Archive for July, 2012

‘Pretty Boy’ , ‘Lad’ and ‘GQ’ sometimes have to work at weekends. Deals. Doing deals. I don’t really understand what they do, but it involves very angry lawyers sitting in their offices throughout all hours making conference calls and sending emails.

And, I work weekends too. Certainly not so bad as it was, it used to be a Saturday morning of hell in the West London cells with ‘John Bull’ but now that’s only once in a while.

I understand Saturday Court. It makes sense in any urban centre. Saturday Court is supposedly about remand time and making sure that people don’t spend too long in custody without judicial scrutiny.

Reality is,  police stations need to empty out the punters from Friday, before they start the Saturday rush…

 The dreaded pilot scheme

I feel sorry for pilots, every bad idea that the Government comes up with involves their profession in the title.

No doubt some of you will recall the virtual court pilot. I cannot express how much time and effort that wasted. I won’t rant about here – I have no doubt many  of my readers lived through that one.

The latest. ‘Flexible Courts’. That means, more Court hearings in the evening and on Sundays.

Sundays. People work on Sundays, I accept that. My first job was a Sunday job. But for the rest of the week I was doing my GCSEs and A-Levels. I wasn’t doing a Crown Court trial.

Why on earth do we need to open Courts on Sunday?

I was speaking to @LisaCallum on twitter. She’s a solicitor in a ‘pilot’ area. She was saying that locally they could fit the work into four days.

So why turn a Sunday into a Monday?

It’s not because the Government hates legal aid lawyers / criminal defence lawyers (although sometimes I feel that way.) I think there’s an underlying motive and you get a flavour in Bystander’s recent short blog:

http://magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/slog.html

There’s two things that stand out to me:

They are working us hard these days. Because we have closed several courtrooms more business has to be shoved through the remaining ones.

And then, how,

I asked the DS [read duty solicitor – FTD] if she had advised her client,, and she said yes, but unconvincingly enough for us to retire for  cup of tea while the Clerk made quite sure that the defendant understood what he was doing.

More bodies going through a court room. More slog for the duty solicitor. More slog for the duty solicitor, less client time. Less client time, less advice time. Less advice – less access to justice.

I mean this with no disrespect to Bystander, but he’s a Magistrate! A Magistrate asking a Defendant about running a form of mitigation. That scares me.

But there’s the first saving:

More work in a single Court room means:

  • Less legal advisors.
  • Less Magistrates’ £7.50s
  • Less Duty Solicitors.

And this is what Sunday Court is about! It won’t just be remand, come on.

It’ll do everything.

Open a big Court on Sunday means:

  • Work can be transferred away from quiet rural Courts.
  • Rural Courts can be closed.
  • Legal aid franchises can be rationalised.

And my supporting evidence

The Government has produced this, ‘Swift and Sure Justice’ white paper.

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/policy/moj/swift-and-sure-justice.pdf

Have a gander.

Now you get why I’m suspicious:

More ‘police led prosecutions’ – translate: less CPS lawyers salaries to be paid. No independent scrutiny of charging.

‘Out of Court disposals’ – this is actually, Magistrates, sitting alone, handing out punishments outside of Courts – translate: no Defence lawyers. No legal advisors. No expensive Court buildings. And, no law. No law = no justice.

– ‘Reform of video link hearings’ – translate: less witness expenses. Less jailer expenses. Less access to clients, less ability to judge the demeanour of a witness.

Justice is not that malleable

I object to Sunday Court as it will have a negative effect on my ability to do my job.

However, worse than that it will have a negative effect on the people in the system.

Sunday Court is clearly part of a wider policy to close Court centres.  Court centres are expensive. Summary justice is expensive. The Government doesn’t really care about Summary Justice, it isn’t in the spotlight very much.

The negative effect is this: smaller courts will be closed. Smaller firms who service those courts will be closed (n,b the Government are keen for this as it will help them to push their ‘factory’ legal aid firms doing work on the cheap), people will have to travel further. People who might have a defence will be punished because they have no access to a lawyer and are not judged by a lawyer. Those using the duty solicitor scheme will receive reduced advice. Trials will be at the mercy of video links  and judgment as to demeanour will depend on a person’s ‘television manner.’

That’s not flexible justice. That’s breaking one of Justice’s arms off.

FTD

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There can be no doubt that the CPS treat racially aggravated offending very seriously indeed. That has sometimes led me to find myself in trials that I can’t believe have come to Court, not because they’re not serious, but because there’s very little evidence. But the CPS guidance makes it almost always in the public interest to prosecute in such cases.

And, you can see why. Racism is in any form unacceptable. Racism does not have a place in 21st century Britain.

But how do you feel about paying for the prosecution of John Terry.

Let me do something which feels unusual, let me try and put this neutrally:

The everyday trial

Section 5 of the public order act is one of the most simple offences in our criminal law. In fact, it can be dealt with by fixed penalty notice.

The racially aggravated version of the offence cannot be dealt with by fixed penalty notice but remains an offence which:

a) Can only be tried in the magistrates’ court.

b) Can only result in the accused being fined.

Even if you were on a low income you would not be guaranteed legal aid to defend the charge as it not considered to be sufficiently serious in all cases to justify legal aid.

To prosecute this charge you would be prosecuted by either a CPS prosecutor employed directly by government, or by the lowest level of barrister, a Grade 1 prosecuting barrister.

To give you an idea of fees, the defending barrister on legal aid would receive between £75 and £150 for the half-day trial. The prosecution barrister generally is on between £150 to £250 for a day for the CPS. So, again, between about £75 to £125 for that half day trial.

The average trial of this type would be heard by 2 or 3 magistrates (who receive their bus fare and a chocolate biscuit and weak tea) and would probably take half a day of a Magistrates’ Court time.

The Court house itself would be guarded by the contracted security guards.

The celebrity trial

John Terry is being tried in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. This is the Court where some of the most high profile cases in the country are heard. It is the extradition court, it deals with the cases of public protest and disorder in the capital and deals with the most humble shoplifting from Oxford Street.

The Court has a number of resident, salaried District Judges including the Deputy Senior District Judge and the Senior District Judge.

The John Terry trial is being heard, we are told for five days, by the Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales.

He is being prosecuted by Duncan Penny, Duncan Penny has been a barrister for 20 years, he is from the top prosecution set in the country. A set of chambers which advise MI5 / MI6 on policing terrorism.

His fee for the trial will reflect his expertise and his 20 years experience. This is being paid for by the tax payer.

Terry is being defended by George Carter-Stephenson QC, he is a barrister with over 30 years experience and has the magic two letters after his name. Of course, Terry is paying for that expertise.

I add, if Terry is acquitted then the tax payer will be liable to pay for those fees, although probably not in full, they will be required to pay a  signficant part.

The Terry trial has required the deployment of a large police presence.

So…

The cost, in lawyers, court and policing is huge compared to the everyday trial.

If you had the choice? Do you think it’s worth the cost? This is when less and less people receive legal aid, courts are closing, there are less bobbies on the beat, cautions are preferred to prosecutions in a number of cases.

Or, is it worth the money? Is it worth showing all society that footballers are not above the law, that racism will be prosecuted doggedly and that the CPS will deploy the resources necessary to fight this ill.

As I say, I’ve tried to keep this neutral, I’d love to know what you decide.

FTD.

Shortly before 4am on Sunday, I was on a nightbus rocking and rolling it’s way back to my part of London. In Reading, a 17 year old boy called Jordan Malutshi was on the floor of a bar, dying from a stab wound.

I predicted Jordan’s death.

Not in a  psychic Sally sort of way, but in the sort of way that any criminal justice professional could.

On Saturday, I was  out on a hen night in the centre of London. Yes, a hen night, save your jokes folks. And, I’ve got to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve been out clubbing in the centre of London, and it’s been even longer since I’ve been sober whilst doing it. I say sober, I mean sober enough so I was compos mentis.  It was 2 o’clock  in the morning, I was on a sweaty dance floor in a central London club, and out of nowhere they started to blast YMCA. Slightly taken by surprise, my mind went for a wander. As I looked around, I realised why so many violent cases came out of clubs.

And it’s not just rough clubs, or bad clubs/bars/pubs, it’s a risk in many places simply because of the way these late night places work.

Booze means bovva

Of course, put any large group of strangers together and throw alcohol into the mixer and there is the risk of bother. I’m far from an advocate for prohibition but I am certain that licensing law could stop some serious injury and offending.

The Licensing Act 2003 had as one of its key aims the prevention of crime. Part 7 of the Act contains a raft of offences, offences which are designed to keep the boozer-going public safe. In general, it’s an offence under section 140 of the Act to allow disorderly conduct on a licensed premises – an offence which is fineable only.

And, again, under section 141 it is an offence to sell alcohol on such a premises to somebody who is drunk – an offence, again which is fineable only.

‘Drunk’ and ‘disorder’ are not precise terms of art. Indeed, the scope of circumstances they present means by their very nature that if you’re hardwired to defend like I am, then you can see ways around it for the license holder. What is apparent is that the penalties involved aren’t loaded with a heavy disincentive.

The reality is people will get drunk and they will get disorderly. Proving that a person was drunk when served and that it was the premises that allowed their disorder don’t seem like simple tasks.

That said, I see the intention behind the legislation, but I realise as I hope you do that the reality is that it doesn’t solve  much.

I came to the conclusion on that sweaty dance floor that it’s nigh on impossible to legislate against drunken stupidity.

Name’s not on the list, you’re not coming in

In fact, we got to the first club we were meant to go to that night, and despite being on the guest list, we were told, ‘we’re at capacity, you aint coming in.’ And capacity is often at the starting point of any club/pub brawl. Someone gets barged into, somebody gets a drink spilled, an elbow goes flying on a dance floor and then all hell breaks loose.

It’s not just my old man bones, but, quite simply at some points during the evening the club we were in was simply too full.  Could we have got out if there was a fire? Probably so. Were we likely to get crushed at any stage? Doubt it. But, the simple fact of the matter was that there were too many people in the potential ‘flash zone.’

I’m not saying that I need an EU approved bubble of personal space. But, in the algorithm that decides venue capacity, public order should be considered as well as fire safety.

I’ve had a look at the algorithm. It’s all very clever, you divide the standing area by something called occupied load factor. So in a restaurant, there’s an occupied load factor of about 1m2 per person, the same for a waiting room somewhere. In an amusement arcade or a bingo hall it’s 0.5m2 per person. But that’s the same as a nightclub.

Does it really compute that the local mecca bingo can have the same capacity as the local nightclub?

Somewhere, in the mix of capacity ought we not consider a public order, or public disorder factor?

And, it’s the same with staffing. I haven’t been able to find anything which differentiates the number of security staff one needs for a nightclub than that bingo hall – please correct me!

When I lived in the US, I remember one night, which I’ll never forget. It was the local hip hop night at a big nightclub. Off we pop and I’ve got to admit I was a bit disconcerted. My initial worry was the fact that on the front door were a couple of Sheriff’s deputies, armed. Alas, never worry they have metal detectors at Ministry of Sound I thought.

Inside, where usually would be stood bouncers, were fully uniformed, armed, Sheriff’s deputies – and they had civvy  security there as well. I’ve never been to such a well behaved club night in my entire life. I’d hate to have the police inside clubs here, but, numbers and visual deterrence really do make a difference.

The greater good

All the Westcountry exiles I know love the film, ‘Hot Fuzz’. In short, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a comedy about coppers in a rural town. And, if, like I did, you grew up in a rural town you go, yep, that’s the spot. And in the fi;m, they have, the greater good, it’s better that the kids are let down the local pub a couple of years early than they’re roaming the streets. Where I grew up was no exception, we were down the local nightclub at 16.

But age is important. The first place we went on Saturday night certainly would not have admitted the bum fluff crowd. The second place most certainly did.

Let’s face it, when you’re younger you generally can’t  handle your booze as well and you generally can’t handle yourself as well whilst boozed. Slipping a through elder teenagers  on the cusp of alcoholhood may seem harmless enough but essentially they are at risk. I say nothing more than this, as we don’t know the facts, but I note at this stage that Jordan Malutshi was 17 years old and murdered in a bar.

The younger clubbers were at the centre of the bother on Saturday. There was the standard pushing and chest puffing. And, amusingly for us blokes on the hen party (there were many blokes), the girls in our group were often the target of shall we say, ‘physical overtures’ by the younger drunker guys in the club. Chivalry being dead as it is, we left the ladies to deal with this young guys themselves which they did with ease, mostly with a cutting glance. However, you could see in other situations how it might of all got a bit primal.

Again, the Licensing Act 2003 protects children to a degree from being at these premises by creating a raft of offences in that regard. Sections 145 thru 154 deal with such offences. But, of course there are defences to some of those offences. It’s a defence to take all reasonable steps to establish someone’s age and there’s a defence that nobody could have reasonably suspected the person was  under 18 years old.

I point out here, the sale of alcohol to a child is again, fineable only.

In this respect enforcement is a difficulty. Unlike our American cousins, the general public do not see raiding public houses/clubs and checking everybody’s age as an acceptable way to interrupt our evenings off. Nor if  we’re entirely honest do the local police have the resources to mount this type of operation regularly enough for it to have any real deterrent value.

How do you legislate to keep kids out of trouble? You can’t simply, not that I can think of anyway. That was one of the very few attractions of Labour’s ID card policy, that this type of problem had some sort of solution. However, it was only really a solution in ruralshire where I grew up. If you’re in London, or Manchester, or Liverpool, you have no end of foreign kids visiting – do you require them to all carry their passports?

In this regard, I have to be honest, I think the potential for harsher sentencing may have a deterrent effect.

It’s all a bit obvious really…

… that over populated, under staffed, over intoxicated clubs, will be a flash zone.

What worries me is how obvious it was to me as a criminal justice professional whilst I was trying to look good on the dancefloor.

We don’t know as of yet if any of my concerns above contributed to Jordan Malutshi’s death. What we do know is that some simple pragmatic steps could be taken to reduce violence in late night venues.

And whilst we’re at it, another few Vomit and Kebab chariots (night buses) wouldn’t hurt you TFL.

FTD.