Category Archives: Law

The awesome triumph of austerity applied to UK legal aid

Takes a comedian to make the point most brutally:

First, Legal Aid will have an eligibility threshold of thirty seven and a half thousand pounds. To be fair, that doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world. And I can be confident about that, because right there next to it, as if deliberately placed for purposes of comparison, are two of the worst ideas in the world. One. Defendants will no longer have the right to choose their own lawyer. Two. Legal Aid contracts will be awarded, on the basis of price competitive tender, ie who’s cheapest, to private companies. Like Tesco and Eddie Stobart. You know, the lorry guy. Though I’m sure he’s also an excellent lawyer.

So, instead of you picking a solicitor on the basis of how well you think they’ll represent you, the new plan is that the government will choose one for you, on the basis of how cheap they are. And they will be very cheap indeed – a minimum of 17.5% below current rates, but of course with competitive tendering, it’s all about how low can you go… the floor’s the limit! You might almost wonder whether this could affect the quality of the representation in any way at all. But the government assure us it will not, and of course they’re right. We all know from our own lives that the cheaper you go, the more the quality stays exactly the same. But just out of curiosity, how do they intend to ensure quality? Well, Chris Grayling, Minister for Justice and dispenser of none, has given a clear and simple answer- he doesn’t know. Not yet. That’s one of the things they’ll work out now they’ve had the consultation. But they’ve worked out what they want to do, and precisely how much money they know it’ll save, somehow – that’s the important thing, surely? They can fill in the boring ‘how the hell will it work’ stuff later.

And there’s more!

“Austerity”: how to make a justice system cost more, be less just, and increase crime

Just a reminder to idiotic state governments who insist on tinkering with criminal justice by slashing legal aid and changing the law to send people to prison for longer without funding appropriate rehabilitative services: you are making things worse.

You are making offenders worse.

And you are costing the taxpayer a lot more money.

A reminder today from a UK judge of how slashing legal aid actually costs more money in wasted court time (h/t Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes):

What I find so depressing is that the case highlights the difficulties increasingly encountered by the judiciary at all levels when dealing with litigants in person. Two problems in particular are revealed. The first is how to bring order to the chaos which litigants in person invariably – and wholly understandably – manage to create in putting forward their claims and defences. Judges should not have to micro-manage cases, coaxing and cajoling the parties to focus on the issues that need to be resolved. Judge Thornton did a brilliant job in that regard yet, as this case shows, that can be disproportionately time-consuming. It may be saving the Legal Services Commission which no longer offers legal aid for this kind of litigation but saving expenditure in one public department in this instance simply increases it in the courts. The expense of three judges of the Court of Appeal dealing with this kind of appeal is enormous. The consequences by way of delay of other appeals which need to be heard are unquantifiable. The appeal would certainly never have occurred if the litigants had been represented. With more and more self-represented litigants, this problem is not going to go away. We may have to accept that we live in austere times, but as I come to the end of eighteen years service in this court, I shall not refrain from expressing my conviction that justice will be ill served indeed by this emasculation of legal aid.

This is even worse in criminal law and family law, in which litigants are even less knowledgeable about the law and the consequences of errors are even more serious.

Meanwhile, judges in Victoria, confronted yet again by another product of a prison system that is focused on “punishment” and pays mere lip service to rehabilitation, ask why we’re bent on making people who’ve committed crimes in the past worse:

The prison system is failing society by making young offenders more anti-social and increasingly likely to commit violent crimes after their release, the head of the Victorian Court of Appeal has warned.

Calls made four decades ago to reform the system and encourage rehabilitation had not been heeded, three judges said after hearing an appeal against the sentence of a youth with a long history of violence, who had been in and out of the juvenile justice system when he committed an unprovoked knife attack in 2011.

”The community would still ask today why the prison system has to be so antisocial in operation, why it cannot be improved so that people for whom there is a prospect of reformation are given a real opportunity for self-improvement,” said Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell and Justices Marcia Neave and Stephen Kaye. ”Time and again courts are told that correctional authorities are simply not adequately resourced to provide the sorts of facilities which are essential if those in prison – many of whom have very serious psychological and behavioural problems – are to be meaningfully rehabilitated and assisted so that, when they are released, they will have some real prospect of reintegration into the community.”

Fortunately, the politicians know that they can completely ignore the above because the mass-market media will almost completely ignore it.

And in the meantime we all pay more to make things worse.

NSW: the state to continuously make the criminal justice system more expensive and less just

Nice job, NSW Liberals.

Destructively and pointlessly bugger up the right to silence, and further waste court time with ludicrous requirements on defence teams which will cause great expense to everyone (particularly the taxpayer).

As if the NSW system of the police not preparing witness statements (ie the actual evidence on which their charges are supposedly based) until after the accused decides to plead not guilty wasn’t stupid enough.

The most absurd thing is that there are lawyers in the Liberal Party who’ve acted in criminal matters. How did it appear to any of them that these were good ideas?

ELSEWHERE: Fellow NSW criminal lawyer Andrew Tiedt is also annoyed – particularly on learning that not even the DPP was pushing for this travesty.

Of course you can’t make Lord of the Rings movies without decimating citizens’ rights!

I was considering purchasing the blu-rays of the Lord of the Rings movies. But seeing the nasty anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-citizen laws Warner Brothers managed to bully out of New Zealand to make the new ones there… not so keen any more.

How much taxpayer money can Warner Bros. demand from the government of New Zealand to keep production there (rather than, say, in Australia or the Czech Republic)? That answer turns out to be about $120 million, plus the revision of New Zealand’s labor laws to forbid collective bargaining among film-production contractors, plus the passage of three-strikes Internet-disconnection laws for online copyright infringement, plus enthusiastic and, it turns out, illegal cooperation in the shutdown of the pirate-friendly digital storage site Megaupload and the arrest of its owner, Kim Dotcom.

For keeping Warner Bros. happy, Prime Minister John Key, a former Merrill Lynch currency trader, got a replica magic Hobbit sword from U.S. President Barack Obama and a chance to hang New Zealand’s fortunes on becoming the tourist destination for Middle Earth enthusiasts. What could go wrong?

Would Peter Jackson really have abandoned NZ to make the films elsewhere if the NZ government hadn’t agreed to screw over their own citizens? I want to see him being asked that as he flies around the world being gently massaged by entertainment “journalists”.

Point made

So an Australian protester JUMPS INTO THE THAMES, delaying a BOAT RACE, in order to protest inequality and elitism in the UK…

…and they jail him for six months. Jail. The most serious punishment in their system (and ours). What we do to murderers and those committing violent assaults and people for whom other options have been shown not to work. And not just a short sharp sentence to make the point. Six months. Shove a political protester in with violent criminals. Why consider other sentencing options like community work or fines? When you can just rocket up the sentencing scale and do what you can to brutalise the bloke for, remember, jumping in the Thames and slightly delaying a boat race.

Why would the community want the guy’s sentence to be something that puts back to the community, like community work, when instead taxpayers can pay the huge amount of money it costs to jail a person for six months?

By the way, if you were looking to make the guy’s point that the British system is massively skewed in favour of the interests of the rich and against ordinary people – you probably couldn’t have made it more clearly. Congratulations.

PS If he has a history and they’ve tried other options before, then that should have been in the bloody report. From the barrister’s remarks quoted in the Independent article, it sounds like he had no priors.

ALP and Liberals bent on another destructive US copyright agreement

When the ALP and the Liberals are determined to sign us up to another liberty-destroying, overbearing US “copyright” regime (in which we adopt the harshest aspects of their ludicrous laws – see here for the most recent absurd example – but without their Constitutional protections), thank God that one party in the Parliament will stand against it:

“Not content with supporting the ill-fated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which would endanger the legal status of generic medicines and was overwhelmingly rejected by the European Parliament, the Trade Minister is now pushing for an Agreement that offers no protection for copyright exceptions enshrined in Australian law.

“ACTA was an absolute dud, and the Government wanted to jump on board before the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry had even warmed up.

“Now, information on the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement revealed over the weekend show the US and Australia want to defeat a proposed clause protecting domestic intellectual property laws.

“New Zealand, with the support of Chile, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, proposed this clause to permit a signatory to ‘carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions in its domestic laws’. Only the United States and our own government oppose this perfectly reasonable provision. Why is the Government promoting the erosion of our independence in this way?

“There are two inquiries currently underway into the future of Australian copyright laws in the digital age. Shackling our intellectual property laws to a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement dominated by the United States would render them virtually worthless. The Australian Greens urge the Government to back New Zealand’s proposed protection for independence and to reject any Agreement that puts the civil liberty and welfare of Australians at risk.”

That’s Senator Ludlum, and I’m bloody glad we have him there to make the point. If only we had a few more Greens MPs whose votes could stand against any legislation associated with such a “treaty”.

Another foolish state Attorney-General making matters worse

If anyone’s thinking that electing the Liberals in Canberra would be a harmless way to tell Julia you don’t like her, but that it’s not like they’d go mad and do a whole host of incredibly destructive things – have you been watching what’s happening in Queensland?

Here’s their latest effort:

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie wants all juvenile offenders to be publicly named when they attend court, unless a judge orders otherwise.

Currently children can only be identified when a judge deems the case warrants naming.

Wait, what? Does Bleijie not understand that the reason for emphasising rehabilitation over deterrence with young people is that their brains aren’t fully formed and the clear evidence is that deterrence is far less effective than programs to redirect their lives? That giving them a criminal history early on simply prevents them from ever having a hope of doing something else with their lives?

Mr Bleijie says most children who appear in court are repeat offenders and naming them could force them to take responsibility for their actions.

“A lot of young repeat offenders who know that the reporters and journalists can’t report names, come out of court smiling and living among their communities and the communities ought to have a right to know,” he said.

“And also if there’s a little bit of community pressure put on these young people, perhaps it will actually deter these young people from committing these crimes in the future.”

Actually, you blithering idiot, that’s exactly the way to turn young, impressionable people into lifelong criminals. Young people committing crimes are more likely to respond to severe censure by defiantly identifying with criminal peers. It takes maturity to learn to evaluate risk properly and it takes maturity to persevere through difficult circumstances.

Completely destroying a kid’s life if they don’t make decisions like a rational adult is incredibly counterproductive.

First Robert Clark in Victoria, now Bleijie in Queensland. What is it with right-wing Attorneys-General and a pigheaded bloody-minded determination to stomp about in a field they clearly barely understand, dismantling systems that have been developed for a good reason, refusing to listen to experts and making matters worse?

Indefinite detention without charge equals a country that does not deserve to have prisoners extradited to it

Yesterday’s Crikey, on Julian Assange’s recent move:

To seek asylum, rather than to seek to address the allegations against him in Sweden (although Assange has repeatedly offered to be interviewed by Swedish authorities in the UK over the past 18 months), will undoubtedly further damage Assange’s reputation. The stain of “alleged r-pist” will always follow him, until the claims are resolved.

But Assange knows that the Vice-President of the United States has called him a terrorist. He knows that the Obama administration readily kills those it labels terrorists, even if they are US citizens, and even if they aren’t terrorists, without due process. He knows that a grand jury has been empanelled and has, according to those with connections inside the US security establishment, produced a sealed indictment against him. Being extradited to Sweden increases the risk that he will be surrendered to the United States where an uncertain fate awaits.

And Guy Rundle points out two critical points about Assange going to Sweden:

  • There is no such thing as bail; you’re either accused of a non-coercive crime and let out on licence, or you’re on remand until trial.
  • Sweden has a distinctive system of extradition — especially to the US — in which someone accused of a crime in Sweden (and hence on remand) can be “loaned” to the US for prosecution there. This process does not exist in many other countries.

And while the US is a country that will imprison people indefinitely without charge, and murder Afghans with drones simply for being in their own country, and will execute people even when there’s very strong evidence they’re innocent – nobody should be forcibly sent there to face that kind of prosecution. And while Sweden will hand people over to such a country, it should be treated as being part of the same profoundly flawed system.

If it were your life on the line, I suspect you would do something very similar to what Assange has done.

Just make sure you choose your starting attributes wisely

I still think this is a useful way of getting privileged people (particularly young privileged people) to grasp that, despite whatever challenges they do face in their lives, it’s still a hell of a lot easier than for those from marginalised groups: “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is“.

Australians rebel against the copyright companies

You know when you, as an exploitative corporate parisite, have lost the PR war? Not when you have to keep pretending the thing you’re complaining about is something it’s not (“piracy”, “theft”) in order to deceive gullible governments into doing your dirty work for you. Not when you find increasing numbers of your potential customers are so sick of being ripped off and prevented from viewing the content you happen to control that they are resorting to other means to obtain it.

It’s when not a single reader will come to your defence.

Here’s how stupid the content industry is. If people download a program as it’s broadcast so as not to have it spoiled online, but then buy the bluray the moment it’s released – the content industry thinks it should treat these customers as criminals who should be punished. Rather than customers who want to buy its products at a reasonable time at a reasonable price. It’s an industry granted a temporary monopoly by our elected representatives to distribute certain content and then it refuses to promptly or reasonably distribute it.

Spoiler warning for every single Australian.

In whose interests is that? Certainly not in the interests of the creative people who made the content in the first place. Or the community, whose interest in encouraging creative works that enrich us all is the whole reason the government-enforced temporary copyright monopoly was invented in the first place.

And the public, the broad mass of ordinary voters have, even with the national media doing everything in their power to push the dubious lines of the parasites, noticed. And are angry.

No wonder the copyright parasites have to lobby our governments in secret, and our governments have to bury the anti-consumer laws they’re passing on their behalf so that voters don’t realise until it’s too late.