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News Roundup Week Ending 30 May 2014

Charlotte Rowles

By Charlotte Rowles on 29/05/14

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News Roundup Week Ending 30 May 2014

28 May 2014

Catherine Baski reports on the latest developments over cuts hitting the legal profession in The Law Gazette.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has responded to growing anger over its ‘sell out’ deal with the Ministry of Justice over legal aid cuts, announcing that it will ballot its members on whether to continue their protest action.

The deal, revealed yesterday, postpones the 6% cuts to the advocates graduated fee scheme until after the general election in return for an agreement from the bar leaders to end any further protest action over the cuts.

Chambers and individual barristers took to Twitter and web forums to voice their dismay at the deal.

Ian West, a barrister at Middlesbrough’s Fountain Chambers, resigned from the CBA executive committee in protest.

In a resignation letter, he told CBA chair Nigel Lithman QC (pictured) that the leadership had made a ‘grave mistake’ and that the agreement made with the MoJ was ‘entirely the wrong decision, short-sighted and unnecessary, and one I cannot stand, or defend’.

Henry Blaxland QC said in a statement issued on behalf of criminal barristers at London’s Garden Court chambers: ‘We wish to express our dismay at the deal negotiated by the CBA over the cuts in criminal legal aid. We had urged the CBA to support the action called by solicitors and probation officers next week.

‘Instead the CBA has, without consulting the membership, negotiated a deal with the MoJ, which leaves our colleagues to fight alone. This has provoked a great deal of anger at Garden Court and has caused some members to resign their membership of the CBA.’

In her letter of resignation from the CBA, Brenda Campbell of the same set said: ‘In exchange for a 15-month reprieve, we have abandoned our solicitor colleagues at a uniquely united and strong moment in our history. We’ve abandoned our future clients to an uncertain but almost certainly unjust future. We’ve abandoned any hope of a diverse, vibrant and skilled profession and have diluted our credibility in society.’

She added: ‘This is not a victory for our justice system. It is a cancer fought temporarily into remission only to return in a year’s time when our immune system will be significantly weakened.’

Solicitors, who are set to stage a two-day protest alongside probation staff next week, claimed the bar leaders had allowed Grayling to ’divide and rule’ the profession, which has shown a high level of unity in its opposition to the fee cuts.

Chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association Bill Waddington accused the bar leadership of using the unity of the profession to ‘pursue self-interest in a separate secret negotiation’.

Responding to the criticism, Lithman issued a statement today saying the CBA had received a ‘sufficient number’ of calls for it to be required to constitute an extraordinary general meeting, forcing a vote on the deal.

CBA members will be asked: ‘Do you wish to continue no returns and days of action until all the cuts and reduction in contracts are abandoned?’

Lithman sought to explain why the CBA had agreed to the course of action, denying it was a ‘jobs for the boys deal’, instead insisting that it protected the junior bar from the worst excesses of the cuts. He said the MoJ ‘threw in a very large flannel, if not a towel, by way of submission’.

Lithman told his members that the Bar Council vice-chair, CBA and circuit leaders met the MoJ on Tuesday evening.

‘There was no mediation and no negotiation. They presented us with a non-negotiable and non-divisible one-off deal – if not accepted, there would be no more offers.'

Lithman said the leaders were given a ‘two-day window’ to decide whether ’to continue to expose juniors to the damaging cuts that would be introduced in July’.

The decision to accept the offer, he said, was made in an emergency meeting of the CBA executive with the ’overwhelming’ support of the CBA executive and circuit leaders and heads of chambers who were consulted.

'It was not practical to ballot the bar in the time frame,’ he argued. He told his members: ‘We genuinely believed we could get you no better.’

He told the Gazette the deal, which kicked the cuts past the general election, would mean they ‘will disappear forever’.

Responding to criticism that he had betrayed solicitors, he told the Gazette: ‘I can’t ignore the fact that my only mandate is to represent criminal barristers.’ But he insisted that many solicitor higher court advocates will also benefit from the deal.

In his statement, Lithman said: ‘We have not abandoned the solicitors, we recognise their plight and will continue to support their campaign in all practical ways that we can, for example we will not undertake their work during their days of action.’

He said the leadership of the solicitor associations had been strong, but had ’not secured the same level of unity of purpose and resolve among their membership as has been shown by the bar.’

Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, pointed out that the government's reviews will apply ‘precisely and equally’ to the second tranche of solicitor legal aid cuts, which would also not take effect until June next year. ‘If an election stops the cuts it will stop all the June 2015 cuts,’ he said.

28 May 2014

The Guardian’s Peter Walker writes revelations in the trial of Rolf Harris.

Rolf Harris has admitted to a court that a lengthy and secretive affair with a much younger friend of his daughter reveals a "darker side" to his entertainer's exterior. He described the relationship with the woman 35 years his junior as little more than "sex with no frills".

The 84-year-old artist and television performer spent a sometimes testing five hours being cross-examined on details of the relationship, in notable contrast to his first day of evidence, where he regaled before the jury he impersonated a wobble board and performed a brief rendition of his song Jake the Peg.

Answering questions from Sasha Wass QC, Harris repeatedly told Southwark crown court that the first sexual contact took place when the woman was 18, rather than 13 as she has testified. He nonetheless admitted that he kept the affair from his daughter, Bindi, and wife, Alwen, for many years, and that a "furious" Bindi smashed two of his paintings when she eventually learned what had happened.

The trial was, Wass told Harris, not a showcase for his performances: "This case is about whether, under your friendly and lovable exterior, there is a darker side lurking. You know that, don't you?"

Wass pressed Harris on whether his private and public faces were different. He replied: "I suppose so."

She continued: "You are pretty good, Mr Harris, aren't you, at disguising that dark side of your character?" He replied: "Yes."

The alleged victim, whose claims form seven of the 12 counts of indecent assault against Harris, says he first groped her on a holiday, also complimenting her on how she looked in a bikini. Wass asked if commenting on a 13-year-old's appearance in swimwear was a remark with a sexual overtone. Harris replied: "In hindsight, I suppose it is." The barrister pressed the star on whether he had admired the girl's body. He said: "It's possible, yes."

Wass said: "Once we work out that you did see [the alleged victim] in a sexual light on that holiday, everything that she says becomes realistic." He responded: "Not as far as I'm concerned, because it never happened."

Wass asked Harris at length about the eight occasions he says the pair had sexual contact, spanning from when she was 18 to 29. The entertainer conceded that he barely spoke to the woman during that time, recounting just one chat when he sought to cover evidence of their relationship.

"Ten years, and the only conversation you can recall is about cleaning your sperm from the sheets. It wasn't a deep relationship, was it?" Wass asked. "I don't suppose it was," Harris replied.

Asked to characterise the relationship, Harris said: "It was sex with no frills, now and again, when the opportunity arose."

Harris said he believed the alleged victim told Bindi about the affair during the 1990s. His daughter confronted him about it when he returned from a trip abroad, he said. "She had a huge row with me about the affair. I believe she started the conversation, but I can't remember. I blanked it out of my mind."

Harris added: "When I came back, she'd smashed a couple of paintings I'd given her. She was absolutely furious."

He denied he had coached Bindi, scheduled to be a defence witness, to say the relationship started at 18. However, he agreed with Wass's characterisation of his daily arrival at the court with Alwen and Bindi as "a show" for the cameras. Harris said: "Yes it is. To show support."

The court has heard how Harris was confronted by the alleged victim's family in the 1990s after she told them about the alleged abuse. Harris told the court that he was not certain then that sexual activity with someone so young was illegal, saying: "I don't think people knew much about that at the time."

But he dismissed the alleged victim's claims, saying: "She said all sorts of things which, if they weren't so serious, would have been laughable."

Nonetheless, Harris said, while he did nothing illegal, he was not proud of the relationship. "It was a mutual affair. She consented to everything we did. In moral terms, I had certainly not been the whitest of white and pure."

Such was the shame, he added, that his first statement to police last year omitted to mention the sexual contact when the woman was 18, as he was too embarrassed to explain it in front of "two very attractive young ladies among the lawyers' chambers".

Led by Wass through the various claims he faces – 12 counts of indecent assault involving four women, and similar allegations from six other women which involve no formal charges – Harris insisted the alleged victims were lying. "They're all making it up," he said.

Wass pointed out the similarities between many of the claims, saying: "It's all a lie, you say, but it's all the same lie."

During a break from Harris's evidence, which continues on Thursday, the court heard from another defence witness, Paul Elliott, a theatre producer known as "the king of pantomime". Elliott said Harris had appeared in 11 of his pantomimes over 15 years in casts full of children and young women, without one complaint being made. Harris was prone to hugging people, Elliott said, but only in "a warm, cuddly, friendly way".

Harris, who lives in Bray, Berkshire, denies all 12 counts of indecent assault. The other claims cannot be prosecuted because they allegedly happened outside the UK before the date at which offences overseas could be brought to trial in Britain.

The trial continues.

24 May 2014

In the Telegraph, William Langley meets Kent’s Police and Crime Commisioner, star of a new TV documentary.

Has Ann Barnes, the controversial Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, made her worst public relations move yet by agreeing to a fly-on-the-wall documentary?

“COME IN, sit down,” booms crime tsar Ann Barnes from her softly-humming hub of troubled operations. “I want you to be comfortable.” As office sofas go there’s not much wrong with Ann’s big, squashy number, except that it’s more like getting a seat in the dress circle.

Since the Government established the office of elected Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012, little has been heard of them. Mrs Barnes, who landed the job for Kent, is something of an exception. She has barely been out of the headlines – usually the wrong kind; accused of extravagance (she moved her office less than two miles at a cost of £200,000), behaving like a diva, and appointing a Vicky Pollardesque 17-year-old “Youth Commissioner”, who had to resign for alleged bigotry. Not that the retired teacher is feeling deflated. “Being called a diva is probably the most flattering thing anyone’s ever said about me,” she says defiantly.

She now faces a further embarrassment — a fly-on-the-wall television documentary, to be screened this week, shows her painting her nails at her office desk and, worse still, struggling to explain what she actually does.

At one point in the hour-long film she is asked: “What is a police commissioner?”

“Oh dear,” she replies, “…what is a police commissioner? Right, well, it is not a police commissioner, it is a police and crime commissioner. It’s a strange job, there’s no job description at all. There are certain responsibilities you have, but no actual job description.”

In another scene, she gazes blankly at a hand-drawn chart of wobbly concentric circles on an office whiteboard, which she is using to describe the types of crime the Kent police force prioritises. When she is asked what the rings actually represent, she doesn’t know.

So what does she do? The idea behind the PCCs was that they would give the public a direct say over how local forces operate. “My main job is to hold the Chief Constable to account. I’ve had 9,000 items of correspondence from the public — the things people ask for more than anything else is visible policing — and although there are lots of things I simply can’t help with, I do get an idea of what people are most concerned about.

“Part of my job is explaining what I can’t do,” she adds. “I can’t put two officers at the end of your street, for instance.”

We meet at the PCC’s office at Kent Police’s headquarters in Maidstone in a suite that Mrs Barnes — attractive, talkative, and extremely well-preserved for 68 — and her staff of 15 took over from the firearms unit. A keen amateur actress, she has played roles ranging from Hippolyta, the Amazonian queen of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to, as she says, “the back end of a pantomime horse”, but her surprise casting as Kent’s £85,000-a-year police chief is a different kind of challenge. The boos from the paying public appear to be growing louder, and the critics are demanding a change in the starring role.

One of them, Tory country councillor Rupert Turpin, who sits on the Kent Police and Crime Panel, last week called the Channel Four programme “a fiasco”, adding: “From what I have seen, it was extremely ill-advised. She doesn’t have a strong grasp of detail, and brings the whole force into disrepute.”

Mrs Barnes is unrepentant, and up to a point you can see why. In her election campaign she promised to be “the most visible and accessible police commissioner in the UK.” Keen to follow through on the pledge, she spent £15,000 on a minivan, since christened “Ann Force 1” to race around the county’s towns and villages, where “I can meet the real people”.

As the documentary shows, these meetings are rarely of the “sit-down-make-yourself-comfortable” variety. Unsuspecting shoppers in a branch of Asda are accosted with aisle-shaking cries of: “Hello, I’m Ann!” while in sleepy hamlets the approach of her van signals a furious onslaught of door-knockings.

This is why she wanted the job. “You see, my great strength is that I genuinely like people.”

Mrs Barnes works a full five-day week with regular evening sessions. There is no such thing as a typical day – although she can reckon on two or three meetings with, for example, representatives of a local council, a Governance Board session with senior officers, and maybe an evening speech at a Rotary Club or a domestic abuse seminar.

Kent is a “very large, diverse county”, and the gateway to Europe, with a lot of foreign movement — legal or otherwise — causing complications in terms of the kind of policing needed. “Also it’s economically very patchy, with some very wealthy areas and others that are hard up.”

There’s no doubting her appetite for the job. Rising from her office chair she flourishes a densely-spaced, 11-page list of recent engagements, which range from a “community outreach bus tour” of Margate and Broadstairs to the setting up of a Gypsy Roma Police Association at the Mercure Hotel in Maidstone.

So far, she says, the best part of her job has been “getting among the public”; while the worst was having to accept a 20 per cent government funding cut with the loss of 500 police officers.

Before her arrival, she says, the county’s crime figures weren’t sufficiently accurate, but she claims they are now probably the best in the country. “I commissioned a proper analysis of the figures, and made it clear that they had to be improved. And I’m very encouraged by the results.”

Sceptics including the Labour Party, which opposed the creation of PCCs, claim they are a waste of money and get in the way of efficient policing, but Mrs Barnes insists the public response has been favourable. “I spend a huge amount of my time meeting people and we have achieved a lot.”

She cites a programme of mobile police stations and measures to boost the Special Constabulary and Neighbourhood Watch.

“I do hope people will enjoy the programme, and get a better idea of what I am trying to do,” she continues. “When I was canvassing for the job, it was clear that no one really knew anything about the PCC’s role, and I spent most of my time not actually asking people to vote for me, but explaining what the thing was about. We had a very low turnout [16.3 per cent], but even that was well above the national average.

“So I have spent a lot of my time since trying to get the message across to people about how we can help them. Obviously, Channel Four put their own slant on the programme, they are entitled to do that, but I think, actually, it made me out to be a much nicer person than I am. I can be quite sharp at times, but I’m very knowledgeable about the policing world.”

Mrs Barnes spent 27 years teaching English and business studies at state secondary schools in Merseyside and Kent, sat until recently as a JP and until her election win chaired the Kent police authority. Yet the damaging stories keep coming. She is said to have caused outrage by parking her van in the force HQ’s disabled bay and to have clashed with Chief Constable Alan Pughsley over which of them should appear on TV news interviews.

Is she merely having a bad run, or — as some of her staff suspect — is someone out to get her? It is no secret that the new PCCs have been less than popular with the ordinary coppers they now lord it over. A hostile newspaper story earlier this year quoted a “senior source” as saying: “She is deeply unpopular in the force, and people say her office is a horrible place to work. There was a lot of unease about the money spent on her new office when people are losing their jobs.”

Mrs Barnes declines to speculate, but insists she has good relations with the force and has “fulfilled all the promises I made”. She is particularly proud of having cleaned up the force’s crime-reporting methods. An independent audit she commissioned found that 10 per cent of crimes were “under-recorded”, which is to say that they were classified as something less serious than they really were, or, in some cases, not recorded at all. She says the figures are now “significantly better”.

The one big howler she owns up to was the appointment of Paris Brown, a Mockney-voiced Sheerness teenager, as her £15,000-a-year Youth Commissioner. It soon transpired that Paris had left a trail of offensive posts on her social media accounts in which she boasted of drug-taking and sexual encounters, made derogatory comments about “pikeys” and gays, and referred to immigrants as “illegals”. She stepped down when the storm broke, but it was largely Mrs Barnes who carried the can.

“What went wrong was that the force didn’t check her social media. Paris would have been very good, and it was the right idea, but some of the things she had said were very wrong, and she and her family decided she should withdraw.”

The new Youth Commissioner, 19-year-old gap year student Kerry Boyd from Margate — a former head girl with a squeaky-clean CV — began work last month. Kerry is “perfect for the job”, which Mrs Barnes considers essential as around a quarter of Kent’s population is under 25.

Mrs Barnes has lived in Kent since moving south from St Helens, Lancashire, in the early Seventies. “We were a working-class family,” she says. “My grandfathers were miners and my dad worked for the Co-op and was a trade unionist.” Although she won’t reveal who she votes for: “Me, I’m strictly an Independent.”

So is the curtain about to fall on this diva’s contentious performance? Not likely: Mrs Barnes has every intention not merely of carrying on, but standing for re-election in 2016. Along with the acting, she says, she plays a mean game of poker. “And I never blink.”

Meet The Police Commissioner will be broadcast on Channel 4 on Thursday 29 May at 9pm