Archive for the ‘Stephen Lawrence’ Category

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:

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.


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

Every year about this time people reflect on their life. Resolutions about booze, fags and betterment. You’ve got to go back to work too, ‘new year – same old shit’ echoes through the canteens of our nation’s workplaces.

This year will be different, this year I’ll do it, I’ll get there is the mantra we’re told to follow.

7 years ago, things were rather different for a group of folks in Neshoba County Mississippi. They were asked to indict a man in his 80s. A man who had worked with his hands all his life. A man who had been a preacher in the Southern Baptist Church.

They were asked to allow him to be tried for the murder of a Jewish social worker, a Jewish anthropologist and a black NAACP member in 1964.

7 years ago today a predominantly white, Baptist, Republican voting, harness horse race attending, county fair going, jury decided that one of their own ought to be tried for the murder of 3 outsiders.

I have I Miss-Miss-Miss-ed something?

I did. When I graduated from Oxford in 2006 I moved to Mississippi. I lived there, I worked there. I did a ‘civil rights’ type job. Little did I know about what had happened in the 1960s to other outsiders who had travelled to Mississippi to try and effect change.

In fact when I lived in Mississippi, nobody had told me about what happened the year before. It had been huge, not only for Neshoba County, not only for Mississippi but for America too.

So how did I miss it? The New York Times had covered it. The Washington Post had covered it.  There had been an article in TIME magazine.

But the people in Mississippi, they didn’t want to talk about it.

Elephant in the room

A few years later, I returned to see friends and former colleagues, to visit parts of the Deep South I’d missed in the years before. I stayed with the Alston family. I hadn’t met them the first time round. They were friends of American friends. Alex Alston had been a chairman of the Mississippi Bar Association. He and his wife offered me true Southern Hospitality.

As a gift, I was given Alex’s book: Devil’s Sanctuary: An Eyewitness History of Mississippi Hate Crimes.

Alex’s book contained the elephant.

Trampled by the truth

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were brutally murdered in the early hours of 21 June 1964. They were murdered because they believed that black people ought to have the vote.

Having set up black community projects in Meridian, Mississippi (somewhere 40 years later I faced arrest by the Chief of Police for trying to access a document of public record), they drew attention of the local Ku Klux Klan.

One day, the three left Meridian to investigate the burning of a Church which had been a hub for civil rights activities. The Klan knew the car they were in. The local Klansmen circulated the details. In Neshoba county, a local deputy sheriff spotted the car. He stopped them. He arrested the lot on a minor speeding charge and took them to the County jail.

In the jail they were held incommunicado. While they were there the deputy sheriff began the organisation of the civil rights workers’ murder. The jail staff denied the three were there at all.

They were fined $20 and released. They went on their way only to be pulled over by the police again. They were held on the side of the road until their murderers arrived. Taken to an isolated spot they were beaten and shot.

Obviously the local police did not investigate.

The President deployed the FBI. The Governor of Mississippi agreed with the Neshoba sheriff that these fellows were probably hiding, perhaps in Cuba.

44 days later the FBI found their bodies.

Protect your own

The Mississippi authorities refused to prosecute any of those that were clearly involved. So, the Federal Government indicted 8 individuals under the US Force Act 1870 with conspiring to deprive the three of their civil rights (by murder). They indicted the Sheriff a man named Rainey, the Deputy Sheriff Price and 16 other men. Guilty verdicts were returned on 20th October 1967.

None of the men did more than six years in prison.

In 1989, on the 25th anniversary of the murders, the American Congress passed a resolution honouring the three men civil rights workers; the Mississippi delegation would not vote in favour of it.

But there were others outstanding. Local Baptist minister, Edgar Ray Killen was heavily implicated but for some reason the jury could not convict. In 2000 it was revealed that one juror could not convict because Killen was a preacher.

A community never forgets

The community didn’t forget. And on 6 January 2005 a grand jury indicted Edgar Ray Killen for three counts of murder. He was prosecuted by the Attorney General of Mississippi, and found guilty of three charges of manslaughter. He received three consecutive sentences of 20 years which were upheld on appeal.


I think it was a communal sense of shame that meant people in Mississippi didn’t talk to me as an outsider about the Killen indictment. I know that Alex Alston’s book is a confession on behalf of his fellow Mississippians.

I have written and tweeted about Stephen Lawrence this week. I have talked about it with my colleagues and my friends. I am ashamed that we allowed his murderers to avoid justice for so long.

But, I won’t be quiet about it. I am going to talk about police culture until it is changed. I am going to talk about Stephen Lawrence until everybody in this country knows his story.

I hope we won’t stop until all of Lawrence’s killers are brought to justice. We should demand the truth for Eddie Gilfoyle. We must shed a light on the Mark Duggan death.

Every New Year, when I feel down about another year, I resolve to be inspired by Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner and that Grand Jury who ordered the trial of one of their own.