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News Round-Up Week Ending 31.10.14

(Posted on 31/10/14)

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News Round-Up Week Ending 31.10.14

Fitted Up Good and Proper

George Thatcher served 18 years for his part in the Mitcham Co-op Murder of 1962, of which he has always maintained his innocence.

Fitted Up, Thatcher’s own story, is reviewed by Duncan Campbell in the Guardian: “The tale is a timely reminder of an era when, as Geoffrey Robertson says, juries tended to believe what they were told by the police and prosecution, and were disinclined to think that anything untoward could have happened. It is a valuable contribution to the literature of miscarriages of justice.”

In 1974 Thatcher placed an ad in the New Statesman asking if anyone would like to visit him in prison. He had one reply, from an English teacher called Val. Today they live together in Ireland as husband and wife. 

“We have finally managed to find peace and contentment,” Val writes in the book’s epilogue.

Stock in Trade

Another new book of an old miscarriage of justice is featured on the Open Democracy website. Stubborn justice: the astonishing case of Tony Stock is written by Jon Robins, editor of The Justice Gap.

“The old case of Tony Stock shows up much that continues to be wrong in the criminal justice system. For victims of wrongful conviction today, quality representation is increasingly hard to obtain,” solicitor Glyn Maddocks writes, also on opendemocracy.net.

“I get on average about one enquiry a week from prisoners and ex-prisoners who want me to help them to clear their names and to represent them. I have had to turn away a large number who probably have a good case, but resources just aren’t available. The first miscarriage case I took, in the early 1990s, was the case of Tony Stock, who was convicted of the 1970 violent robbery of a Tesco supermarket manager in Leeds.

“Tony Stock’s case symbolises a great deal of what continues to be wrong with our criminal justice system. He could not possibly have been involved… There’s the simple but compelling fact that a supergrass whose evidence had been relied on to put away all the other gang members for 20+ year sentences, and was prepared to give evidence under oath and put his life at risk at the Court of Appeal and say “I did it, Tony Stock didn’t, he wasn’t there and none of us knew him.”   In our system, it doesn’t get much better than when someone says “I did it, he didn’t”.”

The Laws Don’t Work

A Home Office report has found no evidence that tough laws on possession of drugs reduce drug use.

“Banging people up and increasing sentences does not stop drug use,” announced Liberal Democrat Minister Norman Baker, condemning the “lazy assumption in the right-wing press that if you have harsher penalties it will reduce drug use, but there is no evidence for that at all. If anything the evidence is to the contrary.”

“This government has absolutely no intention of decriminalising drugs,” a Home Office spokesman countered. “Our drugs strategy is working.” 

Others disagree. “This is a historic moment in the development of UK drug policy,” declared Transform Drug Policy Foundation founder Danny Kushlick. “For the first time in over 40 years the Home Office has admitted that enforcing tough drug laws doesn’t necessarily reduce levels of drug use. It has also acknowledged that decriminalising the possession of drugs doesn’t increase levels of use.”

Unwarranted Attention at GCHQ

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have secret arrangements to access material collected by foreign agencies like the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Documents submitted to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, after a legal challenge, reveal that information from overseas partners can be obtained without a warrant, providing there is no “deliberate circumvention” of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa): a “Ripa interception warrant is not as a matter of law required in all cases in which unanalysed intercepted communications might be sought from a foreign government.” 

Campaigners say the revelation casts doubt on legal safeguards in the UK.

“We now know that data from any call, internet search, or website you visited over the past two years could be stored in GCHQ’s database and analysed at will, all without a warrant to collect it in the first place,” Privacy International deputy director Eric King reacted. “It is outrageous.”

“It is time the government comes clean on such crucial issues for people’s privacy as the sharing of communications intercepts with foreign governments,” said Amnesty International’s Mike Bochenek. “Secret rules are woefully inadequate.”

Probation PLC

Half of the probation services in England and Wales are to be privatised. Sodexo and Interserve are preferred bidders to run 11 of 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).

“This announcement brings together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to set up our battle against reoffending, and to bring innovative new ways of working with offenders,” Justice Secretary Chris Grayling trumpeted. “I am really pleased that we will be deploying the skills of some of Britain’s best rehabilitation charities to help these offenders turn their lives around.”

Probation workers have warned that the changes put officers, offenders and members of the public at risk, with overworked staff unable to access information about the people for whom they are responsible.

"When you change the system there is naturally nervousness amongst the people who work in the old system,” Justice Minister Simon Hughes told BBR Radio 4’s Today programme. “But we have taken our time, we have done this deliberatively, it's not done in a rush, there’s been piloting of the new sorts of system in parts of the country.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan saw it differently. “It is a fact that there has been no piloting of these plans," he told Politics.co.uk. “What's more, Chris Grayling cancelled the pilots of the scheme in his first week in the job, instead boasting to the House of Commons he prefers to 'trust his instinct' over hard, statistical evidence.”

The public probation service will retain control of services for high-risk offenders.