COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE

It is not for me to comment on the particulars of criminal proceedings where I was not present, as much can be lost in translation, especially in Birmingham.  It is foolhardy and often dangerous to sound off when not in possession of the full facts, as appears to have happened recently in a trial involving ‘drug barons’ who turned out to be nothing of the sort.

What concerns me the most is not the quality of the adversarial cut and thrust of the advocates, conspicuous by its absence, but by the extraordinary behaviour of the judge, whom I shall not name to preserve the dignity of his office.  Suffice it to say that Judge Francis Laird was so exercised by the monumental incompetence of  the prosecution, nothing new there I’m afraid, that he called prosecution counsel to go into the witness box (or stand as the cub reporter was fond of calling it) and give evidence on oath.  Counsel promptly fainted, but notwithstanding, having been allowed a few minutes to compose himself, tried to argue the unarguable.

There are several problems about the judge’s decision to victimize prosecution counsel.  The first and most obvious was his insistence that counsel go into the witness box.  This is improper and unheard of and irresponsible.  The second is that this kangaroo court was in public, so counsel’s discomfort was plain for all to see.  Quite how he is going to repair the damage to his reputation is a matter of conjecture.  The third problem was the wholly improper suggestion by defence counsel that prosecution counsel had deliberately misled the court. In fairness to him, this conduct was rather forced on him.  If the judge felt this was a proper way to behave, he should have assumed the responsibility himself and not palmed it off.

Whatever happened to the Honorable Profession to which every barrister must belong before he can practise at the Bar?

What Judge Laird seems to have forgotten, if he knew it in the first place,  is that by convention, counsel act on instructions given to them by their solicitors, in this case by the Clown Prosecution Service.  If those instructions give rise to professional embarrassment, then counsel must withdraw and return the brief.  This is basic stuff learned in pupillage.  If the judge insists that counsel go into the witness box to be cross-examined on oath, counsel should politely decline to do so, and if the judge persists, he should leave court and refer the judge’s conduct to the Bar Council and to the Lord Chancellor’s department.  This is the way grown ups behave.

This whole farrago reflects very badly on all parties.  The judge should go on a refresher course, as should counsel, and the CPS, at fault once again, should never have permitted their counsel to fend off this hostile judge without coming to his aid.

ANONYMITY AND RAPE

Google is back in the limelight, for all the wrong reasons, and by all accounts they are struggling with even the most basic form of protection for their many users.  Their latest problem is the ease with which surfers can discover the identity of rape ‘victims’, aka complainants, if they choose to do so, thereby circumventing the protection afforded to them by the courts.

Anonymity for rape victims, whether their complaints are real or fabricated, remains a lively topic as it has been for many years.  The arguments are well rehearsed, the main one being that rape victims are less likely to report the offence if their identity is known.

For my part, I have never been persuaded of the wisdom of this approach.  The ordeal of reliving the dastardly act in court is the main reason why victims do not come forward, it’s got nothing to do with identity, and on that score, I doubt if the ordeal is made any easier if the jury know the victim as Miss ‘A’ rather than Dolores del Rio.

Men and women regardless of their sexual proclivities are supposed to be equal, and this applies at all levels of life, whether in the workplace or out and about. But in relation to rape allegations, this equality does not apply, as the accused is routinely named and shamed, and has no protection from exposure in the Press, or Social Media, or in a court of law.

The recent cases where wholly innocent men were falsely accused of rape have been fully documented.  The Clown Prosecution Service has, as always, come up with wholly implausible reasons for charging these men in the first place, and I have already commented on this in an earlier blog.  But until these men were formally acquitted, they were paraded in public as rapists, a classic case of guilty until proven innocent.  This public parade was permitted because these men were not afforded the same anonymity as their accusers.  In one case, the young man in question abandoned his university career because of the unbearable strain of being falsely accused and having to wait an eternity before the injustice was righted.

I therefore fully support the lobby which advocates equality in allegations of rape between the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator until the legal process has run its course.

The other thing I find uncomfortable is the fact that in most cases where the complainant admits lying, nothing is done about it, despite the fact that on any view, she is guilty of attempting to pervert the course of public justice. And to make matters worse, her anonymity runs for the rest of her miserable life, pace such help as Google can unwittingly provide.

This approach cannot be right, it certainly cannot be fair, and it brings the criminal justice system into disrepute.  I therefore propose that a senior judge should consider the question of continuing anonymity, and it will be for the ‘victim’ to show cause why this protection should remain.  Were I in loco judiciaris, I would need a lot of persuading.

INSUFFERABLE LITTLE CHILDREN

I used to rate Cambridge University as a centre of academic excellence.  I even considered taking up a place there, many years ago, but common sense prevailed and I opted for McGill. A wise choice as it transpired.

Cambridge University recently became the University of Cambridge, a distinction without a difference, and it has gone badly downhill ever since.  The latest absurdity making waves is the demand from insufferable little children, also known as students, to lower the burden and standard of proof in sexual assault cases from the criminal to the civil.  This means that any allegation is proved if it is more than likely to have happened, otherwise known as the balance of probabilities.  The criminal standard requires proof of the allegation beyond a reasonable doubt.

In an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor signed by more than 800 students, clearly being educated beyond their natural intelligence, they say that “upholding the criminal standard of proof actively discourages survivors and victims of sexual harassment, rape and assault from engaging with the disciplinary procedure.” Why, I ask rhetorically?

The letter goes on. Changing the system, they say, “will give survivors more confidence to access it.” Why, again I ask rhetorically?  Even at the University of Cambridge, there must be support staff and counsellors and tutors ready to help and advise.

The key to this absurd statement is the word ‘survivors’, an emotive word designed to generate an emotive response. From the outset of my career as a practising barrister, I was taught that emotions have no part to play in the criminal process, for obvious reasons.  Emotions cloud clear and analytical judgment, which is the bedrock of a sound and impartial legal system.

What these students fail to appreciate is the very real damage that false allegations from ‘survivors’ can do to those innocent young men falsely accused.  They should look back only a few months to the string of false allegations made by ‘survivors’ and which were proved to have been false.  Remember Oliver Mears and Liam Allan and Isaac Itiary and Samson Makele, who hit the headlines nationwide, and there are many others besides.  If the students of the University of Cambridge have their way, how many other innocent young men risk being falsely accused, and, perish the thought, convicted and sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment?  For Oliver Mears, the strain of awaiting trial caused him such stress that he left his college, with his life and his future in tatters.

As somebody once said, better that ninety nine guilty men go free than one innocent man is falsely convicted.

I have some words of advice for these insufferable little children: grow up and shut up, memorise the lines from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice that begin: ‘The quality of mercy is not strained…” and read, learn and inwardly digest.

WILL THEY NEVER LEARN?

It beggars belief!  In the recent past, as my regular readers will remember, Plod and the CPS have distinguished themselves beyond the call of duty by charging men with rape where the evidence did not support such a charge.  It went farther.  The evidence showed beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant was lying, no doubt for her own good reasons.

You would have thought, in the light of these revelations, that Plod would proceed with the upmost caution before charging the grave offence of rape, but they are having none of it, and as the most recent revelation shows, these important lessons have still not been learned.

I refer to the latest case to collapse at the door of the court. This was a case where two males had been charged with rape, despite the complainant making it abundantly clear that only one forced himself upon her.  In her statement to Plod, she said: “I do not believe Male Two should be charged.  I do not believe he did anything wrong on the night.”  What could be clearer than that!?!  Apparently not clear enough for Plod, as they charged Male Two with rape as well.

What makes this case worse than the others is the fact that the complainant’s statement was never disclosed to the defence as it should have been, and it was only by chance that it came to light. The complainant was so disgusted with the way Plod had behaved that she withdrew her complaint against Male One.

Wheel on the platitudinous Alison Saunders, the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions who, for most of us, can’t go out quickly enough.  She said that the case was dropped because the Clown Prosecution Service had a continuing duty of review.    She went on: “I am really sorry if she feels let down, because that’s absolutely not what we want. We want to make sure we make the right decisions for the complainant, suspects ad for the public as a whole.”  Utter claptrap!

It can’t get any worse.  Please Alison, put us all out of our misery.  Take gardening leave, and at the very least, let somebody else take over the day to day running of the Service until a full time replacement can be found.

 

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.