Top Oxford Crown Court judge speaks out as criminal cases delayed

Crown Court judges are instrumental in delivering justice. A robust but fair judiciary are the cornerstone of the criminal justice system of any civilised society. The efficient and quick disposal of cases is central. Recent delays in the disposal and hearing of cases has been heavily criticized by a senior judge, Gordon Risius, the honorary recorder of Oxford . He describes an “embarrassing” series of failures that led to hearings being delayed and canceled which compelled him to make such an observation. He also raised concerns for prisoners not being brought in custody from prison, “unnecessary” legal aid rules and “chaotic” court files. Addressing the court Judge Risius said: “A number of my cases today have been in a complete shambles and it is virtually impossible to do justice.”

A number of legal cases have been disrupted at Oxford Crown Court, some recent cases which were delayed include a suspected drug dealer who was not brought from HMP Bullingdon near Bicester for his trial, similarly the sentencing of a Defendant, for theft had to be postponed as he too could not be brought before the court. The probable reason noted by Judge Risius, behind this delay was that it appeared that the prisoner had not been put on the van to court by prison staff. The Prison Service spokesman conceded that it was due to an “administrative error” and said staff at HMP Bullingdon was looking into the matter. Another case, in which a male accused of fraud, also had to be adjourned apparently because his case had not been committed from Oxford Magistrates’ Court, and so he could not receive legal aid. In another a defendant had his sentence for voyeurism delayed because HMP Bullingdon had his mispelt his first name.

Such clerical and administrative errors add up to the already existing pressure on the courts Judge Risius strongly condemned such lapses as he noted with exasperation that “something is really going wrong with this court”.


A view from Criminal Barrister:-

His Honored Judge Risius’s observations are sadly not unique, nor are they confined to Oxford Crown Court or any particular part of the country. A crisis has long been looming in the criminal justice over the past few decades as a result of chronic under-funding, cuts to legal aid, problems with private companies contracted to bring defendants who are in custody to court. Restrictions in legal aid have meant that some defendants are unrepresented in court because they cannot afford a lawyer. It has also meant that there has been a decline in the quality of legal advice and representation in court because the poor rates of legal aid have forced many able criminal lawyers to quit the bar or the solicitor’s profession. It is feared that any plans to further privatise aspects of the criminal justice system, such as probation and offender rehabilitation services will.

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Taxi Licensing News 20 August 2014

Illegal taxi driving practices continue in Bristol

In a recent report about Bristol’s rising taxi driving menace, the taxi drivers from Bristol have voiced their concerns of how outsider taxi drivers are damaging their reputation by claiming high fares and indulging in illegal practices. The Bristol taxi drivers say that private hire cabs involved in picking up street passengers without prior booking are putting themselves as well the passengers at a great risk. Another illegal practice that they conduct are over-charging, especially during the night runs, where the fares have gone as high as £100 on weekend nights from legal ‘Hackney Carriage’ and the private hire drivers, who are Bristol based only.

It is hard to make out if the cab belongs to Bristol or not, since these are not insured against anything, these cabs often over-charge because they do not use a taxi meter.

The taxi drivers said that they seek to urge the Council to address their apprehensions and take strict actions by cautiously and secretively tapping the illegal practices in certain prone areas for proof.

Though the Bristol City Council said that the current National Taxi Licensing Regulations allow only licensed Hackney Carriages to operate as private hire vehicles in another authority, clearly indicating that these should be pre-booked since it will be used as a private hire carriage.

This check can be enforced through spot checks and test purchasing operations, on busy weekend nights. But when reported, such incidents can only be forwarded by the local authorities to the licensing authorities for license issuing, without taking any further action. Though in rare situations incidents like; illegal hire plying is handled by severe actions like prosecution of the offenders.


Scunthorpe taxi drivers against the new licensing rules

In Scunthorpe, as part of their new Taxi licensing policies, the North Lincolnshire Council has suggested that taxi drivers could now receive 8 to 12 points on their Hackney license on refusal to take fare. This refusal has to be explained with “a reasonable excuse”, failing to do so might result in 12 points mark on their license, meaning that they could lose their licence.

John Fleming, the Chairman of Scunthorpe branch of National Taxi Association has said there was no consultation with them regarding the new impositions. In a recent meet, the Scunthorpe taxi drivers have cited their issues when they are being verbally and physically abused and not being paid because people flee without paying. Fleming said, “At a licensing committee meeting we were told that we had to take fares no matter what and if we refuse for any reason we will be prosecuted. What happens if I get someone in my taxi who is threatening? I’m worried about my safety. Where is the safety for the drivers?”

Though many drivers have mentioned how they are threatened for life, and as there are female cabbies in the town too, this puts them on a higher risk as there is no effective remedy available. The police consider such matters ‘civil’ and refuses to help.

The new rules have increased the pressure on the drivers, in an answer to which, a Council spokesperson explained, “The points system will only change how the Council can take action against taxi drivers.”

He further added how it is considered a criminal offence to refuse passengers with infectious diseases or ones carrying their pets.

Though the discretion is completely based on council’s actions, Councilor Keith Vickers showing his concern over the matter said though it seems difficult, but taxi drivers cannot refuse fare. The new set of rules comes after The Telegraph had recently revealed how drivers were refusing to take passengers because the journeys were short.


Taxi license renewal: Portsmouth Councilors carry out discussions

In a recent renewal of old taxi licensing rules, the Portsmouth City Council seems to be working on enforcing a new licensing regulation which will impose a restriction on issuing licenses to Hackney’s carriages that are more than 8 years older.

Though, in a report, the council officers have mentioned that they do not support the bid to renew the licenses. Apparently, these officers do not see any justification in waving the age-old policy which is already in place.

The discussion is expected to be chaired by Councilor Les Stevens, where all the members, will hold a meeting in the coming week and decide upon the license renewal policies for these carriages. If, they do decide to allow licensing for more than 8 year old carriages, will they be subjected to further inspections before the issuing of the license.


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Social Media Crimes are covered by existing criminal laws: Lords

Are new criminal laws needed to combat “social media crimes”?. According to a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, it has been concluded that ‘the current laws are satisfactory enough to deal with social media crimes going on today.’

The report followed a short inquiry in the light of increasing concerns that certain types of behaviour and conduct on social media could amount to criminal offences. The examples given of the phenomenon of social media crimes included Cyber bullying, Trolling, Revenge porn, Virtual mobbing and others to determine whether these offences, were criminal offences. If so, whether a new legislation was required for dealing with these types of offending.

These “offences” emanate mostly from social networks particularly Facebook and Twitter. The Committee’s enquiry commenced into the growing trends and concerns arising from social media issues on the 12th of July and were recently presented to the House. The report highlights a staggering number of approx 34m Facebook users and 15m Twitter users allegedly involved in conducting social media crimes.

Representatives from both Facebook and Twitter were asked to present explanatory assessments of how they were dealing with complaints from their users.

In an inconclusive assessment, neither of them were able to identify an exact number of complaints that have been handled and looked after being booked. The representatives cited that their figures, could be misleading.

In an explanation to which, Twitter’s Director of Public Policy, Sinead McSweeney has said, “You could literally have a spike in reports one day, and when you dig down into them, you just find that somebody took a notion somewhere that Harry Styles was better than Justin Bieber and everybody complained about Bieber fans, that adds nothing to the substance of what you are trying to look at.”

Concluding that the current social media laws are adequate to cover these criminal offences going on at the world wide web networks, the committee report has been able to satisfy the House of Lords for the same.

The report says that existing legislation like the Communications Act 2003, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 are sufficient in handling social medial crimes. In addition to this citation, the Committee report also established that the prosecution of such cases needs to be proportionate and properly balanced individual rights such as the ‘freedom of expression’.

How should these laws fit for the purposes of today’s emerging social media offences? The report contends, “Our starting point is that what is not an offence offline should not be an offence online. There is no specific criminal offence of bullying.”

We consider that the current range of offences, notably those found in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, is sufficient to prosecute bullying conducted using social media.”

Similarly, sending a communication which is grossly offensive and has the purpose of causing distress or anxiety is an offence under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988”.

The real need for social media regulations has not just been surfacing in the UK but in countries like India and China as well along with almost every major country of the world. In India, the National Human Rights Commission had asked the Department of Telecom to screen and remove inflammatory posts from social media sites in view of giving birth of communal and inter-religious riots in a state.

While in China, a new law can charge people with defamation, if a false rumour started by them gets reposted over 500 times. In India, current laws allow citizens to go to court over information that has even caused them “annoyance” under Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000. To ensure this is not abused, the government has now mandated that a senior police officer looks at individual cases before allowing charges to be filed in order to avoid nuisance cases.

The actual question of social media regulations lies around the issues of the real need for regulating social media, and finally, preserving freedom of expression and an open internet.

While the Facebook and Twitter representatives were strong in maintaining that any new legislation was needed to counter criminal offences on their websites, the committee apparently agreed.

The report of the committee has demonstrated some problematic issues that needed attention the complexity of which will no doubt grow over time and brings in sharp focus how existing laws either adapt or need to grow and evolve in an age of digital revolution.

In view of this concern, the Committee has also made some recommendations, advising the extension of investigation period for evidence collection and referring certain social media statutes to print media laws. The Committee has also urged Facebook & Twitter to speed up requests for identification from law enforcement agencies.

The full report on Social Media and Criminal Offences Inquiry can be accessed here:

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The bar 2020: Divide and rule

The Paradox of Criminal Barristers and the Commercial Bar; Trend suggests the Bar to splinter into three

According to a report in The Lawyer, the barrister profession may be heading for a three-way split. With pressure from legal aid cuts on the one hand and inflating lawyer fees on the other, the divergence between the criminal and commercial bar has never been starker.

The rapid changes in the UK legal market are the main reasons of this effect which has been cited in the reports from The Lawyer’s UK demonstrating the future statistics.

It is predicted over the coming decades the commercial bar will accelerate ahead, fuelled by litigation and will be far from the mid-market. The mid-market largely consisting of employment and personal injury work will be affected by recent changes to civil courts and procedures following the Jackson reforms. The cuts to legal aid will drastically impact upon the criminal bar.


The full article can be accessed here:

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Families continue to suffer from the legal aid cuts

Strong concerns are being raised that the family courts system is at a ‘breaking point’ owing to the delays now caused in proceedings due to unrepresented parties. The concern was quoted by the family lawyers body Resolution.

With a fear of two-tier justice system, a solicitor, Jo Edwards, who has been recently appointed as the chair of Resolution has said that the wide spread emergence of private arbitrators has forced clients to avoid court proceedings because of delay and inefficiency due to overcrowding and the backlog of court work opting for private arbitration hearings.

This privatization of litigation proceedings is the direct effect of the cuts to legal aid, that are now visibly depriving families from seeking child custodies to attempting to settle divorce cases and family asset partitions and more, she asserts.

This deprivation has led to considerable delays as in many cases as judges have to develop the unrepresented side’s claims, by themselves.

People who represent themselves are not negotiating. They need a lot of time and help. The judges are having to draft orders which is normally done by the parties. I have heard of cases being listed eight months in advance“, said Edwards.

In response to the concerns cited by various solicitors, Justice Minister, Simon Hughes has come up with an explanation, “There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court — they did in around half of all private law cases in 2012 – and we provide information and guidance to help them. Judges have expertise in supporting them, for example by explaining procedures and what is expected.”

We are committed to making sure that more people make use of mediation rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court. Millions of pounds of legal aid remains available for family mediation and for legal advice to support family mediation.”

We are closely monitoring the impact of the legal aid changes and will continue to do so. Court performance is being maintained with the average time taken to complete cases remaining steady since April 2013.”, he further added.

Whether this has a tangible success in achieving justice in family cases and other areas of law where public funding has been considerably reduced remains to be seen.

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Many still drink drinking, reports Cambridgeshire Police

Cambridgeshire police recently reviewed new statistics showing a significant number of individuals are still drink driving out on the roads, risking their lives regardless of the several forewarnings from the police.

The statistics of the campaign ‘THINK!’ showed that the out of the 31,1,629 about 120 individuals have failed the breath tests while 9 had to be arrested following a failure to provide a breath specimen for the test. The campaign was conducted from July 1st to July 31st.
However the statistics demonstrate a declining figure since the last THINK! Campaign last year, where 173 had failed the test and 8 were arrested for failing to provide a specimen.

Sergeant Chris Huggins said, “We focused on the dangers of driving the morning after a heavy night and targeted areas where risk was highest, particularly around venues broadcasting the World Cup. Although the figures are lower than last year’s, our anti-drink and drug driving message, is still not being heeded by enough people. Drink driving puts lives at risk, not only the driver’s and any passengers, but also other road users.”

Citing the importance of the campaign, he further added, “We run the campaign throughout summer as many people want to enjoy the spectacle and excitement of sporting events, music festivals and the like, and while we’re not trying to diminish their enjoyment, people must take responsibility for themselves when getting behind the wheel of a car and ensure that they are in a fit state to do so.”

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Guy Pelley, a close friend of the Duke of Cambridge guilty of drink driving

In another high-profile drink driving case, Guy Pelley, a close friend of the Duke of Cambridge has been convicted for drink driving. A driving ban was imposed after being charged for the same offence for the third time. The police stated that they pulled him over at around 1 am in the morning when he was seen ‘quickly accelerating’ in his luxury sports car while on the way home from his night club in London.

Imposed a two and a half years driving disqualification, he has also ordered by the magistrates court to pay an over limiting fine of £7, 120. He was originally stopped by the police in the early hours of the morning last year at London’s Knightsbridge.

Initially refusing a breath-test, the 32 year old, who own various night clubs in London, had to be taken to the Belgravia police station where he was tested through an intoximeter machine. The results of the test proved he had approximately 52 micro grams of alcohol per 100 micro liters of breath where the legal limit is a 35. Though the defence had argued a mix up of radio waves from his iPhone and the police’s machine caused unreliable readings.

Stating it was as a serious drink driving offence, the District Judge at Westminster Magistrates Court, before Judge John Zani who highlighted the previous disqualifications “What you need to bear in mind is that anybody driving a motor vehicle is in possession of a potentially lethal weapon. And when you drive with excess alcohol, or any alcohol, your thought process can be affected”.

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NSPCC advocates child abuse reporting failures as a criminal offence

The NSPCC’s chief executive Peter Wanless is leading a review of how the Home Office has allegedly handled the historical allegations of child abuse by non-reporting and not acting on the allegations. 

The leading child rights protection organisation NSPC Campaigns towards prevention of child abuse.

His primary concern was for stricter laws that allow reporting of child abuse cases and instances to become mandatory.

Failure to do so should result in severe actions against the responsible authorities for child protection as well as being a criminal offence.

“What we’ve got to do is find a way that people protect children first and ensure their reputation is not the primary concern”, he explained.

Since there are no specific mandatory rules in UK about reporting of child abuse yet, there will, no doubt, be considerable debate as to whether a mandatory requirement for reporting will address the issue of institutional ‘cover-ups’, it is notable that the NSPCC had previously opposed all forms of mandatory reporting.

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Palestinian President alleges attacks are ‘genocide’

Urging international support for halting attacks on Palestinian, President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated that the Palestinian state may join the International Criminal Court. With strong criticism from the UN that Israel could possibly be acting in violation of international law, allegations of war-crimes being committed are being reported from the bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the attacks over it by Israel as an act of ‘genocide’ and not a terrorist mission. Israel’s actions have been widely condemned around the world for disproportionate and one of its most harshest operations in recent times.

The Israel government had recently launched the ‘Operation Protective Edge’ against the terrorist group of Hamas, active in the Gaza strip, after it launched 70 rockets at the southern and central parts of the state in a retaliation to the execution of three Palestinian teens.

With more than 40,000 reservists sent to the southern border of Israel for war, the Palestinian civilians have been the worst affected with reports that more than 85% of the war-causalities were civilians, out of which one-fourth alone were children while the operation was purportedly aimed to combat Hamas.

The intensity of the present conflict is attracting international condemnation of escalation of the conflict by both sides and resulting in world-wide protests.

Mahmoud Abbas has alleged war-crimes as a”mass genocide” that needs to be investigated by International bodies. In an attempt to urge the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, Mr. Abbas has also approached the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon to pressurize Israel to immediately bring its operation to a halt.

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Switzerland’s new stringent anti corruption sports law

Described as the most favored country for international sports organizations, Switzerland, which already the home of the IOC or International Olympic Committee is now changing turf on sports laws. The proposal to enact stricter laws for combating the rise in sports corruption comes from pressure over recent FIFA corruption controversy that have come to light.

The country is currently debating whether to make significant and effective changes in its Unfair Competition Act and the Swiss Criminal Code to make international sports corruption chargeable as criminal offences. It would be seen as a major step towards the fight against impunity and corruption. It is acknowledged by the Swiss authorities that much more needs to be done to combat corruption in sports.

With these changes, private corruption would be perceived as a criminal offence even if the injured party does not make any complaint. The pressure to amend these laws is not solely related to sports, but is  extended to corporate and business corruption.

Notably sports organizations that have faced action for not abiding to stricter laws have threatened to transfer their offices to other countries. One such instance was of the IOC, when they attempted to exempt themselves from the new VAT law which was rejected by the Federal Administration of Finance. In response to which the IOC had threatened to relocate to a less stringent location.

Since sports organisations are trying to convey a positive and clean image for themselves through reforms, for example the FIFA governance reforms, the Swiss reforms appear as acceptable steps that boost the image of the sports organisations.

It is widely acknowledged that deficiencies in international sports organization are demonstrated through lack of clear structures which enable them to hold officials accountable, having financial controls and basic transparency requirements. The Swiss government’s steps are regarded as much needed first-steps to combat sports corruption.

Our specialist business crime and fraud barrister offer practical advice and assistance to sports organisation and individuals on anti bribery and corruption measures and compliance.

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