Author Archives: Dan Bunting

About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

Have Wonga commited a criminal offence?

Wonga.com_company_logo

Introduction

You may know Wonga from their cheery TV ads featuring knitted OAPs. Hopefully you don’t know them from borrowing money off them, given that their APR gets up to 5853%. They offer payday loans at huge interest rates. Whilst it may not be part of their official stchick, there is a general view that they target people who are the most vulnerable and cannot access finance from more mainstream financial institutions.

Well, on 25th June 2014 they got into a bit of trouble with the Financial Conduct Authority (‘FCA’) for sending letters who were in arrears with their payments from organisations that appeared to be solicitor firms. The names included “Chainey, D’Amato & Shannon” and “Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries”. According to the BBC,  “The plan was to make customers in arrears believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a law firm, with legal action threatened if the debt was not paid.” To make matters worse, “In some cases Wonga added fees for these letters to customers’ accounts.

You can read the FCA report here in full. They have given Wonga a firm rap round the knuckles and directed that the people affected be compensated to the tune of £2.6 million.

This is all a bit embarrassing  for Wonga, but is it more than that? As Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow asked on twitter :

 

.

So. Are there any criminal offences here?

 

Possible Offences

Fraud

The Fraud Act is always a good start. What about s2 – Fraud by False Representation? Someone commits fraud if they dishonestly make a false representation, intending to make a gain for themselves or cause a loss to another, when they know that the representation is false and misleading.

Looking at that, under s2(5) “For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention)“. It is probable that a headed paper implying that a letter comes from a law firm is a false representation, so we can tick that box.

What about the fact that, under the contract with the customer, they were owed the money? There is a very wide definition of ‘gain’ and ‘loss’ in s5. It is likely that this would fall into the section, with the safety valve being the requirement of dishonesty. For that reason, subject to the question of whether Wonga were being dishonest, this offence would appear to be committed.

 

Impersonating a solicitor

There are two possible offences here. Firstly, under the Solicitors Act 1974. There is an either way offence of acting as a solicitor when not being one (s20), but it is likely that there was nothing done here other than send the letter implying that it was from a lawyer.

It is also an offence (under s21) for someone who “ wilfully pretends to be, or takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is, qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor“. This is summary only which looks like a problem (as there is normally a six month time limit for bringing proceedings and Wonga’s practice here stopped in 2010).

s26 extends this time period, but not by enough in this case – proceedings in respect of any offence under section 21 may be brought at any time before the expiration of two years from the commission of the offence or six months from its first discovery by the prosecutor, whichever period expires first“.

There is an offence of pretending to be entitled to carry out a reserved activity under s17 Legal Service Act 2007. This can get a bit complex, but it may well apply if the bogus letterhead said, as an example, ‘Commissioner for Oaths’ as oath taking is a reserved activity.

So, although this offence looks good on paper, it’s actually pretty unpromising. A further issue is that whilst pretending to be a solicitor is a criminal offence, stating that someone is a lawyer is not.

 

Blackmail

This is an offence under s21 Theft Act 1968 :

A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief—

   (a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and

   (b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

The fact that Wonga is entitled, under the general law of contract, to the money does not of itself mean that a threat to sue cannot be a ‘menace’ (although it may be hard to persuade a jury of this) or that a threat to sue (especially if it is using a fake law firm) is unwarranted. It is clear that ‘gain’ includes ‘getting money to which you are entitled to’.

So, whilst ‘blackmail’ conjures up connotations of masked men making a ransom demand after a kidnapping, this may well be close.

 

Harassment of Debtors

This is a little known offence under s40 Administration of Justice Act 1970. It is committed when someone:

with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under a contract, he—

(a) harasses the other with demands for payment which, in respect of their frequency or the manner or occasion of making any such demand, or of any threat or publicity by which any demand is accompanied, are calculated to subject him or members of his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation;

(b) falsely represents, in relation to the money claimed, that criminal proceedings lie for failure to pay it;

(c) falsely represents himself to be authorised in some official capacity to claim or enforce payment; or

(d) utters a document falsely represented by him to have some official character or purporting to have some official character which he knows it has not.

There is a general defence (s40(3)) if what was done was reasonable. It seems that the case against Wonga under either (c) or (d) is a pretty strong one. The difficulty here is that this offence is also summary only, with no extension period, and so it would appear to be time-barred.

 

Comments

Wonga was never one of those brands that is thought of highly by the public, but this won’t have done anything to help it. Have they broken the law? It’s an interesting question. It is unlikely that the police or CPS would get involved. If Ms Creasy wants to launch a private prosecution however, then she is perfectly entitled to…

 

From the Telegraph

From the Telegraph

Susan and Christopher Edwards – life for murder

BBC

BBC

Introduction

We looked at the case of Susan and Christopher Edwards who were convicted of the murder of Ms Edwards mother and father (Patricia and William Wycherley) on Friday. A life sentence was guaranteed – we predicted a tariff of 22-25 years how did we do?

Well. The actual tariff was set at 25 years when sentence was passed on 23rd June 2014.

 

Factual Background

The murders date from 1998 when (probably) Mr Edwards killed Ms Edwards’ parents at her instigation. They buried the bodies in the back garden and then started on a sophisticated series of frauds.

This was started by taking £40,000 out of the Wycherley’s bank accounts the day after the murders. Since that date the Edwards pretended that the Wycherleys were alive and well and living in (variously) Ireland, Blackpool and Morecambe in order to collect a further £245,000.

Most of this money seems to have gone on, bizarrely, celebrity memorabilia. They gave themselves up last year after having run out of money. At that point, they stated that the bodies were in the back garden, which were duly found.

 

Sentence

We have the sentencing remarks which, as always, repay reading. We have to say that the single thing that would help the public understanding of the criminal justice system is more publication of what happens in Court.

Anyway, the Judge sets out clearly what the starting point was – in this 14 years because of the time that they were committed. She states that it was a planned and premeditated murder, done for gain and carried out with a firearm (although the latter was not of such concern in 1998). The Judge accepted that the animosity from Ms Edwards to her father stemmed from the fact that he had sexually abused her, however it could not be said that that was the cause of the murder.

The tariff was increased by 11 years to 25 years to reflect all the aggravating features.

 

Comment

As we said last week, the starting point now would be over 30 years. Given that this offence pre-dates the huge increases in sentencing introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a much reduced term would be expected.

The tariff set  was at the top end of what we had suggested. Reading the sentencing remarks, it is a very strange and sad case, and presents a somewhat more mitigation than seemed at first sight. For that reason, we would have thought that a tariff of 20 years would have been more than sufficient.

For the reasons previously stated, we would have thought that whilst there will be an appeal, we would not expect it to be successful.

Susan and Christopher Edwards guilty of murder

BBC

BBC

Introduction and Facts

In 1998 Patricia Wycherley (63) and her husband William (85) were shot dead by their daughter, Susan Edwards (assisted by her husband Christopher) and buried in their back garden.

Mr and Mrs Edwards then took £40,000 out of the Wycherley’s bank accounts. Since that date the Edwards pretended that the Wycherleys were alive and well and living in (variously) Ireland, Blackpool and Morecambe in order to collect a further £245,000.

Most of this money seems to have gone on, bizarrely, celebrity memorabilia. They gave themselves up last year after having run out of money. At that point, they stated that the bodies were in the back garden, which were duly found.

 

Trial

At the trial, the couple admitting stealing money from the Wycherleys and obstructing the coroner. Mrs Edwards stated that her mother had shot her father which provoked her into shooting her mother after she found out. She was therefore not guilty of either murder, but guilty of the manslaughter of her mother. Mr Edwards came to help dispose of the body.

This account was disbelieved by the jury, who found them both guilty of murder on 20th June 2014. Sentence has been put off until Monday.

 

What will they get?

There will be the mandatory life sentence for murder, with concurrent, fixed length, sentences for the other offences. The key question is what the length of the tariff will be.

If these murders had been committed in the last ten years then it would be a murder of two people which puts it in the 30 year starting point. It is probable that the Court will find that it was a murder for gain, which is another reason that puts it in the 30 year starting point.

The two together would mean  a starting point above the 30 years. The disposal of the bodies, and long period of time where it was pretended that the parents were still alive, is a further aggravating factor.

For this reason, this is probably a case where the starting point would be about 35 years. Susan Edwards is 56 and Christopher 57, which means with that tariff they would be in their early 90s before they can be considered for release. In effect, then, that would be a whole life tariff.

However. These murders pre-date the Criminal Justice Act 2003. At the time, sentencing was a lot more lenient – the starting point would have been about 16-18 years. Even so, with the aggravating features, there would be a higher tariff – about 19-20 years. In reality, sentencing for these historic cases are a bit inflated nowadays, so we would predict a tariff of 22-25 years.

 

No whole life tariff?

The starting point is a whole life tariff if there is the murder of two people where there is “a substantial degree of premeditation or planning“.Would this have applied here? Possibly. We would to need to know more about the facts to see whether there is the evidence for that. All we would say is that this doesn’t ‘feel’ like a whole life tariff, even under the new law.

We will have a look at this on Monday when they are sentenced.

 

 

Independent

Independent

Kevin Nunn Case – Supreme Court application dismissed

Photo from EADT

Photo from EADT

Introduction

After someone has been convicted, to what extent is there a duty on the prosecution to disclose material to the defence? That, in a nutshell, was the question that Kevin Nunn posed, firstly to Suffolk Police and later the Courts, that was answered by the Supreme Court on 18th June 2014.

Background

Kevin Nunn was convicted on 20th November 2006 of the murder of Dawn Walker in February of the year before and sentenced to the obligatory life imprisonment (with a tariff of 22 years). He appealed the conviction, but this was unsuccessful. He has always maintained his innocence.

A good overview of the facts that lead to the conviction and the proceedings since can be found in the judgment of the Divisional Court here. In essence, Mr Nunn requested the police to hand over to his lawyers certain material and exhibits to be tested or further tested, particularly in light of the developments in forensic evidence since the trial.

The police refused and Mr Nunn applied to the High Court to force them to do so, but they sided with the police on that point. Permission was later granted to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Judgment
It is a short and unanimous judgement that is worth reading in full.

They set out the question above and answer it by saying that there remains a duty on the prosecution post-conviction, but it is a lower one than during a criminal trial. In essence, if the police come in to possession of material (for example a confession by a third party) that casts doubt on the conviction then this is disclosable.

Other matters, such as the requests in this case, were not generally disclosable. Whilst this may seem harsh, the ‘safety valve’ identified was that the CCRC could investigate and order further testing and collecting of further evidence in suitable cases.

For that reason, the appeal was dismissed.

Comment

One of the oddities of the case could be thought to be this : the cost to the public of defending the Judicial Review in the High Court and the Supreme Court would have been monstrous. We haven’t got a figure, but it will be well over six figures. The cost of allowing the scientists instructed by Mr Nunn (he was willing to pay for it) was minimal. On that basis, what was the point in opposing it?

The Supreme Court points out that in a case of this nature there will often be huge amount of material and it is often costly to sift through it all. That is certainly a fair point, although if you are in prison, having been convicted of a crime that you didn’t do, you may not be too impressed by it.

Also, is it right to stand by the letter of the law, if that were the case? What is at issue here is whether an innocent person has been condemned to a life in prison, whilst a murderer has gone free. In those circumstances, the stakes couldn’t be much higher.

Where is the harm in allowing the material to be tested? If you’re right, then fine – the testing will back you and no harm done. But if you’ve got it wrong, the truth will out at some point and you are going to look not just ridiculous, but also malicious.

That is a separate point and as the Supreme Court make clear, the police and CPS do sometimes do this in certain cases. One where, in their view, the results of the testing would be determinative of guilt is an example.

The key issue will be how effective and co-operative the CCRC are. One concern here is that they are hugely under-resourced with a large backlog of cases.

But if they do, this is not the end of the matter. This judgment makes them the arbiter of whether there should be further testing or investigation. Fine if they agree to what you ask for, less so if they refuse.

The remedy would then be a Judicial Review with a very high threshold (and great expense) which means, inevitably, that good cases will slip through the cracks.

Disclosure is a perennial problem. Non-disclosure of one sort or another is generally at the heart of every miscarriage of justice. It is clear that there are currently failings in the way that the disclosure system operates in most cases and that these will get worse as the cuts to defence, courts and CPS bite.

I have experience of cases that have collapsed after the start of the trial when material that has been described as non-disclosable has finally been teased out, showing that a defendant is innocent.

Those are clear cut cases. There are many others where disclosure would not be a knock out blow, but may well have made a difference to the verdict. The case of Mr Nunn is one of those. Whilst I can understand the Supreme Court judgment, it does leave me uneasy.

‘Hapless Hitmen’ have appeals dismissed – Jason Richards and Ben Hope

Photo from ITV

Photo from ITV

Introduction

We always like to come back to cases previously covered on the blog, and the Court of Appeal’s judgment on 17th June 2014 in the case of Richards & Hope [2014] EWCA Crim 1196 gives us the chance to dust off a post from February of last year when they were convicted of murder.

 

Facts

The judgement of the Court of Appeal sets out the facts and the evidence against the two men. In brief, the prosecution alleged that they had been recruited by a third person to kill a man who was due to give evidence against that person. In what was described in Court by the prosecution as an act of ‘staggering incompetence’ they went the wrong address and stabbed 17 year old Aamir Siddiqui and his parents several times. Aamir’s parents survived (and Mr Richards and Mr Hope were convicted of their attempted murder) but he, tragically, died and the two were convicted of his murder.

 

Appeal Against Conviction (Mr Richards only)

The appeal was based in part against a cumulation of various points, but mainly on the basis that Mr Hope abandoned his appeal and gave evidence accepting that he had been involved, but exculpating Mr Richards.

This is always a tricky appeal to run and very rarely succeeds. The Lord Chief Justice here quoted a previous case where it was said “ this Court will be very careful before it will admit a confession of guilt by one of two people who have been convicted by a jury of a joint offence. It would be too easy for criminals to seek to share out responsibility so as to get one of them off“.

Of course, it could also be said that someone in the position of Mr Hope has every reason to lie and have a trial in the hope that he gets off, even knowing that the man in the dock next to him isn’t guilty. This is all the more so when he is facing down the barrel of a life sentence with a very long tariff…

But still. Mr Richards had an uphill task and, as was always really going to be case (especially in a murder case) and the Court of Appeal managed to dismiss his application for leave to appeal without breaking sweat.

 

Appeal Against Sentence

The tariffs for both of them were set at 40 years. As we said at the time, this is one of the longest tariffs ever set. And, whilst the offences were clearly serious, it was not clear why it was that long.

Well, we have a bit more information now from the Court of Appeal. They had the sentencing remarks (which haven’t yet been published), which had distilled the following aggravating factors :

i) It was the murder of a child.

ii) It was committed before the eyes of his parents.

iii) There was a significant degree of premeditation and planning.

iv) There was a joint attempt to murder Aamir’s mother.

v) There was a joint attempt to murder Aamir’s father.

vi) Both Richards and Hope had convictions involving serious violence.

There were no mitigating features.

The Court of Appeal upheld the 40 year tariff, saying “This was an appalling series of crimes for which the minimum term of 40 years was just punishment, reflecting not only the premeditated and brutal nature of the murder and attempted murders but also a deterrent element in respect of contract killings which have no place in any civilised society“.

All the aggravating features are correct, although when one speaks of the murder of a child, it is normally speaking of someone younger than 17 and (iv) and (v) clearly overlap. We would have hoped for a bit more by way of analysis from the Court, partly because of what we said above, and partly because several of these factors are effectively incorporated into the higher starting point of 30 years.

It is also an interesting point as to what extent deterrence has a role to play in setting the tariff for murder – the deterrence is surely in the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment itself?

Having said that, the Judge heard the trial and has a wide discretion in sentencing. A tariff more in the region of 35 years still seems more appropriate to us, but sometimes you have to defer to the Judge’s assessment of the situation.

CPS Consultation on Prosecuting Domestic Violence

StickerDVawareness

Introduction

What do you think about the way that Domestic Violence is prosecuted? Is it not taken seriously enough, or an example of policy driven prosecuting without regard to the circumstances?

There is a Consultation Homepage where all the material is collected.

 

Proposals

This is supposed to supplement the general Code for Crown Prosecutors. There is not necessarily anything wildly new or exciting put forward, just a consolidation and evolution.

Although it is a relatively lengthy document (some 50 odd pages) it is worth a read. Some of it is stating the obvious – the CPS state that cases should be prepared properly. Of course, saying that doesn’t make it happen, which may be a bigger issue.

There may be more controversy over the charging decisions. Cautions are effectively ruled out which may or may not be a good thing. There is a concern that there is to much of a ‘broad brush’ approach.

For example, para 64 : “The police should consider cautions carefully in domestic violence cases. This is because such cases involve a breach of trust and are unlikely to be the first offence“. It is not immediately clear that this correctly states the test for a caution. Many people might find the second sentence there a bit too vague and lacking in evidence.

This is in part due to the overly wide definition of domestic violence. It may  be relevant in many cases, but an argument in a pub between two brothers is also categorised as domestic violence, where it is hard to see an abuse of trust or any evidence that it is not going to be the first offence.

It seems to me that there is a lack of proper consideration of the evidential test – particularly where many (criminal) practitioners are of the suspicion that the CPS use a lower test in practice.

The difficult question of when a complainant should be forced to come to court and/or give evidence is given, in my view, far too little consideration. But there is some good material on how to support complainants and witnesses (again, it could be said that the practice is often somewhat different from the theory).

 

How to respond

There is a response form which can be downloaded.

The deadline to respond is 9th July 2014.

 

Louise Pollard – Fake Surrogate Mother jailed for fraud

BBC

BBC

Introduction

On 16th June 2014 Louise Pollard, a 28 year old Bristol woman, was jailed for three and a third years for fraud. It was a particular unpleasant one, and provides a good example of a case where the sentencing guidelines don’t apply.

There are more details in the local newspapers if you want to read up on it. In brief, she dealt with couples who were struggling to have children and offered to be a surrogate for them. She would pretend to have inseminated herself and provide a positive pregnancy test from a friend. After a period of time she then pretended to miscarry.

In total she obtained about £12,500 before suspicions were raised and the couples went to the police.

 

Sentence

This is a confidence fraud. Looking at the guidelines for this, it is in the 4th column (under £20,000 with a starting point of £10,000). It falls most easily into “Single fraudulent transaction confidence fraud involving targeting of a vulnerable victim” for a starting point of 6 weeks with a range of a Community Order up to 6 months in prison. It could be in the category above – “confidence fraud characterised by a degree of planning and/or multiple transactions” with a starting point of 18 months and a range going from 6 months to 3 years.

It seems that the Judge gave full credit, which would indicate a starting point of 5 years – far above what the guidelines would indicate. So, does that mean that there will be an appeal?

Well, whilst there might be one, we doubt it would be successful. In this case, the substance of the fraud is such as to take it outside of the usual range and the Judge was entitled to start with a much higher sentence than if it had been £12,500 taken from a bank for example.

 

Is surrogacy legal?

Surrogacy is perfectly legal. The issue over whether someone can be paid for it can get a bit murky. s2 Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 makes it an offence for this to be a commercial arrangement. It is perfectly lawful for the reasonable expenses to be covered however.

It is unclear whether there have ever been any prosecutions under the Act.

 

Malcolm King jailed for walking the streets of Exeter “wearing only pink suspenders and an Alice band”

 

Western Morning News

Western Morning News

Introduction

Last year, Malcolm King was sent to prison for going “into a McDonald’s wearing only a blonde wig, sandals and pink gloves“(offence unspecified, but we know it was Plymouth if that helps). He was released from that and on 17th March found himself at a loose end and did what any man would do – strode down the main shopping centre in Exeter “wearing only pink suspenders and an Alice band.

He was arrested and charged with Exposure (contrary to s66 Sexual Offences Act 2003), to which he pleaded guilty. On 12th June 2014 he was sentenced to three months in prison.

The explanation from Mr King appears to have been that “he had drunk a pint of cider in a pub which made him lose control of himself“which is not the most clear mitigation. Mr King is 56 and it seems that he first started offending two years ago.

 

Sentence

There are guidelines in the Sexual Offences Guidelines. Looking at page 129 there was no ‘raised harm’ – it was half nine at night and it seems that most of the people weren’t that fussed by it. Neither was there raised culpability.

This gives a starting point (and range) of a Community Order. In this case, Mr King has committed this offence previously and had presumably been recalled having released on licence from his earlier sentence.

In these circumstances, a sentence of imprisonment was inevitable. Three months seems about right given everything. However, as the Judge said “I would like to be able to explore why your life has started to unravel after many years of being a law-abiding citizen.

 

Comment

You can’t help but feel that there is more to this than meets the eye, in particular some sort of mental health issues. This case is different to the Naked Rambler in that here there is a requirement that Mr King intended “that someone will see [his genitals] and be caused alarm or distress.” which does make it more serious.

At some point here it seems that intervention from Probation will be needed to help Mr King in whatever issues that he has – it is very rare for someone to start offending at 54 without some underlying trigger.

For that case, whilst an amusing case perhaps, it’s also quite a sad one.

Secret Trials – initial decision in AB & CD

The-Trial-Kafka-Franz-EB9787770620614

Introduction

There was a flurry of interest last week when reporting restrictions were lifted to reveal that there was an application for a whole trial trial to be held in secret. The issue had reached the Court of Appeal before a previous gagging order that prohibited the reporting of the gagging order was lifted.

The idea of a whole trial proceeding without the ability of members of the public to know anything about it, or potentially that it is even happening at all, is a novel one. This is the first time (that we know of) that this had been proposed since 1640. The Kings and Queens of old asserted (to sometimes strong opposition) the right to have trials in secret. This was settled, somewhat dramatically and adversely to him, on 27th January 1649.

Since then, whilst parts of a case has been held in camera (the case of Wang Yam is a good example of this) the principle of open justice has always meant that there has been some information in the public domain.

The trial is scheduled to start on 16th June 2014 and the Court of Appeal reserved judgment until the 12th June 2014.

 

Ruling

We have a transcript of what was handed down on 12th June 2014. That’s slightly more convoluted than saying ‘judgment’; because there is a curiosity straight off in para 1 : “Today, we give our Decision on the recent appeal of the media, accompanied by a brief overview. This is not our Judgment; our Judgments (plural, as will be explained presently) have been reserved and will be given in due course

The Court of Appeal allowed some, very limited, aspects of the trial to be held in public. These are:

  1. Swearing in of the jury.
  2. Reading the charges to the Jury.
  3. At least a part of the Judge’s introductory remarks to the Jury.
  4. At least a part of the Prosecution opening.
  5. The verdicts.
  6. If any convictions result, sentencing (subject to any further argument before the trial Judge as to the need for a confidential annexe).

Frankly, this is not all that much. The important thing to see will be how much of the opening is public. This will tell us something at least. Of course it is often the case that the evidence as it comes out during trial is different to that contained in the Prosecution Opening.

We are also allowed to know their names – no longer AB and CD, but Erol Incedal and Mounir Rarmouc-Bouhadjar. As was recognised by the Court at para 21 “We express grave concern as to the cumulative effects of (1) holding a criminal trial in camera and (2) anonymising the defendants. We find it difficult to conceive of a situation where both departures from open justice will be justified. Suffice to say, we are not persuaded of any such justification in the present case.

Mr Incedal is charged with Possessing Bomb Making instructions and preparing acts of terrorism. Mr Rarmouc-Bouhadjar only with the first of those offences, but a separate offence under the Identity Documents Act.

The core finding is at para 14, the Court was “persuaded on the evidence before us that there is a significant risk – at the very least, a serious possibility – that the administration of justice would be frustrated were the trial to be conducted in open Court; for what appears to be good reason on the material we have seen, the Crown might be deterred from continuing with the prosecution“.

Importantly, a small number of journalists will be attending the trial in full (apart from some very sensitive parts). They will be allowed to keep notes but these will be kept by the Court at the end of each day, and at the end of the trial subject to any further order.

 

Why is it being held in secret?

Well, if we were to know that in detail it would defeat the purpose of the application …

 

Will the jury be vetted? Is that allowed?

Perhaps surprisingly, this is allowed. It is only in exceptional cases concerned with issues of national security, and requires the permission of the Attorney-General personally. The AG has issued guidance as to how this is conducted.

 

Conclusion

The idea of trials being in secret is a repellant one. Having said that, there will clearly be cases where a derogation from full openness is required. That is something that most people would agree on, it’s the question of where the line should be drawn that is the difficult one.

Here, without knowing more details (which may or may not be in the judgment), it is hard to say how necessary this is. But it will certainly cause debate.

 

Walter Compton not to be prosecuted for giving his wife morphine

BBC

BBC

Introduction

Manchester Police PR Department are not having the best of months. Last week, Manchester Police said that they wouldn’t be prosecuting a man who was obviously not a police officer for impersonating a police officer. On 11th June 2014 they decided not to take action in the case of Walter Crompton. This would presumably be welcomed by many who felt that he should not have been even arrested.

Facts

Mr Crompton, aged 83, was visiting his wife Eileen in a Care Home when he gave her a morphine patch for pain caused by arthritis. He was presumably not authorised to do this, and it seemed to relate to medication previously prescribed to Ms Crompton for a different condition.

This was back in April and after initially being bailed with condition not to visit his wife, the police relented and allowed him to visit provided he was accompanied by a social worker.

It is not stated in the news piece, but it is understood that there was no adverse effects on Ms Compton.

What’s the offence?

It is presumably one contrary to s24 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The offence requires some to “unlawfully and maliciously administer to or cause to be administered to or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, with intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy such person“. Here there has to be the intention to cause some harm which was obviously lacking.

Morphine is a Class A drug and illegal to possess, unless prescribed by a doctor. Here, the morphine was for Mrs Compton’s use and she legally possessed it. Mr Compton would have a defence under s5(4)(b) Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – “that, knowing or suspecting it to be a controlled drug, he took possession of it for the purpose of delivering it into the custody of a person lawfully entitled to take custody of it and that as soon as possible after taking possession of it he took all such steps as were reasonably open to him to deliver it into the custody of such a person.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but if there had been a prosecution, the I’m sure that a jury would do the right thing. It is clear that the CPS would (or better to say ‘should’ as they’re not always reliable) not prosecute in those circumstances in any event.

Should he have been arrested?

There were more reasons to investigate here than with Mr Peers (who was not impersonating a police officer) at least. One can see why it was necessary to check that this was not an attempt by Mr Compton (well intentioned or otherwise) to end his wife’s life.

These sorts of cases can require a bit of investigation, so whilst it seems wrong on the face of it, it was necessary for the police to take some time to make sure. They should probably have been more sensitive in the bail conditions perhaps, and it is not clear whether it was necessary to have arrested him (rather than interview under caution) with all the implications that that has (the Care Home could have only allowed Mr Compton supervised access for example).