Thursday, September 30, 2010

Down the slippery slope...

A few weeks ago I wrote about how one small town was recuiting residents to monitor traffic speed in the town, now more disturbing news is out about a proposal to lower council tax for those who volunteer their services to the police. The notion is that those who volunteer as 'special constables' could have their tax bills halved for their efforts. Believe it or not these 'special constables' are not paid, but wear identical uniforms to sworn officers and can make arrests.

Just how are we going to develop a police state? Is it not enough that the government can hold you without charge? That CCTV cameras are everywhere? That you can receive a tailored anti-social behavoural order prohibiting you from doing almost anything under pain of criminal offense? Where are we to find liberty and privacy these days? When I was writing about having someone to spy upon others in a block of flats or in a school class I thought it was an example of something extreem, now I fear that it may be much closer to reality....

Monday, September 27, 2010

Work it, work it...

So I've been hard at work gentle readers over the last few weeks on the LLB. Actually, I had a good session the other night with some other students on contract law of all things. Have a look at the attached and let me know your thoughts:

On Monday, Albert inspected Betty’s car at her house in Woking and offered to pay £10,000 for it. Betty wanted £12,000. Later in the day, Betty wrote to Albert and stated that she would take £11,000. The letter was received by Albert at his home on Tuesday morning. At 4.00 pm on Tuesday afternoon, Albert at his office in London wrote a letter to Betty accepting her offer. On his way to post the letter Albert met Cuthbert who told him, ‘I gather that Betty has finally sold her car.’ Betty had, indeed, sold the car. Albert posted his letter and, upon arriving home at Woking, discovered a message on his answer phone from Betty. The message had been left at 3.00 pm; Betty had stated, ‘I withdraw my offer.’ Albert bought a similar car for £12,500. Advise Albert.

In the situation above, Albert is £1,500 worse off due to the actions of Betty. The question is whether Betty could reasonably withdraw her offer in the manner in which she did or was there a binding contact between the two of them for Albert to buy Betty’s car for £11,000?

Albert’s case rests upon the strength of the postal rule as first established in Adams v Lindsell (1818) and Household Fire Insurance v Grant (1879). Under this exceptional rule, acceptance of an offer is completed when it is posted. This Albert did during the course of Tuesday afternoon sometime after 4pm. As seen in Quenerduaine v Cole (1883), it was reasonable for Albert to rely on the postal means of communication despite its old-fashioned nature, due to the previous letter which Betty wrote to him offering to sell her car. Thus the use of the post was reasonably contemplated by the parties.

Albert will have to contend against Betty’s claim that he knew the car was sold because he was informed by Cuthbert. While Albert did hear from Cuthbert that the car might have already been sold, this was no more than hearsay as there is no supposition that Cuthbert was reliable and authorized to communicate for Betty as set out in Dickinson v Dodds (1876). In advising Albert it should be clearly necessary to review with him if Cuthbert ever said that he was acting for Betty by telling him this information. If not, it could be reasonably disregarded.

Perhaps the most difficult point for Albert to contend with is that there is little clarity on what to make of Betty’s withdrawal of her offer on a voice mail message at 3pm. Albert would need to reasonably argue that voice mail does not fall under the postal rule exception to communication, thus it is valid when received. As
Albert’s posting of the acceptance to Betty’s offer was prior to receiving the notice of her revocation then the postal rule should apply and Albert should have a reasonable claim for £1,500 compensation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Under pressure

Sad story in the New York Times today.

which takes a look at a study done of those who have confessed to a crime which they did not commit. I have to admit while sad and tragic that innocent people confess to crimes they have not been involved in the study itself is brilliant and sheds a lot of light on an area relatively unexplored. Why would an innocent person confess? Not only to minor crimes but also to charges such a murder and rape. I mentioned only in passing in an earlier blog post about the pressure one must feel to confess. In my case it was to just have done with a simple parking ticket. By would such feelings really hold true to those threatened with incarceration? Apparently so, in at least 250 documented cases. Many of these involved defendants who had some limited mental capabilities, in some cases they were young, but more than anything the confessions seem to be driven by the investigators. They were not merely "I did it" confessions but detailed descriptions of the acts and facts surrounding the case. In almost all instances this information could only have come from the examining officers who "helped to describe" how the crime took place. It makes chilling reading especially given that a confession usually closes the book on a defendant's case. Beyond the miscarriages of justice why is the relevant? Well the UK is considering reducing sentences of offenders who confess their guilt, not only before trial as currently happens, but at the earliest opportunity when apprehended by police. As this study makes clear, such a path may open the door to more false confessions and greater injustice.

You can access the study here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh the joys of cricket

Whatever you might think of Lord Denning you have to enjoy the opening of his opinion in Miller v Jackson [1977] QB 966:

In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last 70 years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practise while the light lasts. Yet now after these 70 years a judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there any more. He has issued an injunction to stop them. He has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket. This newcomer has built, or has had built for him, a house on the edge of the cricket ground which four years ago was a field where cattle grazed. The animals did not mind the cricket. But now this adjoining field has been turned into a housing estate. The newcomer bought one of the houses on the edge of the cricket ground. No doubt the open space was a selling point. Now he complains that when a batsman hits a six the ball has been known to land in his garden or on or near his house. His wife has got so upset about it that they always go out at week-ends. They do not go into the garden when cricket is being played. They say that this is intolerable. So they asked the judge to stop the cricket being played. And the judge, much against his will, has felt that he must order the cricket to be stopped: with the consequence, I suppose, that the Lintz Cricket Club will disappear. The cricket ground will be turned to some other use. I expect for more houses or a factory. The young men will turn to other things instead of cricket. The whole village will be much the poorer. And all this because of a newcomer who has just bought a house there next to the cricket ground.

Any doubt on how he ruled?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The sweet smell....

Dear gentle readers, I'm very pleased to share with you my first true legal success. As you may recall, a few weeks ago in my post "Breaking the law" I described how I was charged with an offence. Today I am happy to let you know that the charge against me has been dismissed and I have been successful in overcoming this injustice. Its nice to think that at least in this case justice has been done. I suppose it points not only to the need to follow the law but also how important it is to be able to show that you are following the law and to fight for your rights when required to do so. To be honest, I did think about just paying the penalty and having done with it. Especially since the reduction is 50% if you pay quickly. In fact I felt some pressure to do so. However I did not deserve to be fined in the first place. I can only imagine how those who are hauled in for more serious offences may feel. You are banged up in jail and presented with options about how you may proceed with your case. One suggestion put before you is to plead guilty at an early stage in order to avoid a trial and a harsher sentance. If you are innocent and told that if you plead guilty you can avoid jail otherwise at a trial you may find youself sentanced to spend time in the clink. It seems to me clear what many would do.