In a legal challenge brought by the MP Tom Watson, and supported by campaign group Liberty, the High Court ruled that a major plank of the government's surveillance strategy is unlawful (Secretary of State for the Home Department v Watson MP & Ors  EWCA Civ 70).
When Theresa May was Home Secretary, she brought before parliament the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers At 2014, and the current case was a challenge to that law. Initial proceedings were referred to the European Court of Justice who agreed with our courts that the powers were far too extensive. This case is the final judgment from the Court of Appeal.
Redemption has always been an important part of our justice system; you do the crime, you do time. Once your debt is paid, you should then be free to start again, without forever being haunted by ghosts of the past.
We all recognise that there must be limits to this principle, so if convicted of murder or rape, you are unlikely ever to be able to expunge the past. But for relatively minor offending, or offending so far in the past to render it irrelevant, one might expect that you could move on.
Before the internet age, moving on was possible, local news was soon forgotten, or people could move away and start again. But now, with the growth of online news and the ability of almost anyone able to publish almost anything, the picture is different. Powerful search engines such as Google ensure that if the information is out there, there is a method of finding it.
So, to counteract this, people now speak of a 'right to be forgotten', and this is where data protection laws are being utilised.
Laws that criminalise unlawful violence date back to 1861 and are used every day in criminal courts to support prosecutions. Despite what might appear to be an obvious legal position, the question is often asked as to whether, despite those laws, it is permissible to 'smack' a child. The simple answer is that it is lawful to chastise a child by smacking, although the extent of that provision needs explaining in more detail below.
Perhaps surprising to many is the fact that the UK is only one of two places in the European Union that permits this state of affairs (the other being the Czech Republic). This week the devolved government in Wales launched a 12-week consultation, with proposals to outlaw all smacking of children. The minister for children and social care said:
"Our knowledge of what children need to grow and thrive has developed considerably over the last 20 years. We now know that physical punishment can have negative long-term impacts on a child’s life chances and we also know it is an ineffective punishment.
The goverment has announced that it intends to bring into force a number of provisions contained in the Housing and Planning Act 2016. From 6 April 2018 the Act will allow local authorities to apply for a banning order where a landlord has been convicted of a "banning order offence."
What is a banning order?
A banning order will ban a person from:-
- lettting housing in England,
- engaging in English letting agency work,
- engaging in English property mangement work, or
- doing two or more of these things.
Whether that person acts for himself or via a corporate body.
None for The Road
Christmas is in our sights and party season is underway. As night follows day, this time also coincides with a national police initiative concerning drink driving, as forces across the country prepare for a spike in the numbers of those tested and arrested for drink and drug driving offences. While these offences may not seem particularly serious when viewed against other offences, what is not often understood is the real impact that a conviction can have.
Research shows that loss of a licence leads in a great many cases to loss of employment, in turn to loss of housing as bills cannot be paid, and sometimes it is the final straw that breaks a relationship. The financial costs will be felt for many years thereafter as insurance premiums will be greatly increased.
When the Director of Public Proseuctions writes to a national newspaper and apologises for a prosecution failure in an individual case, you know that something significant went wrong. Before exploring that however, it might be a great pity that she chose to write to a newspaper and not the actual person wrongly accused of rape.
Anyway, what went wrong in the case of Liam Allan? Mr Allan was charged with multiple accusations of rape and sexual assault. In many respects, this would have been a classic and a challenging case for any jury. On the one side the complainant alleging that she was a victim of serious sexual crime, on the other a young man saying that it was all consensual. As most sexual encounters happen in private, we often face cases where mostly it is one word against another. Can there be smoke without fire? But what if the key to unravelling this case was sitting for all to see - requiring that people simply do their job. Well, that was the case here.
A two-week gun amnesty begun on Monday 13 November across the UK. In this period people will have the opportunity to dispose of firearms and ammunition safely, with "no questions asked".
Who are the police reaching out to?
The amnesty is directed at two distinct groups of people, firstly those who know they are in possession of illegal weapons or ammunition, and secondly those who are perhaps innocent custodians of a weapon and possibly even unsure as to its legal status, but too frightened to do anything about it.
New details have emerged about forensic testing deficiencies at two of the country's leading laboratories. Police are currently investigating the circumstances, and a number of people have been arrested.
Randox Testing Services (RTS) and Trimega Laboratories handle samples for some of the most high-profile criminal and family law cases, the accuracy of the tests being of paramount importance to people facing criminal prosecution for offences ranging from drink driving to murder.
In December 2016 two men were convicted of manslaughter following an avoidable brake failure that resulted in the deaths of four people, including a young girl. Neither of the men drove the vehicle, but they were ultimately responsible, as the haulage boss and mechanic. One was sentenced to 7 ½ years, the other to 5 years and 3 months imprisonment. The case provides a stark reminder of the duty owed by vehicle operators, and one might have hoped that such cases would materially change behaviour.
A year on, it would appear that the situation has not improved as expected, and the Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain this week called upon operators to change their approach to brake performance testing, commenting that '...despite the clear lessons from the Bath manslaughter case, operators are simply paying lip service to brake performance testing. In many cases, there’s too little recorded on the brake test to offer a meaningful assessment. In others, no information is recorded at all.'
Or, at least it does according to Elton John.
But in criminal law, sometimes a simple act of contrition, genuinely felt and communicated, can alter a case outcome significantly. A timely admission and expression of sorrow can make the difference between a formal resolution such as caution or charge, and persuade the police to consider an out of court community resolution.
Restorative justice is a popular out of court disposal and preferable to almost all other outcomes when guilt is not in doubt. Research shows that the process has benefits for both victim and offender. Other out of court disposals such as driver awareness courses can also have an impact on an offender willing to address their behaviour; few leave undisturbed by the graphic images of a child hit by a speeding vehicle.