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.