Car Crime Doesn’t Pay

And yet, The Telegraph argues that it should.

What is it with offenders who commit crimes by way of a motor vehicle that makes them think they’re so special? (I’m excluding TWOCers here – they know their place.)

Motoring offences vary greatly from more minor offending to more serious offending – depending on the circumstances as well as the offence. The same is also true of the majority of non-motoring offences such as theft, burglary and assault (which can range from a slight shove causing no injury, to a sustained attack with weapons).

Now, take two supposedly minor offences: one road traffic – say, travelling at 35mph in a 30mph area; and one non-motoring offence – say, theft of a can of Tetley’s from Tesco (where said can is later recovered). In both cases, no actual harm is caused to anyone, financially or otherwise. However, there is a gaping chasm between the two offences concerning the potential harm which could have been caused.

Let’s look at the speeding offence. 30mph limits are mostly in residential areas and are in place largely to protect pedestrians. Most of us have a decent enough grasp of the laws of physics to work out that a car travelling faster is going to take longer to stop in an emergency, even if that is just 1, 2 or 5mph faster. There is a possibility that a car travelling at 35mph may have knocked someone over, in circumstances where a car travelling at 30mph might have stopped in time.

All hypothetical, I appreciate. Yet, I cannot conceive of a similar hypothetical situation in which the theft of a can of Tetley’s results in someone’s death or injury, thus the potential for such harm is not present for that offence. The only possible harm would be financial harm caused to Tesco in the event that the can of Tetley’s is not recovered. So, that would be financial harm to the tune of around £1, which I think Tesco’s could take on the chin.

Now let’s compare current sentencing guidelines set by the government: theft of a can of Tetley’s has the sentencing range of a conditional discharge to a low level community order; whereas speeding at 35mph in a 30mph zone would result in a maximum sentence of a Band A fine and 3 points. There is not even a possibility of a community order for the speeding motorist.

So, the theft of a solitary can of cheap beer is treated as the more serious offence, despite the lack of potential serious harm as compared with speeding. Despite this disparity in sentencing, which operates in favour of the motorist offender, it is the motorist offender kicking up a fuss – and indeed motoring offending enthusiasts on their behalf. Most recently is the above article from today’s Telegraph.

According to David Millward, the author of the article, motorists are set to “become victims of legal aid reforms”. Well, so are thieves, burglars and fraudsters. I don’t support the legal aid reforms any more than the next legal aid practitioner, but it seems that there is an odd implication in this article that the real problem with the reforms are that the government has failed to provide an exception to the rule for people who commit their offences by way of a motorised vehicle. This is ridiculous for many reasons. Here are just two:

(1)Road traffic offences have the capacity to cause a great deal of harm, including serious injury or death of innocent third parties;
(2)Road traffic offences tend to be committed by a wider range of people, often those with substantially more money than the majority of people committing non-motoring offences.

There are also various fallacies in the article, such as: “The cost of defending a speeding case can reach at least £2,000, but an acquitted driver would be reimbursed £600.” which makes it sound as though £2000 is the minimum cost of defending a speeding case. In reality, you can defend a speeding case for free, if you don’t use a solicitor or barrister. And even with a solicitor or barrister on board, you can still defend a speeding case for much less than £2000. The cost depends on whether you get an expert report, how complicated the case is, which solicitor you use, etc.

The Telegraph seems fine with a “war on crime“, but takes issue with a war on car crime. I don’t get it.

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Guidelines, Grids and Riots

I’ve just stumbled across a sensible – yes, sensible piece of writing about the August riots. It involves a very clear summary of current sentencing practice and points to some difficulties with the movement towards a greater emphasis on sentencing guidelines and less flexibility in sentencing individuals. This has been taken to its extreme in the USA with sentencing grids, which have fortunately not yet taken hold here.

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Live blog: Parliamentary debate on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

A brief overview of the first hour of the debate:

2:06: Things kick off with a back and forth exchange between Ken Clarke and Jack Straw about who was responsible for reducing the crime rate. Ken says it was actually down to developments in car security.

2:08: Ken Clarke on the civil system. He argues that we have a litigious society and courts should be a last resort, not a first recourse. (obviously this bill will encourage poor people to think of courts as not even a last resort, thus actually surpassing Ken’s aims)

2:24: Jeremy Corbyn (Labour, N.Islington) says something very sensible about mental health issues being addressed inadequately in the current system. He makes a good point about minor offending being cracked down on by police when it should be dealt with in an alternative way where it is caused by mental health issues.

2:26: Ken Clarke tells the house: “reoffending is the central idea of my reforms”.

2:27: Jack Straw gets upset about the plans to limit remand for offenders who are unlikely to be sentenced to imprisonment if convicted. He thinks it means that courts won’t even be able to remand in custody offenders who fail to turn up for court.

2:28: An angry Tory backbencher retorts that if you breach your bail you can get locked up and so the reforms don’t pose a problem there.

2:29: Legal aid addressed by Ken.

2:30: Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid) asks Ken how he squares this with Baroness Hale’s opinion.

2:32: Ken responds that Baroness Hale may have misunderstood the proposal and perhaps he needs to sit down with her and have a nice chat.

2:33: Ken confirms Legal advice in the police station will still be legally aided.

2:34: In response to Kate Green (Labour), Ken says that welfare benefits were not intended to be a “legalistic system” and doesn’t think it’s a promising area for legal advice. (how a refusal of benefits should be challenged, if not legally, remains a mystery)

2:35: Joan Ruddock (Labour) asks where poor people will get their legal advice from.

2:36: Ken responds that “access to justice is absolutely fundamental”, but taxpayers should not have to pay extensively. He says that in the bill, he has concentrated on vulnerable people and areas of importance (it is unclear whether he has concentrated the legal aid cuts on these groups, or whether he thinks these groups have been safeguarded).

2:38: Ken says financial issues have lower priority relative to life and limb issues (which is a poor choice of words for a man intent on cutting legal aid for medical negligence cases).

2:38: Reformed no win, no fee will be allowed.

2:39: Ken says there will be increased spending on mediation. There will also be exceptional funding for cases otherwise excluded that will be available. (Which is an admission that this bill means that there will be deserving cases which will not be eligible for legal aid).

2:41: Defence costs out of central funds will be limited for defendants who “decline legal aid” and pay privately. In Magistrates courts, this will be limited to legal aid rates.

2:41: Ken points out that he has recently announced funding for more rape centres (as a result of a certain radio appearance?)

2:43: Ken says that if we can increase confidence that community sentences will be more “punitive” that would be good. Particularly for women who have children. (what he means by punitive is unclear. In fact, looking at the title of the Bill, what he thinks the difference between “sentencing” and “punishment” is unclear).

2:44: Ken humbly describes the bill as a “huge leviathan of legislation”. And says that it will contribute to a “safer, fairer society … [and] doesn’t deny access to justice.” (contrary to most opinions about the proposed cuts to legal aid).

2:45: Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan takes issue with the entire bill. Notably, he remarks that “punishment of offenders” has found its way into the title of the bill, he thinks this is so that the government can look tough on crime. However he argues that the bill is not tough on crime and points out that self defence against burglars hasn’t even made it into the bill.

2:49: Sadiq Khan says he supports penal reforms, but these are the wrong ones. He does not say which penal reforms he supports. Ken Clarke is quick to jump on this.

2:52: Sadiq Khan addresses the remand issue and says that victims groups and magistrates don’t like this idea and neither does he. He says that it might not be clear before the pre-sentence report whether there is a real risk of imprisonment. He thinks the proposed change is likely to deter witnesses and victims from coming forward. He says that the decision whether to grant bail should be separate from sentence.

2:54: Sadiq Khan on IPPs: they are absent from this bill, but Ken Clarke has said today he’ll be getting rid of IPPs. Sadiq Khan says Labour’s position is clear and then says some stuff which is a bit unclear, but seems to suggest that IPPs are a good idea if backed up by sufficient courses in prison and so forth, i.e. if resources allow (and resources clearly don’t allow).

2:57: Sadiq Khan is opposed to the cuts to social welfare legal aid: debt, housing, welfare benefits, education. He calls it the “economic cleansing” of our civil courts. He says there will be a disproportionate impact on women.

2:59: Karen Buck (Labour) asks how we will sustain law centres across the country?

3pm: Sadiq Khan says that a whole swathe of society will be denied access to justice. He mentions savings to the taxpayer – moral and economic. There is a case to be made not to make these cuts.

3:01: Sadiq Khan: the government has cherry-picked the Jackson report.

And the debate rumbles on…

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Skinny Kittens

It’s rather obvious that Ben Gummer’s article in the Times, “Don’t pay heed to the wailing of the bewigged Scargills” was built around his smirking self-satisfaction at having come up with such a phrase, rather than any actual facts.

Mr Gummer’s silly article was neatly torn apart by family law barrister Lucy Reed and by the Chairman of the Bar and Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association. But I’ve still got a bone to pick about his annoying usage of the cliché “fat cat” lawyers. So I’ve come up with a fun game: hunt the junior legal aid solicitor’s salary.

You will notice that they currently earn less than primary school teachers and midwives, which are very important jobs, but which are also normally portrayed as not particularly well-remunerated. So why are legal aid solicitors, who earn LESS, not MORE than these other moderately paid professions, still portrayed as fat cat lawyers? [1].

These cats aren’t going to get particularly hefty off £25,000 a year. Especially not when you take into account what they’ve already had to spend in order to qualify. Out of the £25,000 a year average salary, junior lawyers also have to make repayments on student loans from undergraduate degrees (a burden which is set to rise astronomically) and also fees from the postgraduate courses it is necessary to undertake in order to qualify. To train as a solicitor, a law graduate has to take the one year LPC and then undertake a 2 year training contract (when they are paid much less than £25,000). To train as a barrister, a law graduate must take the one year BPTC and then a one year pupillage (when they are paid on average £10,000). The current LPC and BPTC fees range from £10,000 – £15,000.

More like skinny kittens than fat cats.

[1] The situation is not markedly different for self-employed legal aid barristers. Out of their earnings, they have to pay their Chambers a monthly rent of a few hundred pounds as well as a percentage of all of their earnings – anywhere from 12 – 20%, practising certificate fees, fees for CPD points and conferences and most of their own travel expenses for attending court. All of which leaves the junior end of the bar often much worse off than their junior solicitor colleagues.


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As expected…

…. legal aid is to be slashed.

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Justice for all who can pay

With the Justice Bill due later this week, here is a reminder of why the anticipated proposals to slash legal aid to the bone are an affront to logic.

Sadly, the negative economic and social impact of cutting legal aid pales into insignificance when compared with the short term brownie points the government can gain by appearing as though they are saving vast quantities of taxpayers’ money, whilst also adversely affecting almost every unpopular group known to man: criminals, asylum seekers, single mothers, benefits claimants, and of  course lawyers.

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Deportation disinformation

The Sunday Telegraph sunk to odious new lows today, with yet another anti-immigration/human rights/foreigners diatribe.

The thrust of the article is that its author, David Barrett, can make a much more informed decision as to what the outcome of 102 immigration cases should have been than a legally trained immigration tribunal, which has heard all of the available evidence from both sides. A bold claim you may think.

Barrett goes further. He goes on to argue that, not only can he psychically deduce from limited information, what all of the oral arguments and nuances of all of the 102 legal cases were and judge better than… well, a judge. But also that he has a much better grasp of the law than the three Court of Appeal Judges who heard one particular appeal. These three particular judges have more than 130 years of legal experience between them.

Seemingly aware of the discrepancy in actual legal knowledge between himself and the Judges who heard these cases, Barrett employs some old school Telegraph tricks, to bolster the legitimacy of his article, such as:

(1) lumping together “foreign criminals” and “illegal immigrants”. This not only bumps up the numbers of people not deported, in order to make it sound more dramatic, but it also implies that the two categories of people should be thought of in the same way – specifically, as though they were all part of the same sub-human species.

(2) Selecting small snippets of the cases and taking them wildly out of context, and making it sound as though this was the sole piece of evidence on which the entire case was decided.

This excellent post from barrister Adam Wagner sets the record straight better than I could hope to.

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