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January 24th, 2015

It’s enough to make strong men weep. A 91 year old man living with his cat Fluffy was forcibly removed from his home where he had lived for over 50 years and locked in a dementia unit against his wishes by his caring social services of Essex Council.  And to add insult to injury, Essex Council had the temerity to charge him £25,000 for the privilege.

Fortunately for him, but not before 18 months of incarceration, his friend raised the alarm and he was rescued.  The judge who heard the case was scathing in his criticism of the Council’s conduct, which they sought to justify to the bitter end.  The elderly gentleman’s pleas to be allowed to return home fell on deaf ears, giving rise to a comment from the judge that the Council’s conduct was nothing short of reprehensible.  Whilst at the age of 91, being incarcerated for 18 months must have seemed an eternity, the Council was required to pay him £60,000 in damages, which no doubt will come out of their budget as provided by the taxpayer.  The sad reality is that nobody on the Council was prepared to take any of the blame, as in their book, there was no blame to take.

Over the years, I have done my best to defend Social Services from their catatonic mistakes on the basis they they have to make decisions that will affect the welfare of many in their care.  You will remember not so long ago the catalogue of mistakes relating to vulnerable children, where Social Services failed to act despite the clearest warning signs, and the children died horrible deaths.  In their defence, such as it was, they saw nothing to arouse their suspicions.  It beggars belief.

The good news for those of us nudging at the margins of advancing years is that the Social Services cannot simply walk into our homes and march us off to the twilight home for the bewildered. They need a court order, and we are entitled to be legally represented and to be heard.  So if some Gauleiter comes knocking at your door, tell her to get stuffed with my compliments. As somebody once said: “Don’t let the buggers get you down!”

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January 23rd, 2015

The Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] is going to encourage its advocates to coach witnesses before they give their evidence in court.  The thinking behind this serious tampering with a witness is to assist them in sticking to the script and to anticipate and deal with hostile questions flying at them from the defence lawyer.

I am a fan of most things American, but not their criminal legal system.  It’s very much like the curate’s egg, good in parts.  Their jury vetting process is a good idea, to weed out the brain-dead morons and the rednecks, but it’s taken to extremes. I suspect that if a juror during the vetting process wanted to serve on the jury, he’d give the right answer to fairly rudimentary questions, and the converse applies.  It reminds me of the McCarthy witch hunts of the fifties:  “Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?”  What sort of a jackassed question is that!

I remember some years ago prosecuting an actuarial fraud at the Old Bailey, and numeracy and literacy were essential prerequisites if the jury were to follow the evidence. In our system, where there is no jury vetting, once the prospective juror comes to the book to be sworn but before he is sworn, the prosecution or defence can object.  In that case, one of the prospective jurors was illiterate, but by the time we had all spotted it, it was too late, so he sat in the jury box looking totally bemused.  As it turned out, the judge was also totally bemused, so he stopped the trial, entered a not guilty verdict, and made the first tee by three o’clock.  Some sort of jury vetting would have helped.

The sentencing process leaves me totally bemused.  Talking of actuarial fraud, I am reminded of Bernie Madoff, who preyed on the greed of halfwits and made enormous sums of money in the process.  Once his scam was exposed and his grateful clients turned on him like a viper at the breast, he was sentenced to 150 years’ imprisonment.  That sort of sentence is ridiculous and brings the whole process into disrepute.

Lest I digress, back to witness coaching, or ‘prepping’ as the Americans would have it.  The real danger is that a ‘prepped’ witness is likely to give the ‘prepped’ answer and not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but some version of it.  It is very tempting to point out to the witness where the weaknesses lie in their account, and to try and paper over the cracks.

I am a believer in trial by judge and jury.  If a witness is confused, it should be for the judge to clarify.  If the witness is getting upset, it should be for the judge to order a comfort break.  And most importantly of all, the judge should conclude the questioning of a witness if the questioning is too long or oppressive.  The judge is ideally placed to see fair play.  He should exercise his powers of intervention, which is far better than the very dubious practice of witness coaching.  Finally, it should be borne in mind that the defence must be told in advance that the prosecution witness has been coached.  That seems like an own goal.

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January 16th, 2015

Since his election as the Vicar of Christ, I had rather taken to Pope Francis and especially his humility, although from time to time taken to extremes.  A little too ‘bleeding heart’ for my liking, but it takes all sorts. He had chosen the name of one of Italy’s favourite saints, Francis of Assisi.  Francis is known throughout Christendom as the patron saint of animals.  He also founded a number of Orders, and that was it.  He died in his bed, and was no doubt  elevated to sainthood because he was a good man, and Italian, which helped, as the Pope who elevated him was also Italian, but otherwise unexceptional.

But back to his namesake, the present pope.  He made a speech about the ‘Je suis Charlie’ atrocity which was both crass and insensitive, and sadly, he is diminished in the eyes of right-minded people as a result.  I can only assume he’d had a drop too much of the communion wine.  In summary, he denounced those who mocked religion, and in particular Islam, and those who did so could expect a punch.  He illustrated what he meant by turning on an official standing beside him.  If this hapless official cursed the pope’s mother, he could expect a punch. Hang on! What about Christ and turning the other cheek?

Whilst popes are often expected to express an opinion on almost everything, I am reminded of the saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain, take your pick: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Soon after the speech was delivered, the Pope’s ‘damage limitation’ team swung into action, which only made matters worse. He is clearly in a minority of one, so they finished up  defending the undefendable.  But he dug an even bigger hole for himself by reminding his listeners of the many atrocities committed by the Catholic Faith over the centuries. He referred in particular to the St. Bartholomew massacres in 1572, outrageous on any view, but committed over four hundred years’ ago, so I fail to see its relevance in the cowardly attack on the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ journalists.

Far better if the Pope had simply said that whilst he cannot condone those who mocked Islam, or any of the established religions for that matter, there can never be justification for a violent reaction of this  magnitude.  Furthermore, the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of speech can never be traded away for the sake of expediency.  They are the cornerstone of a democratic society, a concept which these Muslim murderers and their camp followers have yet to grasp.

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January 13th, 2015

In the aftermath of the Paris atrocities, the party leaders here in the UK were asked for their reaction, and as an indicator of Nigel Farage’s importance in the political arena, he was also asked.  For those of you who never enter the political arena, Nigel Farage is the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, known as Ukip.  As I write, I am unclear what Ukip wants to be independent of or from, but as I will not be voting for them if given the opportunity, it doesn’t matter.

What Farage said was instructive.  Whilst deploring the atrocity, he laid the blame in part at the lack of integration on behalf of the immigrant communities into French Society, and by inference, into British Society.  He was roundly condemned by the mainstream political leaders, accusing him of being opportunist, but this issue of integration is with us and won’t go away.

It’s the chicken and egg argument.  Do we British exclude immigrants from British Society, especially if they are black or Asian where they can be the more easily identified, or do those same black and Asian immigrants group together in ghettos and enclaves to preserve the way of life they enjoyed back home?  As immigration, both legal and illegal, has raged out of control for the past twenty years, immigrants have put down roots in schools, social interaction and now mosques.  Some areas of towns particularly in the Midlands and North of England are swamped by an alien culture where English is the second language if spoken at all, and it seems to the outsider looking in that there is no pretence of integration.  So where does the fault lie?

I have never lived in an urban conglomerate with ethnic minorities at my doorstep, so I don’t know how I would react to the overpowering smell of curry and the screams of animals being butchered alive in the back garden.  I suspect I might find it strange to my occidental eyes to pass my neighbours in the street dressed as if they were still living in the Indian subcontinent, and especially the womenfolk dressed from head to foot in large black tents.  It’s unlikely in the extreme that I, or any member of my family, would consider integrating into that community, as it’s completely alien to me, but should I expect them to integrate with me, to change their oriental ways, to learn English and embrace our culture? To this limited extent, Farage is right to highlight one of the biggest problems affecting racial harmony.  How it is addressed is another matter entirely.

There is no easy answer, but I suspect that all of us, regardless of where we stand on the ethnic divide, will have to make more of an effort to integrate if we are to avoid a repetition of Paris.

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January 12th, 2015

It was the eighteenth century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke who is reputed to have said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, and that is as true today as it ever was.  I refer of course to the recent Paris atrocities and the murders of civilians and police officers alike by fanatical Muslims.

I was listening to the news on the radio this morning.  Apparently we have as many as one hundred and fifty of these fanatical Muslims washing around our towns and cities and hell-bent on creating the sort of Paris atrocity in our green and pleasant land.  The point being made by the commentator was that if all these fanatics were to be put under close surveillance, we would need to increase our security services tenfold, and even then, one or more could slip under the net, like the fanatic who escaped surveillance dressed in a burka.

I hope that the security services are getting some feedback from informants, but the Muslim community can and must do more, as they should have the responsibility for policing their brethren. The United Kingdom is peppered with mosques in almost every town, and with the mosque comes believers.  A handful of these believers are the fanatics who threaten our very way of life.  The Imams and elders must get involved.  They should be respected enough to preach love not war, but too many are either irrelevant in the war on terror, or who, by their silence, tacitly condone the behaviour of these fanatics.  They need to be aware that a repetition of the Paris atrocity on our streets may lead to a backlash that will be difficult if impossible to contain, and may have consequences beyond their worst nightmares.

The Parisian marches are sending out a clear message that good and decent people will not surrender their way of life and their freedoms at the point of a gun, but whatever else, we must all remain vigilant to the enemy within.

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