Thursday, 30 July 2015

Do I really need a solicitor?

Man in handcuffs appears before a wigged judge
I'm not sure what country this court is in but you get the idea

I am approached fairly regularly by people who have gone to court without a solicitor because they’re “just pleading guilty” and it’s a “simple case” only to find that they have been shafted by the court.

In the most recent example, I spoke to a man who has some very ancient convictions from the 1980s and a more recent drink driving conviction from 2005.  The sentencing guidelines indicate that somebody pleading not guilty should receive a driving disqualification of between 36 and 52 months.

Having looked at the prosecution evidence there are no aggravating features beyond the previous conviction, which the sentencing guidelines take into account anyway.  There is always something to be said in mitigation, whether it’s mitigation of the offence or personal mitigation.  Although, having seen a number of unrepresented defendant’s they rarely put their mitigation well.

If I had appeared at court I would have been advising this person to expect a disqualification of between 36-48 months plus unpaid work of around 200-hours, taking account of the fact he has no convictions for a decade and was pleading guilty.

The District Judge passing sentence decided to impose a 60-month driving ban without giving any reason why he was ignoring the guidelines.  He also failed to give the defendant any discount for his early guilty plea also without any explanation.

What’s the moral of the story?  Get a bloody solicitor!

Here’s a really great solicitor (well it’s worth a try).

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Defendants held in custody as no solicitor available to seek bail

Royal Courts of Justice
Royal Courts of (in)Justice

On the 1st July 2015, the government introduced a cut to solicitors legal aid fees, this was about a 9.51% cut from the rate applicable on the 30th June 2015 (nb at the same time the head of the Legal Aid Agency was awarded a 10% pay rise) and is part of an overall 17.5% cut in fees since the March 2014.  In reality, the cut is far more than a mere 17.5% because fees have been changed in other ways that need not concern us here, suffice to say that some of the cuts to fees are as high as 50% reductions!

Since the 1st July 2015, a very large number of criminal legal aid solicitors have been refusing to work for the new fees.  I am not surprised by this; I began handing back my legal aid contract in 2011 and ceased all legal aid work in June 2012 partly because the rates then were so low that I could not earn a living and simultaneous provide clients with the level of service that a) they deserved; and b) my obligations as a solicitor required.

The Ministry of Justice has claimed that the action is having no impact whatsoever; however, the police clearly do not agree with the Guardian reporting that “South Yorkshire police and other forces have confirmed that cases are backing up in custody suites and interview rooms”.  My own experience has been witnessing row upon row of unrepresented defendants in court waiting areas looking on, somewhat jealously, at those who can afford to pay privately for a solicitor to defend them.  I appeared at Uxbridge magistrates’ court earlier this week.  I asked court staff how things were going and was told it was a nightmare.  No defendants were ready and the court was preparing to sit at least two-hours late to 6.30pm and possibly beyond – this was at 11am!

Anyway, the point of this blog is really to discuss a point I saw made in the Guardian newspaper this morning.  They say that the protest has resulted “… in many defendants being remanded in custody because there is no solicitor available to apply for bail on their behalf.
With no solicitors, will you be relying
on the court cat to represent you?

Section 4(1) of the Bail Act 1976 couldn’t get much clearer, “A person to whom this section applies shall be granted bail …” it goes on to set out a number of exceptions, such as after convictions, but none of the exceptions includes “when there is no solicitor available to make an application”.

The court is obliged, by section 4(2)(a) to consider whether a defendant should be released on bail when “he appears or is brought before a magistrates’ court or the Crown Court in the course of or in connection with proceedings for the offence.”  Thus it is not sufficient for a court to say that they are going to refuse bail because there is no solicitor present to apply for bail.

Part of the point of this action, as I see it, is to show government, the courts and the public what life would be like without defence solicitors in court to assist all those involved.  

What have we learnt from the action so far?  Clearly that without defence solicitors the courts struggle to deal with unrepresented defendants.  More worrying is that without defence solicitors present to remind the courts of their obligations, the courts seem happy to ride roughshod over the rights of defendants appearing before them.

So, next time you are complaining about defence solicitors just remember that they are the ones who ensure that the power of the courts and the executive are kept in check!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Government to ban psychoactive drugs

Psychoactive drugs

"Drugs are bad, M'kay" so says South Park Elementary school counsellor Mr Mackey.  Clearly, the Home Secretary agrees and has proudly proclaimed that she has banned over 500 drugs in the past 5-years.

I imagine that making all those orders to ban drugs must get quite tedious, which is why Mrs May has come up with the ingenious solution of banning all psychoactive drugs.  The point of this is to prevent people taking legal highs, which are often made by untrained people, working in unsafe environments and using questionable ingredients.  Quite how that doesn't already breach some health and safety law is beyond me, but apparently it doesn't because the government wants to stop people taking them.

As a lawyer, there are two questions I think are important.  First, what is a legal high?  Secondly, what is a psychoactive drug?

To answer the first question, I asked Frank who told me that "'[l]egal highs' ... contain one or more chemical substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs".

The World Health Organisation defines a psychoactive drug as "Psychoactive substances are substances that, when taken in or administered into one's system, affect mental processes, e.g. cognition or affect."

The Government of the Northern Territory in Australia goes on to say "The term 'psychoactive drug' is used to describe any chemical substance that affects mood, perception or consciousness as a result of changes in the functioning of the nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
"Psychoactive drugs are divided into 3 groups:
  • depressants: they slow down the central nervous system; for example: tranquillisers, alcohol, petrol, heroin and other opiates, cannabis (in low doses)
  • stimulants: they excite the nervous system; for example: nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine
  • A steaming cup of coffee
    Coffee: a popular legal high
  • hallucinogens: they distort how things are perceived; for example: LSD, mescaline, 'magic mushrooms', cannabis (in high doses)."
The fact that alcohol, petrol, nicotine and caffeine are all psychoactive drugs that many of us use every day makes me wonder whether this is the correct way to tackle drug use... by the way fans of anal sex might like to know that poppers are also a psychoactive drug!!  Watch out Ann Summers.

Diphenhydramine is a drug that blocks a neuro-transmitter called histamine in the brain to relax involuntary muscle movements and to help people get to sleep, which is why it is the active ingredient in Nytol.  

Obviously, Mrs May is not about to ban booze, fags, Starbucks and sleeping aids so she'll create a special exception for them.  That's nice, but lets not forget that there are a lot of medical uses for psychoactive drugs that aren't obvious to the average person on the street.  I suspect that if Mrs May does go down this route then she may find herself creating as many exceptions to the new law as substances she banned under the old law!

Group of friends enjoying a beer
Wild-eyed drugs users
I find Mrs May's approach odd for two reasons.  First, the Tories have always struck me as a party that, on the whole, believes in a libertarian style of government - albeit one that at times imposes somewhat draconian rules on people it isn't very fond of.  Secondly, the legal system in England and Wales has always been one that allows people to do whatever they like until such time as the law says an activity is banned.  Continental systems are often the opposite in that they have a legal code that regulates what can be done by an individual.  So, it seems odd that a famously anti-Europe party seems to be driving us toward a more European style of law making.

My personal view, is that the UK should follow Portugal by effectively decriminalising drug use while simultaneously bolstering support services for those who want to stop using drugs.  I think that this offers the best way to a) cut down on drug related crime; b) regulate and thus make drugs safer for users; c) rather than draining money from the economy through law enforcement, courts and prisons, drugs users could contribute to society by paying tax on their drug use; and d) it will make people more likely to seek help to kick their habit if they know they will not be prosecuted and that there are services out there that can help them.

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.


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.