Thursday, June 29, 2006

Light Relief

In my local Magistrates Courts I do a fair number of trials. I get to see all of the faces that make up the local 'bench' of lay Magistrates. There are a number of Magistrates who I do have concerns about. There is one Magistrate who I am damn sure falls asleep in the middle of trials. I have seen their eyelids grow heavy, I have seen the Magistrate shut their eyes, and I have seen their head nod downwards as if they have briefly fallen asleep. I have been assured by a number of Clerks that this particular Magistrate is simply listening and the apparent sleeping is in fact their way of concentrating. Bizarre?

I stumbled across the following article on The Register web site. If I thought I had problems with a Magistrate that falls asleep then the people who have been before this judge clearly had greater problems:
A retired US judge is himself before the beak in Bristow, Oklahoma, "on charges he used a penis pump on himself in the courtroom while sitting in judgment of others", AP reports.

The trial of Donald D Thompson, 59, has reportedly provoked much courtroom merriment as the jury has been entertained by both a defence attorney and prosecutor indulging in "pantomime masturbation" and a former juror in Thompson's court identifying the sound of the pump because "he had seen such devices in Austin Powers and Dead Man on Campus".

A key witness in the trial has been former court reporter Lisa Foster. In giving testimony, she "wiped away tears as she described tracing an unfamiliar 'sh-sh' in the courtroom to her boss". Foster alleges that between 2001 and 2003 she saw the judge expose himself "at least 15 times", adding: "I was really shocked and I was kind of scared because it was so bizarre."

Foster further testified that during a 2002 trial, she heard the pump "during the emotional testimony of a murdered toddler's grandfather". She continued: "The grandfather was getting real teary-eyed, and the judge was up there pumping on that pump. It was sickening."

Thompson's pneumatic proceedings came to an end after a police officer heard the pump's distinctive signature during a case, and photographed the device during a recess. Thompson was charged with four counts of indecent exposure - each carrying a 10-year maximum sentence - and faces the possible withdrawal of his substantial $7,489.91 a month pension if found guilty.

From the witness box, Thompson claimed the pump was "a gag gift from a longtime friend with whom he had joked about erectile dysfunction". He admitted keeping it under the bench or in his office, but denied he'd ever used it. He added: "In 20-20 hindsight, I should have thrown it away."

Moments of light relief in the trial have included the aforementioned Austin Powers connection, offered by Daniel Greenwood, and expert witness Dr S Edward Dakil who "repeatedly prompted laughter" with his urology testimony.

When challenged by defense attorney Clark Brewster that the penis pump was "an out-of-date treatment for erectile dysfunction", Dakil asserted: "I still use those." After a suitable pause, Brewster enquired: "Not you, personally?" to which Dakil responded to jury laughter: "No. I recommend those as a urologist."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

More On Blair

Here is an interesting summary of criminal justice since Labour came in to power. This information is from a Guardian newspaper report:

There have been more than 50 bills to reform the criminal justice system, introducing more than 700 criminal offences since Labour came to power. Tony Blair insisted yesterday they have made a difference - but what has their impact been?

Crime: The British Crime Survey shows that crime has fallen by 44% since 1995, and that the chance of becoming a victim is 24%, the lowest level since the BCS began in 1981. But 36% of people in opinion polls say that disorder in public places is a "very big problem" in their area.

Anti-social behaviour: When asbos were introduced in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, the then home secretary, Jack Straw, said they would provide "tough, effective sanctions against neighbourhood disorder". A Commons select committee inquiry concluded that there was little hard evidence about the extent of antisocial behaviour.

Summary justice: Mr Blair had to drop his threat to march drunken young offenders to cashpoints to pay on-the-spot fines. But the 2001 Criminal Justice and Police Act introduced a range of fixed penalty fines to tackle yob culture. Latest figures show that 43% of such fines go unpaid.

Fast-track punishment for persistent young offenders: Mr Blair promised to halve the time it takes to get a young offender dealt with by the youth courts. The average time taken was cut from 143 days to 72 days in 2001 for England and Wales, but there has been no further progress.

More police: Police numbers fell between 1993 and 1997, and when Mr Blair entered Downing Street there were 127,000 police officers. The numbers continued to fall to 124,000 until 2001. This decline was reversed and the number of officers in England and Wales has now reached a record 143,000 plus 6,300 community support officers.

Seizing criminals' assets: The Assets Recovery Agency was launched under the Proceeds of Crime Act in 2003 but has recovered only £8m despite costing £60m to run.

Tackling offending: A £96m probation scheme to tackle persistent and serious young offenders was launched in 2001. But recent Home Office research revealed that 91% of 10,000 on the programme were reconvicted within two years.

Prisons: The prison population has risen from 61,000 in 1997 to a record 77,000.

Blairs Balancing Act

Our Prime Minister has now spoken about rebalancing the criminal justice system.

A comment was made on a different web site that I thought was rather good:
Interesting speech but much of it does seem to be political spin:

"Here is the point. Each time someone is the victim of anti-social behaviour, of drug related crime; each time an illegal immigrant enters the country or a perpetrator of organised fraud or crime walks free, someone else's liberties are contravened, often directly, sometimes as part of wider society. It's no use saying that in theory there should be no conflict between the traditional protections for the suspect and the rights of the law-abiding majority because, as a result of the changing nature of crime and society, there is, in practice, such a conflict; and every day we don't resolve it, by rebalancing the system, the consequence is not abstract, it is out there, very real on our streets."

If Mr. Blair is seeking to rebalance the system he is in fact talking about tipping the scales in favour of the victim, does that not mean that the saftey of some questions will be called in to question? Bad character has been brought in, I have seen a spate of applications made in the early days, and now less and less applications for bad character are made. I sometimes sit down with Clients at the first hearing and advise them that if bad character is thrown in to their trial they might as well plead guilty. Hearsay applications, I have had about two of these in the past year.

Custody plus, now there is an idea that is supposed to balance the system. Send people to prison but ensure that they keep their jobs. Custody plus cannot work at this time because NOMS cannot provide the support that is required.

Bail has been tightened up with regards to drug users, but there are still areas where there are no drug workers and the Court is unable to take advantage of these laws because the system has not been put in to effect.

The real danager is that if the system is rebalanced then cases where the evidence by today's standard is not good enough for a conviction will result in convictions by tomorrow's lesser standards.

If Blair put the right funding in to NOMS and increased their staffing levels by massive amounts he would then be able to monitor offenders and tackle reoffending rates.

What I want to know is what does Mr. Blair actually intend to do to rebalance the system? His speech was not particularly clear to identify what is going to do other than think about things.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Darn, We Nearly Got Bail

I went off to a local Crown Court today to use my skills as an advocate to try to secure bail for one of my firm's Clients. I do not yet have higher rights to do any type of hearing in the Crown Court but as a solicitor I am entitled to do bail applications.

The Client I was dealing with was not at the Crown Court because nearly 99% of Crown Court bail applications take place without the Client being present. As the Client was not present I had to try to draw some inspiration for the bail application from elsewhere. I sat down with the file and read through the facts, a knife point robbery on the street. I noticed that my Client had a number of convictions for violence and had failed to attend Court in the past. Hmmm... no chance of bail then!

I then thought back to when I represented the Client at the Police Station. The Officer dealing with the case had told me as far as he was aware my Client and the victim of the robbery were known drug dealers who had worked in the past as partners. The Police are more relaxed about known criminals committing offences against other known criminals, there is a certain amount of justice in that they keep their offending amongst themselves.

The witness statements in the evidence stated that the victim did not know who the robber was, then two days later there was another statement saying that the victim had now remembered who the robber was and that it was my Client. This was my inspiration, this small crack was going to be my point in the bail application.

Point number two: the Client claimed to have an alibi at the Police Station and I was pleased to say that a statement had been taken from the alibi witness who had confirmed the Client's account.

I met up with the barrister prosecuting the bail application and had a very pleasant chat. I conceded that I was bound to loose the application.

When the case was called on I went through the motions, I made my points and to my surprise the Recorder was happy to grant bail. As the Recorder was referring to the name of the person my Client was going to reside with the Court Clerk stood up, turned to the Recorder and muttered that he recognised the name. The case was put back. A short while later the Prosecution trotted in to Court with a list of convictions for the person that my Client was going to live with who had more convictions than my Client. I was invited to withdraw my bail application by the Recorder and to try again with a new address. I had managed to use my advocacy skills to secure bail in a no hope case to be scuppered by a Clerk who did have an amazingly good memory.

After making a few phone calls today I am pretty sure that another address will be located and I will go back to apply for bail again some time next week. Heres hoping I can convince another Judge with my no hope case!

Monday, June 19, 2006

CCTV Never Lies

I went off to the Crown Court today to oversee the smooth running of a trial that was due to start today. I say that I went to oversee the trial because I was not doing the trial, a barrister was, and personally I find clerking cases very boring as I would rather be on my feet doing the advocacy.

This case involved an allegation of robbery where is was alleged that my Client had gone to a convenience store and attempted to obtain goods by waving a knife around. This case had always puzzled me because it was clear CCTV existed from the start of the case, and as part of this incident my Client received a blow to their head requiring seven staples in their head to hold their skin together. This head injury was not mentioned in any of the prosecution statements other than by the Police when they booked the Client in to the custody suite after her arrest. I had taken instructions from my Client and prepared the case on the basis that it was going to be an effective trial today. My Client even confirmed as little as two weeks ago that she had not committed a crime when she came to my office.

When I got to Court I was finally able to watch the CCTV. Unfortunately the CCTV showed my Client committing a robbery with a knife, and as they left the shop one of the shop staff could be seen running after her and hitting her over the head with a golf club.

My work had been in vain and today my Client entered a guilty plea. My Client would have pleaded guilty earlier in the proceedings if the Crown Prosecution Service had served me with a copy of the CCTV earlier.

Clients have a funny habit of not telling the truth. Prosecution witnesses have a funny habit of sometimes missing out vital bits of evidence from their statements. CCTV never lies.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Politicians v Judges

As I read through my newsreader (not a newspaper but a newsreader) this morning I came across an article published in the Observer with the headline: Back off, chief judge tells politicians. This is possibly the first article that I have read in the media this week that has not tried to sensationalise the current Politicians v Judges row. This article gives a good insight in to the fact that the whole farcical legal system that we have been left with at present is as a direct result of New Labour's meddling with the legal system.

The media is currently having a field day with the case of Craig Sweeny the person convicted of various offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and who the media has deemed to have received a low sentence. Craig Sweeny was in fact the case that started the row between the Home Secretary and the Attorney General, and in turn has been the catalyst for the Politicians v Judges row.

The media has suggested that the Government is now considering a review of sentencing laws. The current New Labour sentencing laws are already unworkable and as such they have been put on the statute book, but their implementation has been delayed because currently the 'system' could not cope with the logistics that the new 'custody plus' sentencing scheme demands. It was anticipated that the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that relate to the new sentence of custody plus would be implemented in November 2006 but now a written answer by Gerry Sutcliffe MP has suggested that custody plus cannot be implemented at this time:
Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the custody plus provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to be introduced.

Mr. Sutcliffe: While continuing to work towards an implementation date of Autumn 2006 for Custody Plus, the Government would not implement such an important sentence unless it was satisfied that the National Offender Management Service could cope with the additional work. The issue of capacity to implement this fully and effectively is being considered.

There is currently a crisis within the National Offender Management Service (aka The Probation Service) because the National Offender Management Service is currently well understaffed. Gerry Sutcliffe MP has failed to mention that the prison system is nearly full:
The chief inspector of prisons has warned that BritainĂ‚’s overcrowded jails are close to putting up '“house full'” notices and having to turn away newly convicted criminals.

Anne Owers said that with fewer than 1,800 places left from a total of 79,500, prisons could soon '“hit the buffers' and be unable to take any more offenders.

With thousands held in overcrowded conditions, including three to a cell, a further 1,800 would put the system in breach of health and safety laws. If present trends continue it would reach breaking point by mid-September.

I am looking forward to seeing the government sort out this mess. The Judiciary have already stated that prison overcrowding is a point that can be considered when sentencing an offender. The government is not going to be able to build new prisons in the immediate future the deal with the crisis. The thing that really confuses me about this sentencing/Craig Sweeny issue is that New Labour decided that prisoners should be eligible for parole at the half way point of their sentence under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and not the two thirds point of their sentence.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Craig Gee Solicitors Advertising

You will notice dotted around this web site are Google Ads. I do not choose the adverts that appear, although I do have the ability to refuse to display adverts. Particular adverts appear and from time to time and I often have a look at the web sites behind the adverts.

Recently I noticed an advert and then had a look at the web site. Craig Gee Solicitors web site is pretty basic, and in fact the link to the criminal section leads to a page that is devoid of content. If you go to Google and do a search for 'criminal solicitor' you will see on the right hand side an advert worded like this: 'Criminal solicitor - Need help on criminal law issues in Manchester? Try this firm.' This advert is being paid for by Craig Gee Solicitors yet it ultimately directs users looking for a criminal solicitor to a blank page - that is just crazy.

Craig Gee Solicitors could I suggest that you either finish your web site, stop paying for advertising until the web site is completed, or perhaps find a new web designer so that you can actually get a return on the money you are spending on advertising! I cannot understand why money is being wasted on advertising that leads to nowhere.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Double Listing

I have spent a few days down at my local Magistrates Court this week. Today I had a special reasons hearing for a drink drive case where my Client claimed that he was drink driving because his drink was spiked. The case was always going to be quick and simple to deal with.

I got to Court nice and early and by 9.50 am I was ready for trial. My case was listed in a Court room with another trial. That trial took priority due to child witnesses so I had to wait around for another Court room to become free. In the other Court scheduled to deal with trials today they were also double listed.

Her Majesty's Court Service have a wonderful habit of double listing trials hoping that one of the trials will not be effective so that the other trial can then take place. Unfortunately today all the trials scheduled were ready.

My case was adjourned off until the afternoon shortly before lunch. I had to wait for about three hours this morning to be told to come back at 2.00 pm. It would have made more sense to put my one hour trial on before the others knowing that my trial would be short and sweet. When I did at last get my chance my special reasons hearing took place, the Magistrates found that special reasons did exist but then decided to disqualify my Client anyway!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Have A Go Hero

Last week I dealt with a two day trial in a Magistrates Court that nearly turned in to a miscarriage of justice.

The case involved five defendants, I represented one of the defendants. Essentially an incident had occurred in a street late at night where two youths (one was armed with a large knife) had approached a group of three people and attacked them. My Client was one of the group of three. All five defendants had been charged with the offence of using threatening words and behaviour and a number of the defendants had been charged with possession of a bladed article.

The facts of this case were very simple. The two youths had attacked the group of the three. There was then a general fight where the two youths got a bit of a kicking and then the Police arrived.

On day one of the trial the Crown Prosecution Service were asked if they would bind over the five defendants and after negotiations broke down all the defendants had to decide did they want to run the risk of being convicted, or plead guilty to obtain credit for a guilty plea. There was some very good CCTV evidence that clearly showed each defendant engaged in the offences that they were charged with, the question was could the defence rely on a defence such as self defence to have their defendant acquitted? Eventually the other two out of the group of three pleaded guilty. My Client decided he had the stomach to fight and wanted to go to trial. The two youths also decided to go to trial.

The prosecution case had been very badly prepared and had as many holes in the evidence as a lump slice of Swiss cheese. The barrister representing the two youths kept chuckling to himself that his youths were probably the most guilty out of the lot, and that they were going to walk out of the trial at half time because the identification evidence against them was so weak. The two youths had given no comment interviews at the Police Station and had admitted to nothing. Unfortunately my Client had not been represented at the Police Station and he had given an account to the Police full of horrible comments that sounded like he had gone over the top in attacking the youth with a knife, and therefore gone beyond self defence.

The half way point in the trial came and the barrister was right, his Clients walked out of the trial as the Prosecution case against his Clients was so weak they could not establish their identity on the CCTV because the Prosecution lacked a commentary on the CCTV or identification evidence to establish which youth was which. I could not exploit this point as my Client had made comments admitting his involvement in this incident!

At the end of day one my Client was the last person left in the trial. We moved on to day two. My Client gave evidence and stuck to his self defence and defence of others speech. I managed to convince one of the group of three who had previously pleaded guilty to give evidence one behalf of my Client on day two to corroborate his account.

The Magistrates went out to consider the case, and came back and acquitted my Client.

Looking back on the case I have no doubt that my Client was justified in what he did. He was approached by two youths, one holding a knife who were intent on causing trouble. My Client gave the youth with a knife a good kicking, and the Court found that he acted in self defence - even though the youth was left on the floor unconscious. This have a go hero was not convicted - although he probably should have been.