Saturday, 18 April 2015

DWP - No Right to Legal Advice?

Two DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) Enforcement Officers, recently attended my shared apartment building without invitation.  

They were caught, harassing, intimidating and threatening one of my older neighbours, outside their front door.  My neighbour had begun to cry. 

I suspect they had not know that a Solicitor lived across the hall, and that Solicitor, would be the notorious Daniel Donaldson, someone who just so happens to campaign regularly for for Equality and Human Rights.

My Concerns

The first thing that I objected to was the conversation taking place at all.  The Officers knew (or ought to have known) that they should not be discussing an individual's private business for everyone in sundry to hear.  However, they did so anyway.

Then of course, was the topic of conversation.  I also objected to this.  It was alleged that the local Procurator Fiscal had instructed the Officers to attend, in order to obtain my neighbour's consent to open a "sealed evidential envelope" containing "an interview tape and transcript".

The Officers went on, as part of their harassment and intimidation, to say that they would "do it anyway" but just just had to let my neighbour know.

It was at this point, I intervened.  Not only was the conversation audible from within my own property but I noticed that my neighbour was distressed.  It was clear that me neighbour didn't follow or understand what was being said.

The Exchange of Credentials

I asked to see the Officers credentials, and of course, the Officer wanted to see mine.  I fully suspect, that when I handed over my business card, and was about to take my Law Society of Scotland certificate from its frame, that it suddenly dawned on them both what a horrible mistake they had made.

I will be careful here, and point out that I at no point held myself out as my neighbour's Solicitor or her representative.  I was acting, in the public interest, both protect my neighbours welfare and in order to achieve a peaceful resolution to a very tense and difficult situation inside my apartment building.

Independent Legal Advice - Does this Ring a Bell?

As our conversation progressed, I reminded the Officers that my neighbour was entitled to seek independent legal advice.  I also reminded them of certain procedural aspects, regarding a fair hearing.

The Officers conceded that they had attended without invitation and that they should have written to my neighbour, to enable her to take legal advice.

It was this important human right, that the Officers had omitted, when they began their harassment.

The situation was defused and the Officers left.

I wonder what would have been the outcome had I not been there.

No Harassment Please

It is important to remember that the Crown does not have the right to harass or intimidate people.

It is also important to remember that everyone is entitled to take independent legal advice.  This fact should beyond doubt now, lest we have to revisit the CADDER v HMA debacle again.  If you every find yourself with unwanted DWP Officers harassing you, or someone you care about, please feel free to remind them of that too.

In so far as Human Rights are concerned, the Crown has bound itself to respect the integrity of the person (which they did not do in this case).  The Crown has also bound itself regarding respect for the private and peaceful enjoyment of one's property, family life and correspondence (again, something overlooked in this case).

Regarding confidentiality, European and UK Data Protection law applies.  The discussion of my neighbour's private business, in a very public manner, was a clear breach of the Data Protection regime.  In addition, the "loss of evidence", or whatever the DWP Officers sought to deal with, is also a breach, and a reportable breach, with potential criminal sanctions too.  

I do wonder whether the loss of evidence was reported to the UK Information Commissioner. It would be unfortunate if it was not, as that in itself, may be a criminal offence.  

It would be a rather red faced moment, if some DWP Officers found themselves being interviewed, outside their front door, of a Thursday morning, being asked why they lost evidence and didn't report it as they should have.  Wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Homophobia and Human Rights

Picture Credit: Scotsman / Edinburgh Evening News


In the summer of 2014, my partner and I, left our home of 7 years.

After a sustained period of homophobic vandalism and abuse, from local young people and other adults, we'd had enough. 


It is only now, having settled down into a new life, in a new home and and, in a new City, that I can write about the experience.  

At the time of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, I received a disturbing call from my partner.  He explained that a group of young people were giving him homophobic abuse in the street.  Later that week, he rang me again, this time distressed because his parent's car had it's windscreen smashed in.

I returned home, having finished up my volunteer run at the Games, only to find more abuse laying in wait.  This time, our home had been targeted by a projectile of some sort.  It had impacted the front door and was loud enough to be heard in every room of the house.

I ran outside to find the group gathered in the street, acting as if nothing had happened.

I started filming, expecting trouble.  I was not wrong, and I was ever grateful for the invention of the camera phone.

"Oi, you. Why are you filming us!", 

"Are you some kinda peedo or something?"

Then, one of the youths, removed his trousers and, bore his backside to me.

"Do you wanna beast me?"

To be graphic about it, this lad was asking me, if I wanted to have sexual intercourse with him, notwithstanding that he was only around 12 or 13.

It was then that the "adults", and yes, it is a deliberate use of speech marks, joined in.

One shouted from across her balcony, that I'd been filming the kids to warn other parents.

Another adult emerged from the property across the street.  He had covered his face and head with a hood.  He began shouting;

"beast, beast, beast".  

Now, for the sake of brevity, I will not go into every detail.  Suffice to say, in the days and weeks that followed, we had to call the Police on 20 occasions.

Eventually, some of the youths succeeded in smashing our bedroom window.

My partner was trying to sleep.

Can you imagine how scarey it is to experience a window shatter above your head at night?


Police Assistance

The local police at Drylaw Police Station were extremely supportive.

Within a few days, they had identified most of the young people involved and they were charged.

The only difficulty here, was that because the young people were all under the age of 16, they were entitled to anonymity.

They could not be arrested, or locked up, or sent before a Sheriff (judge), remanded in custody or have any of the other protective measures taken against them.

They continued their pattern of abuse and they knew they could, and would, get away with it.

All the police could do would be round them up, disperse the group, return the children to their parents and charge them.  The criminal justice file would then be passed onto the Children's Hearings System (Juvenile Justice).

I kept asking everyone, how is this fair?

I kept receiving the response, it is not fair, but there is nothing else that we can do.


Local Authority Assistance

The City of Edinburgh Council, seemed ambivalent to our plight.

We had previously contacted the local community safety team, and not heard anything back.

Again, we tried in vain to obtain immediate redress.

Again, telephone calls, emails and police requests for assistance went unanswered.

At a later stage, I did have a sit down with two social workers who were in charge of the welfare of one of the boys involved.  This conversation was helpful as it them kick started other measures.


Civil Remedies

As a Solicitor, I was aware that we were entitled to a civil remedy.  This is basic and fundamental human right.

However, the lack of information from the criminal justice system and the local authority made it impossible to take any form of legal action.

We were not allowed to know the identities of the young people, of any witnesses, nor allowed to see any documents, such as witness statements.

I tried at least 4 times to go into Court with what we had, however the processes involved, together with the lack of assistance, thwarted every effort.


The Future

We've now moved on, and are looking to our future together.

We are considering adopting children and have just adopted a new rescue cat.

Our new home, is safe and secure.  Our neighbours are great.

I will not stop my campaigning on either equality and human rights issues either.  I know, from this personal experience, why it's so important to have someone around to both question and challenge.

I am spurred on and undeterred.   

Never let it be said that there is no nastiness left in the world, nor that there is no need for "all these human rights".

The law is there for a reason, I only wish our public authorities were better able to enforce it.