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News Roundup Week Ending 23 May 2014
By Charlotte Rowles on 22/05/14Share:
BBC News reports on the long road to justice for Victor Nealon.
20 May 2014
A man who spent 17 years behind bars wrongfully convicted of attempted rape has received an apology from a body set up to examine miscarriages of justice.
Victor Nealon, 53, was convicted of attacking a woman outside a nightclub in Redditch in 1996.
He asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to examine his case but was turned down twice. His conviction was quashed last year.
The commission has now said it should have investigated more thoroughly.
Commission chairman Richard Foster said: "I regret the fact in this particular case we missed something and I apologise to all concerned for the fact we did so."
'Failure to research'
Mr Nealon, who had always denied attempted rape, was arrested after a woman was sexually assaulted on her way home from a nightclub in Redditch.
The postman was convicted after a trial at Hereford Crown Court and given a life term.
Mr Nealon said he wanted the CCRC to get more information about the forensic evidence presented in the prosecution's case.
He said the CCRC requested the information from West Mercia Police but failed to ask more questions when the force said a file of evidence had been lost.
"I depended on people in that position to research paperwork and they didn't do it," Mr Nealon said.
Mr Nealon's defence team eventually discovered an unknown person's DNA on clothing that had not been disclosed by West Mercia Police. His conviction was finally quashed in 2013.
He said: "I could have been out at least ten to 12 years ago but, on account of the CCRC and their failure to research a paper trail, I remained in prison."
West Mercia Police said it was studying the Court of Appeal's full judgement which would form part of the ongoing review of the case.
Allan Urry presents File on 4,’ Miscarriage of Justice’ on BBC Radio 4. 20 May 2014.
Police chief condemns IPCC plan to keep officers apart after shootings
18 May 2014
The Guardian’s Crime Correspondent, Vikram Dodd reports on a development in investigating the police.
A police chief has said more than half of his force's armed officers could stop carrying weapons because of plans by the police watchdog to ban them from conferring with each other as they write up statements following a shooting.
Commander Neil Basu, Scotland Yard's head of armed policing, said the Independent Police Complaints Commission was being driven by a desire to salvage its battered reputation. He said the plan would leave officers feeling "criminalised" as murder suspects for doing their duty in tackling gun crime.
He said officers were likely to withdraw cooperation from investigations into the police following shootings and give "no comment" answers to any questions.
Basu's comments in a Guardian interview brings into the open a seething row between the police and its watchdog. The IPCC is acting after years of criticism over officers sitting with each other and conferring after serious incidents as they write up their statements. The police say conferring covers only the lead-up to the use of force. Critics including the high court say it is an opportunity for collusion.
Basu said the IPCC was pandering to a small minority who believed marksmen were "liars" conspiring to hide the truth by conferring. "I think that is based on the perception that officers confer to lie," he said.
Basu said he feared that 50-65% of his force's armed officers would decide not to carry a weapon any more. "I think there is a very serious risk that officers will no longer volunteer for the role." More than 2,000 officers in the Met carry arms.
Basu said his officers opened fire rarely and showed professionalism and restraint. "This is not … about paramilitary policing and death squads," he said.
Under the IPCC plans, which cover all forces in England and Wales, officers would be separated from each other where practical after serious incidents such as a shooting, use of a Taser stun gun or a death in custody.
Officers would not be allowed to talk to each other at any stage before or while writing up their account, according to the IPCC's proposals, which the watchdog is consulting on. They would also be expected to write their full account before going off duty, instead of the current system where they have 48 hours to recover.
The police say the current system means IPCC investigators get the "best evidence" available.
The IPCC announced the proposals to stop the practice of conferring after the inquest into the shooting of Mark Duggan. A jury found he was unarmed when shot dead but that the armed officer acted lawfully because he believed Duggan was holding a weapon. Days after the shooting, police officers sat in a room together for eight hours writing their accounts.
Basu said a leading lawyer for armed officers had warned that they would refuse to answer questions from the IPCC if the watchdog insisted on separating them after shootings.
Basu said separating officers after an incident as traumatic as a shooting would increase their stress, leaving them isolated at a time of their greatest need.
A survey of firearms officers released last week found that eight in 10 lacked confidence in the IPCC's planned changes and two-thirds in the Met "would think seriously" about handing in their weapons if the changes went ahead. Nine out of 10 believe that having to make a full statement after an incident – without having 48 hours to recover – would add to the stress they face and say the changes would make them feel like a criminal suspect.
Officers are already warned not to confer about why they may have used force and the actual use of force.
Basu said claims that the police and IPCC were too close were "laughable", and said the watchdog was fighting for its survival.
The IPCC's director of investigations, Moir Stewart, a former senior Met officer, said separating officers where practical gave the public better reassurance.
"It adds integrity to their accounts and protects them from accusations of a cover-up or collusion," he said. "I believe that explainable inconsistencies are more credible than unexplainable consistencies. The proposals we have put forward as part of our draft guidance will increase public confidence in the police version of events, and help ensure our investigations are as robust and thorough as they can be."
The IPCC said it would consider the police service's views, and it would be up to home secretary, Theresa May, to decide whether or not to approve the proposed statutory guidelines.
Fraud trial legal aid ruling overturned by appeal court.
21 May 2014
The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott reports on the latest developments in a high-profile fraud case halted because of cuts in legal aid.
A £4.5m fraud prosecution, halted by disputes over legal aid cuts, has been restarted after the court of appeal ruled that the defendants will be able to receive a fair trial.
The judgment prevents the immediate collapse of the case against five men, but it leaves the Ministry of Justice scrambling to recruit experienced defence lawyers to ensure defendants in this and other complex fraud cases will be adequately represented.
The decision is a setback for the prime minister's brother, Alexander Cameron QC, who appeared on a pro bono basis to argue that the accused would not be sufficiently well defended but will come as a relief to the justice secretary, Chris Grayling. At least eight other big fraud trials have been thrown into doubt by the dispute between criminal barristers and the MoJ.
Barristers with expertise in what are known as very high cost cases (VHCC) are refusing to take new instructions in protest at the Ministry of Justice's imposition of 30% cuts in legal aid fees for such cases. The MoJ hopes to outflank resistance by independent barristers by boosting the size of the newly expanded Public Defender Service (PDS) and providing more state-salaried counsel.
Three weeks ago, a judge at Southwark crown court ruled that the alleged land bank fraud trial, R v Crawley, should be abandoned because the defendants were inadequately represented and there was no prospect of their receiving a fair trial.
In a unanimous judgment on Wednesday, the three court of appeal judges, Sir Brian Leveson and Lord Justices Davis and Treacy, ruled that the crown court judge, Anthony Leonard QC, had erred in law when he formally stayed the prosecution and that it was too early to decide that the men could not receive a fair trial.
Overturning the stay, the appeal court stressed it could not become involved in the industrial relations confrontation between barristers and the minister. "The criminal justice system in this country requires the highest quality advocates both to prosecute and defend those accused of crime," said Leveson, the senior judge. "In addition they are the potential judges of the future.
"It is of fundamental importance that the MoJ led by [Grayling] and the professions continue to try to resolve the impasse that currently stands in the way of the delivery of justice in the most complex cases."
Although the judges emphasised their reluctance to become involved in the dispute, their comments may provide comfort for barristers opposed to deep cuts in legal aid. "We are not saying that there could not come a time when it may be appropriate to order that this indictment be stayed," they concluded. Representation of the defendants would still have to be assessed.
Skilled advocates were necessary to enable the justice system to function, they added. "The better the advocates, the easier it is to concentrate on the real issue in the case, the more expeditious the hearing and the better the prospects of true verdicts according to the evidence.
"… We have no doubt that it is critical that there remains a thriving cadre of advocates capable of undertaking all types of publicly funded work."
The MoJ maintains that the legal aid bill is too high and must be reduced. It has argued that the PDS, which employs 22 advocates, can provide sufficient representation for defendants in R v Crawley and other fraud cases that follow. It is advertising for new recruits.
An MoJ spokesperson said: "We welcome today's judgment. Legal aid remains available for all very high cost cases and even after the savings a QC working on a VHCC like this could expect to receive around £100,000.
"We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and we have to address this. We are entirely supportive of the self-employed Bar and have made strenuous efforts to secure their continuing co-operation, including changing our original proposals and introducing support measures where possible. It remains open to barristers to take up these cases."
The appeal was brought by the Financial Conduct Authority, which is prosecuting the case. A spokesperson said: "[We] welcome the court of appeal's decision. The FCA is committed to pursuing criminal action in appropriate cases and is pleased this case can now proceed towards trial."
The case will be restarted at Southwark crown court before Judge Leonard. Lee Adams, a solicitor with the law firm Hughmans who represents defendants in the trial, said: "Our justice system is widely regarded internationally as one of the best. It relies on healthy competition between advocates to bring about the fairest result for everyone involved.
"Despite the [appeal] court's political neutrality, this decision unfortunately does much to hurt that principle and will be relied on by a government seemingly hellbent on looking tough on crime whatever the cost to justice. We are considering what steps are now best for our clients." Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, said: "Now that this high-profile fraud trial has been reinstated the pressure is on Mr Grayling to resolve his stand-off with the legal profession. The Appeal Court judges have flagged up their concerns about the impact of the legal aid cuts and the importance of maintaining a thriving 'cadre of advocacy'. They are right.
"The state's Public Defender Service might be able to bail the MOJ out of this particular crisis but it won't be able to mop up in all the other lower level cases which are the core work of our criminal justice system. We urge the Lord Chancellor to meet us and sort this mess out. "
Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, said: "Today's judgement highlights the chronic malaise at the heart of our justice system. The Government must urgently enter into a constructive dialogue with the legal profession to end this cat and dog fight, and preserve the fundamental principle of equality of access to justice."
The Labour Justice spokesman Andy Slaughter MP said: "This will prove to be a hollow victory for Grayling. It will prove difficult to provide representation from the Public Defender Service for the Operation Cotton trial alone.
"With at least seven more complex fraud trials already in the queue, the same problem will arise time and again unless he is prepared to expand the PDS dramatically. And even if he is able to recruit sufficient counsel with the requisite skills and experience, this will undermine the independent Bar and cost the Ministry of Justice a lot of money."
Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said: "[The council] remains, as it always has been, willing to talk with the Ministry of Justice about potential solutions to the present difficulties which, as the Court of Appeal has said 'clearly flow from [the Lord Chancellor's] decision to reduce the funding' for VHCC cases.
"It is a shame that the Government did not heed the warnings it received. It is also a shame that the Government has tried to put the blame for its own actions onto barristers, when the truth is that no-one can be criticised for deciding not accept a 30% cut. As the Court of Appeal has said, 'they are fully entitled to take that view."