Restore the right to be tried by a jury

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 removed one of our fundamental rights, the right to be tried by a jury, and allows a judge to decide to dispense with the jury if there are allegations of jury tampering. This must be repealed and the right to jury trial restored.

It is easy to see how dangerous this is. Imagine the authorities believe they will have difficulty convincing a jury of someone's guilt and think they will have a better chance with just a judge. All they have to do is arrange, secretly and unofficially of course, for someone to phone one of the jurors and threaten them and as soon as the juror reports this, the judge can order a jury-less trial.

I appreciate that jury intimidation can be a problem, so if there are no better ideas, perhaps in cases where it's felt necessary, we could keep the jurors identities secret, by having them behind a one-way screen in court and escorted to and from court in windowless vehicles. This might not be ideal, but at least it preserves the right to trial by jury, which many people much wiser than myself have said is absolutely vital to freedom, such as Lord Devlin who described it as "the lamp that shows freedom lives".

Why is this idea important?

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 removed one of our fundamental rights, the right to be tried by a jury, and allows a judge to decide to dispense with the jury if there are allegations of jury tampering. This must be repealed and the right to jury trial restored.

It is easy to see how dangerous this is. Imagine the authorities believe they will have difficulty convincing a jury of someone's guilt and think they will have a better chance with just a judge. All they have to do is arrange, secretly and unofficially of course, for someone to phone one of the jurors and threaten them and as soon as the juror reports this, the judge can order a jury-less trial.

I appreciate that jury intimidation can be a problem, so if there are no better ideas, perhaps in cases where it's felt necessary, we could keep the jurors identities secret, by having them behind a one-way screen in court and escorted to and from court in windowless vehicles. This might not be ideal, but at least it preserves the right to trial by jury, which many people much wiser than myself have said is absolutely vital to freedom, such as Lord Devlin who described it as "the lamp that shows freedom lives".

Independent body to hold CCTV footage

The police have demonstrated that they can't be trusted with CCTV footage, as on many occasions when it might have provided evidence of wrong-doing by them, it has been "lost", "damaged" or they say the equipment just happened not to be working at the time (see the recent case of the two brothers at the Gaza protest, where the CCTV captured them just before and after they were assaulted, but apparently not at the time of the incident!).

I suggest that an independent body is set-up, with the power to seize and store CCTV footage after an incident (whether from public or private systems), removing this power from the police. This body can then make copies of this footage available to the police and solicitors.

Why is this idea important?

The police have demonstrated that they can't be trusted with CCTV footage, as on many occasions when it might have provided evidence of wrong-doing by them, it has been "lost", "damaged" or they say the equipment just happened not to be working at the time (see the recent case of the two brothers at the Gaza protest, where the CCTV captured them just before and after they were assaulted, but apparently not at the time of the incident!).

I suggest that an independent body is set-up, with the power to seize and store CCTV footage after an incident (whether from public or private systems), removing this power from the police. This body can then make copies of this footage available to the police and solicitors.

Only courts, not the police, should be able to set bail conditions

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows a policeman to set bail conditions on a person who they have arrested, without even taking them to a police station.

Clearly it is outrageous that a policeman can arrest someone (at a protest for example) and then make up whatever bail conditions they like (leave the area, don't go to Manchester, don't speak to those 4 people) before releasing the person in the street.

Going further back, it was the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which allowed the police to set bail conditions at a police station when releasing someone they had arrested.

I think it's wrong that the police can restrict a person's freedom in this way. It should be for a court to set bail conditions, where the suspect's lawyer can argue on their client's behalf that the conditions are too stringent and unnecessary , and the conditions should be no more than are necessary to prevent the investigation and subsequent proceedings being interfered with (IE to stop people intimidating witnesses or repeating the alleged criminal behaviour whilst waiting to be prosecuted).

Why is this idea important?

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows a policeman to set bail conditions on a person who they have arrested, without even taking them to a police station.

Clearly it is outrageous that a policeman can arrest someone (at a protest for example) and then make up whatever bail conditions they like (leave the area, don't go to Manchester, don't speak to those 4 people) before releasing the person in the street.

Going further back, it was the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which allowed the police to set bail conditions at a police station when releasing someone they had arrested.

I think it's wrong that the police can restrict a person's freedom in this way. It should be for a court to set bail conditions, where the suspect's lawyer can argue on their client's behalf that the conditions are too stringent and unnecessary , and the conditions should be no more than are necessary to prevent the investigation and subsequent proceedings being interfered with (IE to stop people intimidating witnesses or repeating the alleged criminal behaviour whilst waiting to be prosecuted).

Protect “confidential” medical records from the authorities

I am calling for medical confidentiality to be respected and for the practice of allowing the police and CPS access to a person's medical records to be stopped and indeed made illegal and a ban on using a person's medical history or records in criminal proceedings.

Currently, in certain circumstances the police can obtain a warrant to get a copy of a person's supposedly confidential medical records, including mental health records.

Sometimes, the clinical staff responsible for protecting the records will not even require a warrant, but will provide the records on the basis of a request from the police or CPS.

Why should the authorities be able to look at and use your "confidential" medical records against you, when questioning or prosecuting you?

I'm particularly concerned that if someone has a mental health problem,  the fact that medical records are not confidential will put people off seeking help and sharing their thoughts and feelings with a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist, because they might worry that these probably quite strange thoughts could be used against them in the future. If they don't seek help, their condition will probably get worse and they might become a danger to themselves or others.

The thoughts and feelings expressed in therapy may be no more weird than those that most people have from time to time, but if the person becomes a suspect in an investigation in the future, the fact that they have shared their thoughts in therapy means that they can then be used against them by the police, or as "evidence" or to make them out to be some sort of wierdo and turn the jury against them in court.

If a person is fortunate enough to be able to pay for private therapy, the notes from this will not be available to the authorities, mainly because they will not know that you had therapy or who you saw, but if you are poor and have to accept therapy on the NHS, the authorities will see this from your GP's records and then go fishing in your mental health records for anything they think will help their case.

I think it's disgusting that we don't protect medical confidentiality so that people can seek help without worrying that it might cause problems for them in the future, but currently the NHS and the Government regards your records as their property to do with what they wish.

Why is this idea important?

I am calling for medical confidentiality to be respected and for the practice of allowing the police and CPS access to a person's medical records to be stopped and indeed made illegal and a ban on using a person's medical history or records in criminal proceedings.

Currently, in certain circumstances the police can obtain a warrant to get a copy of a person's supposedly confidential medical records, including mental health records.

Sometimes, the clinical staff responsible for protecting the records will not even require a warrant, but will provide the records on the basis of a request from the police or CPS.

Why should the authorities be able to look at and use your "confidential" medical records against you, when questioning or prosecuting you?

I'm particularly concerned that if someone has a mental health problem,  the fact that medical records are not confidential will put people off seeking help and sharing their thoughts and feelings with a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist, because they might worry that these probably quite strange thoughts could be used against them in the future. If they don't seek help, their condition will probably get worse and they might become a danger to themselves or others.

The thoughts and feelings expressed in therapy may be no more weird than those that most people have from time to time, but if the person becomes a suspect in an investigation in the future, the fact that they have shared their thoughts in therapy means that they can then be used against them by the police, or as "evidence" or to make them out to be some sort of wierdo and turn the jury against them in court.

If a person is fortunate enough to be able to pay for private therapy, the notes from this will not be available to the authorities, mainly because they will not know that you had therapy or who you saw, but if you are poor and have to accept therapy on the NHS, the authorities will see this from your GP's records and then go fishing in your mental health records for anything they think will help their case.

I think it's disgusting that we don't protect medical confidentiality so that people can seek help without worrying that it might cause problems for them in the future, but currently the NHS and the Government regards your records as their property to do with what they wish.

Abolish Anti-Social Behaviour Orders

The whole concept of ASBOs is flawed an unjust.

It allows a person to be hauled in front of a magistrate/judge and for that member of the judiciary to place restrictions on what that person can and cannot do, that do not apply to other members of the public, with the threat of imprisonment for breaching these restrictions.

This is in effect allowing the judiciary to make legislation that applies to individual people, whereas I believe the law should apply equally to all, and allows people to be imprisoned for actions that are not criminal.

The person does not even have to be convicted of a criminal offence before the judge can place these restrictions on a person's freedom and the ASBO process is a civil, not criminal, process, and I do not believe it is appropriate for the state to use the civil process to circumvent the protections afforded us by the procedures, rules and standard of proof developed over many years to protect us from arbitrary interference with our freedom by the state.

I recognise that so-called "anti-social behaviour" is a problem, and I say so-called because most, if not all, of the so-called behaviours are actually serious criminal offences, such as harassment, vandalism, threats of violence, etc and as such should be prosecuted and punished accordingly in the criminal courts, not classed as "anti-social behaviour" to keep the government crime statistics down.

 I believe this does a disservice and insults victims of these crimes as well and I believe they should be treated as crimes by the police. Most of this behaviour is a course of conduct against one person or in a certain area and it should be trivial for the police to install hidden cameras for a limited period to gather evidence of these crimes and prosecute the offenders.

There also should be harsher punishment for criminals who repeatedly commit these crimes and they should not be punished as isolated instances of vandalism or harassment each time, but the person's history of criminal behaviour looked at when sentencing, similar to the US' "three-strikes" rule.

Why is this idea important?

The whole concept of ASBOs is flawed an unjust.

It allows a person to be hauled in front of a magistrate/judge and for that member of the judiciary to place restrictions on what that person can and cannot do, that do not apply to other members of the public, with the threat of imprisonment for breaching these restrictions.

This is in effect allowing the judiciary to make legislation that applies to individual people, whereas I believe the law should apply equally to all, and allows people to be imprisoned for actions that are not criminal.

The person does not even have to be convicted of a criminal offence before the judge can place these restrictions on a person's freedom and the ASBO process is a civil, not criminal, process, and I do not believe it is appropriate for the state to use the civil process to circumvent the protections afforded us by the procedures, rules and standard of proof developed over many years to protect us from arbitrary interference with our freedom by the state.

I recognise that so-called "anti-social behaviour" is a problem, and I say so-called because most, if not all, of the so-called behaviours are actually serious criminal offences, such as harassment, vandalism, threats of violence, etc and as such should be prosecuted and punished accordingly in the criminal courts, not classed as "anti-social behaviour" to keep the government crime statistics down.

 I believe this does a disservice and insults victims of these crimes as well and I believe they should be treated as crimes by the police. Most of this behaviour is a course of conduct against one person or in a certain area and it should be trivial for the police to install hidden cameras for a limited period to gather evidence of these crimes and prosecute the offenders.

There also should be harsher punishment for criminals who repeatedly commit these crimes and they should not be punished as isolated instances of vandalism or harassment each time, but the person's history of criminal behaviour looked at when sentencing, similar to the US' "three-strikes" rule.

Repeal powers allowing PCSOs and police to demand your details

For a long time, under most circumstances, unless under arrest, a person has not been required to provide their name and address. However now, section 50 of the Police Reform Act makes it an offence not to do so if the officer believes the person is, or has been, acting in an "anti-social manner".

This is clearly open to abuse and has been abused by officers to obtain a person's details, even when the person has not been acting in an "anti-social manner" (whatever that means) but they have, as is their right, refused to provide their details when requested.

Other parts of the Police Reform Act, such as Schedule 4, Part 1 section 2(2), make it an offence not to provide a PCSO with your details, when it would not be an offence to refuse to provide them to a police officer.

The situation is now far too confusing for a member of the public to know when they can and cannot refuse to provide their details. The relevant laws should be amended to restore a person's right to refuse, unless they have been arrested or accepted a Fixed Penalty Notice or agreed to any other similar procedure that allows them to accept guilt and punishment without having to go through the process of being arrested, although perhaps in such circumstances the police should still arrest the person, issue the FPN and then release them without taking them to a police station, which would allow for them to demand the person's details.

Why is this idea important?

For a long time, under most circumstances, unless under arrest, a person has not been required to provide their name and address. However now, section 50 of the Police Reform Act makes it an offence not to do so if the officer believes the person is, or has been, acting in an "anti-social manner".

This is clearly open to abuse and has been abused by officers to obtain a person's details, even when the person has not been acting in an "anti-social manner" (whatever that means) but they have, as is their right, refused to provide their details when requested.

Other parts of the Police Reform Act, such as Schedule 4, Part 1 section 2(2), make it an offence not to provide a PCSO with your details, when it would not be an offence to refuse to provide them to a police officer.

The situation is now far too confusing for a member of the public to know when they can and cannot refuse to provide their details. The relevant laws should be amended to restore a person's right to refuse, unless they have been arrested or accepted a Fixed Penalty Notice or agreed to any other similar procedure that allows them to accept guilt and punishment without having to go through the process of being arrested, although perhaps in such circumstances the police should still arrest the person, issue the FPN and then release them without taking them to a police station, which would allow for them to demand the person's details.

Repeal 28 day detention

I've never heard a proper argument for why we need extended detention. We should not forget that someone detained for almost a month and then released is likely to find they've lost their job, possibly their home if there's been no-one else able to pay the rent on their behalf and other serious consequences that wouldn't happen if they were only detained for 48 hours.

I don’t see why the suspect can’t be arrested based on whatever evidence there is to justify an arrest, have his house searched and after a day or two’s questioning, allowed to go home if no evidence to charge him has been found. This doesn’t prevent the police searching other locations, examining evidence, etc and re-arresting the suspect if new evidence justifies it. Even if it’s felt necessary to conduct extensive forensic tests on the suspect’s house which may take, say a week, the suspect could still be released and allowed to stay with friends or relatives (providing they’re not suspects and having their properties searched of course).

As I’ve said before, the only logical reason I can see for extended detention is for extensive and intensive questioning/interrogation to try and get the suspect to crack and I’m not aware that this has been shown to be productive enough to justify it. If there is evidence that this works, it should be produced and the authorities should be honest and say this is why they want it, and we can then decide whether we want to allow them to be able to interrogate people in this way for a month.

The legislation also allows them to question the suspect without a lawyer for up to 48 hours, which was intended apparently to allow them to find out about any imminent threats without being constrained by having to wait for the suspect's lawyer to arrive, which might be fair enough. But surely once the lawyer has arrived, they shouldn't be excluded. And if they were to use specially-approved lawyers, similar to those used for SIAC hearings, who are probably based in London, they may even be able to be at the station before the suspect, so there would be no need to question the suspect without the protection of them having a lawyer present.

There’s at least one case where this provision has been abused: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7773727.stm

Why is this idea important?

I've never heard a proper argument for why we need extended detention. We should not forget that someone detained for almost a month and then released is likely to find they've lost their job, possibly their home if there's been no-one else able to pay the rent on their behalf and other serious consequences that wouldn't happen if they were only detained for 48 hours.

I don’t see why the suspect can’t be arrested based on whatever evidence there is to justify an arrest, have his house searched and after a day or two’s questioning, allowed to go home if no evidence to charge him has been found. This doesn’t prevent the police searching other locations, examining evidence, etc and re-arresting the suspect if new evidence justifies it. Even if it’s felt necessary to conduct extensive forensic tests on the suspect’s house which may take, say a week, the suspect could still be released and allowed to stay with friends or relatives (providing they’re not suspects and having their properties searched of course).

As I’ve said before, the only logical reason I can see for extended detention is for extensive and intensive questioning/interrogation to try and get the suspect to crack and I’m not aware that this has been shown to be productive enough to justify it. If there is evidence that this works, it should be produced and the authorities should be honest and say this is why they want it, and we can then decide whether we want to allow them to be able to interrogate people in this way for a month.

The legislation also allows them to question the suspect without a lawyer for up to 48 hours, which was intended apparently to allow them to find out about any imminent threats without being constrained by having to wait for the suspect's lawyer to arrive, which might be fair enough. But surely once the lawyer has arrived, they shouldn't be excluded. And if they were to use specially-approved lawyers, similar to those used for SIAC hearings, who are probably based in London, they may even be able to be at the station before the suspect, so there would be no need to question the suspect without the protection of them having a lawyer present.

There’s at least one case where this provision has been abused: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7773727.stm

Repeal laws preventing the public defending themselves and others

Members of the public have a common law duty and right not only to defend themselves and others, to prevent loss or damage to property and to arrest offenders, but also to prevent a breach of the peace.

However, laws such as Section 1 of the "Prevention of Crime Act 1953", which make it an offence to be in possession of an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, prevent us from having the necessary tools to protect ourselves and others. These defensive tools, such as batons and irritant sprays, should be permitted for persons with no violent crime convictions and carrying them to protect oneself and others should be a "reasonable excuse". However the police will not accept this, so this law (and any other related ones) should be repealed and replaced with one that allows law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and others against criminals.

These defensive tools are only what the police are allowed to carry to protect themselves, but members of the public are expected to walk around defenseless and in no position to assist their fellow citizens. The police do their best but obviously they can't be everywhere at once and much of the time all they can do is catch the offender after he's disposed of the rent money or wages he's stolen from the victim, or left them with life-threatening and changing injuries, if not brain-damaged or dead. If the public were allowed to carry defensive weapons, they would have a chance at repelling such assaults and other people would be more inclined to come to their assistance. On too many occasions the police have refused or been unable to come to the assistance of someone in time and it is unacceptable that in such situations the innocent person under attack by armed criminals is rendered defenseless by the state.

I'm not suggesting people should be allowed to carry knives and guns and I'm open to the idea of having some sort of training program (perhaps run by some of the soon to be made redundant police officers) leading to a license before a person is allowed to carry defensive items, although the principle should be that all adults have the right to own and carry such items, unless banned by reason of a violent crime history or serious mental health problems.

This would in no way jeopardize the state, as it will still have trained firearms officers and the army to defend itself against insurrection, but will give citizens a chance to stand up to thugs and defend themselves and others, rather than having to scurry about with their their heads down, hoping that a thug doesn't decide to single them out, and then hope that the police might turn up in time to prevent them being left permanently disfigured, brain-damaged or dead.

There are too many cases of citizens being persecuted by the authorities for defending themselves: for example, Kenneth Blight, 51, who stabbed a 19-year old who was threatening him with an axe in his garden, was given a two-year suspended sentence but the Attorney General sought to have the sentence increased. Instead the court halved the sentence, although Mr Blight did spend 4.5 months on remand.

And Omari Roberts, 23, who stabbed a 17-year old burglar who rushed him in his mother's home, who spent 7 months on remand before the CPS decided to charge him with murder and wounding with intent, based on the allegations of the other, 14-year old, burglar. Mr Roberts then spent another six months on remand, so imprisoned for 13 months in total, before the CPS dropped the case because the 14-year old confessed he'd lied that he'd been
chased down the street.

And James Killen, 18, who stabbed a 46 year-old man who was stabbing his mother (who subsequently died from her injuries) in their home, arrested on suspicion of murder. Thankfully he was not charged, but why should citizens who use quite legal and obviously necessary force, in this case after seeing his mother being subjected to a brutal and horrific attack, be subjected to the additional and quite intolerable stress of being arrested and treated as a criminal.

Despite only legally being allowed to use the same reasonable force as the public, police officers who kill suspects, whether accidentally or by design, even when lethal-force was quite unwarranted, are rarely subjected to the stress of being arrested and treated as the criminal and locked up for over a year, but are merely questioned after being allowed to confer and compare notes with colleagues. If this is sufficient to ascertain the truth, then it should be the same procedure used for citizens where there is reason to believe that they are the victim and were merely defending themselves or others.

If citizens were permitted to own defensive items, they may have been able to use them in some of the above cases, rather than having no choice but to reach for the nearest kitchen knife to defend themselves against an attacker who they have to assume is willing to kill them and thus they have to stop them before they have a chance to do so, only to be persecuted for using a lethal option, when the less-than-lethal options available to the police are denied them.

Why is this idea important?

Members of the public have a common law duty and right not only to defend themselves and others, to prevent loss or damage to property and to arrest offenders, but also to prevent a breach of the peace.

However, laws such as Section 1 of the "Prevention of Crime Act 1953", which make it an offence to be in possession of an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, prevent us from having the necessary tools to protect ourselves and others. These defensive tools, such as batons and irritant sprays, should be permitted for persons with no violent crime convictions and carrying them to protect oneself and others should be a "reasonable excuse". However the police will not accept this, so this law (and any other related ones) should be repealed and replaced with one that allows law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and others against criminals.

These defensive tools are only what the police are allowed to carry to protect themselves, but members of the public are expected to walk around defenseless and in no position to assist their fellow citizens. The police do their best but obviously they can't be everywhere at once and much of the time all they can do is catch the offender after he's disposed of the rent money or wages he's stolen from the victim, or left them with life-threatening and changing injuries, if not brain-damaged or dead. If the public were allowed to carry defensive weapons, they would have a chance at repelling such assaults and other people would be more inclined to come to their assistance. On too many occasions the police have refused or been unable to come to the assistance of someone in time and it is unacceptable that in such situations the innocent person under attack by armed criminals is rendered defenseless by the state.

I'm not suggesting people should be allowed to carry knives and guns and I'm open to the idea of having some sort of training program (perhaps run by some of the soon to be made redundant police officers) leading to a license before a person is allowed to carry defensive items, although the principle should be that all adults have the right to own and carry such items, unless banned by reason of a violent crime history or serious mental health problems.

This would in no way jeopardize the state, as it will still have trained firearms officers and the army to defend itself against insurrection, but will give citizens a chance to stand up to thugs and defend themselves and others, rather than having to scurry about with their their heads down, hoping that a thug doesn't decide to single them out, and then hope that the police might turn up in time to prevent them being left permanently disfigured, brain-damaged or dead.

There are too many cases of citizens being persecuted by the authorities for defending themselves: for example, Kenneth Blight, 51, who stabbed a 19-year old who was threatening him with an axe in his garden, was given a two-year suspended sentence but the Attorney General sought to have the sentence increased. Instead the court halved the sentence, although Mr Blight did spend 4.5 months on remand.

And Omari Roberts, 23, who stabbed a 17-year old burglar who rushed him in his mother's home, who spent 7 months on remand before the CPS decided to charge him with murder and wounding with intent, based on the allegations of the other, 14-year old, burglar. Mr Roberts then spent another six months on remand, so imprisoned for 13 months in total, before the CPS dropped the case because the 14-year old confessed he'd lied that he'd been
chased down the street.

And James Killen, 18, who stabbed a 46 year-old man who was stabbing his mother (who subsequently died from her injuries) in their home, arrested on suspicion of murder. Thankfully he was not charged, but why should citizens who use quite legal and obviously necessary force, in this case after seeing his mother being subjected to a brutal and horrific attack, be subjected to the additional and quite intolerable stress of being arrested and treated as a criminal.

Despite only legally being allowed to use the same reasonable force as the public, police officers who kill suspects, whether accidentally or by design, even when lethal-force was quite unwarranted, are rarely subjected to the stress of being arrested and treated as the criminal and locked up for over a year, but are merely questioned after being allowed to confer and compare notes with colleagues. If this is sufficient to ascertain the truth, then it should be the same procedure used for citizens where there is reason to believe that they are the victim and were merely defending themselves or others.

If citizens were permitted to own defensive items, they may have been able to use them in some of the above cases, rather than having no choice but to reach for the nearest kitchen knife to defend themselves against an attacker who they have to assume is willing to kill them and thus they have to stop them before they have a chance to do so, only to be persecuted for using a lethal option, when the less-than-lethal options available to the police are denied them.