Assault!

red white and black textile
Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

The situation caused by the COVID-19 continues to generate all sorts of legal consequences. One of the latest angles to be given wide publicity is the rising number of incidents involving assaults carried out by individuals who claim to be infected with the virus.

Several innocent members of the public – whether they be private individuals, shop workers, Police officers or National Health Service staff – have experienced confrontations with extremely anti-social individuals who have threatened to cough over them or spit on them.

One such incident occurred at the weekend, which was reported by BBC Scotland (see below):

Assault in Scotland is generally treated as a common law offence. It would involve a physical attack (or an attempted attack) on another person. Threats issued by a person to a victim would also constitute an assault if these put the victim into a state of fear and alarm.

In relation to the above incident, the clear intention of the teenager (even if he was completely healthy) was to put the healthcare worker into a state of fear and alarm. Hopefully, the victim will remain completely healthy and free of viral symptoms.

This is not, however, the point: her attacker clearly had the mens rea (the guilty mind) and he followed this through with the actus reus (the wrongful act). If there are witnesses and other evidence which can corroborate the incident, then the Police may have grounds to charge her attacker with assault.

If the criminal investigation proceeds to this stage, it will then be for the Procurator Fiscal (the local prosecutor) to determine whether there is enough evidence to initiate criminal proceedings against the accused.

The Lord Advocate, James Wolfe QC has issued a statement in relation to assaults on key workers:

The Crown has a range of responses available to tackle unacceptable criminal conduct that may arise during the coronavirus pandemic. Any person who deliberately endangers life, or spreads fear and alarm by pretending to do so, will be dealt with robustly. It is difficult to imagine a more compelling case for prosecution in the public interest.

Although assault is generally considered to be a common law offence, we should be mindful of the provisions of Section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 which creates the statutory offence of assaulting or impeding the Police in the discharge of their duties. If an accused is successfully convicted of an offence in terms of Section 90, they may face a maximum prison sentence of 12 months and/or the imposition of a fine.

In England and Wales, a different approach is taken to assault: it is regarded as a statutory offence in terms of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales has stated that attacks on emergency workers may result in a prison sentence of two years being imposed should the accused (the defendant) be found guilty of such an assault (as per Section 38 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861).

Links to stories on the Sky News website about the rise of this type of criminal offence can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-nhs-staff-police-and-public-being-coughed-on-by-people-claiming-to-have-covid-19-11965058

http://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-man-who-spat-on-police-while-claiming-he-had-coronovairus-is-jailed-11967349

http://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-police-want-spit-guards-to-protect-officers-from-vile-behaviour-11969529

In the United States of America, incidents such as the above have more serious consequences: COVID-19 is classified as a ‘biological agent’. Attempts to spread or threats to spread the virus are treated as a terrorist offence (see below):

http://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-two-charged-with-terror-offences-over-threats-to-spread-covid-19-11970802

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 March and 6 April 2020

Mr Salmond tholes his assize

Screen capture by Seán J Crossan from BBC Scotland’s website

Strange words i.e. uncommon: thole and assize.

Our non-Scottish readers may have difficulty with ‘thole’ – actually to thole, a verb. It means to be able to endure something or someone. Scots will commonly say that they can’t thole a person , meaning that they dislike or have very little time for an individual. I understand that people in in the North of England also use this word.

Assize is probably a word that some lawyers might be familiar with: it means a trial diet (sitting) of a criminal court. Perhaps the best example of the word coming into popular use was the term ‘the Bloody Assizes’ presided over by the notorious, English hanging judge, Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys in 1685. These events were, of course, a long time ago and followed the Duke of Monmouth’s ill fated rebellion against his uncle, King James VII of Scotland (James II of England, Ireland and Wales).

Enough of history for now …

In the legal context, if we take the two words together and put them into the following sentence: he has tholed his assize, it means that someone has endured prosecution and trial and has been vindicated or acquitted.

This is precisely what happened today at Edinburgh’s High Court of Justiciary (Scotland’s Supreme criminal court of trial) when the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges that he had sexually assaulted 9 women. The jury found him not guilty of 12 charges and returned a not proven verdict for the remaining charge. Mr Salmond was tried on indictment under solemn procedure in the High Court of Justiciary. Solemn or jury trials are reserved for more serious types of crime and they take place in either the Sheriff Court or the High Court of Justiciary.

It is worth pointing out to our non-Scottish readership that, in Scottish criminal trials, we have 3 possible verdicts, namely:

  • Not guilty
  • Not proven
  • Guilty

Not guilty and not proven are both acquittal verdicts, with the not proven verdict being a peculiarly Scottish development. I noted that the BBC referred to this verdict as “highly controversial”. It’s usefulness is still debated to this day, but it is a common outcome of many trials.

It was the jury of 13 – originally 15 – men and women that acquitted Mr Salmond. The jury in a criminal trial is said to be the ‘Master of the facts’, whereas the judge is said to be ‘Master of law’. It is, therefore, the task of the jury to weigh up the evidence presented at trial and come to its verdict.

At this point, I should also remind our readers that it is not simply a case of prosecution and defence presenting their respective cases at the trial. This would be to ignore the subtleties at play: the prosecutor (in the Salmond case: Mr Alex Prentice QC) has to operate under the onus or burden of having to prove the allegations against the accused. All the defence has to do is to deny the allegations. We operate in a system of criminal justice which emphasises the presumption of innocence.

I have been asked by several people over the last few weeks to predict the outcome of the Salmond trial. I have responded in the following way: I do not know Mr Salmond; and I have never met him or his accusers (I do not know these individuals either), so how can I give you a reasoned opinion?

Ah, but my questioners persist: surely, you have been following accounts of the trial via the media? To which I respond, not really …

Now the media does a very important job, but it can only provide us with a subjective view of things. Journalists will prioritise what they think are significant factors – no matter how impartial they think that they are being. Trial by media is never a good thing; it is to the jury alone that we entrust the task of determining the innocence or guilt of the accused.

We shall never know the precise motivations behind the jury’s decision today. Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it a criminal offence for jurors to reveal the reasons for their decisions (an interesting book about a jury trial in England, but not about the jurors’ deliberations, is The Juryman’s Tale by Trevor Grove (Bloomsbury: 2000).

It may be trite to say this, but there are no such things as open and shut cases. Things (the evidence) can and do sound very different in the surroundings of a court room. I have seen overly confident prosecutors come swiftly undone when the defence emphasises a flaw in the prosecution’s arguments. Here comes the nagging doubt I think; the chink in the armour; the reasonable doubt which heralds an acquittal verdict. Nothing is ever certain.

Whatever your views or feelings about Alex Salmond Esquire, this is exactly what happened today: the jury weighed up the prosecution’s case, found it deficient (in that it did not meet the criminal standard of proof) and acquitted the accused.

A link to an article about the Salmond verdict on the BBC website can be found below:

Scotland’s former first minister is found not guilty on 12 charges, while another allegation is found not proven.

Alex Salmond cleared of all sexual assault charges

BBC Scotland has also been running a podcast about the Salmond trial (please see link below)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0864016/episodes/downloads

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/15/oh-brother/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/01/corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/09/down-with-corroboration-i-say/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/22/scrap-corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/02/consent/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-jury/https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/28/alexa-theres-been-a-murder/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/10/the-burden-of-proof/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/15/kaboom/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 March 2020

For those in peril on the sea

Photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash

The avoidable death of Annang Neurtey

As someone who works more in the civil rather than the criminal legal tradition, I tend to focus more on the outcome of obtaining damages or compensation for the victim of an industrial or work-place accident.

It’s simply a matter of horses for courses i.e. you stick to what you know or what you’re trained to do. Admittedly, most of the victims of industrial accidents that I have represented are perhaps more focused on obtaining compensation for their injuries – especially if these are life changing. Any criminal liability that the employer may have is purely incidental i.e. something of a side issue. Then again, I suppose you could say that about most civil actions where the criminality of the pursuer remains firmly in the background (think dangerous and careless driving incidents).

The victim of a work-place delict (or tort) may get some satisfaction from their employer or its officers and managers appearing in the dock at a subsequent criminal trial, but this is unlikely to be satisfying in the long term. It will not allow them to get their lives back on track or to move on; payment of compensation is perhaps a more satisfactory conclusion to things. I make that last statement fully in the knowledge that no amount of money can truly give victims back what they have lost.

Yet, every so often, I come across a story or an incident which underlines the importance of criminal law regarding industrial or work-place accidents.

In 2015, one such incident occurred onboard Aquarius, a fishing trawler which operated out of the North East Scottish fishing port of Banff. Serious failings in the operation of the vessel led to the death of a crewman. The victim, 47 year old, Annang Neurtey from Ghana, was swept overboard: his body has never been recovered – adding immensely to the grief of his family.

Anyone who has read Sebastian Junger’s 1997 novel, The Perfect Storm (or viewed the film adaptation of 2000) will be readily familiar with the dangers that fishing folk face at sea. That said, the tragedy which befell Annang Neurtey was entirely avoidable. If the skipper of the Aquarius had properly supervised the crew and followed basic safety procedures, the accident would not have occurred.

Following Mr Neurtey’s death, MB Aquarius Ltd of Buckie, the company which owned and operated the vessel, was investigated by Police Scotland and the Marine and Coastguard Agency. The conclusions reached by investigators were that basic risk assessments had not been properly carried out and that the employer had failed to put a safe system of working in place.

At a subsequent criminal prosecution against Mr Neurtey’s employer for health and safety breaches at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, the company pleaded guilty to breaches of marine safety laws, namely, Regulation 5(1) of the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 and Sections 85 and 86 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

A fine of £50,000 was imposed on the employer – it would have been £75,000 had an early plea of guilty not been entered by the company.

Mr Neurtey’s family will doubtless be contemplating a civil action for recovery of damages – unless of course his employer does the decent thing and quickly settles such a claim.

A link to the Marine and Coastguard Agency’s Report of its findings concerning Mr Neurtey’s death can be found below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57f3c2d7ed915d06fa000030/MAIBInvReport18_2016.pdf

A link to an article in the The Press & Journal about the trial can be found below:

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen/2011786/buckie-based-fishing-company-fined-50000-following-death-of-crew-member/

Those dark satanic mills …

Have concerns about health and safety gone mad? The former British Prime Minister, David Cameron certainly thought so when his Coalition Government (2010-15) introduced the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (in particular, Section 69 of the said legislation) which removed the right to bring a civil claim for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

It does not mean that employees can no longer bring a civil claim if an employer breaches its duty of care, but significantly claimants will no longer benefit from the presumption of strict liability previously imposed on organisations. Since this reform, it will be essential for claimants to prove negligence on the part of their employers for breaches of health and safety.

We would, however, do well to remember our history: concerns about health and safety were often ignored in the not so distant past.

The phrase “dark satanic mills” comes from the poem, And did those feet in ancient time by William Blake. The phrase has been interpreted as a searing indictment of the wickedness and exploitative practices of 19th Century British industrialists who most certainly put profit before people. This is why rare individuals such as the Welsh born industrialist, Robert Owen and his New Lanark Mills we’re regarded as truly radical and progressive employers.

The words of Blake’s poem were later put to music by the composer, Hubert Parry, and is better known as Jerusalem – an alternative English National Anthem for many because of its rallying call for social justice for the poor and the oppressed.

Over time, admittedly, the UK Parliament did intervene by bringing in legislation to curb some of the frankly dangerous and disreputable practices which had been tolerated in British factories, shipyards and mines. With the industrial revolution, Britain did indeed become the ‘workshop of the world’, but this accolade disguised the terrible human cost which could be measured in countless deaths, terrible injuries and overwhelmingly misery.

Some months ago, I saw a photograph by Bill Brandt in The Independent’s Saturday Magazine which documented life in an East Durham mining community. I was pretty shocked by what I saw: the houses of the miners had no windows. Think of it: these workers spent their days down the pit in almost total darkness. More shocking, was the fact that Brandt had taken the photograph as recently as 1937.

Photograph by Bill Brandt (1937)

Yet surely, the bad old days are long gone? The British work-place has become a much safer place? Undoubtedly, as we shall see, employers have become much more aware of their responsibilities to their employees and workers in respect of the issue of health and safety.

That said, if you look at the info graphic produced below from the UK Health and Safety Executive, poor conditions and practices in British work-places still result in unacceptably high levels of injuries and illness – in 2019!

Key facts for Great Britain 2019
Source: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/

Recently, Amazon, the global internet retailer, received very unwelcome media attention about the number of industrial injuries which have occurred in its UK premises. It’s probably fair to say that Amazon UK does not enjoy a particularly good reputation amongst trade unions regarding its employment practices and the recent media stories only compound this state of affairs.

Links to stories about Amazon UK on Sky News and Channel 4 News can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/hellish-conditions-at-amazon-warehouses-seriously-hurt-hundreds-11936881

https://youtu.be/gYUJjpIxkCU

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

It is worth noting that the employer’s common law duties which aim to protect the health and safety of employees establishes a regime of civil liability. In other words, should the employer breach these duties, he will most likely face a civil action by the injured employee who will be attempting to recover compensation.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, on the other hand, makes an employers criminally liable if they fail to take reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of their employees. An employer will, therefore, face penalties in a criminal court for breaches of the Act.

The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008

The provisions of this Act came into force on 16 January 2009 and apply to offences committed after this date by employers. Scottish criminal courts will now have the power to impose maximum fines of £20,000 on employers who breach health and safety rules. In the most serious cases where health and safety rules have been breached or ignored, the courts may also have the right to imprison those responsible.

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010

Sections 65-68 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 should make it easier for organisations to face prosecution in Scotland in relation to allegations of criminal wrongdoing. According to Section 65, the term “organisation” applies to any of the following bodies:

  • a body corporate;
  • an unincorporated association;
  • a partnership;
  • a body of trustees;
  • a government department;
  • a part of the Scottish Administration;
  • any other entity which is not an individual

Such proceedings against organisations may be on indictment (Section 66) or on complaint (Section 67).

For a long time, it has been argued that an organisational culture which promotes lax practices or downright dangerous behaviour can lead to the commission of criminal offences. This an attempt to make organisations more accountable under the criminal law for conduct which causes harm to members of the public.

Overall, this means that an employer could face both a criminal action and a civil action for damages where he has neglected to obey the criminal law and the common law in respect of the employee’s health and safety.

Conclusion

If only we need reminding that health and safety remains a major issue in the work-place, we need only look to a story from Scotland which appeared in national media outlets just this week.

Workers at the Mossmorran and Ineos chemical plants took unauthorised industrial action (wildcat strikes) which was motivated by serious concerns about the lack of health and safety in the work-place. Happily, the employers seem to be listening to the concerns and the employees are now back at work.

Failure by employers to take health and safety issues seriously can leave themselves open to both civil and criminal liability. During Britain’s Industrial Revolution (from the 18th to the early 20th Centuries), it’s true to say that there was no such thing as a culture of health and safety in the work-place. Industrialists like Robert Owen were remarkable because they broke with the paradigm of British industrial practice i.e. workers were resources to be used up and tossed aside when no longer needed.

The growth of the trade union movement and the emergence of the British Labour Party (itself a creation of the union movement) led to pressure for change and tangible improvements were made to working practices. Despite these advances, cases such as the death of Annang Neurtey and the figures from the Health and Safety Executive surely caution us against complacency.

Links to reports on the BBC Scotland website about the industrial action can be found below:

Union GMB said the workers had “continuously raised their concerns about conditions and safety on-site”.

Mossmorran: Walkout at chemical plant over working conditions

Union officials said that concerns over health and safety and pay had been resolved following talks.

Mossmorran: Workers to return after wildcat strike in Fife

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/23/a-hard-days-night/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/19/dont-stop-the-music/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/22/stress-kills/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 21 February 2020

Oh brother!

Photo by Seán J Crossan (Card design by M&S)

Apparently, the Chinese have a proverb which translates something along the following lines: the Devil gives you your family; thank all Gods that you can choose your friends!

Quite an apt statement to lead me into my next blog. Families can be great; they can also be problematic. This point is emphasised by reference to a recent decision of the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.

In Michael Scott Ritchie v Her Majesty’s Advocate [2020] HCJAC 7 HCA2019/327/X, the Appeal Court had to consider whether a Sheriff sitting at Elgin had misdirected the jury and, consequently, a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

The convicted person or appellant, Michael Ritchie, certainly thought so. He had appeared at Elgin Sheriff Court in 2019, charged on indictment in respect of the following matters:

on 11 or 12 May 2018 you … did break into the dwelling house owned by [JR] … at Strathville, South Street, Forres, Moray and steal a quantity of jewellery, medals, coins and a box;

You … did commit this offence while on bail, having been granted bail on 15 June 2017 at Elgin Sheriff Court.

He was convicted of the offences libelled above after the conclusion of a solemn (jury) trial and sentenced to 21 months in prison (3 months of which were for the bail violation).

Part of the evidence put forward to convict Ritchie by the Depute Procurator Fiscal (the prosecutor for the benefit of our non-Scottish readers) was a small black torch which was found at the locus of the crime. The item was not a possession of the householder. The torch contained traces of Ritchie’s DNA and he admitted that the item belonged to him. ‘Ritchie further admitted that he had been about 150 yards from the vicinity of the crime scene, but he strongly asserted that he was not guilty of any offence.

DNA – infallible evidence?

This is where the case gets quite interesting: Ritchie stated that although his DNA was on the torch, he had not committed the crime of house-breaking (or burglary as our friends from common law jurisdictions would say). He was not responsible for leaving it at the locus.

In other words, Ritchie was contending that, merely because his DNA happened to be on the torch found at the crime scene, this in itself was not conclusive evidence of his guilt. Ritchie, of course, was using a special defence available in Scots Law known as incrimination – he was claiming that someone else [his brother] had committed the offence. Interestingly, Ritchie’s brother had previous convictions for theft, but these had involved commercial premises.

He further asserted that he may have loaned a torch to his brother in the last month or so. He contended that the torch given to his brother was a black rubber one. Unfortunately, for Ritchie the torch found at the locus was a black metallic item.

When speaking to students about the issue of corroboration in criminal law, I often ask them which sources of evidence might be used by a prosecutor to help secure a conviction? DNA evidence will almost always feature in the range of answers that I am given.

… but I should urge caution: it’s not an infallible source of evidence. It has to be put in context and the onus (or burden) about what the DNA tells the Court i.e. whether it can point the way to the accused being guilty beyond reasonable doubt remains very much the responsibility of the prosecution (or Crown).

The role of the Sheriff and the jury

In a solemn trial, there is a strict division of responsibility: the jury is regarded as Master of the facts; whereas the Sheriff is Master of the law.

The jury will, therefore, determine the guilt or innocence of the accused based upon the evaluation of the evidence presented during the trial. The burden of proof rests with the prosecutor (representing the Crown or the State) in that s/he must convince the jury that the accused is guilty of the charge(s) contained in the indictment.

When summarising the evidence that has been presented to the court, the Sheriff must do so in a way that avoids the introduction of bias. The jury must be able to come to its own determination of the facts.

If guilt is established, it is then the task of the Sheriff to impose the appropriate sentence – usually at a subsequent hearing (for which there is no need for the jury to be present).

The Appeal

The main thrust of Ritchie’s appeal to the High Court in Edinburgh was that the Sheriff had misdirected the jury which led to him being wrongly convicted.

Sadly, for Ritchie, the Appeal Court did not agree.

Statements by the Procurator Fiscal Depute concerning the veracity of Ritchie’s responses during a Police interview did not suggest that the onus was now placed on the defence to prove his innocence. An accused in a Scottish criminal trial is under no obligation to prove his/her innocence. Innocence is, after all, presumed and it remains the task for the prosecution to prove guilt.

Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice General, giving the opinion of the Appeal Court noted:

‘… that the sheriff made it clear that the onus remained on the Crown and that there was no such onus on the defence. The sheriff’s reference to hypothetical situations was merited in the circumstances. Anything said by the PFD [Procurator Fiscal Depute] was adequately covered by the sheriff in her general directions on onus; the sheriff being in the best position to determine what was required in order to correct any misconception that the jury might have had from what the PFD had said.

Regarding the presence of the torch (belonging to the accused) at the locus, this was in itself a ‘highly incriminatory’ fact. Significantly, Ritchie had not identified the item when presented during his trial as being the torch that he claimed to have previously supplied to his brother.

In reviewing the testimony of the expert witnesses who spoke to the DNA evidence at the trial, Lord Carloway had the following to say:

Expert evidence about the deposit of DNA was led by both the Crown and the defence. There were various scenarios put to the experts about how DNA can be deposited, how long it could remain, how it could be transferred and whether it was primary or secondary. The sheriff described all of this evidence as essentially common sense. There was, however, a disagreement between the experts in relation to four peaks, which had been identified from the DNA print-out upon testing.

The four peaks could either be artefacts (the Crown) or DNA belonging to an unknown person or persons (the defence).

The Crown submitted in its argument to the Appeal Court that the Sheriff had correctly emphasised to the jury “to scrutinise the evidence with care and be satisfied that there was an evidential basis for the submissions which had been made to them.”

Taking all of the above matters into consideration, there was no evidence to suggest that Michael Ritchie had suffered a miscarriage of justice and his appeal was refused.

A link to the judgement of the Appeal Court can be found below:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2020hcjac7.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/09/down-with-corroboration-i-say/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/02/presumption-of-innocence/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/22/scrap-corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/28/alexa-theres-been-a-murder/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/01/corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2017/04/04/scottish-criminal-appeals/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 15 February 2020

Down with corroboration (I say)!

Photo by Andy T on Unsplash

Who’s ‘I’? Amanda Pinto – that’s who, but more about her later.

In Scottish criminal procedure, we place a great deal of emphasis on the principle of corroboration. In a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove that the accused is guilty of a crime beyond  reasonable doubt. This is a very strict burden and, in Scotland, the prosecution achieves this standard by corroborating its evidence against the accused. Corroboration means that there must be at least two independent sources of evidence such as witness testimony and the use of expert and forensic evidence. Reasonable doubt is a nagging doubt which would lead a reasonable person to the conclusion that it would be unsafe and unjust to find the accused guilty.

Not every legal system places such importance on the principle of corroboration: some of our English brethren seem (very) disinclined to follow us.

This week, distaste for corroboration has been voiced somewhat forcefully by Amanda Pinto QC, the incoming Chairperson of the Bar Council of England and Wales (the English equivalent of the Faculty of Advocates). Ms Pinto represents some 16,000 barristers and her views are therefore not to be dismissed easily.

Of particular concern to Ms Pinto seems to be UK Government proposals to introduce an element of corroboration into English criminal legal practice. Speaking to Jonathan Ames of The Times (of London), her main objection to the introduction of corroboration appears to be in relation to rape trials:

We’ve rightly come away from requiring corroboration [in England and Wales],” she says. “Because if you require corroboration in something that is typically between two people, then you restrict access for justice for some victims entirely.

Several years ago in Scotland, we also had a discussion on the merits of the continued use of corroboration in criminal proceedings. Lord Carloway (now the Lord Justice General), Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service were of the opinion that this requirement should be abolished. Significantly, the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland were opposed to this development. Warnings of possible miscarriages of justice were raised if this was allowed to happen. Corroboration was retained.

Nore recently (in 2019), groups representing survivors of sexual abuse made powerful and emotional submissions to the Scottish Parliament arguing that the requirement of corroboration be abolished. We still have the principle in place in Scotland.

Responding to these submissions by abuse survivors, Brian McConnochie QC, a senior member of the Faculty of Advocates went on record defending the current evidential requirement:

I know that some people consider that corroboration is something which we ought to abandon or abolish, and as often as not the argument is given that it should be abolished because nobody else has it. I’ve never been convinced by that argument. We went through a process where it was discussed at significant and considerable length, and at the end of that process the decision was taken that it should go no further.”

James Wolffe QC, the current Lord Advocate (head of the Scottish prosecution service) has openly stated that a review of corroboration could be on the cards, but Gordon Jackson QC, current Dean of the Faculty of Advocates has voiced the Faculty’s continuing opposition to such a development:

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/lord-advocate-hints-at-renewed-attack-on-corroboration

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/22/scrap-corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/01/corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/28/alexa-theres-been-a-murder/

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 9 January 2020

A civil action

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

What if criminal law lets down victims (and by extension their families)? Over the past year, several of my Blogs have looked at situations where the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have either not succeeded in prosecuting a suspect in a criminal case or have declined to do so.

In Scotland, the ability to bring a private prosecution is heavily restricted making it almost an impossible task to obtain the necessary authorisation from the High Court of Justiciary (via a Bill of Criminal Letters).

Victims (or their families) will often then have little choice but to turn civil law for some sort of resolution – usually an action for compensation.

I often emphasise to students that criminal and civil law have very different objectives: criminal law is used by the State to punish those individuals who would threaten the safety or security of the community by their actions; civil law, in this context, is primarily concerned with compensating the victims of a wrongful act.

Admittedly, certain types of conduct can be both criminal and civil in nature e.g. assault, dangerous driving, fraud and theft. This means that an individual could face the prospect of two trials. The outcome of each trial is independent of each other.

It is also worth remembering that criminal and civil law have different standards of proof. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of a crime; in civil law, the claimant (or pursuer) must show on the balance of probabilities that the respondent (defender) was responsible for the harm caused. The civil standard of proof is therefore a lower standard of proof.

So, it was of some interest that, in the last week, two stories were widely reported in the media which highlighted the difference between the two systems.

In the first story, it was established that John Downey, a former member of the Irish Republican Army, bore responsibility for the deaths of four members of the Household Cavalry (two British Army regiments) in July 1982. An IRA active service unit had planted a car bomb in London which had caused these fatalities. Downey was a member of that unit, but he had immunity from criminal prosecution under the terms of the Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement 1998. The families of the victims had no alternative but to raise a civil legal action in the English High Court in order to establish that Downey was an active participant in the planning and execution of the bombing. The success of this action means that the families can now pursue Downey for damages (see Sarah Jane Young v John Anthony Downey [2019] EWHC 3508 (QB)).

It is important to stress that this judgement establishes Downey’s civil liability for the deaths of the four serving members of the British armed forces; it does not establish criminal liability.

A link to the judgement of the English High Court can be found below:

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/APPROVED-JUDGMENT-Young-v-Downey-18.12.19.pdf

The second story is from further afield and involves a female, Japanese journalist (Shiori Ito) who successfully sued a male TV journalist (Noriyuki Yamaguchi) who had raped her. This case broke many taboos in Japan because victims of rape tend not to publicise their ordeal. Again, the decision of Tokyo’s District Court establishes Yamaguchi’s civil liability for rape – not criminal liability.

In Scotland, of course, we have had two recent civil actions whereby victims of rape have successfully pursued their attackers for the right to receive compensation. It might not be the ideal solution, but in the absence of any action on the part of the State prosecution authorities, it may be the only recourse to justice that the victims have.

Links to media articles about the two cases can be found below:

https://news.sky.com/story/hyde-park-bombing-ira-member-john-downey-was-responsible-for-1982-attack-11889683

Journalist wins Japan civil rape case

Related Blog Articles:

The public interest?

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/11/12/the-public-interest/

The burden of proof

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/10/the-burden-of-proof/

Private prosecutions

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/29/private-prosecutions/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 December 2019

The public interest?

Photo by Karl Bewick on Unsplash

We have an independent criminal prosecution service in Scotland headed by the Lord Advocate (a Scottish Government Minister). James Wolffe QC, the current Lord Advocate, has responsibility for the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service.

Yesterday, the role of the Lord Advocate came under intense media scrutiny as a result of the decision of the Crown Office not to prosecute several Police Scotland officers who had been accused of causing the death of a man who had been taken into custody in 2015.

The deceased was 31 year old Sheku Bayoh, who was arrested by Police officers in the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy. It was later established in a post mortem that Mr Bayoh had consumed drugs (MDNA and Flakka).

On a more sinister level, Mr Bayoh was found to have 23 different physical injuries. The Bayoh family and their solicitor (Aamer Anwar) always maintained that the actions of Police officers had caused the death and that they should face prosecution for their actions.

To the dismay of the Bayoh family, the Lord Advocate has declined to pursue criminal charges against the Police officers as this would not be in the public interest.

Today, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Justice decided to convene a public inquiry into the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s death – which may be some small consolation to his still grieving family.

The Bayoh family may also be considering the possibility of a civil action for compensation against the Police officers who they are alleging have responsibility for the death.

This case is a timely reminder that it is the State (or the Crown) which has the ultimate power to determine who will be prosecuted for crimes – not the victim or the family of the victim.

The possibility of the Bayoh family being granted the right to initiate a private prosecution against the Police officers is unlikely. The High Court of Justiciary must grant permission, by way of a Bill of Criminal Letters, for any private prosecution to proceed in the first place.

It should go without saying that the prosecutor in a private prosecution will still have to prove the allegations against the accused.

Two fairly recent attempts to raise private prosecutions in Scotland have been rejected out of hand by the High Court of Justiciary (see Bill for Criminal Letters by (1) John and Linda Stewart and (2) Allan and Aileen Convey Against William Payne AND (1) Matthew McQuade and Jaceline McQuade and (2) Yvonne Reilly Against Henry Clarke [2016] HCJAC 122 HCA/16-2/XM HCA/16-3/XM).

A link to the Opinion of the High Court of Justiciary in respect of these matters can be found below:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/judgment?id=d26a25a7-8980-69d2-b500-ff0000d74aa7

The most famous, partially successful private prosecution in Scotland in was the affair which became known popularly as the Glasgow Rape Case. In 1982, a rape victim was permitted to raise a private prosecution against three of her alleged assailants (see X v Sweeney (1982) JC 70).

Prior to this legal action, there had been one, other private prosecution in Scotland during the 20th Century and that matter had been concluded as far back as 1911 (the actual Bill of Criminal Letters was granted in 1909 – see J & P Coats Ltd v Brown 1909 6 Adam 19).

A link to a story about the Lord Advocate’s decision can be found on the BBC Scotland website:

Sheku Bayoh: Family feel ‘betrayed’ over decision not to prosecute officers

His family said they felt betrayed over the decision not to bring criminal charges against police officers.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 12 November 2019