Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Allegations a 'parent's nightmare'

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

The father of a man charged with dealing cocaine told a court the allegation is a 'parent's nightmare'.
John Daly, 54, was speaking at the trial of his son Ryan, 28, a self-employed plumber accused of dealing the class A drug from his parents' address.
The court heard that £100 worth of the drug was found in Ryan's room in the Wallace Gate property, Bishopbriggs, during a raid on October 7, 2010.
Taxi driver John's reaction came after Fiscal Depute Ian Bradley asked what he thought when he was told of the charge.
The accused's mother Marie Daly, who later gave evidence as part of the defence case, also told FD Bradley that she was shocked when she was told cocaine was found in Ryan's room.
She said: “I was shocked. Disbelief. It was disbelief. But he got his problem sorted now.”
Ryan's mother was also asked about the £29.000 found in a cash box in the plumber's room.
She said £15.000 of those were hers, raised after she sold stock and shop fittings from a baby clothes shop she used to run in the Shawlands area of Glasgow after closing the store.
She said: “The rest is Ryan's money and it's up to him what he wants to do with it. I couldn't have a say in that. It's his hard earned cash so it's up to him what he does with it.”
Marie Daly also said that the set of scales recovered from the flat and used in evidence were hers.
Police Constable Graham Scott, who took part in the search, had earlier told the jury that scales and lists of names and numbers , known as 'tick lists', were usually indicative of drug dealing when found along with drugs.
Yet when Mrs Daly was shown one of the lists found in during the search by Defence Counsel Murray Macara she said those were Ryan's workings.
She said: “I have seen his workings before, if he is pricing a job or working out prices... It's a bit all over the place.”
At the end of Mrs Daly's evidence the trial was adjourned for the day. It is due to continue tomorrow at Glasgow Sheriff Court before Sheriff Kenneth Mitchell.

Read previous report: Court hears alleged cocaine dealer had £29k stored at home

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Open Justice website alive with great legal blogging: #oj_uk

By Gavin Ward, @GavWard
published on ScotsLawBlog

Open Justice Week launched at the start of this week (27 February) and already the Open Justice website is alive with some great pieces of legal blogging from the Scottish Courts.
As explained in the Open Justice launch statement,
A fundamental principle of law is: “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”
Lord Hewart said this in 1924, 88 years later the question is: Does this still hold true?
The Open Justice Project asks that question and aims to provide a snapshot of the state of British law in 2012.
Half-way through the week, the goal of the project remains to get writers, legal professionals and members of the public to collaborate using social media to share their experiences of a week in the life of the legal system.
If looking for further inspiration about why it’s a great idea to get involved in the project, particularly if you are a law student or lawyer, please do see my top 5 reasons for young lawyers to get blogging post on Pupillage Blog. I’ve been judging moots at the start of this week – it’s good to see another year of capable Scots law students going through their first year of law school. Many of those students are more than capable of providing great blog posts on legal matters. It is hoped that more continue to spare some of their free time to get involved with social media, particularly by engaging through legal tweetingLinkedIn and legal blogging.
To get involved you can email the Open Justice team at  join them on Facebook, follow them on twitter through the hashtag #oj_uk and share their posts to your social networks.
Best wishes to the Open Justice team for a strong finish to the week.

Gavin Ward's blog can be found here: [WardBlawg]
Copyright remains with the author.

Panic buying lead to court for vacationing addict

By Gordon Darroch, @synthjock
A man has been fined £125 for possessing £10 of heroin that he bought “in panic” when his methadone prescription ran out while he was on holiday.

Police found the drugs in the home of 43-year-old Derek Hanvey in Lincoln Avenue, Glasgow, shortly after he bought the “tenner bag”, containing 0.2 grams of diamorphine, from a street dealer.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard that Hanvey, a father of five, had been on a methadone prescription for 20 years and had long-standing drug addiction problems.

His defence agent said he had been on holiday in Egypt just before the offence on September 11 last year and “had been aware that he was not going to get his methadone the following day, and effectively panicked because of the effect that would have.”

Police raided his house so swiftly that Hanvey had no chance to consume the drugs, the court was told.

Sheriff Linda Ruxton said: “That tenner bag is going to cost you £125. It would have been £150, but I’ve given you some benefit for the fact that you have not gone to trial.”

Hanvey pled guilty to one charge of possession of heroin. He was acquitted of further charges of possessing diazepam and tampering with an electricity meter after the Crown accepted not guilty pleas.

Gordon Darroch's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Brick hurling gang member has sentenced deferred

By Gordon Darroch, @synthjock
A man has been jailed for nearly five months for breach of the peace after CCTV cameras caught rival gangs throwing bricks and other missiles at each other.

Violence broke out in Elderpark Street, Govan, Glasgow, when rival gangs began taunting each other at about 3am on September 4 last year.

CCTV footage showed David McCallum, of Drumoyne Square, Glasgow, hurling what appeared to be a brick at the height of the street disturbance.

“He was seen wearing dark clothing and being confronted by a gang, and he was seen with a large brick-type item and seen running at two other members,” Dorothy Roy, prosecuting, said.

“He was seen to throw the item down to the ground and then gesticulate towards the males of the other group.”

Sentence was deferred on McCallum, 18, who admitted a charge of breach of the peace.

His co-accused, 21-year-old Robert Duncan, of Napier Drive, Govan, Glasgow, was given a five-month jail sentence in the light of his criminal record.

Mrs Roy said Duncan could be seen in the footage “gesticulating towards other gang members, inciting them to fight and gesturing and running towards the other members of the gang”.

Duncan’s defence agent said “drink had been taken” before the incident and noted there had been “a great deal of posturing” on both sides.

He added that the incident had not escalated into widespread violence and police only investigated it six weeks later after viewing the CCTV footage.

Sheriff Linda Ruxton told Duncan, who pled guilty, that she would imprison him for 145 days for the breach of the peace charge and added a further 40 days for two outstanding criminal matters, totalling six months.

A third accused, 17-year-old Craig MacGregor, of Hutton Drive, Govan, Glasgow, was acquitted after the Crown accepted his not guilty plea.

Duncan had a not guilty plea accepted in relation to a separate charge of possessing an offensive weapon.

Gordon Darroch's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Man cleared of reckless fire extinguisher act

By Gordon Darroch, @synthjock

A 22-year-old man has been cleared of a charge of throwing a fire extinguisher in a nightclub after the Crown dropped the case against him.

John McMahon, of Lochmaben Road, Gartcosh, had denied the charge of culpably and recklessly throwing the extinguisher towards a group of people at the Campus nightclub on Sauchiehall Street on March 20 last year.

After Sheriff Linda Ruxton queried why it had taken nearly a year to bring the case, procurator-fiscal Dorothy Roy said the Crown would not pursue the complaint further.

Mrs Roy initially asked to have the trial adjourned after two witnesses who were due to give evidence against McMahon failed to appear.

McMahon’s lawyer told Sheriff Ruxton that his client was anxious to put the case behind him because he had a job interview lined up which could be jeopardised if he faced outstanding court proceedings.

After a short adjournment while the procurator-fiscal made enquiries by phone, it emerged that the witnesses had not arrived at court because their citations had not been delivered.

Sheriff Ruxton asked Mrs Roy if she wanted to continue with the case, noting that McMahon had first appeared in court back in April last year.

The court was told that some of the delay had occurred because responsibility for the case had been transferred from one Strathclyde Police division to another.

“There are certain issues which have been raised by the defence. Is this a case where you are insisting on prosecution?” the sheriff said.

“It doesn’t on the face of it look to be a particularly serious matter. I’m concerned about what has been said about disclosure and interviews, and an adjournment would normally take this into mid-June.”

Mrs Roy said the Crown would not be pursuing the case further and McMahon, after 10 months of legal proceedings, left the court a free man.
Gordon Darroch's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Reporting the courts: You got the occasional plea - and faced the occasional threat

By Iain M Hepburn, @imhepburn 
Back in the dim and distant past, and I was a young and slimmer district reporter, Stonehaven Court was my home of a Tuesday.  Sometimes on a Thursday too, but always on a Tuesday.
There was a set pattern - one you could set your clocks by.  In fact I suspect the sitting Sheriff in my time there, the venerable but occasionally cheeky Sandy Jessop, often did.
10am starts every day.  Mondays would be custody hearings for weekend arrests.  Tuesday was criminal cases before the Sheriff.  Tuesday afternoon would be overspill from the morning, or Sheriff trials if it was a light day.  Wednesday was civil court.  Thursday was a day of Sheriff trials again.  Friday was district court.
Invariably it’d be me and Crawford, the old hand from the Mearns Leader, sat on the press bench.  Occasionally we might be joined by Gary Cooper from the Courier if something from the Angus border was sitting.  Occasionally, if Ken or Susan from Northscot agency joined us, it meant something tasty was scheduled for the day.
There’s a pattern, a routine to covering court for any length of time, particularly in a smaller local community.  You get on nodding, then chatting, terms with all the solicitors, and the local bobby assigned to the courtroom.  
If you’re good, or lucky, you build a relationship with the PF’s office to be aware of what’s coming up - although Stonehaven’s PF at the time, a grumbling James Robertson Justice lookalike called Barbour, notoriously hated the paper, and seemed to go of his way to be difficult.
And you start to identify patterns in the court lists.  Names from out of town tend to be motoring offences - truckers done for tachograph violations, or drivers caught out by the A90’s notorious run of speed cameras.  Local addresses were likely breach of the peace or similar offences .  If there was someone in fatigues in the public benches, it meant a squaddie from Balmoral or 45 Commando was up.
You get to recognise names from repeat offenders - always a tricky one, because it builds up in your mind what they’ve done before.  Occasionally you see folk you know: an old school classmate of mine was up for breaking the peace after a post-pub rammy in a car park.  The walk of shame out of court took him past my seat in press row.  His face was a picture.
Trials were always a sod.  A good trial could take up a full day, possibly more, and in a one-man office that could be costly.  Was the day-long trial of drunken girl flashing her knickers and dryhumping passers-by a good enough page lead to sacrifice covering a major planning hearing in Aboyne?  At what point do you nip out to phone the desk and summon a snapper without missing something good?  Reporting became a balancing act.
You got the occasional plea - ‘please don’t write this in the paper, it’ll cost me my job’ - and faced the occasional threat - ‘write this in the paper and I’ll break your arms’.  Had both of those.  Even had the defendant come into my office in the town square and menace me during a week-long assault trial - bit of a giveaway over his guilt, that one.
But the whole of human life was also there, write large on the faces of those in court.
Grumbling, wizened old hacks tend to moan about court reporting being a lost art, but in many ways it’s true.  News cutbacks even on a regional level means many good tales are lost or overlooked by papers and broadcasters in favour.  People want big stories and big name trials.  
But court reporting - and all that comes with it - is the bread and butter of local journalism, a fact that should never be lost.
Iain M Hepburn's blog can be found here: [The Drum]
Copyright remains with the author.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Re: Northern Ireland Tweeting

Ruth O'Reilly, editor of The Detail,  forwarded me more information about tweeting from court in NI.
She said she contacted the Lord Chief Justice’s office for clarification on the position and was told:
"The approach in Northern Ireland is that journalists should make an application to the judge to request permission to use electronic devices to Twitter or send out texts from Court.  It will be for the individual judge to consider the individual request taking account of the public interest in the case and the risk of interference with the administration of justice that would be attached to using live, instantaneous communications from Court.” 
Editor of online investigative news and current affairs website for and about Northern Ireland - The Detail 

‘Once the tape was off, the CID officer apologised to me'.

One accused man recounts his experience of the justice system for Open Justice week.
By Calum James McKay, @calumjamesmckay

John is 28 years old and lives in Glasgow. He has a normal job, takes in the football and the company of friends at the weekend and leads a life fairly typical of a male in his twenties dwelling in a British metropolitan environment, the kind of life that would be deemed by most to be unremarkable.

Early in the hours of a Saturday morning at the end of January, though, things changed irreversibly for John. After a night out with his then partner, John was visited in his home by two officers of Strathclyde Police. He was detained, charged with a domestic breach of the peace and common assault, and then passed through various entities of the Scottish justice system – police cars, interview rooms, holding cells, Reliance vans and a court rooms - before being granted bail and returned to his liberty, albeit conditionally, at Glasgow Sheriff Court the following Monday afternoon.

I’m calling him John because the court proceedings which begun a few weeks ago are still ongoing – he is to appear at a further hearing at the same court later this year, when he will learn whether he is to stand trial on the charges, which he robustly denies – and therefore his real name cannot be associated with a frank recounting of his experience such as this.

Despite the case, John is relaxed enough when we meet; the lingering emotional marks of his debut (he hopes his only) encounter of the corridors of justice, with their overwhelming private vocabulary and de trop procedure, surface only occasionally and fleetingly. The marks are definitely there though, detectable throughout our discussion in little moments of frustration and anger, worry and trepidation.

From our quiet corner table, he begins: “The thing that really galls me is what the charges were. I asked how I had breached the peace. They said, basically, because I had shouted at her.  So, to my mind, I had been arrested and charged with shouting at someone in my own house – the same person who had shouted back at me.” It’s worth mentioning here that John was given the opportunity by police to make a counter-allegation, an opportunity he declined.

The relationship was by John’s own admission “tempestuous”, though nothing more than that and the argument which ignited that night had taken him by surprise. Yes, words were exchanged; there were even moments during the altercation, he tells me, where they held each other’s arms. But assault? Criminal charges? The concepts are as alien to him as the world of legalese and cell graffiti which he now finds himself inescapably embroiled in.

And this is what makes his case so interesting: John’s charges are far from the most serious that a judge in the UK will consider – though this is not to understate domestic violence’s pernicious effects or its particular social significance. He is, if there exists such a thing, an ordinary person - John tells me he had no idea how to instruct a solicitor prior to this, or that if he had simply said nothing during his interview he wouldn’t be in the position he is in currently. An ordinary person who has been placed in a system which is intended to be universal and designed to receive and deal with him fairly and in the public interest.

The first link in the chain for almost every person entering into our legal system, whether via an arrest or attendance at a station, is our police.  In this regard, John was no different. The officers who were in his home and at the station were professional and pleasant enough, reassuring even, but more systemic problems with the way in which accused individuals are handled by the police became apparent.

I had been completely calm at all points,” he explains. “It was obvious they weren’t dealing with someone who had taken part in a violent assault. The officer said we have to detain you and I didn’t realise I would then be handcuffed.”

Pretty standard stuff you might think, but when you consider John’s next point, it raises a number of questions. “They were quite happy for me and one other guy to be sitting in that room - in all honesty I finished a bottle of beer while I was sitting talking to the guy. The guy was sitting to my left on the couch, so if I wanted to I could have smashed it over his head. Now, I’m never going to do that, but I could have.”

I can understand a better safe than sorry approach on their behalf, because they don’t know me,” he says, “but there’s no continuity with it and it doesn’t make any sense.” So why do officers place people in handcuffs after allowing them such freedom of movement? “It’s to dehumanise you, it’s to assert authority over you in whatever ways they can,” he replies.

It’s a process that continues upon arrival at the station. “Whenever you get in there they take your jacket off you,” John goes on. “You’re only allowed one set of clothes, yet you’re given as many sheets as you want, which would make a much better noose than my jacket. Even if you have slip-on shoes with no laces they are taken off you. When I was taken in to be interviewed, I wasn’t allowed to put a pair of shoes on. So you’re sitting there with just socks on: It’s like, for fuck’s sake, this is my life!”

John smiles wryly at this point, but his displeasure at the method of handling suspects is clear to see. A further source of ire - on top of what he describes as a prevalence of “procedure for procedure’s sake” - could be found in the underlying reasons for his detention. As he elaborates: “ I was told by my lawyer there was a decision made by the Lord Advocate whenever they changed this piece of legislation in 2010, a political decision that the SNP made to desperately try and increase the number of convictions for domestic violence. That’s the reason I couldn’t be bailed without seeing a sheriff.”

John was told by an officer that if he had head-butted someone on Sauchiehall Street that he’d have been released. At this stage, too, his charge was still only a breach of the peace; the common assault was later added by the Procurator Fiscal after receipt of the police report, another decision which he says “doesn’t make any sense”. He continues: “Incarceration for three days is insane for that [breach of the peace], when you consider there’s people punching random people outside pubs and committing much more offensive crimes to society. It’s frustrating.”

His sense of confusion was, it seemed, shared by his carers at the police station, all most all of whom described his being there as “bullshit”. John recalls the moment he was informed that he would be held over the weekend. “Once the tape was off,” he says “the CID officer apologised to me and said: ‘Look, I’m sorry. This will go to the Fiscal and it will probably get kicked out. But, I’m sorry, I have to do this.’ I just put my head in my hands and asked if there was anything I could do to get out of there.”

The answer was no.

John eventually emerged from the stairs into a court room having not washed for 72 hours and was granted bail by a sheriff on Monday afternoon before his release. In that time, he had passed through the sleepless monotony of the “Victorian” custody cells of two Glasgow police stations - an environment in which quickly he learned “not to ask difficult questions” - and Reliance officers had derided and confiscated the books his parents, who attended his custody hearing in tears, had brought for him to read.

He had eaten nothing but gluey microwavable meals delivered at unusual hours of the day and had negotiated the intimidating and “strange” group cell at the Sheriff Court. The experience of seeing so many young men accruing charge upon charge and conviction upon conviction is one that you can see John is still trying to make sense of.

He had stood a mute spectator in a court of law as his immediate liberty was discussed in a matter of seconds by other men whom he had never previously met. He had done all this yet it only represented the beginning of things.  

John is to appear at the same court for a pre-trial hearing, or intermediate diet, in the summer, where he will find out if his case will proceed to trial and where he will continue to plead not guilty. Between now and then he has much to contemplate. The “worst three days” of his life in the preliminary mechanisms of justice have left him troubled.

As well as the immediate implications of the case and a criminal record, he worries about the impact on his future career, the effects of all this on his family and about unwittingly breaching his bail. Mostly, though, the experience has brought home an uncomfortable reality about the process of justice.

I don’t believe that the criminal justice system is set up for the ‘average’ person to have a fair access to it,” he tells me. From his being charged to his engaging of a lawyer and standing in front of a judge in the theatre of the court room, John has witnessed what he calls “the archaic rigmarole” of the law, and more awaits. When he thinks about it all now, the persisting question in his mind is: “Who benefits?”
Copyright remains with the author.

Bail or No Bail. The statistics of custody hearings.

By Karen Thomson, @KThomson1992  

Open justice aims to provide a broad day-to-day view from all the courts in the UK . Courtroom four in Glasgow sheriff court is where custody hearings are held.
The offender stands behind a glass box as solicitors and members of the public flutter in and out it. At times the cases are hard to follow – over the noise and bad acoustics – which gives this courtroom an added challenge for any journalist.
It has the feeling of a small theatre. It has seats for about 50 people and the scene is forever changing.
Statistics from just an hour in a custody hearing court show the diverse nature of the people that come through its doors. People that have been arrested at the weekend, those who have skipped their trial dates and others who have broke to the terms of their bail all appear in this one court.
From the ages 18-38 more than half had previous convictions. Of the eight cases heard only two were refused bail.
As each offender makes their way to the stand they are greeted by Sheriff Reid, who either invites them to sit down while they look through the charge sheet or begins his questioning.
A heavily pregnant woman then takes to the stand. She has been on bail for a domestic matter. She is back in court after breaking these conditions. Her health is of immediate concern and is of the upmost importance to her solicitor. When asked by Sheriff Reid if she anything to add she says:
“I have two cats at home and my wee boy is in foster care”
Weighing up her situation Sheriff Reid grants bail under a special conditions that she must approach or contact her ex-partner. Making her way through the door she turns and gives a small smile before disappearing.

Copyright remains with the author.

Why I chose not to become a lawyer.

By Rachel Speed, @Rachel_Speed
I realised I had a talent for law at A Level so with no other career calling me I set off to become a high flying city solicitor. It was at University when reality kicked in and I realised that being a lawyer isn’t all Legally Blonde made it out to be. I still really enjoyed what I was learning so undeterred, I continued on my journey to the big smoke, I dreamed of working in a top firm doing commercial law and earning a handsome wage packet each month. It wasn’t until I started to apply to said firms for vacation schemes and when I visited firms did I understand what the real working life of a solicitor was.

The competition for vacation scheme and training contract places is fierce. Anything less than a 2:1 and your chances of succeeding are severely limited. Furthermore, most law firms like their staff to be diverse academically – it’s usually an intake of around half law students and half from other disciplines (history being the favourite) which can create incredibly unrealistic odds of getting on the legal career ladder.

As the demand is so high, law firms set a series of hoops for each candidate to jump through. There are of course academic hurdles but then examples of team player skills, exemplary leadership and innovation skills are frequently requested in applications. What is truly bizarre is that law firms encourage diversity in extra-curricular activities but in order to jump through their hoops there are only limited posts and activities you can actually do. An avid knitter will not win points for leadership nor teamwork… It was whilst trying to jump through these hoops when I discovered my true passion and ultimately changed my career path.

Law in big corporate firms is sold as a glamorous profession where you’ll change the world handling big profile cases with the wealthy Dragons of the world. It is not like that. In reality you are a very small cog in a huge machine working terrible hours for admittedly, a lot of money but what’s the use in that when you have very little free time to enjoy it?

Firms have free canteens, free gyms, some even have beds. All these ‘perks’ are to me just a way of keeping you in work. And with the workloads which city solicitors have it may be easier to stay over instead of doing the two hour commute but at that point, being a solicitor becomes your life not just your job.

The work of a solicitor involves a lot of paperwork, contracts, admin and bureaucracy – there is very little opportunity to be creative and adventurous in the role. Over my three years at university I realised in myself that I need a job which is exciting and stimulating and journalism does that for me. It’s my creative outlet which allows me to put to good use the skills I gleaned from studying law.

To me, the top law firms in the UK and Worldwide are looking for candidates who see being a solicitor as a lifestyle choice rather than a job and I was not prepared to make that sacrifice for a job which my heart would not have been in.

Rachel Speed's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

HMA vs Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie Day 2 Morning

The trial of Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie, who pled not guilty to charges relating to explosive devices allegedly sent through the post to Neil Lennon and others, began its second day this morning at the High Court in Glasgow. 

This morning's evidence concentrated on a second suspect parcel, spotted by a postal worker at Kirkintilloch sorting office on Saturday the 26th March 2011. The postal worker, Stephen Bonnar, told the court that when handling the parcel he noticed a nail "sticking out of one side" he then brought this to the attention of his Trade Union representative and the depot manager. The parcel was shown to the court and Mr Bonnar confirmed that this was the one that had concerned him last March. The parcel was addressed to Neil Lennon at the Celtic Football club training ground.

The last-chance saloon: a day at Glasgow Drugs Court

By Gordon Darroch, @synthjock

In a windowless, low-ceilinged courtroom in the basement of Glasgow Sheriff Court, a quiet experiment in justice is taking place. The drugs court, set up in 2001 as an attempt to change the way the courts deal with long-term drug addicts whose dependency leads them into crime, rarely makes the headlines. That could be seen as a measure of its success, but it may also reflect the fact that this is a very different environment from the adversarial jousting of the criminal courts, as I discover during an hour in Sheriff Lindsay Wood's courtroom.

Drug treatment and testing orders were introduced in 2001, pioneered in Glasgow and Fife, as an alternative to custody for people with long-standing addictions. They typically last for 15 or 18 months and are aimed at those who show a sincere wish to break the cycle of crime and drug dependency. Scottish Government data has shown that nearly half of those who complete a DTTO avoid reoffending for at least two years afterwards.

The first thing to say about the drugs court is that it’s tiny. The offenders and their companions are crammed into two rows at the back of the courtroom, with the kind of legroom offered by budget airlines. The lawyers and court officials sit at a narrow table directly below the bench, papers covering every inch of space. There is an intimacy about the proceedings, but it’s not of the comfortable or cosy kind. When the sheriff speaks directly to an offender – which he does, sometimes at length – there is a gap of no more than ten feet in between, which means there is no escaping his gaze.

At 2.15pm the side door opens, everybody stumbles to their feet and Sheriff Wood glides into the room. He takes a minute to cast his eye back and forth across the two rows of people in front of him, nodding slowly. Everybody who attends in his court is well known to him. Over the course of an order he often gets to learn about their families as well: their parents, their children and partners. Drug testing and treatment orders work on a system of regular review: every three weeks, or six weeks if things are going well, the offender is ordered back to court to report their progress to the sheriff. He speaks to them informally, without the barrier of courtroom language. The first question is usually: “How are you?” Offenders are tested regularly for banned substances and get words of encouragement when they manage to stay clear of drugs. If they veer from the prescribed path, on the other hand, they can expect short shrift.

Sheriff Wood bats through sixteen cases in almost exactly an hour. His manner throughout is kindly but stern, and mostly encouraging. He never needs to raise his voice, which is another advantage of the close-knit courtroom. At times he has the demeanour of a motivational coach, repeatedly instructing the person across the room to “think positive” or “keep smiling”. This is never more obvious than in an exchange with one young woman who has been brought down from Cornton Vale prison. Dressed smartly in a grey pullover and woollen scarf, she is grilled by Sheriff Wood about a recent motivational lapse.

“What’s this about a running club?” he asks.

“I’ve been doing jogging for a while, but I stopped going,” she says.

“Why did you stop going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you bored with the route or something?” the sheriff asks, apparently referring to something in the case file. “Do you think you’re some kind of Olympic runner?”

There is a coy silence from the other side.

“You should be exercising at your age,” he continues. “It might be hard and boring doing the same route every time, but it makes you feel better. You think about getting back into that again. Give yourself a wee target.”

Many of the conversations go like this, setting “wee targets” that make the grinding process of coming off drugs more manageable. Sheriff Wood reads the case files assiduously, and over the course of 18 months he builds up a picture of people’s often fragile circumstances that fosters mutual respect and understanding. He asks one young mother about her “bouncing” baby son. Another man is caring for his terminally ill father, who has recently suffered a heart attack: “I hope your father comes through this,” says the sheriff. “I trust you,” he tells one offender who is nearing the end of his order, which elicits the reply: “I trust you too, your honour.”

Things don’t always go so well. A woman appears in front of the sheriff, dressed formally in a two-piece suit and frilled blouse. Her lawyer discloses her drug test results have come back positive.

Sheriff Wood asks her when she last took drugs. She mumbles a vague reply and he retorts: “Don’t come out with any nonsense.”

She tries again with a date of January 10. “It should be out of your system by now,” the sheriff says. “So who’s kidding who here? I’m anxious that you’re honest and don’t try to tell me stories.” He dismisses her with a sharp warning to make sure there are no drugs in her system when she comes back to court next month.

Another man presents the sheriff with a different problem. He is coming to the end of his DTTO, but in the process of coming off drugs he has lapsed into alcohol abuse. Like many people who appear in the court, he also has a number of criminal charges hanging over him which the sheriff must deal with before discharging him. Strictly speaking, the alcohol abuse isn’t the court’s concern. But Sheriff Wood says: “I don’t want to let you go. I want to get you through this. I kind of care.”

A little later he adds: “If you’ve got no care order, you’ll just do what you want. You’ll end up dead.”

“I don’t want that,” says the man.

“No,” replies the sheriff. “Not many people do.”

He concludes the treatment order and orders the man to return to court in three weeks’ time. He lets him know he is considering a probationary sentence for his offences, so that he can keep an eye on his progress. The man steps down and leaves the courtroom. This is what much of the work of the drugs court comes down to: small, difficult steps towards rehabilitation, and the sense that somebody in authority is looking out for you. Not a great deal, perhaps, but a great deal better than being dead.

Gordon Darroch's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Court hears alleged cocaine dealer had £29k stored at home.

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

The trial of a man accused of dealing cocaine heard cops found £29k in notes stored in a cash box while searching his home.
Self-employed plumber Ryan Daly, 28, is in the dock accused of being concerned in the supply of the class A drug from his and his parents' home in Wallace Gate, Bishopbriggs.
The jury at Glasgow Sheriff Court heard from police constable Graham Scott of Strathclyde Police who took part in the house's search on October 7, 2010.
As the constable was giving evidence the jury was shown the footage he took of the search, including the moment the officers found the cash box.
The officer said: “The fist question asked to him was 'who does the cash belong to' to which he replied 'me and my mom'. He was then asked 'where's it from?' to which he replied 'it's from rent, from working and my mother's business'.
“He said 'there was £29.000 there last time I counted'. He was asked what he was intending to do with the money to which he replied 'I was kinda saving it up to move into a house'.”
Constable Scott said in his experience large amounts of cash are usually indicative of a person's involvement in the drug trade.
The Jury also heard that as well a small set of scales and a number of pieces of papers with lists of names and digits, which the officer said are commonly known as 'tick lists', they also found a small bag of cocaine.
Yet the court later heard from Ryan's father, taxi driver John Daly, 54, who said part of the money was his and his wife's, Marie.
He said they had been planning an extension to the house and as they both get paid in cash they had just been saving the money up at home to pay for it.
After being asked by Defence Counsel Murray Macara Mr Daly said: “The work didn't take place, my money was taken away. It was a DIY project with my sons, it would be cheaper because we have got the trades in the family, my wife's brother's a builder, my son's a plumber and my other son, Kyle, is an electrician.”
He added that about £15.000 was his and his wife's and Ryan had been saving the rest up.
He said: “Marie was in charge of it, I gave Marie £500 per week and she uses it, it was kept in a box. Ryan put his money in there to keep them in one place. We know what we had so anything over that was Ryan's.”
Daly was originally also accused of being in possession of an offensive weapon in a public place on the same date in October 2010 after an extendable baton was found in his work van.
Fiscal Depute Bradley though dropped the charge and told the jury they would no longer seek a conviction for that allegation due to a change in the law between the date back in October and now.
The trial, before Sheriff Kenneth Mitchell, continues.

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Open Justice denied permission to tweet from court

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

On the first day of Open Justice Week we received the disappointing news that we will be not allowed to live tweet a full Scottish trial.
Our colleagues south of the border can now tweet from any trial or court case without having to ask for permission here in Scotland there are no such guidelines and journalists have to apply directly to a trial's judge if they want to use social media to report.
Yet while a good few have applied, not one single journalist has been given permission to tweet a full trial so far.
STV broke new ground up here when they were given permission to tweet Tommy Sheridan's sentencing over a year ago in January 2011 but the issue of tweeting from Scottish courts does not seem to have moved any further forward since.
The biggest obstacle for those trying to give a live account of a Scottish court case is time.
We first started our discussions with the judiciary office a month ago before identifying a specific trial we felt was appropriate to live tweet three weeks ago.
I picked that specific trial as it was the most suited out of those due to start this week. The criteria included type of offence, locus of offence, number of accused and the exact charges.
I will not go into too many details as I could write a whole article about the decision process, but, for instance, I decided not to apply to any case that included alleged sexual offences, while it is just as important for those cases to be covered by us journalists I do feel that there are some aspects of the evidence coming out in these types of cases that is better to keep private out of respect for the victims.
I also felt as this would have been the first full case to be tweeted we should ensure it would not be one likely to cause confusion when followed live online due to too many charges or too many accused.
In future once tweeting from court is something we will all be accustomed to these won't be issues but as a first in Scotland I felt we should be particularly careful.
At that time, on February 8, we were told the application could not go any further as a Judge had not been assigned to the trial.
The cases due to start this week were finally assigned to their respective Judges at the start of last week at which point we asked for the application to be again considered.
Today, just a day or two before the trial is due to start, we received a short email stating that the Judge has a number of concerns that he feels should be taken up at a senior level and the timescale would not allow for it.
The Head of Judicial Communications in Scotland, Elizabeth Cutting, who herself has been of great help throughout the application process, said that eventually guidelines will be put in place but, at the moment, they are still working to ensure those are as comprehensive as possible.
To be clear we are not disappointed at the people involved, we accept in Scotland there has not been a single application to tweet from court during live proceedings granted and that judges want to ensure they look at all aspects.
Yet we do wish the system would allow for more dialogue between those who, like us, are working to ensure the system remains transparent and accountable, and those who ensure due process is followed.

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Rent Arrears Eviction Cases – The Moral is “Make Sure You Seek Help”

By Paul McConville, @paulmcc12

Some people get the glamorous jobs – this week reporters and members of the public will be writing about the “in court” experience in the High Courts of Scotland, in the Appeal Court in Edinburgh, and from Jury Trials across Scotland.
However, I am reporting from the civil court at Hamilton – situated within an office building in a business park, about 500 yards from the main court building. Whereas Hamilton Sheriff Court, proper, is a fine old sandstone building, renovated to a 21st century standard, the civil court does not look, even from inside, too much like a courthouse.
Inside Court “A” however, on this Monday morning, there are people for whom the most important event of their year is taking place – this court is dealing with eviction cases, mainly for rent arrears.
The courtroom itself is modern, but not overly large. There is seating for about 30 people in the public area, and room round the court table for around eight lawyers.
As the clock ticks to 10 am, the Court Officer busies himself by taking the names of the few members of the public who have come to court for their cases. This will allow them to be dealt with first.

My first day in court

By Karen Thomson, @KThomson1992 

Stepping into the world of court reporting was a culture shock. A rite of passage for any young journalist. My first day in court opened my eyes to a very different world.
My first day in court was spent at the Glasgow Sheriff court. After a few minutes two things became clear. That accuracy was everything and no amount of books and tests can prepare you for the reality inside the courtroom.
Within the first hour I had learnt that £20 can buy you a half gram of cocaine and that drug dealers prefer to sell in bulk. No book can teach you that digital scales are a big tip off to where they hid stash of drugs and that a ‘tick list’ is used to keep track of payments made to drug dealers by their clients.
After lunch I headed over to the custody hearings. Court 4 where the custody hearings are held gives off a very Dickensian feel. The accused stand behind glass as they wait to hear their verdict.
Within the hour there had been a total of 8 hearings. Everything from breach of probation to assault where being heard by the Sheriff. Ranging from the ages of 18-38 only two where refused bail. Each hearing lasted an average of 12 minutes.
Decisions were made swift and fast – then the next case would appear. It was justice on a conveyor belt.

Copyright remains with the author.

HMA vs Muirhead and McKenzie Day 1 Afternoon

The High Court of Justiciary

After the lunch adjournment Lord Turnbull re-convened the court at 2pm and the Advocate Depute, Tim Niven-Smith called his next witness, Shona Blacklock. Ms Blacklock told the jury that she was a Force support officer for the Scottish police services authority and in this capacity had been called to Saltcoats Royal Mail sorting office on the 4th March 2011 to take photographs of the contents of a suspicious package. Ms Blacklock confirmed that photos shown to the court were the ones she had taken that day and then stepped down from the witness box.

Next to be called was Inspector Brian Ferguson of Strathclyde police. Inspector Ferguson confirmed that he was a "Search advisor" for the force and as such had been trained in "counter-terrorism,  the evaluation of suspicious packages and the recognition of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) The witness told the court he had been called into the Royal Mail office in Salcoats where he was asked to look at a "jiffy style package" that was addressed to Neil Lennon and had nails protruding from it. 

HMA vs Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie Day 1 Morning

The trial of the two men accused of sending improvised explosive devices to Neil Lennon, Trish Goodman, Paul McBride QC and to the offices of  Cairde Na Heireann began in the High Court in Glasgow today.

Separated from the public gallery by glass screens, Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie watched as the presiding Judge Lord Turnbull cautioned the jury of 11 women and three men to ignore any publicity about the case they may have heard and to decide the case purely on the evidence presented to them. As there are no opening statements in Scottish courts the Advocate Depute, Mr Tim Niven Smith, then proceeded to call his first witness, Sheila Webb.

Ms Webb, a "Scene Examiner" for the Scottish Police authority, testified to the accuracy of pictures she had taken of two postal boxes, one in Kilwinning and one in Saltcoats, two towns in Ayrshire. Neither of the defence advocates, Gordon Jackson QC for Mr Muirhead and Donald Findlay QC chose to cross examine and Ms Webb stood down from the stand.

The second witness of the morning was Andrew Brown (27) as postal worker, who on the 4th March 2011 emptied the postal box in Gladstone Rd, Saltcoats. Mr Brown described finding a brown "Jiffy" parcel addressed by hand to "Neil Lennon, Celtic FC, Celtic Park, Glasgow." Mr Brown was then shown a parcel by the Advocate Depute which he confirmed was the one he had collected that day.

Is the Government’s net immigration target counter-productive?

By Georgina Tubb, @GTubbMedia

Statistics released this week showed that the Government has made no progress towards its target of cutting net immigration down to the tens of thousands. 250,000 more people have entered the UK than have left it, which means net immigration has remained at a record high despite the Government’s pledges. As a result of both the target set by ministers, and their failing to meet this so far, pressure has been put on immigration authorities to reduce the number of immigrants entering the country.
However, it would appear that deciding who is allowed to live in the UK isn’t as straightforward as it may seem, and some evidence would suggest that the sort of people who may be beneficial and welcome in our country are not being granted permission to stay.
I saw and heard an example of such evidence with my own eyes and ears this week when sitting in the public gallery of a Crown Court (a very interesting way to spend the day if you’re a Criminology student!).

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Open Justice Week is Here.

Tomorrow sees the start of Open Justice week. After the last six weeks of planning and talking to people all over the country about the project Monday will see people fanning out across our justice system and writing about what they experience.

We'd like to wish everyone who has already told us they are taking part all the best, and say to anyone who has no yet taken the plunge to consider writing for us. We already have some great pieces lined up but the more we have the better the snapshot of where the legal system is in 2012 we can create.

Thanks again to those who have pledged to get involved, if anyone needs to know more we can be reached through this blog or by email Here

James and Cristiana.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Open Justice project aims to shed light on Scottish courts that normally go unreported

From Jon Robbins in the Guardian today

Next week marks the start of a potentially fascinating experiment that aims to shine some light on those under-exposed parts of the justice system. Open Justice Week is a Scottish initiative that aims to use blogging, Twitter and Facebook to 'increase the transparency and accountability of the justice system'.
For better and worse, the relentless incursion of social media is a defining feature of modern day life. Its appearance in our courts, and clashes with the law, have become commonplace. The last few weeks have seen the so-called #obscenitytrial (to use its Twitter hashtag) (a failed prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act that gay porn was capable of being 'depraving and corrupting'), and a High Court appeal of the #twitterjoketrial which concerns an accountant who, jokingly, tweeted a threat to blow Robin Hood airport 'sky high' if it remained shut.
Both cases involved tweets of fewer than 140 characters, sent by non-lawyers, that resulted in complex legal argument. The live Twitter commentary of both events varied from insightful to the unenlightening - but near-contemporaneous commentary is a compelling innovation.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Column in The Journal

Check out our column and video interview in The Journal [link], the mag for members of The Law Society of Scotland.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Beginners Guide to Court Reporting

With the beginning of Open Justice week less that 8 days away, Gordon Darroch has kindly created this excellent guide to  court reporting. It is pretty comprehensive but if there is anything you are unsure of please leave a comment or email us

A beginner’s guide to court reporting

Reporting on a court case is a lot less daunting than it sounds. The silk gowns, leatherbound ledgers and legal language can seem forbidding to outsiders, but courts are public spaces and with a few exceptions, anyone can attend and report on proceedings.
The laws covering court reporting are mostly there to safeguard the accused’s right to a fair trial. Essentially, the law says that what you write must be a fair and accurate summary of what happens in court. If you stick by this basic rule, you are unlikely to go far wrong.