A place to come to get up-to-date legal news in one place that is easy and accessible.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Insult a horse and you could be arrested!

*Possible Reform*

A law that bans the use of insulting words or behaviour has been brought to attention by MPs and civil right activists in the claim that it destroys free speech.

The Public Order Act prevents actions that are likely to cause 'harassment, alarm or distress'. However, Senior Conservative, David Davis argues that Section 5 of the Act creates a grey area with no clarity as to what constitutes insulting behaviour.

There have been a number of debated cases in recent years;

> Reportedly, in 2006 an Oxford University student asked a police officer if he knew his horse was 'gay'. After refusing to pay an £80 on the spot fine, he was arrested for making homophobic remarks and forced to spend a night in a cell, before the charges against him were dropped.
> An individual was charged in May 2008 under the act, after demonstrating outside the London HQ of the Church of Scientology. Holding a sign that stated 'Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult'. However the CPS ruled that 'cult' was not a dangerous or insulting word and charges were dropped.

Mr Davis, Senior Conservative is leading the campaign to reform Section 5 of the Act. Other supporters include; Christian Institute, Liberty, Big Brother Watch and the Freedom Association. Gay Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell illustrated the 'grey area problem' that the section creates by stating 'what constitutes insults is a very subjective judgement' and that there is no actual 'requirement...to prove that anyone has been harassed, alarmed or distressed'.

However a Poll has shown that 17% of MPs believe changing the law would undermine the ability of the police to protect the public.

The Home Office launched a review last October, examining as to whether 'insulting' can be considered as 'proportionate' when looking at gaining the right balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right of others to not be harassed, alarmed or distressed'.

And the debate continues....

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The benefits of an early plea

Even in the darkest of circumstances where evidence against the defendant is so overwhelming that a guilty verdict is the only plausible outcome, it has been held that an early plea should still be given credit.

In R v Wilson (Paul Anthony) the defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 15 years after his guilty plea to two offences.
Wilson appealed this and their lordships held in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, that an early plea is in benefit of the defendant as long as, under all circumstances, it was in the interest of justice.

In this specific case the appellant had video recordings of a sexual assault on a 3 year old as well as sexual images of two young teenagers. It is due to the high level of evidence that the Lord Chief Justice declared the appellant had no option but to plead guilty so should not be rewarded for an early plea.

However, whilst appreciating the reluctance of the Lord Chief Justice to give credit, it was held by their lordships that the earlier the plea the greater the public benefit.

This was specifically important in this particular case as it ensured that the judges and jury were prevented from having to witness the shocking video.

Showing that as long as the guilty plea is for the public benefit and in the general interest of justice, regardless of the evidence against the individual, they will still receive credit for an early plea.

Domestic Violence Law to include 16 year olds

*possible reform*

Currently within the law on domestic violence, teenagers fall into a grey area that lies between child protection and domestic violence. Meaning that, both what the victim and the authorities can do in these situations is unclear.

With a £2million campaign in 2010 that covered TV, radio, posters and the Internet, the authorities have slowly reacted to the issue of domestic violence in teenagers.

More recently however the Chief Constable (police national lead of domestic violence) says more is being done. The police are in the process of creating and introducing a training program that will tackle every aspect from identifying the domestic violence to protecting the victim and prosecuting the criminal. They are also working with the Home Office in plans to alter the definition of Domestic Abuse so that it includes young people from the age of 16.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Assisting in suicide

A report announced earlier this week has proposed changes towards lifting the ban on assisted suicide in specific case.

Created by a commission chaired by Lord Falconer of Thornton, former labour lord chancellor, the report comes in response to a number of issues previously reported. Former Met. Police Commissioner, Lord Blair of Boughton has described the existing laws as 'incoherent and unsafe'. In response Lord Falconer claimed this is an 'issue that has been moving centre stage for a period of time and the commission has been set up to ensure there is an independent and comprehensive look at the law'.

The report suggests that whilst stringent safeguards will be put in place to protect those without the mental capacity to make decisions about ending their life. There does need to be the option for the terminally ill who have less than a year to live to ask a doctor for a dose of medication that would end their life. They would have to take this themselves as an indication that this is the individual's choice and a voluntary action. The suggestions in the report were followed by support from many including the West Midlands NHS strategic Health Authority who has openly stated its not opposed to change and believes the current law in this area isn't fit for the 21st century.

As expected with any proposed reform there has been lengthy and numbered criticism. Care Against Killing the charity who campaign against euthanasia and assisted suicide has estimated that lifting the ban could result in 13000 deaths a year whilst putting the lives of the vulnerable and disabled at risk. It was also suggested by the British Medical Association that the majority of doctors don't want to legalise assisted suicide. David Cameron's opposition was made clear as early as 2006 when a letter to pro-life campaigners stated that he didn't believe in allowing doctors to accelerate death.

Still no to cameras but a yes to tweeting

Britains highest judge has announced reporters can now use live, text based sources of communications straight from the court room. Providing the first real-time accounts of court room action and making a move towards open justice and increased accessibility for the public. 
The Lord Chief Justice has decided reporters can now use tweeting amongst other live, text based sources (including tablets, blogs and email) to report live from the court room. First used in December 2010 during the extradition case against WikiLeaks founder, interim guidelines followed, under which to use these sources, reporters had to make an application to the individual judge in each case. 
A review has followed this month in which the Lord Chief Justice reported the use of tweeting in the WikiLeaks case posed no harm to justice. Changes now mean reporters don’t need to ask permission from the judge in order to use these sources. However it has been made clear that the judge still retains the right to stop this if it interferes with the courts administration of justice and the rules of contempt of court (Contempt of Court Act 1981) still apply. The result of the review was explained by the judge as ‘enabling the media to produce fair and accurate reports of [court] proceedings’. 
It still remains that members of the public must seek permission from the judge. This change does however show the court adapting to changing media formats and promoting new ways for the public to gain information. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

*Update* Court Clerk sentenced for bribery

Court clerk, Munir Patel has made legal history being the first defendant convicted under the new bribery legislation, being sentenced to 6 years imprisonment. He was exposed taking a £500 bribe to avoid putting details of a traffic summons onto a legal database.

Patel admitted to one count of bribery and misconduct in a public office. However, the prosecution believed that he had in fact helped 53 offenders and made in the region of £20000 from his bribes. Sentencing Judge Alistair McCreath stated how the offences were ‘ a very substantial breach of trust... your position as a court clerk had... the duty to public confidence in it’. Judge McCreath sentenced the clerk to 3 years for bribery and 6 years for misconduct to be served concurrently. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Goodbye to social welfare law?

The government is set to announce plans to limit spending on legal aid within the UK. If carried out as envisaged the government is set to save £350 million of the £2.1 billion budget devoted to legal aid each year. However, as with all proposed changes to the law much criticism has followed and a predicted outcome is that of a loss of the social welfare area of the law. 
The plan is set to largely target civil cases with £280 of the £350 million being saved from this area. Firstly by making it harder to claim civil legal aid through the reduction of the acceptance limit from those with less than £3000 worth of assets to those with less than £1000. Then finally the government will move to make all but the extreme exceptional circumstances ineligible. 
The Ministry of Justice stands by its plans and the belief in the ‘need to ensure proper conditions and safeguards are built... to continue to justify paying out vast amounts of taxpayers cash’. However, with so much money being removed from the civil sector it is clear how the public are going to suffer, in particular when it comes to receiving legal advice and support on debt, housing, benefits, immigration, employment and personal injury, to mention a few. From this, critics are concerned the social welfare sector will suffer and this could result in undermining the constitutional principle that citizens must have access to justice.
Currently we still await the announcement of these plans and the impact these will have.