Second Corporate Manslaughter case

Saturday 16 July 2011 at 9:18 am | In News | Post Comment
Lion Steel Equipment

Lion Steel Equipment Ltd is to be charged with corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act (CMHA) 2007.   This will be only the second case of corporate manslaughter to reach the courts.
The first hearing is on on 2 August 2011.

The charge follows the death of an employee who fell through a roof at the company’s Hyde headquarters in 2008.

Three of the company’s directors should also be charged with gross negligence manslaughter under the CMHA.

The first case brought under the CMHA, against Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, failed to provide the insight into likely fine levels due to the company’s “parlous financial state” and resulting fine of £385,000. The Sentencing Guidelines on Corporate Manslaughter (issued in February 2010) suggest that fines would be expected to start from £500,000 and rise into the millions.

Police stations in chaos over detention period

Saturday 2 July 2011 at 8:20 am | In News | Post Comment


Police practice 25 years now wrong
Manchester Police v Hookway, 19 May 2011 means that suspects cannot be released on police bail for more than 96 hours, and is a disaster for police on a national scale.

The government will bring forward “emergency” legislation to reverse the effect of Hookway, the Act will receive Royal Assent within the next 14 days.

The decision, which relates to a case involving Greater Manchester Police (GMP), means that thousands of potential suspects, including those being investigated for murder and rape, would have to be released without charge, and only re-arrested if new evidence emerges.

Under current measures, suspects can be released on bail pending further inquires for weeks, or even months, in some cases.

The Hookway case was heard by Mr Justice McCombe in the High Court in May.

The initial ruling was made by the district judge at Salford Magistrates’ Court, who said the detention clock continued to run while the suspect was on bail.

Paul Hookway, a murder suspect, was arrested in November last year. Police had been given permission to detain him for 36 hours but he was released after 28.

Five months later, GMP applied to the courts to extend the period of detention from 36 hours to the maximum of 96 hours. But the district judge refused, saying that the 96 hours had expired months ago.

The ruling means the ‘detention clock’ could not be stopped which has been the practice across all forces over the past 25 years.

Chief Constable Jim Baker-McCardle, ACPO lead on this issue, said:
“This ruling has a profound impact on how the police have investigated crime under a legal framework interpreted and used during the last 25 years. Unless overturned, the indications are its effect is that police can no longer put anyone out on bail for more than 96 hours without either being in a position to charge or release.

What of cases which relied on confessions obtained in breach of PACE?

There may be millions of cases of bail since 1 January 1986 when PACE 1984 came in to force, will they now have been unlawfuly detained and so eligible for compensation, via the Legal Ombudsman – legislation cannot be retrospective and so would not normally deal with such issues.
Claims could only go back 6 years, but this would still be expensive for the government.

This case is headed straight to the Supreme Court at the end of July.

Legal Aid – highest earners list

Saturday 18 June 2011 at 12:23 pm | In News | Post Comment
Some lawyers earn over £500,000

See the list here







Supreme Court – significant moment for Scotland’s legal system

Saturday 18 June 2011 at 10:53 am | In News | Post Comment
Supreme Court
Supreme Court

For the first time (31 May 2011) the Supreme Court in London has, in effect, directed a Scottish court to quash a criminal conviction.

Alrticle XIX of the Act of Union 1707 states that courts in Westminster “shall have no power to Cognosce Review or Alter the Acts or Sentences of the Judicatures within Scotland or stop the Execution of the same.”, this has been followed for all Scottish criminal cases, since 1711 (but ignored in civil cases).

Now the position appears to be that the Supreme Court will hear criminal cases too, if there is an issue of “constitutional importance” or where human rights law is involved.

Criminal cases heard by the Supreme Court include the case of Nat Fraser v Her Majesty’s Advocate 2003 – an appeal against a sentence for murder – and an appeal by Luke Mitchell against the conviction for attempted murder of his 14 year-old girlfriend.  Both cases follow Cadder v HMA [2010] UKSC 43 which involved a detainee being interviewed by the police without access to legal advice.

Nat Fraser claimed he had not had a fair trial and argued there had been an infringement of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Supreme Court agreed, and ordered the Scottish High Court of Justiciary to quash the conviction and ordered a new trial

Some observers consider that the justices were asked only to determine whether Mr Fraser had received a fair trial under European law not whether the conviction should be quashed. Which would mean the court was “supreme” in Scottish criminal matters at the same time being “effectively bound” to quash the conviction.

The Scottish Government has created an Expert Group to consider the jurisdiction of the UK Supreme Court in criminal matters which will consist of Lord McCluskey, Sir Gerald Gordon QC, Sheriff Charles Stoddart and Professor Neil Walker.

In a press release the Supreme Court said:

The Supreme Court recognises that it has no jurisdiction to consider the test which applies in Scots law to fresh evidence appeals which do not involve a devolution issue. This case, however, involves an issue of non-disclosure, which raises the question whether the trial complied with Article 6 ECHR and which is a devolution issue. By refusing the Appellant’s devolution minute, the Appeal Court did “determine” a devolution issue and the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear an appeal against that determination:

Small claims limit may rise

Monday 30 May 2011 at 7:08 am | In News | 1 Comment
Small claims to get bigger

Ministers are consulting on increasing the value of disputes that can be settled using the small claims procedure from £5,000 to £15,000 from next April.

A claimant bringing a legal action is not exposed to paying the other side’s legal costs if their action fails (conversely, a litigant cannot recover costs of instructing a lawyer).

Hearings are often in chambers and take place in an office so are less intimidating than a court.

The enforcement of court orders can be a problem. The watchdog Consumer Focus, in a report last year, found that one in four small claims users who won their case received only part of the compensation, while 6% ended up with nothing.

It is possible to received an exemption from the court fees because of low income.

At last: Stephen Lawrence murder suspects to stand trial

Friday 20 May 2011 at 7:27 am | In News | Post Comment
Stephen Lawrence

David Norris and Gary Dobson will stand trial at the Old Bailey later this year for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham, south-east London in 1993. The murder is the most high-profile unsolved murder in Britain.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday quashed the 1996 acquittal of Gary Dobson and ordered a retrial following an application last October by the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer.

Announcing the decision, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said: “After conducting a detailed examination of a large body of evidence, we have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient reliable and substantial new evidence to justify the quashing of the acquittal and to order a new trial.”

Dobson and Norris were arrested and charged last September with the murder and remanded in custody. This was not reported for legal reasons.

Stephen’s mother Doreen Lawrence said: “I am really pleased by the judgment, which has been a long time in coming, but we still have a long way to go.’’

She added: “So, at this moment in time, all I can think about is Stephen and that perhaps somewhere down the line we will finally get justice for him.’’

The Crown Prosecution Service said that it and the Metropolitan Police had worked with forensic scientists to review evidence in the case and a full forensic review had begun in June 2006.

New scientific evidence was found and on that basis the prosecution applied for a retrial.

The CPS said: “Our thoughts at this stage go to Stephen’s family, who have never given up their quest to see justice for Stephen.”

The law was changed in 2005 abolishing the so-called double jeopardy rule which now means that people can be re-tried for the same crime.

The 1999 inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s original mishandling of the racially motivated murder was a landmark moment for British policing. Sir William Macpherson branded the force “institutionally racist” and recommended sweeping reforms.

Early release of hundreds of high-risk offenders condemned

Sunday 8 May 2011 at 8:54 am | In News | Post Comment
Parliament to consider early release of prisoners
This week a parliamentary bill drafted by the probation officers’ union will be debated for the first time by MPs. Under its proposals, prisoners serving determinate sentences of more than two years would have to prove to the parole board that they pose a low risk.

At the moment hundreds of dangerous offenders, including those assessed as likely killers, are being released into society under a scheme condemned by the probation service as “scandalous”.

During a two-week period last month more than 30 prisoners considered to pose a high or very high risk to the public were released or were about to be released. The findings have raised questions over the public safety of the law that stipulates that all offenders sentenced to a determinate period in prison are automatically released once half of their sentence is completed, regardless of their circumstances.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced a range of new penalties (such as Custody Plus and Custody Minus) and changes in sentences (such as automatic half-way release for non-dangerous offenders with a custodial sentence of 4 years or more).

Reconviction rates

  • Community rehabilitation order: 62.6%
  • Drug treatment and testing order: 88.9%
  • Community punishment order: 38.9%
  • Community punishment and rehabilitation order: 54.4%
  • Prison: 67.4%

Court stenographers to be replaced with digital recording

Sunday 8 May 2011 at 8:18 am | In News | Post Comment
Stenographers soon to be history

The Digital Audio Recording Transcription and Storage (Darts) will begin rollout in June 2011 and finish in March 2012 at each of the 97 Crown and combined court sites in England and Wales.

Darts has been piloted at seven Crown Court sites since October 2009, the system offers clear audio quality and backup, easy playback and a faster transcription service.

While Darts was being extensively tested, the impact on the roles of the clerks and ushers was assessed. Evaluation showed the system to be popular with court staff and the impact of Darts on staff time to be minimal compared to realisation of financial benefit for HMCTS.

Reported in Law Gazette

The European Court of Human Rights is Court flouting democratic self-government

Thursday 21 April 2011 at 8:03 pm | In News | Post Comment

Following Parliament’s rejection of votes for prisoners, a new Civitas report calls for urgent reform of human rights legislation to keep European judges from deciding British law.

Strasbourg in the Dock, by international lawyer and Conservative MP Dominic Raab, argues that judges have gone beyond their legitimate powers of interpretation in their now infamous Hirst ruling. He finds some of the European judges are ‘woefully lacking in experience’ and, as a consequence, ‘are undermining the credibility and value of the Court’.

‘[I]n 2007, only 20 of the 45 European judges had any prior judicial experience before joining the Strasbourg bench. By 2011, the judicial calibre had not improved much: 23 out of 47 of the judges had prior judicial experience.’
[p. 42-43]

He notes that

‘the judge for San Marino… only completed her training as a lawyer in 2002’
[p. 43]

and that some judges come from member states with poor institutional respect for human rights. Some have little understanding of the rule of law in more advanced democracies.

More from Civitas here

Two ways of looking at marriage…

Wednesday 20 April 2011 at 3:47 pm | In News | Post Comment
Bountiful commune in the Kootenays

In Canada a Vancouver court has been asked to rule on a principles that could change the country’s future. The issue at stake is whether polygamy can be legally prohibited.

A fundamentalist sect that broke away from the Mormon church permits men to take several wives at its Bountiful commune in the Kootenays.  One of the commune’s leaders is alleged to have 25 wives.

If the ban on polygamy is upheld, that means religious freedom is only a qualified right. However, if the ban is struck down, values such as gender equality and the rights of children take a back seat. Religious freedom would come first.

The court heard testimony that one of the Bountiful leaders took his 15-year-old daughter to the United States to be married, and brought back with him a bride of the same age.

And they note that in similar fundamentalist communes in the U.S., male children are driven away to prevent competition for wives. One witness testified that a boy of 15 and his brother were given $100 and a black bag with clothes, and told to leave. The arithmetic of polygamy is bound to cause problems.

Full story Times Colonist

Meanwhile in the UK….

With effect from 6 April 2011 separating couples are required to attend a mediation awareness session before taking their case to court unless there are allegations of domestic violence or child protection issues. Applicants for public funding are already required to do this.

The Pre-application protocol for mediation information and assessment (Family Procedure Rules 2010) is available here


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