Wham, Bam, Thank You – Damn!

May 27, 2009

Two quite unrelated instances of the use of technology to complete an act that might otherwise have taken some time have flicked across my screen in the last 24 hours.

First to come to my attention was the implementation of the Virtual Courts Scheme at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court. Here the use of live link, authorised by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, s. 57C, allows the court to deal with a defendant very quickly indeed (you can read about it in the news section of the site). The court actually managed to deal with an offender from charge to sentence in just two hours 40 minutes. I was particularly impressed because I had a distinct vision of PC McGarry pulling the defendant over and Windy Miller sitting on the bench but I guess confusing my Camberwell with my {Camberwick: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camberwick_Green} is just a sign of age (and being ‘provincial’).

Now, I know that Magna Carta requires that ‘to no man will we … delay right or justice’ but I hardly think that King John’s barons had anything quite so speedy in mind. While the express case in question was just a drink/driving case (just?), and one assumes the defendant had sobered up, I am not comfortable with anything happening quite this quickly. Police stations are not places where people are always self-possessed and there is a very real danger to justice in that many might make the mistake of ‘getting things over with’ without a real grasp of the effects of a conviction. Speedy is good, technology to reinforce it is good – but we do have to be careful about keeping the balance, and a bit of time for consideration by the defendant of any criminal charge is a necessary ingredient in that balance.

Moreover, under s. 57C(7), the consent of the accused is currently required for the use of a live link for a preliminary hearing in a magistrates’ court where the defendant is at the police station. However, the Coroners and Justice Bill proposes the removal of this requirement. The magistrates at Camberwell Green, and soon elsewhere in London and North Kent, will need to be very alert that the need to see a return on the live link investment does not obscure the need for justice in individual cases.

My second example of speedy action not necessarily bringing satisfaction to all arises from a ruling of the Advertising Standards Authority. I am a bit late with this as it was a ruling of 13 May but it has only just come to my attention thanks to a tweet on John Halton’s blog {Law in the Cloud: http://lawinthecloud.com/}. The ASA ruled against skiwear4less, who sent out an e-mail newsletter reporting the death that very day of Natasha Richardson:
{i}As a ski retailer & ski enthusiasts, our thoughts go out to the family during this tragic time. We hope this doesn’t discourage future skiers from participating in this exciting and invigorating sport. Injury rates on the slopes have been decreasing over the years & the overall injury risk is about 0.2 – 0.4%. We, as a company, strongly recommend the wearing of ski helmets by children and adults, in light of this and other tragedies. To encourage the wearing of ski helmets, we have reduced the prices of both kids & adults ski helmets and are offering FREE POSTAGE on all ski helmets. Our full range of ski helmets can be viewed by clicking here{/i}.

The e-mail was accompanied by a picture of Natasha Richardson, and various ski helmets with prices.

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, there was no time for reflection as e-mail newsletters can, if you are not careful, be out the door and on the cyberdoormats of the world before proper time is allowed to evaluate and reconsider. It is a lesson to us all (including bloggers).

Actually, it seems it is not a lesson to us {i}all{/i} because skiwear4less actually defended their position before the ASA (see {here: http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_46243.htm}). I am astonished that they managed that. I would have thought that they would have curled up and died of embarrassment.