Children’s doctor attack – extended sentencing remarks.

Pic Credit: WMP

Being in court all the time it’s almost inevitable you become desensitised to the various vile things people find to do to other human beings. Even so this case of an attack on a paediatrician in Birmingham City Centre struck a sour note.

For various reasons this one hit pretty close to home. Even putting that aside the gratuitous nature of Leon Taylor’s attack on an innocent victim just made me seethe at the pointlessness of it all. On top of everything, his actions caused the victim, understandably, to quit the UK, leaving Birmingham worse off to the count of a highly qualified children’s doctor.

Taylor (pictured above), aged 19, of no fixed address, who is expecting his first child with his partner, was caught when he was identified by the mum of a friend following a CCTV appeal.
That friend, Harry Sutherland, 20, from Stourbridge, pleaded guilty to possession of an offensive weapon and received a suspended sentence.

Taylor was jailed for four years and eight months. For a young man that’s a long time. But it was the sentencing comments by His Honour Judge Richard Bond that I thought hit the nail on the head. Some are in the full story published on The Birmingham Mail website (link above). Here is an extended version where the judge pretty much said everything I would have wanted to be said. Continue reading

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How Much!?!?

A piece on legal aid with perspective and minus the hysteria

A view from the North

The Daily Mail online is outraged at the £350,000 in legal aid given toMick and Mairead Philpott.Of course, this is not entirely correct. The Philpotts were not “given” £350,000 like some sort of lottery win. What they were given was a fair trial. What we, the public, got for that expense were safe convictions. Their victims, their children, got justice.

The outrage is sparked by the heinous nature of their crime. They were responsible for killing six children, their own children. Their notoriety was heightened by their lifestyle which was somewhat unconvential. And involved extensive reliance on benefits.

Imagine for a moment that they were innocent. That they had not committed this terrible crime. That they were innocent parents wrongly accused of murdering their own children. As they were at the outset of the trial. It was a trial process that determined they were responsible and needed…

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“Cannot be named for legal reasons…”

L to R Matuesz Zatlokiewicz, Daniel Blackstock, Courtney Boothe-Phillips

Anyone familiar with reading court stories or watching reports of them on TV will familiar with this phrase.
In a nutshell it means the court has imposed a reporting restriction on naming somebody involved in proceedings whether a victim, witness or a defendant.

Reasons for such restrictions vary but are usually because:

  • a person is under the age of 18. Previously known as a S.39 order, but since April 2015 falls under S.45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.
  • The person is a victim of a sexual offence  and receives automatic lifelong anonymity.
  • An order is made under the Contempt of Court Act to prevent prejudicing future hearings ( much rarer than the first two!).

Sometimes however, as in this case, a decision is taken not to name a person involved in the case by a reporter and news editors.

The robbery in this case, which saw hefty sentences for those involved, left the victim understandably traumatised after being threatened and tied up in her own home.
While she was able to attend court to see the trio (pictured above) jailed, it was clear from a victim impact statement she had been left living in fear by what had happened to her.

Efforts during the sentencing hearing were made not to identify the victim’s address (or even the area in which she lived), although she was named in open court which could, in practice, be reported.
After consideration it was decided her name would not be included in the report.

Sometimes victims don’t want anonymity. They want to speak out about what they have been through, but it’s not a one-size-fits all. In this case I think we took the right decision and hope the victim is able to move on now her attackers have been brought to justice.

Crime pays…or does it?

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I didn’t expect to be commenting on policy so soon but then along came the Criminal Court Charge – a policy so absurd it dare not be ignored.

The first swathes of defendants affected by the Charge are just starting to seep through the system now.
This is a policy  introduced by the last Parliament as a way of making offenders convicted of criminal offences pay for the proceedings of which they are subject.
Costs very depending on the type of hearing – magistrates/crown/plea/trial, but what they all have in common is there is no discretion. Judges must impose the levy on any convicted adult offender who committed an offence after April 13 2015. Costs range from around £150 for a summary guilty plea at Magistrates all the way up to £1,200 for a Crown Court trial.

Some might support the idea of criminals contributing to the costs of running the very courts needed to prosecute them. All well and good. But this policy is so flawed were it to face a trial it would stand convicted of utter absurdity, thus finding itself subject to a Criminal Court Charge.

My first experience of the Charge saw a man jailed for 12 months for attempted robbery then hit with a £900 bill. That was after an early guilty plea, meaning a single appearance at Birmingham Crown Court.
I didn’t see his means form but I’m guessing this bloke, if he’s trying to rob a mobile phone from a drunk guy in Birmingham City Centre, isn’t rolling in cash.

And therein lies the problem.
Bearing in mind defendants already face fines, compensation, prosecution costs and victim surcharges – which will all take priority – I would be amazed if this policy rakes in a penny for the courts. By the time the two years expire how much will this guy have paid, considering he’s on porridge for 26 weeks?
What happens where defendants are sentenced to years behind bars? How will they pay? With meagre prison wages?

Repeat offenders will rack up these charges so fast they will just sit in an account, never shrinking until they are written off as a lost cause. But imposing them, tracking them and hounding defendants will take time and money from an already overstretched system.
As I Tweeted at the time of the hearing this is creating pointless and costly admin.
As the dubious looking Judge in court said: “I’m not saying anything on tape.”

The whole thing smacks of political posturing around being tough on crime without actually achieving a thing.
I’ve read some analysis suggesting these fees might force defendants to plead guilty, where otherwise they would challenge allegations, in order to avoid the extra cost.
I’m not sure that will be the case as these costs don’t apply if you are acquitted, so a successful not guilty plea would be worthwhile.
My biggest problem with this is the utter absurdity at the prospect of penniless defendants being hit with un-payable charges that will eventually be dropped anyway.
If this is the calibre of policy to be expected from the MoJ our court system is in for a rocky ride indeed.

A shorthand introduction…

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Welcome to Birmingham Court Reporter where I hope to shed some light on the world of Birmingham’s court circuit.

Having covered courts for The Birmingham Mail full time  for a while there are often times I think of things to say outside of conventional court reporting. Hopefully with this blog I’ll be able to expand on some cases, explain others or offer opinions of the goings on in Crown or Magistrates Courts.

Unless you work in or around the court system the whole place can seem odd. Fashions range from tracksuit bottoms and jeans to wigs and gowns, barristers and judges talk in what seems like a foreign language and when there are delays time seems to lose all meaning. For first time defendants it must seem intimidating, to victims and their families baffling.

For a neutral party the courts are fascinating, a melting pot of all aspects of Brum society and I never tire of them or the proceedings taking place. Whether it’s a picture painted by a witness giving evidence or entrenched legal argument between prosecution and defence. Here I’ll try to nullify some of the mystery and show the courts in a more human light.

I can be contacted through comments, on Twitter @mwl462 or by email at Matt.lloyd@trinitymirror.com