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Reporting on criminal cases

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Since the arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson for contempt of court there has been a lot of complaints from members of the public both in the UK and abroad who are concerned that a “journalist” could be imprisoned for doing their job in the UK. Americans seem particularly shocked at what has happened, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to investigate the law and consider why it is as it is.
What is the law in the UK?
Criminal contempt is a common law offence that involves a serious interference with the administration of justice or creates a real risk that the administration of justice will be prejudiced. It cannot be a mere non-compliance with court orders.
Insofar as journalists and other publishers of news content go, section 1 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 is very important because it tells us that where information is published with the intention of it being consumed by the public at large then that publication will be a crime if it tends to interfere with the course of j…

Is there twice as much violent crime in the UK versus the USA?

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I came across a screenshot of a Twitter post while on Facebook this morning. The original post now has 11,000 retweets and 23,000 likes on Twitter. As you can see from the picture somebody called Charlie Kirk, who is a right-wing American commentator, claims that there are 933 violent crimes in the UK per 100,000 people. This is more than double the rate he claims for the USA where he says there are only 399 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The UK doesn’t feel that violent to me, so is it true?
We’re all gonna die
According to the FBI, in 2016 there were 1,248,185 violent crimes committed across the whole of the USA. That is an increase of 4.1% on the 2015 figure but still represented only 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people. So, Mr Kirk appears to be slightly overestimating the violent crime in the USA. I should say that I am using the 2016 figures as those are the latest available on the FBI website, so maybe he has slightly different ones.
The Office for National Statistics repo…

National Identity Cards

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Following the Second World War, Britain called for help from the people of the Commonwealth to come and fill thousands of job vacancies. Many answered the call and came to be known as the Windrush Generation after named the MV Empire Windrush, which docked in Tilbury on the 22nd June 1948 bringing the first workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. The Home Office inevitably screwed up and caused a huge number of problems for members of the Windrush Generation. But their story is not the subject of this blog. Instead, I want to look at a side issue that has raised its weary head once again: ID cards. Alan Johnson and Charles Clarke, both former Home Secretaries, have begun a call for ID cards as the solution to the troubles of undocumented British citizens who have not had their status regularised. ID cards pop up every few years and I’ve no doubt that eventually we’ll have a compulsory piece of plastic foisted upon us that will actually do very little for anybody in the UK, but which …

Off to war

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The UK government recently launched airstrikes against targets in Syria alongside the US and France. The result was a lot of criticism from people in the UK arguing that the use of force is unlawful because it either breaches international law or because the UK Parliament was not consulted.
Lots of this furore seems to be stoked by Russia who are already upset at having been accused of poisoning one of their former spies in Salisbury recently and who have responded with an upsurge in propaganda aimed at the West in general and the UK in particular, including bizarre claims that the UK staged the chemical attack that triggered the air strikes.
So, what is the law on committing British forces to military action?
I’m going to gloss over international law for two reasons. First, I don’t really understand it and do not feel qualified to comment on it. Secondly, I’m not entirely convinced it exists. Sure, there are rules but they are really just political agreements and there is little that c…

Sentencing drink drivers: analysis of the Ant McPartlin case

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I haven’t blogged about drink driving for a while, which is a bit of a shame for me since drink driving cases form the bulk of my case load. So, with the conviction and sentencing of Ant McPartlin, of Ant and Dec fame, this seems like a great time to talk about how sentencing works in drink driving cases using this case as an example. Mr McPartlin entered a guilty plea when he appeared in court, which negates the need for a trial because he admits that he committed the offence. The maximum sentence is six-months imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a driving disqualification. The minimum driving ban is 12 months but there is no cap on what the magistrates can impose, although I have yet to personally witness anybody receive a ban longer than five years and first-time offenders will rarely get such a lengthy ban. It should be noted that although the ban may end after a year or two, the conviction remains recorded on your driving record for 11 years. Once the defendant pleads guilty, the m…

What's so wrong about hacking an MPs website?

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Kemi Badenoch, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden and, bizarrely for an MP with just a few months experience, Conservative Party vice-chairman with responsibility for selecting candidates in the 2022 election today confessed that ten-years ago she hacked into the website of a Labour MP to make changes to that MP’s website to “say nice things about Tories”.
This is a problem for two reasons so far as I can see.
First, we live in a climate where allegations of underhand and barely legal election tactics are thrown about regularly, apparently with some evidence to suggest that they are more than just allegations. Do we really want people in the House of Commons and at the top of the governing party who have confessed to engaging in completely illegal behaviour to influence voters?
Secondly, I mentioned that this sort of thing is illegal because it is a serious offence. It would appear likely that the MP whose website was hacked was Harriet Harman, then deputy leader of the ruling Labour Par…

Video evidence

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Legal practice, at least contentious legal practice, is all about evidence. One side brings a case by putting to the court and their opponent some evidence that they say proves their case. The other side responds by seeking to exclude, undermine or rebut that evidence, usually with evidence of their own. Exchanging evidence, call it discovery or disclosure as you will, is the all-important key to winning a case. Effective disclosure leads one side to thrown in the towel and give up. Failing to disclose leads to a loss in court, at best, and a wasted costs order at worst. Since evidence is so important you’d think somebody would have thought up a way to get that evidence to the people who need to see it quickly and efficiently while preserving the security of the information. I manage it in my firm through the use of encrypted uploads to secure cloud services and software that lets me to email the links to encrypted files that magically decrypt themselves upon receipt. It costs me about …