Thursday, May 17, 2012

#Leveson #pressreform :#McCANN v BENNETT, LEGAL AID and ROBERT HALFON M.P.

16 May
The following information authored by Tony Bennett was retrieved May 16th, 2012, from The Complete Mystery of Madeleine McCann -
I was at the House of Commons today for the launch, chaired by Rt Hon David Davies MP, of a new campaign to defend – or rather, win back – freedom of speech in this country. My report on the day’s event is here:
I was also able to meet Robert Halfon MP’s secretary in the lobby about the ‘equality of arms’ issue in McCanns v Bennett. My report, and update, is below:

I was able to have a useful meeting with Mr Paul Abbott, Robert Halfon M.P.’s Parliamentary Secretary, today at the House of Commons. So here’s a full update on where McCanns v Bennett stands at the moment.

On 26 April, Robert Halfon kindly write on my behalf, as requested, to the Justice Minister, Ken Clarke. Paul Abbott today handed me the letter sent by Robert.
The relevant part reads: “Mr Bennett has asked whether your Department can intervene to assist with legal aid that he needed to make his case to the courts. As his local MP, he has asked me to forward his attached letter to you for your consideration. I would be grateful for your comments…especially given that his court date is approach in a few weeks”.

Whist on the subject of the help Robert has given me, for which I am very grateful, I must for the record make clear (as Robert himself has requested) that Robert has, both since the General Election and before it (since I write to him about the Madeleine McCann case in 2010), stated that he does not support in any way my questioning of the McCanns’ account of events. His help is merely confined to the matter of supporting me in my reasonable quest for legal aid, and I don’t think I suggested otherwise in any way in my previous post on this forum.

Moreover, Robert has told me that he sympathises with the suffering and tragedy that has affected the McCann family. Thus it is plain where he stands and where I stand. He has kindly agreed to use his influence to make sure that the legal aid aspect is fully explored – especially as the Legal Service Commission may have made a mistake (twice) in refusing me legal aid.

The second letter of refusal of legal aid by the Legal Services Commission, however, enclosed various extracts from a document called the Legal Services Commission Manual – a very lengthy tome. As I had thought, on reading through its provisions carefully, it appears that there are special provisions for those aged 60 or over, in relation to the savings cut-off point, under Section 7 (Capital Allowances and Disregards).

I replied to the Legal Services Commission about this on 11 My and by coincidence today they replied, stating, and again I quote:

“I would like to acknowledge receipt of your letter to Matthew Coats, Chief Executive, received here at our offices on 16 May 2012.
Your letter has been passed to the appropriate department to look into further and you will receive a substantive response in due course
Yours sincerely
Emma Williams
CEO’s Office
Legal Services Commission
Floor 8 (8.42), 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ”.

And that is where the matter stands. My commital-to-prison trial date will be fixed once the outcome of these representations is known. To be fait to the McCanns, their solicitors Carter-Ruck advised me when serving me with the committal papers of the Supreme Court decision in Hammerton v Hammerton, which, in terms, said that a defendant should always be legally represented. They also agree that it would be far better if I were to be legally represented, which is why they agreed to the adjournment. Perhaps what the McCanns don’t realise is how impossible it is to match their legal resources, their having already spent £120,000-plus, with the prospect that the trial will cost tens of thousands of ponds more.

I would just like to return to the subject of Robert Halfon. I see that today that certain people, with certain agendas, have twisted my statement that Robert was supporting me in my quest for legal aid and suggested, wholly falsely, that I had made out that he supported my doubts about the McCanns’ account of events concerning Madeleine. That was clearly not what I said, but those who wish for their own reasons to stir things up appear to have had some temporary success.
Let me just say that I have known Robert for many years, stood against him in two General Elections in Harlow, and am happy to acknowledge publicly that since being elected he has worked hard for the people of Harlow and the surrounding villages, even I think sponsoring the most successful petition so far on the Prime Minister’s website, namely against fuel duty tax. His willingness to make sure that I am able to secure full ‘equality of arms’ in these court proceedings, in accordance with the right to fair trial guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, does not in any way conflict with the fact that clearly, as he has expressed today on Twitter, he strongly sympathises with the McCanns and therefore takes a dim view of those, like me and many others, who question their account of events.

A brief reminder, then, that as recently as February this year the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg clearly ruled, and again I quote, that
“The Court reiterates that the Convention is intended to guarantee practical and effective rights. This is particularly so of the right of access to court in view of the prominent place held in a democratic society by the right to a fair trial. It is central to the concept of a fair trial, in civil as in criminal proceedings, that a litigant is not denied the opportunity to present his or her case effectively before the court and that he or she is able to enjoy equality of arms with the opposing side”.

Given that:
(a) Carter-Ruck’s costs up to 19 April were ‘well over £120,000’, and
(b) that the British government is still perpetuating s these oppressive libel laws which a vast range of freedom-of-speech organisations agree are an unreasonable restraint on free speech which enables the wealthy and powerful to get their own way, and

(c) that at the last General Election all three main parties promised the electorate that they would reform these draconian libel laws…
…it is difficult to see how the Justice Secretary will be able to be seen to refuse legal aid to someone facing lawyers who charge £1,200 an hour, simply because my savings are over £8,000. The European Court and our Supreme Court have both made it crystal clear in unanimous decisions that a person faced with going to prison must have full ‘equality of arms’ to enable him to defend himself ,and especially so if that person has to face a team of the country’s top-earning lawyers plus a barrister.

The government is, then, required by the European Court of Human Rights, which now governs our laws as per the Human Rights Act 1998, to guarantee me equality of arms with Carter-Ruck in these proceedings.