Friday, 25 February 2011

Bill of Rights

When complaining bitterly about the House of Lords decision to give sex offenders the right of appeal, David Cameron made worrying comments about the outrageous way Human Rights law interferes with decision making in the British Courts.

It is not the first time he has complained that the law on Human Rights produces perverse decisions in the Courts. He said the same thing about the European Court decision that prisoners ought to be allowed the vote whilst in custody.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the law, fundamental to jurisprudence is the theory of separation of powers. In a well balanced society the functions of the executive, legislative, and administrative powers should remain separate. In other words, Parliament should not try and tell judges what to do. When the judges criticise a decision of government because it was unreasonable, then politicians become jumpy.

Similarly, when the European Parliament tells the British Government how to behave, politicians like David Cameron (there are others) also object.

There should be more respect for the decisions of judges, and less interference from the executive.

There was a time when the Lord Chancellor was held in greater respect by Parliament, principally because he was completely independent. It was Margaret Thatcher who clipped the wings of Lord Hailsham whilst he was Lord Chancellor around 1982, because she didn't like the fact that he stood up to her. She did this by making the position of Lord Chancellor part of the Treasury, and thus answerable to Parliament.

These days, of course, the Lord Chancellor - or Minister of Justice, is part of the Ministry of Justice and completely answerable to Parliament.
We hear time and time again conflict between the judiciary and Parliament. It didn't help when the government interfered with judge's pensions and made them less attractive. Judges didn't like it.

Gordon Brown was less openly confrontational with the judiciary, but nevertheless government was, and remains, less respectful of legal process than it should be.

So what is David Camerons' answer? Introduce a Bill of Rights as a way round Human Rights legislation. What was the attitude of Lord Woolf to this proposal - he didn't like and thought it would produce conflicts, which indeed it will - will David Cameron listen and take heed of such experience and wisdom? Unlikely.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Orchard Lodge

We act on behalf of several clients who went to the above assessment centre in Southwark, London, between about 1983 and 1989, where they allege they were abused. We understand that an abuser from there has been prosecuted by the police, and we are trying to obtain more details of the case. We are interested in any information we can about the institution. We understand it was used as a secure assessment centre for boys who were going through the juvenile courts, and needed to be remanded in a secure environment to be assessed for the purposes of a probation report.

Sex Offender's Register

I appeared on Sky News last Thursday lunchtime to give my views on the House of Lords decision which stated that sex offenders should be allowed to appeal the decision of a court to put them on the Sex Offender's Register for life. I was put up ostensibly against a Family Lawyer in London, with whom, in reality, I did not have an issue. It appeared however as though we were opposed.

There was in sufficient time to explain the situation in detail, as there often isn't on a short news item.

The law relating to the sex offender's register was first enacted by a Labour Government in 1997. This set up the Register per se, and restricted the movement of any sex offender who wanted to move around the country. It obliged them to notify the Police. In 2003, however, the rules were further tightened, to include Foreign Travel, and other restrictions to make life a lot more difficult. These restrictions only apply to sex offenders who are given a sentence of more than 30 months, so as to catch only the serious offenders.

The law was obviously aimed at child sex offenders who wanted to travel abroad and escape the detection of the police. What was not anticipated, when the law came in, was that it would also extend to, amongst others, children who commit offences at a very young age.

Two individuals went to the High Court and argued that the rules were "not proportionate" for their particular offence, and in breach of their Human Rights. They wanted the right to appeal the original Court decision if circumstances changed.

If one reads the judgement of the Court of Appeal, it details imaginary situations, and the way in which the rules can severely restrict a particular type of offender. I think the House of Lords had in mind rehabilitation, and the way in which liberty can be restricted. They did not have in mind serious sex offenders going before the Court so that they could be taken off the Register all together.

The Lords were alarmed at a law which puts the offender on a register for life with no right of appeal.

If one reads the judgement in detail, then the argument appears more reasonable than was reported in rather an emotive way in the press.

This is a good example of histeria taking over in a highly emotive area of law. It developed into David Cameron criticising a decision of the House of Lords in Parliament in a wholly inappropriate way. Separation of Powers is essential if society is to remain balanced. To use this as an argument in favour of bringing in a Bill of Rights is an over reaction to a simple point.

The Government clearly wants to be in control of everything, including the judges. They do not like court judgments which they think are wrong, the justification for which is Human Rights. Rights seem to be justifiable when the individual exercising them is a deserving member of society, but not when they are an offender.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Manchester Legal Awards 2011

I am delighted that we have been nominated as finalists in two categories for the Manchester Legal Awards (Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year and Small Firm of the Year). It feels very humbling to be chosen out of so many other deserving law firms. I hope that this nomination is a recognition that the work we do on behalf of abuse victims helps some of the most damaged and vulnerable members of our society.

To read the full story