Can a Web-Based Community
Provide Effective Legal Advice?
Today I’m launching an experiment.
I’m asking readers to participate in an exercise in providing communal, web-based legal advice, support and guidance.
It may be a disaster – of course, but, nevertheless, I thought it would be fascinating to see whether the World Wide Web can enable and supply some robust legal support for an accused person.
For those who aren’t in-the-know – some basic background information.
Jersey is – to all practical purposes – a single-party state; a jurisdiction controlled by an entrenched oligarchy – people who control, with a grip of iron, all meaningful power in the island.
The legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the senior civil servants, the prosecution service, the police, most of the local media and all the significant employing businesses in the island – all are controlled by a broad coalition of the traditional ruling elites. Many of the individuals involved may hate each other – but – invariably – when the chips are down – they unite and ruthlessly abuse all power in defence of their lucrative status quo.
I have been one of the very few opponents of this entrenched stagnation throughout my political career; an opposition which has become both very serious and very difficult during the last two years – given my attempts to uncover and expose the Jersey Child Abuse Disaster. And such has been the nature of the threat this episode poses to the oligarchy’s business-as-usual plans – they’ve gone out of their way to try and oppress and crush me – even more so than during the preceding 18 years.
The apotheosis of this process occurred in early April – when, one morning, I stepped from the door of my home to retrieve my iPod from my car – and was suddenly surrounded – and arrested in the presence of ten cops – who had been waiting outside in four cars and an incident-van.
I was taken to the police station and held under lock and key for over seven hours whilst an army of cops conducted a total “fishing expedition”-type search of the premises.
Though I’ll explain some of the legal details and questions in later postings – to cut a long story short, I am now charged with four alleged criminal offences.
1: Failing to renew a driving licence after an automatic expiry date.
2: Failing to notify a change of the registration address for my car.
3: Allegedly disclosing controlled data on this blog.
4: The data in question not being formally registered as under my control.
Those are not the precise words, which we can examine in subsequent postings – but that’s the gist of it.
Obviously – the two alleged data protection law breaches are, by far, the more serious charges.
It was very obvious from the questioning I was subjected to when under arrest that I had been under surveillance for a long time – that a detailed ‘intelligence-gathering’ exercise had been undertaken – and that all my methods of communication had been tapped and monitored.
Therefore – just by way of one example – it is my legal contention that such surveillance and monitoring was unlawful – for several possible reasons – and thus any evidence so gathered is inadmissible. These are the kind of issues I’m hoping readers can help me with.
And I need that help – because Jersey does not provide a paid legal aid service – in direct contravention of the case-law of the European Convention on Human Rights – which requires that all people have effective – with the emphasis on the word, ‘effective’ – legal representation. Jersey’s system doesn’t get onto the radar-screen of being “effective legal representation”. But rectifying that will obviously be a longer-term project.
Whilst I have had some pro bono legal advice and support from a good Jersey lawyer, his practice is small – and it would not be reasonable to call on his limited resources to provide what would need to be extensive legal representation.
So – with your help – I’m largely representing myself.
As I said – don’t worry about the precise details at this stage – we’ll examine those in coming posts.
I’m writing today simply to set the scene – and launch the experiment.
By way of a start, I’ll put a few initial questions towards the end of this post – for which I’d be grateful for answers.
But, before getting to the questions, I should describe my thinking behind the idea for this exercise.
In laying out the design of this experiment – a design which could be flawed, and require modification – we have to think of, and acknowledge, the obvious limitations and risks involved.
So let’s run through some of the issues and risks which occur to me; no doubt readers will add others.
1: Sabotaging the experiment.
As we all know – web sites can receive all sorts of rubbish – much of it deliberately designed spin-doctoring, trolling and/or seemingly plausible misinformation.
We must, therefore, be on our guard against such attempts to sabotage the experiment.
I will attempt to vet out the more obvious examples of deliberately submitted utter rubbish – but not being a lawyer, I could get taken-in by something, such as an inappropriate or wrong reference to a legal principle, or the irrelevant citing of examples of case-law, or the use of jargon, etc.
So our experiment will require readers to consider in detail the comments that get published – and alert us to any demonstrable errors, or deliberate attempts to mislead, which may get through.
2: The sub judice rule.
I believe that we can largely remain within any such consideration, given that we are not dealing with a jury trial. It’s the magistrate initially, and when it gets sent up to the higher court, it will be one of Michael Birt’s judges, and two Jurats who will hear the case.
My understanding – and please correct me if I’m wrong – is that the judiciary customarily argue that judges – who are “experts” in what they do – are not open to influence or prejudice to the same degree as a lay-person juror. Is that right?
However – in any event – it is only me who is responsible for what gets published on this site – so no risk accrues to my readers. And I take the view that they can do me for contempt of court if they wish; I’ll just add it to my grounds for taking things all the way to Strasbourg.
Given the Jersey oligarchy have pro-actively refused to furnish me with paid – thus effective – legal aid, of my choosing, I’m fully justified in seeking communal legal advice.
3: Jersey laws vs. the laws of other jurisdictions.
Obviously – there will be some differences between the legislation of Jersey and that of, say, the USA, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, France etc – and even the United Kingdom.
I will need to be conscious of those differences – and check-out any specific guidance or references offered for compatibility and relevance with Jersey laws.
However – in respectable, democratic countries, the great majority of basic legal principles, and the objectives of modern statute law, are frequently very similar. So comparisons with the Jersey situation will still be very useful, in at least two ways.
Firstly, some novel arguments or principles which could be run in a Jersey court may come to light.
Secondly, simply as an intellectual exercise it will be very interesting indeed to compare laws and their interpretations in Jersey – with accepted practice in other modern democracies.
It is also worth bearing in mind that whilst Jersey has its own laws – the great majority of the island’s modern legislation is simply copied and pasted from the UK equivalent – so there will be strong similarities with UK law.
It is also to be hoped at least one or two Jersey lawyers may join our experiment – who will then be able to point out to us any incompatibilities between the suggestions of readers from other jurisdictions, and Jersey law.
4: Legal privilege and confidentiality.
Though the Jersey oligarchy are strenuously attempting to resist 95% of my requests for disclosure of evidence to the defence side – for the very obvious reason that much of what I’m seeking would be immensely embarrassing and damaging to them – I do hope to, eventually, obtain certain disclosures.
Much of this material will have to be regarded as confidential – as will any legally privileged communications between the prosecution and defence and the court administration.
However, without breaking that confidentiality, I’m reasonably confident that I can distill down the evidence to a few generalised, fundamental points, which I can then put to you – my ‘collective lawyer’ – for your advice and guidance.
And, again, I must make the point that as I have been denied effective legal representation – in direct defiance of the European Convention on Human Rights – and I’m only a carpenter – I have a right to look somewhere for my legal guidance.
5: Showing one’s hand.
It may be argued that by communally discussing and constructing a case for the defence in this very public manner – we allow the prosecution to see what cards we hold – and thus enable them to prepare counter-arguments.
Two thoughts occur to me.
Firstly, as far as I’m aware – and correct me if I’m wrong – it is a basic principle of criminal trials that both prosecution and defence disclose to each other their evidence and their basic arguments in any event.
If that is so, then I’d have to share my case with the oligarchy come what may.
Secondly – if there were any useful arguments, devices or manoeuvres which could, legitimately, be retained from the prosecution side – readers can e-mail them to me in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6: Quality of advice may be poor.
Well, yes, that’s a possibility – but on the other hand – it could be extremely good – especially when one considers what will, hopefully, be a multi-input case.
In this experiment – the legal guidance and advice from readers – and their comments and observations on such advice – will act as an intrinsic peer-review; a kind of quality-control mechanism.
Well – that’s the hypothesis – and this is an experiment – so we can but try.
So those are my initial thoughts. The methodology of the experiment will run something like this –
I will publish the input and comments from readers (with the usual caveats) and hopefully, we can have a dialogue concerning the observations made.
After a few days, I will publish the next post in the series, in which I will up-date readers, try to encapsulate where we’ve got to in forming our case so far – and stating what I think we need to look at next.
In asking for input from readers, whilst personal experiences could be useful if directly analogous to the charges and situation I face – I think we should try to steer clear of too many recountings of the, no doubt, many bad personal experiences people have had at the hands of the law.
The kind of contribution which would be really helpful would be if readers could draw this blog and this experiment to the attention of any lawyers they know – and ask them to contribute.
Or – you may be a lawyer, in which case – let us know your thoughts.
Or – you may simply be able to do some useful research – and let us have your ideas.
So – does this idea – this experiment – interest readers?
Is the methodology I posit suitable?
Have I missed any important points?
And – to begin the legal questions – can readers share with us any initial legal understanding they may have of the underlying principles of “disclosure” – the process whereby the prosecution has to disclose to the defence side evidence which may help the defence – or undermine the prosecution case?
I ask this – though it is a theme we’ll return to again and again – because the Jersey oligarchy are strenuously resisting the disclosures sought by me, instead claiming that it’s up to the prosecution to decide what is – or is not – of relevance to the charges they have brought.
In the next post in this series – I’ll be addressing readers in-put – and giving some more detail – for example, quoting the charges precisely, and explaining what my – non-legal and non-expert – assessment of the situation is.