Archive for the ‘Criminal Justice’ Category

John Terry-justice done?   Leave a comment

I think the decision to prosecute John Terry for saying “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand was the correct one.  I also feel that the decision of the Chief Magistrate to acquit was the right one.  The case is significant for society and football but it also leaves the FA in a quandary.

Essentially we had the England football Captain accused of using threatening, abusive or insulting words within the hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress and those words were racist.  This is actually a comparatively minor summary offence that can only be heard in a Magistrates Court and for which the penalty is a fine that any Premier League footballer could pay out of his petty cash.

However we could all see that a conviction for using racist abuse could be a taint that would kill a career, particularly at international level.  In an age where progress is being made by projects such as “Kick it Out” to be labelled a racist is a very serious issue.  That said, this was not a case to determine whether John Terry is a racist.  Just as in the Suárez civil case before the FA, the question was whether the player uttered abuse that had a racist element rather than whether that player was a racist.  The Judge in Terry’s case pointed out that all the character witnesses showing Terry’s inclusive nature were irrelevant to the substance of the case; it wasn’t a question of being a racist just using racist abuse.

As a summary matter this case could not go to the Crown Court and play in front of a jury.  For all we treasure the trial by jury as a significant part of our justice it is good to see a senior Justice at work.  In the Magistrates Court a District Judge can sit in the place of a bench of lay magistrates.  In this case it was a Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle.  Judge Riddle was able to carefully explain his thinking in finding John Terry not guilty.

As I read Judge Riddle’s judgement he was certain that the CPS was right to bring the prosecution; John Terry had a case to answer.  There was no doubt that Terry had said, among other confirmed abuse, “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand.   He found Ferdinand and Terry to be good witnesses but there was confusion over the context in which Terry has said the “offensive” phrase.  Terry stated at the time that he thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying it and so had repeated the phrase back to him to highlight how ridiculous it would be for him to say that. He maintained this account throughout.

The exchange was part of a cycle of tit-for-tat abuse between the two players.  Most of the exchange, that the players couldn’t remember in detail, seemed to involve remarks about Terry’s sexual improprieties.   From a football perspective it is telling that the remark that ended up in court seems to be just an element of a “slanging match” that was part of a game of professional football.  In an age when football authorities are campaigning for respect on the football field this is telling.

John Terry isn’t a racist.  Although the Judge questioned his explanation of his uttering the offensive phrase, there was enough doubt to find that he had not committed a criminal offence.  However Ferdinand and Terry were involved in outbursts on a football pitch that have no place in the modern game.  There is still racism in our society and our national game but every reasonable person knows it is irrational.  The work done to combat this bigotry in and out of the game is why this case could be brought to court.

The admitted abusive exchanges between professional footballers shows that we have a long way to go in terms of the Respect Programme. As someone who has gone into classrooms to sell the principles of fair play and respect in sport and so in general life, it is galling to see the message trashed by those appearing regularly on the children’s televisions.

The FA suspended its investigation when the CPS suggested that there might be criminal action.  An acquittal in a criminal case where the test is one of reasonable doubt doesn’t mean a test on the balance of probabilities for a similar matter cannot succeed.  I expect that the FA will have to consider both the  “racial” of what John Terry said and the wider question of the two players’ exchanges on the pitch at Loftus Road.

It might be argued that there is sufficient evidence to find John Terry of at least bringing the game in to disrepute.  Anton Ferdinand was the victim in the criminal case but also seems to have a case to answer when we are looking at fair play in our national game.  It will be interesting to see how the FA takes this forward.

Tweet Mohammed- tweet for freedom   Leave a comment

Today is the third Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.  It might not surprise many to know I am supporting it.  Not because I want to upset any believers, that comes with the atheist label, but because it exposes the corruption that is fundamental Islam.

Clearly I am anti-faith and see religion at best as irrelevant and at worst as thoroughly malevolent.  Even where good is done by faith-led people it could always be done at least as well independent of religion.  At the other end of the scale you have some religious leaders whose principles are so far removed from social reality that extreme harm can only result.

There are of course some small totally irrational sects. You cannot call them cults as the only difference between a mainstream religion and a cult is the number of followers.  Then there are the large and powerful faiths that have to be condemned as inhuman despite their size. Sunni Islamic movement known as the Salafiyya that dominates Saudi Arabia is one such sect.

This branch of Islam is very conservative and, possibly due to the power of the Saudis, is growing strongly. Because of the uncompromising nature of its tenets it is also closely linked to terrorism and the jihad ofAl-Qaeda.  Osama bin Laden came out of this tradition although like most religious despots he was capable of reinventing the rules for his own purposes.

Aniconism was a tradition in Islam where the depiction of any living person or thing was prohibited.  Such a prohibition is very hard to maintain in the modern world.  The Taliban tried it with the destruction of even valuable historic representations such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan but in the electronic age it has to be impractical.

Modern interpretations of Islam concentrate on outlawing depictions of Allah and his prophets.  However this is not a universal prescription with some arms of that religions allowing respectful depictions of Mohammed and other religious figures.  Clearly this enlightened position has not reached Pakistan which, after previously banning Facebook because of the campaign has now cut off Twitter.  Quite hi-tech for a country that couldn’t find the head of Al-Qaeda living next door to its military academy!

However it is Saudi Arabia that we go back to for this year’s Draw Mohammed Day.  This time it is concentrated not on Facebook but Twitter.  It is the latter social network because that was the medium used by Saudi poet Hamza Kashgari.

Kashgari.is a poet and reporter who has been very supportive of the Arab Spring.  However it is a series of poetic tweets that have been his undoing.  In February he posted three tweets concerning a fictitious meeting with the Prophet Mohammed:

  • On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.

  • On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.

  • On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.

The tweets cause an outcry in the Arab world and with calls for his arrest Kashgari decided to leave Saudi and seek political asylum in New Zealand.  Unfortunately his flight there had a stop-over in Malaysia another Muslim country with close links to Saudi.  There he was detained and with no regard for due process put on a plane back to the country he had left.  He is now imprisoned in Saudi Arabia facing charges of apostasy.

There is every chance that the calls for his execution are politically motivated, because of Hamza Kashgari’s support for activists involved in the Arab Spring.  Certainly there can be little chance of a fair hearing in the Saudi monocratic theocracy.

No religion can tell me what I can and cannot draw.  The superstitious nonsense behind any religion has no place in a modern world.  Even if we tolerate those that seek solace in myths they cannot dictate to rational thinking people.

I don’t know whether Kashgari believes in the God of his culture but to admit doubts, particularly in a creative way cannot be condemned.  I can respect the religious but I cannot respect religions.  Three times 140 characters questioning your personal deity is a healthy thing not a capital crime.

Ched Evans- blame the rapist not the victim   3 comments

I was waiting outside of a court for a sentencing on one of my cases.  There were the families of three young people awaiting a separate sentencing near me.  One of the accused got 13 years.  As a reaction one of the weeping matriarchs blamed the police, the co-accused, the barrister and eventually the victim family for “over-reacting”.  I checked the case and saw that the victims held culpable were an elderly couple whose home had been invaded.  They had been assaulted, tied up and threatened with firearms as part of the robbery.

Perhaps this is an understandable reaction from family shocked by the sentence?  In terms of the Ched Evans trial you might argue that Sheffield United players and the fans are a sort of “family”.  The initial reaction is part of the shock from the result.  However, unless you regard young men (and some women) as some tight-knit community, the reaction to the conviction on social networking sites has been inexplicable.  Like the couple violently assaulted the young lady sexually assaulted has no culpability.

You have to realise that footballers are not role models.  In the main they are young men who just have a lot more money and attention than their peers.  They are also from a population where education has not been a priority; their every aim has been football rather than effective schooling for life.  A three-year pro contract for a 21-year old is like a lottery win.  Whether it is six balls or five and a bonus depends on whether it is from a Premiership club!

Like young lottery winners crimes by footballers tend to receive greater media attention than other offenders.  With about one in seven young men having a criminal record you might expect, even excluding offences prompted by poverty, that a fair few footballers will be in trouble with the law.  There are myriad reported cases involving drink, public order, violence and sexual assault.  Like the rest of the population there are caring, compassionate and intelligent footballers at clubs but there are always idiots.

Some of the questionable comments on twitter and Facebook did come from footballers but of course the vast majority were not from the ranks of the soccer professionals.  I do not even think that the majority of those supporting Evans are Sheffield United fans.  Among Blades are many who have condemned their player and accepted the verdict.  What is disturbing is a widespread assumption that the victim, the young lady who was raped, deserves no sympathy and is somehow responsible for the incident.  Some have gone as far as to suggest that by some means this is an attempt to derive personal benefit from having been the victim of the assault.

Those going off on twitter rants or instigating infantile on-line campaigns just show how little they know the legal process and the law concerning rape.  In terms of the sexual offence the British Crime Survey suggests that only one in a hundred of women raped will see their attacker convicted.  This is a figure skewed by the number who having been assaulted, do not report the matter.  That reluctance to report is why work has been done and must continue to be done to support the victims of rape.  The fact that only about 7% of those who do report rape see a conviction is still a self-defeating statistic.  The difficulty getting a conviction is one of the reasons why there has to be anonymity in these cases.

It is entirely proper that the police arrest those who named the victim in this case as a deterrent for the future so as to reassure those coming forward to report rapes are not dissuaded by the thought of becoming a trend on twitter.  Some might make a case for all justice being open in terms of victims or for equal anonymity for alleged perpetrators until convicted but I agree with the law as it is at present.  It does look like that law has been broken by those naming the victim and possibly those abusing her.

There are cases where false reports of rape are filed but these are insignificant numbers at the side of the unreported assaults.  Such false claims are always wrong and they too cause victims and of course undermine the legal process and cast doubt on the prosecution of cases.  Those who choose to equate this case to those where a false claim has been made do the CPS a disservice.  The nature of intimate human relations is such that one often doesn’t know what goes on in the bedroom, or anywhere else an act of intercourse goes on.  Where rape is alleged and it is simply a matter of consent with the two parties disputing whether it was given then there will usually be too much doubt to bring a prosecution.

Here there seems to be a more complex case and one where the jury, having heard the evidence rather than reading tweets or newspapers, determined that there was no doubt that the victim did not consent to sex with Evans.  That penetration without consent is rape.  Whether it occurs by taking advantage of someone incapable through drink or by pointing a knife at someone’s throat it is still rape.  The difference in the circumstances should be reflected in sentencing not by persecuting the victim because the attack was by a celebrity in a hotel room rather than a masked stranger on a canal towpath.  The five year sentence in this case is exactly appropriate based on the sentencing guidelines.

The only question is whether the victim consented to Evans having sex with her.  That victim’s sexual history, possible promiscuity or subsequent motivations are immaterial.  The fact that her attacker is a highly paid footballer and “could have had any girl in that nightclub” is also irrelevant if he had sex with a drunken girl without her approval.  After a two-week trial twelve people decided unanimously that this was the case.

The fact that Evans, co-accused was found not guilty does not reflect any better on Evans.  The circumstances of McDonald coming to be in the room with the woman were not analogous to Evan’s arrival there and let the jury to see a reasonable doubt in the Crown’s case.  That of course doesn’t mean that the victim is lying just that the jury could not be sure beyond doubt.  If an acquittal proved prosecution witnesses were liars than I would have been in trouble a couple of times!

Some will point out that Evans has said that he will appeal and so wonder if the case will take another turn.  That appeal cannot be based simply on the argument that the jury got it wrong.  There has either to be a mistake by the Judge or new evidence that the defence was not aware of at the time of the conviction.  Less than a third of appeals ever get to a hearing.

To defend the vilification of the victim in this case by suggesting that she is not only promiscuous but also seeking financial reward is both cruel and ironic.  (I am not sure her attackers put it quite that way using terms like slag, tramp and money-grabber.)  The irony comes from accounts the male footballers boasting that they could have any woman based on their wealth and tweeters identifying the victim whose anonymity usually prevents the attack being a means of making money!

I actually know nothing about the victim’s personality other than her gender and her age; I expect that most attacking her know little more.  What is sure following the verdict is that she is a victim of a serious sexual assault.  To blame that victim instead of the man who raped her is ridiculous!