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PRISON REFORM IS BACK AGAIN

May 22nd, 2016

Just when we thought prison reform had died a death from a thousand cuts, back it comes in the Queen’s Speech, so that must mean something surely.

In previous blogs, too many to recount, I have made the point that our prison service is not fit for purpose.  In fact, it is downright dangerous for all of us, as we are all affected in one way or another.  It is dangerous for the end user, otherwise known as the prisoner, who will be intimidated and brutalised not just by the system but by fellow inmates who have time on their hands and nothing useful to do with it.  The prison warders, or officers as they prefer to be known, are one small step away from a full scale riot in many of the most notorious prisons, and the only way they can avoid it is by locking up the inmates for up to 23 hours a day. That’s like putting a lid on a boiling kettle, sooner or later it’s going to explode.

And then there’s the likes of you and me.  After all, in the fullness of time, these inmates are going to be released, for the most part unsupervised and without secure accommodation, they will be jostling us in the street, or at the bus stop, or in the pub, and we don’t know how safe or vulnerable we may be to a sudden and uncontrolled outburst of violence, as witness the four victims of a stabbing attack in a supermarket car park.

The cost is not inconsiderable.  On average, it costs £25,000 per prisoner per annum, and this rises dramatically to £50,000 for Category A prisoners.  There are 85,000 prisoners, so you do the maths.

The ‘law and order’ and ‘hang them high’ lobbies usually associated with the Tory Party have done us all a considerable disservice over the years in their obsession with locking up anybody and everybody who doesn’t march to their tune.  This has almost single-handedly led to chronic overcrowding at the expense of treating inmates like human beings and preventing any form of meaningful rehabilitation.

Those of us who are familiar with the criminal justice system know that up to two thirds of all prison inmates shouldn’t be there in the first place.  They are no threat to society, and their crimes do not merit what is the ultimate sanction, namely the deprivation of liberty.  In addition, sentences have got longer and longer, for no justifiable reason other than to curry favour with the Tory Party’s core support.  One egregious example will suffice, and which I highlighted in a recent blog, namely the Frinton Flogger, the chap who was slapping salami in front of his patio window in full view of passers by.  He was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, which I considered excessive and absurd, and I hope by now he has been released.  If not, it’s a travesty of justice.

Back to the Queen’s Speech.  The government proposes a sort of halfway house, where prisoners are released to work during the week, and returned into custody over the weekend.  It is certainly a step in the right direction, but a logistical nightmare, and the problem about prison inmates is that so many are poorly educated with low self esteem, so the idea of having jobs to go to, with the added disadvantage of a criminal record, seems a bridge too far. But let’s not be fainthearted. The other weekend I drove from Taunton to London via the M5 and M4, a distance of 166 miles.  The verges and banks were knee deep in litter, so I thought, why not offer these 80,000 plus prisoners the chance to do some good for the community and earn remission points at the same time?  They would be bused to designated points, spend the day picking up litter, and then bused back to prison.

Historically, remission is applied to prisoners who keep out of trouble whilst in prison, which is fair enough, but why not go farther?  Apply a generous remission scheme to those who volunteer for day jobs, whether it be litter collecting, or dredging streams, or painting bus shelters, a whole host of community based jobs, and if the inmate not only behaves himself but does the job to an acceptable standard, reduce his sentence dramatically.  If he doesn’t perform to an acceptable standard, he is returned to prison without remission and has only himself to blame.

I like the idea of electronic tags so inmates can be tracked at any time of the day or night.  Sitting in a prison cell for 23 hours a day, feeling resentful, bored and looking for trouble, achieves absolutely nothing except resentment, boredom and trouble.  It may satisfy the ‘hang ’em high’ brigade, but the time is well overdue when we start treating prisoners as human beings and try and help them.  It’s worth a try, and now!

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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COMPENSATION CULTURE

May 19th, 2016

A report has reached me recently of a silly old buffer who was visiting some stately castle with all the usual suspects like children and grandchildren getting under his feet and clutching an enormous and overpriced Mister Whippee when he tripped and finished up in the moat. More to the point, did he trip or was he pushed?  Having been rescued from a watery grave, his first thoughts were to claim compensation, so off he went like a long dog to the nearest twilight solicitor to milk and over-egg his misfortune.  And my reaction?  What on earth was the silly old buffer doing there in the first place?

In days of yore and derring-do, when men were men and not obsessed with the compensation culture, they took the rough and tumble of daily life in their stride, and if per chance they finished up in the moat after a jar or seven with Mine Host, they either drowned, dragged down by the weight of their chain-mail, or they were fished out and sent home to dry off.  Nobody thought of suing Mine Host, and quite right too.

I remember many years ago, when an eminent law lord came to dine, offering him an occupiers’ liability disclaimer to sign in the event that if he injured himself whilst on the premises, he would not sue me, even if this were his inclination.  I should add that this was my invariable practice whenever guests came to dine, given the number of wholly unmeritorious compensation claims  bouncing their way around the law courts. He signed, with the caveat that no such disclaimer could oust the jurisdiction of the court, but then, he would, wouldn’t he?

But back to the silly old buffer.  When you visit a stately castle, you expect uneven flagstone floors and worn steps and damp and slippery forecourts, after all, that’s how they lived before B & Q, you took the necessary precautions and the world went on turning.  Nowadays, when somebody breaks wind in public, there is somebody else wanting to claim compensation.  We are surrounded by twilight solicitors phoning uninvited and telling us about PPI, and how, if we lie through our teeth, we could take home at least £7000.  Or, have we slipped over in the B & Q car park, and if not, why not? And if we did, you remember don’t you, you aggravated that nagging injury you sustained years ago when you fell into the moat of some stately castle when you should have been watching where you were going.

In the particular case of the silly old buffer, he actually won his claim for compensation when three other silly old buffers sitting in judgment upheld his claim. Far be it for me to criticise my colleagues sitting in loco judiciaris, but what did they think they were doing? It sends out all the wrong messages.  Many of these stately old castles can only afford to open to the public if they are not bedeviled by twilight solicitors representing twilight clients pursuing twilight claims.

Time to throw open the windows and let in some plain old fashioned common sense, but in doing so, be careful not to slip and fall out!

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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JOHNNY FOREIGNER

May 17th, 2016

As the Brexit debate moves from turgid to tepid, hardly a day goes by without one side slagging off the other, each trying to outdo the other in terms of gloom and doom.  In the recent past, we have had David Cameron on behalf of the Remain camp predicting a world war if we left.  Then we had the ubiquitous George Osborne telling us that our economy will collapse, there will be a run on sterling, property prices would tumble, and not before time in my opinion, followed by a plague of locusts no doubt.

On behalf of Brexit, Boris Johnson makes the point that dreams over the centuries of a united Europe have perished on the bonfire of vanity.  Napoleon tried and failed, and others before him, Attila being one, but then Boris committed the cardinal sin and mentioned the ‘H’ word. Yes, he mentioned Hitler, as did his predecessor as Mayor of London, and look where that got him.  He sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind, and now the long suffering electorate has got ‘know it all’ Rita Chakrabati, fresh from that desperately  dreary pressure group Liberty, wheeled on to investigate and report back on anti-antisemitism in the Labour Party, and whose membership she embraced on the day of her appointment.  Impeccable timing!

But back to Boris.  As soon as he had made the remark, the Remain camp enlisted the services of Lord Bramall, you remember him of course from recent publicity, a nonagenarian, so very much in tune with the times, a former distinguished serviceman and more besides, who knows nothing about politics and even less about appealing to the common man.  He was scripted as condemning Boris’s assertion that there is no such thing as European unity, even though such an assertion is patently true.  So my advice to Lord Bramall, given all that has happened in the recent past, best to sit this one out old boy and adopt the well known adage: “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.”

The reality is that we British don’t like Johnnie Foreigner.  As Shakespeare wrote, or was it the Earl of Oxford, and does it matter:

“This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

It may be that on Referendum Day enough of us will vote to remain in the European Union, not because we like Johnny Foreigner, but because it’s better the devil we know.  Don’t forget that it was as recently as 1904 that we Brits forgave and forgot our centuries’ long animosity to Johnny Frog, and Johnny Frog isn’t that enamored of us.  And the irony is that before ‘H’ came on the scene, we had more in common with Johnnie Kraut than any other Johnny Foreigner, so much so we put one of them on the British throne and we’ve never looked back. Happy birthday HM.

I fear that in the run in to R Day, with Bramall manning the ramparts, we will have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous hyperbole and hope we come out the other side relatively unscathed.  My dilemma is that I far prefer the dramatis personae  of the Brexit campaign, viz Boris, Oiky Gove, Grayling and I D-S.  Still, as Bramall would tell you if asked, and please don’t ask, the show ain’t over till the fat lady sings.  Rule Britannia!

Postscript:  Michael Heseltine has one claim to fame.  He went to the same school as me, where apparently he was known as ‘Wet Legs’, but you didn’t hear that from me.  Anyway, he is now described in certain sections of the Press as a Tory Grandee, and as such feels equipped to pontificate on anything and everything.  He has waded into the furore of Boris and ‘H’, claiming that he, that’s Boris not ‘H’, is unfit to lead the Tory Party, a judgment which many of his contemporaries passed on him back in 1990.  That’s Michael, not Boris or ‘H’.  You may remember that this self-styled keeper of the moral compass was the same man who plotted behind Maggie Thatcher’s back and was instrumental in her downfall. Some moral compass!  Interestingly, having engineered Maggie’s downfall, nobody wanted him as Prime Minister, to the extent that they opted for that strange bloke with bad wisdom teeth whose dad was a circus performer, who had little or no education and who wore his shirt tucked into his underpants.

What a pair!  What a performance!

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law. His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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CANUTE REIGNS OK

May 3rd, 2016

You remember King Canute, also known as King Cnut, who was King of England from 1016 to 1035.  It is far from clear what he was doing here in the first place, as he was Danish.  Another illegal immigrant no doubt, clinging precariously to the underside of a Viking longboat, but as they say, might makes right, so he stayed.  His dad was King Forkbeard, I kid you not, and one of his sons was called Harold Harefoot.  Still, in this day and age, with kids being called Peaches Melba and Fanny Golightly, who am I to judge.

Back to Canute.  He is best known for commanding the tide to recede, which on the face of it was a tall order, but when you’re King, not many of your courtiers are going to stand up to be counted, so down to the shore he went with his throne, his sceptre and his orb, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The recent determination of the Justices of the Supreme Court reminded me of Canute.  They had been asked to uphold a super injunction preventing the press and the media from running a sleazy story about so called celebrities enjoying a ‘three in a bed’ sex romp.  They argued, successfully as it transpired, that publication of their deviant behaviour would be an invasion of their privacy and it was not in the public interest. But if I am representative of Joe Public, perhaps more so than the Justices of the Supreme Court, how do I know it’s not in my interest unless it’s published?  It is surely right and proper to hold up their behaviour to public scrutiny if at least one of them is a well known public figure.

I am reliably informed that when the Justices of the Supreme Court were asked to uphold the super injunction, they were informed that the ‘hanky spanky’ of the three deviants had already gone viral, which means that the world and his dog had known of their identities and the lurid details for several weeks.  That’s the power of the Internet for you.

Back to King Canute.  He could no more command the sea to go back than the Justices of the Supreme Court could prevent the Internet tsunami engulfing them and millions of others. Surely it’s time for a  rethink on the whole issue, but keep it simple.  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t stand the excitement of Leveson ‘Ding Ding’ round two  droning on and on and on.

In the meantime, the super injunction remains in place, and I could be in contempt of court if I were to reveal the identities of the gruesome threesome unless and until it is lifted.  So for readers in the United Kingdom, you did not read here that the three are *******, ***** and ****.  It sounds like the story of the Three Bares.

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, has just been released, and is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

April 27th, 2016

We are living longer, and more and more of us are making provision for a comfortable old age.  With this in mind, mobile home parks are becoming increasingly popular as retirement homes, and they have much to offer.  Many are in idyllic areas where planning consent is easier to obtain, and the quality of mobile homes available to purchase is a revelation. They range from one to four beds, lavishly furnished, all mod cons, and there is scope on their respective pitches for gardens and outdoor decorations.  They also come with their own garages or hard standing areas.

As these parks are designed for the retired, there are a number of conditions associated with ownership that emphasise the need for quiet enjoyment.  There is usually a minimum age qualification, for the over fifty fives, there are limits on children living permanently on the park, dogs are controlled and vehicles other than private cars are usually banned.  There is also invariably a prohibition on running a business from the park.

But life in the slow lane is a two way track where there needs to be room for both the residents and the owners.  Every now and again, there is friction between the two which can sour the atmosphere unless it is addressed without delay. I have been representing park owners for the best part of ten years, and I believe I have seen it all.  I also like to believe that problems, when they arise, can and should be addressed with the minimum of rancour, so that both parties understand the issues and try and resolve them before they get out of hand.

I do not pretend that park owners are beyond reproach, and there are times when they are clearly in the wrong.  But exactly the same applies to the residents, usually confined to a handful, who can be difficult, uncooperative and obstructive.

The primary legislation is enshrined in the Mobile Homes Act 1983, and subsequently amended when constituency MPs, looking to the next General Election, get overexercised on behalf of the residents of these parks, viewing them as captive votes.  Tinkering with the legislation, it finishes up as neither fish nor fowl, and it is easily forgotten that park owners are running a business and not a charitable old people’s home park.

The two major changes over the recent past have been the advent of the Residents’ Association where problems, real and imagined, are picked over and ventilated ad nauseam, and the right of owners to sell their mobile homes sometimes to purchasers who have no real concept of park living, and who, once on the park, cause nothing but difficulties for one and all.

For the most part these mobile home parks work well to the benefit of all, but all it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel.

David Osborne is a public  access barrister and an expert on Home Park Law.  He can be instructed direct without the need to go through a solicitor first.

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