Your round-up of the stories that you should discuss at interview this week:
- Justice System
Reported by Dan James
The Criminal Bar backs introducing cameras in more courts
The Criminal Bar Association has cautiously said that filming proceedings in more courts has the potential to work well, as long as it is implemented sensitively. This statement comes following the Victim’s Commissioner recent suggestion that more cameras may lead to Barristers changing their sometimes “aggressive” behaviour.
When speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Baroness Newlove said that cameras “may change the behaviours of some of the key participants, such as aggressive barristers or defendants who show contempt for the justice process.” Newlove went on to say that cameras should not however affect the anonymity of victims of sexual assault, where a victim is viewed as vulnerable or the victim is a child.
The Vice Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Chris Henley, added that the association welcomes “all carefully managed initiatives” if they aim to improve transparency throughout the court system.
Henley did however warn that “nothing must compromise the interests of justice, the primacy of a fair trial, and respecting the interests of vulnerable witnesses, witnesses generally and defendants. These matters would need extremely sensitive and vigilant consideration if it was ultimately proposed to televise, live or recorded, proceedings in the Crown court on a more routine basis”.
Proceedings in the Supreme Court have been made able to be broadcast live since October 2014. A year later, an on-demand archive of past recorded hearings was made available to the public. The most popular recording to date remains the Article 50 Brexit Appeal from 2016.
For more information, see here.
- Criminal Law
Reported by Rui Ci Lee
Loophole in UK gun laws abused for criminal activities
A loophole in the UK gun laws is allowing antique handguns to be brought into the UK and used in criminal activities.
Section 58 of the Firearms Act 1968 provides that antique firearms can be possessed in the country without having to obtain a licence, so long as they are held as a curiosity or ornament.
This provision has been abused by offenders to bring antique weapons in the country which are then sold to be used in criminal activities. For instance, guns and ammunition supplied by registered gun dealer Paul Edmunds were linked to more than 100 crime scenes. He was convicted of conspiring to supply arms and ammunition in December 2017.
The Policing and Crime Act 2017 considers a firearm to be an antique firearm if it is chambered to discharge obsolete cartridges, their propulsion system is, or both. In other words, firearms on the obsolete calibre list do not require a licence to be owned.
While redefining ‘antique firearms’ would strengthen public security, antique collectors worry that changing the law will inhibit heritage preservation. To quote Derek Stimpson of the British Shooting Sports Council, ‘Our concern is that if these are taken off the list the law-abiding collectors don’t have them, we lose part of heritage – once it’s gone it’s gone.’
- Prison System
Reported by Sarah Mullane
Government has to take over control of HMP Birmingham from private firm
A finding of ‘significant failures’ at Birmingham prison has resulted in the government announcing temporary state control over its management. Following inspections at HMP Birmingham, the Ministry of Justice has been forced to take over the running of the prison from G4S, a private integrated security company, who have held a 15-year contract for the prison since 2011.
The damning inspection of the jail revealed that it was in a ‘state of crisis’, with inspectors uncovering filthy, squalid conditions, such as blood, vomit and rat droppings over the floor; free-roaming cockroaches; staff sleeping on the job; and what was described as an ‘overpowering’ smell of drugs. Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, described how he was forced to leave one wing of the prison due to the stench of the drugs, claiming it was the worst prison he had ever been to.
Writing to Justice Secretary David Gauke, Mr Clarke raised significant concerns over recent prisoner deaths inside the prison, referring to three recent synthetic cannabis related deaths, and three self-inflicted death, all over the course of eighteen months. In addition, HMP Birmingham was recorded as having the highest figure of assaults for any prison in England and Wales during 2017. In light of these failures, the government has stepped in and announced the immediate implementation of extra staff in the prison, and for its inmate capacity to be cut by 300.
This is thought to be the first time that the government has had to intervene in such a way into the affairs of a privately-run UK prison, and doing so midway through a contract.