Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Stupidity of the system

I sometimes find myself despairing at the stupidity of the Criminal Justice System.  It's 5am as I write this and I've just had a client charged with the offence of causing a public nuisance, which is an ancient common law offence of little value in the modern world - I tend to think that when an offence is so rooted in history that nearly all the major developments happened not in this century, nor the one before and only barely in the one before that it may be time to let the offence quietly die.  The earliest case on public nuisance I can easily find that is still relevant dates from 1703 and the current definition of the offence appears to date from sometime prior to 1835!

Public nuisance, no matter how ancient, isn't the stupidity that has me up and annoyed when I should be asleep.

In this case, the accused was transiting the UK at a major airport.  His flight was delayed and staff found his behaviour sufficiently egregious that they called police after a threat was made (but not carried out) to damage the airport carpet.  The accused denies that this happened.

Any sensible person would look at this relatively minor offence by a foreign national, kick them out of the country and ban them from ever returning, even simply to transit through.  Given that the UK is one of the world's major transit hubs you'd think that this would cause difficulties enough.  But no, here in the UK we would rather charge somebody with an ancient offence and hold them in custody to ensure that they miss the flight that would relieve the British taxpayer of the burden of dealing with them.

Assuming that this person is convicted, they are going to receive a small fine at worst - I say this because despite the charge this is really an allegation of making threats to cause criminal damage under s. 2 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971.  The Magistrates' Courts Sentencing Guidelines indicate a maximum of a fine where actual but minor damage has been caused.

Given that this person denies committing the offence, what will the system do if she enters a not guilty plea and chooses to be tried in the Crown Court?  They'll refuse him bail and keep him in custody resulting in a huge cost to the taxpayer.  I've seen this done before in other cases and only once have I managed to successfully persuade a court that simply because somebody is a foreigner doesn't mean that they are going to fail to attend court.  In the last case of this type, a man was accused of going equipped to shoplift - nothing had been stolen.  He had no previous convictions in the UK, denied the offence and was remanded in custody to await a trial that had been set for two-months hence!  The sentencing guidelines indicate a sentence of up to a community order, i.e. not prison.

I'm not arguing that foreigners should have carte blanche to do as they please in the UK without fear of punishment, but what I am saying is that when an offence is so minor that the only realistic punishment is a small fine (that will probably never be paid) then it is not in the interests of the British public to prosecute and spend taxpayers money on what is effectively a pointless prosecution.

I've always found the following to be the wisest part of the Code for Crown prosecutors:
"5.6   In 1951, Lord Shawcross, who was Attorney General, made
the classic statement on public interest, which has been
supported by Attorneys General ever since: “It has never been
the rule in this country — I hope it never will be — that
suspected criminal offences must automatically be the subject
of prosecution”. (House of Commons Debates, volume 483,
column 681, 29 January 1951.) "

Monday, 16 June 2014

Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn

Julian Huppert MP, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, has called for a new law to outlaw “revenge porn”.  Now for those who don’t know, revenge porn is the name given to the publishing online of intimate photographs of an ex-partner for the purposes of taking revenge for some real or imagined offence by the “victim”.

Mr Huppert correctly points out that “[l]ives can be ruined, personal relationships destroyed and jobs lost”.  That’s terrible, but it raises a couple of important questions: a) does the harm necessitate yet another criminal offence?  And b) is the criminal law an appropriate tool for dealing with this type of behaviour, i.e. should “revenge porn” be a crime?

Over the past 20-years or so, it has become very trendy for Governments in the UK to create new criminal offences – I believe that by the end of the last Labour government they had created more new crimes then every other government before them put together!  As a student barrister, I was taught that going to law, i.e. suing somebody, should be a last resort.  Equally, creating a new crime should be a last resort for a government.

Let’s have a quick think about what “revenge porn” actually is.  These are photographs of people, usually but not always women, in intimate situations – they may be straightforward nudes or photographs of the individual in flagranti.  They are images taken with the person’s permission; if they were not then taking the photographs would already be a crime under section 67(3) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.  They are photographs of adults; again, such photographs of people under 18-years of age are already criminal.

Taking a common sense approach, we all know that if we allow somebody else to have an intimate photograph of ourselves then we are taking a risk that the image will appear online or will be seen by somebody else – whether deliberately, accidentally or as a result of the device they are stored on being stolen.  To my mind, criminal law is very much a bandage for covering a wound.  It is not great at preventing crime happening… if you don’t believe me then take a look at how many crimes happen every year, all committed by people who have not been put off by the illegality of their actions!

Prevention is far better than a cure.  It occurs to me that children should be taught to think their actions through and consider what the consequences of an action might be.  Thus, when they reach their late teens (and even far greater ages – anybody remember Leslie Grantham?) they might consider the possible consequences of sharing these types of photographs and not do it!

In addition, we might try teaching children that when somebody shows a great deal of trust in us we should not break that trust.

One of the things I encounter regularly and which I see as a major problem in our society is the abdication of responsibility.  I represented somebody at trial once who took a taxi to court each morning.  He was on benefits and eventually ran out of funds for his taxi.  Rather than accept that he should have just taken a bus the short distance from home to court he blamed the court for not paying for his transport!  When I did legal aid work, I regularly came across parents who blamed teachers, police, courts and anybody but themselves for their child’s inability to accept authority.  Duty solicitors will recognise the type who shows up at court for their trial having done nothing to prepare their case or get a solicitor and expect to rely on the duty only to become angry when they find the duty won’t help them.

Politicians add to the sense that everything wrong in your life is somebody else’s fault with constant calls to criminalise every type of reprehensible conduct.  Ultimately, “revenge porn” photographs are pictures that an adult has agreed to allow somebody to take or keep.  Quite frankly, if you are old enough to vote then you are old enough to know that when you take a picture of your tits, balls or whatever there is a chance it will end up on the internet and old enough to make that decision.

Turning back to the two questions I originally posed myself: does the harm necessitate a new criminal offence?  I answer this in the negative.  There is potential for harm to the person in the photograph but the harm is obvious and easily foreseeable at the time the photograph is taken.  The people we are talking about are adults with the power to join the army, marry and vote at elections, if they cannot weigh up the risks and benefits then they shouldn’t be allowed to leave their house in the morning!

The second question was: is the criminal law an appropriate tool for dealing with this type of behaviour?  Criminal law is a sledgehammer that should be used in appropriate circumstances.  It is not good at shaping behaviour.  Would a criminal offence stop the photographs circulating online?  Not a chance.  Would it stop an angry ex-boyfriend who feels he’s been wronged posting a photograph online?  No, it doesn’t stop people committing other crimes so why would it stop this?

We each have decisions to make in life.  We each know the risks and benefits of each decision we take.  Each one of use must accept that we are responsible for those decisions and their foreseeable consequences.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Criminal property

A real life burglar... no idea why police can't catch them given they all
wear stripy tops and carry bags marked "SWAG"

Tomorrow I am at a west London Crown Court starting a trial for possessing criminal property, contrary to section 329(1)(c) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.  Let me begin by assuring you that this is a provision that does two things: a) it really pisses me off; and b) it shows why the legislature should not put its faith in the prosecuting authorities only using criminal offences for the purpose the legislature intended.

My case is straightforward, prosecution say my guy has a stolen laptop in his possession and that he knew or suspected it to be stolen.  If they are correct then he is guilty, if he bought it honestly then he is not guilty.  Easy.

You may be forgiven for thinking that possessing stolen property is an offence called “handling stolen goods”.  If you thought that then you are correct, section 22(1) of the Theft Act 1968 reads:

“A person handles stolen goods if (otherwise than in the course of the stealing) knowing or believing them to be  stolen goods he dishonestly receives the  goods, or dishonestly undertakes or assists in their retention, removal, disposal or realisation by or for the benefit of another person, or if he arranges to do so.”

So, to convict somebody of handling the prosecution would have to prove that the laptop was stolen, that he knew or believed the goods to be stolen and having such knowledge dishonestly receives the goods.  The dishonesty part is important here; let us say that John offers Mark a laptop, which Mark recognises as having been stolen from Lucy.  Mark agrees to buy the laptop from John so that he can return it to Lucy.  In those circumstances, he is accepting stolen goods that he knows to be stolen but he is not acting dishonestly so he is not guilty of an offence.  Obviously, if he intended to keep the laptop rather than return it he would be acting dishonestly and would be guilty of handling.

Now, let us turn to section 329(1) of the 2002 Act, which reads:

“A person commits an offence if he—
(a) acquires criminal property;
(b) uses criminal property;
(c) has possession of criminal property.”

Section 329(1) creates three ways in which an offence can be committed, i.e. by acquiring, using or possessing criminal property.  This section must be read in conjunction with section 340(3), which defines “criminal property”:

“Property is criminal property if—
(a) it constitutes a person's benefit from criminal conduct or it represents such a benefit (in whole or part and whether directly or indirectly), and
(b) the alleged offender knows or suspects that it constitutes or represents such a benefit.”

So, to prove an offence of possessing criminal property the prosecution need only to prove that the defendant had possession of something that is the “benefit” of a crime and the defendant needs to suspect that the property represents such a benefit.  Because it is much easier to prove a suspicion than a belief, as required for the Theft Act and because there is no need to prove any dishonesty at all the prosecution find it much easier to secure a conviction for possessing criminal property than for handling stolen goods.  In our example with John, Mark and Lucy, Mark would be guilty of possessing criminal property even where he intends to return it to Lucy because there is no need to be dishonest.  Mark might well have a defence, but remember in the Theft Act the prosecution must prove dishonesty, there is no requirement for Mark to prove anything.  In the possession offence, it is for Mark to prove his defence, so we can see that this offence effectively reverses the burden of proof for Mark.

Like me, you may be thinking that describing a stolen laptop or TV as “a person’s benefit from criminal conduct” is a bloody odd thing to do.  The wording looks daft as a brush for a very good reason; section 329 is designed to unify and replace old offences under the Drug Trafficking Act 1994, Criminal Justice Act 1988 and various offences relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland.  When Parliament sat down to write this piece of legislation it was trying to bring to justice drug smugglers, gangsters and those who work for them ferreting away their ill-gotten gains.  In other words, Parliament’s intention was to prosecute money launderers.

You can see this clearly when you look at the defences to possession of criminal property, which include making an authorised disclosure to the authorities before taking possession of the criminal property.  Thus if you are a lawyer who is holding money for a client you suspect may have got it from crime you can report this to the police before you take the loot and your back is covered… well until your gangster client finds out and you wake up with a horse’s head on your pillow!  Another defence relates to crimes committed overseas where the activity was lawful… these are not defences that are ever likely to apply to stolen TVs and computers!

At no point, did Parliament intend this heavy-duty legislation to be used to criminalise a the type of person who buys an iffy tele from a bloke in the pub… they didn’t need to do that because it was already illegal!

This leads us on to a very important question: why do the Crown Prosecution Service insist on charging inappropriate offences when there are offences designed for the precise facts of their case?  Around 2004, I started to notice handling charges being preferred with possession of criminal property as an alternative count.  It was obviously being done so that if the CPS failed to get home on the proper charge they had the easier one to fall back on.  10-years later and they don’t even bother trying to get a conviction on handling the only reason I can think is that when you have to prove extra points the trial takes slightly longer resulting in higher costs.  So, the prosecution pursue these inappropriate charges simply to save money rather than to see justice done properly.

Does it make a difference in practice?  We’ve already seen that in some cases charging s.329 instead of handling stolen goods results in an effective reversal of the burden of proof thus making it harder for an innocent defendant to prove their innocence.  You’ll also notice that handling and possession of criminal property have a maximum sentence of 14-years-imprisonment, so you might think it a little unfair that the prosecution can get you sent to prison for just as long by using an offence that requires far less evidence.  Also, handling is an offence of dishonesty.  Prospective employers may make a decision about hiring somebody who has proven themselves to be dishonest in the past, whereas possessing criminal property has no dishonesty element to it.

Although this post was written before the start of the trial – I have held it back until the conclusion so as to avoid any problems.

After the case, I spoke to the police officer about why they use money laundering legislation rather than the Theft Act.  He pointed out that for every successful prosecution of Proceeds of Crime Act offences, his team receive a share of any cash recovered.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Emotional abuse of a child: Cinderella’s Law

There’s been a lot of talk on the TV, radio and in the press over the past couple of days about the introduction of a new criminaloffence to outlaw the emotional abuse of children. 

Because all new laws involving children are now required by the Ministry of Silly Names to have a silly name, this proposed law is called the Cinderella Law.  Presumably because the ugly sisters neglected her and subjected her to regular verbal abuse.

I heard a solicitor, described by the radio presenter as a “children’s lawyer”, on my radio yesterday explaining how we should avoid introducing this law because it would be “impossible to define” and difficult to implement.  With respect, laziness is one of the worst reasons not to do something if it is important enough to need doing. 

In this instance, there is a far better reason for not introducing this Cinderella Law.  I point to section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which already criminalises emotional abuse and child neglect.  It reads:

“(1) If any person who has attained the age of sixteen years and [has responsibility for] any child or young person under that age, wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes him, or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement), that person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable… to imprisonment for any term not exceeding ten years”

It’s a bit wordy but would this 81-year-old law protect a modern-day Cinderella?  Well, yes it would.  “Ill-treats” sounds old-fashioned to the modern ear but its meaning is easy to decipher.  It’s not a physical assault as that is covered by “wilfully assaults”.  It’s not neglecting, abandoning or exposing a child as they all get their own mentions.  Archbold, the criminal lawyer’s bible, tells us, at 19-386, that to make out an allegation of ill-treatment, “bullying or frightening will suffice”.

How often are cases of ill-treatment prosecuted?  Well I don’t know and I doubt that there are any figures kept for that specific part of s.1(1) of the 1933 Act.  I've certainly acted in such a case where the child accused the parents of, among other things, emotionally abusing him.  In that case, the child told his teacher that his parents would tell him they wished he’d never been born, that he was worthless, that they wished he was dead and that he was not as good a person as his siblings.

So, should we introduce a brand-spanking new law to do exactly what a perfectly good 81-year-old law does?  No, I don’t think we should.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

What's the point any more?

Not my judge... but might as well have been

I had the joy of travelling to court today for a wasted costs hearing.

If you don’t know, where costs are incurred by a party to proceedings because of an improper act or omission by another party the court may award costs against the party who did the improper act or omitted to act.  These are known by lawyers as wasted costs.  This is important because it allows a party to recover costs they would not have incurred but for the other party’s error.  This can be used by the prosecution or defence in criminal proceedings.  It is not an easy test to meet and the party making the application must show that there was something improper about the other party’s act or omission.

In my case, the Defendant had been acquitted.  More correctly, the prosecution had discontinued the case the day before trial despite being aware that they had no case since the very first court hearing.  Had they acted properly at that first hearing they would have discontinued the case immediately.  Because they did not the Defendant was forced to defend himself.  We thus argued that the Crown had omitted to act and that their failure had resulted in unnecessary costs to the Defendant.

The judge at today’s hearing heard the arguments on both side, read the written submissions and agreed with the Defence submissions that the Crown’s failure to act was improper.  He rejected all of the prosecution’s arguments and criticised their approach to defending the wasted costs order.  The District Judge said:
“In this case investigation was poor from the outset.  The Defence drew the Crown’s attention to a major defect [in the Crown’s case] and the Crown failed to respond expeditiously or notify the Defence of their conclusion to the point where this got to within 24 hours of trial before discontinuance.”

The Crown had sought to rely upon their lack of resources as a defence to the wasted costs application.  The DJ criticised their response to our application thus:
“Singh v Ealing Magistrates’ Court tells us that pressure on resources is no defence.  It is a pity that the Crown’s skeleton argument is a cut and paste job that includes parts from many other skeletons that have come before me.  It pleads ‘lack of resources’ despite Singh and it is not specifically directed to this application.”

The DJ went on to complain about consistent and repeated failures by the Crown to comply with court orders and the Criminal Procedure Rules.  He ruled that:
“There has been an improper omission to review the case expeditiously… I take the view that because of that failure the Defence has been put to additional work.”

Much to my surprise he then declined to make a wasted costs order saying that he was exercising his discretion not to make such an order; however, he did make a Defence Costs Order.  The problem for the Defendant is that a DCO is capped at a very low hourly rate; however, wasted costs orders are not capped and so the applicant can recover what they have actually spent.

So, the Defendant is now in the position of having been prosecuted for a crime he didn’t commit.  He’s been put to additional expense because of failings by the prosecution.  He’s done absolutely nothing wrong.  Despite all that he’s left out of pocket.  I don’t understand why and I doubt he does either.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The sin of poverty we do disdain

Morpeth Street Coronation Street Party
I went to see my parents yesterday; they don’t often talk about their childhoods but yesterday my mum told me about the death of her Nan and a time when one of her elder brother had pneumonia.

As a child, my mum lived in a condemned slum dwelling in east London where I’m told that the ground floor lacked floorboards and was uninhabitable.  A couple of years ago my uncle (who is about 15 years older than my mum) told me that he was ashamed to live there and despised the acceptance of the conditions they lived in by those around him.

It was in those conditions just prior to the beginnings of the NHS that my great-grandmother fell ill.  There was no NHS to help her and the family could not afford to pay a doctor.  They were fortunate that the Whitechapel hospital was very charitable and doctors could be found to tend to the sick.  A doctor duly visited my great-grandmother at the family home and promised to do anything he could to help her.

The doctor left to go about his work; he’d been gone less than five minutes when my great-grandmother died.

Had there been access to proper housing, GPs and other medical help then who knows whether she might have lived longer?

The other story was very similar – her older brother contracted pneumonia as a child; there was no NHS to turn to and the family could not afford to pay a doctor.  This time there were no charitable doctors willing or able to give their time to treat a seriously ill child.  Fortunately, he lived – but imagine being a mum or dad, having a very ill child, knowing he might die and that there are doctors nearby who can help him but not having the money to pay for that help.  This is in living memory, in the capital city of the UK not in some two-bit former-colony... yes USA I am looking at you!

For all their talk of praising the NHS and keeping services free at the point of use, politicians are failing to protect a vital service to which a lot of citizens in other countries would love to have access.  Yes, yes, I can hear the cynics already simultaneously decrying the claim that other countries envy our NHS while grumbling about all those foreigners coming over here to use our free NHS and failing to grasp the contradiction there.  I suggest many in the USA would love a fairer system, such as the thousands who lined up for days to access a range of free medical services, including childhood immunisations that could save the life of a kid and that we take for granted.  Incidentally, health insurance for a family in 2009 cost an average of $13,375, that's more than I pay on my mortgage each year!

It is quite possible and even probably that the rich pay more to fund the NHS than they would do under a wholly privatised system.  To them I say, so what?  Nobody likes giving away their money but the alternative is a return to the previous system where those who can pay live and those who cannot die.  We, as a society, need people to do low-paid work because some jobs need to be done and are never going to pay a huge amount of money.  The least a society can do is look after those who need help in moments of crisis.

UKIP say they would keep the NHS free at the point of use but read the small print and they want us to have a health service like Austria, where the overwhelming majority of care is privately funded.  Thus leaving the potential for unmet need for many of the poorest in society and adding additional financial pressure on hard-working families who need to pay for medical insurance.

Labour began the process of privatisation, which is now being taken forward at speed by the Tories.  I don’t have a problem with commercial companies making a profit (not even a big profit… or even a fucking massive profit) if they are acting fairly and lawfully but I do have a problem with the privatisation of public services.  It just never goes well.  The railways are an expensive, complicated nightmare (e.g. a season ticket on the train would cost me £518 per month compared to £265.67 per month to drive, which includes insurance, road tax, petrol and purchase price of my motorbike).  Government IT system fuck-ups are too numerous to mention, the court interpreters contract was an expensive mess as was the Defence Solicitor Call Centre.  Don't get me started on the expensive waste that is the PFI scheme.  And just think what happened when the LAPD was privatised in RoboCop!

As for the Liberal Democrats, well I voted for them last time and I’m not doing that again!

All too frequently at the moment poverty is something to be disdained by the political classes and to be poor is equated with being unmeritorious in some way - TV shows like Benefit Street and How to Get a Council House depict the poor as scrounging layabouts or members of the criminal classes.  Politicians and others talk in ways that suggest poverty is a sin or even that those claiming to be too poor to feed themselves are simply liars on the scrounge for a free dinner.

What is the point of this post?  I don’t really know – maybe it’s a chance for me to moan about politicians or maybe it’s a chance to share a story to remind people that going back to a time without a path from cradle to grave is a horrific thought.  Maybe it’s just the fact that as I type this post Billy Bragg is blaring out of my stereo:

“I was a miner
I was a docker
I was a railway man
Between the wars
I raised a family
In times of austerity
With sweat at the foundry
Between the wars

I paid the union and as times got harder
I looked to the government to help the working man
And they brought prosperity down at the armoury
"We're arming for peace me boys"
Between the wars

I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man
Theirs is a land of hope and glory
Mine is the green field and the factory floor
Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers
And mine is the peace we knew
Between the wars

Call up the craftsmen
Bring me the draughtsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent
To any government
That does not deny a man a living wage

Go find the young men never to fight again
Bring up the banners from the days gone by
Sweet moderation
Heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are
Between the wars”

Friday, 2 May 2014

Police power to stop vehicles for others

A police road check in action

Last night I caught part of a BBC3 TV programme that focused on different aspects of parking from one man who hangs about outside his house with binoculars trained on anybody daring to park on “my” road to bailiffs engaged in stopping motorists who had outstanding parking fines and seizing their vehicles.  It was the bailiffs that interested me the most.

First, I should say that bailiffs do not have the power to stop traffic, only the police can do that and, sure enough, there were police officers conducting the stops to allow the bailiffs to carry out their work.  My first thought was that surely the police have better ways to spend their limited resources than helping private companies enforce civil debts (parking tickets were decriminalised a long time ago).  Then I got to wondering how the police could have the power to stop somebody for such a reason.

There are a variety of powers that allow the police to stop a motor vehicle but the one that seems the most relevant is section 163(1) Road Traffic Act 1988, which reads:

“A person driving a motor vehicle on a road must stop the vehicle on being required to do so by a constable in uniform

It is a criminal offence under s. 163(3) for a person to fail to comply.

The rule seems pretty clear: a police officer in uniform can stop any car they fancy whenever they like.  That would be absurd.  For example, a PC angry that his wife had left him for another man could use this power to lawfully stop her new lover.  Clearly, an unrestricted and unfettered power would be wrong.  In the case of R v Waterfield [1963] 3 All ER 659, the court held that section 163 does not permit the police to stop a vehicle for an improper purpose.  This line of reasoning was followed a decade later in Hoffman v Thomas [1974] RTR 182 in which the court held that a constable must be acting in execution of his duty for a stop under what is now section 163 to be lawful.

The issue in Hoffman was whether a police constable had power to require a motorist to stop and at a census point.  The court in that case found that assisting in the conduct of a census was not part of the police officer’s duty, which at common law is to protect life and property and, as such, the constable was not acting in the execution of his duty and so the motorist was not guilty.

Later cases have expanded on these themes such as to allow a lawful breath test to be conducting notwithstanding the unlawfulness of the stop.  It was also suggested that random stops are perfectly lawful in that they give a police officer an opportunity to form a view on whether somebody has been drink driving etc.  However, it is important to note that these would likely be reasons that fall within the execution of his duty.

We must now ask ourselves what it means for a constable to be acting in the execution of his duty?  In Hoffman the court decided that a police officer’s duty is the preservation of life and property.  Now, I do not know how much consideration the court gave to that definition but, I believe it is broadly accurate, if somewhat old fashioned. 

The Association of Chief Police Officers in what their call their “Peelian Principles” states that, “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. (http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/reports/2012/201210PolicingintheUKFinal.pdf)  I would add to that “detect and investigate crime” as well, but that could arguably be included in the word “prevent”.  That seems like a pretty good mission statement for any police force so we can infer that the duty of a police officer is to prevent crime and disorder.

Is assisting a private, for profit, company to collect civil debts acting in the execution of a police constable’s duty?  I think that the answer has to be “sometimes”.  Where bailiffs are collecting goods from an address the police may be asked to attend where the bailiff believes that an offence may occur if the police are not present.  Fair enough.  So, what would happen if bailiffs attempted to flag down passing cars from the side of the road without the police being present?  Most likely is that the cars would continue driving past.  Would an offence be committed?  I don’t see why an offence is any more likely in that situation than any other.

If a police constable stops vehicles simply to allow a private company to collect civil debts does that prevent crime and disorder?  I would suggest that it does not.  Therefore, I believe we can say with some certainty that a stop under s. 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 would not be lawful in such circumstances.

Which leads me back to my original questions: don’t senior police officers have anything better to do than send their officers out working as debt collectors?