madaxeman

August 3, 2015

What of Justice?

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:06 pm

What of Justice?

In recent years, I have taken an interest in three court cases that have been heard before the High Court at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London. My experiences have been varied, but one thread that runs throughout is that justice via these hallowed halls is now only for those who can afford it – and that troubles me greatly…

Let’s start with the case of Paul Chambers, the now infamous #TwitterJokeTrial – where a man had his life blighted with a criminal conviction simply for making a joke about the fact his local airport had closed due to adverse weather. Whilst it is true that Chambers was eventually cleared at the High Court, it should not be forgotten that this was the culmination of a very long fight throughout the Magistrates Court, the Crown Court, and the High Court. His defence was possible partly though the benevolence of a number of legal professionals who worked on his case on a pro bono basis, partly because the community on Twitter came together to raise funds, partly through a number of high profile comedians holding a benefit gig. The sincere support of people like Stephen Fry, Al Murray and Graham Linehan, who were prepared to very publicly stand by both Chambers and his cause, did his case no harm at all.

What would have happened though Chambers not had these assets to bring to the fore, on a freedom of information case, and instead found himself contesting say a charge of assaulting a police officer. Could Chambers have pursued a campaign to establish his innocence without such a support movement behind him? Of course not.

Now, this raises for me two important points. First of all, I believe that the genuinely innocent man / woman should have the basic right to appeal their conviction, and finance ought not to come into it. For this reason, we had the system of “Legal Aid” in this country, but it is now been watered down to such an extent that it is barely recognisable, and certainly lacks the efficacy it once had. It is no longer properly resourced, and until this is remedied, neither is justice in this land.

The second point we must consider is that where the courts have convicted the wrong person, not only does the innocent suffer an unwarranted conviction, but the actual perpetrator is left to commit further offences. It is for this reason that I feel the genuinely innocent actually have a moral obligation to fight – but in a courts system so ruled by money and resource, many are not in a position to do so.

The second case I would invite you to consider is that of Jacqui Thompson, a Welsh Political Blogger who ended up fighting a libel battle over comments on this very blog, and indeed her own. The High Court managed to conclude that Thompson was conducting some form of personal vendetta against her local council’s Chief Executive, a Mr. Mark James. They also ruled that that Thompson had attempted to pervert the course of justice – a finding that resulted in the insurers backing both Thompson’s case and her defence from a countersuit backing out.

There are many interesting aspects of this case, and I don’t want to focus on this case too closely in this post, so we’ll just cover a couple of them. First of all, an attempt to pervert the course of justice would be a criminal matter, triable under the criminal burden of proof, and not by the judge in a libel trial, which is of course civil law. Secondly, it’s interesting that Mr. James managed to secure an indemnity against his legal expenses from his employer, the legality of which appears highly questionable indeed.

Although Thompson has had an appeal, which incredibly she lost, she is now in a position of owing hundreds of thousand of pounds, has a charge against her home, and will in all likelihood eventually lose it. What’s remarkable here is that now the mainstream press are beginning to take an interest in events around the council, they seem to agree with the overwhelming majority of the points that Thompson has made. Rather than pursuing a grudge, she is merely scrutinising (and incredibly effectively) the local council who act in her name. The woman deserves the freedom of the city, not losing her home!

Unfortunately though, finance alone means that Thompson will almost certainly never be able to clear her name. A woman who has tirelessly campaigned against waste and corruption will lose her home, merely because she refused to let them get away with it and lacks the financial resources to fight the case.

Cases should not be brought and fought merely on the basis of who can afford justice – justice is a right.

Finallly, let’s consider the case of Tim Ireland, a candidate in the recent general election who tried to bring a petition against Nadine Dorries MP. Dorries and Ireland have a lengthy history, and for a number of years Dorries has maintained that Ireland has been stalking her. The police have repeatedly found that Ireland has no case to answer, and Ireland has asked on a number of occasions that Dorries should publish evidence (such as emails she claims to have received…), without success.

In the run up to the election, Dorries repeated in the media her claim that Ireland was stalking her, even going to far as to suggest it was unsafe to attend a hustings event because Ireland would be present. She did however send a number of supporters, including her own daughters, to this “unsafe” event, who then distributed material Ireland considered to be libelous to those gathered at the event. Ireland also noticed that this material did not comply with certain aspects of election law, such as bearing the candidate’s address and details of where the leaflet had been printed.

At the High Court, the matter was thrown out because Ireland’s legal team not not served Dorries with legal papers correctly. The matter of whether or not Ireland is a dangerous stalker was not even considered, much less decided by the court. Surely, if the claims were genuine, Dorries should be entitled to have Ireland exposed. Similarly, if the claims are lies, Ireland should be entitled to have the matter settled as well.

Rather than allowing for the procedural mistake in serving papers, allowing Ireland’s legal team to serve Dorries again, and reconvening a further hearing in say a couple of month’s time, the court simply struck out the petition. This has a number of consequences – besides the lack of a proper scrutinly of the claims Dorries has made, we also now have an electorate unsure of whether or not she conducted herself unlawfully in the lead up to the election. Isn’t Dorries herself entitled to have that issue put to bed at the very least? Isn’t Ireland entitled to have his accuser’s claims tested in open court?

The most serious consequence however is that Ireland is now reportedly saddled with over £150K of debts in the case, and that sends a very negative message indeed to anyone else thinking, quite properly, of bringing a similar case in similar circumstances in the future. The effect therefore is that rather than being exposed, dodgy practices are indirectly actually PROTECTED by the judicial system! What a tangled web we weave…

If justice is to mean anything, then our courts need to focus on the task of ensuring it is delivered, irrespective of cost, and delivered consistently to all members of society, great and small. Justice isn’t a budget – it’s a principal and a right. Sometimes expensive, sometimes inconvenient perhaps, but absolutely essential if we are truly to live in a fair, free and hopefully just society.

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5 Comments »

  1. I agree with everything you’ve written here! Hope to hear more from you! I also hope Jacquie is able to continue her sterling efforts to keep us, the public, up to date with this public body’s shenanigans (in the hope that one day the CEO and others including colluding cllrs and protective regulators are held to account)! We now have the Llanelli/Carmarthen Herald speaking out and I hope more retail outlets begin to stock these local weeklies so we can have more information to help us vote for representatives who really have our interests at heart. Personally I have come to the conclusion that bodies/organisations paid for from the public purse are reluctant to find wrongdoing by anyone else paid from that same purse. If the matter does get as far as judges whether civil, criminal or as in my case the Employment Tribunal they too have an inbuilt lack of impartiality and also fail to hold the CEOs of public bodies accountable.

    Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

    Comment by Jennifer Brown — August 4, 2015 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Jennifer,

    I recognise you from Jacqui’s blog…

    Jacqui has for a number of years done the public a major service in my view. The powers that be might not like her, but they know that whenever they do anything, there is always the danger that Jacqui will get all over it and expose what is going on – and the restraint that comes from that knowledge is a force for good.

    I think you have a particular problem with Carmarthenshire Council, rather than all public bodies to be honest… I think there is a lot of mileage in the accusation that it is an officer led authority, and furthermore it has become clear that the recent change in ruling administration is going to achieve nothing. Plaid are a serious disappointment to me.

    Hope really comes from three directions – Jacqui’s efforts, the continuing investigations of the Herald (you’ve needed a decent press for a while, and you just might have it now…), and the redoubtable Sian Caiach…

    On the subject of matters Welsh, I am going to be on Angelsey the week after next – taking my fiancée, kids and uncle for a well deserved break… I won’t say exactly where we’re staying – wouldn’t want to make it to easy for Mark & Meryl’s assassins lol…

    Comment by madaxeman — August 4, 2015 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  3. […] What of Justice?2 […]

    Pingback by Record parking profits for Carmarthenshire Council - News4Security — August 5, 2015 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Martin

    You’re right my problem is with the Carmarthenshire County Council but also with the lack of interest of the publicly paid watch dogs, police & Welsh Assembly GOV including the two Assembly Members based in Llanelli who’ve avoided any constructive involvement. I personally would not keep on highlighting the problem this Authority has regarding disclosures made by whistleblowers or their deliberate avoidance to actually follow the very good policies and procedures, in place, had they looked into their own actions and learnt lessons. In opposition to the whistleblowing policy they want no employee to speak up when there is wrongdoing; they also want those whistleblowers who see wrongdoing continuing to accept all their assurances, at face value, that matters have been dealt with. My disclosures spiraled because management failed to change the culture of institutional abuse or protect the one service user (without capacity) from abuse by untrained staff who, no doubt, were unaware that the suffering was caused by their own thoughtless actions. Management were at fault because they wanted the home to run to a timetable which did not take into account service users choices or individual needs; more well trained staff would start to question the outmoded methods being used when interacting with service users.

    I can live with their handling of me as a whistleblower but what I will not stay silent about is how they avoided following their statutory duty to safeguard the vulnerable and deliberately ignore policies in place to make sure the service users and the employees had their interests protected. Management practiced collusion and coercion to cover up wrongdoing. As a whistleblower I have made the CEO aware of this and he’s not even acknowledge my contact/disclosure even though he is one of the three people named in the whistleblowing policy to go to if a disclosure is not handled properly; the other two people are the Ombudsman (PSOW) and/or the Chair of the Standards Committee; I’ve contacted them all (to no avail).

    Since joining twitter I have come to realise that our public services in general have cultures which do not value either the complainant or the whistleblower and do all they can to avoid accepting there is a need to investigate. Of course when leaders encourage these cultures of cover up and denial nothing will ever change and the public interest will continue to suffer. Individuals do not stand much of a chance (justice wise) against these bodies who spend vast amounts of public money on protecting their own reputations. I can’t help thinking how our CEO was given public money to make a libel claim against Jacqui and though unlawful and unfair has got away with it! He could afford to risk his own money surely? But why take the risk when you have the executive only too willing to act on your every whim and instruction? Accountability, does the CEO realise the buck should stop with him or will he be able to continue relying on the lack of interest within WAG to hold wayward Local Authorities and their leaders to account?

    Enjoy your trip to Angelsey; I don’t think the CEO holds a grudge against you, after all, it was your blog that gave him a golden opportunity to slag off Jacqui (to set her up for a fall). He is a very devious man who can rely on his officers and executive to act according to his wishes (he seems to believe he is above the law and that policies & procedures even when statutory only need be followed when not inconvenient to the way he wishes the CCC to be run)! Hell! He is above the law! Should I be scared (I’ve never met the man)? Has he read the whistleblowing policy? Has he followed it? “NO” is the answer to the last question! You’ve got to laugh at their shenanigans haven’t you but at same time hope that one day he/they’ll get their just desserts! Mind you it is difficult to see the funny side when so many suffer because of his/their actions (or lack of). I can laugh at what happened to me personally, now, after seeing internal emails with all the coercion, the conflict of interest, the collusion, the lies etc. it was such an eye opener. Even at the tribunal, where I was no match for their barrister, their discomfort was plain for all to see (proved to me that deep down most were decent people but were coerced) but they valued their positions too much to rock the boat. Pity!

    Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

    Comment by Jennifer Brown — August 8, 2015 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

  5. Hi Martin

    Personally I feel that the courts in the UK have always been the preserve of the rich and powerful. The legal aid system went only a little way to addressing the imbalance, and now, as you say, it is being dismantled.

    Away from the courts it is not much different. I was really pleased that the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei eventually got his visa extended. The decision to grant him a very limited visa was clearly perverse. But there must be many more visa applicants who are the victims of arbitrary and unfair government decisions who are not famous and lack celebrity supporters. How many of those will see their applications personally reviewed by the Home Secretary?

    We live in a country where basic human rights – health, education and justice – depend on the size of your bank balance.

    Comment by Y Cneifiwr — August 16, 2015 @ 6:11 am | Reply


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