Friday, 18 January 2013

Keywords that find me

To the person who found this blog by asking Google, "how to prove your innocent" would it be crass of me to suggest you try calling me if you want to prove you are innocent?  I promise I'll do a totally top job and all that.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Gun control

This wasn't going to be a long post, but I seem to have gone on a bit longer than planned.  This isn't a thorough and detailed analysis of gun crime and control, but is just a couple of points I thought were worth making.

The people who are against gun control seem to claim that they are opposed to it for two main reasons:
  1. Guns don't kill people, people kill people; and
  2. Strict control of guns is an intrusion of the state into the lives of ordinary citizens.
The truth seems to me to be that most people opposed to gun control are really opposed because they like shooting and want to carry on doing it.

The anti-gun brigade are actually right on both points.  First, you can make a gun as powerful and deadly as you like but unless somebody picks it up and shoots it the thing is pretty safe.  The problem with this is that people DO pick them up and use them.  In the USA it happens rather frequently.  If we could accurately, consistently and reliably predict which individual is the one who will turn a gun on another person then we would use those data to protect the population by helping the potential killer to not kill.  But we can't.

Mental illness is a difficult area and the simple truth is that most killers but are not mentally ill and most people who are mentally ill are not killers.  Most disorders do not cause somebody to kill, let alone go on a shooting spree.  Take a look through DSM-IV or ICD-10, which classify disorders and diseases and you'll find a lot of mental illnesses but very few that could lead somebody to kill.  Depression is the most common mental illness, it's the bad back of the psychological world.  You have "had it" in some form or other, admittly yours may have been a mild temporary form of the emotion but did it lead you to want to kill others?  Do you think that being depressed would lead you to kill?  If no then it's not relevant to gun control, if yes then anybody who gets depressed should be kept away from guns and since that's everyone...

Serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, often disassociates the sufferer from the world around them.  A schizophrenic patient is unlikely to be able to order his or her thoughts and finds daily life almost impossible.  The planning involved in putting together a plan, the ammo, the guns, the route through and around the building etc is likely to be beyond somebody like that. 

A final clue that indicates whether mental illness is key to mass killings can be found all across eastern Europe where Hitler and his government founded death camps that killed millions.  These camps were staffed by otherwise ordinary people who ordered, planned and conducted to the mass killings.  They were not all mentally ill.

Another claim falls under the "guns don't kill people" heading, which is that if you ban guns people will just use other weapons to kill with.  Yes of course you can kill with other things.  But it is much harder to stand a few inches from somebody and plunge a knife into them than to shoot from many feet away.  I suspect it's harder emotionally to look somebody in the face, close enough to feel their breath on you, as you push a object into their body with your own hand and feel the blood pour out on to you.  I imagine it's also a lot harder as the other person is likely to fight you or run away! 

I had a client who went on a rampage with a machete a few years back.  It happened in a busy east London street.  He snapped inside his van and attacked his mate causing some injuries to the friend.  He got out and went for passers by... but they all ran away.  In the end his mate and some others wrestled him to the floor.  If he'd had a gun the result would have been very different.

You could use a car for a rampage, but again people find it relatively easy to escape a slow moving car compared to a bullet travelling at 750 metres per second.  You could build a bomb, but to be blunt few people have the skills and it's hardly the action of somebody who has snapped and wants to kill right now.

Turning to the second point about the government interfering in the lives of its citizens.  This is, I think, a weak argument.  Governments interfere with your lives every minute of every day.  You need a licence to drive a car... but why should the government be allowed to dictate who can and cannot drive?  I'm guessing nobody complains about that because if nobody was taught to drive you'd be at much higher risk of getting hit by somebody without a licence.  The acceptance of such things as driving licences (and laws governing food standards and hygiene for example), indicate that we as a society have no problem with government interfering in our daily lives when that interference is necessary and proportionate.

Further, if guns don't kill people and gun control is an outrageous restriction on liberty then the final conclusion must be that no weapon should be illegal.  If I happened to have the resources, skill and cash to build a nuclear weapon then why shouldn't I have it?  If I can afford surface-to-air missiles why shouldn't I be allowed to have them?

I have yet to hear anybody argue that nukes should be available for all, which leads me to the conclusion that even the pro-gun lobby would put restrictions on some weapons, which completely undermines both the "guns don't kill people" and "unfair restriction on liberty" arguments.  The real argument for pro-gunners must therefore be that the risk of some weapons, such as nukes, is too high.  Thus, we can infer that there is a death-toll that the gun lobby think is an acceptable trade-off to maintain their right to bear arms (and arm bears).

On a side note, I will confess that I am no American constitutional lawyer but it does occur to me that the second amendment to the US Constitution reads, in full:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
This would seem to say to my mind that the right to keep weaponry is part and parcel of being involved with the Militia and that said Militia should be "well regulated".  I'd suggest that gun controls are not unconstitutional as some like to claim.

In conclusion, you cannot predict who will kill and as a result you have a choice to either restrict who can arm themselves or accept that there will be gun deaths and that those killed in the mass killings will usually be the people least able to defence themselves.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Eddie Stobart Law

For many years now lawyers have been predicting the rise of Tesco-Law; the process by which big companies move into the legal sector and take all the business away from high street firms.  Lawyers have an unhealthy fascination with Tesco leading the way in all areas, including crime, despite it being fairly obvious that Tesco has spent decades positioning itself as the families friend who is always providing good food and clothes at reasonable prices.  After spending all that time and money, I cannot imagine a board meeting where the directors of Tesco all vote to re-position the brand as the burglars friend.  Or as the company that helps rapists get that little bit extra.  It simply isn't going to happen and thus far Tesco has shown no signs of wanting to get involved in the paltry returns provided by high street law.

There's a big thing at the moment as a big well known company has apparently moved into the legal sector: Eddie Stobart (okay I know he's dead but I don't know the name of the new boss) and his eponymous trucks have launched Stobart Barristers, which aims to put people in touch with direct access barristers - these are barristers who are allowed to act for clients without having a solicitor as a middleman.  There's been lots of "I told you so" and "the end is nigh" type comments flying around the legal world at the surprise announcement from Stobarts of this new venture.  I hear a rumour that a couple of barristers in Leeds have signed up to them, but beyond that they seem to be somewhat short of barristers.

But among the pronouncements of impending doom that the big companies are finally moving in to squash us little lawyers under their giant corporate jackboot is one small, but very important point... Stobart Barristers isn't a law firm!  In fact, there's nothing new about the concept at all.

The customer face of Stobart Barristers is a gentleman called Trevor Howarth.  He was previously the office manager for the well known Mr Loophole (who's real name I have temporarily forgotten, which is embarrassing) and was prosecuted, rather unfairly from what I hear, for conspiring with clients to put forward a false defence in a driving case.  He was of course acquitted completely.

I have no doubt that Mr Howarth is a valuable manager and is what I believe the Americans call a "rain maker" for his employers.  But he isn't a lawyer - at least the Bar Council, Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives all deny knowledge of him.  But, that's okay, because Stobart Barristers is not a law firm, it's a marketing and referral business.

These have existed for years.  Contact Law have been doing it for years.  Civil law firms pay them per case Contact Law refer to them and criminal firms pay a monthly subscription (because referral fees are banned in criminal law).  My reading of Stobart Barristers position is that it will be doing pretty much the same thing.

So, will Stobart Barristers change the legal landscape and herald the coming of the four horsemen of the supermarket giants?  Probably not unless they change their whole business model and become a law firm employing the barristers directly rather than passing on work for a fee.

Are Tesco any closer to getting involved in providing legal advice?  I have been assured by somebody who knows somebody that the directors of Tesco are definitely going to move into high street law.  However, I also have a mate who works for Tesco as some kind of international partnership manager who laughed very loudly at the idea and points out that Tesco is working hard to develop its partnership arrangements across the globe and is planning to continue develop that aspect of its business as well as sorting out its domestic problems rather than getting its hands very dirty with its customers divorces.  Incidentally, Tesco Plc lists its two prime strategic objectives as "1. To grow our UK core 2. To be an outstanding international retailer in stores and online".

So, in conclusion: Stobart Barristers appears to be absolutely nothing that dozens of others haven't tried before.  And, Tesco are not about to start defending rapists, murders and shoplifters.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Backlinks

For those of you who don't know, backlinks are a great way of boosting your website's rankings in search results and Google in particular pays a lot of attention to the number and quality of links from other websites to your site. 

I have come across a few of my fellow solicitors who have decided to use the comments section in some pretty ancient posts on this blog to advertise their own websites.

I welcome comments; however, if you want to advertise your services in the comment section here then have the good manners to ask first.  Otherwise I will simply delete such comments!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Happy New Year

I hope you all had a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

I don't have anything particularly interesting to talk about at the moment, so I thought I'd take the chance to talk about what I got up to over the "break".

Most of my Xmas and New Year was spent drink driving... not me, but my clients.  I was on duty Xmas Day and had a couple of calls for drink drivers who were denying being the driver and who the police had decided to interview (no idea why since they hardly ever seem to interview them at any other time even when they do deny driving).

As a firm believer in seasonality I took the regular clamp down on drink driving as a chance to set up a little website to attract some more business, which didn't turn out so bad.  As a result I have been thinking quite a lot about drink driving this festive season, although I am quite please that none of my clients have actually managed to hurt anybody on the roads, unlike one chap I saw in court today who mowed a pedestrian down while both drunk and disqualified!

Aside from drink drivers I have also spent the break dealing with the other big Xmas past time - beating up your loved ones!  I've had about 6 domestic violence cases over the last week ranging form the moderately serious to the sort where I'm scratching my head as to why he was arrested, more about that in a moment.  Most of the cases were what you'd expect, a man assaulting his female partner - the most serious of which was a threat to choke the victim. 

All of them involved the same combination of triggers: 1. Close proximity for a long period or time; and 2. Lots and lots of booze, in fact so much booze that most of the clients (and complainants) were unable to give full accounts of what had happened.

One case is worth mentioning in the "I can't understand why he was arrested" category.  Police are called by a wife who says she's been assaulted by her husband.  Police arrive and the wife gives her account, which is that her husband had been in contact with his ex so the ex could have contact with their kids who live with him.  Current wife doesn't like this and says she flew off the handle and attacked her husband initially with fists and then when he put his hand up to ward off her blows she bit him.  Shortly after she told police that she threw a glass bottle at him, which broke a window.

He gave an identical account in all respects except he says she threw his mobile telephone, destroying it along with the window, and not a bottle.

For reasons I cannot fathom the police arrested him, held him in a cell for 14 hours and then interviewed him during which they asked virtually no questions.  He gave his account and the officer said, "that's what she told us", quickly read her account then ended the interview and NFA'd the case!