News, Politics

Vote2013: English and Welsh local authority results

Throughout today the results have been flooding in from those local authorities in England and Wales which had gone to the polls yesterday to elect councillors.  A total of 2362 seats were up for grabs from the North of England through to the South and in Wales, Anglesey was the only area voting yesterday (a total of 30 seats there).

In England the vast majority of the seats were in the south of England making it firmly Conservative territory where the battle would likely be between the Conservatives and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).  The results were as follows:

England_Local_Election_Results_2013
Wales_Local_Election_Results_2013

The big surprise in this election has certainly been the rise of UKIP.  An increase in their representation on these councils compared to 2009 of 1737% is a roaring success for the party.  Quite what factors went into that success will no doubt be heavily analysed over the coming days as pundits and politicians alike try and work out what effect, if any, this will have on the 2015 general election.  There will certainly be a mid-term and protest element to that vote, but it could also be a sign that the three main parties (the Conservatives in particular) are not engaging with the public properly on issues like Europe and Immigration.  The rights and wrongs of Europe and immigration policy are not a subject for this blog though.

The UKIP success will inevitably open the party up to greater scrutiny; that was already evidence in the last couple of weeks of the campaign.  Not only the personalities of those who have been elected, but the feasibility of its policies (and any gaps in its policies) will also come under greater scrutiny.  The question is whether UKIP were prepared for success on this scale; if not, then this could be a one off success for them outside of European elections.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives both had a hard time.  The Conservatives lost control of 10 of the councils they held going into the election and both the Lib Dems and conservatives saw the number of councillors in the councils which voted yesterday drop by around a quarter.  These will no doubt be uncomfortable figures for David Cameron and Nick Clegg as the two work together in coalition, but at the same time try to put their parties on an election footing heading into the 2015 general election.

The Labour Party saw some success, increasing its representation on the Council which were elected yesterday by 117%.  The Party held onto Durham, regained Derbyshire (from No overall control) and took Nottinghamshire from the conservatives.  These results will certainly take some of the pressure of Ed Milliband from within the party.  However, for a party hoping to win the next general election, the results could have still been better.

The other notable result in England’s local elections was the loss of presence from of the British National Party; they lost all three seats that they were defending.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru should also be happy with a 50% increase in representation in Anglesey, one of those local authorities (like Cornwall) where the largest group of councillors are the independents.

There will no doubt be much more analysis over the coming days of these results.  The above thoughts are my (extremely) initial thoughts on the results.  More will undoubtedly follow here over the coming days as well.

News, Scots Law

Lord Reed appointed to the Supreme Court

It was announced today that Lord Reed has been appointed to the United Kingdom Supreme Court.  His appointment follows the untimely death of the highly regarded and much respected Lord Rodger who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Lord Reed was appointed a judge in the Court of Session and High Court if Justiciary in 1998 and was appointed to the Inner house in 2008.  Lord Reed has sat in the European Court of Human Rights on an ad hoc basis and was one of the Scottish Judges who was drafted in to the UK Supreme Court following the death of Lord Rodger.

Lord Reed has a wealth of experience to take to the Supreme Court, principally around Commercial, Public and European Law.

With Lord Reed having been appointed to the Supreme Court and with Lord Hamilton due to retire next year there will be fresh faces to the benches of the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary in the first half of next year.  The Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland is already seeking applicants to fill vacancies expected to arise until June 2012 and suitably qualified persons are invited to apply by 9 January 2012.

Lord Reed’s appointment to the Supreme Court will become effective from a date to be agreed between him, the President of the UK Supreme Court and Lord Hamilton.

Cadder, Carloway Review, Criminal Law, Legal System, News, Scots Law

Cadder round 2: Judgment applies beyond the Police

It has been reported that Sheriff Murphy has delivered a judgment at Glasgow Sheriff Court that could potentially through Scottish Criminal Procedure into total chaos again.  Sheriff Murphy has ruled that the protections afforded to suspects being interview by the Police following the case of Cadder v HMA in the UK Supreme Court last year extend beyond the police.  Effectively the judgment covers all agencies interviewing persons where criminal charges might result.

Some examples of agencies that would be included are the UK Border Agency, Customs, the DWP and local authorities.  This could have huge ramifications in everything from those entering the UK through Scotland’s ports and airports illegally to the person claiming housing benefit to which they are not entitled.  Even being interviewed by the TV Licensing authorities for not having a TV licence would be covered.

Last year the Scottish Government introduced emergency legislation to the Scottish Parliament to give suspects being interviewed by the police the right to access following the judgment of the United Kingdom Supreme Court in the case of Cadder v HM Advocate.  In that case the court held that the ability of the police to detain and question a person for up to six hours without the option of consulting a solicitor breached their right to a fair trial guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights.  The concerns related to self-incrimination and the Crown using confessions in evidence where the suspect had not been able to seek legal advice.

The decision of the Sheriff today is not a binding upon other Sheriffs.  However, it is likely to have persuasive authority.  Indeed, it would be foolish of the Scottish Government not to further amend the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 to extend the right of access to legal advice beyond those being questioned by the police.  There is no discernable reason as to why, in light of Cadder, the High Court of Justiciary or the UK Supreme Court would decide any differently.

This right is one that has existed in England and Wales since 1985 and covers other agencies such as the UK Border Agency and Customs.

The decision of the Sheriff could potentially harm thousands of prosecutions for offences such as benefit fraud being brought in Scotland by the COPFS.  It is hoped that the Government’s response will not be as rushed or as flawed as it was last October.

The Scottish Information Commissioner should be issuing a decision in the near future regarding the provision of documents and material used by the Government during the decision making process that resulted in the Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Detention and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 2010.

Lord Carloway is currently conducting a review of criminal procedure and evidence in Scotland following the judgment from the UK Supreme Court last year.  More information on the Carloway Review can be found at http://www.carlowayreview.org

A copy of the Sheriff’s Judgment and the Commissioners Decision Notice will be linked to from this site when they are made available.

News, Scots Law

Police Officer released pending appeal

Last week at Glasgow Sheriff Court a former Police Constable was sentenced to 12 months in custody after she failed to arrest a man who was attempting to break into a Chinese restaurant in Kirkintilloch.  She was today released from Cornton Vale Prison by Lord Woolman pending an appeal against her sentence.

Police Constable Michele Selby decided not to arrest a man in Kirkintilloch last year because she was on her way to another call.  That call was simply to deliver mail to another police office and was not a call for police assistance from a member of the public.

Selby discovered the man with a tool bag containing a small number of tools at 5:30am and said in court that she believed him to be fixing the door.  This was despite conducting background checks on the man which revealed that he had six previous convictions, including one for a similar offence.

Defence Advocate, Paul McBride QC, told the High Court in Edinburgh that Selby did not intend on challenging the conviction.

News, Scots Law

Police Officer jailed for 12 months

A Police Constable who failed to take into custody a man attempting to break-in to a chinease restaurant in Kirkintilloch has been handed a 12 month custodial sentence for attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

On 25 July 2010 at 05:30 PC Michele Selby discovered a man who claimed to be fixing the door of a restaurant.  PC Selby had confiscated the tools from the man in question, however did not take him into custody.  The man in question had six previous convictions and was told by Selby that had she not had another call to attend she would have jailed him, Glasgow Sheriff Court heard.  The call to which Selby refered was not a 999 call, indeed it wasn’t a call for police assistance at all but was simply delivering mail.

PC Selby placed the items seized from the man in the bin at the police station.  Since being found guilty by the Court PC Selby has resigned from Strathclyde Police.

English Law, News, Scots Law

Riot sentences too harsh?

There has been a lot of debate and discussion in the last week about the sentences being handed down by courts around England in connection with the mass-scale disturbances that took place over the space of four days last week.

The Courts have been handing down what appear to be, on the face of things, some very tough and overly harsh sentences which appear to be reflecting the public mood and especially the mood of the Government.  More than 60% of those charged have been remanded into custody pending their cases being dealt with in the courts; this is significantly higher than normal.  Last year only about 10% of all defendants were remanded in total.  Some commentators have questioned this much wider than normal use of remand, and even gone as far as to suggest that the benches may even be trying to use remand as part of the punishment.  There is, in law, a presumption in favour of bail being granted.  There are no offences where the opposite is true.  It is for the Crown to prove that the defendant should not be granted bail and instead be held in custody.  Holding a person in custody, particularly before they have entered a plea of guilty or been found guilty by the Court is a serious matter.  It is removing the liberty of individuals who are legally still innocent of any crime and are only suspected of having committed the crimes alleged of them.  Therefore, it is not something that should be entered into lightly.  Indeed it is not something that magistrates or judges would enter into lightly.

Yesterday two teenagers were sent to prison for four years over Facebook events they had created in order to try and incite riots.  These sentences do appear overly harsh, but the fact that both defendants received the same sentence when the facts were really quite different is also of concern.  In one case it is reported that the defendant not only created the Facebook event, but had turned up at the location detailed in the event as the meeting point.  While it is reported that the other individual removed the event and apologised before police came to arrest him.  If those facts are indeed true then there is a higher level of culpability in the first case and it would ordinarily be expected that this would lead to a more severe sentence than the second defendant.

Sentencing is not all about punishment, retribution and deterrence, but this is what sentences being handed down around England in relation to the mass public disorder appear to be about.  There is another important element to the sentencing and that is proportionality.  In order for the sentence to be proportionate the context in which that offence was committed must be looked at.

The offences with which people have been charged in relation to the mass public disorder are quite rightly being aggravated by the context of mass public-disorder.  It would be reasonable to expect that people who are convicted or plead guilty to these offences to be treated by the courts in a more serious way.

The ordinary rules of sentencing should not be set aside in extraordinary circumstances.  In order for justice to be justice at all it must be fair to all parties, the defendant included.  In order that it is fair magistrates and judges should follow the same guidelines and processes as they would normally and not simply ignore them.  Indeed, in England and Wales courts are bound by Section 172 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which requires them to have regard to any definitive sentencing guidelines issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.  The definitive guidance issued by the Council are published online.

Many commentators are of the opinion that the Court of Appeal is going to be rather busy as they review decisions not to grant bail and decisions on sentences handed down by the courts in relation to the mass-disorder of last week.  Court time is already at a premium and it is going to become filled with cases where defendants are appealing their sentences.

One factor that has been highlighted on a number of occasions has been the all night sittings of Magistrates’ Courts.  Legitimate questions exist regarding the quality of the judgment of Magistrates and of representation (on both the Crown and Defence sides of the court) when cases are being dealt with in the early hours of the morning.

In Scotland a number of persons have been charged with offences relating to inciting riots on Facebook.  It will be interesting to observe how the Scottish Courts handle these cases if and when the cases come before them for sentencing.  Scotland didn’t see any of the scenes of mass-scale public-disorder that provide the backdrop and context for the sentences being handed down in Scotland.  There does not appear to be the same level of public mood as there is in England, which is no doubt fuelled by the disorder.  Therefore, it might be reasonable to expect a more considered and measured approach to sentencing.  That said; each of the accused persons have been remanded into custody so hopes for a more measured and sensible approach to sentencing in these cases might be no more than wishful thinking.

English Law, News

Wandsworth seeking possession under Ground 1 in riot case

On Friday 12 August 2011 Wandsorth Council issued a press release that sparked a public debate.  Wandsworth Council stated that they had issued a tenant with an eviction notice.  The notice was issued relating to the conduct of an occupant of the council property after the occupant had appeared in court charged in connection with the riots that had taken place in London last week.

Commentators have been focusing on Ground 2 for possession which can be found within Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1985.  The following questions were posed to Wandsworth Council:

(1) Did Wandsworth Council issue a notice to the tenants referred to in the press release of 12 August 2011 indicating that the council would be “seeking possession of the property and that an application will be made to the courts seeking the tenant’s eviction”?
(2) If the answer to question 1 is in the positive, upon what grounds was the notice issued?  In particular was Ground 2 of Schedule 2 of Housing Act 1985 mentioned?
(3) If the answer to question 2 above is in the positive, was ground 2(a) or 2(b) mentioned?
(4) If the answer to question 1 is in the negative why did Wandsworth Council issue a press release that suggested that they had in fact issued such a notice?

In response to those questions the Council had the following to say:

The tenant has been given a Notice of Seeking Possession under Ground 1 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1985, as amended by Housing Act 1996 – namely a breach of their tenancy agreement.

Ground 1 reads as follows:

Rent lawfully due from the tenant has not been paid or an obligation of the tenancy has been broken or not performed.

In their original press release Wandsworth Council said the following:

Under the terms of the agreement, which applies to all the council’s rented accommodation, all tenants, their household members and visitors are forbidden from a range of criminal and anti-social activities. Breaches of the agreement render them liable to eviction.

Ground 2 of the Housing Act 1985 does not appear to be engaged in this case.

Questions still arise around the fairness and proportionality of these steps taken by Wandsworth Council and there is little doubt that other council’s will be watching the outcome of this move by Wandsworth carefully, especially those who have been affected by the riots that spread across England last week.

News

5 months for law graduate drink driver

It was reported today that a law graduate of the University of Stirling, Ronald Rose, was sentenced to five months in custody and to a five year driving ban having been found to be driving his car while more than three times the limit.

Rose, 44, was caught driving his car while over the limit just days prior to graduating from the University of Stirling.  The custodial Sentence passed at Perth Sheriff Court will mean that Rose will miss the first few months of his postgraduate legal studies course which he is reported as having been due to start in September.

In sentencing Mr Rose, Sheriff Michael Fletcher is reported as  telling Rose that his latest conviction for drink driving was a “very serious matter”.  This was Mr Rose’s third conviction for drink driving, although the previous convictions were some years ago.  Sheriff Fleture reportedly told Rose:

“In view of the fact it is your third conviction, and it is such a high reading, I have reached the conclusion that I am unable to deal with it any other way than by a custodial sentence.

Under current rules Mr Rose will spend no more than 2 and a half months in custody before being released.

News

UK Riots Latest

The streets of the UK have been much more calm this evening than the previous four.  The vandalism and looting is by no means as widespread as has been seen during previous evenings.  16,000 police officers descended on the streets of London and this seemed to keep those intent on causing misery, disruption and vandalism at bay in the capital.  With there being 10,000 or so officers more in London this evening than there had been last night it would appear that the police would have been better able to respond to any trouble that broke out in the capital.  This much larger police presence appears to have deterred those who might otherwise have taken to the streets from going out.

Other cities around England have sadly seen some vandalism and looting.  Police in Greater Manchester appear to have been dealing with the worst of the violence this evening.  However, the scenes in Manchester are not anywhere near as bad as those seen over the last few nights in London and Birmingham.  Those who have taken to the streets in the Greater Manchester force area are still causing damage and managing to, for the most part, keep ahead of the police.  Greater Manchester Police earlier held a press conference stating that they had significant CCTV footage and that they would be arresting individuals as early as tomorrow in relation to the criminal activities of those this evening who have decided to take to the streets.

In Manchester arrests have been made this evening, but the police operation is fast moving and that 47 people had been arrested in Manchester and Salford (at the time of publication).  Greater Manchester Police also reporting that there are sporadic fires across the force area.  Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable, Gary Shewen, said “”We have been shocked by the level of violence we have seen this evening. The level of violence has taken us all by surprise.”

Birmingham has also been the scene of more damage and looting, but again not to the same extent as has been seen in previous evenings.  There has been reports of some standoffs between police and youths in the City Centre and West Midlands reporting arrests from around the force area in relation to vandalism and looting.

Nottinghamshire Police reported that a police station in their area had been firebombed by 30-40 men.  Nottinghamshire Police are reporting that 8 people have been arrested in relation to the firebombing.

Police in Liverpool are reporting that a large group of youths have gathered and are causing disorder have gathered in Smithdown Road in South Liverpool and are asking people to avoid this area.

A 21 year old man has been arrested in relation to a massive fire that destroyed Reeves furniture store in Croydon.  The image of this store burning was featured heavily on the BBC News 24 coverage of the riots in London on Monday.  The Metropolitan Police are reporting 685 arrests to date in relation to the riots over the last few nights.  The Metropolitan Police have released a breakdown of the 111 people charged to date which includes 69 charges of burglary and 13 for Public Order Act Offences.

Reports on arrests are coming in from forces all over England, many of which appear to be in relation to isolated and sporadic incidents rather than large scale public disorder.

The Prime Minster has recalled Parliament.  Statements and debates will be held on the riots seen around England on Thursday.

News

No evidence Mark Duggan fired at Police

The Independent Police Complaints Commission have stated that there is no evidence that Mark Duggan fired at Police Officers.  The IPCC are investigating the death of Mark Duggan after he was shot dead on Thursday 4 August 2011 by firearms officers from the Metropolitan Police.

Today an inquest into Mr Duggan’s death opened and was adjourned.  The Inquest was told that mr Duggan died from a single shot to the chest.

The IPCC investigation continues and the Metropolitan Police have been reported as saying “the IPCC are able to establish all the facts of the events of last Thursday so that there is a complete understanding of what happened”