Tag Archives: legal system

The U.K. legal system, where you are presumed guilty until proven innocent

Yesterday’s Sunday Herald on Luke Mitchell

I was reading a piece in Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper yesterday. I have absolutely no idea about the true facts or the guilt or innocence in this case, but there is an undeniable truth when the imprisoned guy says:

“The court system and the police, they’re not separate bodies, they’re all part of the state. The justice system isn’t there to protect you, it’s to get the conviction.”

The UK court system is inherently corrupt. It is not designed to uncover innocence or guilt. The police investigate a case and find the person they believe or claim they believe is guilty. That person is then presumed guilty unless he or she can (via an expensive paid advocate) prove themselves innocent or apparently innocent. The court prosecutes the person on the presumption of guilt and a judge or jury decides which of two paid advocates has constructed a better case.

It is a contest and career-building exercise between two highly-paid, trained debaters. The accused person is presumed guilty until and unless proven innocent. It is illegal for any jury member to attempt to check any evidence other than what is presented in court.

The Stefan Kisko case – the clearest miscarriage of justice

The only evidence which can be considered is the evidence of two trainee debaters paid to hide anything which might throw doubt on their own version of events.

Hiding facts is as important as presenting them. Points are effectively awarded for presentation, style, skill and content. The verdict is about which advocate has been a better performer. It is a bit like competitive ice skating with people’s lives, often on thin ice. Or like politics.

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Worldwide comments on Louise Reay’s husband’s self-destructive court case.

Controversial Edinburgh Fringe show

If you want to complain about something included in a comedy show you have not seen, my advice is do not sue the comic. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case, it will not make you look good and the media will love it.

Last Friday, I blogged about Louise Reay starting a crowdfunding appeal to cover court costs because her estranged husband is suing her for mentioning him in an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode last year.

As far as I am aware, he has never actually seen the show, which was about political totalitarianism and what would happen if the Chinese government took over the BBC.

I saw a preview of Hard Mode before the Fringe in which Louise mentioned how sad she was about her marriage breaking up. Without details.

I never saw the show in Edinburgh. Apparently her husband objected to some comments he was told she had made in a handful of shows and she removed the comments. Now, six months later, he is suing her.

Drawing attention to something only a few people heard by going into a public court and attracting inevitable media publicity is staggeringly counterproductive. As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, it triggers the Streisand Effect. I showed how the story had spread, virus-like – basically Husband Sues Comedian Wife for Talking About Him on Stage – and, since yesterday, it has spread further with people now commenting on it worldwide. The latest new references to it which I spotted on a cursory Google this morning are listed below at the bottom of this blog.

Eraserhead – Louise’s new show had to be written in 48 hours

In Australia, The Advertiser noted that the complained-of show “last year won an Adelaide Fringe Best Emerging Artist Weekly Award”. This year (Louise is currently performing in Adelaide), The Advertiser notes she was forced to write a new show Eraserhead in just 48 hours. It is “about the experience of censorship and the way it makes you feel like your identity is being erased”.

Louise is quoted as saying: “he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me. As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.”

Canada’s National Post wisely got in touch with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who actually saw and reviewed the complained-about show in Edinburgh for The Scotsman last year.

She said that the show was about freedom of speech and political oppression. At one brief point in the show, she told the National Post yesterday: “My memory of it is that (Louise) said that she’d realized that she’d also been in an oppressive relationship. But it was so minor — there was very, very little detail… I’ve seen lots of shows where people talk about relationships where they’ve gone into a lot of detail about their relationships, their marriage. Mostly what she was doing was making a political point. It seems extraordinary that he has taken this view of it.”

The Malaysian Digest quoted Mark Stephens, a libel lawyer at Howard Kennedy in London, who told the UK’s Guardian:

“There’s a long history of British juries – before they were abolished [in defamation cases] – not finding in favour of claimants when it’s a joke… This will be the first time [the issue comes] before a judge. It’s going to be a test of whether the British judiciary understands a joke – I mean that seriously. It’s a test case for the judge to see whether they will follow the same route as juries used to take, which was to throw libel cases which were based on humour out on their ear. Judges have traditionally had something of a humourless side.”

The Malaysian Digest continues: “Drawing from personal experience has been key to vast numbers of comedians’ work. Last year’s Fringe, even, featured separate shows by ex-couple Sarah Pascoe and John Robins in which they discussed their break up, the latter winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show, shared with Hannah Gadsby. Sarah Millican won the if.comedy award for Best Newcomer in 2008 for her show Sarah Millican’s Not Nice, inspired by her own divorce.

“It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism…”

“(Louise Reay’s) solicitors have also issued a statement on the case, reading: Louise started to write her Hard Mode show when she was still with her husband. It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese Government. It was in no way a show about her husband. While performing the show after their separation, Louise mentioned her husband a couple of times but this was in the context of telling the audience how sad she was that they had recently separated.

“At certain performances of the show, she cried at this point. While she used Mr. Reay’s image of a couple of times, she invited the audience to admire how good-looking he was and expressed sadness that the marriage had come to an end. She used an image and some footage from their wedding that she had been using in her shows for years without any objection from Mr. Reay.

Mr. Reay had claimed that there are sections of the show which will have been understood by the audience to mean that he was abusive to Louise. Louise’s position is that the key sections that he claimed are defamatory of him were not intended to be understood by the audience to refer to him. During the most of these sections, Louise was playing various different characters, including a newsreader and Jeremy Clarkson. Should this case go to trial, there will undoubtedly be debate over the meaning of the words complained about and whether they can truly be said to refer to Mr. Reay.

Claire Smith’s review of the show in The Scotsman last year, by the way, said it was: “an absurdist show about totalitarianism which intentionally makes its audience feel uncomfortable. We are hustled to our feet, given identity papers and surrounded by masked guards who are watching our behaviour. In the past Reay, who is fluent in Chinese, has been sponsored by the Chinese government to create absurdist mime shows in Chinese. It is safe to say Reay and the Chinese government are getting a divorce – particularly as she has worked on this show with dissident artist Ai Weiwei. It’s a bold experimental comedy.”

In fact, the Chinese, as far as I am aware at the time of writing, have not yet threatened to sue Louise.

Louise’s TV documentary work covers difficult subjects

Incidentally, Louise’s TV documentary credits include BBC1 Panorama, Channel 4’s Dispatches, BBC2’s study of income inequality The Super Rich & Us, Channel 4’s series on immigration Why Don’t You Speak English?,  BBC2’s series on education Chinese School: Are Our Kids Tough Enough?, BBC4’s History of India: Treasures of the Indus and Channel 4’s History of China: Triumph & Turmoil.

I don’t think the current court case could easily be the subject of some future TV documentary. More a TV sitcom.

Louise Reay’s crowdfunding page is HERE.

The latest batch of media reports are:

THE ADVERTISER (AUSTRALIA)

BBC NEWS, SCOTLAND

DAILY EXPRESS

DAILY RECORD (SCOTLAND)

(LONDON) EVENING STANDARD

GIZMODO

THE i

LINDA NIEUWS (HOLLAND)

MALAYSIAN DIGEST

MANDY NEWS online

NATIONAL POST (CANADA)

NEW YORK POST

THE SCOTSMAN

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The most feared comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe and her links to crime

Could this wordsmith have saved you from a prison sentence?

At this month’s Grouchy Club meeting in London, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick, one of the judges of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

“So,” I started, “you were trained as a lawyer in Scotland…”

“Yes, I did a law degree at Glasgow University because I watched Margaret Lockwood in the TV series Justice at a very impressionable age and I saw the original Witness For The Prosecution with Charles Laughton when my whole brain was malleable. I got this idea that lawyers were there to help people… I pause for laughter.

“I really just wanted to be an actress, but then my mum died very suddenly and my dad went to pieces and I thought: We must do something to cheer up my dad. What I had always done to cheer up my dad, my gran, my mum – anybody – was do something clever – win a prize, be first in the class, something.

“So I thought: Great! I will make him magically forget the love of his life to whom he has been married for 17 years has just died overnight of a brain haemorrhage… by announcing that I am going to do a law degree.”

“Very sensible,” I said. “How long was the course?”

“Four years for an Honours degree. And then, in Scotland, you do an apprenticeship and then, if you want to go to the Bar, you do devilling.”

“Devilling?”

“They call it pupilage in England.”

“You enjoyed your law course?”

“It was great. I was drunk through most of the degree.”

“And you were bonking…”

“Endlessly. I fucked people for the same reason people climb mountains. Because they’re there.”

On his death in 2015, the Telegraph called Joe a man of “integrity and passion”

“And you wanted to be…?”

“A criminal lawyer and the really, really famous guy who all the criminals in Glasgow went to was Joe Beltrami. He was a phenomenal lawyer who judged nobody and absolutely gave everybody the best defence they could get. They had never had any women working for them other than as secretaries but I persuaded Joe Beltrami and did my apprenticeship with them and it was – fucking hell! – a bit of an eye-opener.”

“You were not doing motoring offences…”

“No. They only did the biggies – murder, armed robbery, rape. So I spent most of my time interviewing witnesses, talking to the police, collecting bits-and-bobs of evidence at prisons or in the High Court. It was a TOTAL eye-opener.”

“At what point,” I asked, “did you discover there was no justice?”

“Fairly early on. It completely turned the way I thought about… the way I thought about everything. I had just come out of university. What the fuck did I know? Nothing.”

“Why did you stop being involved in the legal system?”

“One reason was that I was just getting so angry. Because of the unfairness of the system. You see an actual policeman standing there just lying. Not being mistaken, but telling a direct lie and then two of his friends stepping up and saying: Yes, I can corroborate what DC So-and-so was saying. Seeing that and knowing there is nothing you can do about it because the jury are thinking: It’s the police. So it’s true…

The Scottish media called Walter Norval Glasgow’s Godfather & “first crime boss”

“I learned more and more that you can be found guilty because your accent is wrong, because you look wrong, because you don’t know the right words. You can be found innocent because you have a posh fucking Eton accent and you can see the jury thinking: He’s such a nice chap; how can he have possibly done that? And there is nothing legally you can do about it, because the law is just a big boys’ game. If you try and go up against that, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I only know the English system,” I said, “not the Scottish system, but isn’t the whole basis of the court system that you are not judging whether someone is innocent or guilty, you are judging which of two legal eagles is putting forward a better case and which is the more credible liar?”

“It’s all shite, John,” said Copstick. “I was at the point where I was thinking: Well, if the police are going to lie, then I will lie. And, that way, absolute madness lies.”

“I once,” I said, “talked to (a former Conservative Prime Minister)’s personal solicitor. He was a top city solicitor. And he told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer into the witness box without corroboration because you could never guarantee they were telling the truth.”

“The scariest people I ever met in Glasgow,” said Copstick, “were members of the Serious Crimes Squad.”

“Joe Beltrami,” I said, “was Arthur Thompson’s lawyer, wasn’t he? So that is very serious stuff.”

“I never met Arthur Thompson,” Copstick replied. “But one of the clients I worked with was a guy called Walter Norval, who was known as The Glasgow Godfather. That would be at the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, I guess. His speciality was armed robbery. He was another nail in the coffin of my legal career.

“This was a man who had stood like a colossus over the criminal world of Glasgow… allegedly… for many years with many armed bank robberies. Nobody particularly got hurt. But there were a load of sawn-off shotguns going around and a load of banks robbed. Generally speaking he was never at the robberies. He was the mastermind. You don’t get Mr Marks and Mr Spencer on the shop floor offering 2-for-1 on knickers.

Daily Record reported Norval’s 2014 funeral.

“Walter Norval was arrested. The big evidence the police had was that he had gone from the site of an armed bank robbery, driven home and parked his brown Ford Granada car outside his house with four sawn-off shotguns in the boot – like yer average criminal mastermind does. And that was what he got convicted on.

“I went in and saw him afterwards and asked him: Is this not driving you absolutely mental? It was all a lie! 

“He said: Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of things I’ve done that I’ve got away with and this I did not do but it sort of evens-out.

“And I thought: But that doesn’t excuse it! This is criminal policing at the highest level. And they’re fucking liars. I was just too angry. I was getting too angry. And angry gets you nowhere in law. Especially as a female. Emotion gets you nowhere.

“You have to know when you’re beaten. I would have ended up being found out to have fiddled something. It just made me so angry.”

“If a crime is committed in England,” I said, “the police investigate the crime and find the person they believe committed the crime. Then they go to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide if, on a balance of probability, they will get a Guilty verdict in court. In court, it’s nothing to do with finding out the facts because the facts have already been investigated and the accused is presumed to be guilty unless ‘proven’ innocent. In court, it’s about two trained liars in a competition to see which performs better.”

“Up to a point,” said Copstick. “It’s a game. It’s like chess. I think what you’re struggling to say is that there is a massive dichotomy between law and justice.”

“I went to a grammar school,” I said, “which was a bit up itself. So it had a ‘debating society’ and the most admirable thing you could do there was argue on and win a proposition you did not believe in yourself. To me, that’s dishonesty. But that’s the basis of the legal system. You are very argumentative.”

“Yes,” agreed Copstick.

“Once you decide to take one side,” I suggested, “you will argue that case come what may.”

“Now I can be Devil’s Advocate,” said Copstick. “Back then, I was completely incapable of doing that.”

The argumentative side of Copstick will be on show next month when she and I host the daily Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-27th August, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The Grouchy Club has been labelled by The Scotsman as “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” and by me as “a rolling Copstick diatribe”.

After the Fringe finishes, the Grouchy Club continues monthly in London.

For anyone on the receiving end of one of her comedy reviews in Edinburgh – Best of luck.

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Police corruption according to a Grouchy Club comedy critic & a blogger

Kate Copstick and I expressed our views at The Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick and I expressed our views at The Grouchy Club

Yesterday’s blog was two brief extracts from the first Grouchy Club “mostly comedy” weekly podcast with Kate Copstick and me.

Before Copstick was an actress or TV personality or comedy critic or ran the Mama Biashara charity, she was a lawyer in Scotland – an Advocate. During the podcast, I asked her why she changed careers. Was it because she got fed up with trying to get guilty clients found innocent?


COPSTICK
Exactly the opposite. I stopped being a lawyer because I sat one too many times in a court where members of, for example, the Serious Crimes Squad lied in their teeth.

JOHN
This is in Glasgow?

COPSTICK
In Glasgow and Edinburgh. I realised that Law is just a big posh boys’ game where your accent will always matter and money will always matter and everything other than innocence or guilt will always matter and I was on a very fine knife-edge between thinking… well, I did… I thought: If they’re going to lie, then I’ll lie – and that is the slippery slope.

JOHN
Well, the only people who lie more than lawyers and solicitors and barristers are the p…

COPSTICK
The police, yes.

JOHN
… and, bizarrely, all the criminals I’ve met have actually been terribly honest.

COPSTICK
Well exactly. The most frightening people I met – ever – were members of the Serious Crimes Squad in the Glasgow police.

JOHN
Does the Serious Crime Squad still exist? – I think the London one was dismantled because it was so corrupt (in fact, it was the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad).

COPSTICK
I sincerely hope not. (It does.) There was a code – It’s ridiculous – It’s all that Oh no! We only slit the throats of the bad guys – But there always seemed to me to be a kind of a code of honour…

JOHN
Among thieves?

COPSTICK
Among thieves and murderers and armed robbers. I would have been a terrible… I’m a far too emotional and shouty and not-watching-my-mouth person to be a decent lawyer.

JOHN
I’ve always found criminals are very upset by injustice, which is bizarre.

COPSTICK
Yes. Absolutely.

JOHN
They commit crimes and, if they get caught, fair enough: that’s part of the game.

COPSTICK
Yes.

JOHN
But if a genuine injustice is done, they get terribly uppity about it…

COPSTICK
Absolutely.

JOHN
… whereas a policeman just thinks that is part of the game.

COPSTICK
Those in charge of the system are the ones in whose interest it is to keep the system corrupt.

JOHN
If proof were needed, this is an example of how this podcast might not always be comedy.

COPSTICK
Well, indeed.


The Grouchy Club’s first 43-minute weekly audio podcast is available to hear HEREwith a 10-minute video extract on YouTube. The Grouchy Club will be live at London’s Jewish Comedy Day this coming Sunday.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick on Jewish prejudice and the Scots/UK legal system

A selfie of Coptick and me at The Grouchy Club

A selfie of Copstick and me at The Grouchy Club last month

At last month’s Edinburgh Fringe, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I hosted the daily Grouchy Club. It will return at next year’s Fringe and we are currently looking into running monthly Grouchy Club events in London.

In the first Edinburgh show, I asked her about herself.

“You went to Glasgow University…” I said.

“Yes.”

“And studied drinking?”

“No. That came to me naturally. There was no need to study. I wrote my final Honours paper – which was on Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law – on a breakfast of two litres of Guinness. I was pretty much incapable of leaving the house without wrapping myself around something alcoholic – I mean a drink, not a person. I farted and belched my way through the exam and got a 2:1.”

“You wanted to be a Scottish lawyer?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick, “I had seen Witness For The Prosecution at a very impressionable age and had this ridiculous idea that lawyers were there to help people. I was very, very naive and obviously had not met any lawyers. I saw myself as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird mode. And also I was an appalling smartarse at school. I was unpopular. I was short, fat and ugly. The only thing that was any good about me was that I was clever.

“What clever people went on to do was Law or Medicine and, as my Highers were English, French, German, Latin and History, I was not going to be a doctor.

“The Law degree was good fun and I got to shag a lot of Jewish boys and really upset a lot of Jewish mothers. I had a boyfriend called Michael. Well, he and I were not ‘going out’. I wasn’t into relationships. I was more into just shagging randomly and frequently. Those were the days.

“Michael’s parents were quite rich and, for his 18th birthday, they bought him a Mini-Cooper car which they then locked in the garage because he took me out in it – a shiksa had soiled the seats.

“That was the first time I really understood prejudice. One Jewish guy invited me over to dinner and his mum and dad were there and I was put at the end of the table with the crockery and the cutlery for the goyim. It was like Unclean! Unclean!

“Michael – the guy with the Mini-Cooper – got me for my 21st birthday The Code of Jewish Law.”

“What,” I asked, “IS the code of Jewish Law?”

“God loves us. God hates everyone else.”

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The legal system… is blind to justice

“Anyway,” I said. “You decided not to become a lawyer. Why?”

“I did quite enjoy it, except I did come to realise that it is just a big posh boys’ game. It is not even so much about the boys. It’s about the posh. An ordinary person is never going to win. The police are liars and bastards. The prosecution services are liars and bastards. Your best defence is a rich dad and posh accent. If you don’t look right and don’t sound right, you’re probably guilty.

“I sat in front of juries and listened to them talking because I was an Advocate at that point. I was the instructing solicitor. I heard them say things like: Aw, see that Mr Taylor? (Bill Taylor was a Defence Lawyer) He’s got such lovely blue eyes. See when he looks at you? Ya cannae help but agree wi’ him. That is not a fucking defence! But that was the kind of reasons they had. You think: This is all just fucked!

“The scariest people I ever met were the Glasgow Serious Crime Squad. They would have ‘fitted you up’ faster than a Chinese tailor. Just unbelievable!”

“The clue’s in the name,” I suggested. “The Serious Crime Squad. They commit serious crimes.”

“That’s absolutely true,” said Copstick, “but I just thought: Fuck this for a game of soldiers.

‘Which years are these?” I asked.

“The mid-1980s.”

“How long do you train to be a lawyer/liar?” I asked.

“You do a four year degree and then you go off and become a baby apprentice and then, if you’re smart enough, you get to skip a year of apprenticing. So I got to skip a year.”

“So,” I said, “after being trained to lie for four years solid, you can only become either a lawyer or a politician, really.”

“After four years, you know nothing other than books,” said Copstick.

“So,” I said. “If you decide not to be a lawyer after four years, you’ve got no other career.”

“Well,” said Copstick, “what you do know is how to learn. It trains your brain like nothing else. It teaches you not to be frightened of words. If someone sends you a contract, read it. It’s not scary. It will basically just say the same thing over and over and over again to make you think it’s saying a lot of things. They could hide anything in there.”

“So basically,” I said, “all they teach you is how to encapsulate things quickly so you can speak about something you don’t understand and make it sound credible like a politician or a lawyer?”

“In a nutshell, John,” said Copstick. “In a nutshell.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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How I forgot what happened in a British court in 1999 and what really happened

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog headed A Rare Case of British Justice about a court case which happened in 1999, when I had to write a character reference for someone I knew who was being prosecuted for a second time over the same incident.

‘Harry Hardwicke’ (not his real name) had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a sentence which the police considered too lenient.

Now, over a year later, they were prosecuting him again over the same incident.

He had been driving with his girlfriend and a male and female friend in a car. The two men were in the front; the two girls were in the back. A police car, for whatever reason, appeared behind him and signalled him to pull over. Harry was about to do this when the man beside him lifted up a small bag containing pills and said: “You can’t stop. They’ll search the car.”

Harry accelerated, pursued by the police car. They drove towards his fellow passengers’ home. The other man suddenly said: “Pull in here”. It was a narrow entry and, by the time Harry had pulled off the road, the police car had caught up with them. All four jumped out of the car and ran away. The man with the bag of pills had time to bury it under a tree.

Harry kept away for a while but, when he returned, his girlfriend and the two friends were arguing loudly with the police.

His girlfriend and the other girl had had time to talk about the situation and realised that only Harry’s girlfriend could admit to having driven the car. Harry was banned from driving; the other man was banned from driving; the other girl had no licence. So only Harry’s girlfriend could legally have driven the car.

The police believed (wrongly) that they had seen four men in the car and seen the car being driven by a man in his early 20s.

Harry and his girlfriend gave statements saying she had been driving but, in the meantime, the other man told the police Harry had been driving.

So the police were able to charge Harry with six offences: perverting the course of justice (for the false statement), driving while banned (twice), driving without insurance (twice) and failing to stop when commanded to by the police.

He faced two charges of driving while banned and two charges of driving without insurance because, in each case, the first charge referred to the occasion when he was stopped by the police. The second charge in each case was because, when he was arrested, the police found a petrol receipt in his wallet therefore, they reasoned, he must have committed the offence of driving while banned and without insurance on another occasion too.

The police had then taken the immense time, trouble and expense of going to the garage and going through the video security camera’s tape until they found pictures showing Harry buying the petrol and driving off at the time the receipt in his pocket stated (and getting into the driver’s side of the car).

The charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The police said, if they failed with this serious charge, they would then prosecute him on the less serious charges of driving while banned and driving without insurance.

In court, Harry’s solicitor was able to get the prosecutor (a young woman who lived next door to Harry’s solicitor) to drop the failing-to-stop charge.

Harry and his girlfriend pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice; this triggers an automatic jail sentence. The girlfriend got two months in Holloway; Harry got four months in an open prison. Both got the normal 50% remission on their sentences, so they served one and two months. The lesser charges were left to lie “on file”.

Now, more than a year later, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to prosecute Harry on the lesser charges of driving while banned and driving without insurance.

Harry was sent a summons to appear in a magistrate’s court, but had been avoiding opening official-looking envelopes on the basis they might be bills which he couldn’t pay. On Saturday 2nd January 1999, he was arrested at home by police for not appearing in court. They held him in London until the Monday morning, when he was taken down to a court outside London.

So now Harry was being charged with – on two occasions – driving while banned and driving without insurance.

I wrote in my blog two weeks ago that he received a conditional discharge in court. In fact, my memory was faulty. He did not.

He appeared in court this week in 1999. At the time, I kept an electronic diary. So what follows, as written in that diary, is true:

__________

At court with Harry Hardwicke for his sentencing. I collected him and his three children, depositing the children with his ex-wife and then carried on to the court.

Harry told me he had yet another new solicitor. The last one was busy and the founder of the firm had come out of retirement to help out, as he sometimes does. He was old, tall, thin, bald, bronzed and bright-eyed.

We had been called for 2.30pm. The case before Harry’s somehow involved a small, wiry middle-aged woman with a nervous look and curly brown hair; a teenage girl with short dyed-blonde hair; and a youth of about 18 with short mousey hair. I guessed it was a mother and her two kids. Before that case was due to restart, their solicitor came through and said to the woman: “There’s no reason for you to be nervous.” – “No,” the woman said, agreeing.

Halfway through their hearing, as Harry and I sat outside in the waiting area, the mother emerged, red-eyed, and sat with her back to us, sobbing. After a few minutes, she went back in. A few minutes later, the daughter emerged, blubbering tears and sobs and went outside sobbing. Later, she went back into court. Eventually all three emerged, shaking with emotion, the woman and girl crying. The girl was sobbing hysterically to the mother: “He won’t be able to take it. He’s already tried to top himself twice. He’ll never be able to face it.”

At this point, their solicitor emerged, ashen-faced.

“Was it me?” the mother asked him. “Was it me walking out of the court in tears?”

“No, no,” the solicitor reassured her.

“I did my best,” she sobbed on. “I gave evidence, didn’t I? I did my best.”

“Yes,” the solicitor said reassuringly. “Yes, you did.”

Then all four left the building,

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence in the softness of the magistrates,” said Harry, looking glum.

His previous solicitor had told Harry he thought he might get away with two weeks in prison plus a fine with costs awarded against him. The ‘dream outcome’ might be a community service order. The Probation Officer’s pre-trial report (they had met on Wednesday and Harry had broken down in tears during the meeting) suggested the “highly unusual option” of giving him a conditional discharge for two years.

But, in court, the magistrates rejected the Probation Officer’s report and the solicitor’s suggestions and said they were taking the “highly unusual” option of giving Harry an absolute discharge with no fine and no costs awarded against him… but they did impose a six month driving ban to start today, knowing that he is already banned from driving until June next year, so it has no practical effect.

Harry’s solicitor was gobsmacked: he said he hadn’t even attempted to argue for an absolute discharge because he didn’t think it was a possibility. He also thought the magistrates were actually wrong in law in that they could not give someone an ABSOLUTE discharge AND a driving ban, even if the ban had no practical effect because the person was already banned.

After I drove Harry home, we had a chat. He broke up with his girlfriend about a week ago (the long-term one who had been involved in the original court case).

On his own laptop, he had stumbled on an email which his girlfriend had written. It was to a female friend she had made while in prison and said she had re-met a man she had had an affair with a year ago and was again sleeping with him and liked him very much. She thought the relationship had a future etc. But she was not going to leave Harry yet. Her message said:

I am going to leave Harry not just yet but as soon as I can get myself together. I have to lie to him because I have so much to lose. I have to get myself somewhere else to live and some money into the bank.

I am seeing (she gave the boyfriend’s name) and we are both totally mad about each other. This is not why I am leaving Harry. I am leaving Harry because now I am not off my head I am now awake. I cannot continue. I gave a go. I tried to make it work, it hasn’t and now I am ready to move on.

I feel so good at the moment I can barely wait to start over. I have no idea where I am going to go or what I am going to do but I am overwhelmed. It’s weird how different life can feel if you make a change. I have no intention of telling Harry my plans. It will be better for both of us this way. I am not in a situation where I can just leave now.

All my love

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x
x x x x

Harry told me it was her lying that took him aback because “she used to be so honest”.

He went on to me about how much money she cost him and how much he realised too late was “going up her nose”. When I said I thought the cocaine might have had something to do with her change into constant lying because it changes people’s personalities without them knowing, he did not agree – presumably because he still takes it himself.

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The English legal system: Justice reduced to the level of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent

I have to do jury service next month. That should be interesting.

The basis of the English legal system is that the accused is guilty unless he can (afford to) prove himself innocent. The police investigate a case and find the person they believe (or claim) is guilty. The state’s prosecution system then decides if there is enough evidence to convict and, if there is – ie if the defendant is presumed to be guilty – then the accused person is prosecuted on the basis that they are guilty. The state pays for a prosecution lawyer whose job is to get a guilty verdict; if he/she spots anything that may imply innocence, it is his/her paid job to prevent it being presented to the court.

Under the English legal system, the prosecutor is paid to mislead the court on the evidence, to hide evidence which may prove the innocence of the defendant and to prevent the Defence from presenting any evidence which will reveal anything which may show the innocence of the defendant. That is his paid job. The defence lawyer is paid by the defendant himself/herself to get an innocent verdict and to hide anything which might show or imply guilt.

The jury’s job is not to investigate the facts nor to decide if the accused is guilty or innocent. Their job is to decide which of the two well-paid lawyers present a better case. The object is to vote on whether the defender or prosecutor is better on style, content and presentation, much like competitive Ice Skating but without the numbered cards you hold up. It is justice reduced to The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

I remember a case in which a jury member spent his spare time going to the crime scene and talking to witnesses outside the court. The judge threw him off the jury and told him it was not his duty as a jury member to investigate the case but to decide a verdict only on the evidence presented. I think the jury member was threatened with Contempt of Court.

The lawyers who present the case? They have spent about seven years in an academic institution being trained in the art of legal lying, falsification of evidence and misleading the court. Which is why politicians like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are often ex-lawyers. They were highly-trained as liars.

The result of all this? Lots of guilty people escape conviction and lots of innocent people get imprisoned, sometimes for decades.

There is also the fact of widespread police corruption across the UK.

On 27th September 1998, the Sunday Telegraph revealed in an article written by Geoffrey Seed and Alasdair Palmer that it had obtained “the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and attended by 10 of Britain’s most senior officers and policy makers”. The minutes stated that “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service” and the NCIS’s Director of Intelligence said that corruption may have reached “Level 2: the situation which occurs in some Third World countries”.

I was once told by Margaret Thatcher’s lawyer that he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the dock as a witness unless what he said could be corroborated by another witness: the possibility that the policeman was lying was too great to risk.

The object of the English adversarial system is to win the debate at all costs including justice. Added to this, there is the fact all police evidence must be suspect.

The English courts do not provide justice. They play a game with people’s lives in which innocent defendants are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. This is no accident. It is an inevitable result of the current English legal system which is adversarial not investigative.

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