PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by a terrifying and/or distressing event.  The subject generally experiences nightmares and flashbacks of the causative event leading to an increasing feeling of isolation from the world around them.  Insomnia, nausea and physical trembling usually develop and have a profound impact on the subject’s day to day life.

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A disorder such as PTSD can cause someone to act in a different way to a ‘normal’ person.  In particular when faced with a situation of violence a sufferer of PTSD can react in an extreme and aggressive manner that other people may perceive as unreasonable.  For this reason advising people who are accused of a crime demands a knowledge of mental health conditions.

I recently acted for an officer in the Army who was accused of a serious assault.  The aggrieved in the case was a young male who had clearly hit out first but the officer had then fought back causing serious injuries that would ordinarily have been considered ‘disproportionate’.  The law on self-defence is clear that only proportionate and reasonable violence can be used to defend yourself, or another, when under attack.  The officer had already been advised by one solicitor to enter a guilty plea but felt unhappy with the advice and so we began to explore what went through his mind at the time of the incident.  He could not understand why he had acted in the way that he had.

I am not a mental health professional but when we began exploring the officer’s background and his experiences whilst on tours of duty, it was clear that something was gravely wrong.  I instructed a specialist Army Psychiatrist who undertook a full assessment and she returned with a diagnosis of full-blown PTSD.  She divulged that during combat the officer had not only witnessed the shooting of a fellow officer but also the murder of two innocent children.  These events had been the trigger for this disabling disorder with which he now suffered.  The officer himself had never been able to talk about these events to me.

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At trial we called the Psychiatrist to give expert evidence about the disorder and eventually the officer was found not guilty.  We learnt that the other man had made a full recovery and thankfully the officer would remain in post.  The Army might have lost one of its brightest stars and society may have locked up someone to whom in fact we owe an enormous debt.

PTSD, like all mental disorders, is not something you can see when you look at someone – it’s not being in a wheelchair or having an arm in plaster.  For that reason there is still a fear for those with the disorder that they will not be believed and that they could be ‘making it up’.  People are therefore reluctant to accept they have such a problem and often even more reluctant to talk about it.

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Leaving no stone unturned

Occasionally you get a case which seems totally hopeless.. the evidence of someone’s guilt seems overwhelming and yet they profess their innocence. This of course ties in with everyone’s favourite dinner party question for me ‘how can you represent someone who you think is guilty?’

Well, here for you to digest, is my answer.

I once attended Southampton Central police station for a man who was under arrest for dealing drugs. He was alleged to have dealt the drugs to an undercover officer and then left the scene. The drugs were analysed and found to have his DNA on the cling-film as he had carried the wrap in his mouth. So pretty open and shut you might think? I got in to see the man who told me that he had nothing to do with drugs and had never even been to Southampton before. I explained to him the million to one odds connected with DNA etc etc but he remained steadfast. We went into interview and he put forward his account, he was charged with drug dealing and sent off to prison to await trial. 2 weeks later I received a letter to say the DNA samples had been mixed up and he had indeed been telling the truth.

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Now hand on heart I didn’t personally believe him at the time, but that’s why I’m so glad I paid no attention to my personal feelings on the subject because I. WAS. WRONG. If I turned down every case where I thought someone was guilty I wouldn’t just be letting that client down, I would be letting the whole system down because it only works when both prosecution and defence are represented.

A couple of years ago I had a road traffic case which again seemed hopeless. The allegation involved a car accident where the driver had fled the scene. My client’s DNA had been found on the airbag and again a conviction seemed pretty inevitable. However forensic evidence can never be simply accepted at face value. In this case we employed our own forensic expert who inspected the evidence and was able to show that following the crash the airbag had sagged onto the seat of the car thereby contaminating any DNA evidence available on it. My client had travelled in the car on several occasions previously and therefore his skin cells and hair were very probably in the car.

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At trial the witness who saw the driver run from the car described someone wholly dissimilar to my client and in fact very much like the car owner! Needless to say we won the trial.

Everything might point to guilt at the outset, but as a lawyer you’ve got to look at it top, bottom, right, left, under, over and inside-out, before you conclude the same.

‘A thing that is accepted as true without proof’

 

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner for the Metropolitan police, has announced that the Met may now move away from their existing policy with regard to sex crimes.  Up to this point they have assumed that anyone complaining of a sex crime is telling the truth.  To assume makes an ‘ass of u and me’ as they say and with good reason.  If you accept that people can lie then why on earth would we assume that sexual allegations are a special case where people never lie?

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It reminds me of a police station investigation which I became involved in a few years back.  A 25 year-old man was arrested for rape and I attended to advise him.  His ex-girlfriend (who was just 18) had alleged that he had raped her on New Year’s Eve (it was now April.)  He was in total shock and cried throughout the interview with me, explaining that they had been in a relationship and he couldn’t believe what she was saying.  He told me in painstaking detail about every occasion that they had met up and what had happened.  He then repeated all of this in interview with the police, explaining that sex had taken place but it was entirely consensual.  He was bailed whilst they carried out further investigations.

He called me a week or so after his arrest and said that he had managed to find a handwritten love letter from his ex dated 1st January thanking him for a ‘gorgeous night’. It seemed that we now had something to finally decide the matter; if the letter was from her, which could be verified by handwriting analysis, then it must surely be incompatible with her allegation, alternatively my client had deviously tried to falsify evidence and therefore was likely to be caught out.  Having met my client I was entirely confident that the letter would prove to be genuine.  We met with the police and gave it to them.

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It was approximately 10 months later that the matter was finally drawn to an end.  Despite constant badgering from me the police did not seem to think that the letter was conclusive.  The complainant had accepted that she wrote the letter and it related to the same night but apparently still maintained she had been raped.  The police had given her a considerable amount of time to explain the letter with counselling but finally after 10 months they decided not to take any further action.  It felt to me as if the concept that the allegation had been false was simply the last explanation they were willing to consider.  In the meantime the police had notified my client’s employer and he had been suspended from work for almost a year.  Frustratingly the police confirmed they would not be taking any action against the complainant and that was the end of the matter.  After 17 hours in custody, 10 months waiting whilst suspended from work… you can imagine how he felt.

In that case the complaint was made 4 months after sex took place and so there was no forensic evidence available to help clarify the truth.  In this way the case was similar to the historic allegations that we frequently see in the press.  With these cases there is usually no ‘independent’ evidence such as forensics, CCTV or mobile phone data and convictions must be founded upon the testimony of witnesses alone.  I recently dealt with a case in the Crown Court where everything had taken place in the 1970s..  Piecing together what had happened, and when, was exceptionally difficult and that was just for the police and the lawyers, let alone the defendant. With many sex crimes defendants are left trying to prove a negative, trying to prove that something did not happen. It can be almost impossible. For that reason the very greatest care must be taken and there is no place for assumption.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

When it was announced that the mysterious sequel to Mockingbird would finally be published I, like millions of others, had to sign myself up.  I even invested in a hard copy for posterity (surely there can be no bigger commitment in the Kindle age.)  I can safely say it was not what I would have imagined.

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The book is set in the 1950s when Scout is 26 and lives in New York.  She returns to Maycomb for a fortnight to visit her father and the remaining cast of Mockingbird.  She finds herself reminiscing about the happy lazy days of her childhood.  These are now filled with a bittersweet poignancy as we learn early on that Jem dropped dead five years earlier of the same heart condition as his mother.  The new adventures exploring the backyard are enchanting perhaps for the unique reason that most of us read Mockingbird when we were a teenager and most of us are now an adult reading Watchman.  The child dalliances of Jem, Scout and Dill are the stuff of literary legend and for me they are intermingled with my own school memories; to revisit them with the knowledge that Jem has died feels like one of my own classmates has gone.  The realities of adult life encroaching on a rose-tinted world of the past.

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The book features a return to Lee’s satirical tableau of everyday racism. Aunt Alexandra’s coffee morning with the ladies of Maycomb is a delight if not an extreme irritation when you recognise certain people you may know.  The scene where Scout visits Calpurnia is genuinely heart-breaking – just read it.

But oh dear reader what I could never have predicted was the undoing of Atticus Finch.  I don’t think you can overstate how much the character means to lawyers the world over, his portrayal of courage and belief in justice no matter what.  The book culminates in Atticus being exposed as a racist after all.  He has joined a council who wish to retain segregation due to the ‘backward’ nature of the negroes.  A show-down in the final part of the book sees Scout confront her father in the manner of a true heroine but the scene brings tears to the eyes and not in a good way.  Having held Atticus in the highest esteem since I read Mockingbird at fifteen the sense of betrayal I felt was profound and I wanted to join Scout in shouting ‘You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible’. And perhaps this is the book’s terrible power – the power to create perhaps the most genuine empathy for a character – we feel everything she says, but it comes at a terrible cost.

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Should I be this upset? (My husband says this is where I need to get a life…) I looked at reviews of the book and many said that the Atticus in Mockingbird had always been a two-dimensional character, a superhero without flaws.  I suppose I have to acknowledge that but I don’t want to, I want something to believe in, I want to believe that a man like him could really exist.  But then isn’t that the fantasy of a fifteen year-old?  I’m back to the book again; as Uncle Jack says to Scout ‘you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings.’  The whole thing becomes worse when we consider that although Watchman is a sequel, Lee wrote it before Mockingbird.  It is an even more bitter pill to swallow that she must have always imagined Atticus like this.  That the image of him in Mockingbird was simply the idealised view of a little girl’s father and we all swallowed it whole.

Is a book to be measured in the depth of the emotional response within its reader?  If so then Watchman was a success, but did I enjoy it?.. I’ve never felt so disappointed.

Human Rights

Human Rights.  A concept that seems to divide our population like no other.

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In my mind they are the phoenix that rose from the ashes of WWII, the world had looked on and said ‘never again’. We recognised our common humanity and our core values were enshrined in a document that transcended borders, religion and politics.

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In 1948 Winston Churchill said

The Movement for European Unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.

Stirring stuff you may feel but just 60 or so years later we seem to have really gone off the idea.  There are many arguments and cases which people use to demonstrate that Human Rights are out of control but perhaps the most controversial is giving prisoners the right to vote.  This allegedly makes David Cameron feel physically sick.

So I want to answer it if I can…It’s no secret that I am a fan of restorative justice and rehabilitation – it’s fairly clear from other posts on this blog that I don’t actually think ‘lock em up and throw away the key’ benefits society in any way.  The reason for this is that whether you like it or not 95% of the current prison population will be back on the streets during your lifetime or the lifetime of your children.  For that reason it seems completely self-evident to me that our top priority in the punishment of offenders is to try to prevent the commission of further crime upon their release.

You could argue that prison should be as horrible and as gruelling as possible and then people will never want to go back.  Taking away their right to vote is just another way that we can make them feel the consequences of their crime.  The problem with this argument is that it just isn’t supported by the evidence.  In 2012 the MoJ confirmed that 14 prisons in the UK had reconviction rates of more than 70%.  Prison in the UK is horrible and gruelling – suicide rates are at an all time high, due to dangerously low staffing levels most prisoners are now kept in their cells for 23 hours a day and they often aren’t allowed to work or exercise at all.

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Contrast this with the Norwegian system of prisons – known as the most humane prisons in the world; inmates are allowed to keep chickens, have jobs and decorate their cells.  And yes they have one of the lowest reoffending rates in the world.  Their society has taught them – this is how life can be; if we treat you with respect, will you return the favour?   The point people seem to miss about prison is that the deprivation of your liberty is punishment enough – no one wants to be there because your life is not your own.  In the view of the inmates I speak to it isn’t necessary to make it a gruelling experience because the deterrent is already there.

I recently represented a young 22 year-old man who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and charged with a serious offence that led to his incarceration before trial for almost 6 months.  The Judge eventually threw out the case against him at trial and I was privileged enough to be with him as we walked out of the cells at Court and into the sunshine of a beautiful day in September.  He didn’t speak but I could see by the look on his face what he was feeling to be free again.  Anyone who think it’s pleasant in prison would have surely thought again.

The Norwegian message appears to be: you have done wrong and for that reason we will take you away from the people you love, we will stop you going where you want to go and doing the things you want to do.  We will imprison you to punish you and protect the public from you.  But whilst you are here we will treat you with respect, we will teach you what society can be like if you choose to take an active part in it.  We will not demean and degrade you because this is what you have done to others and we, the State, want to show you that is wrong.

It seems to me there is something profoundly beautiful and mature about treating people with humanity no matter what they have done. The idea is central to Christianity and many other religions; turning the other cheek to the man who has struck you.

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So to return to the point what does it really cost us to allow prisoners to vote in an election?  Half the country’s population don’t even use their vote and I suspect that the majority of prisoners won’t wish to either.

The idea that a handful of prisoners still want to be a part of our society though should surely be encouraged if we are to have any hope for the future.

2014 review

What will we remember 2014 for?  Here are my top five:

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Malala Yousfazai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – Malala began to blog about the lack of education for girls in Pakistan when she was just 11 years old detailing the Taliban occupation of her beloved Swat valley.  She rose in prominence and began to give interviews/make film documentaries despite her and her family receiving threats.  She was fearless in the face of terror until the Taliban cowardly shot her in the head on her way to school.  Miraculously she survived and the rest is history.  If anything could give you faith in good prevailing over evil it is this little girl.

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A sign that democracy is alive and well with 90% of Scottish people voting in the referendum.  2014 has certainly seen the general public become more involved with Politics.  Interestingly the country appears to be rejecting the middle ground and dividing between far right and far left.  UKIP and the Green party have seen a huge rise in membership numbers.. whatever your thoughts a country more engaged with Politics can only be a good thing.

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The Media were exposed from a number of angles:

– Panorama and the phone-hacking scandal showed us that our journalists bribe police officers for confidential information and our politicians are deeply entangled with them; to the point where Rebekah Brookes was said to be ‘almost a member of the shadow cabinet’.

– Russell Brand exposed to the masses that the owners of Fox News In America were shareholders in arms dealerships selling firearms to the Middle East and therefore keen to perpetuate hatred of the Middle East via their reporting.

– The ITV drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries showed us how the Media destroyed the life of an innocent man when he had been wrongly arrested for murder.

– The head of our Supreme Court Lord Neuberger stated that journalists abused freedom of expression when they based their persuasion on misrepresentation and propaganda.

Here are my little sister’s thoughts http://tiffanyimogen.com/2014/08/27/hate-the-media-love-the-corncockle/

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Lawyers all over Britain came together to oppose the Government’s attempted demolition of legal aid; winning a judicial review in September where the Government’s plans were ruled illegal (see https://chloerosejay.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/failing-grayling)  The Ministry of Justice rallied and we have again managed to halt their plans with the final decision to be made in January 2015.  This new year will see the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta and we can only hope that this will help in putting Justice, and access to Justice, at the forefront of people’s minds.

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In December the book ban for prisoners was ruled unlawful – I cannot convey how disgusting I find the idea that we withhold literature from any human being. Do we want people to change or don’t we?

So there you have it 2014 had some pretty exciting developments – on a personal note WordPress tells me that my blog has been read in 44 different countries since it began and that’s certainly more places than I’ll probably ever go to – most importantly the image of Judge Bryan Jay has reached the wider world which can only have enhanced happiness.

Happy New Year

The Fake Sheikh

Tulisa Contostavlos, best known for her appearance on The X Factor, recently walked free from a drug allegation at Southwark Crown Court.  The case was far from run of the mill and the actions of one journalist in particular became crucial in the collapse of the biggest celebrity trial in years. Tulisa Contostavlos court case. In the spring of 2013 Miss Contostavlos was flown to Las Vegas as part of an elaborate deception planned by Mazher Mahmood, an investigative journalist working for The Sun.  She would be auditioning for a major role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and the contract would be worth millions.  She was flown first-class, driven in limousines and plied with alcohol by Mahmood and his associates.

Mahmood himself posed as a wealthy Sheikh who would be funding the enterprise.  The sequence of events continued in London upon her return and over the period of a few weeks Miss Contostavlos was said to have helped arrange a drug deal for Mahmood to buy 13g of cocaine.  Various conversations had been covertly filmed and these films were given to police.  She was arrested and charged with Being Concerned in the Supply of class A drugs. Miss Contostavlos maintained that she was told off camera that there was no formal audition for the film role and that she would need to act ‘like a bad girl’ whenever she met with the Sheikh and his colleagues.  She therefore acted as if she approved of drugs and was involved with people who dealt them.

The reality was that she in fact hated the drug-world due to the long suffering of a friend of hers and on one of the drives home she had a lengthy discussion in the presence of Mahmood’s driver about her true feelings on the subject.  This conversation was to become the seed of Mahmood’s undoing. The trial at Southwark Crown Court began and the Defence attempted to have the trial stopped on the grounds of an abuse of process.  The Defence argued that Mahmood could not be trusted given his track-record and that he had clearly entrapped Miss Contostavlos.  The Prosecution should not continue when it was almost wholly based on the evidence of such a man.  The Judge heard evidence from Mr Mahmood about his journalistic practices and previous cases; for example his involvement in the alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham – a case which had fallen apart and indicated that the ‘sheikh’ liked to manipulate evidence.

The Judge unfortunately found his hands tied due to the notoriously high threshold for Abuse of Process arguments; whilst he expressed displeasure at the journalistic methods of Mahmood there was nothing sufficiently serious to allow him to throw out the case. Thus the trial began and Mahmood was called to give evidence, this time before the Jury.  Unbeknownst to the journalist the Defence team had a trick up their sleeve – they had interviewed the driver of the vehicle (told you we’d come back to him) and found that a paragraph relating to what Tulisa had said in the car had been omitted from the final copy of the driver’s statement.  In his previous evidence, (in relation to the abuse of process,) Mahmood had claimed to know nothing about this statement but during the trial he was forced to admit that he had in fact told the driver to remove the paragraph.  He had lied on oath to the Judge just days before…

At that stage the Judge threw out the case stating it was clear that Mahmood had lied to cover up his manipulation of the evidence.  It was now wholly wrong for the prosecution to continue. Whether Mahmood will face criminal charges is as yet unclear although I have no idea why. For future reference here he is – filmed for BBC’s Panorama – if he’s offering a film contract with Brad Pitt girls I’m afraid it is too good to be true.

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