Am I alone in being bored rigid with the inquest into Diana’s death some ten years ago? I’ve lost count, but is this the fifth or sixth inquest to be held on the same topic? And besides, this interminable washing of dirty linen in public is so un-British, which is perhaps why it’s being orchestrated by some absolutely ghastly Egyptian shopkeeper of dubious antecedents throwing large wedges of hot, sweaty money at an overpaid team of poodles all prancing to his tune. Of course, like countless others, I was deeply affected by the death of Diana and her companions at the time, but ten years on, does anybody give a rat’s crap for all these conspiracy theories being peddled about like shoddy goods at a car boot sale?

But whilst these conspiracy theories continue to make the front page of the Daily Express for the edification of their long suffering readers, what about the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Cock Robin? The Daily Express is silent on the matter, which I find disgraceful, and a blatant example of selective journalism.

Talk about ten years! This conspiracy theory has been around since 1744, and still no answer in sight. It simply doesn’t ring true, and I for one would like a fresh inquest into Robin’s untimely demise. A brief examination of the facts gives rise to serious disquiet. The confession of the Sparrow was all too convenient, and besides, how many sparrows have you seen flying around with a bow and arrow? And did he have a solicitor present at the time? I think not. Again, we are told, there was only one witness, that being the Fly, who admitted that he saw the dastardly act with his “little” eye. On any view, an unimpressive witness! There was also some talk at the time of a blinding flash of light just before Cock Robin met his grisly end – was this investigated? And if so, why the silence? Has there been a monstrous cover up masterminded by the Powers that Were, with the active connivance of the Secret Service? These questions and more need to be answered, and now!

Finally, there was an ugly rumour down in the woods that Cock Robin was considering a romantic attachment to a wholly unsuitable feathered friend from over the hill and far away, not one of us if you catch my drift, and the Kite, the Linnet, the Dove and the Lark, to name but a few, had warbled their vocal opposition to the union. All very sinister! There’s more to this conspiracy theory than meets the Fly’s “little” eye!

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I read with interest a summary judgment from the Administrative Court, which tells us that in prison disciplinary hearings before an ‘independent’ adjudicator, the prosecution case can be presented by the prison officer who is the reporting officer and who is therefore a prosecution witness. Almost invariably in my experience, he is the only witness. In the judgment, we are further told that such a procedure is not in breach of the prisoner’s human rights under European Convention law, as there is nothing in Article 6, the relevant article, requiring the prosecutor to be independent.

Hang on a minute! Have I missed a trick here? Isn’t Article 6 all about fairness, and justice being seen to be done, as well as the right to a public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal? And what price the role of the prosecutor as formalised in detail by Mr. Justice Farquharson as long ago as 1986? I seem to remember something about a fair and independent prosecutor, not seeking a conviction but acting as a minister of justice, and placing the evidence fairly and impartially before the court. Now I accept that the learned judge’s Report was aimed at prosecuting barristers, but is there one rule for us, and another rule for the rest?

I have done my fair share of these disciplinary hearings, and thankfully, I have never encountered a situation which exercised the mind of the Administrative Court. Of course, by the very nature of these disciplinary proceedings, they are indeed “at the less serious end of the spectrum.” But try telling that to the prisoner who risks losing remission and the chance of early parole when the adjudication goes against him.

This judgment sets an ugly precedent, and should be revisited. It gives the impression that prisoners are second class citizens when it comes to fairness and impartiality in quasi-legal proceedings, and that simply isn’t fair.

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Another depressing set of statistics has emerged from HM Prison Service, telling us that the prison population in the UK has now reached record numbers, and no further places are available, even if you book early to avoid disappointment. Worse still, cells are now being routinely used in police stations and courts, and they too are full to bursting.

The cost to you, the taxpayer, is staggering. It costs between £25,000 – £36,000 per annum to house an average prisoner, and the cost goes higher with the category. There are now 81,681 prisoners, so you do the maths. Police and court cells don’t come cheap. It costs £420 a night in a police cell, and £300 a night in a court cell. To put that into context, a “Truly Madly Deeply” night at Claridges costs £455, and a “Timeless” weekend starts from £259, so if things go from bad to worse for the newly created Ministry of Justice, which they will, there are rooms available, even as I write.

And what does the government propose to tackle this problem? Build more prisons, which is not the solution! The problem of overcrowding will persist whilst the government approaches crime and punishment from a purely knee jerk reaction based on “catching the public mood.” That is no way to legislate, even in the short term.

The unpalatable truth is that we are sending far too many offenders to prison, full stop! We need to raise the custody threshold, not lower it all the time. And above all, we need to give back to the judges the power and the right to pass appropriate sentences, and not shackle them with flow charts and sentencing guidelines. It’s a complete shambles! What’s more, it’s uncivilised!

What is needed, first and foremost, is a properly funded, fully staffed and proactive probation service to supervise and rehabilitate offenders within the community. But if imprisonment or detention is essential, custodial sentences should be much shorter. Anybody who has been to prison, especially for the first time, will tell you that the first seven days are the worst. After that, they become dehumanised and desensitised, and simply “go with the flow.” The short, sharp shock, also known as “the clang of the prison gates,” is a far more effective deterrent than long and indeterminate sentences.

One final thought – there has been a lively debate recently on the evils of battery chicken farming, where these unfortunate birds are crammed together in small cages, and deprived of exercise and any quality of life, so I ask, where are all those so-called Human Rights lawyers taking the government to court for inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners crammed together in small cages, three or more at a time, designed for a single occupant, where they are deprived of proper exercise and any quality of life? Surely these human battery chickens are as deserving a case for immediate redress as their feathered counterparts?

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I greatly enjoyed Rowan Atkinson in the Blackadder series on television, and his Mr. Bean character, rather like the Curate’s egg, was good in parts, but speaking of curates, whatever possessed him to take on the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury? And why the beard? As my late father used to say: “Never trust a man in a beard, he’s got something to hide.” And what’s with the name? I mean, how many self respecting parents would name their infant son after a tree?

The problem with the Archbishop as a comedy role is that he’s getting laughs in all the wrong places, and that’s the kiss of death to all comedians. And talking of the kiss of death, and as a committed Anglican, I look to the Archbishop as a conduit between me and the Almighty, but I have this uneasy feeling that when I get to the pearly gates and mention his name, The Almighty will be totally mystified. And let’s face it, if the Almighty is mystified, what hope for us lesser mortals? Oh dear, I wonder if that’s blasphemous? And if so, will I be led to a place of execution and stoned to death? All very worrying.

It’s been going from bad to worse, this comedy routine, and it will end in tears. It was last Christmas, talk about bad timing, when the venerable Rowan told those of us who were listening that parts of the Nativity story were a figment of the imagination, and in particular, there were no three kings or wise men. Happily, my informant told me to log on to YouTube where I found a sternly worded rebuke from the direct descendent of King Melchior, so that’s put the record straight!

But there’s worse to come. News has reached me from the Royal Courts of Justice that Rowan now enjoins us to embrace Sharon’s Law, and somehow assimilate it into the law of the land. So I ask, in a spirit of enquiry, who’s this Sharon? I knew a Sharon once in my callow youth, and she was certainly a law unto herself, but that’s another story!

I’m confused. As St. Paul wrote: “For now I see through a glass, darkly.” Well frankly, he’s not alone. So I say, let’s leave Sharon to her own devices, Rowan should go back to reprising his best loved comedy roles, and leave the Great Debate to those better qualified to lead us to the Promised Land.

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I had one ear cocked towards the Today programme on the radio the other morning, as I do, and I listened with dismay to PC. Jones telling John Humphries about the procedures he has to follow if he stops some snot gobbling youth in the street late at night.

It made for depressing listening, as PC. Jones went through the forms he has to fill in there and then, and if he takes ‘executive action’, more forms to fill in when he gets back to the Station. According to the Daily Mail, and let’s face it, if it’s in the Daily Mail, it must be right, police officers spend a total of six million man hours each year filling in forms.

The other day, I watched a police video of a client of mine being booked in following his arrest for drink driving. Now I grant you he was less than co-operative, nothing, I hasten to add, to do with alcohol consumption, or so he told me in conference, he was just tired and naturally irritable, but the booking in procedure, with Sergeant Plod at the helm, was painful to behold. Plod tapped each key on his computer as if it were about to self-destruct. It’s enough to make strong men weep. The whole shambles took about fifteen minutes, time and enough, if my client had indeed been drinking, which he hadn’t, to sober up and pass the alcometer test with flying colours.

It’s the same with Traffic Wardens. You return to your car barely two minutes after you’ve parked for a quick dash to the bank, or whatever, only to find some sour faced petty functionary writing a short novel, all the while licking his pencil and sucking his teeth. And everything’s in triplicate.

We’ve lost the plot. I blame the Human Rights Act. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of basic human rights, they are the glue that binds together a civilised society, whether they’re enshrined in statute or evolve from plain old fashioned common sense and fair play.

So when it comes to plain old fashioned common sense, if PC. Jones simply clipped the youth around the ear and frog marched him back home, giving his mum a bit of plain old fashioned advice about parental responsibility at the same time, I’d be the first on my feet, cheering loudly. But that’s not going to happen. The snot gobbling youth, aided and abetted by his outraged mum, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Victim Support, will sue the Police Federation for breach of his human rights, and he’d almost certainly win. And then, with a nice wedge in compensation, he’d be back out on the streets in no time, more alcohol, more anti-social behaviour, and untouchable.

And what sort of message does this send out to his snot gobbling chums, and more to the point, to law abiding citizens such as our esteemed Home Secretary, scared witless, who are unlucky or foolish enough to be out on the streets at the same time? Avoid eye contact, cross to the other side, don’t provoke them, let them shout and scream, hurry home and lock the door.

How did we get it so wrong?

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