Law in Action

BBC Radio 4

Joshua Rozenberg presents Radio 4's long-running legal magazine programme, featuring reports and discussion on matters relating to law

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Episodes

Deepfakes and the Law
07-11-2023
Deepfakes and the Law
What if someone uses AI to create a fake version of your voice for their own aims? Recently, the actor, broadcaster and writer Stephen Fry found that someone had recreated his voice to narrate a documentary without his knowledge. What does the law have to say about deepfakes? What are your rights, and in which circumstances could someone be sued, or prosecuted? Associate solicitor Oliver Lock of Farrer & Co explains what the law can, and can't do. Creating fakes with AI, and the software to detect them, is a growing field. The same is true of forensic speech recognition, which is done both by ear and machine and can help the police or a court identify whether a recording is the voice of a suspect, for example. Dr Anil Alexander of Oxford Wave Research Ltd plays some samples to presenter Joshua Rozenberg. Can he guess them right? And what other uses are there for this technology in law enforcement?Forensic scientists are often called upon to give evidence in court, as are doctors. These expert witnesses are crucial, but things can go wrong. Some find cross-examination so bruising that they don't want to repeat it. Others fear for their reputation, if they're pushed into saying something they hadn't meant to say. Baroness Professor Sue Black is a leading forensic anthropologist and shares her thoughts.Sometimes barristers and judges are out of their depth on the science of a case. One solution to this problem has been put forward by the independent scientific academy the Royal Society, with the Royal Society of Edinburgh: subject-specific primers on relevant topics. As Dame Dr Julie Maxton, executive director of the Royal Society explains, leading scientists write and peer-review the primers, such as on ballistics or DNA, and senior judges cross-check them from the legal perspective. The primers are online, aimed at judges but available for everyone. The hope is that if barristers fail to ask the right questions on the science, judges who've read the primers can then do so instead. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Editor: Clare Fordham Sound engineers: James Beard and Rod Farquhar Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Rosie Strawbridge
Prison sentences: too long or too short?
31-10-2023
Prison sentences: too long or too short?
Last week, the House of Commons Justice Select Committee published a wide-ranging report about sentencing and public opinion. On the one hand, it said we shouldn't ignore what people think. On the other hand, MPs found that many people didn’t understand how sentencing worked. The justice committee's own research confirmed this lack of understanding. The committee's chair, the Conservative MP Sir Bob Neill, also points out the cost of longer sentences: £47,000 per prisoner per year.Despite that level of expenditure, all is not well in the prisons of England & Wales. Self-harm, suicide and assault rates are all up. Prison officers are "voting with their feet," says Professor Alison Liebling, director of the Prisons Research Centre of Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology. She has been doing research in prisons for nearly 35 years, and thinks that this is "the most unstable, and unsafe period [she's] known". But she also has some suggestions for how to improve matters, and to free up prison spaces.There's been yet another mass shooting in the United States, again involving a military-style assault weapon. Rather than try for tighter gun control to stop these killings, some people are taking the gun manufacturers to court instead. Chicago-based lawyer Antonio Romanucci is acting for many of those affected by a shooting in Chicago on Independence Day last year. They're bringing a civil claim under consumer marketing laws. Could it be successful?The Scottish government is planning to give the people of Scotland new, enforceable human rights. These would largely be economic, social and cultural rights, as opposed to the current civil and political ones like freedom of speech. The plan is to incorporate several international treaties into Scottish law. The UK is a signatory to these treaties already, but the rights they proclaim can't be enforced through the courts. A new Human Rights bill in Scotland would change that. But could it avoid being scuppered by the limits of devolution?Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Production Coordinator: Maria Ogundele Sound engineers: Neil Churchill and Graham Puddifoot
Exporting prisoners, is Joint Enterprise racist, and Gaza-Israel
24-10-2023
Exporting prisoners, is Joint Enterprise racist, and Gaza-Israel
Following the events of the 7th October in which around 1400 people were killed in Israel and over 200 taken hostage, Israel has been striking back against Hamas in Gaza. What does international law say about self-defence and proportionate responses to attacks? Joshua Rozenberg asks expert Professor Guglielmo Verdirame KC of Kings College. The government is proposing to rent prison space abroad, due to a risk of prison overcrowding here. There is precedent: Norway sent prisoners to a Dutch prison, for example. How did that work out in practice? What lessons were being learnt? Prisons expert Professor Alison Liebling of Cambridge University has studied and evaluated the Norwegian-Dutch case. How safe are Joint Enterprise convictions for murder? As a result of legal action on behalf of JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association), the Crown Prosecution Service has started to gather, and publish, data about those charged with Joint Enterprise homicide or attempted homicide. The figures show that young black men are vastly overrepresented among those charged under the Joint Enterprise doctrine. The convictions are difficult to appeal, as the threshold is high. In 2016 the Supreme Court admitted the law had "taken a wrong turn" on Joint Enterprise for 30 years. What went wrong, and is it being put right? We hear from Professor Felicity Gerry KC, who led the defence in the 2016 Supreme Court case, and from someone who served a Joint Enterprise sentence for murder, even though he says he was not present at the killing and only found out about it afterwards. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Editor: Clare Fordham Sound engineers: Neil Churchill and Rod Farquhar Production coordinator: Maria Ogundele
The new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk KC MP
13-06-2023
The new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk KC MP
The new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk KC MP speaks to Joshua Rozenberg. How does he respond to criticisms levelled at the reforms of the Parole Board proposed in the Victims and Prisoners Bill? And how does he reconcile his wish to "provide individuals with the due process which is the hallmark of our legal system" with some aspects of the Home Office's Illegal Migration Bill, that aims to stop people crossing to the UK in small boats? Mr Chalk also speaks about new measures to protect investigative journalists from malicious libel actions, and confirms that the new Lord Chief Justice will be a woman, for the first time in a thousand years. Most of the senior judges in England and Wales are male, white, middle-aged and former barristers. The new head of the Judicial Appointments Commission, Helen Pitcher, in her first broadcast interview, tells Joshua that diversity is very important and admits its an issue in the judiciary. So how will she increase it? We hear about projects and research to help remove barriers and ensure senior judges reflect the society they serve. What is it like to do your job after a diagnosis of Parkinson's? The condition affects people differently, but many have a tremor, fatigue, reduced mobility in their arms, legs, or both, and some can have depression. Joshua meets a High Court judge, Sir Nicholas Mostyn, to find out how he has been able to carry on working despite the condition. What are employees' rights in this case? And what is it like for those in other lines of work? We also hear from a nurse with Parkinson's on how she does it. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Bethan Ashmead Latham Production Coordinator: Maria Ogundele Editor: Clare Fordham
How well is the Parole Board protecting the public?
06-06-2023
How well is the Parole Board protecting the public?
Is the Parole Board getting it right with prisoner releases? Last year, the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab thought not, and introduced reform proposals to, as he saw it, re-prioritise public protection and trust in justice. These proposals are in the Victims and Prisoners Bill that's now before parliament. But the Parole Board tell Joshua Rozenberg that public protection is their top priority anyway, and that only 0.5% of those they release go on to commit other serious offences. What can the law do when a husband takes his wife on a trip abroad, such as to his or her country of origin, and abandons her there, without the means to return? Typically in such cases, the man confiscates his wife's passport, documents and mobile phone, and then returns to the UK without her. If there are any children, the husband takes those with him, leaving the wife and children separated from each other. Often, the wife's right to live in or return to the UK is tied to her marital status. We hear from someone who became a victim of "transnational marriage abandonment" as it's called, when she was taken back to India.Artificial Intelligence or AI is changing how we live and work. Generative AI is able to produce written texts and many other types of content, including soon perhaps legal documents. Could such AI be used to deliver justice more quickly and cheaply than lawyers and judges? What safeguards should there be? And could it help clear huge backlogs in the courts? Joshua speaks with Professor Richard Susskind, one of the world's leading experts on AI and the law.Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Bethan Ashmead Latham Production Coordinator: Maria Ogundele Editor: Clare Fordham
Climate Change Challenging the Law
30-05-2023
Climate Change Challenging the Law
The law is having to deal with new challenges due to climate change. Is it a human right to be protected from global warming? Do the 46 member states of the Council of Europe have to reduce carbon emissions faster to protect their citizens' right to life? The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has been asked to rule on these questions. We hear about the case of the Swiss 'Klimaseniorinnen', elderly women arguing that climate change-induced heatwaves threaten their lives. The little-known Energy Charter Treaty enables companies to sue governments for compensation for the loss of predicted profits, if signatory states reduce the value of contracts such as by banning new fossil fuel extraction projects. Could this deter countries from passing the carbon-reduction measures necessary to combat climate change? Or is the ECT a tool worth keeping, as it also protects renewable energy contracts that governments promised subsidies for?What are the ethical choices for climate-conscious lawyers when it comes to either representing fossil fuel companies, or prosecuting climate change protesters? Could, or even should, lawyers refuse to act for certain clients, or to prosecute certain defendants? What's more important: fighting global warming or ensuring access to justice for all and upholding the rule of the law as it stands? We discuss the dilemmas, and some new guidance for lawyers. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Bethan Ashmead Latham Production Coordinator: Maria Ogundele Sound Engineer: Neil Churchill Editor: Simon WattsPhoto of Swiss 'Klimaseniorinnen' activists at Strasbourg on 29.3.2023: © Greenpeace / Shervine Nafissi
How to Improve Rape Trials
23-05-2023
How to Improve Rape Trials
Conviction rates for rape trials are lower than those for other criminal trials, and the court experience can be intrusive and harrowing for survivors. The Law Commission of England and Wales (the independent body that advises the government on law reform), has just published a new consultation paper for how to change this. Criminal law commissioner Prof Penney Lewis, and before her Independent Sexual Violence Adviser Annabelle Edwards of Rape Crisis, speak about the reforms they'd like to see. The Scottish government's Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) bill also aims to improve rape trials. If passed, it would abolish the "not proven" option for acquittal, create specialist rape courts, and controversially establish the option of judge-only, non-jury trials as a pilot scheme, as it's feared rape myths might influence some jurors. Fiona Leverick, professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Glasgow and Tony Lenehan KC, president of the Faculty of Advocates' Criminal Bar Association discuss the bill.The Hollywood stars and former married couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard faced each other during two separate libel trials that asked whether or not Mr Depp physically abused Ms Heard. Depp lost the first case, against the owners of the Sun newspaper. It was heard by a judge in the High Court in London. Depp won the second case, against his ex-wife, decided by a jury in the United States. Nick Wallis is the only journalist to have covered both trials. He contrasts them in his new book "Depp v Heard, the Unheard Story".Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Bethan Ashmead Latham Sound engineer: Neil Churchill Editor: Clare Fordham Production Coordinator: Maria Ogundele
Strikes Minimum Service Levels
14-03-2023
Strikes Minimum Service Levels
There are strikes again this week, by junior doctors, and train and tube drivers. The government's Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) bill aims to require sectors like health, education and transport to provide a "minimum" of services even on strike days. It would let employers, including government departments, issue "work notices" - lists of which staff have to work on strike days. But how will they decide who should be on the "work notice"?When someone is seriously ill, they or their family are often faced with other problems, such as a sudden drop in income, or unsuitable housing. Many don't know what help they're entitled to, or how to get it. Joshua Rozenberg visits a "Health Justice Partnership", where doctors and legal advisers are located in the same building, and patients are referred to the advice team. He finds it's making a big difference to families.When a piece of Artificial Intelligence software learns about images by being fed pre-existing, copyrighted versions of images, and then goes on to produce a new image of its own, is that a breach of copyright? That's what the High Court in London will have to decide, in a case in which Getty Images - a digital picture library - is suing Stability AI, whose artificial intelligence image-generating software was trained with a very large number of images, including (but not only) Getty's. The court's decision will in effect become new law. What impact could it have on the digital, creative sector? Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Editor: Simon Watts
The UK and the European Court of Human Rights
15-11-2022
The UK and the European Court of Human Rights
Is the UK on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? So far the UK's relationship with the ECHR has been a good one, and the UK has proportionately fewer cases before the court than the other 45 member states. But might Justice Secretary Dominic Raab's Bill of Rights bill change that? Former judge Robert Spano, the president of the ECHR until last month, speaks to Joshua Rozenberg. Is it time to improve the legal protection of the UK's 3.6 million cohabiting couples? Many wrongly believe that after a period of time together or having children, they have similar rights to married couples or people in civil partnerships. But that is not the case, and the government recently rejected the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee's recommended reforms. In Scotland, cohabiting couples gained some statutory rights for the first time in 2006, but a report by the Scottish Law Commission now says that they need to be updated and made fairer. What is mine and what yours? Not always easy to answer. Say you're on a plane, and are using your tray table when the person in front of you reclines their seat - who owns the space above your knees? You or the other passenger? The authors of the book 'Mine!' tackle some ownership conundrums. And to end the series we hear some powerful reflections from Robert Spano on the future of democracy. Picture Credit: Image of Robert Spano, former President of the ECHR by Candice Imbert, Council of Europe.Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Production co-ordinators: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick-Cross Sound engineer: Graham Puddifoot Editor: Simon Watts
Protest and the Law
08-11-2022
Protest and the Law
Climate change activists have caused a lot of disruption over the past year, and recently also made headlines with stunts like throwing tomato soup at a Van Gogh painting in the National Gallery. The government's response has been to tighten up protest law; first in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and now in the Public Order bill currently going through Parliament. What is and isn't illegal now? What could become illegal soon? And how are the police interpreting new laws that rely on their discretion, such as whether a protest is too noisy? Can rap lyrics amount to confessions to murder? Song lyrics are usually understood to be fiction - Tom Jones's 'Delilah' isn't an admission that the Welsh singer actually stabbed an unfaithful girlfriend, and Bob Marley never "shot the sheriff". But in California rap lyrics have been presented as evidence in criminal prosecutions in such a way that the state has now legislated to restrict the use of those lyrics in trials. And a murder conviction has been overturned, and a retrial ordered, for a rapper convicted on the grounds of his lyrics. Where would you go for free legal advice? Probably not a university, but in Liverpool people can now get appointments with law students at Liverpool John Moores University, who will conduct an interview them and produce a letter of advice, all under the supervision of solicitors, and free of charge. There's something in it for the students too: they gain practical experience which counts towards their course, and later on towards their qualifying examination. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Production coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick-Cross Sound engineer: James Beard Editor: Simon Watts
Scrapping European law
01-11-2022
Scrapping European law
The government is currently committed to a bonfire of laws which were inherited from the EU after Brexit - including things like the right to four weeks' paid annual leave. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 requires government departments to check over 2400 laws; then decide which ones to keep, which ones to amend, and which ones to let disappear from the statute books. Those chosen to be kept or amended will have to get through parliament by the end of next year, if they are to remain in force. A useful cleansing of the statute books, or a loss of consumer, worker and environmental rights? Why does Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister want to raise the age of criminal responsibility? It's currently set at the age of ten, the same as that of England and Wales, although not Scotland. This is very low by international standards. Are young adult defendants being unfairly pressurised into pleading guilty? The campaigning organisation Fair Trials says that 18-24-year olds sometimes get as little as 30 minutes to make a potentially life-changing decision. There is an incentive of getting a third off a prison sentence for pleading guilty at the first opportunity - Fair Trails say young defendants can fail to realise the long-term consequences of making such a plea.Can podcasts help bring about justice or do they run the risk of prejudicing trials? We hear about the Australian true crime podcast ‘The Teacher’s Pet’, which has now helped solve a murder from 1982. The victim’s husband was convicted and is about to be sentenced. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Sound engineer: Graham Puddifoot Production Co-ordinators: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick-Cross Editor: Simon Watts
Secrecy in the Court of Protection?
25-10-2022
Secrecy in the Court of Protection?
How can a court decide that a young woman is to have medical treatment without her knowledge or that of her mother or guardian? The Court of Protection - which rules on cases involving 'protected' persons who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves - sometimes holds 'closed hearings' that are secret to one or more of the parties, and to the public. Why are those hearings used, and can it ever be justified for the secrecy to lead to public misinformation? The law now treats animals very differently than in the past. A new book describes how in medieval Europe, they could even be prosecuted - in one case, a pig was actually sentenced to death for the murder of a child. But nowadays cases involving animals focus on their welfare. A campaigning organisation has been granted a court hearing to examine if the breeding of Britain’s fast-growing broiler chickens is detrimental to their health and welfare, and therefore in breach of the law. Nearly 3000 prisoners are continuing to serve more than their original sentence - sometimes over a decade more - because they are subject to “Imprisonment for Public Protection”. Some have never been released, others have been recalled to prison, even though IPP sentences were abolished in 2012. The Justice Select Committee has now called on the Government to review these sentences, with the aim of release for most. Members of the House of Lords agree, saying this form of detention is unjust. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Researcher: Diane Richardson Production coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick-Cross Editor: Simon Watts
Prison Education
05-07-2022
Prison Education
Prison education is “chaotic”, says the House of Commons Education Select Committee, and often “inadequate” says Ofsted. Yet, if done right, it can help reduce offending, and the number of victims, by giving prisoners the skills they need to get a job upon release. It’s no small task. Over half of prisoners have reading ages below 11. A large proportion have special educational needs. Many were expelled from school and have no qualifications. Yet education doesn’t seem to have been a priority. Now the government has promised a "step-change" for an improved Prisoners Education Service for England and Wales in its White Paper. Can it deliver? In a special edition of Law in Action Joshua Rozenberg speaks to people whose expertise and experience spans the spectrum of prison education: • Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor • Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP • Governor Steven Johnson, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Leeds, who speaks on education for the Prison Governors Association • Open University criminology lecturer, manager for students in secure environments, PhD candidate and former prisoner Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski • David Breakspear, former prisoner and prison education campaigner • Joe Tarbert, Employment Support and Partnerships Manager at Redemption Roasters • Neah, former prisoner and trainee barista at Redemption RoastersJoshua puts some of their concerns to the Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins MP, and hears about the government's plans to improve prison education. Presenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producer: Arlene Gregorius Editor: Hugh Levinson Production coordinator: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick-Cross Sound engineer: Rod Farquhar
Why do so few rape cases go to court?
21-06-2022
Why do so few rape cases go to court?
Explaining the barriers to conviction at every stage of the criminal justice system. Prosecutions for the crime have declined by 40% over the last four years in England and Wales, although they have gone up in Scotland and Northern Ireland. And yet the number of cases reported to the police is higher than ever. What is going wrong? And what needs to change so that more survivors get justice - and to reduce the threat from rapists? Joshua Rozenberg is joined by a specialist panel drawn from across the criminal justice system, to find out where the problems lie. They debate what could be done differently, so that fewer cases result in no further action being taken, or with survivors dropping out of the legal process. And he hears first-person testimony from a woman who was raped, who describes her subsequent experience with police and prosecutors.Panellists: - Alice Kelly, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Southeast, Crown Prosecution Service - Betsy Stanko OBE, emeritus Professor of Criminology, strategic advisor to the Home Office's Operation Soteria Bluestone, and formerly of the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime - Claire Waxman OBE, Victims Commissioner for London - Kirsty Brimelow QC, Vice Chair of The Criminal Bar Association - Sarah Crew, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police and National Lead for rape and serious sexual offences at the Police Chiefs Council - Wendy Williams CBE, Her Majesty’s Inspector of the Constabulary for the Wales and Western RegionPresenter: Joshua Rozenberg Producers: Arlene Gregorius and Ben Cooper Researcher: Diane Richardson Production coordinator: Maria Ogundele Sound recording: James Beard Sound mixing: Neil Churchill