JusticeWatch: I’m not really getting a fair trial, am I?

prison doorI’m not really getting a fair trial, am I?
‘Twenty years ago, in the brief I’d get for a serious case, I’d be sent a thick dossier,’ a leading criminal QC told the journalist David Rose. ‘It would contain numerous witness interviews done by defence solicitors, and all kinds of other goodies — the fruits of hundreds of hours of work. Nowadays, I’ll get asked to defend a murder on the basis of an email with just the prosecution witness statements attached.’

Rose was writing in the Spectator about the ‘disturbing case of Roger Khan – and the cost of cheap justice’.  The Criminal Cases Review Commission is looking at Khan’s case who is being represented by Emily Bolton, founder of the Centre for Criminal Appeals.

Khan, sentenced to 30 years for a brutal attack, had no lawyer representing him in court at his 2011 trial. ‘He was dyslexic and had no legal knowledge, but the judge had told him that, if he fired the legal aid lawyers he no longer trusted, he would have to defend himself,’ Rose wrote. Apparently, the only legal advice in the four-week trial came from a junior Crown barrister who went down to the cells each morning  – ‘although naturally enough, the prosecution’s aim was to get him convicted and sent to prison’, Rose noted.

‘It would have been a challenging case for a skilled QC. Small wonder Khan struggled. At one point he exclaimed: “I am not really getting a fair trial, am I your honour? The odds seem to be packing up against me. One minute, one thing happens. The next minute, another thing happens. I have no idea what is happening there. Then something else happens. I am supposed to sit here, take it, and everything is fine with everyone else, but I am the one going, the lamb that is going to the slaughter.”’
David Rose

Meanwhile Marika Henneberg, a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and the leader of the university’s criminal justice clinic wrote for www.thejusticegap.com about another shocking case, Omar Benguit who after three trials and two appeals is still protesting his innocence. So far Benguit has spent 4,837 days in prison for the killing of a young Korean student in Bournemouth in 2002.

It was ‘appalling that the criminal justice system allowed Benguit to go through three trials before being convicted of such a serious crime based on nothing but circumstantial evidence’, wrote Henneberg. ‘It is a mystery to me how the Court of Appeal can still consider this a safe conviction.’

The law lecturer points out that Benguit has been failed by his lawyers.

‘Two legal advisors who have worked on the case at some stage have since been imprisoned for deception and fraud – one of them currently serving a 14-year sentence. The money the family has spent on legal defence would easily buy a three-bedroom house in a reasonable area of Bournemouth. What did it get them?’
Marika Henneberg

Farewell to Grayling’s charge?
MPs called on the government to scrap Chris Grayling’s controversial criminal courts charge as soon as possible. A report published today by the House of Commons’ Justice Committee, attacked the charge as ‘grossly disproportionate to the means of many defendants and to the gravity of the offences’ and said the lack of judicial discretion in its mandatory application created ‘unacceptable consequences within the criminal justice system’. More on www.thejusticegap.com here.

Austerity Law
Dave Cowan, professor of law and policy at the University of Bristol and a barrister, Doughty Street, wrote about ‘homelessness, austerity and public law’ for the UK Constitutional Law Association blog.

‘Austerity politics appears to mean less low cost social housing, which means, in turn, greater competition for the available units from an increasing number of households (priced out by the bedroom tax and other “progressive” social security policies); and those equations lead to what I now think about as “austerity law”, a law of shuffling resources in a counter-holistic social welfare settlement.’
Dave Cowan

‘Good practitioners are leaving or unable to do their jobs properly because of administration and bureaucracy,’ Diane Morrison of Hackney Community Law Centre told the Law Society’s Gazette in its My Legal Life column ‘Good-quality entrants to the profession are being deterred by high fees and the shortage of training places.’

Morrison had been persuaded to consider a career in law by a respected sixth-form teacher while at school in Trinidad. ‘Given the financial pressures on my sole breadwinner mother, attending university was ruled out. I wanted a profession that was not going to be phased out eventually by computers,’ she said. The lawyer won Law Society’s Solicitor of the Year in 2014.

Doing a runner
Apparently, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith  – the judge dealing with 115 procurement law challenges to the duty contract tender – is already close to breaking point. According to the Gazette’s Obiter column during a discussion as to which court and which judge should handle the cases, he interjected: ‘I may do a runner after today.’

Lawyers’ existential crisis
Finally, the Independent on Sunday picked up on the interview with LegalVoice by LAA whistleblower Paul Staples. Mark Fenhalls QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, told the paper that as the Gove reforms represented an ‘existential struggle’ for many firms, which recognised that their ‘whole businesses are about to be destroyed or changed beyond recognition’, then the legal battle against the MoJ would be hard fought.





About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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