Lets stop Kidding Ourselves – the Criminal Justice System is fast running out of Justice, but the time limits must be obeyed.
Following on from my rant a few weeks ago, which went viral and was supported by people working in all areas of the criminal justice system and beyond, but was ignored by the Ministry of Justice, here is the next installment.
It is 1am and I have just finished my 19 hour work day trying to triage criminal legal aid cases, but I do hope that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister are enjoying their, very long, summer recess, courtesy of the tax payer.
What is frightening is that the Ministry of Justice and other Government Departments are doing nothing to try and stem the blood loss of the criminal justice system as it gushes out from us caused by the ‘we are all in it together’ (unless we are on summer recess at a Portuguese villa or enjoying the hospitality of a Russian Oligarch on his yacht in the Mediterranean) austerity cuts. This all sounds very melodramatic, but I think it is my way of saying that I am moving towards hysteria, and not in a good way.
I have a suggestion for the Ministry of Justice and other Government departments to help them realise what is blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever set foot in a police station, court room or prison – although, I accept that it is a bit difficult to do that when you are whinging about the fact you had to resign from your constituency role as receiving only £28000 a year in expenses to cover a second home has made life intolerable. Ditch the forms and the time limits and concentrate on getting the Criminal Justice System back to a workable state.
The CPS will now rarely serve the full papers in a magistrates court case more than 14 days prior to trial, its not entirely their fault as the each person in the office who wasn’t offered a ridiculously large sum of tax payers money to leave under voluntary release redundancy is now doing the work of the 10 people who were. But lets face it, completing a form in triplicate to confirm that another form has been completed is an important task, that pesky preparation of trial files can wait.
In any event, the CPS can’t serve the statements they don’t have. PC Single Crewed, covering an area of 35 miles on his own, is highly unlikely to have the time to write up his statement, and ensure that it actually includes all the relevant details. But fear not, he is going to be given a tablet so that he can write his statements on the go….now all he needs to do is drive and type at the same time..oh, but isn’t that illegal?
Note to the Rt Hon Teresa May..‘please exempt police officers from the texting and driving ban – yes, I know its dangerous but the officer needs to tick those boxes, so that another member of staff can check to make sure he has ticked the boxes within the set time limit’.
By a miracle, the Police and CPS manage to serve the papers in good time prior to the trial, and so its full steam ahead for the trial…or is it? Dwindling Fast and Co Defence Solicitors are unable to find a lawyer who can take a day out to go and visit their client in prison to discuss their case. All but one lawyer was laid off last week due to legal aid cuts – something to do with fat cat lawyers, who stood up to a man named Grayling, getting their comeuppance.
Even if they can find a lawyer, the chances are that when they get to the prison it will be on lockdown due to a shortage of prison officers. But on the bright side, the private prisons are employing lots of temporary staff, on minimum wage rate, who have no powers of arrest. This means that for anyone who wants to try and take contraband into prison it’s their lucky day, get caught and the staff can’t arrest you, all they can do is refuse to let you in and call the police…better luck when you try again next week, by which time PC Single Crewed who is 35 miles away may just have arrived to answer the call.
Dwindling Fast and Co Defence Solicitors send a junior barrister to court to argue that that want to serve a defence case statement out of time, something to do with no staff, prison lockdowns and the papers being served 7 months late by the CPS. The court is mindful of the Criminal Procedure Rules and the phrase ‘dealing with the case efficiently and expeditiously‘ which glows from the front page of the numerous memos the court receives from the Ministry of Justice. Hence, no extension of time for the junior barrister, just a feeling of being in the headmasters office as the court explains that “The Court does not run at the convenience of the Defence”. The Junior barrister does accept that clearly is the case, the court doesn’t seem to run for the convenience of anyone any more… but time limits are time limits and like targets they must be obeyed at all costs, despite the fact they are now unworkable for all parties.
Hence, the Police, CPS and Defence all rush to try and cobble together a case to ensure that the court time limits are complied with…
# the CPS should have made an application for the witness to give evidence behind a screen, but the time limit for that has been and gone, and anyway, if the witness shuts her eyes while giving evidence, isn’t that the same thing?
# the defendant would have liked to have brought along some witnesses, but they couldn’t get the time off work due to staff shortages, they work for the Ambulance Service (and that’s another story);
# the police officer is sitting in the swanky new video suite in his police station (which is stuck out on an industrial park next to the motorway – police stations which are in the town and which the public can get to easily are so 1990s) waiting to give evidence via video link rather than coming to court. This is perfect apart from the fact the case has been listed in a court room which has a broken video link unit….it is due to be fixed as soon as the new budget is received, can the officer please sit there until April 2015?
And then, after a two hour wait, the court informs everyone that it hasn’t got time to deal with the case due to over listing…and the Magistrate announces “we are very sorry, but that’s just the way it is”. What this actually means is that the case doesn’t fall into the current categories of priority, and the court is monitored to ensure it is keeping to its time limits for the priority trials, so all other cases suffer.
That’s just the way it is for -
* the defendant who will have to go back to jail on remand and have the stress of this case hanging over him for a while longer;
* the witness who wasn’t able to sleep last night for the fear of having to come to court today;
* the police officer who had his rest day cancelled so that he could attend court; and
* the junior barrister who will just about cover her train fare with her fee for the day.
Yes, unless all of us caught up in this criminal injustice system do something about it, that’s just the way it is….
With the new football season comes the question from banned fans “How can I get rid of my ban?” For those fans who are eligible for early termination of a football banning order it’s quite a straightforward process. If a court refuses to remove the ban, another application can’t be made for 6 months, so it is important to get it right first time. After two thirds of the ban has been served a fan can apply to terminate a football banning order imposed by the court under Sections 14a or 14b of the Football Spectators Act
The application to terminate will concentrate on the fan’s behaviour since the ban was imposed, so will look at things such as whether the fan has complied with the ban, has stayed away from football, has kept out of any other trouble, and in some cases has moved away from the influences which resulted in the fan being banned – for example a fan may have hung around with other banned fans and risk supporters at the time of the ban, but may not have socialised with them since receiving the ban.
The court will want to know whether the police support the early termination or at least have no objections to it. If the fan hasn’t come to the attention of the football intelligence officer since being banned it is unusual for the police to oppose the termination application. Character references from employers or teachers are also important.
In most cases where a fan contacts me about terminating a ban, if my advice is that they should apply, their ban is terminated. But that is only halff of the story as it is then important that the football intelligence officers and the football club are also notified that the ban had been terminated, otherwise a fan may find themselves refused entry at the turnstiles,
What can’t be guaranteed is that the football club will also remove any ban imposed. A football club ban can rarely be challenged in court, however if the court has removed the football banning order, a club will more likely be prepared to negotiate the end of a ban. Hence, if you are a fan who has served two thirds of their ban, this football season may not be out of bounds to you after all.
For more information on terminating a football banning order early, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
ATTEMPT TO TAKE PYRO INTO A PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY FOOTBALL MATCH AND ITS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT SOMEONE ELSE WILL BE IN YOUR SEAT FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON!
SEEN PYRO BEING USED AT A FOOTBALL MATCH? THINK IT LOOKS FUN?
There is no doubt about it, the use of pyro to some fans is exciting. Photos of smoke bombs and flares being used at European matches give the impression of a colourful and high adrenaline crowd of fans.
The pre-season excitement is kicking off, especially for fans who get the chance to attend stadiums and play teams they would not normally play. A Pre-season friendly is a ‘regulated’ football match and the law applies just as much for pre-season friendlies as it does for the main season matches. As far as policing is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether it is a friendly or a competitive match, the policing strategies are the same, and the risks that the fans face if they decide to take pyro to a friendly game are just as serious.
Whether or not the use of smoke grenades (or plumber’s smoke tabs), flares and fireworks gives the game a better atmosphere, they are banned from English football, and without a doubt the courts do not see that same colourful, high adrenaline atmosphere. The starting point for a court considering the sentence for someone who has attempted to enter a stadium with pyro is 3 months in prison. In many cases it is very difficult to persuade the courts to come down from this 3 month figure. Add onto this the fact that it is highly likely that a court will impose a football banning order for at least 3 years (as this is the minimum that a court can impose) and may go as high as 10 years, and a fan’s days of watching football anywhere but in their living room for at least the next 3 years are over. The prison record doesn’t look good to any employer, and any chance of coaching or refereeing even a local kids league is given the Red Card due to the fact the offence of possession of the smoke grenade and the prison sentence and the football banning order will all appear on a Criminal Records Bureau (now Banning and Disbarring Service) check.
Look again at the wording in italics above, a fan doesn’t have to let off a flare in the stadium to fall foul of the law, mere possession on entry is sufficient. The law doesn’t distinguish between smoke grenades, flares and fireworks, they are all treated with the same severity. Nor does it distinguish between the possession and letting off the pyro.
As a lawyer representing football fans, I have concerns about all fans being arrested for pyro possession and use but in particular the criminalisation of youths. Whether or not I agree with the law as it stands, until Parliament changes it, possession of pyro remains an offence. I have had queries from fans who have found that not only have they been banned, but their family members also banned. As a football club is a private entity they can do what they want, so if they decide to ban a whole family they can do so. Chelsea FC has banned fans for 10 years for the use of a smoke bomb at an away match, this was in addition to the 3 year football banning order the court imposed, and Crystal Palace FC wanted to ban a fan for 2 years despite the fact the court had not imposed a football banning order, and this was relating to use of a firecracker on the way to the stadium, not even in sight of the stadium, but the fan was wearing CPFC colours at the time he was seen letting off the firecracker.
Harsh as this sounds, in most cases there is very little I am able to do to persuade a Club to budge on their decision, and in my experience the Football League Clubs take a stronger approach on this than Premier League Clubs. One of the main reasons that the Club will impose a harsh penalty on the fan is that too much use of pryo and the Club will lose its away allocation or have it severely restricted, and this means that the Club may lose revenue due to the actions of a few fans. This is particularly so at Cup games where the lower Football League clubs get the opportunity to play higher Football League or even Premier League clubs, and receive the Gate fees. Hence the consequences of 2 minutes of smoke or colored flame can be very wide reaching for both the Club and other fans
For this reason, a pyro amnesty bin trial will be in place at York City FC v Sheffield Wednesday FC on 12th July 2014 at Bootham Crescent Stadium. York City Fans used pyro at a few away games last season and at least 1 incidence of pyro by Sheffield Wednesday fans was recorded by police in the 2012/13 season, so while pyro use was is not high with fans of these two clubs, the police will be on the look out for pyro and the stewards will be notified that they should be carrying out stringent searches of anyone entering the stadium, and should remove anyone who uses pyro in Bootham Crescent and hand them over to the police.
With the pyro bins outside there will be no excuse for anyone to have pyro inside the stadium, and anyone caught with pyro in the stadium is likely to be dealt with very harshly by the Club and courts as there was a means of disposing of it outside. Lets hope that these bins are a success and that it will help prevent this needless criminalisation and banning of fans.
Particularly if you are a parent or carer for a youth who attends football matches, please pass the message to them that pyro is illegal and the inside of a cell in a youth offending institution could be exactly where they are heading if caught with pyro…and that it not scaremongering or exaggeration…its reality.
For more information on the laws on pyro and other laws relating specifically to football see this leaflet Are you a footie fan? Do you know there are special laws relating to you? which I have prepared to alert fans, particularly young fans, to the law which affects them but which they are often don’t know about, as it doesn’t apply to any other sports events.
Last night I was up until 3am working on a last minute defence case statement for a case which should have reached trial in the magistrates’ court on Friday, only it didn’t as the CPS didn’t serve the witness statements until a week previously and then wrote a scathing letter to the court when the defence had the audacity to ask for the witnesses to be present at trial. At this stage I could launch an attack on the CPS, and no doubt in time I will do, but the failure of this trial to go ahead is like many others in the courts every day, evidencing the fact that the criminal justice system no longer offers justice for anyone, victims, witnesses or defendants and is imploding. All the while it is imploding we are facing a daily barrage of comments from those civil servants and ministers who have never even set foot in a police station or court room telling us that if we were more efficient with our working the criminal justice system would work just fine. I swear if I hear this one more time I am likely to become my own client.
Here is a sample day in the magistrates’ court for me, and I know I am not alone in this ‘efficient working’ daily experience.
* the CPS prosecutor not turning up until 11am (and that’s not their fault as the local offices have been closed and some now have to cross into a different county and travel an extra 25 miles to get to work), and then realising they don’t have the right file;
* a police officer attending straight after a night shift (actually let’s make it after 9 night shifts in a row, it should be 5, but there are so many officers on sick leave or driving round during the day to diary appointments which the public either don’t remember or can’t make as they have to go to work). The officer will be told that they are not needed at court and asked ‘didn’t you get the memo cancelling your attendance at court?’. Had there still been witness care units in police stations, the officer may have been notified, but with witness care units at such a depleted state, the memo will still be buried under all the other memos that the staff have not yet managed to get to.
* not to worry, the police officer will be needed anyway, as the victim and civilian witnesses have not arrived. The officer will be asked to go and see if they can collect the witnesses. Hmm… The first problem with that is that in many areas there are now not enough cars, the officer will have been dropped at court by a colleague and have to make their own way back..don’t forget the cars are needed for the diary appointments that no one keeps! But even if a car is available, the witnesses are unlikely to be at home. They work and we’re not warned to attend court today so have not booked the time off, another unjust result of complete witness care units being made redundant again. But not to worry as there is a witness care unit in the next county, they can help..oh but they are all off on stress leave due to the pressure of having to do twice the work with a quarter of staff;
* Que the court staff, can they print out the file for the prosecutor as they will have received a copy at the first hearing. Unfortunately the court doesn’t have any working photocopiers at the moment, and even if it did, there is no paper in them….at least ‘efficiency’ is benefitting the rain forests.
* all of this is immaterial in any event as my client is 15 years old, being held in secure accommodation and hasn’t arrived. The magistrates ask that the usher makes a phone call to find out about this situation, oh but sadly there are no longer any ushers in the court, ‘efficient working’ put a stop to that. Hence the court clerk has to make a call, but the court can’t sit without the court clerk so the magistrates have to leave the court and sit outside doing nothing while the calls are made. Now there is efficiency for you!
* unfortunately the Youth Offending Team can’t help us in the search for my client, their computers are down, they have been for the past week and no one seems inclined to fix them….no doubt G4S have already bought new computers in anticipation of their take over. But after half an hour we trace my client to secure accommodation 55 miles away, the closer accommodation was closed down earlier this year as it was too costly…imagine that, a centre for vulnerable youths not being able to make a profit. Anyway, we are told that my client will not be coming to court as there are no staff to bring him. They are running on a skeleton staff of two as that’s all the current funding will provide, and if one member of staff accompanies my client, that will leave the other member looking after six vulnerable youths on their own.
* the end result is that no trial will go ahead today. But not to worry, this is a legal aid case so I will get paid….oh, hang on a minute, I only get paid for advocacy now, and not attendance, and there was no advocacy. So that is nil £ for me today, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference anyway, the Legal Aid Authority doesn’t seem to be paying bills at the moment. My last communication from them was 8 weeks ago, relating to a case which was finished over a year ago and which had to go for adjudication of fees. I was notified that after a year the adjudicator had made a decision, but there weren’t enough staff at the Legal Aid Authority to type it up and approve the payment, and therefore they would get back to me when they could…. I am not holding my breath on that one!
*but at least my travel to court will be paid? Ah.. Back to the adjudication, apparently taking the train to court at the cost of £8.40 return and a journey of 45 minutes each way is not very ‘efficient’ when I could get a bus for £2.60 return, and it only takes 2 hours each way. Hence, the adjudication was to cut my travel costs by £5.80, and I am sure that the time spent by the adjudicator and the Legal Aid Authority staff ( when they finally get to my claim) will have been worth the £5.80, although let’s face it, if they spend more than 10 minutes on the adjudication they will be working at a loss.
All the while, the Government which is telling us we must be more ‘efficient’ and that those of us working in the criminal justice system are to blame, is wasting a vast amount of money on a Public Defender Service, which is not wanted or needed, but which is an example of the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice throwing their toys out of the pram when those in the criminal justice system fight back against the cuts.
I am a criminal lawyer and always will be, and I am a fighter, but this Government is consistently knocking me down and I fear that soon I and all the others who have made a career within the criminal justice system will no longer have the fight to get back up. I am in a very fortunate position, I am self employed, and I know that the solicitors who instruct me will not refuse to do so anymore on the basis of this blog. Many of my colleagues in the criminal justice system are not so lucky, whistleblowing policies seem to be a waste of paper. Those in the police, CPS and Court Service who are speaking out are finding themselves disciplined or sidelined, living in fear that if they speak out they may no longer be able to afford their rent or their mortgage. The bosses who are supposed to protect them are so ‘efficiency’ target driven that the implied term of trust and confidence only seems to exist in the employee/employer relationship and not the other way round.
I’m not looking for sympathy, just that those of us in the criminal justice system continue our fight, and support each other, as that is the only way we will prevent the implosion of the criminal justice system and ensure at least a certain amount of justice for those who are unfortunate enough to become part of it.
Originally posted on alisongurden:
If you have read this blog previously, see this updated link to the directions on how to get to the Stadium as despite my initial info that the new stadium was going to be used, I have now had confirmation that the Sunlife Stadium in Miami Gardens is the correct stadium, so ignore my previous directions!
http://www.sunlifestadium.com/directions Parking at the Stadium is usually charged and will likely be around $25. Allow at least an hour to drive to the Stadium from South Beach or Downtown as traffic in Miami can be heavy even during the day.
The easiest route via bus from South Beach is a bus to Aventura Mall (either the 120 Beach Max Express or S route) and then the 99 bus from outside the Aventura food court which will take you to the Sun Life Stadium. http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/routes_schedule.asp?srv=WEEKDAY&dir=Westbound&rt=99 allow about 2 hours for…
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Despite the fact there are very few British fans involved in trouble at overseas football matches, Section 21A,B & C of the Football Supporters Act 1989 are very draconian and may permit a police officer to detain an innocent fan and hold them until after their flight has departed. In other words, stopping an innocent fan from attending the World Cup, despite the fact they have paid for the plane ticket, accommodation, and tickets to the matches.
So what does the law really say on this?
A police officer in uniform, not in civvies, may detain a British football fan for 4 hours ( or 6 with the approval of an Inspector or above) at an airport or port, but at the time of the detention they must have reasonable grounds to suspect the fan has caused or contributed to violence or disorder previously. This means the Police officer cannot just detain a fan they don’t like the look of.
Any detention without this reasonable suspicion will be unlawful detention. The ‘gut feeling’ of the officer that the fan may commit disorder in the future is not enough there has to be something indicating the fan has been involved in disorder in the past.
If there is something in the past, the officer must also have a reasonable suspicion that the fan is likely to be involved in disorder at a football match in the future. If the officer holds both of these suspicions he can issue a notice requiring the fan to attend the Magistrates Court within 24 hours, they can also take away the fans passport until they get to court.
If the officer believes that the fan will not turn up at court, for example by saying “well I am going to get on the flight anyway”, they can arrest the fan and detain them for up to 24 hours until they are taken to court.
These measures don’t require a lot of police information or intelligence to justify a ‘reasonable suspicion’. A football intelligence officer can pretty much sit in Starbucks at the airport sipping their hot chocolate and watching social media on their iPhone. Tweets such as “England fans ready to cause havoc in Brazil” alongside a group of fans in the airport holding up their pint glasses, with a pin showing their location is probably all a keen football intelligence officer will need for that ‘reasonable suspicion’.
It shouldn’t be the case that fans face such gross restrictions of their freedom of movement and expression, but sadly successive Governments seem to think that football fans don’t have the same rights as the rest of society, and until the fans start to campaign against these harsh measures they won’t change. In the meantime, if you are travelling to the World Cup, be careful with your social media use. As one fan told me last week “The police are morons’. Well, whatever your views on that, even morons can watch Twitter!
Print off a handy guide to your rights, to fold and keep in your passport here Rights of fans travelling to World Cup leaflet
This is an updated version of the blog piece I wrote last week, so if you read it last week and found it thoroughly enjoyable feel free to read it again! For the other 99.99% of readers who have no intention of reading it again, please take time to read the following two paragraphs.
Due to my work representing football fans I have let off a lot of smoke bombs and flares in my time, I try to get hold of the same version that my client released so that I can describe to the magistrates exactly what happens when it is let off. My usual comment on smoke bombs is ‘ you crack the seal and smoke comes out, it doesn’t get hot, there is no flame and it doesn’t have to be lit by a match or lighter’. As the sentencing guidance for having possession of a smoke bomb or flare is the same (3 months in prison, which the Home Office has encouraged courts to order in full), I try to show the court the difference between a smoke bomb, and a flare. There is no doubt that most people consider that a flare that can burn at over 1000 degrees and has an open flame is more dangerous in a crowd environment than a smoke bomb.
Last week I came across a hand held smoke bomb, purchased on the internet, which is a long tube rather than a tin. It is the same as a smoke bomb in the amount of smoke that it gives off, but after the smoke finished it burned like a flare for over 30 seconds. There was nothing on the packaging warning about the the flame. My instant concern was that it is the type of thing a fan would set off and kick or roll down the stand – as is common practice with smoke bombs to create the atmosphere around the stand. If this hand held smoke bomb is kicked down the stands it will end up as a flame at someone’s seat or feet. These handhelds are cheaper than the tin variety of smoke bombs and so probably seem more attractive to fans, and I am sure that as they are a tube they are easier to hide under clothing, but please think about the consequences. Most fans I represent who are charged with possession of a smoke bomb are not risk fans, not known to the police, they are out for a bit of fun. Trust me, then end result of setting one of these off is highly unlikely to be fun
Over zealous celebrating at the match this weekend may make you an armchair spectator for the next 3 years.
I’m sure many fans read my blogs and think I’m either patronising fans or doing the police’s job, but in reality I’m neither…I’m the one who travels up and down the country representing fans who are facing criminal charges and football banning orders. Don’t get me wrong… I love my job, but I often wish I didn’t have to do it, especially when I am representing fans who have acted in a moment of madness, due to excitement or jubilation at a result and who are facing the next three years without being able to watch their team play live.
I’m picking on Wolves fans this week as they are part of my pyro amnesty bin trial at Sixfields Stadium. Next week I’ll be picking on Oxford United and Northampton Town fans.
Seeing this article earlier made me think about the consequences that a 1 minute jog onto the pitch, or the cracking open of a smoke bomb, or lighting of a flare can have to the next three to five years. Because that’s the length of a football banning order. In addition the Home Office message to courts is to order the strictest sentence they can for possession of pyro in the stadium….that’s three months inside a prison cell. http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2014/04/25/wolves-vow-to-find-and-ban-pitch-invaders/
Don’t for one minute think that the offence has to be a serious one for a fan to get a ban. Simple disorder such as a bit of pushing and shoving, pitch invasion or even being drunk in a stadium, all attract football banning orders. The minimum length of ban a court can impose is three years. On top of that many clubs are now issuing even longer club bans on fans who are not convicted of any offence.
So unless you want to watch your team only from the comfort of your living room for the next three years, oh and you also want to have to hand your passport in at the police station every time England or your team play an overseas match, please don’t take pyro into the stadium or invade the pitch while the game is in play this weekend.
As part of the pyro amnesty bin trial running at Sixfields in conjunction with Northants Police, there will be pyro amnesty bins outside both the Home and Away entrances. They are not monitored by CCTV or the police and the contents will not be fingerprinted or any other methods used to identify who put the item in the bin. http://wp.me/p2vym0-7G
If you find yourselves at Sixfields with pyro ( or anything else which you know is illegal or banned in a stadium) please use the bins. That way you will get to see your team lift the trophy next week, and attend the Championship games next season. If you don’t use the bins and get caught in the ground with pyro or banned items, the only thing you are likely to see is a prison cell in the short term and the match in widescreen for the next three years!
So..if you’ve anything dodgy, do yourself a favour and dump it. And then hopefully I will never be writing your name on my court papers.