Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Was the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith a balls up?

Whilst the abuse of children is an appalling tragedy, for which the culprit should be severely punished, whenever it occurs, we are all in danger of making decisions based on emotion rather than reason. The recent Court of Appeal decision condemning the way in which Haringey Council sacked Sharon Shoesmith is a prime example.

Unsurprisingly, the public were appalled at the death of Baby Peter. As it was the second tragedy that had taken place under the noses of the same Council, the first being Victoria Climbie, the public were baying for blood. The papers were outraged and demanded action. Ed Balls was the Minister for Education under a “caring” Labour Government, and the pressure was on. There was a lot of angry rhetoric in Parliament, demanding that heads must roll. And roll, one of them certainly did. Sadly, no one stopped to ask and think, before acting in haste.

Who were Sharon Shoesmith’s employers? One would have hoped that in an ideal world, Haringey Council would go through the tried and tested dismissal procedures for such a high profile case, to make sure it didn’t go wrong, and back fire on them. But no, Ed Balls took over by announcing her dismissal in the House of Commons before it had even taken place. This is a yet another example of the separation of powers going badly wrong. Balls is part of the Legislative (Parliament), not the Exectutive (Administration), and was usurping his powers by interfering in Council business. Rather than admitting he was wrong, he has stuck to his guns, and said he would do the same thing again. To be fair the Court of Appeal condemned the Council for their maladministration of the dismissal procedure, but said that the Government had scapegoated Ms. Shoesmith in a wholly unfair way.

Sadly, in the course of this story and the public outrage, somehow, the real culprits were overlooked. It was those closest to Baby P that committed the real crime, for which they have been punished, namely mother Tracey Connolly, the boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother Jason Owen. Social Services can be blamed but only in a secondary capacity. Social Workers in some London Boroughs have a high case load, staff shortages, and a multi-racial population with all the complications that are brought with it. The cost of living in London makes it difficult to find staff. Ms. Shoesmith points to failings by, not only Social Services, but also Police and Medical agencies.

More and more these days politicians bow to media pressure, which is stronger and more pervasive than ever before with 24/7 digital channels, the internet, and print journals of all shapes and sizes. When the Daily Mail, the Sun, and other outlets shouted “Jump”, Brown and Balls (sounds like a firm of butchers?) used to respond “How High”. Next thing you know, Sharon Shoesmith’s head is on the chopping block, and the crowd are wailing, “Off with her head”. It is nearly a scene from “Alice in Wonderland”. Who played “the Mad Hatter”, you might think?

So what do we conclude from this nightmare scenario? What occurs to me most strongly is that no one wins. It is a lose, lose situation.
  •  Baby P is dead
  • His closest relatives have spent periods in prison at public expense
  • Harringey Council have been heavily criticised
  • No doubt the staff are demoralised. God knows how difficult it must be now to find social care staff to work there, making the existing staff even more stressed, and the workloads, no doubt, even more onerous. 
  • Sharon Shoesmith, the intended scapegoat, has come out smelling of roses. She has had much more publicity than she no doubt likes and deserves, and has been given a ticket to large amounts of compensation at the expense of the cash strapped taxpayer of Haringey.
  • Ed Balls and the previous Labour Government come out looking like numpties.
  • Police and Medical Services have been heavily criticised, and are no doubt “learning lessons” as they always do after such tragedies.     
Who are the winners from such a tragedy?

The media have made lots of money out of the tragedy as they always do. This story really has legs. It has been running since 2008, and no doubt will continue as Sharon Shoesmith fights her way through yet more Courts of Appeal (Balls and the Department of Education are apparently going to appeal).

Lawyers of course will be well paid for the many cases that have arisen from this tragedy
  • The criminal trials of Connelly, Barker, and Owen
  • The unfair dismissal case which Shoesmith lost but has now been reversed impliedly by the most recent judgement of the Court of Appeal.
  • The judicial review case against the Department of Education at both first instance and now on Appeal.
  • The further appeal to the Supreme Court.
  • The compensation case for loss of office by Sharon Shoesmith
I have to take my hat off to her lawyer for pushing this case as far as he has. No doubt he had an anxious, intelligent, and determined client by all accounts. The case must have been very stressful with all the media attention, and he did his best for a pilloried client, who was the victim, at the end of the day, of a Balls balls up. We must wait and see how the case develops henceforth.

How super are super Injunctions?

The spin put on the effectiveness of super injunctions cannot possibly be unbiased, as long as the press are in charge of editing and writing news stories.  Why? Because the tabloid media are writing out of self interest and frustration, caused by the restriction preventing them from writing sleazy stories about famous people.

Politicians, as usual, bleat about the way in which the judges, whom they have appointed to upload the law, interpret the Human Rights Act, which they introduced in the first place. Cameron has far too frequently disrespected the decisions of judges. It is a very dangerous game for politicians to play, when they try to take control, and interfere with the workings of the Courts. Philosophers call it separation of powers. In other words the Executive (The Administration), The Judiciary (the Court), and the Legislative (Parliament), should all remain separate. When they clash, overlap, and try to usurp each other’s powers, then, in its extreme form, society can break down. Wrong decisions usually result. Cameron before has, publicly in Parliament, criticised the decisions of the Courts, and the way in which lawyers operate. He fails to realise that all they are doing is interpreting laws, which Parliament has made. He, or any other politicians, can hardly complain if they are interpreted in a way they don’t approve of.

Cameron never ceases, in an uninformed way, to moan about the decisions of the Courts in Human Rights cases. He must think that the vulnerable do not deserve rights. Prisoners should obviously not be allowed to vote when they are in prison. After all they are being looked after by the state, so if things are going wrong, they should not be able to complain to their MP, should they. The illogicality of this proposition is self evident. The Human Rights Act is not there to protect only prisoners, or sex offenders, but the great British Public from every day intrusions into our lives by Government. It stops society from turning into the grey depressing concept that was George Orwell’s 1984, where Big Brother (not the Channel 4 show) watched every move.
On Question Time, the other night, the media solicitor, Charlotte Harris, cleverly posed a scenario, which hopefully alarmed the audience and emphasised the importance of the right to privacy and family life. Imagine a scenario where one day a journalist rings up a man on the street, and informs him that a large newspaper has found out that he is having an affair with his best friend’s wife, and is very interested in publishing a story about it. This would be most alarming. One would hope that the right to privacy would prevent the newspaper from publishing this sort of thing. The difference in reality would be that the man on the street cannot afford to go to court, because of the lack of availability of legal aid to any but the most poor.

Parliament, in their wisdom, are going to try to find a solution. But how can they? How does one legislate to stop judge’s exercising their sensible and wise discretion? Each case is different. Is the right of a footballer to remain private a public issue, whereas Sir Fred Goodwin’s adulterous activity in the public interest because he is in charge of a part publicly owned bank? One can see that every case turns on its own facts, and not capable of being codified.

What Parliament can, and should do, is legislate to stop Members of Parliament from abusing their right of free speech and privilege to break super injunctions, just because they happen to disagree with the law. There are a lot of laws that we all disagree with, but if we tried the same sort of thing, we would end up on the wrong end of an action for Contempt of Court, or paying out damages for such a flagrant breach. It was so reprehensible that both the Speaker at the time, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, rebuked the behaviour of MP’s. This is not the first time that Parliamentary privilege has been used to leak private information. Parliament should show a better example, and not abuse their special rules. In my opinion this abuse is worse than some of the allegations of expenses fraud, which has led to incarceration.
Super injunctions are designed to protect the super rich and celebrities from the invasion into their personal lives by the paparazzi. Any normal member of the public who has experienced this has been alarmed by it, so pushy and aggressive can they be. Somehow, celebrities, are different of course, because they have so much money that it should not matter?

So important are Human Rights, that we sacrifice them at our peril. The government have to learn more respect for the judiciary, and lawyers. They should show a better example by their behaviour, and leave the law to the lawyers. The press have arguably far too much freedom, and do not need any more. In my experience they get very touchy, and overreact if they think their freedom is being eroded. They start talking about dictatorships and government controlled press, which is a long way off.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Has Cameron taken Clegg for a sucker?

Why didn't Nick Clegg see it coming? At the last election the Liberal Democrats were never going to get into power. The Conservatives needed someone to coalesce with. They had a matter of days to negotiate with each other. What did the Liberals want? Proportional representation of course. What did Cameron say? "Look Nick, we will get in bed with you, and guess what? We can have a referendum on the point." What should Clegg have said? "Get stuffed David, you toff. Even I can see that you are trying to pull a fast one." He didn't though did he? 

Nick would trust David you see, because firstly they are nearly doubles - good looking, same height, speak jolly well, fathers were bankers (spelt correctly), and both the product of our fine public schools. Nick went to Westminster, and David went to Eton.

What a lot of people don't know is that Nick also went to Caldicott Prep School in Buckinghamshire from 8 to 13. Caldicott has been the subject of a major police investigation by Thames Valley into allegations of child abuse by a string of male teachers over a number of years. There has been at least one conviction of a master called Martin Carson who went to prison for two years. Not that there is any suggestion that Clegg or Cameron were the subject of any abuse. I act for a victim of another teacher from Caldicott, who was also investigated by the police, charged, taken to court, but allowed to go free, because it was decided that a fair trial could not take place, even though all the victims were willing and able to give evidence - a controversial decision. The plot gets even thicker when one considers that Lord Justice Scott Baker spent 14 years as chairman of the board of governors during the period of the allegations. My client finds the link worrying. He & others are campaigning for a retrial. Anyway, I digress......

What was the con that Clegg fell for? Well we have just had the local elections and the referendum on proportional representation. It was clearly a subject the public knew very little about, and could not make a decision upon. It was an entirely unsuitable subject for a public vote. It should have been dealt with in Parliament after a debate between those that do understand the subject only too well - the politicians of course. The problem is, I suppose, that there is not enough support for an alternative system to get the legislation passed. Cameron could have promised to support the policy, however, and used his whips to get it through parliament. 

What did the some of the Conservatives do? Opposed the "Yes" vote. Cleggie and others were furious. Why? They had been conned of course. Vince Cable, the business secretary described his Conservative colleagues as "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal".  What is more, the media were against the change, and said so in their droves. Murdock didn't like the idea, nor did his papers. The referendum poll stations were not well attended. 

The effect of the lost vote has been to weaken the standing of the Lib Dems even further. If it wasn't bad enough to have turned 180 degrees on the university tuition fees scandal, now they seem to have fallen apart. Disastrous local election results. The Green Party did the best, which probably means we will all have to boil our rubbish in muesli, and mix it with dried fruit before it goes out to the bins. 

Clegg seems to be a puppet in Cameron's hands. It is a shame really, because I think he is quite a nice bloke who talks quite a lot of sense. He is similar in character to the other two - young career politicians. What happened to the likes of Michael Foot, Harold Wilson, and even, dare I say, Margaret Thatcher. Now, they may have been eccentric caricatures, but at least they had personality, and were a lot older than the present array of suits we have to choose from.

So why didn't nice Nick see it coming. It was a con right from the start. "We won't introduce the legislation on AV, but you can have a referendum." Cameron might as well have asked him to go and buy a tin of tartan paint. No way were the public ever going to understand a referendum on an alternative voting system. Most people have trouble understanding how to boil an egg. Most people don't like change, so it is no surprise that they voted to keep things as they are.

Never mind Nick, it won't be long before you lose your seat, and get a job on the buses instead. When nice David looks you in the eyes and sounds convincing, don't fall for it. You will end up eating sandwiches out of a Tupperware box on the No.46 to Bethnal Green.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Who is more evil, Osama Bin Laden or a Paedophile?

Since the death of Osama Bin Laden has been all over the media, my mind has inevitably compared the glorification of his death with the way in which the public react to the conviction of a child molester who prays on children in a calculated and insidious way. What are the similarities?
  1. They both think that they are doing nothing wrong. Osama is trying to rid the world of the evils of capitalism by killing innocent people. He is doing this in the name of the Islamic faith. Paedophiles think that a love relationship with a minor is good for the child because they are expressing their love for children. They think that the child enjoys it. Some fall in love with the child, and give them inappropriate tenderness. Others operate a more violently abusive type of relationship.
  2. Both use manipulative tactics and subterfuge to win the trust of innocent victims. Osama has camps, where young impressionable idealistic Muslims are brain washed into believing that they are killing in the name of religion, for the greater good of their faith. Child Abusers win the trust of young impressionable children in need of affection by treating them in a special way, buying them presents and spoiling them. When the victim is ensnared, they pounce, and cause untold damage by abusing them physically and sexually. Terrorist soldiers are taught to kill on demand without question.
  3. The general public believe, that what both terrorists and paedophiles do is repulsive, abhorrent, and worthy of nothing but the most severe of punishments. So strong is the general feeling that no government would dare organise a referendum to decide what the appropriate punishment should be. The result inevitably would be the re-introduction of the death penalty or worse, probably,  in the case of serious sex offenders. Some countries allow sex offenders to consent to castration, but not Britain as yet.
Inevitably the state cannot be seen to be administering death as a  punishment for a crime not matter how severe it is. There are many who would disagree with this notion, and demand the death penalty for both terrorism and child abuse. Our modern civilisation, and the law of Human Rights, will not permit the doctrine of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, to misquote the bible.

Some states in America, however, and many less civilised penal jurisdictions, most notably Sharia Law, do permit the death penalty. Many say that Britain and Europe are too soft. Importantly, the Second Amendment to the American constitution permits the right to carry arms. Thus it is ethically easier to extend that country's right to kill people who commit crimes. It is thus no surprise that the international community allowed Iraq to try its own war criminals, because they knew that, if found guilty, Sadam Hussein would be executed. A more desirable political solution all round.

So what should we do with child abusers? For the most serious crimes, where the abuser accepts they have a problem which cannot be cured, so strong is their sexual desire for children, I would advocate the use of chemical castration, but only where the sex offender consents. Indeed it is legal in many US states including California, Canada and in many European countries – France, Germany, Denmark, Israel, Sweden, Poland and Norway. Russia are trying to introduce a castration law at the moment.

Sadly, the most dangerous paedophiles are those who are in denial. No psychological treatment will work for them, however well meaning. Even more dangerous are those who have not yet been caught. I am in favour of the discretionary life sentence, where the offender has to prove they do not present a danger to children before they can be released. Treatment is often mandatory. Sadly, in many prisons, the cost of treatment is too expensive, and will be hit by the restricted budget cuts, now imposed by this government.

Paedophiles abuse children, and terrorists abuse innocent victims in the name of politics and religion. A debate can be had as to who is the most evil. I will leave the decision to the public jury.