December 2009 articles archive:

Peter Tobin and the whole life tariff

Serial killer Peter Tobin has been jailed for life for murdering 18-year-old Dinah McNicol. The whole life tariff has been imposed. Tobin is expected to die in prison.

Those of you who may be studying criminal law in your second year of Law at A-level will need to know about the law relating to murder which carries a mandatory life sentence.  Some of you may embark upon heated debates about the rights and wrongs of the tariff system of imposing minimum sentences.  Should life mean life? - well for some the law certainly thinks so and has the ability to impose what is known as the whole life tariff.  

As a result some of you may be seeking an example of a case where a mandatory life sentence has been imposed and accompanied by a whole life order.  This article is about providing you with such an example.

Peter Tobin of Johnstone, Renfrewshire, already serving life for killing Vicky Hamilton, 15, and Angelika Kluk, 23, has been jailed for life for a third time following his conviction for murdering 18-year-old Dinah McNicol.  Tobin has now been labelled a serial killer and told that the whole life tariff has been imposed.  It only took the jury 15 minutes to return a guilty verdict of killing the sixth former after a three-day trial. The judge has made it clear that he should never be released.

Dinah McNicol vanished in August 1991 while hitch-hiking to her home in Essex after a music festival in Hampshire.

Judge Mr Justice Calvert-Smith told Tobin: "This is the third time you have stood in the dock for murder. On all three occasions the evidence against you was overwhelming. Yet even now you refuse to come to terms with your guilt."

Det Supt David Swindle, of Strathclyde Police, who set up Operation Anagram to investigate Tobin's background, said the investigation would continue, even after Tobin's death.

Police across the UK are investigating dozens of unsolved murders that may have been carried out by Tobin.

They have released photographs of 35 pieces of jewellery which police fear he may have kept as trophies from victims.

British Airways and their cabin crew-winners and losers?

With feelings running high and with so much at stake are BA and the employees representatives right to bring in ACAS?

If you are looking for a strong example to use to support the work of Acas and the benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) then maybe you need look no further than the present dispute between British Airways and its cabin crews.  The cabin crew are planning a 12 day period of strikes during the Christmas holiday period.

What is the dispute about?  Well it's difficult to say and that is probably part of the problem with relationships between the main players being so poor.  Apparently BA want to reduce cabin crew numbers on many of its long-haul flights out of Heathrow but arguments persist that this is just the tip of the iceberg and other cost cutting arbitrary operational changes are just around the corner.

There is also the matter of a court action in the High Court in which BA are arguing that the employees union UNITE conducted the ballot required for industrial action was not conducted appropriately, with 'leaving' members included.  It is perhaps important to remember that this is an employment situation and it is not always appropriate to go to court, if long term relations between employer and employees matter and are paramount to the overall success of the business.  So who has taken their eye off the ball?  BA or are the cabin crew verging on a such a potentially damaging course of action as to put the very existence of the company at risk?

Lets look at the big picture.

The strikes are planned from 22 December to the 2 January.  If the strike lasts for the 12 day period - it will adversely affect up to 1 million passengers who have already booked flights with BA.  Up to 650 BA flights will be affected.

It is thought that a 12 day strike will cost the company up to £300m in terms of lost revenue and it will certainly not help the company in its reported £3.7bn pension deficit.

Acas has over 30 years of experience in helping organisations of all sizes to avoid and resolve problems with relationships at work but will they be given a further chance to help with mediation in the present BA cabin crew crisis? 

Acas have confirmed that they have been involved in informal talks but are hoping for a more formal role in an attempt to resolve this long running and potentially damaging row.

In the meantime the High Court has granted an injunction to BA declaring the ballot of Unite members to have been illegal due to irregularities.  Maybe this will provide a breathing space for common sense to prevail.


Vanessa George and the use of indeterminate sentences

Many of you will recall the awful case of Baby Peter and this may help you when discussing the rights and wrongs of indeterminate sentences. Indeterminate sentences are not without controversy and have no fixed end dates.

Baby Peter's mother was given an indefinite sentence with a minimum term of five years after pleading guilty to causing or allowing her son's death.  Her boyfriend was jailed for life with a minimum of 10 years for raping a two-year-old girl.

The boyfriend was also given a 12-year term to run concurrently for his "major role" in Peter's death.

The couple's lodger, Jason Owen, received an indefinite sentence with a minimum term of three years for failing to take steps to save the little boy.  It was this aspect of the sentencing that caused something of a public outcry, many people being of the view that the minimum sentences to be served were too low.

The case of nursery worker Vanessa George and her fellow paedophiles, Colin Blanchard and Angela Allen, may prove to be an excellent example of the use of indeterminate sentences and some of the problems, good and bad, that can be associated with their use.  Vanessa George is to serve a minimum of 7 years before she may be considered for release by the Parole board.  Some parents think the sentence handed out was fair but many think it was not long enough.  There is also the argument that such a horrible act against very young defenceless children should be matched by a much harsher sentence on the principle that the punishment should fit the crime.

Angela Allen was also given an indeterminate sentence and ordered to serve a minimum of five years.

From the individual's point of view, as we can see from other articles, some independent organisations have identified a number of issues that can arise including problems associated with the prisoner not knowing what lies ahead of them.  When will the prisoner be able to say they have done their time and that they have paid the price of their crime?

In the case of Vanessa George, she has been told she will be held in prison until she is no longer considered a danger to the public.  This could be the rest of her life.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission and the case of Dr Crippen

Could anyone possibly have imagined that one day even the case of Dr Hawley Crippen would be the subject of an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission? How far back should we go in the search for the truth?

The application made earlier this year by American James Patrick Crippen, now 73, and a second cousin three times removed from the infamous Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen is interesting for a number of reasons.  It serves as a dramatic reminder of the potential of new DNA evidence. At the same time, and perhaps not for the first time,it also raises the question of whether there are any limits imposed on how far we can go back in our quest for justice.

Dr Hawley Crippen, was executed in London in 1910 for murdering his wife, Cora. Dr Crippen hid his wife's remains under a cellar, and then tried to escape to Canada on the SS Montrose with his lover Ethel Le Neve, who was disguised as a boy.

James Patrick Crippen made the appeal after scientists from Michigan State University claimed to have obtained DNA evidence in 2007.

It is claimed that the scientists had tracked down three of Mrs Crippen's grandnieces and compared their DNA with samples from the body which had been kept on a microscope slide since the Old Bailey trial.

This new evidence has enabled the distant relative to argue that the remains found at Crippen's home were not those of his wife, casting serious doubt over his ancestor's conviction.

James Crippen has been fighting for years not just for an appeal, which would reopen the case, but also for a royal pardon as well as the release of Dr Crippen's remains.  At present Dr Crippen's remains are buried in the grounds of Pentonville Prison, London.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) have refused to send the case back to the Court of Appeal.  The basis of their decision being that the applicant was not a "properly interested person".  It seems as though, in cases where the person whose conviction is to be appealed against is dead, the application must be made by someone "approved" by the Court of Appeal.

A CCRC spokesman has been reported as saying that that person should be the widow or widower, "personal representative", or a relative who has a "substantial financial or other interest" in the appeal, adding "Without an individual who has a real possibility of being approved by the Court of Appeal, there could be no court hearing and so no purpose would be served by the commission carrying out a review of the case."

It is not enough to argue that the person may have been innocent. It also seems as though respect for the family name and reputation may not be enough unless of course the CCRC are prepared to give a wide definition of what is meant by 'or other interest'.

Finally, returning to the manner in which Dr Crippen was arrested.  He was identified by the Captain of the SS Montrose, the first ship to carry Marconi's new telegram system and Crippen became notorious as the first criminal in history to be arrested using such new communication equipment. The use of the telegram enabled a British police Inspector to take a faster ship and arrest Dr Crippen on his arrival in Canada.  Crippen was then brought back to Britain to stand trial at the Old Bailey.





Are we so different? Possibly not, if the sentence handed out to Amanda Knox is anything to go by

We sometimes question whether we are right in our sentencing policy for murder. There will be many considering the plight of Amanda Knox as she begins her 26 year sentence.

Amanda Knox, 22, has been reported as bowing her head and bursting into tears as she was jailed for 26 years for murder and sexual violence.

Italian Raffaele Sollecito, 25, her former boyfriend was given 25 years.  The starting point for killing with a knife in this country is presently only 15 years much to the dismay of the families of victims of knife crimes and killings in this country. The starting point for killing using a firearm is 30 years.  The law is to be reviewed and the government propose that the minimum period should be 25 years.  We also have a whole life tariff in this country whereby the trial judge is able to reflect the true horror of the crime in particularly horrific killings such as was the case with Ray Whiting the killer of Sarah Payne.  The whole life tariff can be used where a sexual motive can be established and it seems as though the prosecution's allegations against Amanda Knox that she did engage in a sort of sexual game with her victim has been accepted by the jury.  

Would a similar sentence have been handed out if the crime had been committed under our jurisdiction?  Possibly.

Apart from any appeal process, does this mean Amanda must serve out the full 26 years?  Does life mean life?  It has already been reported that Knox may only serve 15 years of her sentence.  After this period, with good behaviour, according to some reports she may be allowed out on 'daytime release' under Italian law.

This does not seem so very different to what happens in this country and it will be interesting to see how the appeal process proceeds.  Some of you may be able to follow events during the course of your studies and make informed observations.

However amidst the media scrum that has developed over this high profile trial, respect for the trial process may be hard to find and already there is the danger that this will become a case where that unique version of American politics has some sort of bearing on the eventual outcome.



The Queen's Speech in Parliament 2009

For those of you who want to impress your tutors by knowing something about Bills to be brought before Parliament here is a summary of the legislation announced at the state opening of parliament on the 18th November 2009.

The Queen has attended the state opening of Parliament. in November 2009 and announced her government's legislative programme.

The programme is likely to be the last one introduced before there is a general election in 2010. 

It remains to be seen how much of this programme will see the light of day in the form of a Bill formally introduced before Parliament at a First Reading but for those of you who want to learn more about what Gordon Brown's government proposes here is the list courtesy of the Guardian:

Bribery Bill

Child Poverty Bill

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Crime and Security Bill

Digital Economy Bill

Energy Bill

Equality Bill

Financial Services Bill

Fiscal Responsibility Bill

Flood and Water Management Bill

House of Lords Reform Draft Bill

International Development Bill

Personal Care at Home Bill

It's probably better to pick out one which you are likely to be interested in.  You are much more likely to impress that way-rather than memorise the list!

If you are confused and need help then you might like to pick the Crime and Security Bill.  The Bill is not likely to escape attention because, amidst its provisions, are proposals for the treatment of DNA of innocent people.



All credit to Marcel Berlins for spotting the problems with police cautions

Marcel Berlins is a lawyer and journalist for the Guardian. He is also a university law lecturer, so for those of you who are interested in the arguments about the use of spot fines or police cautions be sure to take account of Marcel Berlins' article.

Marcel Berlins has identified what he calls dangers and shortcomings in the use of spot fines and police cautions.  It seems as though it is not as simple as saving the police's time on court appearances and preparatory paperwork, and freeing up the criminal courts so that there is less delay and more time to deal with more serious matters. 

Here are some of the arguments:

  • the process undermines the criminal justice system in that offenders for assaults, burglaries and other serious matters are not properly brought to account for their actions and do not feel the full force of the law;
  • as a result of cautions, offenders who should properly be considered for custody, escape this punishment because they are not subjected to the criminal process-only the courts can impose prison sentences;
  • the use of spot fines trivialises crime in that they were only ever intended for minor matters;
  • there is support for these observations in the form of investigative work by the BBC's Panorama - Do cautions 'deny victims justice'? In the programme it is  asserted that some 40,000 police cautions a year had been handed out to people guilty of assault.  Such offenders, it is alleged, not only escaped a court hearing but, in many cases, a possible prison sentence;
  • the increased use of spot fines and cautions seems to fly in the face of the public's concern over such matters as violent crimes and the apparent risks to the safety of the public;
  • how can we be satisfied that the Crown Prosecution Service is included in any decisions as to whether to charge are not?

Jack Straw , the Justice Minister, has, together with Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, recently announced that the practice of spot fines and police cautions is to be made the subject of an inquiry.


Recent Posts

The latest posts from the blog archives.

Caparo three part test – revisited

In Robinson the Supreme Court laid to rest the proposition that there is a Caparo test which applies to all claims in the modern law of negligence.

Statutory interpretation - penal legislation is construed strictly

The Supreme Court reminded everyone per Lord Reed and Lord Hughes that 'Penal legislation is construed strictly, particularly where the penalty involves deprivation of liberty'.

Court of appeal gives judgment acknowledging unmarried woman's rights

The claim related to bereavement payments under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 as amended.

European union law – in the case of conflict between national law and european law

Walker (Appellant) v Innospec Limited and others (Respondents) [2017] UKSC 47 On appeal from [2015] EWCA Civ 1000

Vicarious liability is alive and well

This decision extends the doctrine of vicarious liability in respect of foster carers for the fist time and it represents another example of the potential for the expansion of this form of liability.

Supreme court busy - make sure you are geared up for your course

The Supreme Court has been especially busy lately.

Gina miller v secretary of state for exiting the eu 2016 as an example of the importance of judicial independence

Law students are now required to take note of how the independence and work of the judiciary has been reformed

Policing and crime bill and provisions for bail after arrest but before charge

The clear intention is that decisions on pre-charge bail should come under scrutiny.