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  • October 2001 Is the government determined to do away with criminal defence lawyers? I think they have decided to fun 'putting it about a bit'. Many law firms who were inveigled into accepting the LSC's 'criminal' criminal contracts, are now finding the error of their ways. Put simply, the LSC ('Legal Services Commission') pulled a simple and characteristically dishonest con-trick. Like all confidence tricks it fed upon the self delusion of the people being conned. The LSC drafted a contract which was, and is oppressive and abusive. It insisted on solicitors firms signing it. They refused. The contract required the LSC to pre-estimate the payments to be made on account over the first period of the contract. By ever so gently egging the pudding, they overestimated the amount of money the firms would earn within that period. It looked as if the firms would be earning a sensible pittance. Many firms gave in and signed. A couple of relaxations were agreed in the contracts, and firms fell into their arms at a trickle, then a run. A year later, many are now being asked for their money back. Of course many will not be able to pay, and wil go under. This suits the LSC entirely. The rest will be in hock to the LSC forever, and at their not so tender mercy, and the ones who have gone they feel are the ones they did not want. The number and quality of firms (present company excepted) remaining to offer legal assistance to defendants in criminal cases is much reduced, and the bills are of course rather less.
  • May 2001 A case has demonstrated both the danger and virtue of video evidence in a criminal trial. A young man was prosecuted for theft from is employer. He was cashing up, and thevideo surveillance cameras showed, or seemed to show, him stashing the cash, which later went missing. So convincing was the tape, that his co-accused hd already pleaded guilty, been sentenced, and indeed had served his sentence.

    The trial of this chap was reaching its conclusion, when a juror halted th screening, and pointed out to the court that the video actually showed the defendant placing the money on the table, where it should have been. The trial was halted, and he was acquitted.

    The case demonstrates several factors.

    1. First, that video evidence can be very misleading. Here, it was not a continuous film, but a series of stills. Many intelligent, and no doubt diligent, lawyers, police officers, and no doubt also two defendants, had seen it tme and again, and been mislead. Equally, I suppose, it was the tape which led to the acquittal.
    2. Second, people usually see what they expect to see. It sometimes takes real character and determination to see the reality.
    3. Third, there is no doubt that under the new system proposed by Mr Straw, this defendant would not have had the opportunity to place his case before a jury, and he would have been falseley convicted.
    4. Last. His friend admitted the offence. Not because he did it, but rather because the sausage factory which we now have instead of a system of justice puts so much pressure on defendants to admit an offence, that many people do admit what they have not done, simply to avoid the horror of a trial.
September 2000Greenpeace Protesters acquitted

Let nobody say that Radio 4's Archers are not prescient. Life has followed art, and Lord Melchett and his Greenpeace cohorts have been acquitted by a jury on charges of criminal damage to genetically modified crops.It was clear and undenied that they caused the damage. The argument was as to whether the act was lawful.

First, we should clear up one misconception. The acquittal was not an excusing of the activists for an unlawful act. Some have argued that the case excuses criminal conduct. It does not. I can damage my own property as I wish. Not all damage is unlawful. If I am in immediate danger of injury from your property, I can destroy it as a form of self-defence. It is not unlawful. The defence of necessity argued in this case is just such a case. The damage is not unlawful if the defence is established.

Does the case threaten anarchy? Will hordes of vandals be free to wander the streets causing havoc and mayhem willy nilly? Not on your Nelly. The decision is one in a whole line of decisions over the years, where a jury has returned what seems, from a conventional point of view, somewhere between irrational and perverse. Series of such decisions have, in the past, put to sleep several unpopular Acts, including at one time the Official Secrets Act, the Computer Misuse Act and now the Criminal Damage Act.

The decision of a jury is not a precedent. In the next case, if (when?) there is one, a jury will start again from scratch. The decision made by this Norwich jury will not be mentioned and will be entirely irrelevant. The same decision may be made again, and it may not. The evidence in that case will have to decide that case. If the same happens again, it might become clear to those in the prosecuting authorities that there is a substantial cross section of the British public who have sympathy for the arguments against genetically engineered crops. If so, then We shall see.

And the Archers? All this had been presaged months ago when a young archer did almost everything the same. He damaged the crop, was arrested and held inside for a few days, released, and tried several months later where he ran the same arguments as Lord Melchett, and succeeded in just the same way. The only difference is that Lord Melchet's case didn't have the love interest.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
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18 October 2013 339 18 October 2013