“Virtual courts” – a reality

Saturday 30 May 2009 at 6:34 am | In News | Post Comment

Defendants will lose their right to have a courtroom hearing following successful trials of “virtual courts”.

Virtual justice
Virtual court hearings are not held where magistrates decide it is inappropriate, such as where people are mentally vulnerable, youths or mutlple defendants. There are no plans to extend the scheme to include full trials.

At Camberwell Green court last week, one defendant, who admitted drink-driving, was fined and banned from driving only hours after he was arrested without setting foot in a court building. Another suspected drink driver who refused to give a blood sample, was adjourned.

Ministers say that the plan could save £10million a year when extended across England and Wales next year.

Solicitors have expressed concerns about whether the virtual courts will add to delays and increase the number of ineffective hearings and whether they will be at greater risk from violent clients.

Defendants held at Charing Cross police station, which is linked to the Camberwell Green court, currently have the right to refuse to take part in a trial. But the Coroners and Victims Bill now going through Parliament removes that right. If they plead guilty they can be sentenced on the spot.

By September, 14 other police stations in South London and North Kent will be linked to courts, handling an estimated 15,000 cases a year.

Footballer convicted of killing girlfriend in double jeopardy case

Saturday 23 May 2009 at 11:55 am | In News | Post Comment

This week, Mario Celaire, 31, a former Brentford footballer became the first person to be convicted of a crime for which he had been found not guilty by a jury. He pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to manslaughter of his former girlfriend six years after he was cleared of the crime. He also pleaded guilty to attempted murder of a second woman.

Mario Celaire - double jeopardy
He battered to death his former girlfriend 19 year old Cassandra McDermott in 2001. In 2002 a jury -also at the Old Bailey -acquitted him of murder and manslaughter after deliberating for less than three hours.

The double jeopardy rule that prevents anyone from being tried twice was changed in 2005 for cases where there is new and compelling evidence the Court of Appeal can allow another hearing.

In February 2007 he also tried to kill another girlfriend Kara Hoyt also 19, a part-time model, after she found papers relating to the court case at a flat in Walthamstow, East London. He then flew into a rage and struck her on the head with a hammer. She survived and was eventually able to give evidence against him.

Andrea McDermott, 37, described how Celaire had “haunted” the family over the years by turning up at places where he knew they would be.

He will be sentenced on July 3.

Victim Cassandra McDermott

Photo of Cassandra McDermott
held by her mother and two sisters

A similar case of R v Dunlop was the first case where a killer was convicted after being found not guilty at trial, but two juries failed to reach a verdict and Dunlop was cleared by the judge.

E-Transactions Have Arrived

Saturday 16 May 2009 at 12:11 pm | In News | 1 Comment
Law joins the e-age
The first mortgage to be signed electronically has been registered by the Land Registry.

The signing of deeds electronically speeds up the transaction and the registration of the charge.  The requirement to sign the mortgage on paper was the last hurdle before moving to an entirely e-based paper-free system of mortgaging; pen and paper have been removed from the process.

E-signature does not use witnesses, which perhaps makes the process more vulnerable to fraud.  The Land Registry has taken steps to create a secure environment using an unique pin number to a unique document and a unique signature number usable only by the registered user to which it applies and for the particular legal charge created.

It is difficult to see how any system could protect against the fraud of identity theft which is afraud that goes well beyond the signing process itself.

Land registry details here

Jack Straw gives up his plan for inquests in secret

Saturday 16 May 2009 at 8:33 am | In News | Post Comment
Jack Straw
Jack Straw
Jack Straw last night abandoned Labour’s plans to hold sensitive inquests in secret without juries.

The Justice Secretary admitted the Government had too little support to get the law through Parliament.

Mr Straw’s plans to ban relatives and members of the public from inquests where secret intelligence or delicate diplomatic ties were involved had provoked fierce protests.

They were widely expected to be blocked by the House of Lords next week.

The Labour Government has attacked the jury system relentlessly over 12 years.

News report from the Guardian here

Record-breaking £1bn EU competition fine for Intel

Thursday 14 May 2009 at 7:37 am | In News | Post Comment
Intel chip
Intel, the world’s biggest microchip maker, was yesterday handed a record-breaking €1.06bn (£950m) fine for anti-competitive behaviour by the European Commission.

The fine is the largest single fine ever handed down by Brussels, topping an €899m fine levied against Microsoft last year for failing to comply with a previous ruling, in which Microsoft was fined €497m.

Intel had abused its dominance of the microchip market to bully its customers into only buying its chips in the hope of squeezing rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) out of the market.

New report in PC Pro magazine, here

Jackson opposes ministerial plans on court costs

Saturday 9 May 2009 at 7:50 am | In News | 1 Comment
Lord Justice Jackson
Lord Justice Jackson produced the first report on the costs in civil litigation on Friday.

The second and possibly the final phase of the review, is expected in December.

Ministers are hoping to make civil litigation self-funding but Jackson says this is wrong in principle.

Press release here
BBC report here

Defence and presumption of doli incapax abolished

Sunday 3 May 2009 at 2:51 pm | In News | Post Comment

R v JTB [2009] HL
(Defences – defence and presumption of doli incapax 10-14 abolished
Statutory interpretation – mischief rule – ministerial statement other Parliamentary material)

D aged 12 incited other boys under 13 to engage in sexual activities; when the defence of doli incapax was withdrawn by the judge, he pleaded guilty to 12 counts.

He admitted the activity (anal penetration, oral sex and masturbation) but said that he had not thought that what he was doing was wrong.

The issue arose as to whether section 34 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 had abolished the presumption of doli incapax (where the prosecution had to prove D knew what he was doing was seriously wrong) as well as the defence (common law defence that D could raise, that he did not know what he was doing was seriously wrong). It was thought that the Act had left it open to the child to prove that, at the material time, he was doli incapax.

Held: Section 34 of the Act abolished both the defence of doli incapax and the presumption. The defence of doli incapax and the rebuttable presumption were two different things.

Mischief Rule
The meaning of s 34 could not be deduced from the language of s 34 alone. It was a legitimate aid to the interpretation of that section to look at the mischief that the section had been designed to obviate.

Wide use of the phrase
It was a legitimate aid to construction to have regard to the fact that the phrase ‘presumption of doli incapax‘ had been widely used to embrace both the presumption and the defence, so Parliament had intended to abolish both.

Ministerial Statements
The instant case was a rare case was where it was both legitimate and helpful to consider Ministerial Statements in Parliament under the principle in Pepper v Hart. The meaning of the section was, when read in isolation, ambiguous. The clause that was to become the section had been debated at some length in Parliament. Ministerial statements made the meaning of the clause quite clear. Furthermore, a proposed amendment had been moved and failed twice on the premise that the clause, as drafted, would abolish not merely the presumption but the defence of doli incapax.

Consultation Paper / White Paper
Parliament had been in no doubt as to the meaning of the clause, in part because in the Consultation Paper and the White Paper that had preceded the legislation the Home Office had made it quite clear what had been meant by abolition of the presumption of doli incapax.

Comment: Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart [1993] applied.
At 10, the UK has one of the lowest ages of criminal liability in Europe, 8 in Scotland, 7 in Ireland.

Whole case here

Increase stop and search – black and Asian

Saturday 2 May 2009 at 12:06 pm | In News | Post Comment
The stop and search figures released this week by the Ministry of Justice reveal a surge in the number of black and Asian people stopped under counter-terrorism laws.

There was a 322% rise in the number of black people stopped, compared with an increase of 277% for Asian and 185% for white people. Justifying the huge rise the department quotes the “robust response by the Metropolitan police” since the Haymarket bomb in 2007 as one of the factors in the huge rise nationally.

Corinna Ferguson, a human rights barrister at Liberty, said the threefold increase in anti-terror stop and search operations was a clear sign that the powers were being misused: “Only six in 10,000 people stopped were arrested for terrorism, let alone charged or convicted,” she said. “The disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities is even greater than in previous years.”

Full details here

How much do barristers earn?

Saturday 2 May 2009 at 9:52 am | In News | Post Comment
Charles Salmon QC
Many barristers do not earn enough to remain in practice, others have a 7 figure income.

The Minstry of Justice has revealed that for the financial year 2007/8 the following payments were made from legal aid.
Charles Salmon QC was paid £1,058,000 in criminal cases, Salmon represented Terry Adams, who was jailed for seven years for money laundering.
Howard Godfrey QC earned £988,000.
David Whitehouse QC earned £959,000.

Tuckers solicitors received £9,302,000 in legal aid payments
Johnson partnership earned £6,192,000.
Two million people shared a legal aid budget of £2 billion.

Ministry details here

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