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Challenging forensic evidence is crucial in criminal trials

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You may, or may not, know that I specialise in motoring law and that my practice has a particular emphasis on drink driving, drug driving and the associated offences. Because these offences usually require some scientific enquiry to be conducted to prove guilt, they frequently include forensic evidence and today I want to look at how courts deal with forensic evidence and challenges to it.
Let’s assume that somebody has been arrested for drink driving and, for whatever reason, the police have taken blood to assess how much alcohol is in his body. The prosecution will usually provide a document called an SFR1, which is a summary of the scientific examiner’s findings. It is not a document that is admissible itself, although it can be admitted if all parties agree. If a party does not agree to the summary being admitted then the prosecution ask the expert to produce an SFR2 document, which is a formal witness statement containing all of the experts findings and is in an admissible forma…

Does the current law protect police drivers who use force to stop motorcyclists?

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The Metropolitan Police – that’s the one’s in London if you didn’t know – have released a video showing their officers using police cars to ram moped and motorcycle riders from their bikes. Watching the video with no context you could be forgiven for concluding that these are unreasonably heavy handed tactics that put lives at risk; however, police officers who I trust to know about these things have told me that these tactics are only used to end protracted chases where members of the public are put at risk and to catch the most dangerous offenders. The police conduct risk assessments as events are unfolding both by officers involved in the pursuit and by senior officers back at the police station monitoring events.
This post is not about whether those tactics are right or wrong, instead I want to look at the potential legal consequences for police officers taking these actions and what, if anything, the law can do to protect them.
Ramming other vehicles off the road is not something…

Guilty until proven innocent?

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A couple of years ago the government introduced a new system of bringing prosecutions in the magistrates’ court, called the Single Justice Procedure Notice (SJPN). This procedure allows the police to initiate prosecutions more speedily than under the old system and effectively allows trials to be held in which the defendant is almost deemed guilty from the start.
It can only be used for non-imprisonable offences but that can include a surprising range of allegations, e.g. it was recently used to prosecute an HGV driver alleged to have knocked down a cyclist.
This new procedure arises from an amendment made to section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that allows for criminal proceedings to be instituted by the service of a written charge. Where a written charge is issued the prosecutor must at the same time issue either a requisition or a Single Justice Procedure Notice, which is a document that requires the recipient to serve on a magistrates court a notice saying whether they ar…

Why people hate lawyers

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Our society flourishes because it is built upon a system of rules that apply to everyone and which make our society a safe and predictable place to do business… at least they do if you know the rules and follow them. We call these rules “the law” and without them there would be no contracts providing us with a framework for our daily exchanges of money for goods, no consumer protections preventing unscrupulous manufacturers selling our children dangerous toys or toxic food, there would be no police to catch those who would seek to harm us because, of course, without laws there would be no rules to ban harming others, instead at best we’d have vigilante justice. With no laws structuring our society, would we have advanced much beyond the squalor and violence of the measly middle ages? These laws we have that provide the structure to our society exist only because lawyers draft them, debate them and enforce them.
Shakespeare recognised the importance of law and lawyers when he had Dick…

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 …