Archive for the ‘law’ Category

After work today I went to the doctor’s office. I was slightly proud of myself because I was early; on the other hand, even when I’m late I usually have to wait. It looked a little busy, so I had a seat, and went for a magazine. You might have noticed that the literary value of the reading material in a doctor’s waiting room leaves much to be desired, especially in the last few years.

However, the first thing I found was a copy of the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, and on the front cover was a picture of the little president with an eleven-gallon hat. The main topic was “Undoing Bush: how to repair eight years of sabotage, bungling, and neglect”. It was a forum of prominent columnists and experts discussing the problems and possible solutions to various aspects of the little guy’s administration. They included

The Constitution
by David Cole

The courts
by Dahlia Lithwick

Civil service
by Ken Silverstein

The environment
by Bill McKibben

by Chris (Chris C.) Mooney

The economy
by Dean Baker

The marketplace of ideas
by Jack Hitt

by James Bamford

The military
by Edward Luttwak

by Anne-Marie Slaughter

The national character
by Earl Shorris

I was 45 minutes in the waiting room, and it gave me time to finish the eleven essays, and it was time well wasted. There was little that was new to me, but it did give me a different perspective on all of the hammer blows that this administration has inflicted on the United States and the world. It’s well worth reading, especially the Marketplace of Ideas, Intelligence, the Military, the Constitution, and finally the National Character.

Only this long until the King’s Horses and Men can get started on the Great Fall.


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Today I noted a safety alert on the Consumer Reports (CR) web-page. I found it interesting partially because one of my friends is heavily involved in child car seat safety, and partially because of my neices and nephews. It refers to infant car seats that face to the rear and have a detachable base. CR performed some product testing on 12 models of these seats, where they went slightly beyond the American national standards in their testing. The bottom line is that most of the models tested failed.

Currently one of the United States safety rating criteria includes a 30 mph collision test for child car seats and infant seats. However, there are two more stringent tests that are required for cars, but not for car seats. These tests are a frontal collision at 35 mph (about 36% more intense) and a side-on collision at 38 mph (60% more intense). I glanced through the Canadian rating standard as set out in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and it seems that the 30 mph test is the only one required domestically for Dynamic Testing (i.e. crash-test dummies and accelerometers, etc) except for spotty provincial regulations . In most respects the Canadian dynamic test is effectively identical to the American test, and this was probably driven at least partially to facilitate cross-border sales.

Here are some highlights:

  • 10 of the 12 models failed the enhanced testing. The two models which passed are
    • Baby Trend Flex-Loc and the
    • Graco SnugRide with EPS.
  • 9 models met US federal safety standards, but performed poorly
  • 7 failed the 35 mph frontal collision test
  • 8 failed the 38 mph side-on collision test
  • in the United States, from 2001-2005, about 570 children under 1 year were killed in collisions with about 26% being side-on collisions. Given that the seats are probably less well designed for side-on collisions, this highlights the need for more R&D in that area.
  • In the US there is a federally mandated mounting system for the base called LATCH (I think Canada has the same thing under a different name). It has had problems both in ease of use and in the reliability of different infant seat models using it. CR found that when these seats were attached with the traditional seat-belt and safety strap method, their performance improved significantly. They also found that center seat installations and some European innovations improved performance dramatically.

CR recommends the following:

  • If getting a new infant seat, use one the the two models that passed the tests (other models probably work as well, but who knows). Also, be careful about European seats that meet more stringent safety criteria; CR bought a British seat that did very well, but when bought from the same manufacturer in the U.S., it failed.
  • If you have one of the marginal models, use safety belts instead of LATCH, or buy a better model.
  • Use the rear centre seat installation if you can fasten the seat tightly
  • send in the registration card for the seat, so you can be informed of recalls
  • “Remember that any child seat is better than none at all”

Basically most companies design to the minimum standard, so the standard has to be increased, regardless of the automobile lobbies and the car seat manufacturer’s lobbies. If you’re not convinced, you can take the standards used in Canada and the U.S. and work out some disturbing numbers for forces, accelerations, and projectile velocities as applied to infants. Your kids deserve your care and diligence.

Newfoundland Action Group: Kids in Safe Seats:

  • Newfoundland’s car seat action group. It also has good resource material and links

Nova Scotia Information Site: MomsandDads.ca

  • this provincial government site gives information and resources to parents of young children. Child car safety is one of the four focal points
  • as of January 1, 2007, new legislation regarding child car seats and booster seats have been enacted in Nova Scotia. The booster seat law is now in effect in three provinces, including Ontario and Quebec

Child Seat Safety Law and Standards Globally

American and Canadian Laws and Regulations

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Recently hpatey wrote about Restorative Justice, and the way in which it offers a more just and healing alternative to the more common punitive sentences of our legal system. Major advantages of this approach include the participation of the victims in determining a just restitution for the offender, an attempt for both victims and offenders to express their views, feelings and motivations, and a focus more on individuals and the community rather than the state. It must also be emphasised that those offenders who have participated in such programs have a lower rate of recidivism than the norm.

Another major aspect of the general problem of justice is in obtaining a correct finding of guilt. An incorrect conviction is hellish on the offender, unfair to victims or survivors of victims of the crime, and makes any form of sentencing automatically unfair and unjust. We’ve all heard about a growing number of cases where evidence (a stylish form in the media is DNA evidence) comes to light exonerating a number of people who have literally been in prison for decades. There is also a popular feeling that Crown Prosecutors are often more interested in getting a conviction than in obtaining the truth; this feeling centres around the idea that it is better for career advancement to have many convictions on the record.

Finally, there have been a number of cases in the news where people convicted went through the entire appeal procedure, and it wasn’t until an entity independent of the country’s Court system reviewed the information, and found good grounds for appeal. One of the most famous is the Birmingham Six, where six people were convicted of bombing a pub in England in 1975, and were found innocent in 1991. This was the inspiration for the movie In the Name of the Father, but of far greater importance were the legal changes.

When the trial ended, a Royal Commission was appointed, and four years later the Criminal Cases Review Commission was formed.

The Royal Commission’s report was presented to Parliament in July 1993 and recommended the establishment of an independent body to:
* Consider suspected miscarriages of justice
* To arrange for the investigation where appropriate
* Refer cases to the Court of Appeal where matters needed further consideration

The Criminal Appeal Act 1995 was subsequently passed, enabling the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission as an executive Non-Departmental Public Body.

To date the Commission has reviewed more than 8,500 cases and referred more than 330 to the appeal courts. The Commission usually receives about 3 or 4 new applications every working day.

CCRC web page

The Commission does not determine innocence or guilt; they determine whether there is evidence casting doubt on the validity of the previous conviction. The Commission is also independent of the Department of Justice, and is composed of lawyers, case workers, and Commissioners from the private sector. The Commission has wide investigative powers and can obtain and preserve documents from any public body in England. Of those referred by the CCRC for appeal, more than half of the convictions have been overturned.

The Commission is based out of Birmingham.

Canadian Version

Canada has a similar procedure with somewhat similar methodology, but there are some important differences.

  • It is within the federal Ministry of Justice, and is the responsibility of the Minister of Justice. The Criminal Conviction Review Group (CCRG), composed of lawyers , review and investigate the application, and make recommendations to the Minister. However, the CCRG reports directly through the Deputy Minister, and is physically separated from the rest of the Department (for whatever that is worth).
  • They accept applications for cases where the full appeals process has been exhausted, and as in England guilt is not considered, but evidence pertinent to the correctness of the previous verdict or verdicts. It is also an “extraordinary” power of the Minister, implying seldom exercised.
  • If the information in your conviction review application satisfies the Minister that there has likely been a miscarriage of justice, the Minister can correct this injustice by granting any of the following remedies:
    * ordering a new trial;
    * ordering a new hearing for a person who was found to be a dangerous offender or a long-term offender; or
    * referring a case to the court of appeal of a province or territory to be dealt with as if it were an appeal.
    Dept. of Justice

  • The jurisdiction is a bit different as well, as criminal law is mostly a provincial responsibility. In cases prosecuted by the Attorney General of Canada (such as drug cases or criminal cases in the Territories), the review will be done by lawyers outside the CCRG.

From what I can tell from a cursory perusal of the web page, there are two difference that bother me a bit. The British system sends about 30 referrals to their appeals courts, of which about 20 convictions are actually overturned. In Canada, from the press releases, there are only a few cases where the Minister has acted, since the modern review process was instituted in 2002. Also, I would greatly prefer that the CCRG was independent of the Ministry, and that they could refer cases directly to the appeals system or to the Supreme Courts without resort to the Minister.

Overall, I’m happy we have a system to review convictions separate from the regular appeals system, with independence from the provincial courts and ministries of justice. I’d just like to see evidence of more action, and more independence to act. I guess the problem here involves provincial versus federal prerogatives, and the unwillingness of Ottawa to step on provincial toes.

Maybe we could do our usual thing, and have versions of the CCRG in each province, totally independent like ombudsmen?

So we technically have the appeal system and the CCRG to help make sure those convicted are actually guilty, and a hopefully growing movement towards Restorative Justice to help the victims and to justly punish and reform the offenders. I hope such actions and trends continue.

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