Monthly Archives: March 2012

Update: International Child Abduction Marianne Grin Case

It has been reported that the children abducted from Florence by their mother Marianne Grin, have been placed in Yeshiva centres in St Petersburg. These institutions house orphans and children from underprivileged families. The three boys are residing in one centre and their sister is living in another institution that takes in girls. The children are not allowed to contact their family and friends in Italy and the US. Since these developments have come to light, there as been a slight shift in the way the case is being reported in the Russian press. However their family have expressed grave concerns regarding their safety and well being. The failure of the Russian, Italian and US authorities to take immediate action in relation to this case is hugely disappointing.

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The Cost of Criminalising Squatting

The UK government is planning to criminalise squatting in residential buildings despite 95% of responses to its ‘consultation’ opposing any further legislation. If this bill is passed it would sanction a £5000 fine or up to a year in prison for those squatting in residential buildings.

Although the current law is sufficient in protecting homeowners, the government proposes to make squatting a criminal offence. Both the media and politicians have been criticised for making misleading statements regarding the law surrounding squatting and failing to challenge inaccurate reporting.

The criminalisation of squatting could cost taxpayers as much as 790 million pounds over 5 years. The new law applies to empty/abandoned properties and would have a detrimental effect on the growing problem homelessness. Squatting is currently a civil matter  and is handled by the council. Criminalising squatting would add pressure to the already stretched police force, who would be tasked with handling evictions under the new legislation. The housing crisis and lack of strong tenants rights have already put many homeless people and other vulnerable groups in a difficult position. This new law will only exacerbate these issues.

The Dangerous Streets of London

 

I have just started cycling a longer and more inconvenient route across London. It consists of being threatened and squashed to the curb by cars, motorbikes, buses, taxis and most alarmingly – big smokey lorries. As I wait for the adrenalin to wear off after I arrive at my destination, I am thankful that made it there alive again . My route largely consists of cycling along the top of Hyde Park and through the leafy streets of West London. It sounds quite nice in theory really, however there are no bike paths and lots of insane drivers. Many people, especially my family have told me that cycling in London is crazy and ridiculous. All I can say is that I cannot afford public transport, I don’t have the money and I don’t have the time to wait for a horrifically crowded bus or train that may or may not be late. The experience of public transport is so unpleasant and expensive that risking my life daily seems like a favourable and convenient option.

 

Having partly grown up in Germany I know that cycling does not need to be a life threatening experience. When I look at London with all it’s problems of chaotic and crowded transport options, congestion and air pollution. I simply cannot believe that cycling is not being welcomed and promoted as a possible solution to alleviating these problems. When I talk to many Londoners they say that they would love to cycle but they are simply to scared. I don’t blame them. It took me 3 years to pluck up the courage to cycle in London and I started slowly. I began cycling only in the suburban areas on cycle super highways close to where I lived at the time. I gradually progressed to cycling in East london where I moved to. I then found myself with no money and was forced to cycle everywhere as I preferred to spend the little cash I had on food.

The mayoral election seems give Londoners a perfect opportunity to pressure the candidates for change in road safety. For me the daily fear for my life because of the unneccessarily terrible conditions for cyclists in London. A city dominated by cars, when the majority of Londoners don’t even own one. They have an adverse effect on air quality, noise and living standards. Road safety is not just an issue for people with a bike, it is an issue for pedestrians especially children, communities and our health. When politicians talk about crime, they should also consider those injured or killed as a result of badly designed roads and ineffective transport policies. If the candidates can address road safety as an important issue, cycling conditions could be improved by promoting better planning and more cycle paths. Encouraging more Londoners to cycle could be such a positive thing in many different ways, but primarily cycling gives people an independence in such a large city that other modes of transport do not.

To campaign for safer streets visit  Londoners On Bikes and follow them on Twitter @LondonrsOnBikes

Stalking is not just a Women’s Issue

The related legal problems and the ambiguous definition of stalking have been an ongoing issue for victims of such crimes. The Protection from Harrasment Act 1997 has been largely ineffective in prosecuting stalkers, while police still seem to fail to respond appropriately to complaints of stalking.

Forms of harrassment can be very complex issues and can be both direct and indirect. There is also an increasing problem of online harrasment and cyber bullying which can be anonymous, making it difficult to trace the perpetrator. Due to the nature of these crimes they can be notoriously difficult to prosecute. This is not only due to the lack of clear and defined legislation, but also the inaction of the police, who often fail to take stalking seriously.

David Cameron is expected to announce that he will be backing a change in the law, making stalking a criminal offence. He is planning to use this Thursday – International Women’s Day – to make the announcement. The significance of trying to make this a women’s issue seems a little misguided however, as stalking does not only affect women. Women can be both victims and perpetrators in these crimes, as can men. Although women have to deal with safety concerns on a daily basis, stalking should not be labelled as an issue relating to a particular sex.

Clare Bernal

For some this change in the law has come too late. A notable,   high profile case has been that of Clare Bernal,  killed by her ex boyfriend after he had stalked her for some time. She had reported him to the police several times, however nothing was done. Without a change in the law it has been difficult for the police to address stalking as a crime because the only existing statute is unclear. These cases are often underreported, the main reason this particular case hit the headlines was because the murder was carried out in a department store in central London.

It is yet to be seen whether this law will be an effective tool with which to address stalking. However, the police do need to approach stalking as a serious problem and provide support for victims, whether they are male or female. This is not exclusively a women’s issue, it would be absurd to claim that only women were affected. After a long wait, stalking seems to have become a subject for public debate. Making such an announcement on International Women’s Day will bring the discussion of stalking into the public sphere, which is welcome, but it will falsely label it as a women’s issue. This would be misrepresentative of the range of people it actually affects, stalking is a serious concern and it is something anyone could be faced with regardless of their sex.

Baltasar Garzon Cleared – What does this mean for the Spanish Justice System?

Baltasar Garzon was cleared by the Spanish Supreme Court of overstepping his authority on Monday. He was accused of abusing his judicial powers by opening an investigation into the disappearance of 114,000 individuals during the Franco era. Mr Garzon argued that these were crimes against humanity and therefore could not be subject to a 1977 Amnesty legislation, which prevented the perpetrators from being tried.

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Only one judge on the seven judge panel was in favour of a guilty verdict. However it seems his acquittal was based on a technicality rather than a changing view of the law regarding the issue. Mr Garzon had committed an error when he opened the investigation but it did not constitute a crime. The ruling stated:

“He misinterpreted Spanish law but did not knowingly and arbitrarily violate the limits of his jurisdiction … as would be required for a conviction” 

He was recently found guilty of illegal wiretapping in a separate case, which in Spanish law seems to constitute a rather grey area. This guilty verdict caused him to be suspended from acting as a judge for 11 years, effectively ending the career of the 56 year of judge. He was also accused of corruption in another case which has been thrown out by the Supreme Court.

His supporters and a number of human rights groups have argued that these cases against him were primarily politically motivated. The prominent judge had made many enemies due to his activism, especially launching an investigation into Spain’s recent bloody history. His opponents have argued that writing history should be left to the historians while his supporters want accountability and answers for the crimes committed. The outcome of this case appears to have done little in terms of clarifying the legal issues surrounding Mr Garzon’s conduct and his aims, it has arguably just raised concerns over the legal and political implications of addressing Spain’s past.