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.
As we approach Bonfire Night, the night sky is brought alive by the vibrant explosions of noise and colour, but as always, lurking in the background is a risk that failing to deal with fireworks safely and responsibly can bring you to the attention of the police. Retailers who are thinking of supplying fireworks for the first time should ensure that they are sufficiently familiar with the complex rules that regulate the sale and possession of fireworks. Contravention of the rules can result in substantial fines being imposed, or even a prison sentence.
Police forces across England and Wales are preparing for a rollout of "Body-worn Cameras", and the Government has announced that prison officers will shortly be assisted by this new technology.
What are Body-Worn Cameras?
BWCs are small recording devices, very similar to a GoPro, which allows for constant audio and video recording in an unobtrusive manner.
The evidence from these cameras can be used to support a prosecution, and some argue that with officers and others aware that their actions could be caught on camera, it will result in a positive effect on behaviour.
Is behaviour calmed when a camera is present?
It is usually accepted that we behave better when being watched, for example, we are less likely to speed past a roadside camera or get involved in unlawful activity.
In 2011, researchers at Newcastle University posted pictures of a pair of male eyes and the caption, "Cycle Thieves: We Are Watching You." Bike thefts decreased by 62 percent in those locations — and not elsewhere.
A study in Rialto California (USA) in 2012 appeared to show dramatic changes in police behaviour. Complaints against police officers were down 90% compared to the previous year. Critics, however, have been sceptical of this study, in part because only 54 officers participated.
That caution did not result in a slowdown of BWC deployment and by 2015 95% of US large police departments had deployed BWC or had committed to doing so.
Now, police forces in England and Wales are following suit.
Over the last few days, the government has announced proposals to introduce new offences and increase sentencing for a range of other offences.
One of our criminal law experts, Rob Barley explains the proposals.
Knife crime increased by 20% in the last year, prompting the government to look again at key legislation. Possession of a knife has in the same period increased by 23%.
New laws will make it an offence to deliver to a private residential address a knife sold online. All future online purchases will have to be delivered to a collection address where the age of the purchaser can be verified.
Possession of offensive weapons in a public place is already a criminal offence, but changes to the law will see some 19 items, including flick knives and push daggers prohibited in private places as well.
The government is proposing some limited defences to these possession offences, such as for cultural, artistic or religious use, and exemptions such as museum displays.
Also, there will be a new definition of 'flick knife' to broaden the number of weapons that are classified into this category.
Many people convicted before magistrates feel aggrieved at the outcome, and wish to consider an appeal. A grievance may arise because they think that their case was not prepared correctly, or that the court reached the wrong result. For many people, a conviction could be a major barrier to employment or travel overseas, even where the offence itself is relatively minor. The court process is far from perfect. If you have a grievance, it is only right and proper that you consider your options.
So, what can I do about it?
The first thing to remember is that you must act quickly as you only have 21 days from the date of sentencing to appeal your conviction - you should not delay in contacting us. If more than 21 days have passed, then get in touch as soon as possible as we can advise on 'out of time appeals'. When you contact us, we will also be able to consider whether other avenues of appeal, namely judicial review and appeal by way of case stated (both to the High Court) are more suitable.
Proposed increase in sentences available for animal cruelty offences
The government is planning to introduce legislation which will increase the maximum custodial sentence for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The current limit is six months’ imprisonment, but the new proposals would raise it to five years. This would bring England and Wales into line with other countries’ policies on animal cruelty and correct an issue of proportionality in relation to penalties available for other offences.
Offences covered by the Act
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes all of the following a criminal offence: causing animals unnecessary suffering (whether intentionally or not), improperly docking dogs’ tails, causing unnecessary mutilation, administering unauthorised poisons or drugs, participating in the organisation or facilitation of animal fights and failing one’s duty of care to particular animals. The Act adopts a wide definition of ‘animal’, to include any “vertebrate other than man.”
Drones and the law
This article examines drones and the legal framework which governs their usage. It focuses on drones which are available to the public and looks at potential risks, the relevant law, one’s responsibilities as a drone owner and further caveats for particular types of drone use.
What are drones?
‘Drone’ refers to any object that can be flown without a human pilot. They can range from armed technologies used in military operations to smaller gadgets that can be purchased by members of the public. The latter category is the focus of this article. These items can be controlled remotely and may also be attached to a camera which provides a live-feed to the controller. They allow for educational, professional and leisure purposes. Various models are available which vary in size, speed, range and price.
Many people convicted of driving with excess alcohol leave court with a pretty clear idea as to the length of their driving disqualification, but for a significant number, there is a shock further down the line.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no 'right' to hold a driving licence, merely by having passed a driving test, and not otherwise being disqualified. The Secretary of State for Transport has the right, where the circumstances justify it, to withhold a licence. One of the circumstances where this arises is after a drink drive conviction if the offender is deemed 'high-risk'.