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Archive for July, 2010

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It has been one of those days… I may be back later……

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I accept, given that I appear to be on holiday at a cafe in  Battersea Square – I work from 4.00 am – 12.30 and then escape – that I may have misread somewhere today that some Americans think that Piers Morgan was visiting the States this week.  I can’t imagine they could have confused Morgan for David Cameron?  Surely?  A little bit of artistic licence above… but how much given the events of the week and Cameron’s ‘pronouncements’ ?

Anyway… at least the Cameron visit to get instructions from our cousins went well!

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Law Review: Ian Tomlinson Decision

LATEST UPDATE….

G20 riots: policeman who stuck Ian Tomlinson faced two previous aggression inquiries

Telegraph: PC Simon Harwood, the police officer who struck Ian Tomlinson minutes before he died, was previously investigated twice over his alleged aggressive behaviour.

Ian Tomlinson death: police officer will not face criminal charges

Guardian: G20 riot officer filmed striking down newspaper seller will not face charges because of postmortem conflicts, CPS rules

The police officer caught on video during last year’s G20 protests striking a man who later died will not face criminal charges, the Crown Prosecution Service announced today. Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said there was “no realistic prospect” of a conviction, because of a conflict between the postmortem examinations carried out after the death of Ian Tomlinson last year.

CPS decision

In a detailed letter setting out its reasons, the CPS said that the actions of the officer – seen striking Tomlinson with a baton then shoving him to the ground in the footage – amounted to assault.

It said: “The CPS concluded that there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of proving that the actions of PC ‘A’ in striking Mr Tomlinson with his baton and then pushing him over constituted an assault. At the time of those acts Mr Tomlinson did not pose a threat … There is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of proving that his actions were disproportionate and unjustified.”

But the CPS went on to explain the obstacles to a prosecution posed by the subsequent postmortems.

The first police account, that he died from a heart attack, was confirmed by a pathologist, Freddy Patel, in the initial postmortem examination.

But a second postmortem examination, conducted on behalf of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), found Tomlinson died from internal bleeding.

Today the CPS said it could not bring a manslaughter charge because the conflicting medical evidence meant prosecutors “would simply not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a causal link between Mr Tomlinson’s death and the alleged assault on him”.

It said it could not bring a charge for criminal assault because too much time had elapsed: a charge must be brought within six months. The CPS also ruled out bringing charges of actual bodily harm, and misconduct in public office.

The death of Ian Tomlinson – decision on prosecution

CPS STATEMENT IN FULL

Statement by Diane Abbott MP: Questions raised over CPS handling of case following lengthy investigation.

“Five years to the day after the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at the hands of our police, it appears that lessons have not been learnt. The outcome of this investigation gives rise to grave concern.  And the conduct of the CPS, particularly their delay in taking up the case in the first place, has been unsatisfactory

“I am at a loss to understand why the investigation took sixteen months to reach a conclusion as I believe that if the roles had been reversed, and a civilian assault led to a police officers death in this way, the investigation might have been somewhat quicker and reached a very different conclusion.  It would be inappropriate to level accusations of misconduct at the CPS at this time but I think an inquiry into the investigation, as well as the incident as a whole, is highly necessary.

“Without a doubt this verdict benefits absolutely nobody, particularly the CPS and the officer in question. I now find it very difficult to see how a breakdown in the relationship between the public and our police forces will be avoided”.

It is quite remarkable that the actions of police officers at the G20 sixteen months time ago should result (a) in an acquittal in the case of Sgt Smellie and (b) a decision that there is insufficiently clear medical evidence to bring a prosecution.

I can understand the rationale behind CPS prosecutions that it must be in the public interest and there must be sufficient clarity of evidence to warrant bringing a prosecution.  The IPCC concluded their initial investigation in just four months, albeit after initially claiming there was nothing suspicious about the death for almost a week until the release of footage of the incident obtained by the Guardian forced a U-turn. and passed the file to the CPS.  It is most unfortunate that delays precluded the bringing of, as a minimum, assault charges.

Part of the problem – there is no clear explanation as to the need for almost a year to elapse for the CPS to make a decision, save for having to return to the IPCC several times for clarification – is the conflict between the medical experts.  The initial postmortem was carried out by Dr Freddy Patel

The Coroner for the District appointed a pathologist, Dr Patel, to carry out a post mortem. He did so on 3 April 2009. No other medical expert was present. Because Mr Tomlinson had walked some distance from the incident in Royal Exchange before collapsing in Threadneedle Street, the two events were not immediately linked and, when he carried out his post mortem, Dr Patel was not aware of the incident involving PC ‘A’. He concluded that Mr Tomlinson’s death was “consistent with natural causes” and he gave the cause of death as “coronary artery disease“.

The family and the IPCC sought a second post mortem and this was undertaken by a second pathologist, Dr Cary, on 9 April 2009. He concluded that whilst Mr Tomlinson had a partial blockage of the artery, his death was the result of abdominal haemorrhage from blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. It was Dr Cary’s view that when Mr Tomlinson fell, his elbow had impacted in the area of his liver causing an internal bleed which had led to his death a few minutes later.

On 22 April 2009 the Metropolitan Police Directorate of Professional Standards instructed another pathologist, Dr Shorrock, to perform a third post mortem. Dr Shorrock agreed with Dr Cary’s conclusion.

Other expert evidence was obtained from Dr Wilson, Professor Williamson, Dr Alexander and Dr Sheppard. Their evidence related to accident and emergency procedures, issues relating to the liver and microscopic changes to tissue.

Channel 4 Notes…

G20 Tomlinson pathologist accused of misconduct

The pathologist who ruled Ian Tomlinson died of a heart attack at the G20 protests is accused of misconduct in four other post mortems. Channel 4 News Home Affairs Correspondent Simon Israel was at the General Medical Council hearing.

Dr Freddy Patel appeared before the General Medical Council on Monday accused of misconduct over his failings in a total of four autopsies performed between September 2002 and August 2004.

We seem to have a credibility problem – credibility in terms of respect for the police and the fact that justice appears to have been ‘thwarted’ by events beyond the control of the CPS in terms of the quality of medical testimony.

The second post mortem indicates: ” He concluded that whilst Mr Tomlinson had a partial blockage of the artery, his death was the result of abdominal haemorrhage from blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. It was Dr Cary’s view that when Mr Tomlinson fell, his elbow had impacted in the area of his liver causing an internal bleed which had led to his death a few minutes later.”

Had Ian Tomlinson not been pushed over from behind by a police officer, it is unlikely he would have fallen over, it is unlikely that he would, therefore had died shortly after. A police officer escapes justice because of highly technical issues of causation and the way assault laws are framed.  As others have observed on Twitter – what if Ian Tomlinson or you, or me, had pushed a police officer over from behind and he died?  Would we have escaped justice?  Pretty shoddy stuff?  Did the CPS do their job here?  Why was Dr Patel involved in the post-mortem if there were issues about his competence generally – issues about his competence arising before the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson?

The BBC reports

Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said: “It’s clearly an outcome that satisfies absolutely nobody and everybody comes out of it badly.

“The reputation of the police is poor, and morale won’t be very good if public perception is that the police constantly get away with crimes and are never brought to justice.

“If everybody had moved a bit faster we might have actually been in the time-frame for an assault charge to be brought,” she added.

Expressing “regret” for Mr Tomlinson’s family, a Metropolitan Police spokesman, said: “There will, of course, be an inquest where the facts will be heard publicly. This is important for the family of Ian Tomlinson as well as Met officers and Londoners.

“We now await the IPCC’s investigation report before being able to carefully consider appropriate misconduct proceedings,” he said.

Deborah Glass, from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said the circumstances of Mr Tomlinson’s death will now be “rightly scrutinised” at an inquest.

She said: “We will provide a report on the officer’s conduct to the Metropolitan Police within the next few days.

“The Met will need to provide us with its proposals regarding misconduct.”

ObiterJ writes…….

Death of Mr Ian Tomlinson – no charges to be brought

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The PM has been talking about Al-Megrahi (and appears to have developed expertise in Scots law – momentarily forgetting the Acts of Union 1707)  and has, they say, told the Americans that we were junior partners in WWII against the Nazis.  The Russians did rather a lot to defeat the Nazis.  I suspect Cameron’s remarks will irritate a few people over here.  Always good to see a prime minister on top of his brief.  Churchill must be spinning in his grave!

It might be an idea for David Cameron – and his advisers – to read this… from The Firm

FEATURES
21 Jul 2010

Online exclusive: Editor’s blog- Bomber, bomber, bomber.

HAT TIP to @Loveandgarbage for pointing me to Ian Hamilton QC’s very direct assessment…..

Cameron the Coward

I’d say it was worth a read!

This, also – from Scots Law News

Sound and fury in Washington

It is rare for me to quote The Daily Mail… I do so on this occasion for our country…

Cameron describes Britain as ‘junior partner’ to Americans in 1940 – a year before Pearl Harbour

I have always admired this aphorism from a very famous American…
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)
16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

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Sorry typo… “That it has come to this!” it should have been.

Nick Clegg triumphs at PMQs

Posted by James Macintyre and Sam Rabinowitz – 21 July 2010 12:58

Breaking news: He really believes this stuff.

New Statesman

HT to @Humphreycushion for this….

Posted on twitter by Tom Harris MP

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@Bevanitellie: . @edballsmp takes to the phones… http://tweetphoto.com/33830360

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Pleasingly, American writers may not understand that old money wears old shoes!.

This nonsense from the Wall Street Journal is quite amusing though… I assume the writer is American?  If he is British – he may have read too many copies of Heat Magazine? 🙂

Cameron Wears Old Shoes for Historic Meeting With Obama

The Big Society: a genuine vision for Britain’s future – or just empty rhetoric?

Independent: Yesterday David Cameron laid out his flagship policy. Andy McSmith reads between the lines

Hat Tip to @Wibblenut who Retweeted this:  danbrusca: What’s all this talk of a Pig Society?

Naturally, I could not resist!

AV might not hurt Tories if LibDem meltdown continues

By Tim Montgomerie

AND a spot of good news!…..

Unilever action lands BNP with up to £170,000 settlement bill

Brand Republic: The British National Party remained tight-lipped this morning over claims that it could face financial difficulties due to an out-of-court settlement reportedly paid to FMCG giant Unilever, after the party featured a jar of Marmite in an online election broadcast.

and finally….

Taser ‘accidentally discharged’ into man’s groin

The Independent reports: Police were investigating today after an officer accidentally discharged a 50,000 volt Taser weapon into a man’s groin. Peter Cox, 49, was seeking legal advice over the incident which started when he was stopped on suspicion of driving a BMW without insurance. He spotted a patrol car following him and pulled over at his friend’s house in Bridgwater, Somerset, where he was doing landscaping work on July 13. The officer pointed the Taser at him for a few seconds before lowering the weapon. At this point, it discharged, narrowly missing the father-of-one’s genitals and hitting his groin and ankle. Unemployed Mr Cox, who suffers from Guillain Barri syndrome, fell to the ground in agony and he was treated by paramedics on the front lawn.

Quite why a police officer pulled a taser out for an uninsured river – even if he was being a bit aggressive (denied) I don’t know.  This is (a) because I wasn’t there (b) I am not a policeman and (c) tonight… I am *Baffled of Battersea*.

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Call for judge investigating torture claims to resign

What I did not know, when I commented positively on the appointment of a former judge, Sir Peter Gibson, to head the torture allegations inquiry, was that he had already heard evidence in secret.

The Independent reports: ” The former judge heading the inquiry into Britain’s complicity in torture faces calls for his resignation.In a letter copied to the Prime Minister, Reprieve has requested that Sir Peter Gibson step aside as his impartiality is fatally compromised.

As the Intelligence Services Commissioner (ISC), it has been Sir Peter’s job for more than four years to oversee the Security Services; he cannot now be the judge whether his own work was effective. Reprieve has identified a number of reasons that his recusal is required:

Firstly, David Miliband has stated publicly that Sir Peter has already conducted a secret inquiry, at the previous government’s request, into allegations of misconduct. Yet because it is secret, none of us may know what his conclusions were.

Secondly, Sir Peter has – in each of his three annual reports – opined that all members of the Security Services are “trustworthy, conscientious and dependable”, thereby entirely prejudging the issues before the inquiry. Contrast this to the criticisms levelled by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, in the case of Binyam Mohamed.

Thirdly, part of Sir Peter’s job, as ISC, was to oversee ministerial authorizations that would allow the Security Services to violate the law abroad, including sanctioning British involvement in abusive interrogations. Since evidence will be presented that such interrogations have continued during Sir Peter’s tenure, he either validated these actions, or he has been hoodwinked as ISC. Either way, he should be a witness at the inquiry.

Clive Stafford Smith said: “Welcome though the Torture Inquiry is, the current structure is a sham. Sir Peter Gibson was perhaps the least appropriate judge to evaluate the Security Services. The government must get serious about learning the mistakes of the past, rather than try to cover them up, or we are in for a long, hot summer.”

Oh dear.  A small own goal here, it would seem.  While members of our security services may well be entirely “trustworthy, conscientious and dependable”, it is perhaps better for the person heading the inquiry not to give that opinion three times before heading what is supposed to be an independent inquiry. Still, if these matters are secret and known only to a few, we can’t be criticised for accepting the idea that when our government sets up an independent inquiry it will be just that.

I am able to report that a squadron of pigs has just taken off from Westminster and is headed towards Guantanamo Bay.

Revealed: brutal guide to punishing jailed youths

• ‘Drive fingers into groin’, says prison service manual
• Disclosures follow parents’ freedom of information fight
Guardian

It is quite extraordinary that on the one hand we are setting up a torture inquiry, yet on the other hand government ministers seem to have approved a code which allows private run prisons, through their officers, to inflict pain on young children to control them.  I found this Guardian report rather shocking.  I appreciate that there may be occasions when offenders are violent and need to be physically restrained – but is this acceptable and reasonable force?

Prenuptial agreements on rise amongst younger men

Guardian: High earners are rejecting their fathers’ romantic view of marriage to protect assets

It is good to see that vested self interest is still alive and well in caring Britain and that young men are finally being sensible about the really important issue in life – money!  I presume, given that young women are now coining it in in Coalition Britain that they, too, will ensure there are pre-nups in place before capturing their man?

I shall leave comment on this to family lawyers!

Minister says Burka ban would be ‘un-British’

The Independent reports: “Banning the wearing of burkas in public would be “rather un-British”, the Immigration Minister said today as he attacked efforts to make it illegal in this country.Damian Green said it would be “undesirable” for Parliament to try to pass such a law which would be at odds with the UK’s “tolerant and mutually respectful society”.

Fellow Tory MP Philip Hollobone introduced a private members’ bill which would make it illegal for people to cover their faces in public.

I could not care less about what people wear.  If women wish to dress in burkas (as opposed to being forced to do so) that is fine by me.  I would not enjoy having a conversation with a woman dressed in a burka quite so much as if she was unveiled – the physical cues of interaction would not be there.  I would also not be that happy to be sitting on an a plane with a burka wearer who had not been fully screened by security – but I assume that our laws will cater for these security issues when the wearing of a burka could impact deleteriously on our rights?

I shall return to the issue of drug de-criminalisation later. I am reading a riposte to libertarian views and it is providing food for thought.

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Like a Virgin?

I’ve known Kate Monro for many years.  She is a good friend – and her blog is great! She has been featured in The Guardian – have a look?!

Virginity: how was it for you?

Guardian: Losing your virginity is one of the few aspects of sex that remains untalked about. Kate Monro, whose blog collates people’s first experiences of intercourse, argues it’s important to break this taboo

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Cameron unveils ‘Big Society’

Yahoo News – and there is even a film you can watch!

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Labour leadership contenders round on Mandelson over ‘offensive’ memoirs

Guardian: Milibands, Burnham, Balls and Abbott uniformly condemn peer’s ‘destructive and self-destructive’ account of party in-fighting

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Dear Reader,

About every 12-18 months I get cravings for mackerel – especially if they are grilled with a slice of lemon or smoked.  And it was thus this year on Tuesday last that these cravings started.  I have been eating mackerels at a local cafe since.  I now plan to buy some and eat them. It is likely that I shall continue to eat mackerel daily for another week, possibly more.  I shall then move on to prawns.   I was a bit bored on Friday afternoon.  As summer kicks in there is less work to do, fewer cases to analyse or laws to comment on.  I get a bit restless when I have too much time on my hands.  After a good lunch of grilled mackerel and vin rose  on Friday I returned to The Staterooms and went on to twitter.

It was then that I remembered the twitter #film games and I created my own hashtag #mackerelfilms and tweeted “Bring me the head of Alfredo Mackerel” .  It may have been the Rioja I had just poured myself shortly after 2.30 pm. Others joined in… I shall select but a few: @ lesleyalmost The Unbearable Lightness of Mackerel #mackerelfilms,  the former leader of he Libertarian Party UK @IanPJ: Carry on up the mackerel #mackerelfilms, @ lifelessvanilla One more (I promise) Dances with Mackerels #mackerelfilms, @ bnzss: 6million dollar mackerel #mackerelfilms….

I have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to tweet David Miliband and Ed Balls who, it has to be said, have rather more important things on their mind apart from Peter Mandelson’s book The Third Mackerel to worry about than my questions about mackerel.

Charonqc: @DMiliband Hi David… I’ve run out of mackerels… Balls said he’s got some… but I’d rather have your mackerels *Wink Wink* (Votes)  and then in the fine british tradition of playing politicians off against each other (as opposed to them doing it for themselves)….

Charonqc: @edballsmp Ed – I know this is a bit weird… but do you have any mackerels? I’ve ask DM…. if you do…I’ll see you right!

Suffice it to say that quite a few people who may have had a bit of time on their hands on a quiet afternoon piled in – I thoroughly enjoyed it.  If you really have to find out about #mackerelfilms click the link

Unfortunately I lost a few mackerel followers – including my very good friend, but clearly no lover of over refreshed #mackerel tweets @ScottGreenfield..  I know where he is.  He has an excellent blog. I may just pop over there!

Enough about Mackerels and on to a bit of politics…

I have ordered my copy of Mandelson’s book The Third Man – and I am looking forward to reading it.  I have read the serialisation in The Times and listened to pundits and commentators who haven’t read the book either telling me on television and radio about it.   What is truly astonishing, reading the extracts and listening to sundry pundits who once counted Mandelson as one of their closest friends when it mattered, is the sheer chaos of the new Labour government, the strife between Blair and Brown, the vanity of men put before the governance of nation.  I’ve never been a fan of Gordon Brown.  I regarded him years ago as a clever classic Number 2.  The Number 2 in an organisation is often more clever than the Number 1 – but the Number 1 wins because they are able to communicate and connect.  We saw how Brown, inarticulate and dysfunctional to the the point where bloggers and pundits were making jokes about ‘happy pills,’ could not relate to voters and appeared to have a very strong ‘control freak’ streak.   I am looking forward to reading the detail and, also, to reading Blair’s The Journey.  (What a hackneyed title for a book?) because I am interested in political biography.

I don’t think any of these books matter in the real world.  Britain has moved on.  I’m not so sure Labour has. I think the voters decided that they had had enough of Labour and even I, a voter of 30 years, lost patience with their stance on civlibs and political correctness.  It now seems that waste and extravagance abounded and government itself became dysfunctional because of infighting. Tragic – an opportunity wasted?   For my part – I am interested in none of the main contenders for leadership of the Labour Party.  Diane Abbott, I like, and I am sure she would make a good home secretary – but I do not see her as a PM, not that it matters what I think.  The Milibands, Balls and even Burnham were all part of the last regime and while they are keen to quash debate on Mandelson’s book and distance themselves from the events of 13 years of Labour rule – I suspect we will have to wait until the generation after them before we see new thinking acceptable to the public.  It may be, of course, that the Coalition makes a complete pig’s ear of things and an election comes sooner than later and Labour return to power.  I’m not so sure that will happen now.  I rather suspect that we will see a Tory government without  a very much weakened Lib-Dem party before another Labour government gets a taste of power.

What does matter, of course, is how the present government governs….


Ken Clarke says that he has no plans to cut the prison budget.  What he does plan to cut is the budget for legal aid, the judiciary and the courts.  He also plans to put prisoners to work making mailbags and, possibly, plastic cases for iPhone 4s if he can involve the private sector.  At a time when 600,000+ public servants are likely to be looking for work it is probably not a great idea to put prisoners to work.  However, far be it for me to suggest that the government have consistent politico-economic thinking.  That would break a fine and proud tradition of recent British government.  I plan to have a look at this next week….it is the weekend.  This is no time to discuss law.

But just a few more quick items: RollonFriday reports: Solicitors face huge rise in negligence claims: Lawsuits against solicitors were up an incredible 163% in 2009, according to data gathered by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain.

210 claims were launched in the High Court in 2009, compared to a mere 80 in 2008 and only 31 in 2007. RPC  suggest that many firms are facing professional negligence claims fuelled by the growth of speculative “no win, no fee” arrangments. Investors (including banks and subprime lenders hit by mortgage fraud) burnt by the failing economy are out looking for scapegoats – and their professional advisors are the first to feel their wrath.

Nick Green QC, Chairman of the Bar has come out in favour of de-criminalising drugs. There are cogent arguments for and against.  I noted this yesterday

+ + + Breaking: Lord Taylor Charged with False Accounting + + +

Guido Fawkes: Troughing Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick has been charged for claiming expenses in relation to a house he didn’t own.

Having been brought down by a blogger he’s now on his own, out of the party and in the dock. He’s accused of fiddling the second home allowance by claiming to have spent six years living at the former home of his dead mother.

Developing…

And if you haven’t seen Zac Goldsmith v Jon Snow on Channel 4 news last night – this is classic.  How not to do a TV interview

Zac v Snow

The silly season starts soon.  The courts will close, lawyers and others will go off on holidays and there will be even less business or work for me to do.  This is just fine.  I plan to paint and do a spot of writing.

Best as always

Charon

Update…. This from Twitter…

@ ThetisMercurio

@Charonqc I liked the comment from someone who said you’d smoked one too many mackerels. Struck me as hilarious – the image – Dali-esque

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Chairman of the Bar calls for decriminalisation of drug use

Nick Green QC is chairman of the Bar Council, the professional organisation of barristers in the UK. Writing in the organisation’s magazine this month, Green called for the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use, arguing (rightly) that a growing body of evidence supports the proposition that decriminalisation can have a number of positive consequences for drugs users and society. He lists the freeing up of police resources, the reduction of crime and the revolving door of imprisonment as peace dividends of ending the drug war, alongside improved public health. Noting that much of the mass media are given to moralising gestures and the whipping up of panic when it comes to drugs, he argues that the Bar Council, made up of lawyers and counting most judges amongst its ex-members, is in a good position to provide a rational argument, being familiar with both sides of the drug policy argument.

Mr Green’s intervention represents another profession speaking out in support of drug law reform at a time when the tide appears to be turning away from the prohibitionist model that was tried throughout the twentieth century, failed to suppress the flow of illegal drugs and added its own side-effects (including an entrenched criminal market and a global epidemic of injection-driven HIV) to those of the drug problems it was supposed to prevent.

Release report

At last – some serious intervention from professionals in our sector.  I agree.  Why doesn’t the Government think the unthinkable and really look at this.  Why should the state pay vast sums to fight a drugs war that just cannot be won?

Here is an important comment extracted from the comments section

Steve Rolles

heres the Bar Council report

http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/news/chairmans-search/detail.php?id=179

he says:

“It was pleasing to see the new Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke, advocating prison reform in the media. Inevitably the initial reaction in the Shires was that he had already “lost touch” with “normal people”. In a period of acute fiscal austerity it is essential that politicians seek to do what is right and not what sounds right. So far the new MoJ is making good noises. Initial meetings with the new Lord Chancellor and his team suggest that they are intent on working through issues to see what works. In this, we will support them to the hilt. If the prison population could be reduced from circa 85,000 to 80,000 it could save over £200m per annum, and there is a great deal of research from elsewhere to suggest that a less “bang ’em up” approach to sentencing actually reduces crime. The tabloids’ response, which is to throw more people into custody, simply does not work.

Another political hot potato is drugs. Drug related crime costs the economy about £13bn a year. Again a growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal use can have positive consequences; it can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage. If this is so, then it would be rational to follow suit.

A rational approach is not usually the response of large parts of the media when it comes to issues relating to criminal justice. This is something the Bar Council can address. We are apolitical; we act for the prosecution and the defence and most of the judiciary are former members. We can speak out in favour of an approach which urges policies which work and not those which simply play to the gallery. And this will save money and mean that there is less pressure on the justice system.”

NOTICE

Please – if you are interested in this topic – look at the comments. Sackerson makes some good points and provides a link.  I shall return to this on Monday

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Many years ago I went to Brussels to attend a Law Society Conference.  I did things like that in those days.  It was a crashing bore – enlivened only by the comedy of a well known lawyer who was senior partner of a very good law firm and who went on to great things.  I won’t name him – but he will remember the incident.

Part of the ‘amusements’ was an organised tour of The Palais de Justice in Brussels with the head of the Belgian judiciary – and an extraordinary tour guide who worked at the court.

We were duly assembled and treated to a very full exposition on the building.  The tour guide told us …. roughly what is in Wikipedia today – with a few embellishments of his own….

The Law Courts of Brussels or Brussels Palace of Justice is the most important Court building in Belgium and is a notable landmark of Brussels. It was built between 1866 and 1883 in the eclectic style by architect Joseph Poelaert. The total cost of the construction, land and furnishings was somewhere in the region of 45 million Belgian francs. It is the biggest building constructed in the 19th century.[1]

…..The Brussels Palace of Justice is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building is currently 160 by 150 meters[1], and has a total built ground surface of 26,000 m². The 104[3] meter high dome weighs 24,000 tons. The building has 8 courtyards with a surface of 6000 m², 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms. Situated on a hill, there is a level difference of 20 meters between the upper and lower town, which results in multiple entrances to the building at different levels.

He told us all of the above and then he said… “If you laid together every brick in the building, one on top of the other, it would be higher than Mt Everest”.  I gasped.  The senior partner of the aforementioned law firm gasped. Then the tour guide told us…“If every brick in the building was laid end to end… it would go around the world.” More gasping – but, being British… we gasped in a British way.  The head of the Belgian judiciary beamed at us as if we were simpletons from a foreign land who could not speak French.   He may have been right.

We were then shown into the main hall.  The tour guide told us that during World War II the Germans burnt all the Belgian laws and law reports in the hall and pointed to scorch marks on the walls.  It was at this point I corpsed when the senior partner of aforementioned said, quite loudly “Well.  Hitler did a lot of bad things, but at least he did something useful in his time as Fuhrer.”

It was a long time ago – but I remember it with a degree of sardonic pleasure.  It was not meant in any other way than a cry for help so we could be free of the turbulent and remarkably tedious tour guide.  It is probably just as well that I have no plans to head a delegation to Belgium on behalf of anyone, let alone the lawyers of England & Wales.

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