F*** you, bad reporting!

The case of Denzel Harvey has been much reported this week, as being the case where the High Court apparently decreed that if a person swears at the police it is okay, because police officers should be able to take it.

Harvey was charged, convicted, and then had the conviction quashed, with an offence contrary to section 5 Public Order Act 1986:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

(the facts of the case being that he used the F word towards a police officer on several occasions during a stop and search).

Not only has there been the usual knee-jerkery in the red-tops and the tabloids, but it has spread out into the broadsheets and into the police social media footprint, particularly Twitter and blogs.

According to the Telegraph, Simon Reed, vice chairman of the Police Federation, said:

“It’s astounding that you can use every swear word to abuse a police officer and they have got to accept it just because it is common. This gives the green light for everyone to swear and use disorderly behaviour with police.”

Apparently, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe said:

“It is not acceptable to be sworn at for anybody, so why would it be any more acceptable for a police officer? Even if you accepted that argument, then it doesn’t look too good, does it, in terms of respect? A police officer challenges a suspect about something and they stand there being abusive. I just don’t understand how that works. So I am deeply disappointed by the decision, but I respect the fact that apparently it is a statement of the law.”

And indeed it is reported that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also waded in with:

“Public servants are not there to be abused – they are there to serve society and society must respect them. How can a copper cope with the job if the public are allowed to insult them with impunity?”

All fair comments really. Based on what they had been told, anyway.

You see, sadly the media – and especially those reporters who put this case to those quoted above – got their facts wrong.

The report of the decision went up today on the Judiciary website, and it tells a very different tale to the one that has been in the media. You can find the full judgment here, but I have snagged the relevant part:

Highlighted area one, is why his appeal succeeded.

To prove an offence under section 5, you have to prove harassment, alarm or distress. Unfortunately, the prosecutor seems to have forgotten the ABC of prosecution; that is, proving the elements of the offence – which is rather crucial. According to the appeal judgment (page 4) ‘neither officer gave evidence of being harassed, alarmed or distressed’, because, as above, they were not asked. Whoops.

Highlighted area two makes very clear – with emphasis added by the judge, that in granting the appeal, he is laying the blame on the fact the questions had not been asked, and he is absolutely not saying that officers have to take abuse.

So there we have it. Bad questioning yes, bad law no, f***ing awful reporting.

 

A few numbers

In 2009, 113,949 divorce petitions were filed at court.

Of those, 87,047 were funded under the legal help scheme. The same scheme that will effectively be abolished should the government proposals (which have just been subject to debate in the Lords) come to pass. Those people will have no option left but to represent themselves.

Oh, and 70% of those filing for divorce are women. Women currently entitled to help because they are not the earner in their family.

(Huge hat tip to Divorce Online, who made a FOIA application for this information).

 

Iz it because I iz a wimminz?

Yesterday #womanontheleft trended on Twitter.

‘Woman on the left’ is the barrister Carine Patry Hoskins, who is acting as one of the juniors in the Leveson Inquiry. While Hugh Grant was giving his evidence she appeared to pass a great many (and I mean a *great* many) admiring glances his way. Frankly, I don’t blame her. Sitting in her seat, I would have done the same. In fact, I would have wished I was invisible so I could drool adoringly and openly.

I felt quite sorry for her, and put out the following tweet:

She ended up trending worldwide – that is, so many people were discussing her, she was one of the top conversations around the world. Her chambers profile was posted, and Sky even ran a story on it.

This morning has seen some backlash in some quarters; pious nose wrinkling about those conversations and the Sky story, trying hard to draw a correlation between the fact she was trending and the fact she is female, suggesting some form of sexism.

Me? I say get a grip. If any person (never mind lawyer, and even less, never mind female lawyer) was being shown live on TV openly gazing at a movie star that way, people would be amused, and would no doubt talk about it. It had nothing to do with sexism, it was pure and simple humour.

This morning, she is on her feet in the Leveson Inquiry, questioning witnesses. Doing her job extremely well. Both Leveson and Garry Flitcroff (one of the witnesses) are trending. I say the fact we are back to business as usual demonstrates yesterday had nothing to do with sexism – the focus has rightly moved away from her and back to the witnesses and the evidence, and as should happen, she is rightly not getting a mention. QED.

*For a different view, Helen Lewis Hasteley (who I am not calling a calling a pious nose wrinkler) has written this for the New Statesman.

 

 

Ding Ding

Over the weekend, two posts and one event caught my eye.

The event was that in London, 4 officers attended who ‘street disturbance’ were stabbed, which, when considering the posts that follow, does somewhat focus ones’ mind as to the job that the police do.

One of the posts was from @DavidAllenGreen, who wrote that ‘Police Officers are people who want to put on uniforms so as to coerce members of the public’ (here). The post commences with a video from Occupy Oakland, which shows a single protester facing off a line of riot police. They move forward, chanting ‘move, move, move’. One officer then breaks the line, tells the protester to ‘get out of here’ then starts hitting the protester with his baton. Other officers then raise guns at the person filming.

Without doubt or question, and even accepting that film snippets do not always tell the whole story, it is a sickening video.

David comments that:

“Oh, that’s just a rogue bad apple police officer beating up a civilian whilst we do nothing to intervene,” the other police officers must be thinking.

And, sadly, one can quite imagine an English police officer doing just the same thuggery, whilst their colleagues – usually so very quick to arrest for “public order offences” and “breaches of the peace” – happily look on.

He makes the important points that:

Vesting coercive powers in trained professionals is better than having private armies on the streets.

and

But all this said, and for all the good work certain officers do with their powers of coercion and arrest, the people who are police officers share one important quality.

And that is this: ultimately, police officers are the people who want to put on uniforms so as to coerce members of the public.

It is right to be wary of such people – however much they loathe and evade and obstruct being scruitnised and their motives being questioned.

This caused something of a Twitter stir, and led to @TheCustodySgt responding with a post entitled ‘You lot are all the same’ (here). Sarge starts with recounting a video of a pursuit he watched during training, where:

The police officers jumped out of their car got hold of the driver and for want of a better phrase “gave him a good hiding.”

Sarge makes clear that:

I make no excuses for officers who use inappropriate use of force and abuse their authority but I understand how easy it is to make assumptions and condemn them on limited facts. Far better to allow due process to take its course. Of course if exculpated cynics will claim that the police have the IPCC, magistrates, the CPS, judges and juries in our pockets.

And asks the reader to consider:

 that the police are out on duty 24/7/365. Right now we are attending incidents, putting our lives on the line and serving our communities. The communities we live in too. How many incidents this year have put the police in the media spotlight? Quite a few it would seem but we are always newsworthy. In comparison to the number of good work we do though the figure is infinitesimal.

Please remember that before you criticise an officer for his/her actions have a think about the good work the other 139,999 are doing.

Going back to David’s post, he has a point. We need uniformed officers to want to coerce the public. They simply cannot do their job unless they can go out on the street every day with a certain mindset. Whilst many saw the video and assumed the piece was a ‘bobby bashing’ post, we should be able to acknowledge the mindset required of those men and women simply for them to be able to do their job well – as he says:

certain good works can only be achieved by uniformed individuals exercising coercive powers

Moving on to the Sarge, he is clearly, and rightly, proud of the uniform he and his colleagues wear, and of the work they do. However, he went down the rabbit hole of defending the police by pointing to the good work they do. He is right – it is important that we acknowledge that the vast majority of officers do their job because they want to help, serve, and protect the public, and that they are willing to put themselves in harms way to defend us. And, in fairness to the Sarge, he willingly acknowledges rogue officers, and none of the following paragraphs should be read as a criticism of him – far from it, he often extolls that which I am about to say.

However, as I pointed out to a former Met DCI on twitter last night, a knee jerk defence of rogue police practices does nobody, and especially the police, any favours.

We need to be able to be critical of, and question, the actions of the police without fear of being accused of ‘bobby bashing’. We need the police to engage with the debate, and most importantly, we need them to strenuously acknowledge that mistakes are made, and that some officers are simply bad.

We have to know we can look to them to whistle blow on bad practice, on illegal practice and on bad officers. We want to hear that they have a desire to rid their forces of it. We know the good stuff – we see the good stuff. But alongside that, we are waiting for them to honestly join the debate about the bad stuff – we need to know they see it too.

*I am friends with both chaps whose posts I quote. Friendship or not, I will not publish any comments which personally attack them.

Come on in, the door is open

 ”Without equal access to the law, the system not only robs the poor of their only protection, but it places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever created.”

- Reginald Heber Smith, Justice and the Poor, 1919

As I said in my earlier post on access to justice (here) the reforms to legal aid do not just affect the poor. They will affect all of us who fall into the category of not having a fair few grand sloshing around a savings account.

Nor do they just apply to criminal law. Family law, in terms of divorce, financial proceedings and children proceedings between parents is pretty much completely losing legal aid, unless you can cross an extremely high threshold of being able to ‘prove’ a history of domestic abuse.

Then there is medical negligence, which requires the use of medical experts, which don’t come cheap.

The government is taking the line that cuts in legal aid do not hamper access to justice. The courts are open to all, they say. All they are doing is stopping lawyers making their gazillions from your misery and your tax pounds. Their solution looks a little like this:

Can you DIY? Well, sure you can. You just need to know the correct forms to use, the right procedural rules which affect your case, and it is helpful to brush up on a bit of law.

All of this information is freely available right? The government wouldn’t suggest you could access a court yourself without giving you the resources, would they?

Let’s start at the top. Court forms. There used to be a pretty fabulous (in terms of government sites, anyway) court service website. That housed all the forms, and guidance leaflets as to how to complete them. Now? Ah. Well.

Google ‘court forms’. That takes you to the court service website.  So you click on the link, say for divorce. That takes you to the Directgov site.

There, you have to then click on ‘ending a marriage’, which takes you to another page. There you have to click on ‘planning and getting a divorce’, which takes you to another page. There you have to click on ‘how to file for divorce’, which takes you to yet another page. There you can scroll down, and that takes you to a link for the form. Which brings up another page, with 4 forms to choose from.

Then you go back down that rabbit hole, to find all the information you need to complete it. And somewhere, you have to pray that they tell you that if there are children, you need another form to accompany the petition, that you need to send them to the court in triplicate, and that you need to pay the fee, or the court will bounce it back.

So the process is:

That is for one form, for what is essentially the easiest task in the divorce process, and the government expects people to be able to do that – and that is before we get to things like procedural rules and actual law. Oh, and that is me searching – someone who knows exactly what to look for.

Access to justice? Sure, the door is open, just like the one to the Ritz. Doesn’t mean everyone can walk on through it though.

RIP Helen and Mark

The Coventry Telegraph has today run the story of Helen and Mark Mullins, who have been found dead in Bedworth, in what appears to be a suicide pact.

The story is here, and the video, made by a charity worker, should be watched. In it, Mark tells their story.

Helen is learning disabled. Her 12 year old child was removed by social services and placed within the family, on the basis that she was caring for Helen, rather than vice versa.

Mark gives details of their struggle through the benefit minefield. Helen was told she was not allowed to sign on, because she lacks capacity (presumably to work, therefore not entitled to job seekers allowance), but was unable to access disability benefits due to a lack of evidence of her disability.

Thus, they had such little money, they walked a 12 mile trip each week to get a bag of food from the charity, which they managed to eke out for a week.

The charity worker speaks of the last time he saw Mark, saying:

“I did see Mark two or three weeks ago. He was really upset. He said he and Helen had been staying with relatives and friends to try and avoid the authorities, as they believed they wanted to section Helen.”

What is clear from the video is that this couple were known to various agencies, including social services, mental health, and the DWP. From the article, and the video, it is obvious on the face of it that this was a vulnerable couple, caught in a bewildering minefield of bureaucracy, which was forcing them to have no option but to walk a long round trip to get very basic provisions.

It may of course be, that there is more to this story, but on the face of it, at least three agencies have failed this couple, forcing them to feel they had no other option but to commit suicide.

In England. In 2011.

I have no words, save that, I hope the national press pick up on this, and I hope someone starts asking questions as to how this happened, why this happened, and how to ensure it never happens again.

Adoption stories from the Tories: Part 1

The Prime Minister wants you to think about babies. Specifically, babies that are not yours. In National Adoption Week, David Cameron has been all over the media pulling at heart strings, telling us of the appalling figures relating to adoption, and telling us he dreams of:

‘a real culture change to be more pro-adoption. For many children it is the right answer’.

The Daily Mail (natch) and most of the papers fell for the guff he has been spouting, but some of us are more cynical. And know how to wade through statistical bullshit, whilst also recognising that the reason the Prime Minister is concerned about adoption is because it is cheap.

If kids in care aren’t adopted, they remain in care, and that costs a small at-least-six-figure-each fortune per year, whereas adoption has no ongoing costs to government at all. Oh, wait, I forgot, there is child benefit. That is, the princely sum of £20.30 for the first child, and £13.40 for each one thereafter, per week.

Starting with the stats, on the face of it they are appalling, and if they were the whole picture, the reaction in some quarters of the press would be bang on. If they were.

Apparently, in the year ending 31.3.11 there were 65,520* ‘looked after’ children. Of those, 3,050 were adopted, which works out at 4.65%. Sixty of those were under one – 0.09% of the overall total. 2170 were aged 1-4 – 3.31% of the overall total.

Firstly, the 65,520 figure is not the number of children who became looked after in the year ending 31.3.11. Rather, it is the cumulative total of all children looked after.

Secondly, it overlooks the total number of children who left care for reasons other than adoption, which in that timeframe was 26,830. Therefore when talking about the adoption figures in the context of the number of looked after children, we should be using a figure of 38,690, as that was the number of looked after children left, taking all care leavers into account. That means that as a percentage of the children who ceased being looked after, adoptions actually accounted for 11.37%.

Thirdly, not all ‘looked after’ children are a) legally available for adoption or b) capable of being adopted.

A ‘looked after’ child is one who is either

  • accommodated voluntarily (i.e. with parental consent and not subject to an order);
  • subject to an interim care order (proceedings are progressing but are not yet finalised);
  • subject to a care order (proceedings have finished);
  • subject to a care order where a placement order has been made.

Only children who are subject to care orders where a placement order has been made are legally available for adoption.

It is not easy to see from the available figures what the numbers of children legally available for adoption are, but the numbers of children who are not legally available for adoption in the remaining 38,690 will not be insignificant.

Then we turn to the biggy. The children who are not capable of being adopted. The children who the readers of newspapers do not know exist, and the children who politicians have no desire to educate anyone about, even when bleating and hang wringing.

These kids could only aspire to be the ‘feral youth’ the government told us existed during the rioting in the summer. They are forgotten, uncared about and written off before puberty, never mind adulthood.

Kids who end up adopted are care kids. Care kids are abused kids. Lose the romanticised image of kids who are adopted being pink, plump, perfect swaddled babies, given up voluntarily by parents who recognise they can’t look after them, wishing for a better life for them.

These are kids who, if lucky, have ‘only’ been neglected. Kids who come from neglect are largely the ones who require the least work to get them to a stage where they don’t frighten prospective adopters. Affordable work, that doesn’t take too long, so they get it quickly. They will be a large proportion of the 3,050 who were adopted.

The kids who have been subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse? Well, they are pretty much written off. Of course, the overall plan is for adoption – to achieve a new family and stability for them is on everyone’s wish list. But when their method of demonstrating they are in pain and need help is smearing faeces on the wall, or destroying anything they come into contact with, or lashing out at younger children, well, they are pretty hard to place. And they require a lot of work, usually long term. Which costs money. More money than most local authorities can afford.

So they don’t get placed. If they are lucky they may get some of the work the experts identified for them before they leave care. If not? Well, eventually they hit 10. When they act out at 10, the local authority start calling the police, and the kids eventually end up going through the criminal process, and that is it. Game over: let the new cycle begin – that of offending, substance abuse, having kids of their own that are taken into care.

The government’s answer? They are going to force every local authority to publish:

  • How many children get adopted;
  • How long it takes to get adopted;
  • How successful their foster care placements are;
  • How well they do at school.

Great. Can you see in that list ‘more money for the necessary theraputic work to ensure more children are capable of being adopted’? No, me either. But hey, we’ll get some numbers, the Daily Mail can be outraged at ‘failing’ authorities, and the government can wring their collective hands a bit more. Oh and protip: the ‘failing’ authorities will be the most deprived authorities – the ones who take more kids into care due to child abuse and the correlation with substance abuse and deprivation, and have the least money to get them adoption ready.

One of two things will happen. Local authorities will resign themselves to be deemed as ‘failing’; unable to fight the government PR machine. Or, they will place children with unprepared, unsuitable adopters. Folk whose hearts are in the right place, but not able to cope with the reality of a care kid. Then the adoption will break down, and we end up with an absolutely broken child, back on the care scrapheap.

So, when Mr Cameron tells you of his horror at the 4.65% of children who are adopted, ask him about the 95.35%. They are the ones who we should be very concerned about.

*Figures from the Guardian