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Police Will be Lenient With new Car Smoking Laws

Car Smoking ChildrenStarting on the 1st of October, long-discussed laws banning people from smoking in cars that contain children will come into force. However, some police have said that they intend to take a lenient and “non-confrontational” stance when it comes to the enforcement of this new law.

It will be illegal for anybody, driver or passenger, to smoke in a car that also contains somebody under the age of 18. If the smoker is a passenger, both this passenger and the driver will be held responsible.

The law was first suggested after extensive research into the serious harm that passive smoking can do to children, especially in enclosed spaces such as vehicles. Police will have the power to stop vehicles and issue warnings or on-the-spot fines if they see somebody breaking these laws. The standard fine will be £50, though paying within two weeks of issue will get this discounted to £30. A conviction in a magistrates court for breaking this law, on the other hand, could see a fine of up to £200 issued.

However, a number of prominent individuals within the nation’s police force have expressed an intention not to be too strict with the enforcement of these new laws. Many have said that they will favour warnings over fines, as they believe this equates to “education not prosecution.”

“As the existing smoke-free law extends to vehicles,” said a spokesperson, “police forces will be following guidance from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health by taking an educational, advisory and non-confrontational approach when enforcing the new legislation.”

The new ban on smoking in vehicles containing children has been welcomed by many because of the very real danger that passive smoking can pose to the help of young people. Others, however, have criticised the new laws over the course of the long discussions involved in bringing it from proposal to enforceable legislation. In many cases, criticism centred not on the intentions of the law but on the idea that it would simply prove impractical to enforce it effectively.

While the police insist that their approach is in line with relevant guidance, others have criticised their stated intention to exercise lenience. Shadow policing minister Jack Dromey suggested that it was less a result of following guidelines and more a result of having to keep costs down in the face of cuts to their budgets.

“The ban on smoking with kids in cars is designed to protect their health and save lives. It is absolutely wrong that Theresa May’s police cuts will put vulnerable children at risk,” Dromey said.

New Family Court System Takes Effect

Family-CourtA new system of combined family courts is now in place throughout England and Wales as part of a range of family justice reforms. The new system has been described as “a hugely important change” by Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who also called the old system “very dysfunctional.”

Every year, around 270,000 new cases reach the family courts. These cases relate to a wide range of issues, notably divorce, domestic violence, adoption and intervention from local authorities. Concerns about the system in the past have particularly related to cases involving children. A 2011 review of the family court system said that delayed decisions on care and supervision were leaving children with their “futures undermined.”

The changes introduced through the new system are very much aimed at improving the way cases with children are handled. The system is intended to put greater focus on the experience and wellbeing of the children. Terms that were held to focus more on the rights of parents than on the real needs of the child, such as “contact” and “residence,” have been scrapped and a number of rules have been introduced to address practical problems with the process.

At the time of the 2001 review, such care and supervision cases averaged at 56 weeks. Though the figure has since been reduced to an extent, they should now be completed within six months in normal circumstances. This is partly thanks to the old three tiered system being replaced by a single, combined court.

Other changes include limits placed on the amount of expert evidence that can be used in any given case that involves children. This evidence can now only be used as far as necessary, if it is necessary at all, in order to ensure a fair resolution to the case. Furthermore, separating couples will be required to attend mediation awareness sessions before going to court with disputes about children or financial matters.

Furthermore, there are now new measures in place which aim to ensure that the best location is assigned for each individual case, and that the most appropriate level of judge is appointed to deal with it.

According to Sir James Munby, Family Division President, these changes constitute “the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes.”

Sir James went on to describe the new system as “a revolution” and to say that it represents “a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts.”

Car Smoking Ban Soon to be Implemented?

Car SmokingMPs in the House of Commons have passed an amendment aimed at banning smoking in cars that contain children by 376 votes to 107. While the passing of this bill does not mean the ban will necessarily take place, many indications seem to suggest that it will.

The amendment already passed successfully through the House of Lords, but returned to the House of Commons to undergo further debate. MPs were given a free vote by the government on the issue.

Thanks to the passing of the amendment, which relates to the Children and Families bill, gives the government the ability to implement the ban, but they are not under any compulsion to do so. However, various sources have suggested that they are likely to do so, perhaps before the general election due to take place next year. The bill also gives the same powers to the Welsh government.

Health Minister Norman Lamb, of the Liberal Democrats, seems to support this implication. He said that, in his opinion, the passing of the bill leaves the government with “a very clear mandate now to get on and legislate.” Lamb was commenting at the time on the very decisive majority that passed the bill.

Concerns about second hand smoking and the health hazard it poses are nothing new. There have been concerns for a number of years on the matter, particularly where children are involved. Exposure to second hand smoke during childhood can lead to chest infections, asthma and even cot death. An estimated 300,000 children have to see their GP with health issues relating to second hand smoke every year.

Smoking in public indoor spaces was banned in England in 2007 due to concerns over the effects of second hand smoke. When the ban did take effect, many believed it was already overdue. Most public attention on the ban related to smoking in restaurants or bars. However, smoking inside a car can create a concentration of smoke that is 11 times greater than you would get in a bar, raising serious concerns over what it could mean for children’s health.

Some have objected that the bill affects personal liberties that should be protected for reasons of individual freedom. However, many have dismissed these claims including health minister Norman Lamb. Addressing the issue, Lamb said: “The liberty to smoke in your car in front of a child doesn’t seem to me that important and protecting a child’s health does seem to me to be incredibly important.”

Lord Cheif Justice backs move to protect vulnerable witnesses

Guidelines amending the prosecution of abuse cases regarding children are to be introduced nearly 25 years after initially being proposed which aim to shield witnesses which may be vulnerable. Lord Judge the current lord chief justice gave his approval of the decision made by the lord chancellor who announced that under the new pilot scheme vulnerable witnesses as well as children will be cross-examined prior to hearing of the case in order to save them the stress and pressure of the in court procedure. He went on to give the historical background of the proposals by saying the initial plan came from a committee in 1989 chaired by Judge Pigot QC with the idea having long standing support.

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The proposed guidelines have set out a list of the procedures and practices which prosecuting lawyers as well as police officers must adopt when handling cases with children and vulnerable witnesses. The published proposal sets out a step by step guideline to be applied to such cases from start to finish.

Foremost sexual abuse cases involving children should only be assigned to a special team of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutors. An agreement must be reached between the police and the prosecution service for their cooperation and close work which tackles evidential problems as well as form a strategy on how to deal with the issue in hand. The following stage of the proposal requests the case to be decided and acted upon its ‘merits’ without prosecuting based on preconceptions and stereotypes. The pilot scheme demands that the police alongside the CPS provide assistance and counseling to victims where such support is deemed to be necessary. The final substantial element of the proposals is that CPS barristers are ready to come head to head with stereotypes in court proceedings as well as do their best to ensure that there is minimum delays when it comes to hearing the case.

The director of public prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer stated that he wishes barristers actively challenge preconceptions and stereotypes which a jury may come into the courtroom having thus eliminating vulnerability as a barrier to successfully achieving justice. He moved on to support the CPS by stating that they have an experienced team of professionals which he believes are ready to achieve the demanding aims of the proposals.