Is R v John Terry value for money?

Posted: 09/07/2012 in Barrister, Legal aid, Magistrates, Police
Tags: ,

There can be no doubt that the CPS treat racially aggravated offending very seriously indeed. That has sometimes led me to find myself in trials that I can’t believe have come to Court, not because they’re not serious, but because there’s very little evidence. But the CPS guidance makes it almost always in the public interest to prosecute in such cases.

And, you can see why. Racism is in any form unacceptable. Racism does not have a place in 21st century Britain.

But how do you feel about paying for the prosecution of John Terry.

Let me do something which feels unusual, let me try and put this neutrally:

The everyday trial

Section 5 of the public order act is one of the most simple offences in our criminal law. In fact, it can be dealt with by fixed penalty notice.

The racially aggravated version of the offence cannot be dealt with by fixed penalty notice but remains an offence which:

a) Can only be tried in the magistrates’ court.

b) Can only result in the accused being fined.

Even if you were on a low income you would not be guaranteed legal aid to defend the charge as it not considered to be sufficiently serious in all cases to justify legal aid.

To prosecute this charge you would be prosecuted by either a CPS prosecutor employed directly by government, or by the lowest level of barrister, a Grade 1 prosecuting barrister.

To give you an idea of fees, the defending barrister on legal aid would receive between £75 and £150 for the half-day trial. The prosecution barrister generally is on between £150 to £250 for a day for the CPS. So, again, between about £75 to £125 for that half day trial.

The average trial of this type would be heard by 2 or 3 magistrates (who receive their bus fare and a chocolate biscuit and weak tea) and would probably take half a day of a Magistrates’ Court time.

The Court house itself would be guarded by the contracted security guards.

The celebrity trial

John Terry is being tried in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. This is the Court where some of the most high profile cases in the country are heard. It is the extradition court, it deals with the cases of public protest and disorder in the capital and deals with the most humble shoplifting from Oxford Street.

The Court has a number of resident, salaried District Judges including the Deputy Senior District Judge and the Senior District Judge.

The John Terry trial is being heard, we are told for five days, by the Senior District Judge, the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales.

He is being prosecuted by Duncan Penny, Duncan Penny has been a barrister for 20 years, he is from the top prosecution set in the country. A set of chambers which advise MI5 / MI6 on policing terrorism.

His fee for the trial will reflect his expertise and his 20 years experience. This is being paid for by the tax payer.

Terry is being defended by George Carter-Stephenson QC, he is a barrister with over 30 years experience and has the magic two letters after his name. Of course, Terry is paying for that expertise.

I add, if Terry is acquitted then the tax payer will be liable to pay for those fees, although probably not in full, they will be required to pay a  signficant part.

The Terry trial has required the deployment of a large police presence.

So…

The cost, in lawyers, court and policing is huge compared to the everyday trial.

If you had the choice? Do you think it’s worth the cost? This is when less and less people receive legal aid, courts are closing, there are less bobbies on the beat, cautions are preferred to prosecutions in a number of cases.

Or, is it worth the money? Is it worth showing all society that footballers are not above the law, that racism will be prosecuted doggedly and that the CPS will deploy the resources necessary to fight this ill.

As I say, I’ve tried to keep this neutral, I’d love to know what you decide.

FTD.

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Comments
  1. chipofthob says:

    Hallo. Nice blog. Coming to your question: course it’s worth the cost. It’s not only that rich people need to know they’re not above the law. It’s also that rich ( and famous) people tend to be imitated.

  2. A CentralLondon JP says:

    I would like to have seen this tried by a normal bench of 3 Justices with a regular CPS prosecuting barrister. The legal issues here are the same as at most S5 Public Order Matters. I don’t think the celebrity of the defendant and victim here would be a factor, nor would team partisanship. This comes down to a finding of fact.
    Given the recordings available, it may be more straightforward than other similar cases which are heard every day where there is often a dispute on the actual words said.

    The sentencing for such offences is now severely constrained by the Sentencing Guidelines – whether this is such a good thing is a separate matter for another day.

    It seems wrong both in principle and in practice for huge resources to be used in this case.

    I remember how many trials I have seen, with inadequately prepared prosecutions where cases have been dismissed where the paperwork and witnesses have not been available in time.

  3. Darren says:

    Perhaps I’m being naive, but justice should never be disposed of because it’s too expensive. Even more so when it’s somebody in the public eye as it just sends the wrong message.

  4. Sam Wilson says:

    I take all your points but for me the answer is yes. John Terry is supposed to be a role model, though in that respect he has been an abject failure. Too many footballers think they can do exactly as they please. Why should they escape justice because they have the money to make a song and dance of it and turn a day’s trial into a week’s? If he can get away with being prosecuted for this offence then he can get away with beating up on someone, etc etc. Justice, like taxation, shouldn’t be just for the little people.

    • Michael says:

      So you’ve already decided that he’s guilty, Sam? So much for the presumption of innocence!

      If anything disturbs me particularly, it is the fact that this trial has been so long delayed. Justice delayed is justice denied. None of the reasons given justify – to my eyes – having put this off until now.

  5. Slippery Jim says:

    The latter. Otherwise, I’ll let you be the one to look in the eye the man on benefits, charged with the same offence, and tell him that it’s justice for him to have a criminal record but not John Terry – because he has enough money to make the CPS not bother anymore.

  6. Smoking Hot says:

    The whole thing is a complete farce. l await the day when someone like Ferdinand is in court for calling someone like Terry a ‘white f’ing c**t’.

    Terry can spend his money how he wants. Why the prosecution has to spend thousands on proving if Terry said ‘black’ or not is beyond me.

    Terry is playing football not because he’s a good role model, it’s because he can play football. I’m sure the Chelsea fans couldn’t care less how he behaves outside the game.

  7. Janet once says:

    This is not a racist incident…it is 2 adult footballers winding each other up. Disgusted the tax payer is paying for this trial. Should have been an internal discipline matter.

  8. As I understand it, back in the day even ‘celebrities’ would have expected to find themselves in front of the lay magistrates – weak tea, chocolate biscuits and all. The press would have been in there reporting the trial, showing society that football was not above the law and that racially aggravated offences would be doggedly prosecuted. The lay magistrates have been urged, trained, cajoled and encouraged to get much sharper in case management, and one of the prime targets has been time allocated for trial – questioning which witnesses are really necessary; what could be dealt with by agreed statements, etc. In this case, most magistrates will be thinking: “If we’d allocated five days to this, my JC would be writing me a very snotty letter”. As for eminent barristers appearing, you might have thought they would be able to deal with the matter efficiently and with elegant despatch, as surely that would be part of their expert value. It’s inexperienced solicitors who drone on and on and bore the bench rigid without getting their argument across.

    Oh, and why has the trial required a large police presence? Has be been threatened?

  9. Marc Cornelius says:

    A total waste of time and money. It would seem to me that the CPS have their priorities totally skewed.

    You “black bastard”, “Scottish git”, “queer git”, “bald bastard”, “you English bugger” etc etc Invective frequently consists of two parts. The first being a defining feature of the person in question and the second the actual swear word. This doesn’t make the comment racist or homophobic or snything other than pure invective.

  10. Richard says:

    I don’t like these nulabour compound offences, of “racially aggravated, or while over the limit. That said I think the trial is a shocking waste of public money.

    A suitable dealing would have been for some icon of football to have simply said, for the public, that Terry’s behaviour was unacceptable on the field, or off.

  11. ObiterJ says:

    A further question is if Terry’s case merited prosecution, why not prosecute physical attacks such as that seen on the pitch at Wembley earlier this year?

    The Terry case highlights the massive discrepancy in the justice available to the wealthy – (they can afford the best lawyers) – and the usual line-up of magistrates’ court defendants who are expected to be able to find their way with (at best) a word from a duty solicitor (if you can find one these days).

    I have sympathy with the views of “A Central London JP” who would have preferred a bench to have heard this case. With regard to the evidence there was just the complication of expert evidence on “lip reading.” Each side was permitted to call an expert though the two experts produced a joint report. (Even more cost there)! The defence called a lot of “character” evidence to show that the Terry was not “racist” but, as the Chief Magistrate pointed out, that was not the question to be decided. No particular issues of law arose in the case. Of course, Terry is a “celebrity” with a huge media following and a high profile “silk” representing him. These factors are seen these days to merit a District Judge (MC) and not a bench.

    Did the matter merit prosecution at all? Here was an incident occurring in the febrile atmosphere of a premiership match. It was seen by thousands via TV. The is little doubt that the actions on the pitch of professional players influence thousands of youngsters. High profile players make enormous sums of money out of sponsorship deals on merchandise etc. They could lose this if convicted and they are therefore highly likely to contest a case all the way and they will get expensive lawyers to fight their corner. Inevitably, the costs will be massive. On balance, I think it was justified to prosecute this case since the law has now sent out the right message.

  12. Tim Heywood says:

    Terry, being a rich man, would always be able to afford the most expensive representation. It is fair to assume that that expense is at least in part about the skill of the lawyer(s) he employs. It is his right to do this, of course. However, that decision means that once the decision to prosecute has been made, it would be futile to have the case heard by someone whose skill and experience do not match those of the lawyers Terry instructs. In short, prosecuting a premiership footballer will always be more expensive than prosecuting, say, me. The policing costs probably fall into a similar category.

    This trial has not resulted in a conviction, and so we must presume that Terry is innocent. What have we, taxpayers, paid for, then?

    There has been a clear message to Football that even the suggestion that such an offence may have occurred has been taken very seriously. If Terry had been found guilty, the fine would probably have been a few days’ wages, and so the aim cannot have been financial punishment of racism. The real outcome is that the next time two footballers of different ethnic backgrounds let their tempers overflow into abuse, they will think twice about expressing any racist beliefs they may hold. We can’t change those beliefs if they are held, but we can influence how much they are built into the role model that these indivduals necessarily become.

    This trial may have been much more expensive than many others for the same offence, but as a one-off, the sum is not significant. The effect on the children who idolise Terry may be much more significant, and I would say that it was money well spent.

    • Stephenie says:

      Money well spent?

      Have you heard about the “choc ice” tweet? Don’t you think these cases cause more problems than they solve, and create tensions where previously there were friendships?

      Minor speech “offences” like these should be sorted out internally and not in a court of law.

  13. Alison says:

    The case should never have been brought, but not because of cost reasons. As far as I can see there was no racial motivation for the outburst by Terry. There seems to be a belief that any comment made which includes the word “Black” means there was a racial motive. This is not always the case. I think it was clear that Terry’s comments were made because Ferdinand had been taunting him, and Terry was angry at Ferdinand because of this, not because Ferdinand is black. A very minor sec 5 poa may have been committed by Terry, and perhaps even by Ferdinand.This seems to have been overlooked. Terry was obviously harassed by Ferdinand’s taunting. Incident did not warrant any prosecutions.

  14. Alison says:

    The case should never have been brought, but not because of cost reasons. It appears to me that there was no racial motivation in this case. There appears to be a belief that any abusive comment which includes the word “black” must be racially motivated. In this case Terry had been taunted by Ferdinand and in response made the reported comments. Terry’s outburst were made because of what Ferdinand had been saying, not because of Ferdinand’s colour. There may have been a minor sec 5 poa offence committed by Terry, and possibly even by Ferdinand, after all Terry appears to have been so harassed by Ferdinand to make him respond in the way he did. The whole incident was too minor to warrant any prosecution. CPS made a very poor judgement call.

  15. Stephenie says:

    From the point of view of a taxpayer and an average member of the public, and not a legal person, I think this case was ridiculous. It makes me rage.

    Prosecuting a person for *one word* said in anger? Prosecuting one foul-mouthed footballer, and not the other?

    In my opinion it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, but commonsense is not very often seen in our justice system today.

    Why didn’t someone bang their heads together and send them home? Instead, the system has spent five days, five thousand words, and paid for a massive police operation etc. over one word!

    Somebody else mentioned that racism is taken very seriously by the CPS. I wish they would take real crime as seriously.
    This wasn’t even real racism.

    Can anyone tell me why the tiniest of perceived racist insults is pursued relentlessly, but my family and I (on separate occasions) have been assaulted and robbed and had precious little help from the police and CPS?
    It makes me very angry that money is being spent on this nonsense instead.

    Cut out all this trivia, and maybe we could tackle the appalling crime rate and the appalling re-offending rate in this country.

  16. It’s a fair point that Alison makes, that Ferdinand was probably guilty of the same offence, if offence it be, as Terry. They were clearly both swearing at each other like troopers and it appears that this can constitute an offence. Should it? Should swearing at someone else be criminal or just something deplored by society and condemned by it? I think on the balance that the footballing solutions would have been best. Leave it to the governing body of the sport.

    As between Ferdinand and Terry, it would appear that Terry’s use of the B word was what made the difference and put him in the firing line.

  17. Ian Hugo says:

    The problem here is some people (and the law) arguing on principle, which is bound to lead to ridiculous situations. If you find 10p in the street, the law strictly demands that you hand it in to a police station, where police will make out a form, have you sign it and store the 10p piece in a safe place. What does that cost? On the other hand, if you find an envelope containing £10,000, most people will regard that as a different matter. But the principle can’t distinguish between the two cases. In my view, the, the law that applies inthe JT case is common sense, which seems far from common these days. I think that the dictates of common sense should be an overriding principle, as defined by the test of “the man on the top of the Clapham Common omnibus”.. That would also avoid the many debacles resulting from the principles of political correctness.

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