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croslandite barrister



Thoughts and anecdotes of a left of centre northern barrister



Updated: 2014-10-05T01:00:21.257+00:00

 



Life sentences in all but name

2007-03-17T12:42:16.771+00:00

See below for an interesting article by David Rose, about sentences of imprisonment for public protection, which are effectively life sentences.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200703190027

Such sentences are imposed if the judge sentencing is satisfied that the defendant poses a significant risk of serious harm. The sting is that the judge must proceed upon the assumption that the defendant does pose a significant risk of serious harm if they have previous convictions for a specified offence, of which there are over 150. This gets to the point of David Rose's article that such sentences are being used too frequently. Over 1000 such sentences are imposed a year incomparison to 200 discretionary life sentences, the nearest equivalent sentence prior to April 2005.

The real difficulty is that the current offence, the record of previous convictions and the Probation Service Pre Sentence Report will provide the information upon which the decision is made. Pre Sentence Reports are now completed according to a computer matrix which will determine the risk of reoffending and risk of harm in the future. Such determinations are inevitably subjective.

The Court of Appeal will only interfere in situations where the judge has clearly made a mistake.

Offenders imprisoned for public protection will not be release unless they can satisfy the Parole Board that they are safe to be released. Given the current climate something the Parole Board will be increasingly reluctant to do.

As a consequence the government have unwittingly caused a large and long term increase in the prison population. The Home Office estimated that only 250 or so such sentences would be imposed a year.

The only case I have dealt with where such a sentence was imposed was in my opinion quite correct. The defendant had a recent previous conviction for a knife point robbery of a shop. He was to be sentenced for 2 knife point robberies of shops the last one committed whilst on bail for the 1st. The complainant in the last offence was a heamophiliac, so the potential consequences of the offence were extremely serious.



Professionally embarassed

2007-03-14T22:34:41.512+00:00

Now there is an oxymoron for a lawyer if ever there was one.

Today was the first time that I withdrew from a case because of professional difficulties.

I was representing an appellant on an appeal against conviction at the Crown Court. The case is a rehearing by a judge and two magistrates. I received the papers this morning, not unusual.

The prosecution (respondent) served some unused material which gave rise to the serious possibility that I would have to cross examine the police witnesses that they were deliberately lying rather than mistaken. Of the two police officers I had known one for some time, though not socially.

Given the risks of complaints were the appeal unsuccessful, possibly on the basis that I had not gone in hard enough in cross examination, I decided that it would be better to withdraw. Unfortunately that meant that the case had to be adjourned.

Which saved the personal embarassment, to myself and the police officer, of calling him a liar.



Good news from the coal face!

2007-02-24T17:50:50.835+00:00

The Gvoernment's trial of speedy summary justice has apparently been a success, according to a speech delivered by Lord Falconer, to magistrates:

http://www.dca.gov.uk/speeches/2007/sp070222.htm

The idea was to change the way magistrates manage cases, by encouraging them to deal with cases as quickly as possible. It has worked to, apparently. The number of guilty pleas is up by 30% at the 1 st hearing. Best news of all is that most trials take place within 6-10 weeks, unlike the example shown here:

http://www.lawoutsider.blogspot.com/ on the 15th of February.

It amazes me that in the city where I work trials are dealt with more quickly in the Crown Court than they are in the Magistrates Court.

This shows that you don't have to change laws and procedures to get improvements in the criminal justice system, you just have to manage things better.



Gun culture and youth crime

2007-02-19T09:39:48.032+00:00

See below for a revealing interview held in Moss Side, with a young man about gun crime:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6374171.stm

The interview to me has the ring of truth.

Tony Blair's foray into the issue of gun crime, ensuring the 5 year minimum sentence applies to 17 to 20 year olds, I am afraid contrasts lamentably with David Cameron's speech on the issue, http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=135068

Cameron actually appears to have understood that a materialistic society has consequences which need to be tackled. I profoundly disagree with his remedies, based solely upon voluntarism. It is all a bit too public school social concern for me. As it fails consider that the change to society needs to be much more profound than encouraging faith based activism.

Meanwhile Blair is stuck supporting the Thatcherite consensus of market dominance and a coercive state.

My own anecdotal experience of young offenders is that they do not consider or think through the consequences of their actions. So upping the sentence for possession of firearms will have little or no impact. The last similar case I dealt with was a 13 year old who had robbed a 14 year old by brandishing a pen knife. The knife was produced as an afterthought. All the defendant wanted was the mobile phone that the victim had on him. The robber was not interested in the much more valuable jewellery that the complainant was wearing. The offender probably has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but it had not been diagnosed as his mum's life was too chaotic to make sure he got to the assessment appointments. They missed one appointment as she had to attend her other son's school as that son was to be excluded for bad behaviour. Stopping this young lad from offending will require a lot of work and resources. First off sorting out his education and providing assistance to his mum.

Shooting from the hip and saying let's increase sentences even more just misses the point.



Reap what you sow

2007-02-19T10:25:41.846+00:00

Reading the UNICEF report comparing children across the world's wealthiest nations makes depressing reading from a British perspective. See below for the full report:

http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Society/documents/2007/02/14/UNchildwellbeing.pdf

See below for an excellent article by Jon Fayle, ex head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, who has resigned shortly after Prof Rod Morgan, who was the chair of the board and who has also recently resigned.

http://society.guardian.co.uk/youthjustice/story/0,,2012032,00.html

The article makes the sensible point that we imprison far too many young people at the moment. As a consequence resources are stretched and young offenders do not get the interventions necessary to prevent re-offending. Jon Fayle suggests that there is the possibility of developing a political consensus, across the main political parties, which would reduce the rate that we imprison young people. However the appointment of Louise Casey, the Respect Tsar, to replace Rod Morgan would send totally the wrong signal to sentencers.

It seems to me to be commonsense that the poor way we as a society treat our children is at least partly responsible for the way they behave and mature. So there is a link between the UNICEF findings and the offending of a small number of young people.

See the Compass website for research/ polemics about the way we treat children. On the links section of this blog.



Restorative Justice

2007-02-11T15:14:07.805+00:00

See the below article from New Statesman on resorative justice,

http://www.newstatesman.com/200702120025

by Mary Riddell an Observer columnist. It makes interesting reading, saying that restorative justice has generally got a good rate of success in reducing reoffending rates.

The political point is that restorative justice fits within Gordon Brown's upright manse morality. Apparently the Treasury has been in favour of pilot projects looking into restorative justice, while the Home Office has been reluctant to get involved. Much easier to talk tough on law and order.