Archive for October 8th, 2009

Don’t tell anyone – but the judges are becoming media-friendly

Times: This week the Lord Chief Justice issued new guidelines on gun crime. Nothing unusual in that, but Lord Judge also made a point of drawing the media’s attention to key points in his judgment. A small move, but indicative of a big change in approach.

In the past 18 months judges have been popping up with regularity, not just in newspaper or magazine interviews but on radio and TV, from the BBC’s Radio 5 Live to Channel 4 News.

Once, such appearances were banned. But in 1987 Lord Mackay of Clashfern decided to lift the prohibition – the so-called Kilmuir rules, after the Lord Chancellor of that name. Until then, if judges wanted to speak publicly — and hardly any did — they had to seek permission.

Even after that, judges rarely exercised their new-found freedom. Lord Taylor of Gosforth ushered in the new era when appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1992. He held an unprecedented press conference, went on Question Time on the BBC and was a castaway on Desert Island Discs. Press conferences and interviews (only with top judges) remained but were rare.


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Gangster convicted over £1m drugs plot

Independent: One of Britain’s most notorious gangland figures was yesterday convicted of a drug-smuggling plot which would have seen the tiny channel island of Jersey flooded with £1m of cannabis.

Liverpudlian Curtis Warren – known as “Cocky” – is thought to be the UK’s richest gangster after allegedly being involved in hundreds of millions of pounds worth of drug deals since the early 1990s. He was once the most wanted man in Europe, and is the only drug baron ever to appear in the Sunday Times Rich List.

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Solicitors outraged at the soaring costs of indemnity insurance

Times: “It has been an absolute bloodbath,” says Stephen Allen of this year’s professional indemnity renewal. Premiums up, insurers issuing quotes only two days before the September 30 deadline, no time to shop around, difficulties arranging finance for premiums and many firms failing to find cover at all — it has been the most difficult renewal season since solicitors went on to the open market for insurance in 2000.

It is hard enough to run a small law firm at the moment anyway. “This is just another part of the perfect storm,” says Allen, of The 360 Legal Group, the law firm consultancy.

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Baby P chief Sharon Shoesmith ‘suicidal’ after dismissal

Times: The former children’s services chief who was sacked over the death of Baby Peter contemplated suicide and now faces the prospect of never working again, a court was told yesterday.

Almost one year on, Sharon Shoesmith is still suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress, cannot find a job and faces financial ruin after the actions of Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, who breached “the rules of natural justice” when he removed her from her post last December, the court was told.

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Should we all have a say on who sits in the Supreme Court?

Times: Last Thursday the new Supreme Court held its first hearing. It decided that the Legal Services Commission should provide funding for the pending appeal in the JFS case (concerning the admissions policies of a Jewish school).

The Supreme Court will soon be determining issues of law of far greater importance than who should pay the costs of proceedings. And it is inevitable that the public will then begin to take a greater interest in who are our Supreme Court justices and in the process of their appointment.

The Supreme Court is rightly concerned to promote transparency. It welcomes visitors. Its proceedings will be available for broadcasting. Its website will provide detailed information about pending and decided cases. The public will see, and read about, a court resolving issues of considerable general importance, such as the questions decided this summer by the court’s predecessor, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords: that control orders can be imposed on terrorist suspects only if they are told the gist of the allegations against them, even if this damages national security; and that the Director of Public Prosecutions must publish guidance explaining the criteria he will apply in deciding whether to prosecute those who assist the suicide of another.

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