April 25th, 2015
When I was young, I learned the fable of the boy who shouted ‘wolf’ once too often, and sadly, as you will remember, that was the time there was a real big bad wolf who ran amok in the village. I was put in mind of this fable when I read the recent report of a woman who was blind drunk when she attacked an innocent bystander on a night out on the town. She remembered nothing of the unprovoked attack until she was being charged at the police station. In sentencing her, the district judge in Worcester commented: “I find it incredible that young people can get so drunk that they don”t even know who they’re with.” Addressing the woman direct, he continued: “I am sure you are now aware of just how vulnerable you made yourself.” A charitable comment in the circumstances, given that she had behaved disgracefully.
It must have been a quiet day in the newsroom of the Worcester Clarion, as the case was reported along with the judge’s remarks. These were picked up by the national press and found their way to me. In normal circumstances, the case would not merit my attention, had it not been for the fact that Sarah Green, the acting director of the lobbying group End Violence against Women Coalition felt constrained to comment in terms which we are all too familiar with, it’s called the “raddled harridan” rant. In passing, I ask myself what is an ‘acting’ director? Is this somebody who hasn’t made the grade but behaves as if she has?
Her reaction was not to deplore the woman’s inexcusable behaviour and to pass on her apologies to the victim, it was to attack the judge, male as it happens, so no prizes there, without any justification. She wittered on about the judge perpetuating the idea that young women drinking alcohol put themselves at risk of attack, which is not what he said or meant, although it’s true, and in this particular case, the only person this drunk woman put at risk of attack was the woman she attacked. But as if that were not enough, Ms. Green wittered on about the judge’s remarks implying that sexual violence is in some way inevitable and it is the woman’s responsibility to avoid it. And finally, before ending her rant, she complained about getting beyond this focus on women’s behaviour regarding rape and shift it to the men who choose to commit these crimes.
What on earth is she on about? The poor unfortunate judge said nothing that could tread on Feminist toes, indeed everything he said made eminent common sense, but any comments about women and self-intoxication are like a red rag to a bull, and Ms. Green cannot resist trotting out the well worn mantra.
You may remember that I was roundly criticised by Ms. Green and her fellow Feministas when I made the observation that girls who dress provocatively on a night out and get horribly drunk should bear some responsibility for their behaviour, and despite Ms. Green’s strictures, I remain firmly of that opinion. I doubt if Ms. Green will change her opinion, and she will continue with her predictable rants. But like the boy who cried wolf, Ms. Green should be careful not to discredit her opinion by blinkered one track rants which, eventually, will become meaningless if she sees this problem in black and white. To coin a phrase, if you can’t say nothing worth listening to, best to say nothing at all.
April 24th, 2015
Two days ago, on the 22nd April to be precise, Sir John Chilcot celebrated his seventy sixth birthday. You may remember him, although there’s no reason why you should. Shortly after celebrating his seventieth birthday in 2009, he was appointed as the chairman of an Inquiry into the Iraq war commissioned by Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister. Brown emphatically denied that he was motivated by his hatred of Tony Blair and his hope that the Inquiry would bring opprobrium on his predecessor whilst exonerating him of all involvement. On the contrary, he was being even handed in pursuit of the truth and a desire to learn from others’ mistakes. This was very much his mantra during his mercifully short period in office.
Not even Sir John could have countenanced the possibility that this Inquiry would still be ongoing six years after its first meeting, and by all accounts, it has yet to run its course. For reasons best known to Sir John, it took five months from commissioning to the first meeting, so setting a pace which the Inquiry was to slavishly follow from Day One. We were told that the purpose of the Inquiry, and I quote from Chilcot’s opening statement, was: ” to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations. To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn’t – and, crucially, why”. And that, crucially, is the all important question surrounding this Inquiry, why? And why this Inquiry at all?
Let me see if I can help Chilcot and his fellow panel members to establish what happened, so that I am not writing a similar blog in celebration of Sir John’s eightieth birthday and his report still unpublished. Why did we go to war against Iraq? Because the Americans asked us to join them. Why did they ask us? Because we all believed at the time that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he could unleash on his enemies within 45 minutes. As it transpired, we were wrong, but so what? An evil dictator was removed and replaced by a corrupt and useless government which paid lip service to the Americans and very little else. As somebody once said, shit happens, and if those in power are constantly worried about making the wrong call, they shouldn’t be in power. It’s their job to call the shots, right or wrong.
This Inquiry was misconceived from the outset, but like Topsy, has grown out of all proportion, and once it is published, if ever, it will have its Andy Warhol moment and then, having writ, move on. There will be other Inquiries, we seem to have an insatiable desire for them, with identical remits to establish what happened. They too, like Topsy, will grow and grow and take on a life of their own, nobody will accept responsibility and everybody will be exonerated. What a joy!
April 19th, 2015
First things first. Given my recent criticisms of Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, I never thought I would be jumping to her defence so readily. However, I praise her brave decision not to pursue Greville Janner to the grave and beyond following the oft-repeated allegations against him of child sexual abuse. She has justified her decision with reference to his age and ill health, as he is now 86 and suffers from Alzheimer’s. The allegations against him go back to the 70’s, so any prosecution would of necessity relive events more than 50 years ago, and in my professional experience, the only evidence to go before a jury would be the allegations of the complainant and Janner’s denial. As he suffers from Alzheimer’s, he is unlikely to remember his own name, let alone what he was doing 50 years ago. There would be no corroboration in the legal sense, so the evidence, such as it is, could not be properly tested. Given the “no smoke without fire” approach likely to be forced upon any jury called to try the case, the pressure on them to convict will be intense and difficult to resist, and any jury brave enough to acquit would be subjected to a media campaign of vilification from the likes of the Daily Mail and its camp followers. On any view, that cannot be justice, but it hasn’t stopped an outcry against Ms. Saunders and threats of a judicial review of her decision. Despite the fact that Ms. Sanders has been dealt a losing hand, I hope she is brave enough to stand her ground. These historical ‘witch hunts’ do our criminal legal system no credit whatsoever.
On the topic of juries, it may have escaped your attention that the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 has received its royal assent, and lurking therein at section 69 et seq are several amendments to the Juries Act 1974. The main thrust is against the use by jurors of ‘electronic communications devices’, also known as the Internet, to research material relevant to the case they are trying, and in addition, sharing the results of their researches with other jurors.
The aim is laudable but nigh on impossible to achieve. The ideal is that an accused person should be convicted or acquitted on the evidence presented by both sides in court and untainted by any outside influences. Juries are told by the judge at the end of the first day that they are not to discuss the case with anybody outside their number until the end of the trial. And what’s the first thing they do as soon as they get home? They discuss the case with their nearest and dearest! It’s human nature. And as the trial goes on and on and on, the more they are going to discuss the evidence with their nearest and dearest and bring them up to date with the latest developments.
With the intrusion of the Internet into every room in the house, it is tempting in the extreme for the average juror to do a little research. In many cases, the Internet is the average Joe’s only form of communication, they can’t communicate unless they are gawping at their hand held devices, and a totally vacant expression is a sine qua non. Unlike his predecessor in title, the average juror is no longer selected because of his station in life, there is therefore no guarantee that he can even read and write, let alone form any rational judgment. It is only natural for him to seek help and guidance from wherever he can find it, and the Internet is an obvious starting point.
Back to Greville Janner. Enough and more has already been written and exposed in the media to fill a sizeable tome. If he were to stand trial, how on earth are twelve honest men and true going to put out of their minds all they have read and heard about the many allegations? Forbidding them to research further on the Internet is slamming shut the stable door well after the horse has bolted, and a fair trial will be impossible. The trial judge will be under enormous pressure to allow the trial to proceed in the face of legitimate objections from Janner’s defence team, and in the likely event of a conviction, the appeal process will follow him into the grave.
The jury system is beset with problems. We are now in the twenty first century, and it’s absurd to think that a piece of legislation can control the way in which juries approach the task for which they are summonsed. If further proof were needed, read the two notes sent to the judge by the jury in the unnamed journalist’s trial where his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. It’s called a travesty of justice. I have argued before, and I argue again, for the abolition of trial by jury, and let’s have an end to this nonsense.
April 8th, 2015
I listened with morbid interest to the interview on the BBC Today programme the other morning. John Humphrys was interviewing the leader of the Green Party, whose name escapes me as it did John Humphrys. Diligent research disclosed that this was Natalie Bennett, no doubt a close relation of Gordon.
I realise that minor parties, because they are minor and unlikely ever to form a government, can indulge in fantasy politics and ask us to take them seriously. But when pressed on some of her Party’s more whacky policies, like abolishing the armed forces and making love not war, Ms. Bennett was equivocal. It was a long term objective, she said, but without a trace of mirth. So what is the point of including it in their manifesto in the first place?
I remember Woodstock back in ’69, getting high and getting laid (with consent of course) and when we weren’t listening to the music, we were giving each other ‘V’ signs and calling for world peace. It was the beginning of the end of the Vietnam war, so there was a point to all this, but when we came down and sobered up, nobody in their right minds thought that if the American armed forces laid down their arms and gave the Vietnamese lots of ‘V’ signs, the Vietnamese would do the same.
All this tosh and more brings me on to a more important issue, namely the use of the European Convention of Human Rights to prosecute our armed forces for alleged misdemeanours on the battlefield. Yes, I kid you not, it’s already happened, and to make matters worse, our Supreme Court ruled last year that European human rights law is applicable to soldiers when in a foreign war zone. It beggars belief!
According to a statement signed by all the former chiefs of staff, “this creeping legal expansion onto the battlefield has potentially disastrous consequences. The increased risk of prosecution constrains the ability of commanders to respond to fast-moving situations and could affect the ability to win.”
With the obvious exceptions of the European Court of Justice and the Supreme Court, we are all familiar with the Geneva Convention, first signed as long ago as 1949. This Convention laid down a code of conduct to be followed by warring factions regarding the treatment of enemy combatants and non-combatants alike, and I simply do not understand why we need any further legal intervention. There are times to put up and times to shut up, and these courts haven’t mastered the latter. The fact that combatants the world over barely pay lip service to the Geneva Convention is not the fault of the Convention, as it is honoured more in the breach than the observance. War at any level is a dirty business, so trying to control how you kill the enemy may be a bridge too far.
One possibility to humour these courts is for every squad or platoon to enlist its own lawyer, who will go out on patrol, and once the enemy is engaged, to advise the commander what he may or may not do. As the former chiefs of staff observed, this might constrain the ability of commanders to respond to fast-moving situations, but other than our dead and wounded, who cares?
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. The legal profession is grossly overcrowded, so this may be an excellent way of culling the excess. After all, it was Shakespeare who wrote: “let’s kill all the lawyers.” In addition, and to boldly go and all that, why not adopt the central plank of the Green Party’s manifesto and abolish all our armed forces, and once done, why not abolish the Supreme Court?
April 3rd, 2015
First things first. Very exciting news. Following my blog (Jack It In) about the folly of prosecuting journalists involved in alleged misconduct in public office, the good news is that the CPS have taken on board my submissions and will not seek a retrial following the successful appeal of one of the journalists. The bad news is that Ms. Saunders, the misdirected Director of Public Prosecutions, has taken charge of an intensive review of all similar prosecutions in the light of the critical judgment by the Court of Appeal. She and a team of lawyers will be working through the Easter break to decide whether to proceed with a further eight pending trials. I can hardly contain my excitement! If I were she, and I am not, I’d take my advice and jack it in, lock stock and barrel. It is doing her and the CPS no credit whatsoever in trying to argue the unarguable, and with a total bill to date of £20 million, time to cut and run.
As the countdown to the General Election gathers pace (yawn yawn), the two main parties vie with each other over crime and punishment. It is a sad reality that so-called right minded people, also known as middle England, see successive governments as soft on crime, and demand ever more draconian measures to punish offenders. It is also a sad reality that rehabilitation is a dirty word, as it is akin to going soft on crime, and is definitely not a vote winner.
The statistics are instructive. When this coalition government was cobbled together in May 2010, the prisons were grossly overcrowded, with a total of 85600 prisoners serving custodial sentences. The coalition government undertook to reduce the prison population to save costs, and 80000 was the primary target.
There are essentially two obvious ways to achieve this objective: the first is to send fewer people to prison, and the second is to release them under licence into the community once they have served the custodial element of their sentence. Neither is working, as the prison population is as high as ever. All the problems associated with overcrowding are still with us, and still middle England bays for blood, or at least longer and longer custodial sentences.
My old chum Harry Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice and now Lord Woolf of Barnes, is scathing about successive governments and their refusal to tackle these problems. He is reported as saying: “Most politicians believe there are no votes in prisons and mistakenly think there are votes in being toughest on crime.”
It is worth remembering that a civilised society is judged by the way it treats its most disadvantaged citizens. Overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of facilities, violence, little or no rehabilitation and more, all combine to create a flawed system where the rate of re-offending is frighteningly high, and so it goes on, a self-perpetuating shambles which, according to Lord Woolf, no politician wants to address.