New powers to the public on sentencing?

Sunday 28 March 2010 at 11:05 pm | In News | Post Comment
Telegraph on line
The Telegraph reports that under controversial moves likely to be announced within days, a new website will allow people to draw to the attention of Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, cases where they believe punishments issued in courts have not been harsh enough.

She will be under a new obligation to take local campaigns into account before weighing up whether to apply to have a sentence increased because it is unduly lenient.

Report here

Many defendants to be charged with murder of Sofyen

Sunday 28 March 2010 at 10:42 pm | In News | Post Comment
Sofyen Belamouadden was stabbed repeatedly during what is believed to have been a pre-planned fight between rival school gangs armed with knives on Thursday afternoon at Victoria station.

Police are to bring charges against up to a dozen boys in relation to Sofyen’s death. If they go to trial it will be the most defendants ever to be tried jointly over a single murder.

Twenty boys have been arrested.

Group members who encourage others to kill can be convicted of murder even if they do no more than encourage.

In 2007 five teenagers were convicted of the murder of 16-year-old Kodjo Yenga – who went to the same west London school as Sofyen.

The Telegraph claims that recent statistics showed that of 48 murders due to be tried at the Old Bailey, eight involved at least four defendants.

And then there were 12

Sunday 28 March 2010 at 6:04 pm | In News | Post Comment
Lord Justice Dyson Born 31 July 1943; Lord Justice of Appeal 2001
Sir John Dyson is the first appointed justice of the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, after the post had been vacant for 8 months. The other 11 just moved from the House of Lords Judicial Committee.

Whilst he is undoubtedly an excellent choice, the process of selection has been exposed as a sham involving many months of behind the scenes wrangling.
Jonathan Sumption, QC, the original favourite, withdrew his application after furious resistance from senior judges. Sumption has not sat as a full-time judge. Yet the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 does not require someone to have served in the High Court or Court of Appeal, and the advertisement for the post reflected that.

Even before 2005, direct appointments were rare but in 1887 Lord McNaughton was appointed from the Bar, as was Lord Radcliffe in 1949. Lord Chancellors were also appointed from the Bar and by virtue of their office sat as law lords.

Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor said, “We were very keen to open up the Supreme Court beyond simply the Court of Appeal judges. If he [Sumption] was the best man for the job, that he did not come from the usual pool should not have been a reason for rejecting him.”

The Sumption episode has left a nasty taste, has undermined the legislation and has failed to bring fresh blood to the judiciary.

First test of the new rules on assisted-suicide prosecutions

Monday 22 March 2010 at 10:20 pm | In News | Post Comment
Sir Edward Downes
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC has ruled that a criminal trial of Caractacus Downes, who took his parents to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland last summer, would be against the public interest.

The decision was the first test of the new rules on assisted-suicide prosecutions, laid down by Mr Starmer last month.

His decision means that no assisted-suicide prosecution has been brought against any of the relatives or associates of the 100-plus people who have travelled to the Zurich clinic to die.

Renowned British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan died in the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas.  Lady Joan, 74, a ballet dancer and choreographer, was suffering from terminal cancer. She had been married for 54 years to Sir Edward, a former Principal Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sir Edward, 85, while coping with near blindness, increasing deafness, and ‘the ailments of very old age’, was not dying.

Mr Downes, 42, booked a hotel room in Zurich for his parents, even though they had been able to book it themselves.
He also stood to gain ‘substantial benefit’ from the death of his parents, who owned a large house in Blackheath, south-east London.

Starmer said: ‘Mr Downes’ parents had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to take their own lives and in assisting them, Mr Downes was wholly motivated by compassion.’

After being instructed by the Law Lords to draw up new guidelines, Mr Starmer last month ruled that six factors would count to show a public interest against prosecution.

These were that the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision; the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion; assistance rendered was minor; the suspect tried to persuade the victim to live; the suspect was reluctant to help; and the suspect helped the police inquiry.

It is difficult to establish a difference, in practice, under the new guidelines.

The gulf between LPC completers and training contracts widening

Monday 22 March 2010 at 10:06 pm | In News | Post Comment
Solicitors Regulation Authority
The Law Society has launched a campaign to warn students to think twice about embarking on a career in law. The campaign targets university and secondary school ­students and contains information about the cost of legal training as well as the shrinking number of training contracts on offer.

It is not uncommon for a graduate to apply for 50 jobs, but not been able to secure a training contract.

The campaign from the Law Society warns students that you can’t just swan into a legal job by getting a 2:1 degree and finishing the LPC.

For almost a decade the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been engaged in endless reviews to overhaul the route for qualifying as a solicitor. At one stage it even mooted the possibility of doing away with the training contract altogether.

The LPC can total more than £12,000.  The minimum salary since 2009,  for trainee solicitors working in Central London is £18,590 pa, for trainees working elsewhere in England and Wales, it is £16,650 pa.

Details here

Age of criminal responsibility to remain ten

Sunday 14 March 2010 at 8:39 am | In News | Post Comment
Maggie Atkinson faces calls for her to be sacked
It has been reported that the Government has rejected calls from their own adviser Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner to raise the age of criminal responsibility from ten to twelve.

The Ministry of Justice has dismissed Dr Atkinson’s claim that Jamie Bulger’s killers should not have been prosecuted for the crime.  Lady Justice Butler Sloss, retired President of the Family Division of the High Court, described Dr Atkinson’s proposal to change the age of criminality as “unworkable”.

Dr Atkinson claimed politicians were not putting the needs of children first because they were so influenced by the views of victims’ relatives.

Dr Atkinson described the murder of James as ‘unpleasant’ which has caused offence. There are calls for her to apologise, resign or be sacked.

Her comments come after Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, met Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, this week to discuss the return to custody of one of her two-year-old son’s killers, Jon Venables.

When Dr Atkinson’s appointment was announced in October there were doubts about her raised by MPs.  She has been in post for two weeks.

The age of criminal responsibility in England was in effect reduced from fourteen to ten by Jack Straw in 1998 when he ended the presumption that children under fourteen did not know the difference between right and wrong.

In other parts of Europe the age ranges from fourteen to eighteen.

Internet misuse by police and justice workers

Saturday 13 March 2010 at 7:34 am | In News | Post Comment
Ministry of Justice has clear policy on computer use
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has disciplined more than 40 staff for internet and email offences – including sacking four and issuing final warnings to three others. The Metropolitan Police (MPS0 has dealt with 28 members of staff for similar breaches.

Misbehaviour included use of websites like Facebook and Twitter and general internet and email offences.

Five civilian staff were also disciplined by the police force for committing the same offence in the past 18 months, with one of them being dismissed.

The usage policy at both the MoJ and the MPS prohibited staff from accessing social networking websites for personal reasons in working hours.

Other staff were subject to disciplinary action for breaches of IT security policy, for example misuse of email, internet browsing and incorrect use of passwords and login details.

“MoJ policy is that staff cannot access social networking sites for personal reasons.”

Claims firm shut down by regulators

Saturday 13 March 2010 at 7:28 am | In News | Post Comment
Cartel Client Review - offers to deal with credit card debts
The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) has closed down the Manchester office of Consumer Credit Litigation Solicitors (CCLS) which advised the claims firm Cartel Client Review, because of “suspected dishonesty”.

CCLS worked almost exclusively for Cartel Client Review. CCLS which was run by just one solicitor, Richard Burley.
Until mid-February the legal firm had had about 100 staff but most had walked out after being left unpaid.

The regulator said the law firm had “tens of thousands” of customers files, “which just seem to have been put in boxes”. Another firm has been appointed to take over the files. Customers of CCLS would receive letters asking them what they wanted to do with their files.

Cartel Client Review specialises in trying to challenge the enforceability of debts, such as credit cards and personal loans, as well as claiming for the refund of mis-sold financial policies such as payment protection insurance. Customers are asked to pay a fee of £495 which will be refunded if their claim is not successful.

Cartel Client Review is the subject of a separate Ministry of Justice investigation.

Saturday 13 March 2010 at 6:55 am | In News | Post Comment

Pedley v Director of Public Prosecutions 2010 (QBD)
(Meaning of ‘Children’s Playground’)
D breached a Sexual Offences Prevention Order by observing young people playing in a skate park. He was seen hiding in shrubbery using binoculars by an off duty police officer. The skate park had 20 to 35 children between the ages of 10-15 years old in it at the time.
Held: A skate park was a children’s playground for the purposes of the order. The appeal was by way of case stated.
Consideration was given to the fact that: (i) the skate park had been monitored by an officer of the authority who was also responsible for children’s playgrounds; and (ii) the majority of use of the skate park was for people under the age of 18.


No bilingual juries in Wales

Saturday 13 March 2010 at 6:52 am | In News | 1 Comment
Welsh dragon
The government has decided against selecting bilingual juries in certain cases on the basis it would outweigh the principle of random selection.

The decision follows a consultation looking at, for example, trials where large amounts of evidence are in Welsh.

It has been met with dismay by politicians who believed it could play a part in an increase in bilingualism in Wales.

Justice Minister Claire Ward said: “This decision comes down to a choice between two good and desirable things – the principle of random selection in the jury system and greater use of the Welsh language in court.

“Being tried for a serious offence by one’s fellow citizens is an important right and juries should be randomly selected from the whole community.

Participants in criminal and civil trials in Wales have the right to use the Welsh language in court and the government pays for interpreters to support this right.

The 1993 Welsh Language Act makes clear reference to Welsh and English having equal treatment when administrating justice in Wales.

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