Friday, April 18, 2014

Article by Lord Phillips: Closed Material

As a special favour to yourself – a reward for a virtuous life – read the article by Lord Phillips on the way courts accommodate the need that some evidence be kept secret: Nicholas Phillips, “Closed Material” London Review of Books, Vol 36, No 8, 17 April 2014 (currently available here but don’t rely on this link surviving in perpetuity).

As the editor notes, “Nicholas Phillips retired in 2012 after three years as the first president of the UK Supreme Court. ‘Closed Material’ is a version of last year’s Blackstone Lecture, delivered at Pembroke College, Oxford.”

Many of the cases he mentions have been noted here: Chalal, Secretary of State for the Home Department v AF [2009] UKHL 28, and Secretary of State for the Home Department v MB [2008] 1 AC 440 here on 11 June 2009, AF again briefly here on 12 June 2009; A & Ors v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] UKHL 56 here on 17 December 2004 (a case which Lord Phillips rates “as [the House of Lords’] most impressive decision in my lifetime”) and which moved me to quote, with rather spooky prescience, Montaigne; W (Algeria) & Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 8, here on 20 March 2012; Al Rawi v The Security Service [2011] UKSC 34, here on 14 July 2011; Roberts v Parole Board [2005] UKHL 45, here on 11 July 2005.

The case law led to the Justice and Security Act 2013 [UK], and Lord Phillips describes its passage through both Houses of Parliament from his perspective, focusing on disputes as to the criteria which should apply to any decision to permit the use of the closed material procedure (see now, ss 6(5) and 8(1)(c); it seems that efforts to impose more restrictive conditions on the use of the closed material procedure were unsuccessful). The enacted requirement is (broadly, and with qualifications) that “it is in the interests of the fair and effective administration of justice in the proceedings to make a declaration” that a closed material application may be made, and an application must be granted if the court “considers that the disclosure of the material would be damaging to the interests of national security”.
Lord Phillips concludes,

“There is a danger that familiarity with the use of such a procedure will sedate those who use it against the abhorrence that the need to resort to such means should provoke. I would have been happier had the bill stated that it could be used only as a last resort.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fairness and contempt proceedings

Procedural fairness in contempt proceedings is the topic of general interest in Dhooharika v The Director of Public Prosecutions (Mauritius) [2014] UKPC 11 (16 April 2014). Of subsidiary interest is the analysis of the common law offence of scandalising the court.

The appellant, a newspaper editor, had published comments that were subsequently held by the Supreme Court of Mauritius to have undermined public confidence in the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice.

This offence of contempt requires that, as an actus reus, the act or writing published must carry a real risk that public confidence in the administration of justice will be undermined, and the mens rea is intentionally, or subjectively recklessly, undermining public confidence in the administration of justice [42], [48] – [49].

As to fairness [50]:

“ ... The Board understands that it may be necessary for the DPP in an appropriate case to take summary action and that a classic form of trial may not always be necessary, but the Board is of the clear view that the alleged contemnor is always entitled to a fair trial and that, depending upon the circumstances, he will almost certainly be entitled to call oral evidence on his behalf, including his own evidence. In the instant case the Board has formed the view that the appellant was, as a matter of practical fact, deprived of his right to give evidence on his own behalf.”

Since the trial was unfair the conviction could not stand [54], but independently of the fairness difficulty, the published comments were not proved to have been made in bad faith [57] (meaning that mens rea was not proved).

The conviction was quashed, but the Judicial Committee observed that the procedure at sentencing had been unfair [60]:

“[The Board] ... would have allowed the appeal against sentence on the simple ground that the appellant should have been afforded an opportunity to make submissions in mitigation before a conclusion as to the correct sentence was reached. The transcript shows that the court proceeded to sentence immediately after delivering its judgment on the merits. There were a number of points which could have been advanced on his behalf in support of the conclusion that a custodial sentence was not necessary. The experience of this case shows that the prosecuting authorities should be careful to remind the trial court of the need to hear and consider submissions that go to possible mitigation of the sentence before sentence is pronounced.”

The Board surveys the history of contempt by scandalising the court [21] – [26], and considers its continuing existence, particularly in Mauritius but also elsewhere in the Commonwealth [29] – [41] (especially at [38] and Annex 1 to the judgment).

And (this is me now, not the UKPC) aspects of the law of contempt remain uncertain. Perhaps because flexibility in procedure may be essential if contempt has to be dealt with urgently, statutory procedures leave some areas untouched. Are there occasions when a charging document should be filed and the usual criminal procedures utilised, even though dealing with the alleged contempt may fall only within the court’s inherent power (see O’Brien v R [2014] UKSC 23 (2 April 2014), noted here on 4 April 2014)? How can a charging document be filed if there is no enactment against which the contempt is alleged? If there is no charging document, how should the court record its orders? If civil procedures are adopted to initiate proceedings, to what extend do they colour subsequent steps?

Some points can be stated with confidence because they have been established by case law. As Finn, Mathias and Mansfield say in Criminal Procedure in New Zealand (Thomson Reuters, Westlaw NZ online) at [1.3.3]:

“Both common law and enacted contempt require the criminal standard of proof [footnote: Newman (t/a Mantella Publishing) v Modern Bookbinders Ltd [2000] 1 WLR 2559, [2000] 2 All ER 814  (CA)]  and the alleged contemnor has the rights of a person charged. [footnote: Siemer v Solicitor-General [2010] NZSC 54, [2010] 3 NZLR 767 at [53]–[56] per Blanchard, Wilson and Anderson JJ]  Neither form of contempt carries a right to elect jury trial and all offences of contempt are subject to maximum penalties which are less than the level at which jury trial could be elected. [footnote: Siemer v Solicitor-General [2010] NZSC 54, [2010] 3 NZLR 767 at [60], [62]–[65] and [67] per Blanchard, Wilson and Anderson JJ, decided under the former law which gave the right to elect jury trial whenever (with a few exceptions, such as those which were mentioned in the Summary Offences Act 1981, s 43, with due respect to Tutu v R [2012] NZCA 294 at [19]) the maximum penalty was imprisonment for more than three months. Now all contempts are category 2 offences.]  The judge must identify the act or acts giving rise to the alleged contempt with sufficient particularity to ensure the defendant understands what is alleged, and must give the defendant the opportunity to take legal advice.”

Whether there is still a need for the common law offence of scandalising the court may be debatable, as is illustrated by the points made by Lord Pannick and referred to in Dhooharika at [28].

Our Law Commission is currently reviewing the law of contempt. And there is a particularly interesting paper by Professor ATH Smith, Reforming the New Zealand Law of Contempt of Court – An Issues/Discussion Paper available at Crown Law.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Points to file away ...

To do an act “with” the defendant
Policy was an important consideration in interpreting the phrase “to do an indecent act with or upon” the defendant in s 2(1B) of the Crimes Act 1961 [NZ], where the defendant, an adult, induced young people to masturbate in his presence but without any physical contact or overt participation by him: Y (SC40/2013) v R [2014] NZSC 34 (3 April 2014). The policy point is apparent at [16].

Equally interesting is the submission made for the appellant that the interpretation imposing liability on the defendant would amount to retrospective criminalisation, in view of decisions that appeared to suggest he would not be liable. At [27] the Court noted that the earlier decisions did not deal with situations where young people had performed the indecent acts, so this was not retrospective criminalisation.

Civil but contemptuous
The distinction between civil and criminal contempt of court was the basis for holding that extradition on a criminal matter did not operate to bar proceedings for an earlier civil contempt, in O’Brien v R [2014] UKSC 23 (2 April 2014). The distinction between civil and criminal contempt is mentioned at [37] – [40], [42]. It is the nature of the defendant’s conduct that determines the category of the contempt.

Friday, March 28, 2014

They say we can't, but we say we can! Fairness trumps logic in the Privy Council.

Every judge dislikes constraints on jurisdiction that impede justice. One can be confident about that.

In our legal system – and perhaps in yours too – the greatest jurisdiction is given to the senior trial court, the High Court, while the appeal courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, have jurisdiction that is limited by statute.

You might think that it would be sensible to give the final appeal court the greatest jurisdiction. But no, that is not the way that the legislature has decided to distribute jurisdiction. Admittedly, an appeal court should not need original jurisdiction, so that difference is understandable. But once an appeal court has a case before it, it should be able to do anything that another court could lawfully do.

Yesterday the Privy Council riled against a jurisdictional constraint and turned its face, by a majority, against a logically irrefutable limitation on its jurisdiction to order commutation of a death sentence to life imprisonment: Ramdeen v The State (Trinidad and Tobago) [2014] UKPC 7 (27 March 2014).

Justice overrode logic. The appeal was against conviction, and after lengthy delays during the course of judicial process [conviction 29 July 2008, appeals dismissed in T&T 26 February 2010, leave to appeal to the Board granted 18 March 2013, this appeal heard 23 January 2014], it was dismissed by this Board. Should the death sentence stand, notwithstanding that it had not been appealed? The prosecutor indicated no enthusiasm for its imposition.

Lord Toulson, with Lord Kerr [49], [58], [59] and, separately, Lord Neuberger [68], agreeing, held that the Board was seised of the criminal proceedings as a whole once it granted leave to appeal against conviction, and that as it was satisfied that carrying out the sentence would be unlawful in view of the inhumanity caused by the delay, it had the power to order commutation instead of requiring further proceedings to be brought on that issue. Fairness and convenience both pointed to this conclusion [69].

Lord Mance, with whom Lord Sumption agreed, dissented on logical grounds. They had no doubt that the appellant’s ordinary remedies in Trinidad and Tobago would be forthcoming.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Can technology make extradition for trial unnecessary?

If you need clarification of disclosure obligations in the context of extradition proceedings involving the “record of case” procedure, Dotcom v United States of America [2014] NZSC 24 (21 March 2014) should be of assistance.

The decision of the Court is in the joint judgment of McGrath and Blanchard JJ (delivered by McGrath J), the concurring judgment of William Young J, and the partially concurring judgment of Glazebrook J. See [153], [172], [177], [191], [194]; [213] – [217], [221] – [223], [228].

Where legislation permits a slightly more relaxed approach to treaty obligations, so that there is more room for fairness, the dissent of Elias CJ, and the partial dissent of Glazebrook J deserve consideration.

The central concept is the “duty of candour”, pursuant to which a requesting state must disclose to the defendant any information that [152] “destroys or very seriously undermines the evidence” on which the requesting state relies (adopting Lord Bingham in Knowles v Government of the United States of America [2006] UKPC 38, [2007] 1 WLR 47 at [35]).

Enforcing this duty of candour, in the absence of judicial powers to make orders, requires the court to rely on the candour of a party that may well not want to be candid. Of course the judges didn’t put it like that [177]:

“We accept that there will be exceptional cases where an extradition judge might want further information to be sought from the requesting state. Such concerns will usually be resolved through dialogue between the Court and counsel. In cases where that does not meet the perceived need, we also accept the view expressed in [Norris v Government of the United States [2008] UKHL 16, [2008] AC 920 at [107]] by Lord Bingham that where the relevant extradition treaty provides for government-to-government requests to be made for additional information or evidence, as art 12 of the Treaty does, that formal procedure may be availed of. The Court should inform counsel for the requesting party that the Court wishes to receive further information from the requesting state. Counsel must then bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate New Zealand Ministers so that a decision on whether to request the further information through diplomatic channels is made and given due effect.”

The weakness in this legislated scheme is obvious. The “state” seeking extradition is really a group of people whose jobs are to be prosecutors. They have allegiance to their country. They believe they have right on their side. So-called “states” do not treat each other with candour: if they did there would be a lot of unemployed spies.

Is the meaning of a “fair” extradition hearing different from the meaning of a “fair” trial? Fairness in extradition hearings requires impartial determination of the facts – in the sense of giving the evidence appropriate weight and determining issues without bias – in deciding whether a prima facie case has been established by the requesting state. There must be evidence, summarised in the record of case (where that procedure applies), on every element that the prosecutor would have to prove at trial. None of that evidence can be so unreliable that no fact-finder would accept it. The defendant must be able to challenge the reliability of the evidence, and that may require access to information that only the prosecutor may have. The prosecutor may be unaware of weaknesses in the case for extradition, or may not appreciate the magnitude of a possible weakness.

There is a point on which one might have reservations about the reasoning at [161] of the joint judgment (and concurred by William Young J at [228]). Disclosure, the judges seem to be saying, is not required when the defendant has independent knowledge of the facts. But the difficulty with this is that disclosure enables the defendant to know how the prosecutor intends to prove the facts needed to establish a prima facie case. It doesn't matter what the defendant knows, it's what the prosecutor knows, and how that knowledge was obtained, and whether it is admissible as evidence, that the defendant needs disclosure of, to challenge the assertion that there is a prima facie case.

It seems obvious that the statutory scheme for extradition where the record of case procedure is used does not meet the requirements of a fair hearing, because of constraints on disclosure of the prosecutor's case and the requirement that courts accept - although on a supposedly "rebuttable" basis - the candour of the prosecutor. You could hardly get a clearer example of the legislature requiring the court to take a biased stance. Yet the majority judges don't accept this. In considering whether the scheme complies with the requirements of natural justice [193], [229], [239] they - in effect - explain why it doesn't then they say that it does.

If there are questions about the power of the legislature to require courts of justice to act unjustly, resort will be had to the inherent powers of the court to act in the interests of justice. Elias CJ and Glazebrook J seek to advance this principle. The majority refer [181] to the court's ability to refuse extradition after a "meaningful judicial assessment of whether the evidence is sufficient to meet the threshold of a prima facie case", and the word "meaningful" may, one may speculate, encompass cases where there is a judicial sense that unacceptable unfairness has occurred.

Lord Devlin said something sensible in Connelly v DPP [1964] AC 1254, 1354, which I quoted in an article that, for reasons that now nearly escape me, I called "Criminal Equity" [2000] New Zealand Law Journal 427, a copy of which is available here.

In these times of technological sophistication, when trials do not really require the presence of defendants, or often even of witnesses, because they can participate remotely by audio visual links, extradition may only be necessary when a person is required to be present in court for sentencing.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Have you tried marine biology?

I’m told that there are some people who need to use little untruths to advance their chance of romantic success.

The most famous example I can think of is George Kostanza in Seinfeld, 5th season, episode 14: “The Marine Biologist”. Being thought of as a marine biologist did indeed enhance George’s prospects, but it also led to a call to action of another sort.

In R v Hutchinson, 2014 SCC 19 (7 March 2014) Mr Hutchinson’s untruth was of a more mundane kind: it came down to saying, “This is a really good condom.”

In fact he had put pin pricks in it, hoping to make his partner pregnant but knowing she did not want that. The result was she did become pregnant.

Had the complainant consented to the sexual activity?

The Court was unanimous in dismissing the appeal, but for differing reasons. The majority said yes, she had consented but her consent was vitiated by the dishonesty. Consent had been given to the sexual activity in question, and consent does not have to extend to the conditions or qualities of the act, such as birth control measures. However there was dishonesty which resulted in serious bodily harm [67] – [70], and this constituted the fraud that vitiated consent.

The minority said no, there was no consent ab initio, because use of the condom was part of the sexual activity and the complainant had the right to determine how she was touched, how the sexual activity she engaged in was carried out. It was not necessary to look for a vitiating factor such as fraud, as there was no consent from the beginning.

The majority found some difficulties with the minority reasoning [45] – [53]. How are the boundaries of the sexual activity, the nature and quality of the act, defined?

If a complainant had thought she was being propositioned by a marine biologist (this is my example, not the Court’s), and if she wouldn’t have had sex with the real George, would she be consenting to the ensuing sexual activity? If so, would her consent be vitiated by fraud?

Sunday, March 09, 2014

My goodness! Is that a gun?

For what would be accepted in the common law world as a conventional analysis of secondary liability insofar as it applied to the facts of Rosemond v United States, USSC No 12-895, 5 March 2014, see the judgment of the Court delivered by Kagan J (with significant agreement by Alito J, joined by Thomas J, in dissent).

It is the point over which the dissent occurred that is of interest to you and me.

The relevant offence was double-barrelled: committing a drug dealing offence, while in possession of a firearm. Does the secondary party, who assists or encourages the offence, have to help with both the dealing and the firearm possession? No disagreement here: it is only necessary that the defendant provides assistance or encouragement with some part of the offence. Does the secondary party have to know of all the circumstances – both the dealing and the firearm? Again, no disagreement: the defendant must know of all the circumstances of the offending.

But what if the defendant, present during the commission of the drug dealing, only becomes aware of the firearm after it is too late to withdraw from participation? The defendant may not be able realistically to say, “Everyone stop! No guns!” because that might risk the safety of other people or even of the defendant himself.

Here the dissenters say this is like the affirmative defences of duress or necessity: the defendant is saying he can’t withdraw because of forces beyond his control. He should, according to the relevant law (not universally applicable), have to prove those defences. They do not negate an element of the offence.

The majority disagreed with that (slip op, p 10 footnote 10). The question is one of fact: what did the defendant intend to assist or encourage? Evidence that he only learn’t of the firearm after the drug deal had commenced would be relevant to whether he intended to assist or encourage the firearm possession. His continuation with his participation could be consistent with him encouraging the gun element, or not: that is a matter the fact-finder would have to determine (see slip op, p 13, footnote 9). The prosecutor must, when such issues are raised, prove the necessary intent without a burden of proof passing to the defendant.

Defences like duress or necessity could, on relevant facts and subject to local law, be available, and again, subject to local law, may only require the defendant to raise them as live issues by pointing to some supporting evidence.

Normally, aside from in offences that include a proscribed purpose, the law does not concern itself with the motive behind an intention; Robin Hood was a thief. Where an intention existed because the defendant faced circumstances that it would be beyond normal human fortitude to endure, a defence of necessity might be available. But not necessarily. This is where policy limits on justifications and excuses operate. In Rosemond the Supreme Court majority lowered the moral hurdle for defendants by allowing a motive for an intention to limit responsibility even though the stricter requirements of an affirmative defence would not be satisfied.

I doubt that this would be a universally acceptable recognition of human frailty.