The Sentencing Academy has produced a report reviewing ethnicity and custodial sentencing trends from 2009 to 2019. Over the years, several official reports have addressed the role of race and ethnicity in sentencing decisions. The current report looked at sentencing patterns for different offender profiles with two key issues that emerged. The first was ethnic disproportionality, and the second, differential sentencing outcomes.
Disproportionality was expressed by comparing the percentage of BAME individuals appearing in the criminal justice system compared to their proportion in the general population. The data on custody rates and average custodial sentence lengths were combined to form the “expected custodial sentence” (ECS), a new measure of punitiveness. In 2019 the ECS for an indictable offence was 6.6 months for a white offender and 10.2 months for an Asian offender. The overall ECS figure does mask the fact there is variation across offence categories, the greatest divergent is with offences of violence.
Despite the Sentencing Academy research, the authors said that the knowledge of differential sentencing across ethnic groups remained imperfect, although it had improved. The preliminary conclusions were:
- BAME groups are associated with greater use of imprisonment;
- Visible minority offenders attract higher custody rates than white offenders, but the ordering of different groups varies from study to study;
- group-based differences in custody rates and custodial sentence lengths are consistently statistically significant;
- there is long-standing evidence of ethnicity-based differences using custody rates and average custodial sentence lengths;
- between 2009-2019 black offenders attracted the most punitive punishment levels;
- ethnicity-based differences emerge most consistently and strongly for drug offences;
- little is known about ethnicity-based sentencing differentials in the magistrates’ courts;
- the research studied custody rates and average custodial sentences so that no conclusions could be drawn regarding other sentencing options.
It was noted that data collection ceased in 2015 and further research priorities were set out:
- Publication of sentencing trends in the magistrates’ court was discontinued some time ago, as the majority of offenders are dealt with in that court, data needs to be obtained.
- The sentencing differentials appear higher for drug offences, but BAME defendants are over-represented for other offences too, where more research is required.
- Very little is known about variations at a local level.
- Sanctions other than custody have rarely been studied, for example, the level of fines, length and duration of suspended sentences, use and length of community orders and the use of out of court disposals.
The most important question is why certain ethnicities are linked to higher custody rates. A range of hypotheses would need to be explored, such as consideration of pre-sentence reports. There are ethnic differences in relation to the relationship between a PSR recommendation and the sentence imposed. A white offender is more likely to have the recommended sentence imposed than a BAME defendant.
The report concludes that the rates of immediate imprisonment for BAME defendants have been higher than for white offenders for many years. Both the level and the cause of the differential need to be understood before the sentencing process can be addressed so that it treats all equally. The difference in custody rates has declined more recently, but there is still a differential. The challenge is finding the cause; only then can the government, courts, and the Sentencing Council devise proper remedies to address the disparities.
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If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email email@example.com. Let us help.[Image credit: “Power & Equality” by Steve Snodgrass is licensed under CC BY 2.0 ] Read More
Currently, all parole hearings are held in private – this is set out in legislation in the Parole Board Rules. Following a consultation exercise, the government has now committed to opening up the hearings and allowing public access. Legislative change is expected in the next few months.
The government has stated that:
‘…we are persuaded that the current blanket ban in legislation on public hearings is unnecessary, and that victims, offenders, the media or the wider public should have the right to make a request for a public hearing, and to have that request considered.’
A “virtual” attendance, primarily through video link, is likely to be the preferred option in most cases where an open hearing is agreed. This has the advantage of minimising the risk of disruption, increasing capacity and allowing victims to easily step away if they become distressed or would rather not hear certain details of the case discussed.
New legislation will allow the Parole Board to consider an application for access mirroring the approach taken at the First-tier Tribunal (Mental Health), so that the Parole Board consider the “interests of justice” when making such a decision.
As the independent decision-making body, it will be for the Parole Board to decide the criteria for the interests of justice test it will use to determine applications for public hearings.
These will in due course be reflected in guidance the Board will produce on how it intends to approach applications. The types of factors the Board may wish to consider may include but not be limited to:
- If it would assist public understanding of how the decision is reached in a case of particular public interest;
- The participants in the hearings – in particular the prisoner and the victim (where there is one) – do not object to the hearing being heard in public;
- To hold a public hearing would not create an unacceptable risk (of mental or physical harm) to any of the participants;
- Whether the Board consider that the integrity of the evidence may be compromised and prevent a true and accurate assessment of the prisoner’s risk being provided by the witnesses;
- The presence of strong and valid objections from participants which could jeopardise their co-operation if the hearing were to be in public.
The Board will be able to consider an application for a public hearing submitted by anyone, but it would most frequently be victims, offenders, or the media.
The Parole Board will also be able to initiate the consideration process of its own volition if they see a need – for example, if there is significant public interest in a particular case.
Regardless of who has made the application, both the victim and the offender will be invited to submit their views before a decision is reached and the Board would take the final decision having taken account of the representations received. But ultimately the decision will depend on whether the Board is satisfied that it would be in the interests of justice to open up the hearing, having taken everything relating to the particular case into consideration.
Anyone who attends a hearing under these new provisions will be an observer to the proceedings in a similar way to attendance at court. They will not be entitled to intervene, ask questions of the witnesses or address the panel in any way – other than where a victim is presenting their Victim Personal Statement to the Board.
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly.
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.[Image credit: “Into the Prison” by Bill Nicholls is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0) Read More
This article was posted in March 2020, shortly after the initial restrictions were imposed.
There has been much confusion about what you can and cannot do during the current lockdown. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 imposes several restrictions.
Since the lockdown began last week, the police have been keen to enforce compliance, even calling out the MP Stephen Kinnock over social media for visiting his father on his birthday.
Given the importance of protecting the NHS, it is likely that the police may take a harder line as the crisis worsens.
Restrictions on movement during the lockdown
During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
A reasonable excuse includes the need—
(a) to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons and supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household, or the household of a vulnerable person, or to obtain money, including from any business listed in Part 3 of Schedule 2.
(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;
(c) to seek medical assistance, including to access any of the services referred to in paragraph 37 or 38 of Schedule 2;
(d) to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(1), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;
(e) to donate blood;
(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;
(g) to attend a funeral of—
- a member of the person’s household,
- a close family member, or
- if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;
(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;
(i) to access critical public services, including—
- childcare or educational facilities (where these are still available to a child in relation to whom that person is the parent, or has parental responsibility for, or care of the child);
- social services;
- services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;
- services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);
(j) in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, “parent” includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;
(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;
(l) to move house where reasonably necessary;
(m) to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.
The word ‘need’ prefaces the exceptions and this implies an added necessity test.
Requirement to close premises and businesses during the emergency
A person responsible for carrying on a business which is listed in Part 1 of Schedule 2 must—
- during the emergency period—
- close any premises, or part of the premises, in which food or drink are sold for consumption on those premises, and
- cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises; or
- if the business sells food or drink for consumption off the premises, cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises during the emergency period.
The provisions in relation to business closure are particularly complex and a number of police interventions have already been made since the lockdown began. Please contact us for accurate up to date advice if you are unsure as to your legal obligations.
Restrictions on gatherings during the lockdown
During the emergency period, no person may participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people except—
- where all the persons in the gathering are members of the same household,
- where the gathering is essential for work purposes,
- to attend a funeral,
- where reasonably necessary—
- to facilitate a house move,
- to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006,
- to provide emergency assistance, or
- to participate in legal proceedings or fulfil a legal obligation.
Breach of these emergency regulations can result in fixed penalties (of up to £960) and unlimited fines.
Adults must do all they can to ensure that children comply. Failure in that regard can itself result in prosecution.
Other enforcement measures can be taken concerning business premises and failing to comply with restrictions.
If you have received a fixed penalty that you wish to challenge or are being investigated or prosecuted for an alleged breach, our expert team are able to advise.
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If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email email@example.com. Let us help.Read More
This article was posted in March 2020, shortly after the initial changes came into force.
On Wednesday 25th March 2020 the Coronavirus Bill completed all its parliamentary stages, and Royal Assent was signified. This brings in to force an unprecedented piece of emergency legislation.
The purpose of the Coronavirus Act is to enable the Government to respond to an emergency situation and manage the effects of a covid-19 pandemic.
A severe pandemic could infect up to 80% of the population leading to a reduced workforce, increased pressure on health services and death management processes.
The Act contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts.
The Act aims to support Government in the following:
- Increasing the available health and social care workforce
- Easing the burden on frontline staff
- Containing and slowing the virus
- Managing the deceased with respect and dignity
- Supporting people
What are the changes?
The efficiency and timeliness of court and tribunal hearings will suffer during the Coronavirus outbreak. Restrictions on travel will make it difficult for parties to attend court and without action a significant number of hearings and trials are likely to be adjourned. at the present time, no new jury trials are starting, and the Magistrates Courts are delaing only with urgent cases.
In criminal proceedings, the courts have a duty to deal with cases effectively and expeditiously and that includes making use of technology such as live video links, telephone or email where this is lawful and appropriate. Video link technology is increasingly being used across the court estate enabling greater participation in proceedings from remote locations. The courts currently have various statutory and inherent powers which enable them to make use of technology.
The Act amends existing legislation so as to enable the use of technology either in video/audio-enabled hearings in which one or more participants appear before the court using a live video or audio link, or by a wholly video/audio hearing where there is no physical courtroom and all participants take part in the hearing using telephone or video conferencing facilities.
Health Protection Regulations
The Act permits ministers to create new criminal offences by regulations issued under existing public health legislation. Such offences are to be triable summarily only and may not be punished with imprisonment.
The Act provides for various enforcement orders to ensure public health and safety are maintained; violation of these orders, including obstruction etc. will be a criminal offence. Many of the emergency powers under the Act can result in criminal sanction if lawful directions are not obeyed.
Schedule 20 of the Act provides for screening and quarantining of infected persons (or persons suspected to be infected).
In enforcing schedule 20 powers (and similar provisions apply to other powers), a constable may:-
– use reasonable force;
– enter any place; and
– give reasonable instructions to the person (though he must inform the person that informing him of the reason for the instruction that it is an offence to fail to comply).
Events, gatherings and premises
Schedule 21 covers events, gatherings and premises.
The provisions give the Secretary of State the power to prohibit or restrict events and gatherings, and to close premises, if the public health situation deems it necessary.
This streamlines existing legislation in England and Wales, to ensure that powers to prevent events or gatherings can be deployed as quickly as possible in the event this is justified by the evidence.
This can be deployed if, having had regard to the relevant advice, such a prohibition or restriction would:
- prevent, protect against or control the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or
- facilitate the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources
This legislation has passed through parliament at remarkable speed and with little scrutiny. We are on hand to advise anyone who faces investigation or prosecution as a result of alleged non-compliance. At all times, we will remain vigilant to ensure that the State does not abuse emergency legislation.
How can we help?
This article was posted in March 2020, shortly after the initial restrictions were imposed.
At 2 pm on Saturday 21 March 2020, the Government introduced further measures to help fight the Covid 19 pandemic. A law came into force which forced the closure of some businesses. On 23rd March, the Government announced further measures, closing a number of other businesses.
This law was enacted by virtue of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 (and mirror regulations that apply in Wales). The statutory instrument was made in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 45C(1), (3)(c), (4)(d), 45F(2) and 45P of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.
Which businesses must close?
Schedule 1 of the regulations state that the following businesses must close:
- Restaurants, including restaurants and dining rooms in hotels or members clubs.
- Cafes, including workplace canteens, but not including
- Cafes or canteens at a hospital, care home or school;
- Canteens at a prison or an establishment intended for use for naval, military or air force purposes, or for the purposes of the Department of the Secretary of State responsible for defence;
- Services providing food or drink to the homeless;
- Bars, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs.
- Public houses.
- Hair, beauty and nail salons, spas and massage parlours
- All retail premises, with a number of exceptions;
- Supermarkets and other food shops;
- health shops;
- pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies;
- petrol stations;
- bicycle shops;
- home and hardware shops;
- laundrettes and dry cleaners;
- bicycle shops;
- car rentals;
- pet shops;
- corner shops;
- post offices;
- Outdoor and indoor markets, except those offering essentials, such as groceries and food
- Auction houses
- Car showrooms
- Hotels, hostels, BnBs, campsites and boarding houses for commercial use, although keyworkers can stay there
- Caravan parks/sites for commercial use, unless used as a primary residence
- Community and youth centres
- Places of worship for services
- Cinemas, Theatres and Concert Halls.
- Bingo halls, casinos and betting shops.
- Museums and galleries.
- Indoor skating rinks.
- Indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres.
- Enclosed spaces in parks, including playgrounds, sports courts and pitches, and outdoor gyms or similar
What is the penalty if businesses defy the law?
An unlimited fine can be imposed on the business and any officer of the company who has consented or connived etc. so keeping the business open (regulation 3).
There are, however, other powers available to local authorities who are in charge of policing compliance with these regulations.
Businesses that breach them will be subject to prohibition notices, and potentially unlimited fines. As a further measure, and if needed, businesses that fail to comply could also face the loss of their alcohol license. More draconian powers are also available under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, and further powers will soon be law when the Coronavirus Bill becomes law.
In some cases, injunctive relief may be granted, the breach of which could be punished by up to 2 years imprisonment.
There are also reputational issues that need to be considered.
We can advise on all aspects of criminal and regulatory law, if any business is uncertain as to its legal obligations during this worrying time, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
How can we help?
We are in the midst of a general election, so it is perhaps not surprising that hot ‘law and order’ topics, such as knife crime, are featuring in the news as the main political parties fight for the popular vote.
It is worthwhile taking a brief look at some of the recent announcements, and seeing what is not receiving attention.
The Conservatives propose changes where a person aged at least 21 years murders a child under 16 years. In such circumstances, they say that the starting point should be a ‘whole life order’. This would mean that they would never be eligible for parole. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 already contains measures in this regard, but this is, on the face of it, a tightening up of those provisions. On our assessment, if enacted, this provision is unlikely to impact on more than one or two cases each year.
Knife crime remains high on the political agenda, and we have written about this topic in the recent past. The Conservatives propose changes to stop and search powers, and swift processing of those arrested before the courts. Any changes to stop and search provisions are likely to prove controversial. There are also concerns about whether the current resourcing of the criminal justice system is sufficient to cope with any radical new initiatives.
The conservatives have already announced the recruitment of 20,000 extra police officers. It is a fair assumption that if this target is reached more people will be arrested and brought before the courts. Again, some resource implications remain unaddressed.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged a further £300m for local policing.
The Conservatives have announced further changes to practice and procedure, to make the process more ‘victim-centric’ and transparent.
The Conservatives propose raising the ‘victim surcharge’ by 25%.
Is this a ‘Law and Order’ election?
The Conservatives have returned to a traditional ‘law and order’ theme, tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. As well as punishment, there are promises of better prison rehabilitation schemes and more robust non-custodial options.
Other parties do not lead on this issue in quite the same way, but all promise better resourced public services, which inevitably includes policing.
What is missing?
It will come as no surprise to anyone that legal aid has barely been mentioned in the manifestos of any of the parties. There seems to be no appetite to address the drastic cuts of the last decades.
Keeping a watching brief
Whatever laws the next government brings forward, we remain committed to ensuring that the proper rights and protections afforded to all those we represent are safeguarded. We continue to be vigilant and ensure that any legislative developments that are brought forward do not infringe your fundamental rights and freedoms.
How can we help?
Few people would disagree with the suggestion that sentencing law in England and Wales is a complete mess. The provisions that govern how a defendant is to be sentenced are both complex and disparate. They are also found across a significant number of statutes.
Why does this matter?
Research has shown that thousands of sentencing errors are made each year, with many going completely undetected. Sometimes the mistakes make little difference in practice, but often the failure leads to unlawful sentences being imposed.
The complexity of the statutory provisions is only one consideration. We must also take note of a large body of case law. Again, we see many errors, most notably concerning protective orders where conditions imposed are often draconian and unnecessary.
Sentencing errors can lead to a failure to protect victims, unlawful or inappropriate sentences for defendants, and very costly appeal proceedings that are often necessary to correct the mistakes. Ironically the Court of Appeal often makes mistakes itself.
So, what is being proposed?
The Law Commission has proposed a ‘Sentencing Code’; this will be a single Act of Parliament that will place all sentencing provisions in one place.
To achieve this, a two-stage process will take place:
- Minor amendments to existing statutes will be made to ‘tidy up’ the statute book.
- Immediately afterwards the provisions will be consolidated into one Act of Parliament (‘the sweep’).
This clean sweep of law will then lead to a single consolidated statutory provision that can be further amended in the future.
It is important to note that this procedure is a consolidating procedure, so apart from minor changes to legislation, there is no material change to existing law. There will be no increases to existing sentences.
Will this make a difference?
Given the effect of this is merely to move sentencing law into one single statute, it is a reasonable question to ask whether this will make a difference.
The Law Commission carried out extensive testing of the proposals, and it was demonstrated that having a single reference point for sentencing leads to fewer errors. Errors will continue to be made, for all manner of reasons, but we should see a massive reduction.
When will these changes happen?
The first piece of legislation was laid in the House of Lords last week, and the provisions could be law in a matter of months. Much will depend on the legislative timetable and the uncertainty of the political situation at the present time.
When the relevant legislation is enacted, there will need to be a period of training for lawyers and judges before the new statute takes effect, so we are looking at mid-2020 in all likelihood.
What happens until then?
Until that time, we will continue to be alert on your behalf. Our lawyers take great care to ensure lawful and proportionate sentences are passed and will not hesitate to take corrective action where that is required. We prefer to work hard to avoid mistakes in the first place, and all our advocates are highly trained in the complexities of sentencing law. Our ethos is a ‘get it right first-time’ one.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7388 1658 and let us help. We deal with all manner of criminal offences on a daily basis, from the initial investigation through to Court. We have the expertise to get you the best result possible.Read More
Mental Health is a complicated business. Conditions are not easy to diagnose, doctors can disagree on which disorder a person is suffering from, or even if they have a mental health condition at all.
Those with mental disorders might have specific needs in court on top of those of the typical defendant. That’s if they’re mentally well enough to stand trial at all, or if the CPS deems it is in the public interest to charge them.
Our initial approach is to seek diversion away from the court process wherever possible. A proactive approach with the police and Crown Prosecution Service can often avoid prosecution and more speedily access any necessary medical help that an accused person needs.
How do Courts approach Defendants with Mental Health Problems?
Sentencing defendants who appear to have mental health problems is a very difficult exercise. As a result, The Sentencing Council recently published a new draft guideline. This sets out a general approach to sentencing defendants who have mental health problems.
This guideline is now open for consultation. The idea is that it will make sentencing easier and more consistent amongst those who suffer from mental illness.
It will apply only to some mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders, and dementia.
Although the guideline is still at consultation stage there is much that we can already utilise to assist those we defend.
What Sentences are Available?
Assuming a person is not well enough to stand trial, “unfit to plead”, a hearing goes ahead to determine whether they did the act; but this is not an ordinary trial with a “guilty” or “not guilty” outcome.
If they have done the act, or are found guilty in the usual way, there are several mental health-specific sentencing options available to the Judge under the Mental Health Act 1983.
A Judge must be satisfied, on the evidence of two doctors, that this is the appropriate order, and that treatment is available.
The order is initially for six months but can be renewed for a further six and then annually. The treating doctor, hospital manager, or First-Tier Tribunal (Mental Health) decides when a person can be discharged from hospital.
This is a type of order that attaches to a Hospital Order. At least one doctor must give live evidence. It can only be made if it is necessary to protect the public.
They restrict how a person can be discharged for a certain period, and they can be made indefinitely.
Only the Secretary of State, in most cases, can discharge someone under a Restriction Order. There is still a limited right of review in the First-Tier Tribunal (Mental Health).
Hospital and Limitation Directions
Otherwise known as “Hybrid Orders” these are a conventional prison sentence, with a direction that the time should be served in hospital rather than prison. These can only be made where a person is over 21.
If a person is discharged before the end of the prison term, they are transferred back to prison.
If they complete the “sentence”, they remain in hospital on the terms of a regular Hospital Order.
Several other factors weigh into whether any of these orders can or should be made.
A recent example of the use of a hybrid order can be found in the case of Samantha Ford. You can read more about that case here.
Can Someone Still be Sent to Prison?
Yes. The Judge is not obliged to make any of these orders just because a defendant suffers from mental health problems. Therefore, he/she can pass an ordinary prison or another sentence.
In the case of insanity or unfitness to plead, the Judge must use a mental health sentence or give an absolute discharge.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us help. We can advise on a plea, defences and potential sentences in a wide range of circumstances. At all stages we can access specialist medical advice to ensure the appropriate outcome.Read More
This perennial question was back in the news following a ministry of justice announcement that further steps would be taken to root out dishonest prison officers and others working in custodial institutions.
A new counter-corruption unit will be tasked with ‘proactively pursuing those suspected of corrupt activity in prison and probation services across England and Wales.’
The unit comprises 29 specialist staff split into a national team and 5 regional teams. Within these teams are expert intelligence analysts who will examine threats to the organisation.
Corruption can range from a member of staff having a relationship with a prisoner, to bringing in drugs and contraband for individual prisoners or organised crime groups. The unit complements prison security teams that can already search staff, including with metal detectors and baggage scanners.
The new Counter Corruption Unit has 4 aims to combat the threat:
- protect against corruption by building an open and resilient organisation;
- prevent people from engaging in corruption, strengthening professional integrity;
- pursue and punish those involved in corruption;
- prepare prisons to minimise the impact of corruption where it does occur.
How widespread is the problem?
The numbers of staff found taking contraband into prisons in England and Wales has risen by 57% in the past six years, according to ministry of justice figures obtained through a freedom of information request. 341 staff members were either dismissed, excluded, convicted or cautioned by police. In 2017, there were 71 cases of staff smuggling compared with 45 in 2012.
Ben Crewe, deputy director of Cambridge University’s Prisons Research Centre, said staff cuts and a more significant proportion of inexperienced officers meant that “those in post are more vulnerable to corruption”.
This is terrible news for prisoners looking to leave prison with a clean slate – if the temptation is offered from within the prison estate the chances of breaking free from a cycle of criminality is severely diminished.
The new heightened security measures will also act as a deterrent to prisoners who break the rules while serving a sentence as the chances of capture may significantly increase.
The alarming scale of prison officer corruption also leads many to question the value that can be placed on prison officer testimony during court cases and prison adjudications. The actions of a few can impact on the entire staff.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 73881658 and let us help, we deal with all manner criminal offences on a daily basis and have the expertise to get you the best result possible.Read More
Environmental protests across London in recent days have caused massive disruption and are set to spread across other towns and cities over the coming weeks and months.
Public protest has always been a legitimate and important part of the democratic process and is enshrined in law. But, how do the police balance the right to protest as against the rights of other people to go about their business unimpeded?
Why are people protesting?
Extinction Rebellion has organised the protests; a group concerned about the environmental destruction of our planet.
Frustrated that other attempts to force change in governmental behaviour have changed, they have resorted to a new form of peaceful protest, on its website they claim:
‘Civil disobedience works when it’s peaceful, respectful, disruptive and undertaken en masse. We don’t want to disrupt people, but our Government’s failure over the last 30 years leaves us no choice. If we had functioning democracies, we wouldn’t need to. We’ve tried petitions, marches, letters, reports, papers, meetings, even direct actions; and emissions have continued to rise. Governments prioritise the short term interests of the economic elites, so to get their attention, we have to disrupt the economy. They have left us with no other option.’
In London the protesters blocked major roads and bridges, leading to significant chaos and disruption.
What was the police response?
The Metropolitan Police set out the dilemma in this way:
‘The serious disruption the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations are causing to people in central London and beyond is unacceptable and we completely understand the concern it is causing to those who are disrupted by it.
Ultimately, the Met has a duty to balance the rights of those engaged in protest and who are acting within the law, against the needs and rights of Londoners to go about their daily lives with minimum disruption. Where people are not acting within the law we continue to arrest them, and we anticipate arrests continuing to rise. We are also working closely with partner agencies, Transport for London, British Transport Police, City of London Police, City of Westminster and the Mayor’s Office, as well as the business community.’
‘…we will have had more than 1,000 officers on the streets policing the demonstrations. This is putting a strain on the Met and we have now asked officers on the boroughs to work 12-hour shifts; we have cancelled rest days and our Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF) have had their leave cancelled. This allows us to free up significant numbers of officers whilst responding to local policing. We would also like to reassure people that we have ring-fenced the VCTF so we retain the capacity to deal with any unrelated violent incidents. However, the protesters need to understand that their demonstration is meaning officers are being diverted away from their core local duties that help keep London safe and that this will have implications in the weeks and months beyond this protest as officers take back leave and the cost of overtime.’
Was anyone arrested?
An almost unique feature of the protests to date is that people are aware of the risk of arrest and are willing to be arrested – this ironically presents an incredibly difficult policing challenge.
The police say:
‘…we have arrested more than 460 people, the large majority for breach of Section 14 [of the Public Order Act 1986) and obstruction of the highway. Of those arrested, so far eight people have been charged with those offences. At this stage it is better for us to keep our resources and custody capacity moving and flexible than leave protesters sitting in cells for up to 12 hours before going to court for what, although highly disruptive, are lower level offences. So everyone else arrested has been released under investigation and will be brought back to be formally interviewed and charged as appropriate in due course. We are aware that means some protesters immediately return to the area to resume their activities; those people will be arrested again.’ (By Saturday 20th April the number of arrests had risen to almost 800).
Will all those people be prosecuted?
This remains to be seen, but potentially thousands of contested prosecutions would place an immense strain on the criminal justice system, so many people think that those released without charge will face no further action.
Are there any legal defences to these charges?
There are several defences potentially available although the lawful right to protest peacefully is not an absolute one, and case law is generally unhelpful. There are some developing areas of legal challenge and these are the ones that defence lawyers will be concentrating their efforts on. Law is a living instrument and must develop as society responds to concerns such as the ones raised by these protestors. We anticipate that there will be a good number of legal challenges flowing from these protests.
People must, however, be prepared to face arrest, prosecution and possibly a criminal record and must individually decide whether that is a price worth paying.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7388 1658 and let us help – if you are arrested ask for us by name, the police can contact us so that we can speak to you privately.Read More