Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR – 3 June 2016
Posted on 5th Jun 2016 in Weekly Notes
The week’s collection of legal news, reports and commentary includes checking facts amidst the brouhaha of EU Referendum debate, some interesting comments on Transforming Justice and, from overseas, yet another judge embarrassed over a letter of complaint (this time in India).
The battle between the Innies and the Outies, the Brexiteers and the Bremainers, rages on, with apparently ever more outrageous claims, counterclaims, facts, counterfacts, and downright absurdities crowding the airwaves. Ultimately, it seems, the decision is not one that will be based on facts, correctly understood or not, but emotions. Do you feel European? Or do you feel that you just don’t belong to the continent, with its cafe culture, subsidised arts, elegant cities, free universities, and modern languages, and you’re happier with the smell of fish & chips and a pint of bitter in a pub?
Notice that I’ve inserted some factual claims there, though none of them relating to immigration, the economy, or crime. But if I had, you could have gone to Full Fact to check their correctness. All the time that Boris, Nigel, David and Theresa and all the others have been shouting for attention with ever more lurid factual assertions, while panellists have been speaking on Question Time, while the Prime Minister has been questioned, Full Fact have checked the facts, thanks in great measure to financial support from crowdfunding.
So if facts are crucial to the way you vote, or even if they’re not but you’d like to be sure of them before you get into an argument in the pub, check out the Full Fact site (which, incidentally, has an excellent section on law).
Women in prison
How do we reduce the number of women in prison? Asks Penelope Gibbs in a recent post on the Transform Justice blog. It is a question that may now be relevant to the many regular listeners of Radio 4’s The Archers, the educational soap whose recent story lines have featured a woman accused of the attempted murder of the man who has been emotionally abusing her for years. Apparently even the Lord Chancellor has been moved by the storyline to look again at the numbers of women in prison.
Penelope Gibbs applies her experience in reducing the number of children in jail to the position of women and comes up with a six-point plan. They include taking care not to confuse fairness with blind male-female equality; making better use of existing alternatives to custody; thinking more carefully about women’s particular needs and changing the approach of CRCs (community rehabilitation companies to women offenders. Also, problem-solving courts (see below). You can read the blog here.
Problem solving courts
What problems can problem-solving courts solve? Of course all courts try to solve some problems, although many fail. But “problem-solving courts” are a special category of court that does not limit itself to resolving a particular dispute or issue (such as criminal guilt for a specific charged offence). Rather, they look at the problems of offending in the round and propose solutions that address the problems, and by reducing the problems, thereby reduce the level of crime.
Problem solving courts are an American invention, which were briefly tried here under the New Labour government. Now it seems the government is making plans to re-launch them. Having spent a month in problem-solving courts in the USA, Penelope Gibbs of Transform Justice is
“a huge fan of them – particularly their holistic, humane treatment of offenders. But there are some considerable challenges to be overcome to introduce them successfully here.”
She lists these in a recent post on the Transform Justice blog.
Fundamentally they rely on cooperation and goodwill from a lot of parties and agencies, and commitment from the offender whose life they may be turning around. They should not be exploited as an alternative source of social services, or constrained by top-down management rigidity.
“Problem solving courts at their best address the underlying reasons why people commit crime and help offenders turn their lives around”, says Gibbs.
They are, she says, especially good at dealing with women offenders and are one of the things she identifies in her post on keeping women out of jail (see above).
New guide to judiciary
The Legal Resources, UK and Ireland website run by Delia Venables has a section, New Legal Web Sites for 2016, which operates as a kind of news feed, announcing new sources of information and adding commentary. It recently announced the publication of a New Guide on The Judicial System of England and Wales, which can be downloaded as a PDF. (A word of warning! The file has proved unduly large on some devices. You can find the new guide here .)
A new guide called “The Judicial System of England and Wales” has been published by The International Team of the Judicial Office. The guide is introduced by Lady Justice Arden, Head of International Relations for the Judiciary of England and Wales with the following words: “What you see today has evolved over 1,000 years; the judiciary is continuing to change and develop to meet the needs of our society and is widely regarded as one of the best and most independent in the world. To meet the needs of society, our legal system is also complex. The International Team of the Judicial Office has produced a Visitors’ Guide to bring together a wealth of information about our judiciary and legal system. It also provides an introduction to the work of organisations, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service which support the justice system.” … Although billed as a Visitors Guide for International Judiciary it would be just as useful to law students or anyone else prepared to do a bit of serious reading on the subject.
Law (and injustice) from around the world
Don’t call me Madam
This story has everything. A journalist called Rule who broke the rules; the owner of a strip club called RawHide who got pretty raw and gave Mr Rule a hiding (in damages); and an imputation so impudent that it injured a reputation. So, yes, we’re talking about libel law. The case is written up on Inforrm’s Blog, our essential lightning rod into the world of media law.
In 2013 the Herald Sun newspaper ran an article by Andrew Rule, a journalist, which related to a story that Victoria Police were or ought to have been investigating corrupt or improper relationships between police officers and outlaw motorcycle gangs in the area. The plaintiff, Ms Raelene Hardie, complained that the article portrayed that her strip club, RawHide, was a place where the outlaw motorcycle gangs fought and where they dealt with police. In the course of the article they referred to the plaintiff as “Madam Black Mercedes” (the Black Mercedes bit being, apparently, a bit of made up whimsical drollery, not a stage name or anything relevant). Ms Hardie took exception to the “Madam” bit, on the grounds it made it sound like her club was a brothel.
The next day Rule went onto the radio to apologise in public, but managed instead to dig himself in deeper, by making fun of the plaintiff and repeating the “Madam” bit. She sued, and by the time it got to the Court of Appeal the defamatory imputation that she was running a brothel had been established against the media defendants. The $90,000 she won in the lower court was upped to $250,000.
Former dictator guilty of crimes against humanity
After victims and human-rights groups have spent almost two decades trying to bring him to justice, Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, has been found guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, rape and sexual slavery, all committed during his eight-year rule between 1982 and 1990. The verdict, from a specially convened court in Senegal, comes nearly a year after his trial began. He has been sentenced to life in prison.
“This is a historic day for Chad and for Africa. It is the first time that an African head of state has been found guilty in another African country,” Yamasoum Konar, a representative of one of the victims’ groups, told the BBC. “This will be a lesson to other dictators in Africa,” he added.
The Atlantic: The Conviction of Chad’s Ex-Ruler
Advocates defend judge against media smears
For obvious reasons, judges can easily be the target of scurrilous or unfounded criticism, as well as more reasoned objections and grounds of appeal. The Indian judge Justice Gita Mittal was recently the subject of an article in the Times of India about which the Indian Bar is now up in arms, reports Bar & Bench, billed as “the New Face of Legal Journalism in India”.
The article in the Times of India reports that a disgruntled litigant, calling himself Ram Prashad, had written a letter to Chief Justice of India TS Thakur complaining about the alleged “tardy disposal of cases” by Justice Gita Mittal. The letter cited facts derived from published court listings and judgments to suggest that Mittal J could only have sat for one hour a day and spent a lot of her time giving speeches and attending conferences rather than doing court work.
All this was robustly denied by her supporters at the Bar, who pointed out (as was reported in the Times of India article) that Mittal J does a lot of family work of the sort that may not be apparent from published figures. Moreover, no litigant by the name of Ram Prashad has appeared in any of her cases, so it is either an assumed or a made up name.
A number of senior lawyers have written an open letter to the Times of India to complain and set the reputation straight.They complain of scandalous and unfair reporting which threatens the independence of the judiciary. The letter says:
Judges are handicapped and defenceless as they only speak through their judgments. The entire justice delivery system will be imperilled should persons be permitted to use the pseudonymous route to defame and besmirch the reputation of judges. The manner in which the newspaper has provided a platform for such action is also equally appalling.”
Tipsy legislators barred from chamber
Tanzania is set to install electronic gadgets that will be used to screen parliamentarians who have drunk or used marijuana before getting into the National Assembly, reports Xinhua’s African News service. Speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai is reported to have alluded to the “ increasing tendencies of MPs getting into the house while drunk”.
“There are so many unusual things happening in the House especially during the evening sessions. People do not only drink beer and spirits they also smoke and use drugs before entering the debating chamber,” Ndugai said.
It follows the sacking of a Home Affairs Minister, Charles Kitwanga, for allegedly misbehaving in the parliament.
Acquitted foreigners still not freed
Three men – Salim Alaradi, a Canadian Libyan, and Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat, a Libyan American father and son – are still being held in detention in the United Arab Emirates
despite their acquittal on assorted charges by the UAE’ Supreme Court following nearly two years’ detention. They were initially held without charge for over 500 days before being charged with terrorism offences, later downgraded to charges of providing supplies to groups in a foreign country and collecting donations without permission, reports the Guardian.
“This case has been characterised from the very beginning with arbitrariness and secrecy and lack of transparency by the UAE government,” said one of the men’s lawyers.
The trial has attracted widespread criticism from groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International over the UAE’s treatment of the detainees.
Connecticut SC upholds abolition of death penalty
Last month the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld an earlier ruling to the effect that to impose the death penalty on a small number of offenders on death row, following its abolition by the state legislature in 2012 for future offences, would be unfair and a breach of the state’s constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said prosecutors will now move to get the death row inmates resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release, reported Sky News.
Earlier the same month, it seems the Florida Supreme Court heard legal arguments in a case that could see the state’s 396 death row inmates having their sentences commuted to life terms.
That’s it for now. My thanks to all who led me to stories, mostly my followees on Twitter.
This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content at ICLR, who also tweets as @maggotlaw. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation. Comments welcome on Twitter @TheICLR.