Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

Excuse the geek factor for a moment, but when Keir Starmer was appointed DPP I was excited. Excited as I thought it meant a complete change in the country’s prosecution policy. Less resources would be wasted on hopeless trials, there’d be less criminalisation of protesters, there’d be more prosecutions around misfeasance and there would be less of a pursuit of ancillary orders like ASBOs, restraining orders, control orders etc…

What a huge disappointment.

I’m not sure what disappointed me more, his initial decision and subsequent weak looking flip-flop on the prosecution of PC Simon Harwood, or the painful waste of money that was the ‘Twitter Joke Trial’ and the three appeals thereafter…

Now, out of office, all we hear, is his name and then the word closely there associated is, ‘victim’. And, the second word closely associated to him is, ‘Labour’. And in this strange dance out of DPP’s offices and back to private practice, the message (being pumped by someone, I presume in One Brewer’s Green) is that Keir Starmer will be standing for election, as a Labour candidate and he is going to be a champion of victim’s rights.

On the face of it, the cynics will grin a bit, and mentally note how terribly populist it all seems. As someone with a, ‘rights’ based practice, I thought I’d read what appeared to be the flag ship document from Starmer on the subject, in the Guardian, in ‘Comment is Free’.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/03/britain-criminal-justice-system-victims-law-public-prosecutions

There’s the link…

… and read it a couple of times. I actually read it three times. And I genuinely wonder if he has written it. Not because of the contents but the lack thereof. The essential point you’ll have all gathered from it is, ‘we need a victim’s law’ – but then there is absolutely nothing in the article that says what should be in it, the comments below say it all:

“So – are you proposing the most major shift ever in UK law to move away from the adversarial system (in all types of cases, not just cases where sex and abuse is involved)?”

“What system would you suggest?

One without lawyers? Just draw straws – short and your guilty.”

“Having taken the trouble to set out what you see as major flaws in the handling of cases of alleged abuse, all you are able to suggest by way of remedy is a “Victims’ Law” the contents of which you make no attempt to describe and a rebranding of the criminal justice system to incorporate the already discredited bureaucratic platitude “service”.

These are serious issues. Can I suggest you come back when you have given the matter more thought.”

And it goes on… and on….

The whole article is two dimensional. It’s meaningless.

Once you get over the fact that he hasn’t suggested what will be in his ‘victim’s law’, you then move to his justification of it. Most of it seems to be based on the fact that a number of victims told the CPS to quite literally, ‘fuck off’ – Starmer does not blame this on the CPS or the police, instead he blames it on our judicial system, and in particular the adversarial system.

The truth about the adversarial system

It’s easy to blame the adversarial system. It’s easy because it’s the dramatic bit, it’s the bit, where somebody stands up and suggests to the witness they’re mistaken, or they’re telling lies. But very rare is it dramatic like it is on TV, quite often in fact, when we call stand up and call someone a liar, we do so, because we know so. How do we know, generally, a piece of physical evidence, CCTV, a neutral witness and so forth.

It’s not nice being called a liar.

It’s certainly not being nice being caught as a liar.

The reason the CPS were told to fuck off…

May well be because a particular witness was caught in a lie. Every criminal barrister can tell you at least 3 or 4 stories, where the CCTV of an incident (which of course the CPS have!) has completely gone against a witness and their version of events.

Of course, there are other times where witnesses and victims don’t want to give evidence. There’s nothing quite as horrible as seeing a woman being frog marched into Court by coppers to simply cry in the witness box for 20 minutes. That woman (or indeed man) may well have written three or four witness statements, they might all be different, a couple of them may even say they don’t support the proceedings.

It is so horribly nannying, to say we’re going to put victims at the centre of criminal justice but at the same time say they don’t have any right to choose. It irks me so. You either have an impersonal system where by the state is treated almost like the victim, or you have a personal system where it is almost as if the victim directs the prosecution. But if you have the latter you have to let the victim choose, not just presume it’s right for them and sally forth on a prosecution against their will.

Oh, and if you do decide you’re going to prosecute someone against a victim’s will, then at least have the dignity and respect to prosecute the right offence. Strangulation of a woman, throwing a woman down the stairs, breaking her bones, breaking the skin, making her bleed, is not a battery, it’s an offence triable on indictment with a commensurate sentence.

And when you prosecute an offence, could you have the decency to do as follows:

– Send a lawyer with an up to date practitioners’ text. The law has changed since 2009.

– Send a lawyer who has had the papers for more than 30 minutes before the trial starts.

– Send a lawyer who has a level of advocacy whereby at the very least they can compete with a second six pupil*

– It it’s in the Crown Court, pick a barrister and stick with them

– Don’t reduce them to a X or tick system

– Be certain to follow the barrister’s advice on charge and on evidence.

– Be courteous and actually reply to the police officer in charge’s emails

– Don’t lose evidence

– Don’t lose witnesses

– Don’t lose simple cases

(Can I return to the ‘*’ point for a minute. One of the big things to improve CPS advocacy was to send round lecterns for CPS advocates in all Magistrates’ Courts. Fundamentally that makes no difference. Can I say why the standard of a second six pupil is the minimum (( and it’s not solicitor v barrister)) – it’s this: a second six pupil has had the following training: a year in a classroom learning about and doing advocacy exercises, 6 months following around and watch a senior barrister and their advocacy, has completed a course run by senior barristers and Judges as to their advocacy. CPS lose cases because a lot of their lawyers are not advocates.).

Don’t take an obvious point

Labour are taking the obvious point that it’s tough for victims of violent and sexual crime to give evidence. I quite agree. But, a 2D, half arsed, ‘victim’s law’ is not the answer.

And it’s horribly transparent, and disappointing, that you’d use an ex DPP ‘from the other side’ to try and push the point. It looks desperate.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003, did all sorts of damage to the English justice system, it was not properly drafted and has taken 10 years to be litigated and re-litigated. Please do not vote for a ‘Victim’s Law’ – it’s hollow and crass. Vote for a political party that will take the CPS, and take them to task rather than blaming a perfectly good, world replicated, safety conscious adversarial system.

I’m sure St Basil’s Cathedral is beautiful and that borsch grows on you, but, I don’t want to live in Russia. Nor do I want to live in Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran or any other country that doesn’t recognise basic human rights.

I’m not asking for much: I want to live in a country where I can express myself freely without the risk of arrest, where I can practice my religion (or lack thereof), where I can live freely without unlawful interference of my property or person by the State, where I won’t be locked up without due process.

Theresa May said yesterday that the next Conservative Manifesto would promise to repeal the Human Rights Act.

As an aside, the Human Rights Act doesn’t actually give anybody any new rights. What it simply does is incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights directly into English law. I.e, you can enforce one of your ECHR rights in an English Court of any level, rather than having to go to every English Court and then go to Strasbourg. If you didn’t know, you have had ECHR rights since the 1950s, they were thought to be essential by great men and women: Churchill. Being a signatory to the Convention is a necessary condition before a nation is able to ascend to EU membership.

The ECHR is simple enough, google it, simple things like the right to life, the right to a fair trial. Things that you want, that you expect.

Let’s be honest, Theresa May isn’t saying that she doesn’t want you to have those rights. She’s keen to express herself and live freely without the risk of arbitrary arrest.

No, the truth is, that a poisonous section of our society do not like the universal aspect of human rights.

And that varies in degree:

Why should prisoners have rights? They committed crimes, they’ve been taken out of society.

Why should asylum seekers have rights? They aren’t in their home country, they’re guests in somebody elses.

Why should the unemployed have rights? They aren’t contributing economically to society, why should they be protected by it.

Uncomfortable yet? My skin is crawling.

What about disabled people with genetic conditions. Should they have the unfettered right to reproduce?

Or, what about the mentally ill? Or children?

Now I’m feeling a little sick.

The haves and have nots

Repeal the Human Rights Act, in reality we’re all have nots. Not being able to directly enforce one’s Convention rights in domestic Courts is not a positive thing. Nor, in reality to any of us benefit from the legal situation of suddenly extracting those rights from the system, especially when 10 years of common law decisions are based on the Convention having direct effect. Legal uncertainty is not a good thing, especially when it concerns the rights of the individual.

The citizens and the slaves

Those with a historic inclination would be probably say that the Magna Carta is the first real human rights document, and hoorah, it’s British. But, there is a simpler, much earlier document:

When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon he freed all of the city’s slaves. He declared that all races were equal and that one was free to choose one’s own religion. That was in 539 BC.

My view is simple. There is a minimum standard that everyone deserves. If you decide that certain people don’t deserve that minimum standard then they are little more than slaves.

If you argue that not everyone deserves human rights, then be sure never to visit a country where human rights aren’t universal, as you may find yourself in that minority without protection.

FTD

Happy Gunpowder Treason Day.

Thought today was a bank holiday? Once was….

The banter on twitter (twanter if you will) around lunch, was about @Fleetstreetfox and her latest offering in the Daily Mirror:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/what-would-we-make-of-a-guy-fawkes-1417972

She asks what you’d do if you found an Afghan War Vet, in the cellars of parliament ready to let it blow? Would you shop him, or would you let him go.

The twanter (I’ll stop using it I promise) was, having said she’d let him blow the brick work (but not the human contents thereof) whether she’d have the fuzz knocking down the door, thumbscrews in back pocket, the rack being reassembled with Ikea-like instructions.

Does @Fleetstreetfox risk being nicked for treason? I’d like to see the local plod try and nick her in Norman French as indeed the Treason Act 1351 originally appeared.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Britain has a strange fascination with treason. I wondered why Halloween had never taken hold here as much as in the States, the answer is, it has a state supported rival: Guy Fawkes Night, or correctly Gun Powder Treason Day.

In fairness, today’s state isn’t so keen. But, in history, it got 250 years worth of support from both Church and State.

The celebration of national victory over traitors of the state being something thought worth a national day off.

And of course you could still receive the death penalty for treason as late as 1998!

And today, we still remember that a large plot was overcome and we still burn an effigy of the plot’s leader.

Is it time to throw treason on the bonfire?

You may have seen on TV or at court, criminal barristers carrying about a big red book. It’s called Archbold, effectively it is published once a year and is our criminal law bible.

There is still a chapter on treason, although it hasn’t been terribly long since 2009.

So yes, you can still be prosecuted for alarming the Sovereign…

But I think @Fleetstreetfox is quite safe, there has been no trial for treason since William Joyce in 1945.

Lord Haw Haw’s trial and the subsequent judgment in the House of Lords remains an important moment in English legal history and is still debated today.

Joyce argued he could not be guilty of treason as he owed the British Crown no allegiance, he argued he had no citizenship and so it was for the prosecution to prove that he owed a duty of  allegiance. Lord Porter agreed. Lords Jowitt, Macmillan, Wright and Simonds disagreed, have a British passport, then you owe a duty of allegiance until you renounce the protection of the Crown.

Joyce swung.

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.

My housemate gets very upset that the likes of Abu Hamza are not tried for treason. Afterall, he has argued for war on British soil and certainly sought the protection of the State.

Nowadays, there’s such a wide statutory regime with regard to terrorism and such like, there is no expectation that treason will be used any time in the near future.

Despite that, it is a particular kind of offending where a person turns against their own community and seeks to destroy it.

But, the difficulty today and that always has been in is this: some of country’s greatest patriots and heroes have been people who have sought to change Government or bring it down. From Wat Tyler to Emmeline Pankhurst.

Borrowing from a man we British called a traitor, “The unsuccessful strugglers against tyranny have been the chief martyrs of treason laws in all countries

S0, I think that @fleetstreetfox is safe… and democracy safer when we’re encouraged to challenge and question our leaders.

FTD

‘Hang on, so you’ve represented fascists?’

‘Yep’

‘But, you’ve also represented that lot up St Pauls?’

‘Occupy, yeah…’

‘Ang on, I’m strugglin’ with this, but you must ‘ate one lot?’

‘I could hate both, wouldn’t matter.’

As we drove  around the back streets of Kensington, the cabbie got even more confused. How on earth could a person represent businesses one week and occupy the next. Or, how could one represent fascists one week and then communists the next.

By the time we got into Marylebone, I came up with the obvious answer and reminded him of the Cab Rank rule. He suddenly sort of got it.

Spats

I got myself in another spat about freedom of speech on facebook. In short, chap breaches Special Branch security cordon and shouts no public sector cuts to David Cameron. Scottish Courts get hold of him and stick him with 100 hours community service.

Something which chills me, fine remove him, but you’re effectively punishing him for expressing his opinion in public.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-20181601

The expression of opinion, freedom of speech, have been live subjects in society for as long as we have had hackney carriages. Hansom cabs were about from 1834 and speaker’s corner existed in one shape or another from 1855.

Both concepts of a paying taxi and freedom of speech have existed since before 1834, they’re both very British concepts.

And it’s strange the sort of conversations you can find yourself getting into in the back of a black cab. Anything from the traffic on the North Circular to the make up of the United Nations Security Council.

Encouraging speech

You cannot have a true democracy if the participants in that document do not feel inclined or able to participate therein.

The BBC are keen to encourage younger people to participate in the political process. Depending on where you read on the BBC website, if you’re between the age of 18 to 26, or 18 to 30 then you are in the target market for ‘Free Speech’ on BBC3.

It’s basically like Question Time with a younger audience, younger panel and a better twitter and online interface.

I’ve been trying to get into it, but I can’t. Maybe I’m a year too old, maybe I just don’t really like the panelists.

Give you an example:

Luciana Berger – 31 year old, member of Labour Co-operative party, MP for Liverpool Wavertree. Would appear to have acquired most attention because she may have been Chuka Umunna’s girlfriend and because she spoke about tweeting during a Parliament Debate. Oh, and there is a recent allegation of ‘cash for questions’ which she refutes, see here:

http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2012/10/19/luciana-berger-mp-hits-back-over-cash-for-questions-allegations-99623-32062923/

Fingers crossed not true.

However, at least she’s a young MP, so that is something. And she’s a shadow minister too so she has some relevance.

As too, can Alok Sharma MP have something to say. He’s Vice Chair of the Tories and has had a variety of jobs before coming into politics and is Indian born.

But then…

Michael Heaver, head of UKIP’s online engagement… sigh…

And Stacey Dooley, of ‘Stacey Dooley investigates’… who was given a TV show on BBC 3 having been on a show where she was exposed to what British consumerism does abroad.

The New Statesman sums up my view of the quality of the documentaries she presents:

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/broadcast/2012/07/bbc3-documentary-broke-all-rules-reporting-suicide

It all to me feels a little bit, Question Time Press Packers. Or worse, Question Time Yoof.

I don’t think it engages young people in the democratic process or shows much of active participation by younger people in expressing themselves.

However, my problem is all a bit chicken and egg. More widely, the BBC News has a particular age demographic in terms of journalists as do print media. The professions and Parliament have a similar age demographic in terms of those given ‘speaking roles’.

Berger is an exception as are the likes of columnist Owen Jones or self-made man Dominic McVey

Question Time Lite

So, I think I would have rather the BBC 3 not have produced a lite version of Question Time. Rather instead, should have thought of a new format.

Put a camera in a taxi, get Jake Humphrey to do the knowledge and send him out in London to convey younger people around town. There’s a lot to discuss between Piccadilly and Pimlico whilst in traffic.

FTD

I had high hopes for Ken Clarke. Why? He talked about ending short prison sentences with no rehabilitative effect. He recognised in terms of knife crime that sentencing was a role for Judges not politicians and he himself is a barrister with a penchant for real ale and likes a bit of jazz.

The grey day

Today, our country’s legal system, ‘justice’ was handed over to Chris Grayling.

Chris Grayling is not a lawyer, but yet is Lord Chancellor. Henry VIII was the last Monarch to have a Lord Chancellor who didn’t know his actus reus from his honoris causa.

Caveat emptor

I sighed when I saw the appointment. Not because Chris Grayling isn’t a lawyer, but because of some of the things he had said previously.

He said that gang warfare was so bad in some places in this country that it was like ‘The Wire’. I’m not even going to begin to engage with that…

Famously he said the high street hotel couldn’t discriminate against gay couples but a bed and breakfast could.

And of course, he claimed as Shadow Home Secretary that crime had risen sharply when in reality the recording system for figures had changed.

My sigh is that yet again, justice, in particular criminal justice and human rights is going to be used as a political football.

Ultra vires

Of the three sittings of the criminal law bill which amends the rights of householders to protect their properties, he has only attended one.

It would seem he was absent from the majority of the most important votes on the ID card bill.

…I’m also investigating Early Day Motions that he signed at David Cameron’s proposal with regard to legal privilege and RIPA (basically covert surveillance powers)…. watch this space – could be nothing – could be worrying.

De novo

Perhaps I’m judging him too soon… afterall he wrote in the Guardian

No one would normally accuse me of being soft on crime. I think that far too often we let those who commit crimes in our society off far too lightly. A future Conservative government would change that. But our justice system and our society are based on fundamental principles. No government has the right to change them.

One of those principles is the right to be treated as innocent unless you are proved to be guilty. That right is inalienable. It is not a product of recent human rights legislation. It is a right that has formed the cornerstone of justice in this country for generations. It must never change.

It must never change… let’s see if we can hold him to that

Functus officio

I actually think that it’s a shame to appoint Grayling. There could have been more interesting, more dynamic individuals who weren’t such an obvious, ‘safe’ Daily Mail choice.

My choice, Lord Deben, used to be MP for Suffolk (I judge this solely on how often he rebelled against Acts which irritate me) …

No to Protection from Freedoms Bill.

Aye to Civil Partnerships Bill

Of the terrorism laws he only voted for 17% of them!

Oh I dunno…

… maybe I am being too harsh on Grayling.

And in terms of it, being a barrister and a politician doesn’t always work out, just look at Tony Baldry.

My only hope is that Grayling, the ‘safe’ pair of hands, will rethink some of the stupid changes on the agenda… Sunday Court…. ‘community justice centres’…. ‘out of court disposals (i.e no lawyers, one Magistrate punishments)…

We can but see…

FTD

 

I hate the sight of armed, British, police officers. Absolutely hate it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, in some places I understand it. For example, in airports, I get it. At the end of Downing Street, I just about get it, (although a friend of mine in the Army recently explained the strange historical  conventions about the Army guarding the monarch but not members of parliament…). There are some places where the police need to access deadly force quickly.

And, the wonderful (if you can say that) thing about our armed police is the huge level of training and regulation they are subject to. Whereas in the US, you might be the security guard at the local ASDA and they’ll dole out the artillery, here, armed police officers go through rigorous training and I understand interviewing and forms of screening.

What I hate about it is the symbolic acceptance that this country now has a gun culture.

Terror

Terrorism and the threat thereof is not the explanation for a proliferation of armed officers in and about London and other big cities. If it were they would have been there since the 70s and really beyond. Here is one of the most odd policing pictures of the 20th century. It’s from the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911. There are three things which I think are really interesting about this photograph. But, before I share. The Siege of Sidney Street occurred after a small gang of immigrants tried to robber a jewellers. The police caught up with them and three unarmed police officers were shot and killed. A couple of weeks later, the police are given information as to where they are hiding.

200 police officers descend on Sidney Street and form the siege. However, the occupants of the hide out have weapons and a large stock of ammo. So, down comes Churchill with a detachment of the Scots Guards. Churchill even ordered the deployment of a piece of field artillery. Before the artillery piece was fired, the occupants of the house were all consumed in flames and died.

 So, what’s important about the picture? It shows in my view that 100 years of policing later the same tensions still exist.

1) What role do the armed forces have in civilian policing? The answer to me is not none. The expectation is none. And the expectation ought to be none. Sidney Street is the first real modern example of where the civil police have quite frankly been outgunned. You see the in the picture, one bobby with a shotgun, probably there to protect Churchill more than anything else, the rest unarmed. And then, on the left, the Scots’ Guards rifles out, bayonets ready.

If Sidney Street happened again tomorrow, then the civil police would, 99% deal with it. Is that necessarily the right thing? In one sense it must be, the main focus of the police is the preservation of life and the detection and prevention of crime. Whereas, with the army, the main purpose is the defence of the national interest and the neutralisation of threats thereto.

But, gearing police officers up to do this type of armed, almost battle like, policing is perhaps difficult for wider police culture. And it’s also really difficult for wider police/public PR. In our recent most memory, Mark Duggan’s death and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes (of course the latter had army involvement.)

Comparatively, the Iranian Embassy siege and the army deployment at Heathrow in 1994 and 2003 were done relatively without incident.

Can we not accept then, as we have over the last 100 years that there will be moments that the Army has to be brought in. Can we say that we don’t want a police culture which has a ‘battle’, or ‘war’ like aspect to it in any respect? Because if that starts to set in then policing by consent and being officers of the peace really is over.

As an example, the Canadians from 1993 onwards relieved the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from their counter terrorism function and handed it over to the armed forces…

2) The role of politicians Churchill, symbolically is at the centre of that picture. One of the footnotes in history is that at the siege of Sidney Street, Churchill a) ordered the deployment of artillery! b) refused to allow the fire brigade through to the burning house to try and save the gun men inside. Thatcher authorised the deployment of the SAS to take over at the Iranian Embassy and Blair fortified Heathrow.

Forced to pause here and return to my aside at the start about the strange conventions on the military guarding the Queen and not parliament. Of course, the armed forces take orders and follow.

British policing has a central ideal of independence, which likewise is supposed to be present in the CPS, in barristers and in the Judiciary.

My worry about politicians having power over armed police officers and fraught high risk situations is, put simply, what the hell do they know? More cynically, the Iranian Embassy Siege gave Thatcher a huge political boost, I’m not saying she did what she did for that reason. But, there’s a risk isn’t there that the use of high level force could be authorised to gain political points.

The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany have been really hot on this type of risk. The Americans lay it down in statute. We open it up to the discretion of politicians and rely on British notions of separate policing power, political power and military power.

3) The arms race was really apparent at Sidney Street. The army were called in because the Police didn’t have the firepower to deal with the occupants of the house. At the Iranian Embassy Siege firepower wasn’t really the issue, more tactics (after all the PC guarding the Embassy did deal with one hostage taker using his .38 Smith and Wesson revolver.)

I do fear that there’s something of an arms race going on,  partly, because of how we have increased the number of armed police officers. I can only base this on my own experience, I don’t know yours.

When I  lived in the US, I would never see a police officer brandishing an assault rifle. That’s despite the fact that guns where everywhere and I could have got myself a shotgun with my McDonalds in the morning. Most police officers I interacted with had a similar weapon to what PC Lock did at the Iranian Embassy Siege, a .39 Smith and Wesson revolver in their holster. Or, else, a 9mm semi automatic pistol.

In Europe too, very rare one sees the police (outside of airports/palaces etc) brandishing rifles. Instead, most of got the Austrian made Glock in their holsters. So, the weaponry is there, but it’s not so obvious.

Here and I don’t really know the answer! The police are much more about their sub-machine guns. So the MP5 is a familiar sight, 15 or 30 9mm rounds that can be fired in 3 shot bursts. But more recently, I’ve noticed a change:

 Here we are, the Heckler & Kock G36, so much stopping power that it is standard issue to:

The German army

The Greek army

South Korea’s – ‘special sea attack team’

The Latvian army

The Portuguese Marine Corps

The Spanish Army and Navy

So now, we see, regularly, the Met Police carrying a weapon on our streets with huge stopping power. A weapon used by the armies and navies of other countries we are now using in civilian law enforcement. And that scares me. Are the bad guys going to step up to out do the G36? We’re hearing more about MAC-10s being found in London all 1000 rounds a minute of it.

Why in a heavy gun culture can the police cope with the gold ole fashion .38 Smith and Wesson and here, in a culture where guns aren’t the norm do the police need something as powerful as the G36?

What do we want?

We want to be safe. We don’t want police officers being killed, we don’t want kids being killed. We don’t want mistakes like the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. But where’s the balance?

I don’t want to live in a gun culture. The results of gun cultures are clear. When I sat down and watched the news last night and saw the South African police shoot dead 34 people, I couldn’t believe it. It might as well have been the Peterloo Massacre as far as I was concerned.

I don’t want to live in a culture where a state official might authorise that level of violence against a group of protesting people.

What do you want?

FTD

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.

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

Happy St George’s day my English brothers and sisters.

Every St George’s day my Grandad could be found with a red rose in his button hole. Why? Because he was proud to be English. Not proud of the soil under our feet, or our ‘ethnicity’ but because of our values and history.

English history, involves, believe it or not liberalism. And my Grandad wasn’t like me, he didn’t go to Court and argue about human rights, to my knowledge he was never in a protest but I know he believed.

The most obvious example was when I was working in the US. I was part of the team defending a black man in Mississippi, facing the death penalty for raping and murdering a teenage boy. A huge distance geographically and socially away from my Grandad the retired master plasterer from Sheffield.

Turned out that my client was eventually released before trial, as he was clearly innocent but that is beside the point. Because, from the other side of the world my Grandparents sent him messages of love and support.

Why? Because a belief in liberty and equality is very English.

Liberalism is in your blood, honest guv

Our forefathers have had plenty of dark moments: slavery, the Peterloo Massacre, Bloody Sunday, Swamp 82, the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Criminal Justice Act 2003…. there’s a long list.

But, liberalism was born in Britain. In England. In Somerset. With John Locke.  Followed up by Thomas Gordon It was entrenched with the Glorious Revolution. It gave us the abolition of slavery and universal suffrage. It was how we recovered from the Great Depression. It was why we fought the Nazis.

And what does being a liberal mean?

I’m a proud liberal, what does that mean I believe:

That the Government only rules with our consent.

The Government ought not interfere with me or my property.

We are all equal under the eyes of the law.

That I tolerate and protect people having different views to me.

That we should own the corporations that they cannot own us.

Terrible things? Things perhaps you agree with?

Liberal is a dirty word

Some people now consider the word liberal a dirty word. Some people use it as an insult. Some people blame it for the ills of English society.

Why? I think there are three reasons,

1) The liberal democrats.A political party has hijacked the word, ‘liberal’. People presume that if you say you’re a liberal, you vote liberal democrat. As such you are associated with all the policies, good and bad of that party. I have no doubt that most political parties have some liberal aspect, afterall we live in a liberal democracy? Why, because we can vote, we can express our views, we can protest and so on.

So just because I’m a liberal doesn’t mean I’ll be voting for Brian Paddick at the Mayoral Election, or I believe in the coalition, or anything like that.

2) The liberals you hear. Linked to the above is the way in which other parties have used the term liberal. The left from Karl Marx onwards have used it as a term for people who don’t care about the poor, or social cohesion. They’ve used it as a way of attacking society, saying that the ‘liberals’ care only for themselves and accumulating individual wealth. And, on the right, ‘liberals’ are to blame for rising crime rates, soft justice and it is liberals who wreck traditions by allowing pluralism and indeed diversity.

Look above at what I’ve said. Am I to blame for rising crime. Do I not care for the poor?

3) The big one. We take for granted that we’re free. I think we’ve quite frankly forgotten that we live in a free society. That’s an amazing thing. We can vote for our Government. We can criticise them, in writing, on twitter, on facebook, on blogs, in newspapers, on the streets, to their faces, in songs, in banners.

We’re entitled not to be imprisoned arbitrarily. It’s illegal to torture us. The Government has to prove I’m guilty before they punish me.

The Government can’t just take my property.

Your Mother and Sister won’t be stoned if they commit adultery, they’re allowed to vote, they can wear what they want.

I can buy a share in a company which is publicly sold. But, just because I have 100 shares doesn’t mean I have more of a vote in the Government than someone who has no shares.

Again, history

Liberalism was born in England before the civil war, it was about limiting the right of Kings. The French went another step. Then of the course the Americans cast off British policies which limited their freedoms.

In World War II, the Nazis spread fascism throughout Europe. They limited liberty and freedom. We fought for that liberty and were proud.

Churchill (the Conservative) said: ‘all the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.’

So what it means to me to be an Englishman

As a English man I am a liberal. It means that I will defend the rights of others to have their view heard. To date that has meant, I have represented members of the EDL, anarchists, numerous members of Occupy.

Have represented incredibly rich businessmen and penniless refugees.

Clients have ranged from murderers to the proprietor of a noisy gay bar.

And look, please don’t miss this, because it says what is brilliant about our society. The police, often considered to be contrary to, or oppressing liberal values and some of them condemn us wishy-washy liberals, are exercising their right to protest on 10 May 2012, a very liberal right. And if any of them get nicked I’ll happily take the brief and defend them with the same ferocity I would any other client.

So – own it. Be that liberal.
Even the bard was a liberal:
This liberty is all that I request.
The Taming of the Shrew: II, i

I’m going out at an odd time tonight, so I’m half getting ready, half dossing about. I flicked through the channels and saw advertised, ‘Tomorrow, When the War Began.’

It’s a book I read as a kid. In short, a foreign power (the  film assumes China/Korea) invades a rural part of Australia. You’re never able to work which foreign power and you never know how the Aussies, Brits, or Yanks are doing to take back Australia.

But, on the eve of the invasion a group of the local kids are out camping. They miss the invasion, they return to their local town to find their parents interred, their neighbours shot and their property destroyed.

There follows what can only be described as a guerilla war led by a motley bunch of local teenagers. Imagine the Secret Seven crossed with Bravo Two Zero. I know it sounds utterly bizarre, but honestly it’s a really interesting concept.

And as I say, they’ve now made it into a film. The film isn’t terrible at all. The kids get shot, they struggle shooting other people, they spend a lot of the time hiding, it’s not entirely unrealistic. It’s probably a bit realistic that the awkward Christian girl managed to take out an entire section with an automatic rifle, but… hey.

Romantic

As a kid I read at least two or three of the books in the series and I really enjoyed them. There’s a sense of strange romanticism. I like the idea that a bunch of teenagers would stand up and fight a tyrannical figure, when they themselves accept that they could just hide in the woods  for the duration of the war.

But it’s real too

Some of the bravest individuals to resist in Nazi Germany were the kids. The swings kids listened to un-Nazi jazz music. They wore their hair long, they worse American and English suits and they organised large events in an attempt to act as a counter to Nazi culture. They encouraged other youths to become anglophiles.

A number of the swing kids were involved in the White Rose movement. University students, mostly in Munich who lead a leafleting campaign and graffiti campaign against the Nazi regime. A number were put to death. Six were beheaded.

Likewise there was a connection with another youth resistance group, the Edelweiss Pirates. A group which always make my lip curl in a cheeky smile, the Edelweiss Pirates were probably the most active of the youth movements. They delivered Allied propaganda and they regularly ambushed the Hitler Youth and gave them a kick-in. No matter how many of the pirates they locked up they all kept going. In fact, they were a pain to the Brits when we arrived.

I knew what I took upon myself and I was prepared to lose my life by so doing

This quote is from Sophie Scholl  a german woman who at the age of 12 was packed off to the BDM (the girl’s division of the Hitler Youth), the propaganda soon wore off.

As a student in Munich she joined the White Rose,  she as a woman was stopped less by the SS, she was able to distribute anti-Nazi literature. One of these leaflets got back to the Brits. When the Brits got hold of it they copied it 6 million times and dropped it all over Europe.

Sophie Scholl was beheaded before Germany was liberated.

Oh the youth of today

The much maligned youth of the United Kingdom would stand up to tyranny I hope.  They have shown they are prepared to protest and fight for their views.

I wonder what they would do if all the adults were locked up, or persuaded by some extremist Government. They’ve grown up in a climate of fear, where people are scared of them or scared for them. They’ve grown up where there more likely to be locked up then told off for bad behaviour. And they’ve grown up in a society where their rights are maligned and complained about.

They probably don’t even teach about the Nazi resistance movements in schools anymore!

Ah well, if you listen to the right wing press then we’ve got a group of saboteurs  who will resort to extreme violence on every street  in England, all of whom will moan loudly about their human rights.

So actually – come on then tyrants, have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

FTD