Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Asylum seekers

I appreciate this is running up the Daily Mail Comment Attractor, but there we have it. The simple truth; we struggle to deport those who are here illegally.

“Last year we removed a record 5,400 foreign nationals, including over 50 killers and attempted killers, over 200 sex offenders and more than 1,500 drug offenders. In total more than 66,000 people were removed or returned home voluntarily.”

But the man in the article above was waiting for his turn. Asylum seekers, by their very nature, often live entirely outside society -- no licence, no legal job, no bus pass, no fixed address, no mobile phone contract.

Mr Ibrahim, who has never held a valid driving licence, had been banned for nine months for driving while disqualified, without insurance or a licence, and was on bail at the time of the collision.

Now that's taking the piss. He's just been convicted of more driving offences too.

Actually, this isn't about asylum seekers, but the sentences for causing death by dangerous driving, driving whilst disqualified and suchlike. The short version: they should be stiffer.

Wow, maybe this is the Daily Mail.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where to begin?

What a few days! Firstly, the so-called "best-value tendering" was abandoned. This process of a reverse auction for the provision of legal aid services would have been disastrous for those in crime, both in the sense of practising it and committing it. People would receive less attention from their legal aid lawyer, who would be desperately trying to make a decent living by churning cases. Even if you know nothing about the law and how it functions, this decision was a major victory for people's rights.

Then, the Law Society, perhaps emboldened by this success, has started an action against the government in respect of means testing in the Crown Court.

"What's means testing?", I hear you cry. Those who can afford to pay for their defence, will have to do so. The acquitted will be 'refunded'. The reality is that people with a half-decent wage (£20k ish) will probably be above the line, and will be hammered with big bills. The pressure is obvious -- cough up the wedge, or just plead guilty and save yourself some money. Even if you're acquitted, you won't get it all back.

Then, reality hit. People are still having their reputations ruined, and our libel laws are still stifling medical debate.

Ho hum.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Englishman's home is his castle

In the case of Tony Martin, it meant shooting an escaping burglar in the back.

Munir Hussain, a father of three, returned from the mosque he attends with his family, and he, his wife, and his three children were tied up by the three masked intruders in his house.

He was told he was to be killed. He threw a coffee table, and made good his escape. He found his brother, and chased the intruders down the road. The one they caught was beaten with a cricket bat. The bat split into three, an indication of the force used. He has a permanent brain injury, and was not fit to plead. He is effectively in a secure mental hospital for life.

He was jailed. The Times Online link has comments at the foot of the page. If you look to see the "Most Recommended" (sic), one of the top two comments is as follows:


The judge, of course, made remarks, which received precious little attention. His comments deserve repeating, albeit as reported by the press, and not from a transcript:

"If persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse."

Quite right, too, however tempting it may be to grab that bat or 12-gauge.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Presumption of innocence

If your partner phones the police after an argument, a record is made on the police computer for such matters (known as a CRIS report). "Domestic", so the boys in blue have to turn up and talk to people. Some forces run a "zero-tolerance" policy, which means that someone HAS to be removed from the property there and then (usually the person complained about, usually arrested).

Let's say this happens more than once. Totally unnecessary calls, on every occasion.

If an allegation of assault is made, and a statement is prepared, a charge is likely. Indeed, CPS policy is that where the evidence exists, it is automatically in the public interest to charge. So off we go to court. Your partner, realising that it's all now a bit serious, writes to the CPS, and makes a formal withdrawal statement.

If they're summonsed to attend, but don't, a witness warrant may be issued. This isn't particularly common, so let's leave that aside.

What happens?

The prosecutor offers no evidence, and the charge against you is dismissed. Phew. You get to keep your job, you'll be able to keep paying the mortgage.

Charge dismissed, certainly, but there's more. A restraining order.

The courts now have the power to impose a restraining order upon conviction for any offence. Previously, this power was restricted to offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and lasted up to five years.

Now, it's any offence. Not only that, but the court can also impose a restraining order upon acquittal where it is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a restraining order is required to protect the person named.

So, you could end up with a court order telling you not to contact your partner, directly or indirectly. For a significant period of time. Breach of which could result in a custodial sentence measured in years, not months.

I can see the utility of the court being able to grant a restraining order upon acquittal, but it is entirely wrong in principle.

This is the beginning of a slippery slope. We already have conditional cautions, so why not have conditional cautions with restraining orders attached? Why not just text them to people?

"U hv restrng ordr, dnt contct wife or up2 two yrs insde"

And yes, I'm fully aware that (for now) a restraining order is a court order, and requires an appearance before the court.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Answer Time Part Two

These are the answers to the questions that were emailed to me. I have removed information that I think could help identify people, or where requested. 

Hi there 

I know it doesn't begin with a 'p' but would welcome your thoughts on the magistracy. I attended court 3 times this year and made an application only to be told that there are no vacancies this year. Faced with the prospect of waiting for another year to apply (with the possibility of there being no vacancies again) I am now questioning whether it is going to be worth it. Based on my experience in court I think I could make a positive contribution and would add some 'variety' to the bench. On the more negative side I have heard from others that it can be quite mechanical and tedious.

I would be interested in your thoughts as someone on the opposite side (so to speak).

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for the opportunity to pose a question

My pleasure. I would encourage anybody with an interest to consider becoming a magistrate. Bystander's blog would be an excellent place to start reading, if you haven't already found it, that is. It is a thankless volunteer position, continually under attack, and is consistently oversubscribed nonetheless. That should tell you all you need to know.

The strength of the magistracy is the variety that comes from its members. People from all walks of life, from unemployed single mums, to Harley Street consultants and bankers, sit as magistrates, judging their fellow citizens, making decisions with life-long ramifications for all involved. It's a position of great responsibility, and isn't to be taken lightly. As far as ages go, many come to the bench later on in life, and their wealth of experience is very much welcome. If you think you have something to offer, persevere with applying. 


Just saw your offer on your blog, so here is my question. 

I am a witness for the prosecution [in a manslaughter case]. I made a statement to the police over a year ago, & the case doesnt commence [for some time]. Can I re read my statement prior to the case?, as over time i'm sure that my subconsious has blanked a lot of it out, It was quite a messy do. & I would not like to cause embarrassment by not remembering on the day. 


Don't worry! Prosecution witnesses are allowed to read their statements as a matter of course before the trial starts. This usually means reading them on the same day. If a witness needs to refresh his or her memory in the box, that is permissible in certain circumstances. Hopefully, the Witness Care Unit at court will provide you with a copy of your statement on arrival, arrange a visit of the actual court room to familiarise you with the layout, and introduce you to prosecution counsel.

You asked for questions. Here is one: Many years ago (back in the late 1970s), solicitors representing people who were likely to be summonsed for motoring offences were able to make written representations to the Chief Inspector in charge of the local constabulary's admin unit in advance of a summons being issued. My solicitor tells me that it is no longer possible to make written representations in advance of the summons being issued (i.e. you have to wait for the summons and then write to the CPS). Is he correct? [The case has already been dealt with, by the way].

Cases are still sometimes adjourned for written representations to be made by defence solicitors as to whether or not a case should proceed / a defendant should be cautioned, etc. These “written reps” are not usually fruitful. Writing to the police is an exercise in futility. They will simply refer you to the CPS. 

If someone is in custody, an experienced defence solicitor with a good relationship with a custody sergeant can sometimes help steer a matter into the long grass. Rarer than hen's teeth these days.

Hi there AP, You asked for questions – here is one. It is a particular bugbear of mine, and the sort of thing that Shami Chakrabati bangs on about all the time, with some justification. It is about the extent of the CPS discretion to bring prosecutions, and what to do if it goes wrong – in the context of offences that are ‘drawn too broadly’.

The favourite example is consensual kissing between 12-year-olds contrary to Sexual Offences Act 2003, but the more topical one is possession of a prohibited weapon contrary to s5 Firearms Act 1968. 

To avoid talking about current cases, let us take an (admittedly extreme) example. 

Albert is a bad guy in Walsall. He owns a sawn-off shotgun, which is a prohibited weapon and he knows it. Tsk tsk.

But he is also old and frail and one day he dies. Bertram is an upstanding and friendly local solicitor in Walsingham. Unfortunately for him he is also the executor of Albert’s will – not that he knows where Albert lives at the moment, or even that Albert is dead, or that he ever had anything to do with guns.

However, as we all know, the property of the deceased immediately vests in his executor (if he has one). So Bertram is now, completely unknown to himself and without any possibility of finding out, in contravention of s5. 

Cedric is a DI, who comes across the said shotgun, tracks down the legal owner (Bertram) and charges him. Don’t blame Cedric, he is desperate for recognition after all the name-calling for being called Cedric – and my goodness is he going to get some recognition. 

Duncan is a dopey prosecutor on an off-day and not given the full facts by Cedric. He decides to prosecute. Don't blame Duncan, it isn't his fault. Given what he was told it was the right decision. 

What happens next?  

Bertram faces a minimum five years imprisonment, removal from the Solicitor’s Roll and loss of his livelihood – all for doing nothing at all, let alone doing anything wrong. It was clearly not in the public interest to prosecute, but on the other hand the facts behind it not being in the public interest do not form part of the offence and are not available to Bertram in defence. 

We all know that things should not have happened this way- but it is too late to fix that now.

So, what should happen next? What can be done?  

Best wishes - enjoying the blog  

phisheep [pseudonym of regular contributor left in]

Fortunately for the upstanding solicitor of Walsingham, the gun legally vesting in him as executor is not enough. The gun must be under his custody and control, i.e. physical possession. 

For example, if you knowingly possess a holdall, but don't know of its contents (usually because you've turned a blind eye), you are deemed to be in possession of its contents. If someone breaks into your lock-up garage, which you visit once a year, depositing several kilos of hard drugs therein, you aren't in possession of them. When you open the garage, touch nothing and call the police.

If the Bertram is charged, his solicitors should write to the CPS asking them to review the matter carefully – they should cite authority as to what possession requires, which can be found in Archbold in the chapter on controlled substances.

In addition, the public interest test must still be satisfied for offences of strict liability. In fact, I'd say it becomes even more important. 

If the CPS are determined to bring such a dangerous criminal as Walsingham's finest solicitor to justice, his representatives could judicially review the decision to prosecute. 

Failing that, I'd ask the matter to be dealt with as a preliminary issue – a voire dire seems necessary, and a sensible Crown Court judge would weed this case out long before it got near a trial court. 

I think the issue is a little more difficult for Bertram if he attends the house of the deceased, finds the gun, and takes it to the police station to hand in. The elements of the offence are now made out.

Strictly speaking, he is liable to a 5-year term for possessing a prohibited firearm contrary to section 5 (1) (aba) of the Firearms Act 1968. 

If writing to the CPS, judicially reviewing the decision to charge, and asking nicely all fail, then all is not lost. The judge still has the power to depart from the mandatory sentence in exceptional circumstances (R v Jordan, Alleyne and Redfern [2004] EWCA Crim 3291). 

Admittedly, if he is convicted of a firearms offence, Bertram risks being struck off, and receiving an absolute discharge may be cold comfort. Likely sentence is a factor in any decision as to the public interest. And round and round we go!

Dear AP,

Sorry if this has been covered before in your blog, but I'd like to know why prisoners always seem to serve only half their sentence? Or is that Daily Mail propaganda?

Surely, time off for good behaviour should be no more time for bad behaviour?


The government has decided that those serving custodial sentences will serve half of their time in prison, and the rest “on licence”, i.e. outside. They are supposed to be watched closely by probation, reintegrated into society, etc. All a great idea, of course, but difficult in practice, and very difficult to understand for those who see people getting 6 months jail being re-convicted after 8 weeks. 

How do you feel having had a successful prosecution when the bench sentence the defendant to 4 weeks immediate custody, burglary non-dwelling, at night, empty building, Serco call the prison, Governor's policy is to release, Serco carry out risk-assessment in the Serco van, and release defendant with the release grant in his grubby mitts? Having never seen the inside of a gaol, of course.

The answer, fairly obviously, is “pissed off”. Someone has something inside a building, that they have (probably) paid for, and left securely locked up. It might be a bicycle, a computer, a TV, whatever. In every case, its theft is a royal pain in the arse – damage to repair, insurance premiums go up, you're stuck without it for days, maybe losing income / mobility as a result. 

Scrotey McDoleScrounger wants it, can't be arsed to get a job and save up money to buy it, and decides that he'll just take it, thanks. Taxpayers' money is spent catching and convicting him, and the bench have decided that the offence is so serious that only custody will do, and in so doing, have ruled out community orders and other rehabilitative sentences. He is then released immediately. The farcical nature of that situation should be apparent to anyone. 

Those of you who voted Labour in the second time round are partly responsible. I say “second time around”, because, in fairness, their 'legislative diarrhoea' approach to the criminal justice system was not apparent in '97. However, this is an entirely typical result of the “legislate first, think later” approach that became rapidly apparent after the first few years of that particular government.

Criminalising so much behaviour, without expanding the prison estate, was not a smart move. Increasing sentences to appear 'tough', or to react to a populist concern, was not a smart move. Legislating in response to headlines, and in order to generate headlines, was not a smart move.

Releasing people early to make space is the inevitable result. Sentences should be exactly what they say on the tin – “8 weeks immediate custody” should be eight weeks of seven days each, not 4 weeks, less 18 days for early release, which makes 10 days inside, instead of the 56 the judge meant. 

I am a student studying law, and have done some work experience with local criminal law firms. Dealing with offences out of court is primarily a game of chance, so I'm told. One police officer would offer cautions for seemingly serious offences, and another would recommend taking someone with no previous convictions to magistrates over things like shoplifting with no PND or simple cautions. I read somewhere that the CPS can refuse to proceed with a case if they feel that a caution is more appropriate. However, I have never known this to happen.

So my question is: can a solicitor / accused apply / appeal for a caution? Or is it just a lottery?

I have personally written numerous emails to officers asking them to arrange for someone to be cautioned. If you get a caution unexpectedly for a serious offence, seek legal advice and seriously consider taking it. If you are charged where you think a caution is more appropriate, you can certainly write to the CPS and ask for a caution to be considered. 

Defence reps and officers alike, take note – even where no admission was made at the time, the caselaw says that if a caution is offered, the offer must be considered.

Take further note – if you are, as the kids would say, taking the piss, then that consideration may consist of as little as three-tenths of a second.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Answer Time Part One

Firstly, my apologies for the size of this reply. I'm certainly more popular than I ever was at school. Those questions which were sent in by email will be answered later this week in a separate post. I make no apologies for being email-ist.

In the comments section of the previous post...

Why isn't everyon who is drunk charged and fined?

Given how big a problem drink is in our cities and the time wasted by ambulance/police/A&E dealing with them instead of more and more silly laws and taxes and price fixing why aren't we using the drunk and disorderly offence and fining every drunk person causing the slightest nuisance?

We'd make loads of money off fines and people would soon get the message that being drunk will get them a fine and a record. So why don't we?

As others pointed out, you'd have to be drunk and disorderly to be fined, and some people do manage to be drunk without being disorderly. Fines are only £80, and quite a few people just don't bother paying them. Which means more court time, and more expense. More to the point, fining everyone is resource intensive – filling in forms and things takes time. If we could persuade the government to fund a zero tolerance crack-down on alcohol-related anti-social behaviour, I'd be astonished.

Ed said...
Why isn't everyon who is drunk charged and fined?

Damn good question, I'd like to know that one as well.

See above.

Nerd for Justice said...

I have a question about the effect of concurrent sentences, a topic that's always puzzled me.

Let's say, for the sake of example, that I'm found guilty of three crimes, A B and C, and I'm sentenced to
12 months for A
6 months for B, and
2 months for C.

When I go and serve my 12-month sentence, how am I affected by the shorter sentences for B and C?

Do they affect early release, or conditions in jail? What practical effect do those two shorter concurrent sentences have?

You aren't affected by the shorter sentences. At all. The only way you can be affected is to appeal the longer one during the currency of the shorter ones – if successful, you wouldn't be released, and you'd then be serving the shorter ones. It may well be that the only effect you feel is further down the line, when you're re-sentenced for a like offence. For example, if you got 12 months for an assault, 6 months for a weapon, and 2 for some drugs, and you were then sentenced for another knife, you could expect a stiff(er) sentence.

Anonymous said...

Hello mr prosecutor , I would like to hear some suggestions from you as to how we could improve the criminal justice system. I'm sure you could write an essay , but just give me a few points. I've never really heard the CPS's ( a member of) point of view.

London PC

I'm afraid a list of what I would change is a very long list. In relation to the police, I would ditch PCSOs and spend the money on proper coppers. I would bin targets for arrests / sanction detections, and bring back the Victorian Policing Pledge as a basis for police action. Fewer cautions, more officers on the street.

Unfortunately, this, and everything else, requires a lot of money – more lawyers, more admin staff. That means it won't ever happen.

Something that is free – a rebuttable presumption that motorists are at fault in a motorist-non-motorist collision. This would bring us in line with the rest of Europe, protect pedestrians and cyclists, and would do more than anything else to alter motorists' behaviour towards vulnerable road users. Motorists need to drop the view that they own the road. “Road tax” is actually vehicle excise duty. For a decent article on this, see the New Law Journal article here.

Oh, and more traffic police – uninsured drivers are rife, and cost the rest of us a fortune. Catching them means proper policing.

Anonymous said...

Two questions

1. has the move to making (nearly) every offence arrestable had a positive impact on the Criminal Justice System

2. do you support the six year rule for the retention of DNA for people not convicted of a crime.

Number 1: No. It's meant that police officers are dragging people back to the station for things that are essentially a waste of time. They are victims of a target culture, though, and I in no way blame them for arresting people!

Number 2: No, I don't. I'm pretty sure Liberty will be helping another case back before the ECHR in due course. The ECHR said retention for life was unlawful, and the government thinks it can pacify them by saying it will only retain for 6 years. I'm not so sure. Those who are arrested but not charged shouldn't be on the database at all. Those who are acquitted shouldn't be on it either.

Collecting the most intimate information that exists about a person and storing it because they were once arrested is a joke. It's clearly an infringement on someone's privacy, and as such, must be proportionate. I don't think the current situation is proportionate. Please do go and have a look at Liberty's website, I can't do better than their summary.

Anonymous said...

Question: Do you think the majority of charging should go back to the custody sergeant?

And of course why or why not.

Deciding what offence to charge often causes much head-scratching amongst fully-qualified lawyers. Despite their wealth of invaluable experience, it is hard to see how a custody sergeant could manage to unravel the legal complexities of a mortgage fraud. So for the complex stuff, the answer's no.

That said, it would save money to get them doing more of the more simple stuff, and it seems the Tories agree with me, and plan to return almost all charging to the police. So for the simple stuff, the answer's yes.

Anonymous said...

Cool. At last someone on the internet is offering advice (free of charge) that might actually be of some practical use to me. I’ve got a question:

“How do you avoid getting caught?”

My considered legal opinion is that you should avoid committing crimes. My clerk will bill you shortly.

[NB - after an accurate response to the earlier question on concurrent sentences, this reader continued...]

For note, it's also a similar situation when a concurrent community penalty is imposed, although they are normally for new offences committed during the term of the existing order and us such may extend the period of supervision.

The Prosecutor would need to enlighten us on the reasons why separate penalties must be imposed on certain offences and why these are allowed to be concurrent rather than consecutive; so that would be my question towards the Prosecutor.

I have no idea what you're on about. Seperate penalties must be imposed on certain offences? Do you mean mandatory minimum sentences? E.g. firearms? If so, the answer is the rule of totality, authority for which was helpfully cited by a reader in the comments section of the Question Time post. In short, offences committed at the same time should be sentenced concurrently. Multiple, repeat offences may be sentenced consecutively, but only insofar as the principle of totality is observed; i.e. the total sentence must be commensurate with the offending.

Consider the person stopped with the following in their possession: a section 5 (1) (aba) firearm (i.e. a gun giving rise to a 5-year mandatory minimum), and a few rocks of crack. They plead guilty to possessing with intent to supply, and the firearms offence. With their two previous drug trafficking convictions, they also get a seven-year minimum term for the drugs offence.

They stand a good chance of the offences being imposed concurrently, not consecutively, and would therefore serve 7 years (half in the community, of course).

To those of you who made it this far, thank you for your attention, and to those of you who wrote an email, thank you for your questions, and watch this space for your answers.


Sophie said...

'Ello! Hope I'm in time for one last question!

I was thinking the other day many people say the prison is the answer, that as the harshest means of punishment we can offer it should be given out as much as possible for as long as possible.

Including youth offenders. However, I have read a great many academic sources that make a good point that prison doesn't really 'work' in terms of reducing reoffending and can even make offenders worse when they re-emerge butterfly like several months later.

A great many people decry the effectiveness of community punishments and other alternative forms of justice and I can see why. The feeling is that they don't work and aren't harsh enough, however true this is I don't know but I can see where they are coming from.

So, what's the middle ground Anonymous? Is it even within the criminal justice system's power to change the way criminals both young and old go about their dirty business?

A big question I know, just wondered what your thoughts were.

In short, I do not think it is within the power of the criminal justice system to reliably reform criminals generally. The recidivism figures speak for themselves. Prison is particularly bad at reforming people. Looking at the causes of crime, and removing them, is by far the more expensive and effective way. Which tells you why we don't do it (cf. "being tough on the causes of crime", circa 1997).

We have had some measure of success with things as they stand, but it's more a philosophical question, to be honest, and one that strays into religious territory, if that's your thing.

Ultimately, picking up litter (unpaid work, or 'community service' as it was once known), or sitting around and talking about his feelings (anger management courses) will not make little Jimmy McStabber into a nice chap.

If it does help him, great, but the CJS is ill-equipped to change people effectively and reliably. But we must try -- that's why we have a Probation Service. So, what purpose prison? Giving the rest of us a break from his stabby antics.

Scott Adams, the author of the Dilbert cartoons, feels that those who say prison doesn't reduce offending are wrong -- for that to be the case, other criminals would have to be committing more crime to keep the average up. It's all about removing from society those who can't be trusted to behave themselves.


Slightly more topical, with the number of rape stories in the news and the recent Sarah Payne report (in addition to the HMICPS thematic review coming out next year) what is your opinion on how the justice system in dealing with complaints of rape?

Thanks! :D

Allegations of rape have never been taken more seriously than they are today. Thirty years ago, a sympathetic but hard-nosed WPC would have explained to a distraught but intoxicated woman that she was wasting her time, and that she should just see her doctor.

Fortunately, things have moved on. As previous posts have discussed here and here, there is still progress to be made, but it will always be a very, very difficult offence to prosecute, simply because it so often turns on what was happening inside someone's head.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Question Time

Ask me a question. Anything to do with prosecuting, police, prisons, policy, anything beginning with the letter "p", really. Nothing about specific cases, though, for obvious reasons.

theanonymousprosecutor (at) gmail (dot) com

I will endeavour to reply to the more serious queries as soon as I can.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Open prisons

I dealt with someone in court last week for two assaults on police officers, and a section five Public Order Act matter. He was drunk, shouting and swearing at the police officers who turned up to deal with him. They were trying to do so sensibly, i.e. they didn't arrest him, and told him to go home. He was so abusive he was eventually arrested. He got to custody and "kicked off", and was rather forcibly restrained for his trouble.

He was charged with one assault PC for kicking an officer, and I added the second for spitting in the same officer's face. He was adamant he was not guilty, despite the custody CCTV being at court, for once.

The usually friendly probation officer came over, rather puzzled.

"The computer says he's on licence"

After that little incident, they're hot on that sort of thing. Being on licence is when you are released to serve a portion of your custodial sentence in the community. If you re-offend, probation should recall you to prison to finish your sentence inside, but they might not get round to it until you've murdered two French people.

"Oh, thanks for letting me know, I wasn't even given his pre-cons. What's he on licence for then?"

"It's for 360 months, so it must be murder".


Now, the police had arrested this man, fingerprinted him, and then bailed him to court. Goodness only knows why. Not their finest hour. He had been in and out of the dock all morning while I tried to figure out why he had been bailed by police, why he hadn't been recalled by probation, and where his bloody solicitor was.

The police liaison officer at court saved the day by finding an up-to-date set of previous convictions. It turned out that he wasn't on licence for murder at all. It was a life licence though, but just for an armed robbery. He still wasn't represented, and shuffled back into the dock. I rose.

"Sir, I now have the information I require, and this matter can be dealt with. While I'm addressing you and your colleagues, might the gaolers be called in?". They were. I asked for him to be remanded in custody pending his trial. He was. It wasn't a challenging application.

He was well-dressed, in blazer and overcoat, clean, smart, well-spoken, and polite to a fault throughout the proceedings. Think Reggie and Ronnie Kray. A gangster of the old-school. Respectful of authority, in his own bizarre, armed-robbing, drug-dealing way.

He thanked the bench when they told him to go downstairs, even knowing that he wouldn't be let out for a good few years. I had to remind myself that there was a damned good reason he got life, but I couldn't help thinking, "He won't be any trouble at all inside".

And I was right. He'd been saving himself for when they started day-releasing him. His first day out was when he attacked the police officers, his second was when he answered his bail at court. He told the prison he had a job interview.

Anyway, all that is why I was entirely unsurprised when this happened.

Although, if the open prisons were all like this...

East Park Prison
... people might want to stay there. Is it just me, or is that actually a stately home, and not East Park Prison?

Rape, continued.

In the comments on my previous post on rape, and more particularly on anonymity, a small debate began about the frequency of false allegations. A video was brought to my attention, about rape statistics. I watched this video.

The web page hosting the video is entitled "Understanding the Rape Statistics". The first words to appear are "Understanding Feminist Rape Statistics". Ah. Alarm bells began to ring. The person who uploaded it to YouTube is apparently known as Angry Harry. Angry Harry has such friends as FeministsAreScum. Actually, in fairness, that person's account has now been closed.

Unfortunately, it only gets worse from there. The protagonist of the video asserts that women are offered "so many incentives for making false allegations", giving the following examples:

Vindictiveness, revenge, jealousy, blackmail, seeking legal advantage, seeking compensation money, seeking sympathy, seeking to justify poor behaviour, supporting the Sisterhood, seeking a job, badge of honour.

I promise I haven't made that up, it's at 4:08 in the video. Some of those are undeniably factors in false allegations, numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5 immediately springing to mind, but "badge of honour"? Really?

I solemnly promise that you, faithful readers, will be the first to know if the CPS start giving out badges saying "I made an allegation of rape and all I got was this lousy badge". It'd be a big badge.

To widen the audience appeal, the video then attacks women more generally. Apparently, "5% of women have personality problems when dealing with relationships". Another list then appears on screen:

Personality Disorder
Imbued with PMS
Alcohol, Drugs, etc.
Emotionally volatile

Again, entirely unaltered.

"17% admit serious emotional problems with PMS every month". The urge to make a sexist joke is almost overwhelming, my self-destructive character being what it is, so I'll move on before I commit any Thought-Crimes.

The conspiracy theory, and this being the internet, such a thing is pretty much compulsory, is that the "multi multi billion dollar abuse industry" is behind it all.

An apparently random firm of solicitors was picked out and vilified for saying that you can claim compensation for an attack, even if you were dating / married to your attacker at the time.

Of course, that's quite right. No-win-no-fee work claiming compensation for victims of child abuse may be criticised in some quarters, but the firm in question explain why their work is important on their website. I hope the free plug makes up for being singled out.

The video concludes that 90% of allegations are false, and that 1000s of men are falsely accused every year (accompanied by a logo for the Duke University Lacrosse Team -- can any Americans shed light on that for an ignorant Limey?).

It is, in short, a chauvanistic rant about evil women getting together and lying about being raped to get at men. And, to top it off, Angry Harry has created a video so hideous that it should have broken the internet. The link is not safe for work, for post-breakfast viewing, for those of a nervous disposition, unmarried ladies under the age of thirty, or quite possibly full-stop.

It starts with the letter F (presumably for "Feminist") being arranged into a swastika, followed by lots of photos of Harriet Harman's head being grafted onto unthinkable, unspeakable things. Hilarious, in its rather perverted way.

The mind boggles.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Charging advice

The benefits of co-location, i.e. the CPS being in the police stations, are felt far more keenly by the officers than by us. They get to bring us inane questions for which they never would previously have bothered to get an appointment ("But how do I charge him, I don't know how, do I need to arrest him?"), and we get our days interrupted, and don't get as much work done.

Today, I was asked to deal with a breach of a non-molestation order. I was in the middle of some very important browsing of the internet, but the officer was loath to call CPSD.

I looked at the file. Easy-peasy. She says he's been round her house, County Court's already told him not to go round, he's got previous for doing it, no reason to disbelieve her, he knows he's not supposed to be there, and has coughed it in custody, charged in 10 minutes flat. Back to the internet, and he can go to court.

So, CPSD. CPS Direct are the little-known call centre of the CPS. The police phone them for charging advice when us normal CPS lot aren't in the office, which means they work from about 4.30 pm - 9.30 am. Actually, they also answer the phone when we can't / won't give charging advice. So they're pretty much round the clock on shifts, working from home.

The CPS sticks a phone line and fax in the lawyers' living rooms, gives them a headset and a 25% payrise, and they give out charging advice from home, over the telephone. They are, in all likelihood, sitting in their dressing gowns, a Marlboro Light sticking out the corner of their mouths, with a pot of tea on the go, and late night Radio 2 in the background.

They are a mixed bag, as are any group of lawyers. Some are excellent lawyers, which is immediately apparent when reading their advice. Some are clearly sick of the phone going at four a.m., have run out of fags, and are wishing they were still asleep. This is also obvious when we read their advice.

There isn't really a moral to that tale, I'm afraid. Just more civil servants doing a relatively difficult job, for next to no recognition. Any CPSD lawyers out there want to chip in? Anonymously, of course...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Communication Breakdown

So, with a tip of the hat to Led Zeppelin, this is how I found out that my job is going to be changing in a pretty substantial way. Thanks, boss.

I also note that the Times doesn't seem to be quite up to speed on the fact that prosecutors are already back in police stations.

The police are getting summary-only charging back. This is a cost cutting exercise, naturally. It will also solve some CPS staffing problems -- fewer charging decisions needed. It's also a handy testing ground for police charging. I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- we are heading right back to 1985, pre-CPS. Lawyers in police stations, police doing the charging for everything, closer working relationships, etc. We already have a shared logo, for the "Prosecution Team". It's the police chequered squares above the scales of justice on a shield (sorry, can't find it online). I wish I was joking.

What proportion of the offences in my list for today's court are in fact summary-only? I don't know, because I haven't read them yet, but I'll report back. About 20%, I would guess.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sonnex and Farmer

These two blokes were freed because of endemic cock-ups. Sonnex was supposed to be in prison. Probation didn't recall him to prison. He'd been arrested and charged for other matters, and the fax from probation to the cells wasn't sent. The document that deals with recall on licence is a single side of A4, signed on behalf of the Home Secretary, informing the person named that they are being recalled to prison for "unacceptable behaviour" whilst out on licence.

Sonnex got technical bail on the new offences, because the court was told he'd been recalled on licence. He went back down to the cells, who declined to detain him because the certificate of recall had not come through (and quite rightly so). He was released.

By the time the Met got around to conducting arrest enquiries, two weeks later, they arrived at Sonnex's address a few hours after the murders. Sonnex, I am given to understand, is a well-known local villain, and has a certain pedigree in the courts.

Discussing this horrendous affair with a French judge shortly after the news broke, I said that if I were advising the families, I'd be advising them to issue civil proceedings.

Lo, and behold, proceedings have been issued, seeking compensation from the probation service and the police.

I shall make myself perfectly clear -- I feel a large amount of sympathy for the individuals in the probation service concerned. Those in the probation service are horrendously overworked, understaffed and underfunded. The Met is also stretched. The issue of where the blame lies is extremely complex, and may have to be thrashed out in the courts. Actually, I'd put money on a settlement to avoid embarrassment.

In the comments of the Times Online article linked above, there is the following comment:

Symon Allen wrote:

If you have overcrowded prisons then screw the EU policy on the death penalty and start culling the murderes/rapists/paedophiles/insane. We don't want them back in society and we don't want to pay for their upkeep with our taxes. Get rid of them NOW.

Symon Allen, you are a very dangerous person, and your views are repellent. I appreciate that the internet tends to provide a home to the fringes of society, but suggesting that we "cull" people with mental illnesses to make space is beyond the pale. I am lost for words.

Monday, November 2, 2009


A subject dear to my own heart, of course. Rape victims are anonymous as of right; that is, I don't have to ask the judge nicely if he would order those journalists in the back row not to publish her face on the front page.

N.B. -- "anonymity" is NOT anonymity in court. The complainant's name is used in open court, and unless special measures are granted (which are as of right in sex cases, and usually involve giving evidence via a live video-link), you still have to face your alleged attacker.

I say "alleged" because in a very large proportion of cases, the men (and it is always men who commit rapes -- a person, A, commits an offence by penetrating with his penis the vagina, anus, or mouth of another, who does not consent, and who A does not reasonably believe to consent -- s.1 Sexual Offences Act 2003) are acquitted. This will often boil down to the jury being unable to be satisfied so that they are sure.

I wasn't always part of the jackboot of the state, and I have seen first-hand how an enitrely unfounded allegation of sexual assault can destroy one man's prospects. This particular man had a very bright future, and his face was plastered all over the papers as a sex attacker. Having seen the evidence, and heard a large amount about the character and credibility of the complainant, it was obvious that the allegation was malicious.

He was rapidly acquitted, but no more reporting than "Man acquitted" could take place -- the complainant's anonymity is still protected to this day, which is also why I can't give any real details.

Should both sides be anonymous?

I think so. Women Against Rape don't, citing the "fact" that "most rapists are serial rapists" and the publicity is needed to get women to come forward. That's clearly cobblers. Firstly, the majority of cases don't involve any suggestion of serial rapes of different people.

Secondly, we don't advertise the identity of alleged muggers, so why would we do it with alleged rapists? What do they want, a forty-foot billboard with the slogan "Have you been raped by this man?"?

In the very few cases where that would help, you can still do that, but for the love of all that's good, DO IT AFTER HE'S BEEN CONVICTED! Bloody hell. Innocent until proven guilty? I know the Government's been working on habeas corpus and jury trials, but even they haven't dared touch that one.

There is a balance to be struck, and the unique stigma attached to rape means that those accused of rape and subsequently acquitted continue to suffer the consequences.

And Women Against Rape, an organisation that professes to seek justice, should remind itself of the basic rules -- innocent until proven guilty.

Nutt sacked

I'm sure the good doctor would agree that his career in government advising was not ended in vain, giving subs across the land a veritable pun-fest.

To be clear, our government has asked for some scientific advice, based on evidence, got an answer it didn't like, ignored it, and then sacked the bloke for repeating the evidence.

It is important that the Government's messages on drugs are clear and as an advisor you do nothing to undermine public understanding of them.

This phrase from the letter of dismissal, reproduced in full in the link above, is not impressive. The "advisors advise, ministers decide" division has existed since well before Sir Humphrey. The reality is that Prof. Nutt has been illuminating the understanding of the general public as to the Government's policy. There should not be anyone left under the misapprehension that the Government's position on drugs is a logical one based on scientific evidence.

By the way, cannabis is now pretty much legal in 13 states in the USA, including California (desperate for taxation income, obviously), with a further dozen or so to vote on the issue in the coming year.

And finally, just a little something to stick in the throats of all those suffering the effects of public sector spending cuts -- whether that's as a professional or as a "customer"; £161m down the swanny. I dread to think how many tins of biscuits and bags of tea that could have bought. Would have lasted me weeks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Double bubble

Excuse the back-to-back posts, this caught my eye.

It is reported that as the prisons creak their way along, a couple of governors were pulling the old switcheroo to try and hoodwink the inspector into thinking that actually, the prisons were doing fine. The thinking seems to have been, "shuffle the problem lags off to a different prison, and bring 'em back when the nosy parkers have gone".

Full story here.

Cuisine of the Crown Court

The most hilarious misapprehension about those of us who have the good fortune to spend our time in the Crown Court is the amount of money we make. An oft-repeated anecdote:

Whilst dining at the house of a friend, I was told that a well-known television actor would be joining us for a drink or six. He swept onto the drive in a gorgeous Jaguar, obligatory blonde bit of fluff tagging along. We engaged in the usual polite chit-chat until I could ask him whether he'd really shagged that Blue Peter presenter, and he asked what I did for a living. I said I was a barrister, and his eyes grew wide.

"Cor, you must be minted then"
"Er, no, not really, no"
"Well, I bet you have a driver to take you to court at least"
"Sorry, what?"
"A driver, you know, a chauffeur"

Ha. Matey was making goodness only knows how much, and had enough left after his cocaine and women had been paid for to drive big fast cars. The car parks of the Inns of Court are stuffed with Astons and Porsches, true. But they belong to the commercial boys and girls, the real big-shots at the top of the profession, who can command £5,000 for an hour in conference.

Us hacks, we're on the peasant-wagons with the rest of you plebs.

It is common to operate at a loss in your early years of practice -- everyone dreads the clerk saying "Mention in Milton Keynes tomorrow, sir". That's £46.50 for a short hearing to adjourn a case, and it's a £30 train ride. If you buy a paper and sandwich, there ain't much left to pay the bills.

This misapprehension goes hand-in-hand with "lawyers' lunches". We usually eat sandwiches, maybe an M&S salad for a treat. Lunch is usually a frantic hour, editing transcripts of interviews and re-photocopying jury bundles, chatting with other counsel, badgering each other to get our clients to plead guilty because it's Friday and the wife wants to get away for the weekend.

So, the Cuisine of the Crown Court. When a big cheque's just come in (£150), a "proper" lunch is called for. What of the grub in the courts then? I should start a Michelin-style guide.

Kingston does a particularly nice English breakfast, Winchester has great bacon sandwiches, Exeter has a lovely restaurant right next door, Liverpool isn't up to much, but is smack in the middle of the centre of town, so it's not a problem. Maidstone is grotty as hell. Woolwich is in the middle of nowhere next to Belmarsh prison, the food is terrible. Any other suggestions?

Lawyers, please add the most hilarious misconception you've come across from members of the public. Bonus points for crackpot conspiracy theories from racists.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Twelve men good and true

The jury system is amazing. It is the safest and surest protection against the tyranny of the state. No man can be deprived of his liberty without his peers condemning him. It is a guard against arbitrary detention. Of course, with a huge array of laws chipping away at our fundamental liberties, my pontificating is pretty out of date. Still, juries are crucial.

In other countries, jurors decide upon the sentence as well as guilt. The risk is obvious. In England, professional judges are required to assess dispassionately the gravity of the offending, with reference to guidelines. The Court of Appeal is perfectly happy to stick its oar in when things aren't as they should be -- "manifestly excessive" or "unduly lenient", as the case may be.

In the good ol' US of A, those who bear the awesome responsibility of deciding whether to end another human's life are the jurors. I am, as I have said before, vehemently opposed to the death penalty. I am also vehemently opposed to the courts being used as a moral tribunal.

So, when I put my feet up in the smoking room after a particularly heavy luncheon of roast haunch of wild boar, to peruse the papers over a snifter of brandy, I nearly had to throw something at the staff. This sort of thing is simply not on.

Citing out-of-context, cherry-picked verses from ancient religious texts is not the way to decide whether one man's crime is of such a gravity that it should be punished by death. I am glad that I live in a country where those who sentence take an oath to do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

A theocracy is the most hateful form of government, for it affords no liberty of conscience, which is among the most intimate and sacred of man's rights.

By the way, lunch was a sandwich made by my own fair hands, an apple, and a Twirl. And I wolfed it down in about 3 minutes flat. Your tax pennies hard at work. That lunch is a genuine one, however, eaten within the last couple of years, and is fondly remembered and dearly missed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Alcohol forms a substantial part of the lives of many of the people that traipse in and out of the local court. The scene is the same up and down the country, I'm sure. I'm also sure you can all picture a stereotypical Friday night -- a few in the pub, on to a noisy bar, maybe a club, a good groping of some semi-conscious partner on the dancefloor, stumble out for some unspeakable meat product snack masquerading as a kebab, then queue for a taxi. That's where someone "looks at yer bird" and you feel obliged to start swinging.

The government comes up with strategies to reduce alcohol-linked offending on a regular basis. These are typically poorly thought out, and merely displace the problem drinking or problem drinkers. However, this isn't a blog about Labour's pathetic attempts to generate quick fixes and the resultant confetti of legislation they have poured forth.

So why do people behave like that when they're drunk? Because alcohol is a disinhibitor? Because alcohol makes people horny and violent?

No, and a thousand times no. People behave as if they are affected in that way, as they expect to be effected in that way. The effects of alcohol are due, in large part, to the cultural expectations of the effects of ethanol.

When I first heard this, I thought it was cobblers, to be fair. But the evidence is there. Double-blind, placebo controlled trials. I make no apologies for quoting at length from the excellent "Watching the English", by Kate Fox:

"Football hooligans, road rage, lager louts, neighbours-from-hell, drunken brawling, delinquency, disorder and downright impudence. These infelicities are invariably attributed either to a vague, idiopathic 'decline in moral standards' or to the effects of alcohol, or both. Neither of these explanations will do. Even the most cursory scan of English social history confirms that our current bouts of obnoxious drunken disorder are nothing new and, even leaving aside the placebo experiments, it is clear that many other nations manage to consume much larger quantities of alcohol than us without becoming rude, violent and generally disgusting.

[...]Everyone is always highly surprised [...] and politely determined to let nothing shake their faith in the evil powers of the demon drink. [...] according to the concerned believers at conferences on 'Alcohol and Public Disorder', alcohol makes
other people do this. They themselves are somehow immune: they can get quite squiffy at the office Christmas party [...] or whatever, without ever throwing a single punch, or even using bad language. Alcohol, it seems, has the specific power to make working-class people violent and abusive. Which if you think about it, is truly miraculous [...]"

That last part, at least, I can vouch for. Beyond drink-drive, the rich don't really go in for alcohol-fuelled crime. The benefits class are firm believers, however.

I find this overwhelming. The entirety of the government's policies are based on the idea that alcohol makes people commit crime. That isn't the case.

Instead of the quick fixes, the government should be working on changing attitudes to alcohol, which is changing society itself. And that is expensive and slow. And won't grab headlines.

So guess what's going to happen?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All in a day's work

These are three people chosen at random from a busy day in court one. I hope this gives you some idea of what goes on in a courtroom on any given day.

The first one comes in with the Serco officers (can't call them "gaolers" these days). She's black, middle-aged, heavy-set, with braided hair. She peers through the thick glass, looking for her solicitor, who gives her a reassuring smile, before turning to face the bench. They both look presentable. She came from Ghana 12 years ago, on a boat. She is an illegal immigrant. She claimed to have borrowed a Belgian passport with a valid visa to get here.

She is totally illiterate. When she first arrived, she got hold of a fake NI card. It isn't that tough. She used it to get work cleaning. She's worked minimum wage cleaning jobs ever since, living in precarious housing -- friends' sofas, that type of thing. She has no bank account, and no income now she's been taken into custody.

She's been charged with fraud. She pleads guilty, and gets a £200 fine, or one day in custody, which she's served, of course. Immigration will deport her shortly, and her twelve year adventure in England is at an end. As she leaves with the gaolers (sorry), I wonder what will become of her when she gets home. I say "home", but I have no idea what awaits her -- she left Ghana because she had no family or friends whatsoever, and wanted a better life.

Number two is also with the gaolers (my own little rebellion). He is white, thin, and plainly an addict. A glance at his record confirms that -- knocking on for a hundred offences, and most conceivable drug treatment orders have been attempted. He had cocaine and opiates in his system when he was arrested. There was an administrative error in processing his benefits -- so he hadn't had any for four and a half weeks.

He's charged with attempted burglary. It's all on CCTV and he'd admitted trying to get in when he was interviewed. He'd seen some crisps in the shop window, and was hungry, which was why he'd tried to smash the door in. He was supposed to get a letter for a hospital appointment as part of his previous sentence. It never arrived. He got 28 days inside.

The third isn't in custody. He has a large tattoo on his face, further detail about which would identify him. He was seen brandishing a hatchet, stripped to the waist and covered in blood. He's charged with a public order offence. He said in interview that people attacked him, but he didn't see them, because they're "sneaky fuckers".

He then told probation he'd had eight cans, and that the alcohol "interfered with his epilepsy". The psychiatric team have given him the all clear. He attempted suicide two weeks ago. He has previously been an in-patient. He's stopped drinking, and wants to train as a tattoo artist.

The guidelines say three months, he gets 12 weeks suspended for a year.

All in a day's work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On a wing and a prayer

An American couple decided that prayer would save their daughter, and declined to seek medical attention. Turns out that prayer didn't save her. They called the emergency services only when she stopped breathing.

They will now be spending one month a year each in jail, for the next six years, one parent in March, one parent in September. There are some inventive sentences available over the pond, it seems.

She had undiagnosed diabetes. Modern science has dealt with the vast majority of what has been killing us for centuries; malaria, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, diarrhoea and dysentery. Many people, especially those of us with access to modern science (which includes all my readers, obviously), live to a ripe old age and die of general wearing out and falling apart. This young child has been robbed of the rest of her life by her parents' wilful ignorance of the marvels of medical science.

Words fail me. May she rest in peace, and may the remaining children always be properly cared for.

Guardian article


Berlusconi, the lovable rogue of Italy*, whose policy of appointing cabinet ministers based on their figures, and other various shenanigans appear to delight red-blooded Italian men, thought he had the perfect scam. He'd get rid of all these pesky prosecutions by getting himself elected, then pass a law declaring himself immune from prosecution. It worked.

He got the votes, and got his law through parliament just as the husband of our very own Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister (no, seriously, it is a genuine ministry), David Mills, was convicted of taking a bribe for testifying in Berlusconi's favour in the 90's. Mills got 4 and a half years, and is appealing.

Berlusconi got nothing at all, of course, and went on to sleep with numerous women less than half his age, some of whom were barely 18, none of whom were his wife, some of whom were paid escorts, some of whom cavorted on a bed apparently used by Putin on a state visit, and one of whom was wearing a wire. He also ran the country, occasionally. He denies paying for sex, but seems to revel in the affirmation of his masculinity.

I still haven't worked out why the papers reported the Putin-bed as such an important detail, though.

However, the constitutional court has gone and thrown a spanner in the works, insisting that all citizens are equal before the law, and Berlusconi is no exception, despite the protestations of his legal team. Let's see what his next move is. My money's on him modifying the constitution itself.

*N.B. Tongue may be firmly in cheek.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

BAE Systems Take Two

The last Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, dropped the bribery prosecution against BAE Systems, the world's second largest weapons manufacturer. The reasoning was that it would be damaging to national security to proceed -- which, when translated, means that we'd upset the Saudis, the deal would be off, and we'd stop getting the cooperation / intelligence we so desperately needed from the Saudis. The (alleged) slush funds for Saudi princes were never to see the light of day.

The Serious Fraud Office has just asked the Attorney-General's office to prosecute BAE for various bribery offences related to arms deals in Tanzania and other parts of Africa. Leaving aside the moral aspect of the arms trade (or amoral, depending on your view), why on earth do BAE think they can get away with bribery? Or are they just idiots of the first water for not covering their tracks sufficiently?

For the patronising "that's just how they do business over there" apologists, the question is "why on earth do BAE keep getting caught? If everyone's doing it, and they're not getting caught, are BAE just incompetent?"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Famous fugitive finally found!

My apologies for the desperately poor alliteration, it must be the beer. Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland. All we've had thus far is uproar from supporters and well-wishers, including some famous people and some politicians, such as France's Interior Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Have I missed something? He pleaded guilty to underage sex (with a 13-year-old girl), was remanded on bail for a sentencing hearing, and decided he'd rather do an extended Grand Tour of Europe than an extended custodial stretch, if it's all the same to you, Your Honour.

The intervening period, and alleged about face on a plea bargain may well give rise to some good article 6 points, especially in light of American "fugitive provisions" about appeals, but why on earth wasn't he arrested before? His location has never been a secret, so why now? Have the Americans really being trying their utmost to nick him for 30+ years, only to be foiled on every occasion by some dastardly cunning?

Friday, September 18, 2009


"On September 25, 2007, at about 4.45pm, Judge Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, received a telephone call from a member of the court’s staff.

He told her that lawyers acting for Michael Richard, a prisoner facing execution that evening, were asking if the court could stay open to accept a petition to stay the sentence. Judge Keller replied: “We close at five.” Richard was executed at 8.20pm. The extraordinary judicial misconduct proceedings heard against Keller last month should result in her dismissal from office."

Full story here.

I was truly lost for words when I saw this, hence the rapid succession of posts. For the record, I am very much opposed to the death penalty. This isn't the place to rehash the debate, but I'm sure that even those in favour of the death penalty can see the problem with the system when this sort of person is allowed to participate.

"Judge Keller gave evidence at the disciplinary hearing that she had left work early to meet a repairman at her home. She explained that the request for the court to stay open late did not fall within the rules: “I think it’s a close call, but I think that’s right,” she said of her decision. “I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do.” She confirmed that she would not act differently if faced with the same circumstances again."

This is the worst sort of administrative legalism, and when the State is imposing the ultimate penalty, should be avoided at all costs.

"The Attorney-General and Harriet Harman in illegal immigrant tax break stripper shocker!"

Or so ran the headline in my caffeine-deprived brain this morning.

It has been remarkably quiet of late, and having learnt from an early age that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt, I have held my tongue.

But those two stories were too good to pass up. The AG hiring illegal immigrants to clean her house? Couldn't make it up. Then, I see that Harman has business men in her sights for claiming back taxes on visits to strip clubs.

So, the AG -- negligent employer, or honest mistake? Can we expect to see the Met kicking down her front door?

As for Harman, does she really think that the bankers' worst crime and biggest failing of the last few years is sticking a bill from Stringfellows on their expenses and tax returns?

Or could it just be a dismally ineffective attempt to be seen to be doing something? Perish the thought.

For what it's worth, I have an extremely low opinion of those who feel that their clients' intelligence is such that paying a young girl to undress in front of them will make them forget the merits of the deal, and sign on the dotted line. I just don't get it. Perhaps I should conduct some research into this area. Harman's department must have some cash set aside for this sort of thing...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Full text of the DCMS letter now online

And for those who are interested in such things, please go to the excellent wikileaks website, which can be found here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Video nasties and a government cover-up!

In our peculiarly English way, we have attempted to suppress sex shops by creating a system of regulation that makes them instantly identifiable; the grey shop front with lurid letters "SEX SHOP", and the unspeakable things lurking within.

If that little paragraph doesn't boost my Google ranking, I don't know what will. And if you're looking for titillation, so to speak, I suggest you look lies only a discussion about technical regulations.

The EEC Technical Standards Directive (83/189/EEC) requires that technical regulations are "notified", i.e. that a formal letter is sent by the member state to the EU. Simple.

The Video Recordings Act 1984 regulated the sale of age-rated videos and restricted certain material to certain establishments, usually ones with no windows and grey shopfronts. That perfect tense conjugation will be important in just a minute.

The Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 1985 were the regulations that the Tory government of the day failed to notify. Astonishingly, no-one has noticed in the intervening 25-odd years. Until now. No notification, no enforcement, says the European Court of Justice.

So all offences under the Act and Regulations are "non-enforceable". The Parliamentary Under Secretary in charge of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Rt Hon Barbara Follett, yesterday wrote to Keir Starmer QC, the DPP.

She pointed out that the current EU regulation, the Technical Standards Directive 98/34/EC (thrilling, isn't it?), requires a 3 month pause when new regulations are notified. The upshot of which is that for the next three months, it's open season on uncertified porn, and no age restrictions; so fill your boots, and be sure to sell it to kids.

"In relation to past prosecutions, it is our understanding that there would be no positive obligation on the Government to re-open these; however we would welcome any comments you may have in this regard."

No obligation other than fair play, that is. Those who have been imprisoned for contravening non-existent laws may feel hard done by. Those who were fined could at least be reimbursed.

The BBC news website was covering the issue at length, as were all the usual outlets in their varying trademark tones. Despite this, the Rt Hon Ms Follett mentioned the unavoidable gap in "enforceability", and said:

"I am particularly concerned that advantage may be taken of this lacuna to flood the market with unclassified DVDs. I therefore ask you to consider carefully what reasons are given to the court in relation to any discontinuations."

Now, just a minute. This is a Parlimentary Under Secretary, asking the DPP, albeit in a roundabout way, to conceal the true reason for discontinuing proceedings. This would be misleading the court, and, to put it mildly, is an absolute disgrace. From an MP, it is beyond belief.

I am not sure which concerns me more; the attempt to cover-up the cock-up, or the fact that the DCMS thought that it was O.K. to lean on the CPS to get us to mislead the court.

There's more in the very carefully worded letter, in relation to other un-notified regulations. I've edited any references to that out, because I don't want to take the piss. I have uploaded some chunks of letter for you, though...

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four


I apologise for the cumbersome images, I was not able to edit the PDF of the letter.

I'd be astonished if some enterprising red-top didn't get the full text online shortly. If they do, I'll link it in, but for now, I'm keeping my head ever-so-slightly below the parapet. I hope you understand.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Going gently into the good night...

Embarrassingly, it seems that my technical ability doesn't even extend to preventing my humble thoughts from going gently into the good night. It seems that the website I use decided to remove my blog from public view for no apparent reason. I apologise sincerely for any confusion.

So, this Libyan fella then... Those who read Private Eye will be familiar with the evidence that led to his conviction. Basically, when the airliner was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, the debris was scattered widely. Months after the accident a fragment of timer was found in a wood, with an item of clothing attached. The label showed Malta as the country of origin, and a Maltese shopkeeper identified the defendant as the person who bought the clothing, which the prosecution said, was wrapped around the bomb. This man now lives in a rather large villa in Australia, which some say, almost inevitably, was paid for by the US government.

The chap couldn't be released with an appeal pending, so that was withdrawn. The prisoner exchange programme was ruled out, and that left compassionate release.

We're told he only has 3 months to live. So let's see if he does a Ronnie and recovers upon release, or whether he passes away. In any event, the old bloke who got off the plane in Libya might not have looked like it, but he is this month's political football.

270 dead, worst terrorist attack ever. Evidence not great, but convicted under scotch-ish law (that may not be the proper legal term), served a good stretch, apparently only got a matter of weeks left. Clearly, dying with your loved ones is preferable to dying in a foreign jail (some would say, don't commit crimes abroad then).

Would you have released him? Would you release everyone who was dying? If yes to the first and no to the second, why?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Prosecution Team

That last post about the complainant-prosecutor relationship got me thinking. The police and the CPS have been working together since 1986. The CPS was created to ensure that the lawyers were independent of the police forces they worked with. We moved out of police stations.

In the comments of the last post, "ANON COPPER" said that he or she "always knew the CPS weren't on our side". And he or she is quite right, we are independent. But now, it seems we're heading back towards integration with the police. We're even back in the stations, and being called "The Prosecution Team".

The police, quite frankly, have far more to gain from "co-location" than the CPS. We get small administrative advantages on occasion. That's about it. We have to travel further to work, and work in grottier places than was previously the case.

On the other hand, they have a team of lawyers, 9-5, 5 days a week, and they seem to be under the impression that we are there to answer every little query, and solve every little problem. They don't hesitate to pelt us with questions, queries, requests for "unofficial advice", and the like. Yesterday, I had a police officer come to my desk and ask how to charge someone. Once I'd cleaned the tea off my monitor and the tears had stopped, I told her to go and speak to her sergeant. I could hear his response through several walls.

So we moan at each other, but for the most part, we seem to rub along. I mean, in other jurisdictions, when the lawyers have had enough of the police...

This has also been picked up by the BBC, here. Quite extraordinary.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We are the champions...

The relationship between prosecutor and prosecution witness is a strange, and occasionally fraught one. Witnesses often see me as "their" lawyer, present in court for the sole purpose of helping them get that nasty neighbour sent down, or whatever it happens to be.

This is rarely the fault of the witness, who may have been told that I am their lawyer, who may have been asked for a Victim Impact Statement, or who may have been given the Victim's Code publication setting out "minimum standards of care" they can expect.

Of course, those who have been the victims of crime need to be taken seriously, and treated with dignity and respect, and I am all in favour of promoting that, but I am not "their" lawyer. I am the prosecutor, and I am there to prosecute on behalf of the state.

It has been said that prosecutors never win or lose cases; we simply present the evidence. It is up to the tribunal to accept or reject that evidence. If I make a good opening speech, ask the right questions, and can get the witness to come up to proof, then I've done my job. If that isn't enough to convince the tribunal, then the case might be crap, the tribunal might be asleep, or the defendant might be lucky, but in any event, the defendant is not guilty.

Anyway, the relationship with witnesses...the Justice Committee summed it up thusly:

"Telling a victim that their views are central to the criminal justice system, or that the prosecutor is their champion, is a damaging misrepresentation of reality. Expectations have been raised that will inevitably be disappointed."

I have seen a witness realise that I wasn't their champion -- when I asked for permission to treat them as hostile -- "disappointed" is a polite way of describing the look I got.

Full report here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bow Street Magistrates' Court

John Mortimer QC, one of the best-known members of the Bar, has been the subject of many books, some of which are worth a read. "Clinging To The Wreckage" is particularly worth-while.

I have recently finished one such book, which contains, as do they all, brief accounts of some of his more famous cases, which often involved obscene publications. One matter being discussed was the Lady Birdwood obscenity trial, a private prosecution involving The Council of Love, a play depicting an Easter Day orgy, complete with randy cardinals, a naked Pope, Mary as a whore, Jesus in a wheelchair, and a rather shabbily-attired God. It was a nineteenth century satire, being put on at the Criterion Theatre.

John Mortimer QC (plus juniors) and Quentin Edwards QC (plus juniors), were pitted against each other in a case that was attracting intense media attention, dealing as it did with such grave issues as freedom of speech and censorship. It struck me, upon finishing the story, that this case was being heard in the mags. In fact, many of Mortimer's best cases started and ended in the mags.

The case was thrown out, by the way, during committal proceedings, when Mortimer was able to show that the two defendants were not present at the time, and could not, therefore, be responsible for the content of the play on the night Lady Birdwood was in attendance.

It is apparent from reading books about that particular era, that the magistrates' courts were held in rather higher regard than they are these days. "Old-style" committals to the Crown Court, with the calling of evidence, and cross-examination of witnesses, were standard, and the local benches were well-respected by local villains.

Time passed, and "local villains" became "court users", and politicians seem eager to have cases heard in the crown court, for the "serious stuff", or diverted, for the "not-so-serious stuff".

What future does the magistrates' court have in this climate?

Justice delayed... justice denied, as any lawyer worth his salt will be able to tell you. Let me know what you think of this all-too-typical scenario, plucked from the mire of cases sloshing about within the OBM.

For those unfamiliar with "the OBM", it's not an oblique reference to a recently elected chap from across the pond, it's the Optimum Business Model -- see further down this page for a full explanation.

This case involved harassment of a partner, phone calls, unwanted visits, etc., etc., so was classed as occurring in a domestic context. Such matters are referred to as "DV" cases, short for "domestic violence", even where physical violence is entirely absent.

Mrs called the police, Mr was arrested, and held by the police overnight, to be produced before a bench. He was remanded in custody on his first appearance the following morning. So far, so utterly typical.

A week later he was bailed. Six days after that, a case management hearing (CMH) was held, and no primary disclosure had taken place -- staffing issues mean there simply aren't enough lawyers to go round the cases. A week later a pre-trial review was held, primary disclosure was served, and the following day his bail conditions were varied. 12 days after that, the first trial listing rolled around.

She turned up, which is relatively unusual in and of itself, and the matter was adjourned, as court time being hard-pressed, and there were further disclosure issues to resolve before beginning the trial.

Six weeks after the first go at a trial, a second pre-trial review was held, and the CPS file didn't turn up. The following day it did, and a date was set for trial. 19 days after the third pre-trial review, the fourth pre-trial review was held. Still with me?

This date was set one week before the trial, to ensure that everything was done. I had the pleasure of opening this file on the eve of pre-trial review number 4, and finding that not one jot or iota of work had been done.

I spent the better part of a day lashing the case into order as best I could, served almost a dozen statements, expert reports in relation to mobile telephones, medical reports and photographs, as well as a bad character application. Of course, I wasn't going to be presenting the case in court, so I drafted a note to try and summarise the four-inch-thick bundle as best I could.

So, if you were defending him, what do you do? Is it fair to try a defendant with so much evidence served only a week before a trial? How impressed is the complainant going to be with the progress of this matter? How impressed is the bench going to be, for that matter? First appearance to second attempt at trial; 102 days, give or take some atrocious mental arithmetic.

I wish this was an isolated case, but the truth is that I am often instructed to apply for an adjournment in order to rectify some abject failure to serve a particular item, usually in the face of weary disbelief from the bench, and in the face of a correspondence file bulging with written requests for said item from the defence.

Unfortunately, "More Lawyers!" has never been a vote-winning slogan, and so we will continue to be cut, rationalised, consolidated, and streamlined until the whole thing collapses about our ears.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Debbie Purdy, Dignitas and the DPP

WARNING: This post may contain traces of moral issue. These are murky waters for a lawyer, and I cling gratefully to a liferaft of certainty, and the only thing I am qualified to discuss in the whole affair; today's judgment from the House of Lords. I would apologise for the length of this post, but I feel the importance of the issue merits thorough discussion. Plus, I run the show, so I can do what I like.

The House of Lords have just handed down their judgment in the case of Debbie Purdy. My first attempt at typing that last sentence actually included the name "Diane Pretty" in place of "Debbie Purdy".

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Debbie Purdy suffers from a debilitating motor neurone disease that is not currently curable. She says that it will eventually reduce her quality of life to the point where she will commit suicide rather than live on. To do so, she plans to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, which provides lethal cocktails of barbituates to people in her position.

For those of us subject to this jurisdiction, assisting suicide is a crime. Many Britons have travelled to Switzerland to end their lives in the Dignitas clinic, and most travel with family members. Of these family members, none has been prosecuted.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors contains two tests, which can be paraphrased thus: Is there sufficient evidence to give a realistic prospect of conviction? Is it in the public interest to prosecute? Of the cases submitted to the CPS by various police forces, we have declined to prosecute on the basis of the evidential test on a number of occasions, but have declined to prosecute on the basis of the public interest test only twice.

Once, in the case of a paralysed but otherwise healthy young man, the DPP made the decision personally, and made his written reasons public. He has, however, refused to issue guidelines in relation to prosecuting this particular offence. This case is the final stage of Debbie Purdy's long-running legal battle to force him to do just that. And she won.

To quote from the judgment (at some length):

"[Debbie Purdy] wants to be able to make an informed decision as to whether or not to ask for her husband’s assistance. She is not willing to expose him to the risk of being prosecuted if he assists her. But the Director has declined to say what factors he will take into consideration in deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute those who assist people to end their lives in countries where assisted suicide is lawful. This presents her with a dilemma. If the risk of prosecution is sufficiently low, she can wait until the very last moment before she makes the journey. If the risk is too high she will have to make the journey unaided to end her life before she would otherwise wish to do so".

So, the law lords duly concluded that offence-specific guidelines should be published, as a failure to do so left such a grey area that the uncertainty effectively interfered with Debbie Purdy's right to life, accorded by article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. I commend the judgment to you in its entirety, it is worthy reading, not least because Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers took the opportunity to remind people of a judge's role:

"It must be emphasised at the outset that it is no part of our function to change the law [...]. We do not venture into that arena, nor would it be right for us to do so. Our function as judges is to say what the law is and, if it is uncertain, to do what we can to clarify it."

Well said, my Lord, well said.

For those who care, my personal view is that anyone who travels to a foreign country knowing that their loved one holds only a one-way ticket is a brave soul indeed. To be present at the moment of their death is horrendous enough, but to contemplate it for weeks or months before the appointed day arrives, and then to hold to their lips the fatal draught, is beyond my contemplation, and I pray that I never have to make such a journey.

At the risk of opening a king-sized can of worms, I would be curious to know what my readers make of this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've figured out why so many people were having trouble posting comments. It was all down to technical error 432A; "operator incomptence". It's hopefully fixed now, and people should be able to comment freely and anonymously, should they so desire.

Money, again.

It appears, reading back over the last few posts, that I've become a little side-tracked by money, and for that I apologise. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that lawyers are fixated by the subject. But, I beg your indulgence once more, before I get on my high horse, and move on to advocacy within the CPS.

Best-value tendering. Three words (despite the best efforts of that wretched hyphen) to strike fear into the heart of any lawyer. They should also scare any member of the public concerned about being arrested for some spurious reason, i.e., all of us.

The concept, for those lucky enough to remain outwith the clutches of the criminal justice system, is this: firms will bid in an auction for the right to conduct defence work for people who can't afford a lawyer, and that work will then be dished out in parcels.

Firstly, the idea that the state will pay highly trained lawyers to try to put people in jail, and then pay highly trained lawyers to try to keep those same people out of jail, is a brilliant one. It is a ringing endorsement of democracy, and the continually operating proof that the state is not tyrannical, that justice is not arbitrary, and that justice is for all, regardless of financial means.

It sums up the very British emphasis that our legal system places upon fair play. We even have a legal principle called "equality of arms", which is the legal equivalent of divvying up ammunition before going over the top.

Alas and alack, someone somewhere noticed that we spend rather a lot per capita on legal aid in comparison with our neighbours -- almost £30 per person per annum, compared to about £4 in France. As legal insurance goes, it's pretty good.

What's this auction about then? Why do lawyers need help driving up prices? Shurely shome mishtake? Well, some clever little civil servant has had a brainwave. Dutch auction. Reverse auction. Firm A has a look at its payroll and books, and says "we can handle 100 cases a year for £25,000".

That's a made-up number, by the way, and I apologise to those among you who have recently redecorated their monitors in a shade of Tetley.

Anyway, Firm B then has to say "Well, we'll do 200 cases for £25,000". Or, "We'll do 100 cases for £12,500".

The result is a race to the bottom, in terms of quality and service. So guess who suffers? You. The poor sod who's been arrested and needs some decent advice. This reverse auction was tried with home care for the elderly, and the results were shocking and immediate, with one firm losing its licence to provide home care shortly after winning a contract, so poor was the "care" provided. The winning rate was about £7 an hour. Cooked home meals became sandwiches and crisps bought on the way over to Doris from Gladys, simply because staff were so stretched.

A joint response from the Criminal Bar Association and the General Council of the Bar pointed out that this system is actually "price-competitive tendering", and isn't used anywhere else in the world in relation to legal services, except in the USA. Even the Yanks realised that if the system preserves the quality of representation, it didn't produce the savings sought (Chapter IV of the Department of Justice Special Report, cited in the above link).

What a surprise.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Alice in Wonderland

Crimeline is a regular email update service, provided free of charge by those responsible for the Crimeline website. It covers important new caselaw and changes in sentencing practice, among other things. The latest email reports that the independent financial consultants, Europe Economics, have had a little look at the CPS justification for using in-house advocates. Their full report can be read here.

The executive summary: CPS haven't put forward the true cost of in-house advocates for comparison.

The thinking goes like this:
  1. Barristers charge fees

  2. We could employ barristers, thus saving the fees

  3. Err, that's it.

Some of my readers may have noticed that the rest of the world is out-sourcing, sub-contracting and otherwise removing employees from their payrolls. Even the typists in the office here are employed by a service company. The cleaners by a different company again. While most companies are doing what they can to rely on short-term contracts with no obligations towards the provider of that service, we're doing the exact opposite.

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, CPS employees need pensions, sick pay, holiday pay, offices, training, development opportunities, etc. etc. Barristers don't, they get their fee, and that's it. They're on their own for everything else.

The CPS have allowed 10.2% on top of the salaries of the in-house lot to meet fixed costs. Doesn't seem like enough to cover long-term pension liabilities, let alone the running costs for a couple of huge pieces of prime central London commercial real estate.

I suppose we will shortly see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

As a brief p.s., CPS offices across London are now re-locating to police stations, despite "co-location" being one of the justifications for the creation of the CPS -- we wanted to be seen as having independence from the police. Once the big buildings are "off-budget", we will never be able to have our own offices again, as the purchase would be an enormous outlay, and it would look for all the world like money was being spent, and that just wouldn't do, would it?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Filthy lucre

This is something of a "hot potato" right now, what with our collective credit being crunched. The CPS is under intense pressure to save money -- millions of pounds across the country -- so that Gordon can save the universe, or something.

Of course, like any government department right now, we are already pretty tightly stretched. Over-spends abound. And yet further savings are demanded. The inconvenient truth is that prosecuting crime needs lawyers to make decisions. Lawyers are relatively highly trained, and need appropriate salaries. CPS salary bands are roughly as follows:

  1. Legal trainee (pupil barrister or trainee solicitor) -- £20k

  2. Crown Prosecutor -- £29k

  3. Senior Crown Prosecutor -- £36k

  4. Crown Advocate -- £50k-£70k

These figures are approximate, of course. Not too shabby, is it? There's a bit extra for being in London, although "London weighting" extends as far south as the London Borough of the Isle of Wight [sic]. There's a bit extra extra for being in Inner London, i.e. London as most people think of it.

And of course, we get gold-plated final salary pensions, flexi-time, generous annual leave, sick pay, holiday pay, child care vouchers, etc., etc., etc., all of which cost money. Lots of money. Especially the pensions.

But it's all O.K., and we're going to make the savings, because we've had an idea -- we're just going to get rid of the lawyers. Yes, it's the great DCW debate! Let's get designated caseworkers in, make them do the lawyers' jobs, but pay them less! Brilliant.

And while we're at it, we'd better not use the independent Bar, because they cost us money, too. The cheek of it! Let's just employ some barristers, and we can save all those nasty fees.

Actually, this links pretty nicely to the next thing I wanted to talk about -- the CPS advocacy strategy, the employed Bar, and designated caseworkers.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The "OBM"

As promised, I now move to a review of the infamous "OBM", following hot on the heels of my last post -- the anger has carried me through the evening, my faithful companion has long since started dozing on the sofa, all four legs stretched out, looking like a smaller, less stripy version of that ultimate colonial trophy, a large dead-stripy-animal-rug.

The Optimum Business Model, which is so far proving somewhat sub-optimal, is as follows. Rather than having a number of lawyers each being responsible for a number of files, according to specialism (stop giggling at the back), talent (I mean it), working hours (right, stand outside), the CPS has decided, after lengthy and expensive consideration, that the best thing to do, is to not allocate any files at all. So we all toddle off to court three days a week, and on the fourth day, we sit at a desk known as the OBM desk. To one side is a pile of files, all with varying amounts of work required. To the other, an efficient team of crack administrators (who said you could come back in?).

I dump myself into the sagging chair (you need a back complaint to get a decent chair out of this lot) and begin. I may need to respond to a defence letter, I may have to decide whether to proceed with a prosecution when a victim doesn't want to know, I may have to decide whether to apply for a witness summons, I may have to serve primary disclosure, or I may even have to dewarn witnesses because Billy has now remembered that yes, despite his complicated and involved story about Shandeece and Tyrone's big bust up, and why the baby had its ears pierced, and why he ain't done nuffink, he did as a matter of fact punch Johnny and nick his shiny iPod, and would like to have some credit for owning up to it and pleading guilty six months later and three days before the trial, please.

Of course, under what I will call a "traditional" work allocation system, as used in defence firms the length and breadth of the country, I would be at least familiar with a file, and simple queries can be resolved in seconds. Under the OBM, life becomes one endless round of surprises. So I get a letter saying "We represent Fred Splebbins, and note that Jane Splebbins has made a withdrawal statement. Do you intend to proceed with this prosecution? I would be grateful to hear from you by return".

Under the traditional system, I know that I intend full well to continue, because the police saw her injuries, 19 year old Son of Splebbins saw the whole thing, and has had enough of Dad smacking Mum about when he's had a few. Or that I have to throw my hand in because we have no case beyond Mum's bare assertion (and accompanying 10-page list of pre-cons for perverting the course of justice and wasting police time).

So I need to read the file from cover to cover, because I know nothing about it. I need to consider Fred's antecedents, the family circumstances, Jane's views and antecedents, and if I decide we should carry on, I need to know whether we can do without her (considering, of course, recent ECHR and House of Lords jurisprudence on hearsay and victimless prosecutions), or whether I should compel her to attend by way of summons or even warrant.

Which, as you can imagine, adds ever so slightly to my workload. Unsurprised, of course, is the weary defence hack, explaining the basis of an offered plea to the sixth prosecutor to have touched the file.

But what about the coalface? Where intellects collide, or at least bump gently into ignorance, before drifting off into indifference? When I trot up to the local court, have I had the privilege to see any of the briefs I am about to prosecute? Err, no. Sorry, Director. But on the bright side, picking things up at the last minute is excellent practice, and sharpens the mind, or so I'm told.

And the fifth day, of course, is reserved for Crown Court casework, which, for the time being, is allocated properly, and therefore (usually) done properly.

P.S. the old hands will remember "team working", which was the OBM by any other name, and was binned a few years back, and any hands will remember "cradle to the grave", which was a traditional allocation system, and was being pushed as recently as two years ago. Round and round we go...