In the news
The Prime Minister has this week set out his “agenda for a revolution in the prison system”. His speech outlines plans for governors to be given greater autonomy, prisoners to be provided with better opportunities for work and education, and the making of “alternative provision” for people struggling with severe mental health problems.
Commentators have reacted with cautious optimism. David Cameron is “absolutely right to point to the waste of money, time and lives that characterises today’s prison system,” writes Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform. His speech could herald “a seismic shift in policy.”
Christopher Stacey in the Justice Gap welcomes in particular the Prime Minister’s expression of support for the ‘Ban the Box’ campaign, which calls on employers to remove the tick box from application forms and ask about criminal convictions later in the recruitment process. The policy would give people with convictions “a chance to enter work – significantly reducing their likelihood of re-offending”.
Sentencing reform was, however, “notably absent” from the speech. Ellie Butt in the Huffington Post contends that this seriously undermines Cameron’s policy proposals. With the current prison population standing at 85,634, it is “a nonsense to believe we can really make prisons places of education, hard work and rehabilitation without tackling the sheer number of people inside them.”
Legal blogger Jack of Kent is in agreement that “the most significant thing about the speech was that the Prime Minister was giving it”. Yet he suggests that a move in right wing thought against custodial sentences as the default punishment for crime “may be having an influence on Michael Gove.” If such a speech is indeed “the political price Michael Gove has extracted from David Cameron for support on the EU referendum issue”, then it is “a good bargain”.
In other news
A police regulator has found that UK police forces continue to disobey rules to prevent the abuse of stop and search powers. Home Secretary Teresa May has described the failings as ‘unacceptable’, and has taken action to suspend 13 of the worst offending forces from the scheme. The Guardian reports.
Law Society Gazette: The Attorney General has suggested that in disputes over freedom of information, politicians may sometimes be better placed than the courts to make decisions on matters of public interest. The speech can be read in full here.
The Guardian: Police should no longer operate on a presumption that alleged victims of sexual assault are to be believed, according to Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. Investigators should instead test the evidence “with an open mind, supporting the complainant through the process”.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia at the weekend marks the end of an era for the United States Supreme Court. It also creates the potential for something of a constitutional crisis in America, coming only eleven months before the end of the Obama presidency and prompting calls from some Republicans for his replacement to be selected by the next Commander-in-Chief. Scalia’s visit to the UK last summer featured plenty of the examples of the acerbic turns of phrase the world had come to expect from the Court’s most divisive figure. You can read Jim Duffy’s account of Justice Scalia’s appearance at the Federalist Society here.
In the courts
The applicant in this case had been found guilty of contempt of court for conducting Internet research while serving on a jury. A complaint was brought under article 7 ECHR (no punishment without law) that the common law offence of contempt of court had not been sufficiently clear.
The Court held that the judgment rendered in the applicant’s case could be considered, at most, a step in the gradual clarification of the rules of criminal liability for contempt of court through judicial interpretation. The law was both accessible and foreseeable. There had accordingly been no violation of article 7 of the Convention.
UK HRB Posts
Cavalier with our Constitution: a Charter too far – Marina Wheeler
Watery rights and wrongs – and causation too – David Hart QC
It’s time to overhaul the Investigatory Powers Bill – Cian C. Murphy and Natasha Simonsen
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