Lawyer’s Description of Child Abuse Victim as “Predatory” is Lost in Translation

By Pravin Jeyaraj

Barrister in courtRobert Colover (not pictured), the barrister instructed by The Crown Prosecuting Service (CPS) to prosecute Neil Wilson for sleeping with a 13-year old girl, was himself criticised by the CPS  for referring to the victim as “predatory” and “sexually experienced”.

Taking Colover’s comments, Judge Nigel Peters gave Wilson, who pleaded guilty to two counts of making extreme pornographic images and one count of sexual activity with a child, an eight-month prison sentence suspended for two years.

The CPS said that the language used by its own representative was “inappropriate” and emphasised that the defendant, Wilson, was the one in the wrong. It said that it would not instruct Colover again unless he could satisfactorily explain the use of his words, in response to a petition started by childhood sex abuse survivor and signed by 4,000 people. Children’s charities have criticised the language used by Colover as wrong. The case was brought to the attention of the Attorney General’s office, which will be considering whether to refer it to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentence scheme.

One would usually expect the defence lawyer, in acting for his or her client, to cast doubt on the character and testimony of a sexual abuse victim. So, it is odd that, in this case, this was done by the prosecution lawyer, whose role is perhaps to achieve some form of justice for the victim.  However, in the BBC news story,  Carl Gardiner, a former government legal adviser, is right to warn of the danger of commenting without knowing all the facts: “The use of this word ‘predatory’ and the other remarks sounds bad to me, but we don’t know how that word introduced itself into the court.” That is sound advice that will probably go unheeded. The Wilson case is not the first time that the media – and through them, other organisations – have attacked the words uttered during a court hearing, though usually it is just the judge’s sentencing that causes ire. It is more likely that something was lost in translation. According to Niklaas Luhmann, the law and the media are closed systems of communications that each translate information into meaning in different ways. In a sense, they use different languages, so they cannot duplicate the meaning of each other’s communications. Gardiner maybe right that if we actually heard or read a word-for-word report, or at least a report with enough quotations, would understand why Colover spoke the way he did. It just would not be interesting enough for the media.

Barrister criticised for calling child abuse victim ‘predatory‘”, BBC News, 7 August 2013

       “Lawyer who called 13-year old ‘predatory’ is barred from sex offences cases“, Rosa Silverman and Hayley Dixon, The Telegraph, 7 August 2013

A Story of Miscarriage: Law and the Media” by Richard Nobles and David Schiff, Journal of Law and Society, 31, 2, 221-244, June 2004

Daniel Stani-Reginald: Idolising Serial murderers

By Adam Lynes

An Australian teenager raped and murdered his neighbour after researching how someone becomes a serial murderer. Stani-Reginald, displaying clear signs of premeditation, planned his crime for months in advance as part of his ‘education’, a Sydney court heard in April this year. After he murdered and disposed of his victim, the now twenty-one year old returned home to continue his reading on how to become a serial killer.

In March 2011, the teenager violently raped then used a cord to strangle accounting student Tosha Thakkar, 24, a neighbour in their Croydon boarding house. He then proceeded to stuff her body into a suitcase, hail a taxi and then dumpit in a canal. Despite the killer planning his crime months in advance, he did not take into account the CCTV footage that would implicate him in Thakkar’s murder and he quickly came to the attention of the Police.

Upon the authorities closing in on the wanna-be serial killer, they combed through Stani-Reginald’s computer and found nearly 10,000 website visits from searches including backpacker killer Ivan Milat, US cult leader Charles Manson and the infamous British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, better known as the “Yorkshire Ripper”.

The case of Stani-Reginald shares striking similarities to the British serial killer Stephen Griffiths. Griffiths, who was studying for a PhD, was found guilty for the murder of three women in Bradford, England, between 2009-2010. Upon his arrest, it became apparent that Griffiths was also heavily influenced by other serial killers spending much of his time researching individual cases. Specifically, Griffiths was inspired by the murders of Peter Sutcliffe, who committed most of his murders in the Bradford area during the 1970s.

Griffiths and Stani-Reginald bring attention to an important issue, which is the increasing glamorisation of the serial killer in the media. Through this representation, and the overwhelming media coverage during periods where an active serial killer is on the loose, it is little wonder a small number of individuals are inspired by such cases and may wish to emulate such crimes for themselves. Will the media change the way in which such offenders are portrayed? Or will the lucrative selling point of the serial killer result in their increasing glamorisation?

Teenager Daniel Stani-Reginald, who raped, murdered and stuffed Indian student in a suitcase sentenced to 45 years, Daily Telegraph, May 17, 2013

Keith Soothill, Moira Peelo, Brian Francis,Jayn Pearson, Elizabeth Ackerley, Homicide and the Media: Identifying the Top Cases in The Times, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 41, Issue 5, pages 401–421, December 2002

Scottish independence under UK law

By Pravin Jeyaraj

Scottish flagThe Scottish Parliament will have the final say on the wording of the question in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, according to Deputy First Minister Nichola Sturgeon

Responding to a call to fully accept the Electoral Commission’s recommendations on the staging of the ballot, she said that for other referendums held under UK legislation, the Government chooses the question, the Electoral Question tests it and Parliament votes on it.

However, she added that a departure from the Electoral Commission’s recommendations would demand an explanation to Parliament; she was just unable to comment on the recommendations before she had actually seen them.

There is an inevitable irony in Scotland seeking independence under the very rules from which it must rely on to gain independence. It is perhaps a consequence of the UK’s unwritten constitutions and the sovereignty of the UK Parliament in Westminster. Whatever the Scottish Government decides, it does so because it is the will of the UK Parliament, and this is reflected in the weight given to the Electoral Commission recommendations.

 “Sturgeon: Holyrood has final say on referendum question“, The Herald, 29 January 2013

  “The New Model Wales” by Richard Rawlings, Journal of Law and Society, 25, 4, 461-509, December 1998

Political Career Terminated for Unwanted Opinion

By Pravin Jeyaraj

10 week old FoetusFormer UKIP candidate Geoffrey Clark was suspended after calling for an urgent NHS review into compulsory abortions of foetuses with Down Syndrome or spina bifida to reduce the national debt.

Clark argued on his website that people with the conditions could become financial burdens on the state. He also said a review should consider the legalisation of euthanasia for people aged over 80.

He stated that his comments were his personal opinion and that he was trying to provoke a national debate “for those disenfranchised with our politicians”. With reference to the Paralympics, Mencap branded his view “abhorrent” and questioned whether he was fit for public office.

On the face of it, it makes sense that Clark’s candidature – for the Meopham North ward on Gravesend Borough Council in Thursday’s by-election – was suspended; he seems to have said the government should consider eugenics. But all he has argued for is a review of existing government policy and whether it should be changed. He has said himself that he does not support abortion and calling for a review is not the same as calling for a particular policy itself. His call for an NHS review would seem to fit one of the purposes of free speech – to check the abuse of official power, in this case presumably to spend taxpayers’ money. It could be argued therefore that, far from being unfit for public office as Mencap suggests, he is carrying out his obligations as an election candidate seeking public office.

Even if Clarke believed that the NHS should perform compulsory abortions, it is somewhat disturbing that someone’s political career can be ruined for stating a personal opinion, especially when politics is arguably about the debate of opinions. In a democratic election, it should have been left to the voters of Meopham North, to judge whether his opinion was objectionable or important in the context of his manifesto. It could be argued that Clarke has been subjected to the same treatment that he potentially proposed for Down’s and spina bifida foetuses, i.e. the denial of his legal subjectivity.

UKIP suspends Down’s syndrome abortion call candidate“, BBC News, 18 December 2012

The Checking Value in First Amendment Theory” by Vincent Blasi, Law and Social Inquiry, 2, 3, 521-649, July 1977

   “A Critical Review of Law’s Meaning of Life: Philosophy, Religion, Darwin and the Legal Person” by Bryan Thomas, Journal of Law and Society, 38, 4, 631-646, December 2011

New Criminal Offences to be Introduced

By Adam Lynes

Numerous new criminal sentences have been introduced in both England and Wales, along with ‘tougher’ punishments for existing criminal offences. Included in this new batch of offences is the aggravated possession of a knife’, and an obligatory life sentence for anyone who commits a second serious violent or sexual offences.

Ministers, who are reported to have said that they are determined to reduce the amount of severe offences by targeting individuals who are considered ‘violent’, stated that some dangerous prisoners will have to serve two-thirds or the whole of their sentences, instead of parole after half the sentence is served.

The introduction of aggravated knife possession is intended to focus upon individuals who carry and brandish knives in a public location and schools. Due to the implementation of these new offences, judges will now have to give custodial sentences. Specifically, a minimum of six months for an adult or a four-month detention and training order for 16 and 17 year olds.

Another big implementation is the ‘two strikes’ system. This new system, which has actually been implemented before only to be overturned, includes a compulsory life sentence for individuals who are found guilt for a subsequent sexual or violent crime. The Government is also introducing the ‘EDS’, otherwise referred to as extended determinate sentences. This new system is apparently being introduced to tackle individuals who are considered ‘dangerous’ but do not technically fall under this new ‘two strike’ system. This new system means that prisoners who fall under ‘EDS’ will not be released from incarceration after serving half of their sentence. Instead, such individuals will have to serve at least two-thirds of their sentence and may be detained until the end of it.

Upon being questioned by reporters, Mr Grayling stated that “It certainly means a small number of additional prisoners going to prison for longer, and I am all in favour of that.” Upon being asked about the new ‘two strike’ system, he is reported to have said that this new system would only apply to serious sexual offences and violent offences. He said the two-strike rule would apply to serious sexual offences or violent crimes.”Everyone deserves a second chance. If they don’t use that second chance they go to prison for life,” he said.

Is this new ‘tough on crime’ regime a good idea, will it reduce reoffending rates and subsequently the prison population? Or will it simply lead to more people in prison serving even longer sentences? What should be done instead?

New sentences and criminal offences come into effect, ITV, 3rd December, 2012

books_iconAnthony E. Bottoms, Limiting Prison Use: Experience in England and Wales, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 26, Issue 3, pages 177-202, August 1987

9th International Workshop for Young Scholars (WISH): Conference Program Now Online!

European Law JournalThe European Law Journal is proud to support the 2012 International Workshop for Young Scholars, taking place at Peking University, School of Transnational Law, from 29 November to 1 December 2012.

To view the programme for this event, click here.

Policeman in Court on Charges of Plotting “Cannibalism” Crimes

By Adam Lynes

A police officer in New York City has been arrested for the intent to abduct women, rape and torture them, and then finally cook and devour their body parts. Gilberto Valle, who is 28 years old, is being detained in custody without bail on charges that consist of kidnapping conspiracy and unauthorised use of law enforcement databases. It was the suspect’s wife that ultimately led to suspicions on Valle’s activities.

In regards to how the suspect is alleged to have selected his victims, officials state Valle used his resources as a New York City police officer to access restricted records to identify potential targets. This information highlights how certain occupations provides offenders, or, in the case if Valle, potential offenders, both access and opportunity. For Valle, being a police officer, a position generally well respected in society, also offered authority. There are examples of British serial killers who were also employed in what are considered prestigious and authoritive occupations –  such as Reginald Christie who was a war time constable; Michael Copeland who served in the Army; and Dennis Nilsen who also served in the Army and the police service.

Referring back to Valle, who served the police for six years, it has been reported that he sat quietly through the hearing. His public defence lawyers have argued the alleged plans were a deviant “fantasy in a sexual world”, and that he had never brought these fantasies into the real world and onto a living individual. Prosecutors have responded, though, insisting that the suspect’s fantasies were very close to becoming a reality. His wife was a key witness in the prosecutors’ allegations, who, despite being separated from Valle, contacted the authorities  after discovering troubling material on the computer.

Once the authorities were notified, the FBI seized the suspect’s computer and discovered alarming messages between Valle and a “co conspirator”. One notable exchange between the suspect and his co conspirator includes the latter asking Valle how his meal was, in which he responded “I am meeting her.” A further search on his computer apparently discovered the names and address information of at least 100 women.

Drawing back to the issue of occupation, Chief Manhattan federal prosecutor Preet Bharara said: “This case is all the more disturbing when you consider Valle’s position as a New York City police officer and his sworn duty to serve and protect.”

New York cannibal cop Gilberto Valle accused of ‘profoundly disturbing allegations’ he planned to kill and eat 100 womenThe Independent, 26th October, 2012

Suzanne Curnoe, Ron Langevin, Personality and deviant sexual fantasies: An examination of the MMPIs of sex offenders, Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 7, pages 803-815, July 2002