Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Sexting teens “at risk of child porn charges”

Does sexting put teenagers at risk of a criminal conviction?


Yesterday, after appearing at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, I stopped on the way home at the motorway services for some lunch.  As I enjoyed some extra hot chicken, macho peas and sweet potato wedges (anyone want to guess which restaurant I stopped at?) I read the i newspaper, which is a concise edition of the Independent.

On page 15 is a story with the same title as this blog post.  The point of the story is that teenagers are prone to taking selfies and, in some of those selfies, said teenagers neglect to wear any clothes.  The story says, [c]urrently a teenager younger than 18 who takes a nude picture of themselves is technically guilty of creating child pornography.”  Later the story continues, “… a Nottingham schoolgirl received a police caution after sending an explicit photograph of herself to her boyfriend…”

For anybody who doesn’t know, a police caution is a form of case disposal in which the suspect confesses to an offence.  A caution should only be administered where the suspect would be likely to be convicted if the case went to court – at the very least I’d contend that conviction has to be at least possible in law.

So, what is the law on child abuse images?  You’ll note I’m not talking about “child porn” – pornography is something adults make and use.  When you start abusing kids and taking pictures it ain’t porn it’s pictures of children being abused!

It is an offence under section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 to take, permit to be taken, distribute, possess or publish any indecent photograph of a child, which the Act defines as somebody below 18-years-of-age.  There is a defence if the people involved are married, because of course a 16 or 17-year-old is both above the age of consent and is allowed to marry – this may make you wonder why this protection was necessary or why, if it is necessary, the Government of the day did not raise the ages of consent and marriage but there you go.

As you all know, the law does not stop at mere Acts of Parliament – we also need judges to interpret those Acts and tell us what they mean, because Parliament isn’t always good at making its intentions clear.

In 1885, Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act that made it a crime for a man (or boy) to have sex with a girl under the age of 16-years.  In 1893, Jane Tyrrell was aged between 13 and 16-years when she agreed to have sex with Thomas Ford.  As any good Victorian prosecutor would do, she was charged with aiding and abetting his “having unlawful carnal knowledge of her” and she was convicted at the Old Bailey.

Jane Tyrrell appealed her conviction in a case known as R v Tyrrell [1894] 1 QB 710.  The Crown Cases Reserved Court (a now defunct Victorian criminal appellate court) reached a unanimous decision and quashed her conviction.  In giving judgment Lord Coleridge CJ pointed out that the intention of Parliament in passing the 1885 Act was to protect women and children (he actually said the Act “… was passed with the intention of protecting women and girls from themselves. He used that line twice.).  He concludes that “… it is impossible to say that the Act… can have intended that the girls for whose protection it was passed should be punishable under it for the offences committed upon themselves.”

Matthew, J. was even clearer in condemning the prosecution’s position when he said, “I am of the same opinion.  I do not see how it would be possible to obtain convictions under the statute if the contention for the Crown were adopted, because nearly every section which deals with offences in respect of women and girls would create an offence in the woman or girl.  Such a result cannot have been intended by the legislature.  There is no trace in the statute of any intention to treat the woman or girl as criminal.”  Incidentally, Victorian judges were far more succinct than their modern counterparts – that is word for word the entire judgment by Matthew J!

So, we need to ask ourselves whether, in passing the Protection of Children Act 1978 Parliament intended to criminalise the very children it was seeking to protect?  I think the answer to that is an obvious no – just look at the name of the Act if you don’t believe me.

If Parliament did not intend to criminalise those children then you would expect any prosecution to be thrown out under the very clear principle in Tyrrell (which was followed by the Court of Appeal in R. v Whitehouse (Arthur) [1977] Q.B. 868) and thus you would have to contend that it would be impossible for any court to convict the Nottingham schoolgirl discussed in the newspaper story.  If it is impossible to convict then there can be no basis for the police offering a caution and absolutely no excuse for a solicitor advising the girl to accept said caution.

I intend to write to the i newspaper and urge them to speak to the family of this girl and have them take some proper legal advice on removing this caution because I cannot see how it can be allowed to stand.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Has Katie Hopkins incited racial hatred?

Katie Hopkins article in the Sun
Katie Hopkins article in the Sun


Sorry but this post is long and contains some actual law.

Last Saturday the Sun newspaper printed an article by Katie Hopkins that has garnered a great deal of public outrage, not least because it was published shortly before 700 migrants were killed trying to make the crossing that Mrs Hopkins discussed in her article.  I’m lead to believe, a number of reports to the police were made saying that the article incited racial hatred.  But does it?

In writing this blog, I will be honest and say that I begin from the starting point that the Sun has some pretty able solicitors working for it and I am dubious whether they would allow an article to be printed that crossed the line.  But, it’s always worth double-checking.

What are the offences?

The Public Order Act 1986 contains a number of crimes of which about five involve some form of racial hatred (but not including vanilla offences that can be racially aggravated).

There are two offences that are relevant to this discussion.  First is section 18, which makes it an offence to use words or behaviour or a display of written material that incites racial hatred.  The second is section 19, which criminalises the publishing or distribution of such material.

Section 18 says:
“(1) A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if—
(a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or
(b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.

There are two statutory defences, first that the words or behaviour were used only within a dwelling and “… he had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the written material displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling.”  The second statutory defence applies where the maker of the statement “… did not intend his words or behaviour, or the written material, to be, and was not aware that it might be, threatening, abusive or insulting.”

Section 19 says:
(1) A person who publishes or distributes written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting is guilty of an offence if—
(a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or
(b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.

There is a statutory defence where the “… accused who is not shown to have intended to stir up racial hatred to prove that he was not aware of the content of the material and did not suspect, and had no reason to suspect, that it was threatening, abusive or insulting.”

It is worth taking a moment to consider what “likely to” means in this context.  In Parkin v Norman [1983] Q.B. 92 the court considered what the words “likely to” meant in respect to section 5 of the POA 1986, which is an offence of causing harassment, alarm or distress.  The court in that case said that an outcome must be “likely” nor merely “liable” or possible.  In DPP v Ramos [2000] Crim. L.R. 768, R the Divisional Court said that the state of mind of the victim was crucial.  I respectfully suggest this is wrong since the offence is concerned with the intentions of the defendant.  In any event, in a situation like this it is hard to say who should be considered the victim, if anybody.  Also, Ramos was concerned with threats to bomb a campaign group made a few days after another bomb had exploded in Brixton so I am going to distinguish it and quietly ignore Ramos.

What do threatening, abusive or insulting mean?  In Brutus v Cozens [1973] AC 854 the court held that “insulting” should be given its ordinary meaning.  The courts have adopted this approach in respect to the words “threatening” and “abusive”.  By way of example, calling an Asian person a “fucking Islam” was found to be abusive in DPP v Humphrey [2005] EWHC 822 (Admin).  Helpfully, the Court of Appeal held in R v Ambrose (1973) 57 Cr. App. R. 538 insulting does not necessarily include words that are rude or offensive.

What is racial hatred?

Section 17 of the Public Order Act 1986 tells us that “… ‘racial hatred’ means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.”

It’s clear from the definition that contrary to the common response to being called a racist, racial hatred does not have to be directed against a race as such.  In Mandla v Dowell Lee [1983] 2 A.C. 548, HL the Law Lords went told us that an ethnic group can include people who are not from a biological common racial stock.  This excerpt is from Archbold 2015:

 “In Mandla v. Dowell Lee [1983] 2 A.C. 548, HL, it was held that a group of persons defined by reference to “ethnic origins” in the context of that provision meant a group which was a segment of the population distinguished from others by a sufficient combination of shared customs, beliefs, traditions and characteristics derived from a common or presumed common past, even if not drawn from what in biological terms was a common racial stock, in that it was that combination which gave them an historically determined social identity in their own eyes, and those outside the group.” (Emphasis added)

What do the CPS need to prove?

Having looked at the law, it’s clear that to secure a conviction to an offence under section 18, the prosecution must prove that:

  1. Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting have been used; and
  2. Either
    a. the intention in using those words was to stir up racial hatred, or
    b. that it was likely that racial hatred would be stirred up taking into account all of the circumstances.


To secure a conviction under section 19 the prosecution must prove:
  1. A person has published or distributed written material;
  2. That material was threatening, abusive or insulting; and
  3. Either
    a. the intention in using those words was to stir up racial hatred, or
    b. that it was likely that racial hatred would be stirred up taking into account all of the circumstances.

What did Katie Hopkins say and was it a crime?

Let me say from the start that in my opinion nothing Mrs Hopkins says is intended to stir up racial hatred.  I don’t think she is a political figure looking to score any political points; she appears to brand herself as the “most vilified woman in Britain” and her own public profile is the only thing she is trying to stir up.  Nonetheless, it could still be a crime if her actions were likely to stir up racial hatred.

In a relatively short rant, Mrs Hopkins expressed her views that immigrants fleeing war in North Africa should not be allowed to enter the UK.  You can read the entire article by downloading the photograph at the top of this blog, it’s not the clearest image ever but it is readable.  As I refuse to buy any Murdoch publications it is the copy I have worked from.

“No, I don’t care.  Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad.
“I still don’t care.
“Because in the next minute you’ll show me pictures of aggressive young men at Calais, spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship.
“Watching them try to clamber on to British lorries and steal their way into the UK, do I feel pity?  Only for the British drivers, who get hit with a fine every time one of this plague of feral humans ends up in their truck.”

Very unpleasant imagery invoked and you might think that it is a wholly repugnant way to think about your fellow human beings, but is it a crime?

Is this statement threatening?  No, clearly it is not.  Is it abusive by which we really mean is it abusing somebody or a group because of their race?  I’d suggest not.  Is it insulting?  The “aggressive young men at Calais” who are described as a “plague of feral humans” are clearly an ethnic group according to Mandla and comparing them to a contagious and deeply unpleasant disease makes sufferers extremely sick then saying they are feral can only be insulting to my mind.

So, we move on to consider whether using this description is likely “that racial hatred would be stirred up taking into account all of the circumstances.”  It’s a question for a judge of fact, be that a magistrate or jury, to decide.  My view is that while what she said is certainly insulting it is unlikely to stir up racial hatred.  Just.  I can certainly see arguments that this would be likely to stir up racial hatred but taken in the context of the main body of the article I doubt a jury would convict.

She goes on to say:
“And there is no stopping them, 170,000 came last year… There is a simple solution to this: It’s time for the Italians to stop singing opera, drinking espresso and looking chic in chuffing everything.
“It’s time to get Australian.
“Australians are like British people but with balls of steel, can-do brains, tiny hearts and whacking great gunships.
“They threaten them with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine in an Aussie version of sharia stoning.”

Reading this one has to wonder whether Mrs Hokins thinks in anything other than Bernard Manning-esque stereotypes but no matter we need to consider whether any of that is threatening, abusive or insulting.

Is it threatening?  Again this is a decision for a jury but in my opinion while it is right up to the line it does not actually step over the line into open threats.  While it says that the Australian navy threatens violence and implicitly calls on the Italian government to do the same I don’t think it can be suggested that Mrs Hopkins is making a threat.

Is it abusive?  I’d suggest not.  Is it insulting?  Maybe her view of the British isn’t the best in that she is implicitly saying the British are weak and unable to get things done but I don’t think she has actually insulted anybody.

Later Mrs Hopkins says:
“What we need are gunships sending these boats back to their own country.
“You want to make a better life for yourself?  Then you had better get creative in Northern Africa.”

During her radio show on LBC, Mrs Hopkins clarified her view on use of the gunships saying that she had meant the gunships should tow the migrant vessels back to African shore and then destroy the boats.  This appears to be borne out by a line later in the article.

Again, is this threatening?  Even if we ignore her later comments on the radio the article is clearly saying that the migrant vessels should be sent back to Africa rather than fired upon, which to my mind cannot be a threat.  Neither can I see anything abusive or insulting here.

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches.  They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb.
“They are survivors.
“Once gunships have driven them back to their shores, boats need to be burned on a huge bonfire…”

Let’s do our analysis.  First, there’s clearly no threats here.  Is Mrs Hopkins being abusive?  I think she’s just on the right side of the abusive line.  Is she being insulting?  Yes quite clearly calling a whole group of people cockroaches can only be intended to insult them, albeit she goes on to qualify the comparison by saying that they are the sort of people who would survive a nuclear bomb and that they are survivors.

You’ll note she talks again about the gunboats driving the migrant boats back to shore, undermining any threat you may have read into earlier comments in the article.

Since we have an insulting comment directed at a group that falls within the Mandla definition of a racial group we can consider whether her comments are likely to stir up racial hatred.  Once again, I have to conclude that they are not comments likely to stir up hatred of a racial group so much as stirring up hatred of the person making the comments.

Conclusion

Obviously, I have not attempted to analyse every word in the article.  I have taken the comments I see as the most likely to give rise to a prosecution for inciting racial hatred.

Having looked at these key comments, both out of context and in context, I must come to the conclusion that while parts of the article are certainly insulting to the migrants seeking to travel from Africa to Europe, I cannot conclude that the comments in the article are likely to stir up racial hatred as such neither Katie Hopkins nor the Sun newspaper can be guilty of any offence under sections 18 or 19 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Council's creating "bizarre" criminal offences

People meeting to show off their cars in a car park
A car-meet at a retail park



Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) allow councils to ban all kinds of behaviour that would otherwise be lawful and, in effect, to turn that behaviour into a criminal offence.  Personally, I'm not keen on local authorities having too much power, particularly after many were found to be abusing powers under RIPA to undertake intrusive surveillance to catch relatively petty criminals.

A PSPO allows councils to impose on the spot fines of £100 against people breaching the orders.

Examples of current PSPOs include:
  • A ban on motorists entering a retail park in Colchester, Essex after 6pm unless they are using shops and facilities
  • Criminalisation of begging for money in certain areas of Poole, in Dorset
  • A ban on the consumption of alcohol and legal highs in public spaces in the city centre by Lincoln Council
  • Outlawing the possession of an open container of alcohol in Cambridge
All of these examples have very worthy aims; the retail park ban aims to stop people meeting in car parks and showing off their cars, something that is reasonably common in Essex.  The bans on begging, consuming alcohol and possessing open containers of alcohol are there to prevent anti-social behaviour.

But, there is one question I'm confused about.  It's already an offence to be drunk and disorderly.  It's already an offence to drive dangerously or without due care and consideration for other road users.  Why not simply rely on the existing law?  Why is it necessary to give local councils powers to effectively create criminal offences at will?

Councils should, in my opinion at least, ask themselves whether imposing a PSPO is the most proportionate response to the problem.  For example, if people are meeting in car parks at night then why not advise the land owner that the gates should be locked at the close of business.  Most shops close between 6 and 8pm - you'll find that if people attending car meets have their cars locked in the car park over night they will stop meeting there, which is surely the point of the PSPO.

If people are drunk and disorderly then deal with them for that offence - if they are not drunk and disorderly but just minding their own business then what is the problem with them having a drink in a public area?

It is the fashion in the UK currently to identify things we don't like and then ban them - or at least attempt to ban them.  I have long said that using the criminal law to modify behaviour is much like using a sledge hammer to de-shell a peanut

Monday, 16 March 2015

Alleged drink driver commits suicide

Joe Lawton
Joe Lawton, who committed suicide after a drink driving arrest
I read today of the inquest into the death of a 17-year-old who committed suicide in August 2012 after being arrested for drink driving two-days earlier.

There is a view among many that people who drink and drive are irredeemably evil and deserve nothing but the hatred of society.  My specialism is defending people accused of drink driving offences; I used to use Twitter quite a lot and on Twitter a well-know TV doctor once made a sly dig in my direction along the lines of you have the right name for somebody who represents drink drivers.  My name, of course, is Nick Diable and Old Nick is one of the names of the Devil while Diable is the French word for Devil.  I can only presume that he was implying that drink drivers are all as evil as the Devil.

The truth is that some of those accused of drink driving are not guilty at all.  While the overwhelming majority of accused people (even the guilty ones) are not in any way evil or even bad people.  Most people accused of drink driving that I come into contact with have made a genuine mistake in underestimating the effect alcohol will have on them (my science teacher at school - a biologist - was convinced he could drink three-pints and be under the drink driving limit, he was probably wrong) or they don't realise how long alcohol remains in their system after a night drinking (one driving instructor I represented had left 12-hours between drinking and driving thinking that would be enough time - it wasn't).

I often hear people saying that we should reduce the drink driving limit to zero and that way everybody will know that you cannot have a drink and drive.  But, that doesn't deal with the people who don't understand how long alcohol takes to be eliminated from their bodies.  I suspect that all a lower limit would do is increase the numbers arrested the following morning  and would include those below the level where their driving is impaired by the alcohol in their bodies.  As with most things, education is the key.

The case of Joe Lawton also highlights another, unrelated issue.  In police custody suites the law says that 17-year-olds are treated as adults, although they are not treated as adults in most other areas of life, for example a 17-year-old cannot join the army without their parents permission and cannot vote at all.  A 17-year-old at court is treated as a child and appears in the youth once charged.  So, why are 17-year-olds treated as adults in the police station?  It's a mystery that I cannot explain.

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Joe Lawton.  I hope that this does not happen again to any other families.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Is grooming girls to join ISIS different to grooming for sexual abuse?

CCTV footage shows Shamima Begun, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana walking through security at Gatwick airport before boarding a flight to Turkey.
Amira Abase, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Shamima Begum, 15, at Gatwick airport
Last week three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London secretly met and began travelling from the UK to Syria where they intend to join Islamic State (ISIS).  The thing that struck me most was not that they made this journey but that so many people in the UK have such a heartless attitude to the three girls.

Many people on Facebook and Twitter take the view that the girls are little more than terrorists and deserve what’s coming their way.  In the Independent, Grace Dent called the girls “ISIS fangirls” and went on to say that children running away to join ISIS should not be allowed to return to the UK.

I can understand why somebody would take that attitude but I don’t think it is a position that holds up to analysis.

Some years ago I represented a man who groomed children for sex.  I’ve met quite a few such men but this one was by far the most successful I’ve come across.  He convinced whole families of what a nice man he was.  He persuaded parents to sign “modelling” permission slips that allowed him to take teenage girls, aged from 13 to 18 years, into his home to photograph them - he managed to photograph all but one of the teenage girls who lived on the street in varying degrees of undress, about 10 girls in total.  Incidentally, he didn’t take them into his own home; so convincing was he that he took them into the home of his (adult) girlfriend and her teenage daughter whom he was secretly raping.  He was also raping other girls on the street.  These were not one-off incidents; this was a systematic targeting of girls and their families on an entire street over more than a year.  None of the girls complained and nearly all of them went back to this man, even introducing their friends for abuse by him.  Two 15-year-old sisters in particular clearly hated him but went back time and time again, often on a daily basis, knowing that they would be subjected to painful and humiliating sexual attacks, including vaginal and anal rape, bondage and beatings.

What made those girls return to him?  It was the work he did before and after the attacks to groom the girls.  He’d use a mix of gifts, kindness, cajoling and threats to get his victims to bend to his will.

The evidence seems to suggest that something very similar is happening to girls like the three currently heading to Syria.  They are contacted by people either on the internet or in person and are convinced that they should be joining ISIS.  These are not simply young girls sitting about at home watching the news and thinking “cor blimey that looks like a fun way to live”; these are girls who are young, still children and who are being manipulated by adults.  To me there seems to be very little difference between children groomed to join ISIS and children groomed for sexual abuse: same techniques used to control children for the fulfilment of an adult’s agenda.

I have little sympathy for adults who seek to join terrorist groups like ISIS, but I have a great deal of sympathy for children who have been manipulated so they can be taken from their homes to be abused, which seems to be what awaits these girls if they reach their destination.  They should be treated as victims, albeit potentially dangerous victims, and helped to see how they have been manipulated not banned from re-entering the UK as many, including the Independent seem to want.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Revenge porn... yet again

Revenge porn
This is the third time I have returned to the subject of revenge porn (previous posts are here and here) and I’d like to make clear from the outset that I am not some sort of pervert worried that his fun is going to be ruined by this new law… okay I’m not just a pervert (that’s a joke by the way).

The offence is now on the statue books and is contained within the brand new Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which received Royal Assent last week.  Section 33 makes it a criminal offence:

“for a person to disclose a private sexual photograph or film if the disclosure is made—
(a)without the consent of an individual who appears in the photograph or film, and
(b)with the intention of causing that individual distress.”

Note there that the Act is talking about a “disclosure”, not a publication.  So, while it is convenient to think of somebody posting a picture of their ex to the internet this offence could be committed by showing the photograph, for example to people in the pub, without actually publishing it.

The section then goes on to create four defences:

  1. Disclosure to the person in the photograph;
  2. Disclosure of the images is necessary to prevent crime;
  3. Publication by the press (it might be illegal for you to put the pictures on an obscure website but it’s okay for Rupert Murdoch to put them on the newsstands for your mum to see); and
  4. The images have previously been publish “for reward” and the defendant had no reason to think that previous publication was done without the consent of the person in the image.


It’s worth noting that the offence is not limited to the original publisher.  So, if Kevin is upset because Melanie dumped him and he takes revenge by posting some saucy photographs on the Twitter then Kevin will be guilty.  However, if Mark sees them and wants to add to Melanie’s suffering then he commits an offence by hitting the retweet button (let’s be honest I think Facebookers are the more likely culprits of this sort of thing, so maybe I should say the “share” button). 

Many of us will have seen the Facebook posts where the party of the first part denounces the party of the second part as an adulterous bastard and accompanies the post with a photograph of the party of the first part’s part with a reference to its inferior size…no?  Just me then is it?  Well, take it from me that such posts are invariably shared with additional comments about just how awful the unhung scoundrel is.  It seems likely to me that such re-sharing of the image will constitute an offence under the Act.  Will there be an appetite to go after prosecutions on a Lord McAlpine scale?  I doubt it.

With that we move on to the real problem with the offence as I see it.  The definition of the offence requires the defendant to disclose the image “with the intention of causing [the person pictured] distress”.  How will we know if the defendant was motivated by a desire to cause distress?  You might think that the answer is obvious: if Ricky is upset at Bianca and shares tawdry image of her knowing it will cause her distress then he must have meant to cause her distress since that is the obvious outcome of his actions?  Well, subsection 8 has something to say about that:

“A person charged with an offence under this section is not to be taken to have disclosed a photograph or film with the intention of causing distress merely because that was a natural and probable consequence of the disclosure.”

So we have the dilemma of how to prove that Ricky meant to cause Bianca distress.  If Ricky says he didn't mean to cause distress then how are we to disprove that in light of subsection 8?

As I have said so often on this blog, there is a tendency for politicians to react to the outrage of the day by abusing the criminal law; twisting it to purposes it was never intended to handle.  I think that this might just be one of those situations.  It is easier for a politician to say, “this is a crime” (even with as many caveats as this offence has) then it is to say “look you lot need to take some responsibility for yourself.  If you don’t want mucky pictures of yourself on the internet then don’t share them with other people.”  It’s also an easier sell to the press to say “we've made this illegal” than it is to say “we’re encouraging parents and teachers to educate kids about how not to get into this situation as adults.”

The biggest problem is that it does little to address the actual harm at its heart.  Even if Ricky goes to prison for 20-years (which he obviously won't) the pictures will still be on-line for all to see.  That's why I see this offence as a shirking of politicians duty to protect those who might do their reputation some serious cyber-harm.

Time will tell how effective this law will be…and how badly I've ruined my browser history finding a picture for this post.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

That bloody Europe

The European Court of Human Rights is much funkier than Ealing Magistrates' Court


As we all know Europe’s sole reason for existing is to frustrate the British Government and annoy the British people with their directives, regulations and pesky decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

The minor fact that the European Union has nothing to do with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is just a technicality – they’re all in it together.

A big complaint among those opposed to Europe is the ban placed upon us by the ECtHR preventing us from locking up murderers and throwing away the key.  I did point out what a lot of nonsense this is more than a year ago in January 2014 in Aiming for a century.

In a nutshell the problem arose because the UK government abolished the review of whole of life sentences that used to take place when they were 25-years into their sentence.  The ECtHR, not unreasonably, puts rehabilitation at the core of the convention – the idea that somebody can atone for their crimes and one day earn their freedom.  This doesn’t mean it should be a fast process or that an offender shouldn’t be punished; it does mean that hope of freedom should not be taken away and recognises that people do change.  The man who commits a murder aged 25 is probably not the same man who hopes for release at age 60!  I know it’s only a film but Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption gives an excellent example of this in his speech to the parole board.

This morning the ECtHR handed down a judgment in Hutchinson v United Kingdom holding that whole of life sentences are lawful because section 30 Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 allows release on compassionate grounds and is a sufficient review process.

So, once again, we see that the criticism of human rights law and “Europe” is overblown and, generally speaking, incorrect.

Having said that, I disagree with the decision in Hutchinson.  Compassionate release is a process mainly aimed at situations where the offender is ill or elderly.  That may be sufficient in most cases, but I do think there should be a review possible to confirm that the original whole of life tariff remains correct even after 25-years have passed and public outcry has faded.