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11 things you didn’t know about the law

Sarah Langford, barrister and author of In Your Defence, shares eleven interesting law facts you might not be aware of.

1. In England and Wales anyone of ten years old and above can be charged with a crime. Our age of criminal responsibility is lower than in any other country in Europe.

2. It is an offence to perform sexual activity in a public lavatory. This offence can be committed even if you are alone, and your motive and intent are irrelevant to your guilt. No one even needs to be offended by your activity: the fact you have done it is enough for the law.

3. One in four family cases in court have no lawyers because of cuts to legal aid. This means that parties are regularly being cross-examined in court by their ex-partners. It happens even when they have made allegations of abuse, violence or, sometimes, rape, against the very person who is now asking them questions.

Our age of criminal responsibility is lower than in any other country in Europe.

4. A barrister has both a duty to their client and a corresponding duty to the court. Although I am bound to represent my client to the best of my abilities, I am also bound not to mislead the court. If my client tells me he is guilty, I cannot tell the court he is innocent. All I can do is test the prosecution’s case by asking their witnesses questions and then rely on the legal burden of proof, which requires the jury to declare that my client is innocent until proven guilty. However, if I think my client is guilty – because all the evidence I have seen suggests this – then I must be realistic about his chances at trial. More often than not he will accept this and plead guilty, which means that his sentence will be discounted by approximately one-third for his acceptance of responsibility.

5. In law it is still the case that a husband and wife alone cannot be guilty of a conspiracy. This law comes from the legal fiction that a husband and wife are of one mind, and are presumed to have one will. As a conspiracy requires an agreement between two minds, a husband and wife cannot – in law – conspire alone. There has to be a third party.

6. The number of children in the care system is at its highest since 1989. There are 13,000 more children in care than there were ten years ago, and the number of applications made to remove children in 2017 was at a record high. If a woman has a child removed by the state she is 25 per cent more likely to have her next child removed as well. The removal of a child from its mother therefore makes it more, rather than less likely, that history will repeat itself.

If my client tells me he is guilty, I cannot tell the court he is innocent.

7. There is no such thing as a Sexual Offences Register. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 requires certain offenders to notify their local police of their personal details (their address, foreign travel plans, bank account and credit-card details, etc). They must do so three days after their conviction and every year thereafter for the rest of their life. Failure to do so is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

8. In England and Wales it is an offence for a person to ‘loiter, or solicit, in a street or public place for the purpose of offering services as a prostitute’ on two or more occasions in any period of three months. In many other countries, including Northern Island, the criminality of prostitution has been flipped so that it is illegal to buy sex, rather than to sell it. Many, including an all-party parliamentary report published in 2016, believe we should do the same.

9. There is no presumption in law that, when parents separate, the children will go to live with the mother over the father. Nor does the law favour mothers over fathers or take account of any ‘rights’ or wishes they believe they have as parents. The law says only that the court must do, at all times, what is in the best interests of the child. There is a presumption that involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare, but only if this parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way which does not put the child at risk of suffering harm.

Prison officers confiscated 500lbs of drugs from within prison in 2017.

10. In a 2016 survey, nearly half of all prisoners said it was easy to get drugs into prison. Prison officers confiscated 500lbs of drugs from within prison in 2017.

11. The World Justice Project Rule of Law index produces annual reports based on independent data on the global rule of law, and is the world’s most comprehensive data set of its kind. The UK fell out of the top 10 in the 2017–18 index, coming behind Germany and Canada after a reduced score for the accessibility and affordability of civil justice. The effectiveness of its correctional system is also now recorded as lower than that of the United States of America.

Intrigued? Find out more in Sarah Langford’s brilliant new book, In Your Defence.

In Your Defence

Sarah Langford

Sarah Langford, author of In Your Defence
Sarah Langford, author of In Your Defence
Sarah Langford

Sarah Langford has been a barrister since 2006, both in London and around the country, principally in criminal and family law. She studied English at the University of the West of England. She worked as a barmaid, legal secretary and note-taking clerk before completing a law conversion, in which she gained a distinction. She was awarded a scholarship from Gray’s Inn of Court and went on to train as a barrister. She lives with her husband and two small boys in London and Suffolk.

Follow Sarah on Twitter.

1 Comment

    Am looking forward to reading this book as I also studied law at UWE back in the day when it was known to the students as Colditz. Luckily for me I never worked at the coalface but in intellectual property and international contracts. Although long-retired, still try and stay informed.

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