RENT A MOB

I have been reading with sorrow the tragedy of Alfie Evans who, according to some of the best medical specialists in the country, is terminally ill with no prospect of recovery, let alone being able to lead a normal life.  As before with Charlie Gard, the highest courts in the land have considered all the available evidence and have with heavy hearts granted an application to turn off Alfie’s life support machine and let him die.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the latest challenge because it was the same legal argument – albeit with a different legal term – that they made in February and March and moving him to a hospital in Italy, his father’s wish, was “contrary to his best interests”.

The judges said: “The application of a different legal label… does not change the fact that the court has already determined the issues which the parents now seek, again, to advance.”  For my part, I do not understand why the parents are being advised to return to the courts again and again and again, when it should be quite obvious that the courts’ decision will be the same, again and again and again.  As any competent lawyer should know, repetition does not make a bad point better.

“The views of the parents do not take precedence and do not give them an ‘unfettered right’ to make choices and exercise rights on behalf of Alfie.”

The judges said Alfie was not being “detained” in hospital or “deprived of his liberty… the doctrine of habeas corpus.”

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has said continuing to treat Alfie, who has an undiagnosed degenerative neurological condition, was “inhumane” and “futile”.

It said taking him abroad for treatment was “expressly not in his best interests”, adding: “Our priority is to continue providing Alfie with the best care possible.”

Of course I feel for the parents who are clutching at straws in their distress, hoping against hope for a miracle, and suddenly, judging from the reports in the Media, everybody is a expert, and presumably, that includes Alfie’s dad and his megaphone.

But what I find all the more distressing is the emergence of the mob culture when compassion and wise counsel should prevail.  This ‘rent a mob’ appears time and again to shout and scream and jostle and threaten, regardless of the ’cause’ they seek to espouse, even if they bothered to inform themselves, which they don’t.  Disinformation, not information, is their only weapon in their battle against law and order and reason.

This mob travels from one hotspot to another, ready to challenge the ‘status quo’ with their confrontational behaviour.  They can’t be reasoned with, as reasoning is alien to their culture and an intellectual exercise they are incapable of performing.  Their demeanour and banners of hate are the same, whether it’s women’s rights, or slavery, or Tory scum, or Jews, or doctors, or Uncle Tom Cobley, and so it goes on. With Alfie Evans, the mob forces their way into Alder Hay Hospital, disrupting the work of doctors and nurses, regardless of the consequences, which means that the police, with better things to do, or at least I hope so, are called to deal with an unlawful assembly.

What those who use the services of the mob fail to understand is that the price to be paid by confrontation achieves very little.  They have no room in a civilised society, and civilised people will pay them scant regard.

There is now a determined but futile effort to take Alfie to Rome, apparently with the blessing of the Pope.  Whilst the Holy Father is a powerful figure in the Catholic community, not even he can perform miracles, so to pretend otherwise is a cruel deception.

Far better for the parents to receive specialist counselling to prepare themselves for what comes next, and most important of all, to act in Alfie’s best interests.  It is not in his best interests to suffer needlessly.

 

PLOD IN THE FRAME AGAIN

Some interesting news for your delectation:  Alison Saunders, the beleaguered Director of Public Prosecutions, will not be offered an extension to her five year contract when it expires in October.  I wonder why not.

According to Alison, it was her decision to shoulder arms, and any suggestion that the government has had enough of her questionable competence is flatly contradicted by her, but then, it would be wouldn’t it?

Is it only five years since Ms. Saunders was appointed?  It sees much longer.  In fairness to her, she has done her best with limited intelligence to run an enormous and unwieldy service, and inevitably mistakes were going to be made.  But the difference between a leader and an also ran is the ability to sort out the mess, admit mistakes, put them right and move on.

Before the creation of the Clown Prosecution Service in 1986, Plod used to prosecute their own cases on their own patch, they had their own solicitors, and for the most part, their cases were farmed out to local barristers.  It was all very cosy and incestuous.  If mistakes were made, they were ‘corrected’ in-house, and life went on.  By keeping it local, blunders, and worse still, blatant corruption, were swept under the carpet, and the lads stuck together.  Corroboration, an important and independent part of the prosecutor’s armoury, consisted of one police officer signing his colleague’s pocket book to signify agreement without even reading it, and putting it before the jury as the cast-iron truth, on my babby’s life!

The worst excesses of local prosecutions came with the signed confession, long before the days of tape recorders, when confessions were faithfully recorded in the interviewing officers’ pocket books well after the confession was made, and usually over a mug of tea in the police canteen. The oft repeated maxim that the notes were made whilst matters were still fresh in the memory was all that was required.  It was fertile ground for fabrication and ground that was regularly tilled.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that Plod to a man were corrupt, but as they say, all it takes is one bad apple.  The idea that a national prosecuting service would bring respectability to the task of bringing the guilty to justice slowly took root, and in 1986, during the reign of the Blessed St. Margaret, a former barrister, the Clown Prosecution Service was born, in the hope that there would be uniform national standards applied to address the criticisms of incompetence and  worse still, corruption.  It has been better than before, but not without its problems.

But what has been Ms. Saunders’ undoing has been sex, and her pathetic  and dangerously complacent response to it.  I refer specifically to the recent scandal of sexual complainants lying to Plod and even to the jury when no sexual abuse had taken place.  There are all sorts of excuses and explanations, but its root cause is the direction from on high to Plod to believe without question these false allegations.  In so doing, they are not properly investigated, if at all, and for the most part, these allegations take place in private, with one person’s word against another’s.  This is where independent corroboration, not fabricated, is vital in the pursuit of the truth, and sadly, Ms. Saunders has been found wanting.  Worse still, she won’t admit it.

She was an in-house appointment, which was a mistake.  Word on the street is that the government has acknowledged that the post of Director of Public Prosecutions is not one for intellectual pygmies, so the search for the next director will cast a wide net.  It’s a thankless task, so I cannot see many heavyweight legal luminaries putting their names forward.  And before you ask, no, I have no intention of supping from the poisoned chalice.

There is much work to be done, and little time to restore damaged reputations.  So my strong advice to Ms. Saunders in the remaining 6 months, say and do as little as possible to preserve your publicly funded and very generous pension.

WHAT’S SEX GOT TO DO WITH IT?

It’s that time of the year again, when I renew my practising certificate, and the Bar Council in its wisdom requires me to provide the usual updates on my practice, and what I’ve been up to over the past twelve months.  There is also a question about my sexual orientation, and I got to wondering, how is this relevant to my practice as a barrister?  I am sure there is somebody in the Bar Council’s office who can answer this question, but I am mystified.

Over the recent past,  hardly a day goes by without some new sexual revelation, almost ad nauseam, not specifically about the profession, although judges are notorious cross dressers, by necessity not by choice I add.  Let’s face it, if you dress up in a long flowing gown, with matching stockings and buckled shoes, and topped off with a full length wig, what do you expect?

Sex has come a long way since I was first exploring my manhood.  I travelled a familiar route in those days, down to the pub on a Saturday night, check out the local Totty, and if a suitable candidate presented herself, I’d sashay over with my cool dude expression: “Hey Babe, what are we doing tonight?”  I thought this more sophisticated than: “Hey Babe, fancy a quickie?”  Most times I’d be seen off by Mr. Beefcake, Totty’s man of the moment who’d emerge from the Gents and in no mood to share her affections, but every now and again Totty would be impressed by my balls, metaphorically speaking of course, and I was off and running.

My courtship routine followed a familiar pattern.  On the first date I’d see her home, an affectionate peck on the cheek to put down a marker, I’d get her phone number, and withdraw, again metaphorically speaking.  On the second date, during a romantic dinner for two at some dimly lit tavern, it was an opportunity to get intimate, not necessarily the full nine yards,  but an awkward grope on the sofa was the very least I could expect. I have to say that during our torrid tumble, it never occurred to me to get something in writing, to protect myself in the years to come, when I was rich and famous, against a claim that I had breached Totty’s human rights, or worse still, that I had sexually abused her.

The other thing that concerns me, and I have written about this before, is the prevalence of sexual complaints decades after they were supposed to have been committed, with a variety of unconvincing reasons for the delay.  There should be a limitation period, I suggest ten years, beyond which no complaint will be considered, let alone prosecuted, as is the case in the civil law, where limitation periods are strictly applied.

Back to sex, and speaking for myself, I don’t like one night stands, I’ve never been that sort of guy.  It’s demeaning, so I, along with many others, start a relationship in the hope that it will be fulfilling in every sense of the word, and possibly lead to marriage and a life together.

As the Church of England Marriage Service tells us, marriage is not to be entered into lightly or wantonly, and in my professional experience, I am sometimes asked to advise clients on the merits of a prenuptial agreement.  I say ‘sometimes’, because many couples in advance of marriage feel embarrassed and fearful that their blossoming relationship may be irreparably damaged by even mentioning such an agreement, let alone signing on the dotted line, as somehow it smacks of impending failure before they have taken a single step on the road of life. That is not something on which any professional can advise, as it needs a crystal ball.

When it comes to sexual relationships, there is a real need for re-education on both sides of the debate, coupled with more tolerance, so that society can embrace such discussions openly, in a compassionate and informed manner, giving both sides of the story equal weight.   

CRIME DOESN’T PAY

The Criminal Bar is suffering a crisis of confidence over a new fee scheme that takes effect from the 1st April and which, according to the Ministry of Justice, will “better reward work done”.  Put another way,  it expects practitioners to do more, yet again, for less.  Its aim is to discontinue the old system whereby advocates are paid by the number of pages served as evidence, and replace it with a flat fee, regardless of the length of time needed to prepare the case properly.

In days of yore, when legal aid was spiraling out of control and costing the hard pressed taxpayer a small fortune, it was acknowledged that the system was open to abuse.  Preparation time was grossly inflated by dishonest and unscrupulous advocates gorging themselves on the proceeds of crime.  Attempts were made from time to time to tame the behemoth, but with only limited success.

That said, the government’s approach over the years has been heavy handed, with arbitrary cuts in legal aid and little or no account taken of the profession’s legitimate concerns, the most important of which was to offer a good service to the end user.  After all, it was his liberty at stake.

The recent spate of miscarriages and the failure of the Clown Prosecution Service to disclose important and relevant material to the defence, throws sharply into focus the real dangers of page counting.  That aside, I suspect the answer may lie in the willingness of both sides to go the extra mile.  It cannot be beyond the whit of a competent advocate, when instructed that the dastardly act was recorded on a mobile phone, to ask the CPS to release the phone records, and if they fail to do so, that’s why we have judges, who are supposed to be impartial (pace Lord Goddard).  In addition, and to ensure a fair trial if humanly possible, there must be exceptions to the page count rule where such exceptions are clearly in the interests of justice.

The unfortunately named David Gauke, the latest through the political swing door of fortune to assume the mantle of Justice Secretary, has been given the invidious task of holding the line where there is clear evidence that it needs to be redrawn.  To quote Frances Gibb writing in The Times: “If anybody can persuade him of the need to rethink, it must be the criminal advocates – not in their own interests, but in the interests of the system as a whole. If not, they will say, the recent run of disclosure failings will be just the start, with miscarriages of justice a certain result and not simply a risk.”

BLAME IT ON THE RUSSIANS

For my many faithful readers, you may have been alarmed and perturbed by my recent absence, and you are wondering why.  I suspect you are feeling lonely and unloved, and crave an explanation.

The explanation is somewhat mundane, although you may feel, as I do, that sinister forces are at work. Three weeks ago, my wife and I decided to take a short break in the Algarve, where, according to the promotional blurb, the sun spends the winter.  Not this winter!

We chose Squeezijet as our preferred carrier, although, if the truth be known, we were not exactly spoiled for choice.  It was either that or Ryanair, better known as FlyinFear, and the only airline with outside lavatories.

We arrived to grey skies, a cool wind and steady rain, but we comforted ourselves in the belief that it would soon blow over, with blue skies and sunshine just round the corner.  Not so.  The word on the beach was that a belt of cold air was coming from east of the Urals, and immediate suspicion fell on Vladimir Putin.  And like a bad smell, it hung around for days.

I was amazed that Putin found time to interfere with the weather when he was in the middle of a re-election campaign for president, and by all accounts, it was on a knife edge.  The only credible candidate was Alexei Navalny, a brave yet foolhardy man who stood up to Putin and for his temerity, was subsequently barred from standing in the election following a trumped up charge  of fraud.  In passing, if fraud were a sound basis for disqualifying a candidate, why was Putin standing?

In the absence of Navalny, the next best candidate to unseat Putin was Bozo the clown.

It’s a strange business being a dictator.  You seize power for the good of the people, you suppress all opposition, again for the good of the people, you starve millions of your fellow countrymen, again for the good of those who survive, always ensuring there’s more than enough for you, your cronies and the army, and to legitimise your oppressive behaviour, you call elections from time to time which are rigged, so that you can declare to the world and his dog that your government is for the people and by the people.

But what I want to know, why bother?