in the closet

There’s glimmers of one nation in the front bench. Ken Clarke’s abandoned sentencing policy is such an example. Libyan intervention, depending on your view, is another suggestion at least. The dedication to the NHS and free schools are indicative too. Come on, Big Society, there’s a clue if there ever was one.

But they’re scared. Every time they try and do something radical they have a panic attack. The right wing press go mad, the Express and the Mail pour vitriol onto the pages and Cameron panics, flip flops.

The sentencing reforms that Clarke proposed and Cameron initially supported are an apt example.

The ghost of Thatcher haunts them too. Heath, a one nation conservative failed. Thatcher succeeded, she survived  and saved the nation during the last recession. The back benchers are full of Conservative MPs who think that Thatcher was yesterday. They forget the social damage done by images of police officers charging on horseback into protestors.

Those MPs forget that the Winter of Discontent then SWAMP 82 were a watershed for police/public relations and they have not improved really since. The distance between the police and public is one of the reasons why communities can’t form active social cohesion.

And, the Tories too are scared to an extent I think. Scared to appeal to a new generation who want to secure social justice, do not want excessive state intervention in their lives, want their sexual and social preferences to be respected. They don’t want the planet to be destroyed and they want international development to remain on the agenda. That generation want to be able to access education to work in new, green industry and be allowed to get on with things. All one nation Tory values.

May day

I think it’s probably more mayday mayday in the cabinet room in number 10 at the moment. And voter numbers next week threaten to be very low. That should be a big enough hint to the Government. Try something new! Or actually, try something old. Thatcherism might have worked for the 70s recession. Majorism (if there is such have thing) might have worked for 90s.

All of these cuts might be a little easier to swallow if we all felt we were in it together, one nation and the Tories weren’t scared to upset an element of the electorate or the tenants of their back benches.  I hope the British public have enough intelligence to vote for who they prefer, not who the Daily Mail tells them to.

It’s May Day, it’s a good day to come out of the closet, to think about historic approaches and apply them to today’s problems. It might even encourage some of the other parties to do the same.

FTD