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Weekly News Summary – 29th August 2017

Welcome to another Lawyer Portal weekly news summary. This week’s post will cover the legal news stories from 21st August 2017 to 27th August 2017. This week the behaviour of Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has been questioned after repeated court orders to release an asylum seeker were ignored, a judge has ordered that female barristers must be given access to the male-only locker room at Southwark Crown Court and the Director of Public Prosecutions announced plans for more stringent sentences for online trolls.

Mrs. Justice Nicola Davies DBE has expressed deep concern about the behaviour of Amber Rudd after she ignored repeated court orders requiring her to release a survivor of torture from detention. In the opinion of the judge, the Home Secretary has failed to adequately explain delays in freeing the asylum seeker from detention.

The man from Chad, who cannot be named for reasons of anonymity, first applied for bail for release in April 2017. Whilst the Home Secretary acknowledges that there is no reason for the man to be detained, she has failed to abide by the series of court orders instructing that his liberty be restored. The case moved from the Immigration Tribunal to the High Court after the first order made in July was ignored. The second court order set by Mrs. Justice Davies ordered that the man was to be released by 5pm on 11th August. This was also not followed by the Home Office who subsequently applied for 2 extensions to the order for 18th August and 25th August.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Justice Davies presided over an emergency high court hearing to examine the delay in releasing the asylum seeker who has been tortured in a Libyan prison using electric shocks and beatings on the soles of his feet. As there was no barrister provided by the Home Secretary to defend the government’s position a government solicitor merely apologised for the behaviour of his boss. The judge found this inability to provide a barrister “inconceivable” and the failure was further condemned by the asylum seekers barrister. The solicitor for the man said, “the Home Office needs to act more competently and more expeditiously when it comes to complying with orders of the court.”  

It is a rare occurrence for a high court judge to condemn a senior government minister in such strong terms. In a mark of her unease about the Home Secretary’s conduct she awarded both costs against her but also an indemnity order – something which highlights the strength of the disapproval. In a separate high court hearing the deputy high court judge Anne Whyte QC found that the man had been unlawfully detained and was entitled to damages.

Female barristers of Southwark Crown Court in London have won the right to use the all-male locker room used during major trials. The move came after female advocates said that they felt they were being excluded from crucial conversations about cases.

Southwark hosts most of the capital’s biggest financial crime trials, including the recent prosecution of the bankers accused of rigging Libor, the interbank lending rate. Solicitors aren’t usually allowed in the robing rooms at all, so it can also be the place where barristers on opposites sides may reach a settlement. There are now far more female barristers involved in fraud cases than have been seen previously in England and Wales and therefore there are questions about the fairness of women being excluded from consultation on anything discussed between barristers whilst in the locker rooms.

There are three robing rooms at Southwark Crown Court: one large all-male room and two small female-only rooms. The larger space will now be unisex and open to men and women QCs and their teams following a ruling made by Judge Deborah Taylor. Taylor explained the reasoning for her decision, which was made earlier this year, included that the previously male-only room had far better facilities such as chairs and tables for working, as well as a desire to reinforce the goal that gender should play no part in the role or status of a barrister. The two smaller rooms will now be gender specific. Taylor also added that female QCs had applauded her ruling. Male members of the bar have not complained about the move.

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced plans to ensure prosecutions for online abusers are taken more seriously with more rigid sentencing. Prosecutors will be ordered to treat online crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has highlighted that the new plans to crack down on online abuse are based on the rapidly increasing number of hate crimes and extremist actions being carried out following online abuse. Virtual world abuse has been shown to create real world consequences such as spurring on serious physical violence such as that seen in Charlottesville in the US last weekend.

The CPS seek to respond to the rapid increase in online hate crimes as the impact of such non-violent abuse can be just as devastating to victims as physical abuse. Saunders hopes that the new policy will see more prosecutions and longer sentences, provided a judge and jury are convinced the abuse is motivated by hate. Moreover, the new policy covers different strands of hate crimes such as racism, ableism and homophobia.

The new plans are within the DPP’s power to enact – this means they do not require Parliament to pass new legislation. Of the over 15,000 hate crime prosecutions in 2015/2016, the CPS was able to convince the court with increasing frequency that stiffer sentences were required for abuse encountered online. In addition, Saunders insists that the plans do not threaten freedom of speech online.

Words: Alicia Gibson

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