Police Blunder Loses Over 20,000 Records

Police Scotland has confessed to the loss of more than 20,000 stop and search records in an embarrassing blunder. The records reportedly went missing after a careless computer programmer “pressed the wrong button.”

Senior officers made the admission while appearing at the Scottish Parliament before a committee of MSPs. Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, who had to apologise for giving incorrect stop and search information to watchdog the Scottish Police Authority, said that the records had been lost through simple human error.

According to Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson, also present before the committee, 20,086 records were lost in total. The important data disappeared when a “computer programmer pressed the wrong button between May and July last year.”

Mawson emphasised that the records “had been properly put on the system by the officers as a result of stopping and searching people,” but information regarding to the outcome of those stop and search incidents had been lost as a result of the blunder.

He went on to say that Police Scotland had been “working really hard” in their efforts to recover the data which was lost as a result of the blunder. These efforts included follow-up audits, and thousands of emails being sent out to officers that had been involved in the stop and search operations in question. As a result, he insisted, “the vast majority of that data, those results, are now back on the system.”

Nonetheless, the fact that such important data was so quickly and easily lost in the first place and through such a simple blunder, has cast a shadow over the Scottish police force. Chief Constable Sir Stephen acknowledged the mistake, but insisted that this had not eroded the trust that the public has in Police Scotland. Nonetheless, he recognised that as a result of the missing records stop-and-search statistics that were recently released by Police Scotland had not been “100% accurate” and were “not fit for public consumption.”

Sir Stephen also insisted that he had only released the data because he had been forced to by the Information Commissioner. However, this claim was thrown into doubt by emails that took place between the Information Commissioner and Police Scotland, which seemed to show that the latter had released its stop and search figures willingly and voluntarily.

Alison McInnes, a Liberal Democrat MSP and member of the justice subcommittee, was critical of the way Sir Stephen and Police Scotland responded to the issue. She described the response as “incoherent” and said that some of the claims made were “barely credible.”

Speaking to Sir Stephen, she asked: “is it incompetence or do you have a disregard for the authority of the Scottish Police Authority?”

Justice Agencies Letting Victims Down

An independent report by the Victims’ Commissioner, which has been published today, concludes that justice agencies are letting down the victims they are supposed to be safeguarding. Baroness Newlove described the results of her report as shocking.

Baroness Newlove took more than 200 victims’ experiences into account in producing the report, which contains performance assessments of every justice agency listed by the victims’ code.

The Victims’ Commissioner’s review is intended to be the first of a number of independent reviews looking into aspects of the justice system. It is not a positive start to the process, concluding that the agencies that are supposed to protect and ensure justice for victims are in fact letting them down seriously.

Of the 200+ victims consulted in order to produce the review, nearly three in every four were not happy with the service that justice agencies had provided. If they wanted to raise their issues with those agencies, they faced yet more difficulties. More than half said that the complaints process for the agency in question was hard to use.

In particular, Baroness Newlove said she was shocked at the number of victims who told her they had felt like they were being ignored. When they tried to raise complaints about the way they had been treated, many said they were left confused or their complaints were simply dismissed.

“All it takes,” Baroness Newlove said, “is basic human decency to explain to a victim, in a sensitive and timely way, why something has gone wrong and what they can do about it.”

The report sets out standards which, the Victims’ Commissioner feels, criminal justice agencies and the government should be expected to follow when they are dealing with victims of crime who have concerns. In particular, she feels that these bodies should:

  • Give clear information about the ways in which they are able to support victims who have concerns or who would like to raise complaints about a service.
  • Explain how the victim will be kept updated and informed on how their complaint is progressing at all stages of the process.
  • Use proper, clearly-defined recording practices and processes that are designed to ensure a proactive and appropriate approach in handling all victim complaints.
  • Publish data to demonstrate the ways in which their services have been improved as a result of acting on victim complaints.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling claims that significant improvements have already been made in the services and support that are given to victims. “But,”we are also the first to acknowledge that more can, and should, be done.”

Lawyers Failing to Grasp Something That is “Not Rocket Science”

Forming good arguments should be a basic part of a lawyer’s job description, but according to Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Rupert Jackson, there is one type of argument they consistently and frustratingly blunder with. Skeleton arguments – written outlines of the key points that a lawyer wishes to make in a court case – are frequently prepared poorly and lawyers are consistently failing to grasp the message that they need to improve.

According to Lord Justice Jackson, preparing good skeleton arguments is “not rocket science.” However, he claims that many lawyers still produce arguments which are of “poor quality and excessive length” and this makes the job of judges unnecessarily harder. Faced with a long, rambling and needlessly complex document which is supposed to serve as a short summary, it is hard to work out what key points are being made and which facts are contained in the document.

“A bad skeleton argument,” said Lord Justice Jackson, “simply adds to the paper jungle through which judges must hack their way in an effort to identify the issues and the competing arguments.” Meanwhile, he acknowledged that judges do receive many good skeleton arguments as well, and that these are “a real help to judges when they are pre-reading the (usually voluminous) bundles.”

Providing poor skeleton arguments has the potential to sap a judge’s time as well as making it harder for them to properly prepare for the case. This could needlessly complicate and potentially even draw out proceedings, as judges approach the case without the clear idea they should have of the key points.

Jackson’s comments were made as part of a recent Court of Appeal judgement, where he criticised the appellant for coming up with “35 pages of rambling prolixity.” He suggested that in fact, a skeleton argument should be no longer than 25 pages – and in most cases it should be much shorter than that.

A good skeleton argument, he suggested, should provide a “concise, user-friendly introduction” to a case’s main issues, key facts and the arguments that a lawyer intends to put forward. It should reference other relevant materials and allow judges to form a clear, basic idea of the case before entering the courtroom, thus facilitating clear and smooth proceedings.

These concepts, he said, are not difficult. But while many good skeleton arguments are put forward, many other lawyers have repeatedly failed to grasp them.

Officers Lying Under Oath Bring Down Fake Wedding Trial

The trial of Rev Nathan Ntege, a vicar accused of conducting nearly 500 weddings of fake couples at his south-east London church has collapsed. For the reasons behind bringing the trial to an end, the judge cited “bad faith and serious misconduct on the part of the prosecution.” Six defendants who were being tried alongside Mr Ntege in relation to the fake wedding scandal have also seen the cases against them fall apart.

Judge Nic Madge, presiding over the case, said that the problems stretched back to the arrest of two of the defendants in June 2011. Starting at this point, Madge said, that misconduct on the part of the prosecution had “continued throughout the course of this trial.”

Rev Ntege, who lives in Thornton Heath, was accused of operating a “matrimonial conveyer belt,” marrying fake couples in order to falsely aid their immigration into the UK. According to the prosecution, suspicions began when it was noticed that the church was hosting an “inordinate number” of weddings; six a day when previously there had only been six a year. The charges against Rev Ntege included one count of fraud and 14 counts of facilitating breaches of immigration legislation.

However, serious allegations of misconduct have arisen against the prosecution, causing the trial to fall apart. Judge Nic Madge said: “I am satisfied that officers at the heart of this prosecution have deliberately concealed important evidence and lied on oath.” It has been claimed that important evidence has been hidden from the court, tampered with, and destroyed altogether.

This includes efforts to ensure the court did not see important video evidence filmed at the church in question, along with photographs taken at the associated vicarage where Rev Ntege resided. Tampering with evidence included alterations to the investigation log chronicling the case during the period from July-December 2012, with the existence of some entries being hidden from the court.

Furthermore, when questioned about this evidence, officers in the courtroom lied under oath.

“If the trial were to be permitted to continue,” Madge said, “there is a real risk that public faith in the criminal justice system would be undermined.”

He concluded: “It is a case in which the prosecution should not be allowed to benefit from the serious misbehaviour of the officer in the case or the disclosure officer.”

The judge’s decision has been accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service. The Home Office called the events “an extremely disappointing end to a long investigation.”

The case has resulted in the suspension of three officers, and has been passed on to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Data Protection Blunders Land Justice Ministry With £180,000 Fine

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has ordered the Ministry of Justice to pay a £180,000 civil penalty. The fine follows what the ICO described in a statement as “serious failings” which led to lack of proper data protection in 75 separate prisons around England and Wales.

The fine is one of the biggest penalties ever handed down to a governmental department. The blunders made by the Ministry of Justice led to sensitive data being handled insecurely by a number of English and Welsh prisons. Specifically, the Ministry of Justice failed to tell these prisons that they had to turn on encryption when using new backup digital storage.

The issue stems from a previous blunder where data relating to roughly 16,000 individuals in prison  were lost. Following this, in May 2012, prisons were provided with new hard drives which had an advanced encryption function in order to securely store data. However, prisons were not made aware that they had to actively turn on encryption at their end in order for it to properly function. As a result, 75 prisons used the hard drives without encryption being active, leading to sensitive data being stored without the levels of security that should have been necessary.

This insecure storage of important information lasted for more than a year before the blunder was uncovered and the situation was rectified. During this period of unencrypted data storage, in May 2013, one hard drive was lost. The hard drive in question contained information relating to just under 3,000 prisoners, some of whom had links to organised criminal groups. All of this data was unencrypted and, therefore, relatively easy to access should the hard drive fall into the wrong hands.

When the situation did come to light, it was as a result of a direct investigation by the ICO.

Stephen Echersley, head of enforcement for the ICO, said of the situation: “The fact that a government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them, how to use it, beggars belief.”

However, it seems that the situation has at last been rectified to help prevent any data crises in the future. The ICO has issued assurance that the ministry has now taken the necessary steps to ensure that encryption is active on all hard drives used within prisons, and data is now being kept securely.

The Ministry of Justice was previously issued with a fine of £140,000 in October 2014 for separate data protection blunders. This incident saw the details of over a thousand prisoners emailed multiple times to the families of three inmates.

 

 

Inappropriate Sentences and Poor Representation in Youth Courts

A recent report has painted a damning picture of Britain’s youth justice system. The report suggests that cases involving child defendants are poorly handled, and the system is riddled with blunders such as inappropriate sentencing.

The problem, it seems, stems from a tendency within the law to unduly look down upon youth courts. They are often and dubiously treated as simpler than regular courts and even less important. For this reason, they are used as a way for young and inexperienced legal professionals to gather experience. The result is that young people are purely represented and receive little consideration for their needs. Due to a combination of general inexperience and lack of familiarity with the specifics of youth courts, legal professionals are prone to mistakes, blunders and poor practice. Frequent mistakes are made, particularly pushes for sentences that are incorrect or inappropriate.

The report compiles the findings of an enquiry by MPs led by Lord Carlile. The report contains a number of recommendations to remedy the situation and improve the standard of practice in youth courts. In particular, the report points out that the standard of specialist training for legal professionals practicing in youth courts are much lower and less consistent than in other, comparable specialist courts.

The large disparity between standards in youth justice courts and family courts, in particular, has highlighted as a point of concern by charity Just for Kids Law. Both courts handle cases involving children and young people whose needs are likely to be similar, yet legal professionals in one get far less specialist training than those in the other.

The report calls for the implementation of better training “without delay.” It suggests that professionals entering the youth justice system should benefit from at least ten hours’ worth of specialist training, followed by a two hour refresher course to be taken annually. This training would cover the needs of children going through the youth justice system in terms of welfare, development, communication and mental healthy. It would also cover the specialist laws relating to youth justice, and how child defendents can participate most fully and fairly in proceedings.

Most respondents to the enquiry agreed that significantly better training procedures should be implemented to solve the problems with the current system. Among these respondents was the Law Society, who also said that cases where under 18s appear in crown court should be the “rare exception.” The crown court, it said, was “inappropriate” for child defendants because its “intimidating nature” would prevent them from participating properly and compromise their right to a fair trial.

A violent criminal stays in Britain due to a legal blunder

A remarkable legal blunder by the Home Office has allowed a violent criminal to remain in Britain.

Hazhar Hassan Taha, who is a 24 year-old Iraqi man, was jailed for 17 months for violent disorder. After he was released, we won a legal challenge against deportation on human rights grounds.  Nevertheless, the Home office appealed to a senior judge, as part of a policy of determination to fight cases where there has been an apparent abuse of human rights legislation. A critical error was made by the immigration officials who failed to submit the legal paperwork and later failed to respond to requests from the court. What this error meant was that Upper Immigration Tribunal Judge Richard Chalkey dismissed the Home Office case without a hearing. Thus, now Taha has the right to freely remain in the country indefinitely.

This case shows clearly how inadequacies within the Home Office itself are spoiling the Government’s aim to deport more foreign criminals. Furthermore, Theresa May who is the Home Secretary has expressed her irritation with the failure of immigration judges to observe rules that are designed to restrict the use of the right to private life. However, the case of Taha shows how failings within the department of the Home Secretary herself contribute to the problem.

Furthermore, other parties have campaigned for human rights reform by pointing out to the fact that false human rights claims have to be scaled back because they frustrate the British deportation system.

Taha lives in Manchester. He has come to Britain in 2005 as an asylum seeker. His claim for refugee status was rejected within months but he still stayed in the United Kingdom. He was arrested in February 2008 for violent disorder.  He was involved in a mass fight which happened in Manchester where at least three other men were also involved. The police reported that weapons such as knives and hammers were used in the fight but it is uncertain whether Taha used the weapons. Taha himself was stabbed in the face and neck during the fight and after he was released from hospital, the police arrested him for his role in the violence. After Taha went on trial a year later, he escaped half way through the proceedings and in 2009, he married a British-born Muslim woman. The act of marriage to a British citizen can play a vital role in creating a defence against deportation if a criminal can show that his he has significant ties to this country and any deportation would have a disproportionate impact on his family.

Nevertheless, he was abiding unlawfully in the country and the legal failings have allowed for this to happen.

Tribunal Fees Prove Detrimental to Number of Claims

The controversial introduction of the new tribunal fees enforced in July have amounted to a plummeting in employment tribunal claims in the final quarter of 2013. The final quarter of 2013 showed that the number of claims made were 9,801 which represents a 70% fall compared with the final quarter in 2012 and comparing to the third quarter of the previous year (2013) there was a similar 75% reduction. These figures were anticipated by many professionals and academics which forecasted that there would be a major slump in employment tribunal claims as a result of the increased cost of legal action which was described as a move aimed to reduce the burden from those employees lower in the pecking order.

The fees which were introduced by the government in July meant that it now costs £250 to issue a claim which is up from £160, depending on the type of claim, with further hearing fees of between £230 and £950. The head of employment at London company Kingsley Napley, Richard Fox who is also chairman of the Employment Lawyers Tribunal stated “it is now clear that many employees have been deterred from bringing tribunal claims since fees were introduced last year”. He believes that although this door is now shut for many employees as a means to resolve their employment troubles, other options will soon open such as “by turning to trade unions to fight their corner”.

Unison the trade union last month sought to challenge the legality of the introduction of the new tribunal fees. Their legal action was subsequently dismissed by the High Court. In his judgment in the case of Unison v Lord Chancellor Mr Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Moses stated that the trade union’s case was premature and stated that at this stage there was a lack of concrete evidence which is needed to overturn the regime.

The trade union which was unhappy with the decision reached stated their intention to take their case further by lodging an appeal in the Court of Appeal. They want the court to reconsider the facts and especially the argument put forward that the fees will have a much more disproportionate effect on women than initially projected. The figures were labelled as ‘shocking’ according to the trade union’s general secretary, Dave Prentis. He stated that the negative effect which the fees for the tribunal system brought is no “blatantly obvious”. He says that their introduction is simply unfair and that they should be reversed to the old system. The argument put forward by the general secretary is that money should be no obstruction to justice whether that be for employment of accident claims solicitors, and that it is atrocious that this is the effect which the government is bringing on many workers across the country wishing to seek remedies through the tribunal system.

Made a blunder with PPI?

Payment Protection Insurance or PPI can be very complicated. It is not unusual for people to become confused when it comes to complicated financial products.  This has not been helped by when many an innocent borrower was trapped into wrong payment protection insurance policies by the salesmen at the banks and other financial institutions.  They made huge profits from commissions from sales and the insurance premiums people unwittingly were made to pay.

Have you taken an incorrect PPI policy that is of hardly any use to you? If so you are not alone. Millions of people realised that they had a policy that was not suitable for them. Also, many realised that they had been paying for PPI but didn’t even know they were doing so – they were opted into it without their knowledge. Whatever form the mis-selling of the PPI took – a claim for a PPI refund is your legal right.

The bank or the other organization that has entrapped you with the wrong policy will definitely try to prove you wrong or will even try to negotiate the condition and force you to finalize for much lesser that what you should be actually getting.

You are not legally bound to follow either of the terms that the bank proposes to you. In case you are facing difficulties and the bank is making your life hell you can seek the help of the  Financial Service Ombudsmen and acquire the right payment protection insurance policy.

If you have a busy schedule and you cannot afford to spare your time on such issues, you can contact PPI claims service providers at www.PPIClaimsAdviceLine.com. They can help you to get back your money. These PPI claims companies hire legal experts who specialize in such cases and also have full knowledge about the legal proceedings. While you approach any PPI claims service provider make sure to check that the company is approved and accredited by the Ministry of Justice or else you might land up fighting another legal war.

Wrongly-Accused Man Finally Released After 17 Years

A man who was wrongly convicted on a charge of sexual assault has finally been able to walk free. However, this comes only after losing 17 years of his life to prison. DNA evidence has pointed the law towards the fact he was not the real culprit, leading the court of appeal to finally set the man free.

Former postman Victor Nealon never stopped insisting he was innocent after being convicted of rape in 1997. He has now been proved right after the best part of two decades, and his conviction has been quashed. The Court of Appeal is yet to reveal the full details of the judgement, but they will do so at a later date according to Lord Justice Fulford.

The DNA evidence that has now overturned his conviction would have been “explosive” if it had been put before the original trial, according to Peter Willcock QC who was representing Nealon.

Nealon, who is now 53, had been jailed for life. This sentence was a discretionary one, but he was refused consideration for parole due to the fact he continually maintained his innocence. As it has turned out, he was telling the truth and denying him parole on these grounds merely lengthened a mistaken imprisonment.

Nealon appeared through a video link at the appeal. He did not speak, except to give enthusiastic thanks when it was said that his conviction would be overturned.

There were two previous attempts by Nealon to appeal against his sentence. However, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) refused to conduct DNA tests on the evidence from the trial. Ultimately, independent experts were commissioned to carry out the tests by solicitor Mark Newby, who works for Jordan’s Solicitors in Doncaster. When they were finally performed in 2010 the tests found that the DNA could not have come from Nealon. Instead, it belongs to another man whose identity currently remains unknown.

At first the Crown still resisted the validity of the DNA evidence. They claimed it could have been contaminated and the DNA could have come from other sources, for example the shops from which the clothes were purchased. However, the defence pointed out that the DNA was on multiple, separate items of clothing and in locations that were consistent with the way the attack had been described as taking place.

According to Leo O’Toole, Nealon’s friend and an avid campaigner for his release, welcomed the decision but said that “the damage to Victor – and to the victim – is irreversible. She will also now know that the real perpetrator got away free.” Ultimately, it took too long for the blunder to be corrected.