I read with a fatalistic air of resignation the lead story in The Times today, where somebody calling himself Bernard Hogan-Howe, I kid you not, and claiming to be the Chief Constable of Merseyside, was complaining about lenient sentences handed out by the courts to those convicted of possession of a firearm.

The thrust of Bernie’s complaint was that the mandatory five year sentence for the offence was not being uniformly imposed around the country, and by inference, Merseyside was no exception.

I have never been a fan of deterrent sentences, on the simple basis that they don’t work. Equally, I deplore attempts by politicians and the Bernies of this world to highjack the sentencing process. This should remain the preserve of the judiciary, without unwelcome and uninformed intervention from those pursuing their own agenda, and David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, does himself and his Party no credit whatsoever by climbing onto Bernie’s bandwagon.

Many years ago, I remember attending a debate on the restoration of the death penalty. It was a meaningless exercise, as battle lines were drawn up well in advance. The most memorable crass comment of the night was the remark that “if you hang them, they won’t do it again.”

The criminal element of our society who arm themselves with guns don’t read or write, so they don’t know anything about mandatory minimum sentences, and they don’t give a rat’s crap about Bernie or David Davis, assuming they’ve heard of them in the first place, which they haven’t, and they’re not alone. Of course, even their limited thought processes will tell them it’s wrong to carry a gun, worse still to fire it, but when they go out armed and looking for trouble, they don’t assume they’ll be caught.

It’s a fair assumption, as Bernie’s team in Merseyside have yet to make a significant arrest following the fatal shooting of 11 year old Rhys Jones last year, so what sort of a message does that send out to the gun toting criminal classes of Merseyside? Bernie should get his priorities right, get on with his job, and stop trying to shift the blame onto the judiciary for his own shortcomings.

Addendum: Excitement mounts to fever pitch. The fragrant and elusive Frances Gibb, the editor of Law Times, has re-emerged from Purdah and put her name to an article on Family Justice. I confess I dozed off after the second paragraph, but good to see her back in the saddle again. When I shook myself out of my bucolic torpor, my eye caught the advertisement on the same page for a commercial High Court Judge in Saint Lucia. I could almost feel the gentle breeze wafting through the Casuarina trees, the bare chested maidens carrying me shoulder high through the crashing surf, and a thundering great rum punch to greet me upon my arrival. Then I looked at the salary on offer in return for a considerable workload, and my thoughts returned to the day job, my dreams shattered. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow, and hope springs eternal!


Inevitably, there has been a lot of comment in the media following the publication of the divorce settlement in the case of McCartney v Mills, and without exception, Ms. Mills has been on a hiding to nothing.

For those contemplating a wholesale raid on their spouses’ assets when love, and reason, fly out the window, there are a number of important lessons to be learned. For Ms. Mills, it’s too late, and besides, in her case these lessons were not there for the learning.

1. Instruct learned counsel. I’m not in the business of drumming up business for myself or my colleagues, but a reading of the judgment highlights the dangers of “DIY” advocacy. Whether or not Ms. Mills would have obtained a significantly larger share of the McCartney millions if she had had, and listened to, the advice of counsel, is a matter of debate, but of one thing I am sure. She certainly would have been spared the ridicule and disapprobation levelled at her for her unfounded and grossly exaggerated claims.

2. Strip the emotion from the equation. It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to strip the emotion from the equation, especially where the aggrieved party feels wronged, but in almost every case, the court ignores behaviour as a relevant and aggravating feature, and the McCartney/Mills dispute was no exception. In reality, it’s an actuarial exercise, taking the assets of the two parties and deciding on an equable division by using a number of pre-determined tick boxes.

3. Don’t make claims you cannot support. Ms. Mills made a number of extravagant claims about her lifestyle and earnings before marriage, in an attempt to show how those earnings had been adversely affected during the currency of the marriage. She was asked repeatedly to support these claims with documentary evidence. For the most part she failed to do so, and where she did, the relevant documents simply exposed the specious nature of her claims. In so doing, it made her look ridiculous.

4. Don’t be too greedy. Of course, when dealing with the assets of the husband in the region of £400 million, it’s tempting to think Christmas has come early by several months, and to bury your snout in the trough. But if the claims bear no relationship to the eventual award, then you risk a bitter disappointment, and in the case of Ms. Mills, accusations of greed. I find it curious in the extreme that she was apparently satisfied with the outcome, given that her starting point was £120 million, and the settlement imposed was barely one fifth of this sum.

5. Accept the settlement with good grace, even if you have to do so through gritted teeth. When Ms. Mills doused her husband’s lawyer with water at the end of the proceedings, it was regarded by one and all as an “own goal” of monumental proportions, the media had a field day, and it simply confirmed the public perception that she lacked judgment.

On a more positive note, and if this judgment stands, there are signs, albeit small, that the courts are rowing back from the high water mark established last year when obscene sums of money were being settled on departing wives which bore little relationship to their needs or deserts. And just as importantly, it seems as if prenuptial agreements may, at last, find favour when the marital edifice comes tumbling down.


I read the Court of Appeal judgment this morning in the case of Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police, proof, if proof be needed, that I do occasionally read The Times Law Reports. For the uninitiated, they can be found after “Obituaries” and before “Court Circular.”

This was the appalling case of the claimant who had alerted the police to a man who was making threats to kill him. The police did nothing, and as a result, the claimant was seriously assaulted and nearly died. The Court of Appeal ruled that there should be some point at which police officers, once alerted, could not escape responsibility. Unlike the ordinary passer-by, their police status would require them to do something.

It’s breathtaking that the Chief Constable thought otherwise, not to mention the quality of the legal advice he received, which puts me in mind of two recent events highlighting the inability of the police to “prioritise” their responsibilities.

The first concerned a neighbour of mine, who was constantly pestered by a group of antisocial yobs outside his house late at night, drinking, shouting, swearing, and throwing rolls of lavatory paper at his windows. Guess what! He contacted the police, and was firmly advised not to confront the group on pain of injury or arrest! So he waited for the police to attend, which, in the fullness of time, they did, in the form of a community support officer, also known as a “hobby bobby.”

When the yobs reassembled the following night, he again contacted the police for a progress report, and was told they had been spoken to, but no further action had been taken for fear of upsetting them! So his ordeal continued, unabated.

Then there was the case of a man who returned home late at night, had a violent argument with his drunken wife, and left in her car to give her time to sober up and calm down. She phoned the police to complain that her husband had taken her car, and wanted advice on how to get it back. Within fifteen minutes, six, yes, six police officers turned up at her house, and when her husband returned a few minutes later, he was promptly arrested for breach of the peace, and when he protested, further arrested for obstruction. Happily, the case against him was dismissed.

As the song goes: “A policeman’s lot is not an ‘appy one,” but it shouldn’t take rocket science to “prioritise” complaints and act on them promptly and responsibly. Confidence in the police is the cornerstone of a civilised society, and if the judgment of the Court of Appeal is anything to go on, they still have a lot to learn.


Straying from the domestic agenda for a moment or three, I recently read a report of the judgment from the Italian Court of Cassation, which, as the Europhiles amongst you will know, is their highest court, so not to be dismissed lightly.

According to the report, the Court of Cassation has ruled that Italian mistresses cannot be prosecuted for perjury if they deny on oath the existence of a clandestine affair with a married man, reasoning that such a denial preserves the sanctity of marriage and the fabric of family life.

I have to say that I gasped with astonishment at the judgment, not, I hasten to add, because I am running two households, but because it’s so wonderfully Italian!

Did you see Monty Don’s splendid programme the other evening on television about Mediterranean gardens, and in particular the Villa D’Este and the Villa Liande in Tivoli? Don’s enthusiasm for gardens and gardening is positively infectious, and a joy to watch. Anyway, these magnificent villas and their gardens were created during the Renaissance for Princes of the Church with an eye to the Papacy, and very fitting indeed they were for wannabee Vicars of Christ.

I’ve often thought I was a red cardinal in a former life. I wear red socks, I love dressing up, and I harbour illusions of grandeur on a monumental scale, and where better than a stone’s throw from the centre of Christendom. The weather, the food and wine, the way of life, it’s senza para!

The Court of Cassation is silent on whether the same immunity from prosecution should be extended to married men, but it’s only a matter of time, and besides, what about the principle of equality in the workplace? After all, satisfying a wife AND a mistress is a real labour of love!

It was the same Court of Cassation which ruled, some years ago, that a woman wearing skin tight jeans could not be the victim of rape, on the basis that their removal would require the wearer’s active participation, or, at the very least, her passive compliance. Sembrare logico!


I’ve been away for a week’s well earned R & R in the Algarve, so I hope you’ve managed without me. The weather was sublime for this time of the year, and a welcome break away from the doom and gloom of dreary Olde England.

As I was waiting in the departure lounge, my eye caught a strident headline in the Daily Mail commenting on the acquittal by a jury of a young Cambridge student, charged with the sexual assault of some anonymous female. The leader writer could find nothing good to say about her, and quoted the judge’s remarks criticising the decision of the CPS to bring the charge in the first place. But another strident comment on the inside pages gave me cause for concern. The writer questioned the fairness of a system that allows for the free publication of the defendant’s name and details, whilst the alleged victim remains anonymous.

This argument has been well rehearsed, time and again, since the relevant legislation came into force many years ago. The thinking behind the “anonymity” shield has always been the reluctance of rape victims to make a complaint and be willing to substantiate it. To all right minded people, rape is a degrading and reprehensible crime, and where possible, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Real victims should be given every help in coping with the inevitable ordeal of reliving the trauma, and a guarantee of anonymity goes some way to reassuring them in the trial process.

If the Daily Mail is seriously advocating the abolition of the right to anonymity where the defendant is acquitted, who decides when and in what circumstances the victim should lose her shield? A moment’s reflection shows this is unworkable, unless the “anonymity” shield is removed altogether. It’s a nightmare scenario, and best left alone.

What depressed me more in the report of the trial were the judge’s criticisms of the CPS. It’s a classic case of “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” I remember the good old days when the judge was the master of his own court, and if he felt the prosecution lacked merit, he would withdraw the charge from the jury and direct an acquittal. But this case went to the jury, so I assume there was sufficient evidence to raise a prima facie case, and in the circumstances, his criticisms were unfair and unhelpful.

The problem is that the entire criminal justice system has been hijacked by the government, and judges are now increasingly irrelevant. They are fearful of any black marks against their record and anything that might affect their chances of promotion and their index linked pensions. The CPS is an easy target, but in this case, an undeserving one.

Thank God for trial by jury, the bulwark of a civilised society. At least they are prepared to stand up and be counted, leaving the bit players to strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and hopefully, to be heard no more.