Archive | September 2016

Want to be a criminal or social justice lawyer? Here’s the reality, now think again!

I have been asked to give a few lectures about my life as a criminal and social justice lawyer to students interested in undertaking this type of work. Unfortunately, at the moment, I am not able to publicise my whereabouts in advance so I can’t give lectures, but I have decided to draft my talk anyway and upload it.

If you are expecting me to encourage all law students to become criminal or social justice lawyers as its a worthwhile role, you are going to be sorely disappointed by the time you finish reading this. If I have persuaded many of you not to undertake the work, that is probably a good thing. I have been a lawyer for nearly 20 years and make no mistake, there has never been a harder time to be a criminal or social justice lawyer than now. Legal aid cuts, or in some areas of law the complete abolition of legal aid, along with an increase in court costs has created a two tier justice system like never before. In the past 6 years, the Government has managed to rip the heart out of a legal system of which I used to be proud. But, although this Government has attacked the legal system like a pack of rabid dogs, the rot had already set in under the previous Labour Government, which set in motion the legal aid cuts. The eradication of lawyers who were passionate about ensuring that everyone had equal access to justice had begun. Those same passionate people had to pay rent or mortgages, repay student loans, provide for their children, and it was becoming increasingly hard to do so on the rates we were being paid for work, which is challenging and demanding, but which is not seen as being high on the scale of important things in life. Well that is until a person becomes involved in the legal system as a defendant or claimant, at that stage they appreciate the importance of a fully funded legal system staffed by people who care about their clients and the rule of law, but by that stage it is too late.

I’m a barrister with a predominantly criminal practice, but that strays into many other areas of law relating to the criminal justice system, complaints against the police, complaints against the CPS, judicial review, police disciplinaries, parole hearings and prisoner adjudications, inquests, criminal injuries compensation, press complaints, employment, Nursing and Midwifery Council hearings…. the list is endless of the types of issue which can result from a criminal case.

No one comes to me because they are happy and their life is good, I am not only a lawyer but also a quasi social worker, surrogate mother, or for some, just a piece of common sense. I don’t work nine to five hours, and I cannot do my job on a 40 hour week. I have lost count of the amount of times I have arrived at a family dinner just in time for desert having been in court or a police station after hours, have declined invitations to social events as I am too busy preparing for a case the next day, spent my Sunday travelling half way round the country to make sure I am in the right area of the country for a Monday morning parole hearing at a prison in the middle of nowhere. I used to say that it would be difficult to do my job if you weren’t passionate about it. I now say it is impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, I bitch about my job, when I am standing on a platform at 05:30 on a cold wet Monday morning waiting to start my 3 hour train journey to a court for what will turn out to be a one hour hearing, or when I get a wake up call from a client at 03:00 as they are in trouble, and when I realise at the end of the month that I am again going to struggle to pay my rent.

This is not a job where people are going to recognise your worth. If you want to be constantly congratulated for your work, go and do something else. After 9 hours on a police carrier with twelve police officers all asking me questions like “How do you sleep at night?’ “How does it feel to know that you have managed to get a guilty person acquitted so that they can go out and hurt someone again?” “How can you even consider representing a child rapist?’ the questions become weary, but its an experience I have had more than once, and it has made me realise that actually I am not thanked by the majority of the public for the work I do. Even my family members struggle to reconcile the fact that I was brought up in a family of high morals and ethics, yet one of my main areas of work is representing people who are accused of crimes, or have committed crimes, which are beyond most peoples worst nightmares. Click on any tabloid newspaper on the internet and you won’t have to search for long to find an article which describes criminal lawyers as fat cat lawyers, with dubious morals.

This job can be very lonely at times, even more so for a barrister than a solicitor as you rarely even have the daily camaraderie of an office environment. I spend hours sitting on trains on my own, waiting at court for my case to come on, sitting in cells with clients who have such mental health issues that its enough that they are able to chat to me about what they have had for lunch, working the twilight zone night after night (some of my friends refer to me as the vampire). And all the while I am dealing with someone else’s problems, which are so personal and confidential that I can’t sit around a dinner table and discuss them even with those closest to me, hence I am constantly bottling up other people’s problems. And even if it is not confidential, its a bit difficult to go out with a group of friends for the evening and when they say ‘oh how was work today? to reply, “oh you know, not bad, I spent the day looking at photos of a dead child so badly mutilated even her own mother wouldn’t have recognised her, that’s if her mother hadn’t also been strangled with such severity that her whole body turned blue, then mutilated and dumped.”

I have a large number of high profile cases on my docket at any one time. My cases are not high profile because the client is a celebrity, but usually because their alleged crime is high profile. This brings additional pressures, making sure that I protect a client (who often cannot help themselves due to the fact they are in custody or have mental health issues) from excessive press intrusion, from actions of the public or occasionally magistrates and judges who want to grandstand in front of the press or the packed public gallery. I rarely comment to the press, I don’t permit journalists or documentary makers to visit my clients, my usual comment when they ask is that my clients are not animals in the zoo.

I am not a high profile lawyer, you won’t find me commenting on legal issues on a tv news programme or featuring in articles in newspapers. I don’t do this for the notoriety, in fact the more I can fade into the background the better. You won’t find photos of me on the internet, and as much as possible I sneak out of a side door of court after a case. I have refused to be part of documentaries and with the exception of the Save UK Justice campaign you won’t find me endorsing any prominent campaign. That way I am totally independent, I work for my client and like to think I act in my client’s best interests. In my opinion the only way that you can ensure that you are acting in the best interests of the client is to make sure you haven’t any other affiliations or involvements which could sway how you act on a case. I will refuse a case if I think my actions on one case may conflict with those on another, the client is paramount.

Not all criminal lawyers are like me, many work from their local courts and have a local client base, and will work more regular hours. I have chosen my career path, it is my fault that I work long hours, have numerous pro bono cases running at any one time, have nightmares about some of the things I’ve seen and can’t un-see, and regularly miss dinner. But whether you chose to take on my type of work or be based more local to home, you will work long hours, be paid for about half of the work you actually do, face ethical situations which you would never have dreamed you would have to deal with, and quite often find that even your own client is not grateful for the work you have put in.

But despite all of that, it can sometimes, just sometimes, feel like the best job in the World!

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The potential abuse of the football banning order. Are Police applying for football banning orders to restrict fans from other activities not linked to football?

As I have reported previously, my client, Tommy Robinson has been served with an application for a football banning order by Bedfordshire Police. It will be argued in Mr Robinson’s defence of the application that this is an attempt to breach his right to freedom of speech and assembly. It is an abuse of the legal process that the football banning order is being used as a ruse to create an exclusion zone in Luton so that he cannot undertake any political protests on Saturdays.

The application for the football banning order has been served by Bedfordshire Police, although it is believed that the real instigator of this application is the Home Office through the UK Football Policing Unit. It is believed that the emergency provisions invoked during the Euro 2016 football tournament were used as an excuse to prevent Mr Robinson from travelling to France and also as a means of introducing the application for the football banning order. Without these emergency provisions neither the police nor UK Football Policing Unit would have had grounds to serve the application on Mr Robinson.

This Football Banning Order application aims to prevent Tommy Robinson from entering the town of Luton for 12 hours on a Saturday when Luton Town FC are playing a home match, and from attending events overseas where England is represented. Without a Football Banning Order, the Home Office would struggle to find a legal mechanism to restrict Mr Robinson’s movements, as his political protests are not unlawful. While some may not agree with his views, Mr Robinson has just as much right to lawful protest as any other individual or group.

Hence it is a logical conclusion that this application is made as an abuse of the Bedfordshire Police power as it is actually an attempt by the Home Office to restrict Mr Robinson’s movement and expression of his political beliefs.

This is compounded by the fact Bedfordshire Police have included Mr Robinson being photographed in France holding a George Cross flag with Fuck ISIS written on it. The police application says this action is likely to incite racial hatred. Clearly, protesting against a banned terrorist organisation which has infiltrated both French and British soil is not inciting racial hatred. Mr Robinson has never stated that he believes that ISIS is linked to the mainstream Muslim faith, but has linked it to islamic extremism, in the same manner that the former Prime Minster, David Cameron, referred to the “Evil of ISIS.”

Mr Robinson was not at a football match while holding up this George Cross for the photograph. He was not even in the same town in which the England national football team were playing. Police intelligence reports state that it was believed that Mr Robinson would not attend the football matches in the South of France as he did not want to be in a position where his presence could be linked to any disorder, so how can it be argued that this is a valid application required to prevent Mr Robinson causing violence or disorder at football matches?

Mr Robinson is deeply concerned that in order to bolster this weak application, Bedfordshire Police has placed misleading information in front of the court. In particular, the application states that he was convicted of an offence of affray on Remembrance Day 2010. This is not true. In reality Mr Robinson was convicted of causing harassment alarm or distress to persons who were purposely burning replica poppies. Mr Robinson jumped a barrier to stop the deliberate insult to those who have given their lives fighting for their country. The irony is that Mr Robinson received a stronger sentence than the £50 fine imposed on those who were burning the replica poppies, and at least some of those supporting and encouraging the burning of the replica poppies are now either facing charges or have already been convicted of supporting or inciting support for a banned organisation (ISIS), including one person who was, just this week, sentenced to five and a half years in prison for inciting support for a banned terrorist organisation.

Mr Robinson has a court hearing on 19th September 2016. An update will be provided after that hearing.

Cambridgeshire Police Persecution of Football Fans..

My client, known as Tommy Robinson, is a Luton Town FC football fan. On Saturday 27th August 2016 he went to watch Cambridge United FC v Luton Town FC with two friends and five children under 11, between them. All the children were in Luton Town FC shirts.

Neither my client nor his friends were involved in any disorder throughout the entire day in Cambridge. Before and after the match, Mr Robinson was with his group of friends and the children, and spent most of his time at the fair on Parkers Piece, Cambridge. He entered the Grain & Hop Store Public House at the end of a pleasant afternoon with the children. However within half an hour, he and his children were subjected to distressing and unwarranted harassment by Cambridgeshire Police officers who told him that he and his children had to leave the City of Cambridge to prevent disorder.

This is believed to be a blatant misuse of a dispersal order against a football fan who did nothing more than go on a family day out: attend a football match, watch a football match on a TV in a pub with friends, and attend the fair with children.

There were no issues with either Home or Away supporters in the pub, or to my knowledge, in any other pubs in the area. So why have football fans who have attended a football match with their young children been targeted, harassed and treated with contempt by the police?

Cambridgeshire Police have issued a statement claiming that 18 Luton Town FC football fans were dispersed from the City in order to prevent disorder, but that there was no need for them to be served with notices as they left of their own free will. There is video evidence to the contrary which clearly shows that Mr Robinson was told he had no option but to leave the City. Sadly this is the police PR machine in action, yet another example of the spin that a police force will put on their actions to justify treating football fans like second class citizens.

I am not aware of anyone else who was dispersed, and request that any Luton Town FC football fans who were dispersed from the City of Cambridge on Saturday to make contact with me in order that a full picture of events on that day can be obtained. It would help clarify whether the Cambridgeshire Police count of 18 people being dispersed includes the five children under the age of 11 who were in tears as they were followed by police officers.

I would also like to know if the other people who were dispersed were followed back to the train station by Cambridgeshire Police officers and video recorded by the officers for the whole of this route. It is a shame that the police officers chose to continue following and filming when it would have been clear that this police harassment was causing the children to become very distressed.

I believe the main objective was to try and obtain ‘evidence’ against my client. Upsetting young children who were peacefully walking to the train station on the orders of the police would be considered by many to be provocative, not that this tactic succeeded.

I also ask that anyone who was in the Grain & Hop Store Public House or who witnessed my client, his friends and their children being followed back to Cambridge train station to contact me, particularly if they have video footage or photographs.

This casual misuse of dispersal orders against football fans by police officers cannot continue to be tolerated.
Alison Gurden
Barrister

Contact details
Mobile: 07941 212357
email: gurdena@btinternet.com
Twitter: @gurdena

 

Want to know more about the police powers to use dispersal orders on football fans?…it is explained here in an old post Dispersal Orders and Millwall Fans…. The reality of travelling to Coventry without a ticket.