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Category Archives: Crime

Gunman v gander: whose side is the law on in the Sandon goose case?

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So is it illegal to shoot a goose? Police are investigating the alleged drive-by shooting of the Sandon goose some (possibly only the media) called Grumpy Gertie (though it was actually a gander).

Gertie (if that was actually his/her name) was of unknown origin but had housed itself in an old phone box in the Hertfordshire village. It was renowned for adopting ducks and ducklings, hissing at strangers, amusing locals and was generally considered a good egg. There is even, apparently, a £250,000 reward out for the alleged killer. But what is the offence that may have been committed?

Certainly under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 1(a) it is an offence if someone “kills, injures or takes any wild bird”. But there are exceptions allowing hunters to go about their jolly sport. Sandon sits within prime huntin’ and shootin’ land, so maybe someone disappointed in their bag of wildfowl for the day decided to pop one off at poor old Gertie (Gary?).

If so, he should have checked the schedule to the act of “birds that may be killed or taken”, which does include various sorts of geese. Canada Goose? Go get ’em. Greylag? Pinkfooted? White Fronted? They are there for the taking. But the breed of common farmyard or Emden goose of which Gertie (Gary? We’ll call him Gary) was a member? Completely off limits to the sporting gun fraternity.
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Criminal Court Charges: a return to pre-Victorian values

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We need a tougher justice regime in these austere times – so why not bring back Dickensian-style debtors’ prisons? We’re not there yet, but we’re several steps along the way thanks to the UK Government’s Criminal Court Charges.

Magistrates have become concerned that they are obliged to impose these new charges – and potentially to jail offenders if they fail to pay them. In contrast to imprisonment for defaulting on fines, the Criminal Court Charges are not discharged by serving time in jail. There are set maximum levels for time in jail according to the amounts outstanding. So, if the Charge comes on top of other fines and payments, it can mean longer periods in jail for each defaulter.

The Debtors Act 1869 abolished imprisonment for contractual debt in England and Wales. Parts of the Act are still in force and make clear imprisonment is still available for “Default in payment of any sum recoverable summarily before a justice or justices of the peace” meaning fines, compensation and costs. The Government has in effect created a new category of imprisonable debt. Prison may be used only when the individual is “guilty of wilful refusal or culpable neglect” in failing to pay – the same wording used in guidance regarding the Criminal Court Charge. The potential term of imprisonment depends on the level of the amounts due (See Schedule 4 to the Magistrates Courts Act and notes below). The failure to pay the maximum £1,200 Criminal Court Charge could be penalised by up to 45 days in prison – at a cost of about £90 a day – more than three times the Charge itself.
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Judge fails to release foreign sex offender shock

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“Judge frees illegal immigrant sex offender in human rights shocker”. That’s a story. “Judge leaves failed asylum seeker in jail without charge for potentially two years or more.” That, apparently, is not a story. But it is worth looking at the case, not least to dispel the notion that unaccountable UK judges spend much of their time releasing foreign criminals at the drop of a cat because of the Human Rights Act.

The case is R (Abdulrahman Abunasir) v Secretary of State. Abunasir had been released from an 18-month sentence for an attempted sexual assault by digital penetration, a “very serious and frightening sexual offence, committed against a young woman, while she was on her own in the street, by a man unknown to her and who had been in the country in all probability less than a fortnight” in April 2013.

While in jail he made an asylum claim saying he was a refugee from Syria. Langage tests suggested he might actually be from Egypt. Bio tests did not. Served with a deportation notice he argued in November 2013 that he could not be returned to Syria “as to do so would breach the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention”. He completed his  sentence on the 13 January 2014 and was immediately detained under s. 36(1) UK Borders Act 2007 pending a decision whether to deport him. He is held under The Immigration Act 1971 Schedule 3 para 2(1).

Abunasir thus fell into a common limbo: foreign nationals whom the government does not want to release onto the streets of Britain but who cannot be deported because of fear of torture back home, for example or simply because of the seriousness of troubles in their own country. Here there was no way of engaging with authorities amid the Syrian chaos to establish Abunasir’s claim to nationality. The result has been he has remained in jail for 18 months beyond his prison sentence. He was deemed as being of high risk of offending, likely to abscond and had no family ties in Britain. Much work was done by investigators and the probation service to resolve the issues – the possibility of release under probation or return to Syria under the Facilitated Return Scheme (which involves the individual disclaiming rights to pursue legal action, which Abunasir seemed for a time willing to do). To no avail.
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The MoJ barrister, the ‘Muslim weapons website’ – and a bad case of alleged racial profiling

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The UK Ministry of Justice has been spared an embarrassing tribunal case in which a barrister employed at a London magistrates court alleged racial discrimination. Haras Ahmed, a magistrates court adviser, had come under suspicion because another more junior employee, who was also Asian, had been taking bribes. An employment tribunal found their “shared ethnicity” was part of the reason for the suspicion of Ahmed, which was unfounded.

A suggestion had also been made to senior management that Ahmed had links on his computer to “Muslim sites containing weapons”. They turned out to be pictures of clay pigeon shooting.

The Tribunal considered that Ahmed’s removal from Redbridge Magistrates Court arose from “pressure from senior management due to concern that the Claimant may be implicated in the Redbridge fraud” and hence was done unreasonably and in bad faith. HM Courts and Tribunals Service were in effect under an obligation to prove their conduct was not racially motivated, said the Tribunal. Read the rest of this entry

Anderson and surveillance: RIPA is still the law – and it’s being broken

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The Anderson report on surveillance (according to the media) suggested that UK security services should “keep” their powers of bulk surveillance – the downloading and storing of communications and internet material, basically without limit except the limitations of the technology they have. The report has come out in the same week that the Metropolitan Police were unable to confirm or deny (for which read “confirmed”) that dummy mobile phone towers, or Stingers, were lifting material from the phones of passers-by, apparently ad hoc and without specific investigatory purpose.

But it is really not clear that bulk surveillance powers do have legal sanction in Britain – and nor does Anderson say unequivocally that they do. Which is why, under Theresa May’s new “snooper’s charter” (the draft investigatory powers bill), she will be seeking to legalise something she claims is perfectly legal already – but really isn’t.

So what is the law? The key piece of legislation is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) – which Anderson wants replaced. This is often referred to as source of surveillance powers for just about anyone from GCHQ to schools checking on the residency of parents of local authorities looking at our recyling.

In fact it is intended to control, curb, restrict and limit surveillance – and in particular it is intended to prevent the state’s (and private bodies’) disproportionate bulk downloading and retention of the private information – which is just what the security forces do now as far as they technically can and which they will be able to do far more effectively under the investigatory powers bill, requiring ISPs, Google and the rest to keep such information for them. Read the rest of this entry

Court of Appeal upholds Keith Best’s right to keep house he squatted

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Builder Keith Best has won a Court of Appeal case allowing his ownership of a £400,000 house after he refurbished it and started squatting it in 2001 – even though he was squatting illegally after 2012.

Best had noticed the empty house in Church Road, Newbury Park, Ilford, in 1997 and decided to make it habitable, moving in in 2001. Around 2013 he applied to the Land Registry to have it registered in his name. The law says an occupier “in adverse possession” (ie squatting without permission of the owner or having established possession by other means, such as putting a fence around the property) can apply to the land registrar to place it in his name after 10 years.

But Best staked his claim after the criminalisation of residential squatting in 2012. The registrar argued that since Best was in illegal occupation after that time, his claim could not be registered. Ownership would not be transferred to him.

The Court of Appeal has now said the registrar was wrong. The criminalisation of squatting in Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO S.144) did not prevent a perfectly legal claim to a property under the 2002 Land Registration Act. Lord Justice Sales said:

“I consider that the true inference is that in enacting section 144 Parliament did not intend to produce any collateral effect upon the settled law of adverse possession in respect of either registered or unregistered land.” (Para 75)

Adverse possession is covered by Schedule 6 to the Land Registration Act 2002 which says: “A person may apply to the registrar to be registered as the proprietor of a registered estate in land if he has been in adverse possession of the estate for the period of ten years ending on the date of the application.

A further two years is allowed while the registrar contacts the previously registered owner (“the proprietor of the estate to which the application relates,“) plus others with a potential interest to see if they object to the transfer to a new owner. “Possession” need not be by squatting but by an action that counts as possession. Best did a lot of work on the house over the years but was not always actually living there during his 10 years of adverse possession. Nevertheless he accrued the Schedule 6 right to make his application. The new ruling from the Court of Appeal confirms that the “adverse possession” (without permission but without objection or resistance by the owner) may include a period of time when occupation is unlawful under LASPO S.144. Read the rest of this entry

Daniel Gauntlett hypothermia death verdict

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Note: A full report on this inquest is now in this post: Question’s unanswered in the Daniel Gauntlett inquest

A coroner has recorded a verdict of death by natural causes exacerbated by self neglect in the case of Daniel Gauntlett, a 35-year-old unemployed man who died on the step of an empty boarded up bungalow in Aylesford, Kent, in February 2013.

Campaigners have claimed that he was in effect a victim of  Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, which criminalised squatting in residential property. It had been suggested he “died as a result of obeying the law” because police told him not to squat the empty house.

It has been argued that Gauntlett’s human rights may have been breached either because the Government failed to put in place Article 2 European Convention (right to life) protections when it passed Section 144; or because the police or social services had failed to offer sufficient help to him.

However, the inquest made barely any mention of the squatting issue. Nor was there any call for an examination of Gauntlett’s Article 2 rights under a “Middleton inquest” procedure. The court was told that Gauntlett died from hypothermia on a bitterly cold winter night. Evidence was given of his chronic alcoholism which his father said began when his younger brother died in a road traffic accident at the age of 18.

The deputy coroner for Mid Kent, Kate Thomas, sitting on 10 December 2014, had documentary evidence of Gauntlett’s accident and emergency admissions before her. A local community warden said Gauntlett had refused help on a number of occasions. No evidence was offered regarding squatting or any police intervention to stop him squatting the house he died in front of.

Read a fuller report of the inquest here: Question’s unanswered in the Daniel Gauntlett inquest

Twitter: alrich0660

An earlier piece on the death of Daniel Gauntlett is here
More on the squatting law on Thinking Legally: How protection of property could crumble
And a piece also Daniel Gauntlett inquest: human rights issues and the ‘Middleton’ procedure
Also a piece on Ministry of Justice guidelines on Nearly Legal here.

 

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