What happened in 2011?

As we enter the final week of 2011 it’s a time for reflection and to look back on what’s happened over the last 12 months.  There’s certainly been a lot to talk about and some interesting blogging opportunities were created as a result.

In January the media were still somewhat pre-occupied with Christopher Jeffries who had been arrested on suspicion of murdering Joanna Yates.  Of course, later another man was convicted for that murder that took place in December 2010.  However, the treatment of Jeffries by the media raised some important questions over the way in which the media reported ongoing police investigations and their obligations under Contempt of Court laws.

January also saw the first former Member of Parliament to be sentenced over the 20009 expenses scandal which had been trundelling along causing huge damage to the reputation of Parliament and many who sat within it.  The first former MP to be sentenced was David Chaytor, a former Labour MP, who was given an 18 months custodial sentence for his part in the expenses scandal.

January also brought us the end of the Tommy Sheridan Perjury saga.  This had been running since 2006 when Tommy Sheridan, a former MSP, won a defamation action against the News of the World at the Court of Session.  It later transpired that he had perjured himself during that trial and having been convicted in December by a jury at the High Court in Glasgow following the longest ever perjury trial in the history of Scots law, Sheridan was sentenced to 3 years in custody.

February saw an impassioned debate in the House of Commons on the issue of Prisoners’ votes.  This issue has been brushed aside for a number of years and follows the decision in the European Court of Human Rights in the Hirst case.  The House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected giving votes to convicted prisoners.  However, with the Hirst judgment from the European Court and pressure from the Council of Europe 2012 could see legislation extending the franchise to some prisoners being brought forward.  In any event, the current Government will need to deal with it before the demit office in 2015.

In March the outgoing Lord Advocate, Dame Elish Angiolini QC, put on record her thoughts on the requirement for Corroboration in rape cases.  Dame Elish’s argument centred on the fact that, in her view, the Corroboration requirement in rape cases could be open to challenge on the grounds that it breaches the victim’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In April Lord Carloway issued his consultative document on criminal procedure and evidence in Scots law.  Lord Carloway was asked to conduct the review by Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill MSP, in November 2010 following the October 2010 UK Supreme Court decision in the Cadder case.  The decision caused chaos in Scotland as the UK Supreme Court held that the practice in Scotland of allowing the police to detain someone and question them for a period of up to six hours without access to a Solicitor was a breach of the suspect’s Article 6 rights.

May was quite a busy month in terms of blogging on this site.  The verdict of the jury at the Inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the 2009 London G20 protests was that Mr Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood.  Some people in the Police were not too happy with this verdict and appeared to be of the view that they should be beyond challenge because taking decisions in these situations was difficult.  Not something that I agreed with and I made that clear when I wrote about the Inquest’s verdict.

On Thursday 5 May 2011 Scotland went to the polls to elect the fourth session of the Scottish Parliament.  The result of that election was something that many thought to be quite impossible: a single party securing an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.  The SNP became the first party to secure an overall majority in Parliament.  Following that result came analysis of what it now meant for the SNP and also an examination of what happened to the Scottish Labour Party in that election as they had lost a number of seats in their traditional Glasgow heartland.

May also saw Sky News beginning to show live streaming of cases before the UK Supreme Court on the Sky News website, this represented a big milestone in legal history.  The UK Supreme Court is the first UK Court to have its proceedings routinely filmed and broadcast live.  Other UK Courts are likely to follow the UK Supreme Court’s lead and we could see cases routinely being shown on TV in the years to come.

By the End of May the Privacy debate was well and truly underway as Super-injunctions and anonymised injunctions came in for sustained attack and criticism.  One of the big cases that was involved was of the footballer known only as CTB who was widely known and named frequently on Twitter but who could not (and indeed still cannot) be named in the traditional press.  The UK Parliament began looking at this issue and the usual desperately poor reporting of legal matters confused the debate with all injunctions quickly becoming known as, quite incorrectly, super-injunctions.

My look at Super-injunctions on this website got interrupted by the outrageous attacks made by Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, no doubt bolstered by their recent historic electoral success, against the UK Supreme Court and its involvement in Scottish criminal cases.  Some of the comments made by Salmond and MacAskill were deeply personal and highly inappropriate for senior Government officials to be making about the Judiciary.

Finally May saw the new SNP Government publish its first piece of proposed legislation.  This was the controversial anti-sectarian Bill that would later pass into law with almost no meaningful changes having been made to it.

June brought the sad news of the death of Lord Rodger, one of Scotland’s two justices on the UK Supreme Court.  Lord Rodger’s death was a big loss for that Court and for the Scottish legal profession.

In July the Crown Office instructed Strathclyde Police to carry out an investigation into phone-hacking in Scotland.  This followed revelations that phone-hacking, once thought to have been confined only to the News of the World might have been happening at its Scottish edition.  The Crown Office instructed Strathclyde Police to look at four things while it conducted this investigation including police corruption in Scotland and perjury allegations arising out of the trial of Tommy Sheridan for Perjury the previous year.

July also saw the last ever edition of the News of the World.  The paper ceased to be published following the revelations that illegal and unethical practices were not confined to a rogue few but were commonplace at the newspaper.

In August the Metropolitan Police shot and Killed Mark Duggan and what followed was days of mass public disorder, violence and looting in towns and cities around England.  Courts sat all night in the days that followed the riots and soon people were beginning to question the sentences being handed won by the Courts.  People who had never before been convicted of a crime or had come to the attention of the police were being sentenced to lengthy period of custody for low values thefts carried out during the disorder.  Most of the sentences were later upheld by the Court of Appeal.

October and November saw the debate around the SNP’s anti-sectarian Bill intensify but it was becoming clear that the SNP were not for dropping the Bill.  Minor revisions were eventually made to the Bill, but the Bill largely remained in its original format and the huge number of criticisms levelled against the Bill were left unaddressed as the Bill passed at Stage 3.  It was the first example of the SNP using its overall majority to force through poor legislation.

In November Lord Justice Leveson began his inquiry into the Culture, Ethics and Practice of the Media.  Lord Justice Leveson was appointed by the Prime Minister in July to conduct an inquiry and to make recommendations in light of the wide-scale corrupt and illegal practices uncovered at the News of the World and which are also considered to extend beyond the News of the World into other tabloid newspapers.

In December it was announced that Lord Reed, an inner-house judge of the Court of Session, had been appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court.  His appointment filled the vacancy left by the passing of Lord Rodger earlier in the year.

So, that’s a quick round-up of some of what has happened in 2011 in the UK legal and political world.  Much, much more has happened over the course of 2011.  What were your highlights of 2011?