Author Archives: Sara Williams

About Sara Williams

Barrister specialising in criminal defence.

Convicted rapist has sentence increased by 6 years

Rameez Afzal was convicted in March of raping a 23 year-old woman in a hotel room in Reading. Afzal met his victim in the lobby of a Travelodge at 4am and offered to help her find her friends, whom she had become separated from. He took his victim back to his room and raped her. HHJ Richard Parkes sentenced Afzal to 5 and a half years in prison. However, Afzal was already serving a six-year sentence for supplying Class A drugs, a sentence received in January. The Judge ordered the rape sentence to run concurrently to the drug sentence. The result of this was that Afzal had no additional time to serve for the rape offence. His sentence was referred to the Court of Appeal, on account of it being unduly lenient. The Court of Appeal heard the case yesterday and added a further six years to the sentence.

The guidelines for rape can be found here.

Consecutive or Concurrent?
When an offender is sentenced for two or more offences, the sentencing Judge has discretion as to whether to make the sentences consecutive or concurrent. Where the offences are wholly unrelated, the sentences are often consecutive, however the Judge must take into account the principle of totality in sentencing.

Court of Appeal
We often hear of the Court of Appeal reducing sentences which have been appealed as a result of being manifestly excessive. But the Court upholds an important function in relation to offences which are considered unduly lenient. Those cases can be referred to the Court of Appeal who will look afresh at the mitigating and aggravating features of the offence.

“Punch 4 Punch” – a game with tragic consequences

For those unfamiliar with the game “Punch 4 Punch”, as we at UK Criminal Law Blog were, we are reliably informed that the game involves players being filmed with one hand tied behind their backs, punching one another.  A seemingly odd form of amusement, the game involves two individuals taking turns to hit one another.  The “loser”, or the player who gives up first, then forced to take a forfeit, usually in the form of an alcoholic beverage.

This rather bizarre game can have tragic consequences, as one family from Bexley have sadly found out.  Tommy Main, a 23 year old father of one, was playing the game with a friend when he was rushed to hospital having collapsed after being punched in the chest.  He later died in hospital.  A 20 year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and bailed until September for the police to commence investigations.


Tommy Main, photo: Evening Standard

Egg-Shell Skull

Whether the game caused Mr Main’s death is yet to be established.  However, it brings to mind the “egg-shell skull” rule.  Essentially, this rule states that those who commit offences must “take their victim as they find them”.  By way of explanation; if set out to steal a handbag, but in doing so you cause your victim to fall the ground, crack their head open and later die, you may be held criminally responsible for their death.  Although you may not have intended to kill, therefore may not be guilty of murder, you may be guilty of manslaughter, as death was the result, albeit an unexpected and unintended one.

Joint Enterprise

Joint enterprise is a legal doctrine enabling the CPS to charge a group of individuals with one offence, if they were allegedly acting together, regardless of what role they played.  For example, the man who sets out to steal the handbag, may ask someone to drive him to and from the scene of the crime, and therefore that driver can also be charged with theft/robbery/manslaughter/murder, in the same manner that the handbag thief is.  In Tommy Main’s case we would speculate that there may well be others involved, who may well face charges under this doctrine.


If the 20 year-old man referred to above is charged with murder, what sentence might he expect to receive?  The sentencing guidelines for murder are explained here.  If a manslaughter charge is laid, he would be subject to different sentencing considerations and of course the judge would not have to impose a life sentence.  Until the case is investigated thoroughly it is simply too early to say what the outcome will be.  But this post will be updated as and when there are any developments.

Phone Hacking – the trial of Rebekah Brooks et al

Photo from the Guardian

Photo from the Guardian


The trial of Rebeka Brooks, Andy Coulson and others began at the Central Criminal Court on 28th October 2013.  On 11th June 2014 the jury retired to consider their verdict.

Verdicts were returned on 24th June 2014. The headline news was the conviction of Andy Coulson on one count, but the acquittal of most other defendants.

On 25th June, the jury were discharged from giving a verdict on Mr Coulson and Clive Goodman on further counts. A decision as to whether there will be a re-trial will be on Monday 30th June 2014. We will keep this post factual until then.

What was the case about?

Phone hacking and the behaviour of the New of the World.  In particular, it was alleged that employees working at the News of the World hacked the phones of a number of individuals in an effort to obtain information about celebrities for publication in the newspaper.  This was a direct invasion of those individual’s right to privacy.  Many of the victims of hacking are celebrities.  Some were members of the public misfortunate enough to hold the same surname as a celebrity.

It was agreed by both the prosecution and the defence that phone hacking went on at the NoTW, the issues for trial are how much, when, and who knew about it.

There were also allegations that the newspaper was involved in paying various officials (primarily police officers for information and destroying evidence to cover their tracks.

Who were the defendants?

Rebekah Brooks – now aged 45, Brooks became the editor of the NoTW at just 30 years of age.

Andy Coulson – now aged 46, Coulson was deputy editor of the NoTW under Brooks’ role as editor.  Later he became editor.  He resigned to work for the Conservative Party, where he became the Prime Minister’s Director of Communication.

Stuart Kuttner – now aged about 73, Kuttner was the managing editor of the NoTW from 1987 to 2009.  He retired in 2009 suffering with ill health.

Clive Goodman – now aged 56.  Started working for the NoTW in 1985, eventually becoming the Royal Editor.  Goodman pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to hack phones between November 2005 and August 2006, this was on the basis that he conspired with Mulcaire to hack the phones of three individuals.

Cheryl Cater – now aged 50.  Worked for Rebekah Brooks as a Personal Assistant from 1995 until being made redundant a week following Brook’s resignation.

Charlie Brooks – now aged 51.  Husband of Rebekah Brooks.

Mark Hanna – A former head of security at News International.

Ian Edmondson – a formed executive at the News of the World was found unfit to continue with his trial on 13th December 2013 and the jury were discharged from continuing to consider his case.

What were the charges?

Count 1:

Conspiracy to intercept communications

Details : IAN EDMONDSON, REBEKAH BROOKS, ANDREW COULSON and STUART KUTTNER between 3 October 2000 and 9 August 2006 conspired together, and with Glenn Mulcaire, Clive Goodman, Greg Miskiw, Neville Thurlbeck, James Weatherup and persons unknown, to intercept, without lawful authority, communications in the course of their transmission by means of a public telecommunications system, namely mobile phone voicemail messages.


Andy Coulson – Guilty

Rebekah Brooks and Staurt Kuttner – Not Guilty

Count 2:

Conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office

Details :CLIVE GOODMAN and ANDREW COULSON, between the 31st August 2002 and the 31st January 2003, conspired together and with persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.

Verdicts :

Jury discharged

Count 3

Conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office

Details : CLIVE GOODMAN and ANDREW COULSON, between 31 January 2005 and 3 June 2005, conspired together and with persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.

Verdicts :

Jury discharged

Count 4

Conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office

Details : REBEKAH BROOKS between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2012, conspired with John Kay, Fergus Shanahan, Geoffrey Webster and Bettina Jordan-Barber and persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.


Acquitted (Judge found no case to answer)

Count 5

Conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office

Details : REBEKAH BROOKS, between 9 February 2006 and 16 October 2008, conspired with Duncan Larcombe, John Hardy and Claire Hardy and with persons unknown to commit misconduct in public office.


Rebekah Brooks – Not Guilty

Count 6

Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice

Details : REBEKAH BROOKS and CHERYL CARTER between 6 July 2011 and 9 July 2011 conspired together to do a series of acts which had a tendency to and were intended to pervert the course of public justice, namely permanently to remove seven boxes of archived material from the archive of News International.


Rebekah Brooks and Cheryl Carter – Not Guilty

Count 7

Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice

Details : REBEKAH BROOKS, CHARLES BROOKS and MARK HANNA, between the 15 July 2011 and the 19 July 2011 conspired together and with Lee Sandell, David Johnson, Daryl Jorsling, Paul Edwards and persons unknown to do an act or a series of acts which had a tendency to and were intended to pervert the course of justice, namely to conceal documents, computers, and other electronic equipment from officers of the Metropolitan Police Service who were investigating allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun newspapers.


Rebekah Brooks, Charlie Brooks and Mark Hanna – Not Guilty.


Andy Coulson was Deputy Editor and then Editor.  SK was Managing Editor and then Editor.  Rebekah Brooks was the Assistant Editor from May 2000 to January 2003.

The Prosecution suggested that the more phone hacking there was, the stronger the inference that those running the paper would have known about it.

Rebekha Brooks argued that only a small amount of phone hacking can be proved during her editorship, and there is no inference that can be properly drawn that she knew anything about it.

Goodman and Evans admitted phone hacking between January 2005 until August 2006.  They were both journalists for NoTW at the time.  Goodman gave evidence of the “industrial scale” of the hacking between 2005 and 2006.

As you can imagine, after an 8 month trial there was a lot of evidence to be considered. It’s perhaps only right in the circumstances to direct you to the Guardian for full coverage.

The Crown Court

Here are UKCriminallawblog we’re not allowed to give legal advice, so please don’t ask for it.  We can only tell you that if you are charged with a criminal offence it’s best to be represented.  You can seek representation from a solicitors firm or a direct access barrister. This may be free of charge.  Contact them to find out.

What we can do is set out some basic facts to let you know what to expect when you’re charged with a criminal offence. This is one such example.

All criminal matters start life in the Magistrates’ Court but many conclude in the Crown Court.

Indictable-only offences, such as robbery, can only be tried in the Crown Court.

Either-way offences (those that can be tried either in the Crown Court or the Magistrates’ Court) that are deemed not suitable for summary trial due to their seriousness, will be sent to the Crown Court.

Alternatively an individual charged with an either-way offence can elect to be tried in the Crown Court.

The first hearing in the Crown Court is a Preliminary Hearing. This is often held a couple of weeks after the first appearance in the Magistrates’ Court. At this hearing the defendant will be afforded full “credit” (a 1/3 reduction in sentence) for entering a guilty plea. If no plea is entered, or if a not guilty plea is entered, trial preparations will begin by the fixing of a timetable. This will include a date for the CPS to serve their evidence on the defendant or his/her legal representatives, a date by which a Defence Statement should be served, a date for the next hearing (the Plea and Case Management Hearing) and, often, a provisional trial listing. If the defendant is in custody and is yet to apply for bail in the Crown Court, he Preliminary Hearing May afford an opportunity to do so.  If a guilty plea is entered the defendant may be sentenced straight away, although often a Pre-Sentence Report is sought, in which case the sentencing hearing will be adjourned. Even if a Pre-Sentence Report is not granted, sentence may be adjourned to a future date.

If no plea is entered at the Preliminary Hearing, or if a not guilty plea is entered, the Plea and Case Management Hearing (“PCMH”) will be the second hearing in the Crown Court. By this hearing the CPS should have served all of the evidence which they seek to rely upon. The defendant will be expected to enter a plea, be it guilty or not guilty. If a guilty plea is entered, the defendant will usually receive 25% credit. If a not guilty plea is entered, final trial preparations take place, such as determining witness requirements and fixing a date for trial. Often Defendants are given a “warned list” for trial, a one or two week duration during which their case should come into the list for trial.  The “lists”, detailing all of the Court hearings/trials for a particular day, will be published on Courtserve the previous afternoon.  Some cases, often those involving young witnesses, particularly serious offences or matters expected to last more than 4 days or so, will have a “fixture”, or a fixed date for trial.

Following the PCMH, a Pre-Trial Review may be fixed, to ensure both parties are ready for the trial.  Often, particularly in straightforward matters, these PTRs are dispensed with.

If there is no PTR, the next date is likely to be for trial.  You can find out more about Crown Court trials here.


Five teenagers found guilty of murder

Clockwise from top left: Reese O'Shaughnessy, Andrew Hewitt, Keyfer Dykstra, Corey Hewitt, Joseph McGill

Sean McHugh was just nineteen when he was stabbed to death in a Liverpool launderette last year.


Six teenagers were tried for the murder at Liverpool Crown Court.  Reese O’Shaughnessy, 19, alleged to have been the ringleader, and Keyfer Dykstra, 14, were unanimously found guilty.  Andrew Hewitt, 15, Corey Hewitt and Joseph McGill, both 14, but just 13 at the time, were found guilty by a majority of 10-2.  The sixth teenager was found not guilty, and was released having spent seven months in custody awaiting sentence.

The jury spent over 17 hours in deliberations.  The boys, said to be part of a gang known as “The Laneheads”, cornered Mr McHugh and attacked him with knives and what was described as a makeshift “sword stick” almost two feet long.  He escaped, was found in an alleyway and later died in hospital.

Some of the joint-enterprise attack was captured on CCTV, and this, along with text messages sent between the boys, was shown during trial.

The defendants were subject to reporting restrictions throughout the trial, however following the verdicts Judge Goldstone QC, the Senior Resident Circuit Judge at Liverpool Crown Court, lifted the restrictions, saying:

 “I am quite satisfied the criteria for the naming of the defendants is made out. It is in the public interest they be named, not to score points on behalf of the those who have been bereaved but because the public is entitled to know when boys of this age commit crimes of the gravity which these are.”

Detective Chief Inspector Andy O’Connor reportedly said:

“Since the attack, none of the five has shown any remorse for what they did to Sean and for the taking a young man’s life.

They have even laughed and joked in the dock at court despite being charged with such a serious offence.”



The boys face a life sentence for the murder. It is likely that the starting point for Reese O’Shaughnessy is likely to be 25 years, as he was over 18 at the time of the offence and brought a weapon to the scene.  The others face a starting point of 12 years, due to their ages.  The aggravating features, which may increase the overall term, are likely to be the planning involved in the offence.  Age may be a mitigating factor.


Sentencing will take place on 2nd July to allow for the preparation of Pre-Sentence Reports.


Loren Morris jailed for having sex with 8 year old boy over 50 times

Paedophile: Loren Morris, 21, was sentenced to prison after a court found that she had slept with a child 50 times

Loren Morris has been sentenced to imprisonment for two years having been convicted following trial of three counts of sexual activity with a child.  She was also made the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, preventing her from contacting a child under the age of 16 without the consent of the child’s parents.  She was placed on the Sexual Offences Register, where her details will remain for ten years.

HHJ Juckes QC’s sentencing remarks are not available, and so we are reliant on the tabloids for the facts of the case.  It is said that Morris, now aged 21 and a mother, engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim over 50 times in a two year period.  The abuse commenced when Morris was 16 years old, and the victim was 8.  It is said that the victim “bragged” about the offences at school, which led the school to inform the police.


Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out the offence:

9 Sexual activity with a child

(1) A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if–

(a) he intentionally touches another person (B),

(b) the touching is sexual, and

(c) either–

(i) B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over, or

(ii) B is under 13.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section, if the touching involved–

(a) penetration of B’s anus or vagina with a part of A’s body or anything else,

(b) penetration of B’s mouth with A’s penis,

(c) penetration of A’s anus or vagina with a part of B’s body, or

(d) penetration of A’s mouth with B’s penis,

is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

(3) Unless subsection (2) applies, a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable–

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

Sentencing Guidelines

The sentencing guidelines for the offence can be found here (at page 53).

It appears that the sentencing Judge placed the offence into the second bracket of the guidelines, with a starting point of 2 years and a range of 1 to 4 years.


We know little of the mitigation put forward, and the Judge’s sentencing remarks have not been published, but the Judge was reported as having said:

“I make no secret of the fact your case has given me cause for much consideration.

I have come to the conclusion that due to the concern and embarrassment caused to both you and your family that you will not be offending again, let alone committing sexual offences.

I am also aware of the effect this will have on your baby. I am pleased to hear your parents have started to build bridges with you.

That does not stop the fact though that you had full sexual intercourse with a child when he was eight to
10 years old – by his evidence it was upwards of fifty times.

It seems to me that I am bound to pass an immediate custodial sentence. I take into account what has been said to me and the fact that you stopped the activity yourself.

You realised it was wrong rather than being caught and forced to stop. Therefore my sentence is one of two years. You will serve 12 months in prison before being released on licence.”

It seems likely that this was Morris’s first offence.  Having contested the offences at trial should wouldn’t have received any credit for a guilty plea.  The Guideline notes the following:

The culpability of the offender will be the primary indicator of offence seriousness, and the nature of the sexual activity will provide a guide as to the seriousness of the harm caused to the victim.

Other factors will include:
• the age and degree of vulnerability of the victim – as a general indication, the younger the child, the more vulnerable he or she is likely to be, although older children may also suffer serious and long-term psychological damage as a result of sexual abuse;
• the age gap between the child and the offender;
• the youth and immaturity of the offender; and
• except where it is inherent in an offence, any breach of trust arising from a family relationship between the child and the offender, or from the offender’s professional or other responsibility for the child’s welfare, will make an offence more serious.

Morris’s defence barrister made reference to her “immaturity”; it’s likely that she would have been sentenced more leniently given the fact that the offending commenced when she was a child herself, albeit the disparity between her age (16 years old at the start of the offending) and the age of the victim (8 years old) is likely to have been an aggravating feature.  It’s also notable that the Judge referred to the fact that Morris “realised it was wrong”, which suggests that this was something she came to recognise, rather than something that she knew all along.  Again, we can speculate that this may reflect back to her immaturity, as referred to by her counsel.

It’s been reported that Morris’s barrister mitigated for a community order or suspended sentence.  On the face of it, even with a first time offender, a community penalty would be a very lenient sentence.  Custodial sentences of up to two years can be suspended, and so it’s understandable that defence counsel would be seeking such a sentence, particularly given the fact that Morris has a child which, presumably, she is carer for.  In my view it’s understandable that the Judge did not suspend the sentence; offences of this nature will usually warrant a custodial sentence.

Questions have been asked as to whether she received a more lenient sentence because she is a female. In our experience the view that female offenders receive lesser sentences than male offenders committing the same offence does not stand up to scrutiny. A sentence has to reflect all of the factors including (as is common with female offenders) the fact that they are the primary carer of children, which may be cause for reducing a sentence. It appears that Morris was sentenced firmly within the guidelines (and so there is little to suggest she benefited from a more lenient sentence on the basis she is a female). It’s unlikely we’ll see an appeal in this case.

Notorious gang member Sean Bradish faces further life sentences having committed another spate of robberies

Sean Bradish, 46, is facing another life sentence following the commission of four armed raids between April and September 2012.

Bradish poses with champagne after a spate of robberies in 2002

photo courtesy of BBC News

The first life sentences

Bradish was originally convicted in 2001, following a trial, of four offences; conspiracy to rob, 2 offences of having a firearm with intent to commit robbery and an offence of having an imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery.  He was sentenced to three automatic life sentences, to run concurrently, with two years concurrent for the imitation firearm.  The sentencing judge fixed a notional determinate sentence of 15 years and a specified minimum term of six years and seven months, having taken into account the 10 months he spent on remand prior to trial.

The second life sentences

A second trial took place in 2002, where Bradish was convicted of four offences; conspiracy to rob, conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to commit robbery, and two offences of robbery.  He received four life sentences, to run concurrently.  The sentencing judge fixed a notional determinate sentence of 28 years, and a specified period of 13 years and 5 months’ imprisonment, having taken into account time on remand.  In sentencing, Judge Forrester said:

“The robberies themselves were carried out with ruthless efficiency and determination, usually to the terror of the public, who were threatened with guns, forcing the staff to hand over money. Not only the public, but the bank staff and the guards manning security vehicles, you made victims of all of them.

… It can be said … that no one was seriously, physically injured — and I stress physically — that is true, although a firearm was discharged on one occasion. You had no need to discharge your loaded firearms … The reason you had no need was because you got what you wanted by the threats at the point of a gun.”

Steven Roberts, a fellow member Bradish’s gang, gave evidence against Bradish in these earlier trials and received a reduced sentence of 8 years.  He gave an insight into the offending in an interview with The Observer in 2002:

‘I first met the Bradish brothers in 1993 when I was drinking in a pub off the Stonebridge Estate [a notorious north London area] which was frequented by at least 18 well-known armed robbers. I was making a living from robbing drug dealers, something I’d started with a couple of old school friends a few years earlier.

‘We had become quite sophisticated. I’d got hold of a police badge and walkie-talkie. I would knock on the dealer’s door, show them the badge, explain there had been an accident, and ask if I could use their phone because my radio wasn’t working.

‘As soon as they opened up a bunch of us would rush in, tie them up and threaten them at gunpoint until they told us where the drugs and money were.

‘It was a good living. One time we came away with £46,000 in cash, another time we got a kilo of cocaine. It was the perfect crime because they couldn’t go to the police.’

‘He [Bradish] asked if I wanted to come along on the robbery and I agreed. We parked around the back of the Thomas Cook in Edgware. He went in first and I followed, locking the door behind me. Sean then shouted at the cashier: “Open the fucking door!” She turned round and said “Oh God, not you again” – he’d already robbed the place five times before.

‘We were in there for less than 20 seconds and came away with £24,000. It was incredible.’

‘After that we’d go to the nearest shop and buy a whole new outfit. Everything we had [worn during the robbery] would be thrown away so there would be no forensic evidence. We always bought designer clothes – everything had a label.

‘Then it would be off to the pub for a bit of dinner. By 6pm we’d start taking the cocaine and then go out. We wouldn’t be back until Monday morning, and would easily spend £3,000 on drink and drugs over the weekend. Sometimes we would do two robberies a week.’

In 2012 Bradish was released from prison and raided four banks across London between April and September 2012.  In each raid he brandished an imitation gun and left each bank with over £40,000.

The third life sentences

On 14th February 2014 at the Old Bailey, Bradish pleaded guilty to six robberies, one attempted robbery, and seven counts of possession of an imitation firearm with intent.  Judge Nicholas Cooke QC adjourned sentence until February 20, but warned Bradish that he will receive an automatic life sentence.  See the Evening Standard news report for more details.

Sentencing comments courtesy of Westlaw

interview quotations courtesy of The Observer

Former teacher at Nick Clegg’s school dies hours before sentenced for sex offences

Hugh Henry, 82, a former teacher at Caldicott Preparatory School has died just hours before he was due to be sentenced for historic sex offences.

Hugh Henry was found dead just 36 hours before he was due to be sentenced for sex crimesPhoto INS

Henry was due to be sentenced on 6th February for gross indecency with a child, an offence which he admitted.

It is believed that Henry jumped in front of a train in Buckinghamshire.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fellow teacher John Addrison, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of indecency with or towards a child, and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, at Aylesbury Crown Court in November 2012.  He will remain on the sex offenders’ register for life.

Ex-headteacher of the school, Peter Wright, was convicted of ten charges of indecent assault and two of indecency with a child.  The jury sitting at Amersham Crown Court found that he had abused five boys between the ages of 8 and 13 between 1959 and 1970. He was sentenced on Thursday to eight years imprisonment.  He will also remain on the sex offenders’ register for life.

In sentencing Wright, Judge Johannah Cutts QC said:

“These offences were so serious that it is beyond question that only a custodial sentence can be justified.  I have to sentence you for multiple offending against each of these victims.  This was prolonged activity, the boys were groomed by a master at a school responsible for their care.”

“I heard evidence that you were an inspirational teacher, both of French and of rugby. You taught French and also coached sport, predominantly, rugby.  You were clearly charismatic and charming to boys and parents alike but there was a darker side to your tuition of these boys.Boys craved your attention and strove for your praise. From those, you picked out boys for your individual sexual attentions.”

Jurors at Wright’s trial were told that he was at the centre of a paedophile ring at the school.

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is one of the former-pupils of the school.  Following Wright’s conviction, he said “I am shocked and appalled by the gross betrayal of trust and violation of childhood innocence that has been shown to have taken place at Caldicott.”

More on the sex offenders’ register can be found here

More on historical sexual abuse allegations can be found here

6 January 2014 – the day the Bar came together to fight for justice

On Monday 6th January the Criminal Bar staged a mass walk-out.  Up and down the country barristers, solicitors and members of the public campaigned outside Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts against the proposed legal aid cuts.  Cuts that will cripple the system.  Cuts that will mean many innocent people will go unrepresented, or worse still will be represented by inexperienced, poorly prepared advocates.  Cuts that will mean many lawyers are forced into other jobs in order to pay the bills.


I campaigned outside the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court.  I did so not because of how these cuts will affect me personally, but because of how they will affect us all.

 Picture: The Guardian

I’m not a criminal, so I won’t be affected, right?


The police don’t always get it right.  They don’t always arrest the person guilty of the crime.  Sometimes innocent people get dragged into the system.  What if that person is you?  You’re sat in a cold damp cell waiting for your top notch solicitor to swoop in and get you out of there.  What if she never comes?  Take away legal aid and those innocent people have to pay for a barrister or solicitor to represent them at Court.  Of course they could choose to self-represent, but that’s a bit like attempting surgery on yourself having watched a couple of episodes of Doctors. Besides, what if you say the wrong thing in interview and the police twist your words to make it look like you’re guilty?  Can you get yourself out of that muddle?  No.  But your solicitor probably can.

Even if they do arrest the right person, what if that right person is you?  You think it will never happen but can you honestly say you have never broken the law?  Never driven a fraction over the speed limit?  Never had one too many beers and ended up causing a bit of a scene in the local pub?  Never defended yourself a little too forcefully and ended up giving someone a black eye?  Never smoked a joint?  Never stolen a packet of sweets? 

The cuts mean that fewer and fewer individuals will be eligible for legal aid.  Those who earn over £36,000, or who have a partner who does, will not be eligible.  They will either have to represent themselves or pay for a barrister or solicitor to do so.  This could cost them a small fortune.  I don’t charge excessive private fees, but I’ve got to pay my bills just as you do, and quite simply legal aid fees don’t allow me to do that. 


Photo: BBC

I’m on benefits, so I’ll get a top brief for free, right?


You’ll be represented, but don’t count on a “top brief”.  You’ve heard of the phrase “pay peanuts get monkeys”?  Your advocate will have forced the decent, honest, hard-working solicitors and barristers out of the profession because they can no longer afford to do the job.  Of course he’ll assure you he has your best interest at heart in advising you to plead guilty.  But how do you know he’s not advising this for financial gain?  He’ll get the same fee whether you plead guilty or not.  And a trial is so much hard work that could so easily be avoided.  Who cares if you’re innocent?  He certainly doesn’t.  He’s got hundreds of clients to represent, why should he spend any more time on your case than absolutely necessary?


So if I have to pay for a barrister but am acquitted, the state pays me my costs, right?


Even if you’re found “not guilty” after trial, you can only reclaim costs at legal aid rates.  Which are pitiful. 


Pitiful?  Show us the money!

Mr Grayling would have you believe that we’re all earning vast sums of money as Mr Grayling would have you believe.  Indeed the vast majority of junior criminal barristers earn less than the national average wage in the UK.  The majority start their career as a pupil barrister earning just £12,000 gross.  That will rise, but not to the astronomical figures Mr Grayling would have you believe.  Ten years ago I was I had a weekend job waitressing in a local restaurant.  I earned more then, on an hourly basis, that I do now.  Now, I am a fully-qualified practicing criminal barrister, representing individuals at all levels of the Criminal Justice system from the Magistrates’ Court through to the Court of Appeal.  Then I was a 17-year-old school girl.

At five years call and a mere year post-pupillage, I’m a very junior member of the Bar.  The vast majority of my work is legally aided.  I only defend.  The work I do is fixed-fee.  In the Magistrates’ Court I’ll get paid £50 to represent an individual charged with a criminal offence in their first Court appearance.  In order to properly represent that individual I will need to read the case papers, analyse the evidence, advise fully in conference, fill in legal aid forms and that’s all before we even get in front of the Magistrates/ District Judge.  In Court I will need to tell the tribunal the issues upon which the matter is contested (if indeed it is contested) and possibly apply for bail.  If the matter is not contested, and my client chooses to plead guilty, I will mitigate.  If, following mitigation, the bench decide to adjourn the case for a fast delivery Pre-Sentence Report, I may be asked to wait for several hours in order for my client to meet with probation.  And so I will wait.  It’s not uncommon for this entire process, including preparation time and court-time, to take an entire working day, plus preparation time the previous evening.  Yet still my “fee” remains £50.  Much of that £50 is swallowed up by travel costs, chambers rent, clerks fees and tax. 

Of course not all of my days are spent in the Magistrates’ Court.  Baby-steps are taken into the Crown Court, where a year or so ago I started off covering pre-trial hearings for colleagues in chambers.  The odd sentence here and there.  For one particular pre-trial hearing, a Plea and Case Management Hearing, I would get paid £47.50.  For a sentence I may receive around £100.  However, if I am the Instructed Advocate in the Crown Court case, and I am unable to attend one of these pre-trial hearings, I will have to pay another advocate to go.  Their “fee” will then come out of the fixed fee I get for the entire case.  And so technically, I’m at a loss by not going to Court.  Of course, some days I’m still at a loss by actually going to Court – my travel costs frequently come to more than £50 as I work all over the country.  Again, it’s all fixed-fee, regardless of the number of hours I spend preparing the case, in conference with the client, and physically on my feet in Court.  I could choose not to prepare at all, in which case the time spent would be considerably less.  But then I wouldn’t expect to get much repeat business, and I wouldn’t expect to have a very high success rate, and, what is more it could well lead to innocent people being convicted!  This is why, instead, I spend my evenings and weekends working, for little or no remuneration.

The fear is that if Grayling really does slash the legal aid budget, and with it slash barrister’s fees, the vast majority will be forced to leave the profession and seek properly paid employment (waitressing is always an option!)  But then who will defend those charged with criminal offences?  Who will prosecute the murders and rapists?  Someone who is willing to work for next to nothing.  Someone who will not put in the hours or the effort that the job demands.  Someone who will pressurise their client to plead guilty, because that someone gets paid the same for a guilty plea as for a week-long trial, never mind that the client is innocent.  Miscarriages of justice will be a frighteningly common occurrence and the justice system as we know it will grind to a halt.


That’s why I was protesting outside City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court.  Because these cuts will affect YOU!


Photo: BBC


Prime Minister backs plans for US-style sentencing

David Cameron has dismissed fears that the Government is pumping up a housing bubble.

Photo: Press Association

Possibly the “hot topic” of the year (thus far, we’re only on day 3) is David Cameron’s idea that those convicted and sentenced in the UK should face US-style sentencing.  A “life sentence”, Cameron argues, should mean life: “There are some people who commit such dreadful crimes that they should be sent to prison and life should mean life.”

No possibility of rehabilitation then Cameron?

It’s a proposal that has been the subject of much debate; The Guardian published an article online just 27 hours ago and has already received in excess of 1,500 comments.  Dirk van Zyl Smit, also writing for The Guardian, summed-up the proposal as meaning “that we write them [prisoners] off permanently. It means that we deny that with the passage of time they may change for the better; or that we may change our assessment of their crimes.”

Of course, what Cameron is effectively trying to do is to circumvent the European Court of Human Rights ban on whole-life sentences (Vinter v UK, 2003).  In the case of Vinter, Judge Power-Forde of the Republic of Ireland summed-up the reasons why it was fundamentally unacceptable for the UK to continue to impose whole-life tariffs:

“Hope is an important and constitutive aspect of the human person. Those who commit the most abhorrent and egregious of acts and who inflict untold suffering upon others, nevertheless retain their fundamental humanity and carry within themselves the capacity to change. Long and deserved though their prison sentences may be, they retain the right to hope that, someday, they may have atoned for the wrongs which they have committed … To deny them the experience of hope would be to deny a fundamental aspect of their humanity and, to do that, would be degrading.”

Surely this is exactly what 100 year sentences will achieve; a completer denial of any hope, whatsoever?  By sentencing someone to 100 years in prison are we not effectively locking them up and throwing away the key?  Denying a human being access to any rehabilitative support and sending a message that some offenders are too evil to even be considered worthy to ever be reformed or to ever leave the confines of a prison cell?

Let’s not forget that the ECHR is not advocating an automatic release of violent offenders after a set period of time.  What is required by Vinter is simply a review of each prisoner, at set periods throughout their detention.  This review should take place after no more than 25 years of incarceration, but it certainly does not guarantee release.  What is also required, throughout the period of incarceration, is the opportunity for rehabilitation.

There are currently 49 prisoners in England and Wales serving whole-life sentences.  Many are bringing appeals against sentence following the Vinter judgment.

The US already sentences many offenders to lengthy terms of imprisonment, when it doesn’t kill them, of course.  Ariel Castro, found guilty of kidnapping three women in the US state of Ohio, was sentenced in 2013 to 1,000 years in jail.  He committed suicide later that same year.  Cameron is effectively promoting a similar regime in the UK.  But where does it end?  Are we to bring back the gallows, Mr Cameron?

More on life sentences can be found here, here, here, herehere and here.