Archive for June, 2012

Of course, ‘I’m listening’ was the catchphrase of fictional radio psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane. Frasier was a character that lasted 20 years, funny, neurotic, pompous and entirely loveable.

Of course, Crane and the actor, Kelsey Grammer who plays him are conservative. Nevertheless, Grammer is someone who knows the price of privacy having sued to protect his own and having being sued for supposedly invading that of an ex girlfriend.

Theresa May clearly doesn’t share his conservative concern about privacy. Theresa May wants to listen to everything you have to say.

But not of course if you’re less than keen on the draft Communications Bill. If you have something to say about that, well, Theresa is more interested in next season’s Laboutins.

She’s certainly not listening

Libertarian commentators have voiced concern about the Bill. Why? Because they don’t think it is proper to require private communications companies to store details of every text message, email, website visit or phone call that you make.

And, the Liberty crowd aren’t the only ones. The Constitutional Court in Germany held that to do so would be unconstitutional, oh and so did the Czech Republic and… the Romanians.

But should you dare criticise the Bill you are simply dismissed as a conspiracy theorist.

Yes, you’re a conspiracy theorist. You live in your parents box room, you have body odour, wear a ‘They Shot JFK’ t-shirt and use your super fast broadband to look up websites all about how the Queen and the CIA are in league to try and take over the world.

Or…

You’re a concerned citizen. But why, why be concerned? Because, afterall, if you’ve done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide.

Yeah sure.

Sorry, but I still have some concerns.

My first concern is my phone bill. ‘eh? Well, Orange are going to have put in place new systems to record all these billions of peices of information and hand them out to the Government when required. Of course, that’s going to be added to my phone bill.

And, well, there’s my tax bill too, no doubt there’ll have to be a variety of systems put in place and non-jobs to manage this wonderful society saving power. We’ll be paying for those too no doubt.

But, it’s not going to be simply the police and the security services with this power. Oh no, because of course HMRC will require them to track down tax evaders and well, the local council will need them too to catch those pesky benefit fraudsters (and people who put their bins out a night early.) And, lest us not forget the NHS, if too many biros go missing from A&E their counter fraud lot better be able to check everyone’s phones to be sure there’s not a trade in illict bics.

Expensive, given to hundreds of agencies and, lacking in safeguards.

Because, to get this data you will not need a warrant. The local snooper at your local council will be able to get hold of this data and no doubt they shall.

Practicality aside

The reason this has come into the foreground is simply because the technology is there to do it. Computers are more advanced, this amount of data can be handled more simply and efficiently. So, why not.

And, if I were being cynical (guilty), I might say that as coppers and prosecutors get the chop, these powers might make it a little easier for speculative investigations when the man power isn’t available to do the full thorough job.

But, what about other dangers? Because, technology is advancing. Voice recognition is a great example. Remember your first PC? No doubt it was bundled with ‘voice type’ software. You’d spend 4 hours training the software to recognise and type your voice. Then, you’d use it in word for the first time.

‘Dear Sirs, I write to complain about the service I received in the Staines Tesco’s yesterday’

And on the screen would appear

‘Bear furs, might detain trout reverse in the stains testicles lest he may’

But technology has moved on. Voice recognition is reaching new levels, software is available which indicates whether people are telling the truth. We phone call centres and conduct banking transactions with computers.

So, we can’t be far off technology  that can pick out key spoken words and phrases. Say a keyword on the phone, security service file opens. Or, why not install the technology in all licenced premises, or better yet, all public places.

Why not? Because I’m entitled not to have my phone calls listened to, or my emails scanned. I’m entitled to share a secret with a friend.

Walk down this path and criminal trials will turn into English literature lessons. The few police officers left will be forced to collate huge transcripts and when juries get them guilty and not guilty will depend on the interpretation of a word or a phrase. Of course, the police won’t have time or the resources to investigate any other things most of the money being spent on IT technicians.

Anger

If I want to slag off the Government, I am entitled to. I am entitled to because I live in a liberal democracy. I am entitled to do it on the phone, or via email, without the contents being checked because I mention a key word. I’m entitled to privacy.

I cannot understand how the Conservatives who harped, loudly about civil liberties before being elected and slammed the Labour erosion thereof can possibly put this draft bill out there.

Moreover, the Liberal Democrats, supposedly the party that will guard our rights the most are supporting this. For heaven’s sake, they have liberal in their name!

Why doesn’t the coalition save the money on the software and simply adopt the Gauleiter system. Boris can be gauleiter of London and that woman who lives down your street who curtain twitches can be Blockleiter and report you to the council when you put your bins out an hour early.

As a country we have shed so much of our own blood and that of others in the name of liberty, each step like this we take dishonours those lives.

Start listening now Theresa

FTD.

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This isn’t a post about whether criminals are all stupid. (FYI, they’re not all stupid.)

This isn’t a post about whether I’m stupid to be a barrister with a criminal practice. (FYI, I’m not rich and my feet hurt)

No, this is a post about whether the suggestion (and perhaps implicit snobbery)  that criminal counsel don’t cut it in the cerebral sense.

D’uh

These days all barristers have to reach a minimum degree class of II.ii so I’m told to get on the BTPC. They’ve got to then pass that and they’re free to get a clump of horse hair on their head.

Other than that, it’s upto each chambers to set their minimum entry standards.

This has been bothering me for the last few days for two reasons:

1) There was a little unpleasantness on twitter about the intellectual prowess of criminal briefs.

2) Thinking about my own future

You see, most of the Bar these days is specialised. People focus on one main area of law and stick to it. Sort of makes sense, surgeons focus on particular body parts/processes, but they’re still doctors at the end of the day.

And, in writing this, I accept from the outset that I’m not 100% in crime. But, I would say I’m 100% in criminal justice.

To give you a flavour, first five books in front of me:

– Foreign National Prisoners Law & Practice

– Public Order Law & Practice

-Blackstones Magistrates’ Court Guide

– Police Misconduct

– Administrative Law

So that gives you an idea. If anyone asks me what I specalise in I say ‘criminal justice’ – it makes them crease their forehead. If I say criminal barrister they think I’m an actor, if I say public law they think I’m an academic.

The upset

The upset was, (I don’t think intentional) about the criminal bar and its entry levels. The basic premise being that you don’t have to be as clever to be a criminal barrister compared to a commercial barrister.

Hmm, I don’t think that’s right. What’s right is the commercial bar will demand first class degrees and often post graduate degrees.

The criminal bar on the other hand (although not a low entry standard) will expect a good class of degree and other things. The other things are advocacy skills, life experience and increasingly the ability to generate work.

The academics for the commercial bar and public law bar are high, but other aspects don’t get weighed in as much.

But, academics aren’t so divisive. I’ve got the same degree as a mate from Uni,he’s at a top civil set, his contemporaries are similarly qualified on paper as me.

Other classmates had firsts and work in chancery sets/commercial sets and before doing so worked at law commission or similar. Are they cleverer than their criminal counterparts? I think often they are, certainly when it comes to ‘the law’ , analysing it and de-constructing it.

But, what was apparent when we were all packed off together on our pupil advocacy course was that intelligence comes in different forms. Those of us with a criminal bent would cross examine off the cuff and think on our feet, the admiralty/chancery brigade weren’t so comfortable on their feet.

Being able to think on your feet is a crucial kind of intelligence that all barristers must possess but to different degrees.

And, emotional intelligence too, more client facing the barrister, more necessary to be able to read people and relate to them.

The best example I have to disprove the divide is this: there was a fellow in the year above me at uni, super brain, did a BCL, taught law to undergraduates at Oxford, on the rise at the chancery bar now. Much respect for him. We were talking about our comparative practices, he said how much he’d love to do a jury trial but realised that he wouldn’t be able to present a case to a jury and cross examine like a criminal barrister could.

So, in academics there’s no doubts that there’s parts of the bar which are academically demanding. But ‘academic’ intelligence, or application of the law are not the only indicators of intelligence. It takes a great deal of intelligence to duck and weave with witnesses.

But the pay packet

I do genuinely think there’s a bit of assumption as to ‘cleverness’ in our pay packets.

Stop, you might be saying. Stop, the reason commercial barristers or public law barristers receive more money is because they’re dealing with high financial value cases and are privately funded.

But, I return to my bookshelf. If I were doing a parole board, I’d be paid more to apply to release someone from prison then I would when defending them to stop them going in there in the first place.

The way legal aid works in criminal cases is that it presumes I never write anything. It doesn’t pay me to draft advices or skeleton arguments. Legal aid in civil areas does.

So perhaps the way legal aid funding is distributed reflects what the government thinks of the criminal bar, they think it’s simple, it’s easy. I certainly don’t get paid to research the law! Afterall, these days they’re content to send non-lawyers to the Magistrates’ Court to prosecute criminal cases.

And that was my worry, should I switch focus from the criminal part of my criminal justice practice to the justice bit. I really don’t want to. I love a good legal argument but there’s nothing like the buzz of cross examining a liar.

Crime don’t pay

Leveson is my pet hate at the moment. I wonder the rates the lawyers are on who are involved. The Government, no doubt, are paying those lawyers much more than those who are in the Old Bailey in murder cases, or in Southwark doing multi million pound frauds.

Leveson is easier than a criminal trial, there’s no doubting that, so why the inequity/inequality in pay?

I think it’s because the Government think that criminal law is simple.

Bimbo barristers?

I hope you’ll agree, criminal counsel are not stupid. All breeds of barrister are different types of clever. Different depending on what their client demands.

The difference is that Government after Government have acted like criminal law is something that is simple and that doesn’t deserve to be properly paid for.

But then, let’s face it, it’s not just briefs. Dumbing down criminal justice is systemic. Less resources for police. Less police officers, more civvies. Probation officers not allowed to use their brains but just tick boxes. Privatise this, privatise that.

You’re criminally stupid if you think that the Government care about crime. How can they care about crime when they fail to properly invest in the criminal justice system.

FTD