Problems viewing this? Click to view in your browser
The Times

Tuesday, September 6 2016

Frances Gibb and Jonathan Ames bring this morning’s must-read of all things legal, including news, comment and gossip.

Today

  • Sex offence prosecutions hit record level
  • City worker bees falling out of love with legal profession
  • Joint enterprise retrial defendant convicted
  • Court challenge over equalities helpline contract
  • Challenge to dangerous dog law looms
  • Archers murder trial reaches fever pitch
  • Comment: Government is neglecting domestic violence, says Vera Baird
  • The Churn: Rivals target Proskauer
  • Blue Bag diary: Vaz and the bar

Tweet us @TimesLaw with your views.

 
Story of the Day

Sex offence prosecutions hit record level

More than 200 prosecutions have been brought for revenge porn since the offence was introduced in April last year, contributing to a record rise in sex offence cases, figures released today show.

Prosecutions over all sex offences – including rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse and child abuse – are now running at unprecedented levels and make up slightly less than 20 per cent of the Crown Prosecution Service’s total caseload.

The CPS’s annual Violence against Women and Girls report shows that rape, domestic abuse and sexual offences now account for 18.6 per cent of its caseload and this figure has been increasing year-on-year. In 2015-16, the CPS prosecuted 117,568 defendants for all crimes grouped together as violence against women and girls (VaWG).

Convictions reached 87,275, a rise of nearly 11 per cent and the highest ever level recorded. More than 100,000 defendants were prosecuted for domestic abuse, with more than 75,000 convicted – the highest volume ever recorded. The highest ever conviction rate of 75.4 per cent was also recorded during the period.

The report says that there have been 206 prosecutions under the new offence of disclosing private sexual images without consent – revenge porn.

Alison Saunders (pictured), director of public prosecutions, said: “Today, a rape, domestic abuse, sexual offence or child abuse case is more likely to be prosecuted and convicted than ever before.”

“There is a growing trend of crimes committed on or through social media. Since the new legislation came into force, there have been over 200 prosecutions for disclosing private sexual images without consent. We have also found that defendants in controlling or coercive cases rely on tactics such as GPS tracking and monitoring phone or email messages.

“The use of the internet, social media and other forms of technology to humiliate, control and threaten individuals is rising. Over the last year, I have doubled the resources in specialist units that handle rape and serious sexual offence cases, including child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.”

Jeremy Wright, QC, the attorney-general, said: “New offence categories introduced by the government are also supporting the fight to stamp out these crimes, with the report highlighting positive conviction results for the new offences of revenge porn and controlling and coercive behaviour.”

 
 
News Round Up
City worker bees falling out of love with legal profession

Senior associates – the worker bees at City of London law firms – are increasingly dissatisfied with their careers, research reveals.

Causing that ennui could be stagnating pay rises, with 20 per cent of associates at the top 50 UK law firms claiming that their salaries were frozen last year. One per cent reported a decrease.

Nearly 40 per cent of middle ranking solicitors – those with up to seven years post-qualification experience – say that they would not chose a legal career if presented with the option now as the drudgery of long hours and relatively repetitive work takes its toll.

However, the research published yesterday potentially debunks the growing view that modern younger lawyers are less interested in partnership than their predecessors. The survey, conducted for The Lawyer magazine, showed that career satisfaction improved somewhat when they were awarded partnership. The researchers found that half of law firm partners would chose a legal career again.

Some lawyers at the bottom of the pecking order were being dissuaded from partnership, the researchers found. While the survey found that 55 per cent of trainees said at the beginning of their contracts that they had partnership ambitions, that figured dropped by 11 percentage points once they had finished their two-year training stint.

The research also found that most associates received pay increases last year of no more than 5 per cent, with nearly 40 per cent of those at the top 50 in that bracket. Fewer than 20 per cent of associates at the largest firms had a pay increase of more than 10 per cent last year.

Joint enterprise retrial defendant convicted

A man who was ordered to be retried for the murder of a former policeman after mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge to the law has been convicted of manslaughter.

Ameen Jogee, 27, was jailed for life with a minimum of 20 years under the “joint enterprise” law after the death of Paul Fyfe in June 2011. He was sentenced in 2012 under the legislation which treated the accomplice the same as the person who committed the fatal act, Mohammed Hirsi, who was 25 at the time.

Fyfe, a father of three, was stabbed through the heart at the home of his girlfriend in the Rowlatts Hill area of Leicester.

The Supreme Court ordered that Jogee be retried on murder and manslaughter charges after ruling that the law on joint enterprise had been wrongly interpreted for 30 years.

Hundreds of people are thought to have looked into challenging their convictions after the ruling and some cases are going through the courts. However, Jogee has not benefited from the ruling as he would have hoped.

A jury at Nottingham crown court cleared him of murder on Friday afternoon after more than 13 hours of deliberation. The seven men and five women then convicted him of manslaughter yesterday afternoon. Jogee will be sentenced on September 12.

Challenge to dangerous dog law looms

Lawyers are at loggerheads over the chances of success of a challenge to controversial laws covering so-called dangerous dogs.

Lawyers for Andrew West, 51, said yesterday that he would take his conviction under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to the Court of Appeal after being given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £250 costs by a judge at Chelmsford crown court.

West, of Harlow in Essex, said he was a "a victim of circumstances” when a six-year-old boy received serious bites from a Japanese akita. The three-year-old dog had no previous history of being aggressive and had been brought up with four children.

The judge, Recorder Rex Bryan, ruled that West, who was looking after the dog for a friend and who had originally planned to plead not guilty, had no defence to the charge under the legislation’s provisions. He explained that there was “strict liability” for offences covered by the act, meaning there was no possible defence and that the accused was automatically guilty.

However, after conviction, West’s lawyer, Simon Gladwell, said that if the ruling stood, dog-owning house-holders would have to keep their pets completely separate from visitors if they wanted to protect themselves from potential prosecution. "Parliament didn't intend to render dog owners absolutely liable in all circumstances," Gladwell maintained.

However, other legal experts said that MPs intended the legislation to be harsh and cast doubt over whether the appeal would be successful. “This has been a strict liability offence ever since the legislation was enacted,” said Trevor Cooper, a solicitor specialising in Dangerous Dog Act cases. “Its provisions are intentionally harsh so as to incentivise responsible dog ownership.”

Cooper said that two years ago MPs strengthened the legislation by extending its provisions beyond covering dogs in public places to their behaviour in owners’ homes. He added that the penalties were also “intentionally harsh”, with dogs often being put down after incidents covered by the act.

Court challenge over equalities helpline contract

A row over a government contract for the operation of a national discrimination helpline is set to go to court after a legal charity said yesterday that it had issued judicial review proceedings.

The Law Centres Network is challenging the decision of ministers to award the contract to run the advice line to G4S, the controversial private security business.

The charity claims that the contracting process was faulty and it will apply to the High Court to quash the contract and for a new tender to be run.

According to the network, the government did not properly assess “shortcomings” in the contract for the Equality Advisory and Support Service. It also allegedly did not properly consider how the service would operate with the independent equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In addition, the claimants argue that the government “failed to properly consider G4S’s equality and human rights record in the many other public services it has delivered”. The claim also alleges that “as a large employer, G4S … faces a conflict of interest in providing a service that its own employees might want to consult”.

Daniel Carey, a solicitor with the law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, which is acting for the network, said the case concerns “the legal duty on the government to assess the equalities impact of procurement decisions. One would expect a high degree of compliance where the Government Equalities Office was the decision maker and the service being procured was an equalities advice line.”

Archers murder trial reaches fever pitch

As the trial of Helen Titchener (née Archer) gets underway this week for the attempted murder of her husband Rob, many of the soap’s near five million listeners will think that the entirely wrong person is on trial.

Rob Titchener’s behaviour towards his wife has highlighted awareness of the new offence of controlling and coercive behaviour: new figures on the offence released today show that five prosecutions took place alone in the first three months since the offence came into force.

Vera Baird, QC, the former solicitor-general, told The Times: “I think criminalising coercive control is of more use to improving people’s understanding of domestic abuse than as an effective way of prosecuting it.

“Until now police only had charges for specific incidents – assaults mainly – but because of the new law, they and the Crown Prosecution Service have had to understand the concept of coercive control – that it’s continuous and underpins specific incidents.

“The publicity around it should help the wider community too, so more people professionally or who come across it personally should recognise it and be better able to help.”

Baird, who chairs the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said that although only few cases had so far reached court, in Northumbria, where she is based, there were 50 recorded offences which were live and could result in charges.

Also, writing in The Times today, the columnist Melanie Phillips says that the Archers’ story line “is explosive because it taps into a rumbling volcano of female resentment”, adding: “Many women recognise from personal experience the daily humiliations, put-downs and controlling behaviour that constitute subtle, slow-burning psychological abuse.” However, she adds that the “implicit assumption that women are invariably the victims and men the perpetrators is as false as it is commonly held”.

The legal profession is among the millions of listeners glued to the plotline. Despite some meticulous research on the ingredients of coercive control, however, barristers have been quick to criticise the programme-makers over the behaviour of Helen’s counsel, Anna Tregorran.

Matthew Scott, a criminal barrister at Pump Court Chambers, said: “The first rule in cross-examination is that questions should be questions, not comment. The second is to keep the questions as short as possible. The third is that once you’ve asked a question you have to let the witness answer it.

“Anna Tregorran managed to break all three rules in the first two minutes of her cross-examination.”

Watch out for a successful appeal if Helen goes down.

See Comment and Blue Bag diary below

In Brief

Addleshaw Goddard’s top of equity breaks £1m barrier – Legal Week

Legal representation in care proceedings under review – Law Gazette

 
Byline
Comment

Government is neglecting domestic violence victims Vera Baird, QC

The attorney-general shouldn't preen himself in the press for his recent success in lengthening jail sentences for robbers and burglars (see The Brief). Instead he should tackle the unduly lenient sentences handed out for domestic abuse, which was a commitment in the Tories’ election manifesto.

In a typical case at Teesside court, a long term abuser received a one-year suspended prison sentence for violently attacking his partner to stop her leaving him. He bit her on the face, put a knife to her neck, squeezed her throat until she choked, threatened to scald her and pointed a pellet gun at her, saying he was going to “shoot you through your eye and into your brain” before firing a pellet into her foot.

The same judge gave suspended sentences to similar culprits in eight other cases, while another court freed seven convicted abusers in a single month.

Women's Aid, the domestic abuse charity, estimates that only 20 per cent of abuse victims complain to the police and the majority won’t support a prosecution. Many give as their reason a lack of faith in the courts.

The Conservative Party manifesto undertook to “prioritise tackling violence against women and girls” adding that “to tackle those cases where judges get it wrong, we will extend the scope of the unduly lenient scheme, so a wider range of sentences can be challenged”.

Yet nothing has happened. The right for someone affected by an unduly lenient sentence to ask the attorney-general to challenge it in the Court of Appeal applies only to a small list of criminal offences. Typical domestic abuse crimes are not included.

But if the government kept its word, there would be plenty of ammunition to bring change. In 2006, Charles Clarke, the Labour home secretary, asked for definitive guidelines on domestic abuse and the one produced shows an impressive grasp of the issues that judges should, long ago, have learnt.

For instance, the guidelines recognise that ill treatment of a domestic partner involves a breach of trust so that it generally deserves a heavier sentence than the same offence against an unconnected person. It also acknowledges that having good character – which would usually mitigate a sentence – should not do so in domestic abuse cases because “one of the factors that can allow domestic violence to go unnoticed for lengthy periods is the ability of the perpetrator to have two personae, a violent one and another”.

The Teesside case demonstrates how that level of understanding is missing from the courts. The judge’s reason for suspending the prison sentence and freeing the defendant was that he had a good character.

The Court of Appeal would certainly reinforce the guidelines, compelling the Sentencing Council’s strong insight into domestic abuse onto those judges who lack it. But it can't because Theresa May has neglected to change the law as she promised.

Vera Baird, QC, is a former Labour government solicitor-general and current chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. She is also the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria

 
 
Tweet of the Day

Raising a cup in #solidaritea w/ #FreeHelen &the 46% of women in prison who report having suffered domestic violence https://t.co/kNGu7DnVBf

Criminal Appeals @C4CrimAppeals

 
 
Blue Bag

Vaz and the bar

A curious by-product to emerge from the story swirling around the alleged liaison between Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the home affairs committee, and east European male prostitutes involves his legal profession qualifications.

Before entering parliament in 1987, Vaz was a solicitor. However, in the wake of this latest local difficulty, several newspapers and broadcasters have referred to the Leicester East MP as a “solicitor turned barrister”.

That didn’t ring many bells with the large research team at The Brief, but on making enquiries The Times was told by one source that back in the late Eighties the Bar Council ran something akin to the process that sees Oxford and Cambridge first degrees upgraded to masters on payment of a peppercorn fee.

According to one source, the bar offered solicitor-MPs a fast-track conversion to become barristers, a facility of which Vaz reportedly availed himself.

Phooey, responded the Bar Council yesterday. A spokesman said that Vaz was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in the early Nineties after completing a pupillage in the standard manner. He also obtained a tenancy, but the spokesman was a bit unsure regarding the chambers.

And it is clear that Vaz has always been fastidious in referring to himself as a “non-practising barrister”.

Packet of eight …

Regardless of which side of the legal profession Keith Vaz holds dear, he will have had an uncomfortable last few days as his private peccadillos have become the subject of national chatter – and the website Roll on Friday has added to that embarrassment.

Referring to various reports of the alleged incident with rent boys, the site says “so hard up is the member for Leicester East that he appears to have been unable to run to some prophylactics …” RoF goes on to say that Vaz will now have to cough up for legal bills and that his solicitor, the high-powered media lawyer Mark Stephens, “doesn’t come cheap”.

The site has kindly launched a fundraising appeal as Vaz is a “fellow solicitor fallen on hard times” and encourages readers to donate to its “Rubber up Vaz” appeal. The target is £8 for a packet of eight.

Speaking of Stephens, the partner at Howard Kennedy contacted The Brief to say that his relationship with his former client Julian Assange was not nearly as fraught as the media has made out. Indeed, Stephens says the WikiLeaks founder, who is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden, paid all his legal bills.

No need for Roll on Friday to launch an Assange fundraising appeal, then.

Next stop the Great White Way for Archers trial

Helen Archer’s crown court trial for attempted murder has hit the big time – arguably the US’s most venerable newspaper has picked up the story.

On the eve of opening submissions in the long-running storyline on Radio 4’s stalwart soap, The New York Times published a long feature to put Manhattanites and others Stateside in the picture.

The 165-year-old paper, which still has the motto “all the news that’s fit to print”, concentrated on the serious theme of domestic abuse raised by the storyline. It quoted Lyn Thomas, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Sussex, who is contributing to a book about The Archers, as saying that the tale had taken listeners “down a dark path. It has brought to public consciousness an issue that is hidden and where it’s very difficult to get convictions.”

Surely now it is just one step away from a Broadway musical adaptation.

Lawyer commentary closer to home on the first day of the trial was a little less flattering. Jeremy Robson, a barrister and academic, tweeted that the Ministry of Justice should be delighted with the speed with which the trial is progressing (it bears no resemblance to reality). While Alison Burge, a family law barrister, piled in to criticise Helen’s counsel for badgering her estranged husband Rob when he was in the witness box.

Former justice secretary comes home

Fevered anticipation at Times Towers in London Bridge at the impending return of Michael Gove to the newspaper’s comment pages.

The former lord chancellor and justice secretary, who was sacked by Theresa May after he had a successful Brexit campaign but a failed Tory party leadership attempt, will soon resume regular contributions for The Times.

Gove, who worked for the paper between 1996 and 2005, may not have been a hit with May, but during his one year as justice secretary he won many fans in the legal profession. He will doubtless comment on a range of subjects in his new column, but readers of The Brief can rest assured we will alert them every time he mentions the law.

 
 
The Churn

A run down of the big partner and team moves this week

Rivals target Proskauer’s London office for partner raids

US law firm raids on English counterparts (and one counterpart in particular) were the focus of yesterday’s Churn column – today we highlight that the Americans do not run shy of targeting each other for partnership raids.

In the crosshairs over the past few days has been the London office of Proskauer Rose, the New York-based practice. Morrison & Foerster’s London office has lured Oliver Rochman from Proskauer, with the investment funds lawyer joining as a partner.

Next in the queue was the London office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, a Los Angeles firm, which swooped on another Proskauer lawyer, James Howe. The private equity and mergers and acquisitions specialist also moves to his new firm as a partner.

In Germany, another US firm, Latham & Watkins, has raided the Frankfurt office of Allen & Overy, a London magic circle practice, to pinch Oliver Seiler. The capital markets lawyer joins as a partner.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Bristows, a London-based firm, has promoted Anna Cook to its partnership. The technology lawyer joined from fellow London firm RPC eight months ago as a consultant.

And at the Bar, Edward Ho, a seven-year-call junior, has moved to Brick Court Chambers in London from neighbouring set 20 Essex Street, where he completed his pupillage.

 
 
Quote of the Day

“The fact he chaired an inquiry into things he involves himself in does not in any way discredit his work. People should stop pretending otherwise.”