Category Archives: Criminal

Find the right drink driving solicitor for your case

Find the right drink driving solicitor for your case

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offence in the UK, and has severe penalties for those convicted including fines and driving disqualifications. If you find yourself facing a drink driving charge, it is essential to seek legal representation to navigate through the complex legal system and protect your rights.  

Finding the right drink driving solicitor can make a significant difference in the outcome, here’s how to find the right one for you and your case. 

The role of a drink driving solicitor

When charged with a drink driving offence, it can be overwhelming to know where to turn for help. This is where a drink driving solicitor comes in. They are legal professionals with the knowledge and expertise to guide you through the legal process and ensure your rights are protected.        

What does a drink driving solicitor do?

A drink driving solicitor‘s primary role is to provide legal representation and advice to individuals facing drink driving charges. They will analyse your case, gather evidence, and build a strong defence strategy tailored to your specific circumstances. They will also guide you through the court proceedings and represent you during hearings, aiming to achieve the best possible outcome.

Why you need a specialist drink driving solicitor 

While any solicitor can technically handle drink driving cases, it is wise to choose a specialist solicitor who has experience in dealing specifically with these types of offences. 

A specialist drink driving solicitor will be up-to-date with current legislation, know the various defenses that may be applicable to your case, and have a track record of success in similar cases. They will work diligently to protect your interests and minimize the potential consequences of a conviction.                    

Factors to consider when choosing a drink driving solicitor

Experience and expertise

One of the most crucial factors to consider is the solicitor’s experience and expertise in handling drink driving cases. Look for drink driving solicitors who have successfully represented clients in similar situations and have a solid understanding of the relevant laws and procedures.

Check their track record and ask about their experience with cases that resemble yours. A drink driving solicitor with a proven track record is more likely to provide effective representation and achieve a favourable outcome.

Reputation and reviews

Research the solicitor’s reputation and read reviews or testimonials from previous clients. This will give you an insight into their professionalism, communication skills, and ability to deliver results.

Additionally, consider seeking recommendations from trusted friends or family members who may have gone through similar legal situations. Their firsthand experiences can help you identify reputable drink driving solicitors in your area.

Fees and payment structures

Discuss the fees and payment structures with potential drink driving solicitors before making a decision. While cost shouldn’t be the sole determining factor, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the financial aspects involved.

Some solicitors may offer fixed fee arrangements, while others may charge hourly rates. Clarify what services are included in the fee and whether any additional expenses may arise during the course of your case.

What to expect when working with a drink driving solicitor

Initial consultation

The first step is an initial consultation with your chosen drink driving solicitor. This meeting allows them to assess your case, gather relevant information, and discuss the potential defences available to you.

During the initial consultation, be prepared to provide details about the circumstances surrounding your drink driving offence, any witnesses, and any evidence you may have. This information will help your solicitor build a solid defence strategy.

Building your defence

Based on the information gathered during the initial consultation, your drink driving solicitor will begin building your defence. They will analyse the evidence, identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and explore possible defences that can be presented in court.

Throughout this process, your solicitor will maintain open lines of communication, keeping you informed about the progress of your case and any developments that may arise.

Court representation

If your case goes to court, your drink driving solicitor will present your defence, cross-examine witnesses, and argue your case in front of the court.

Your solicitor’s expertise in drink driving cases will be crucial during this stage. They will use their knowledge of the law, their understanding of your case, and their experience in court to advocate for your rights and challenge the evidence presented against you.

Avoid a sentence with an experienced drink driving solicitor 

Having an inexperienced drink driving solicitor with little knowledge of drink-driving cases could mean you end up with a more severe sentence than you deserve because they don’t explain the mitigating circumstances properly. 

Having a quality drink-driving solicitor could be the difference between going to prison and not, or losing your licence and not. 

Make the right decision and contact a drink driving solicitor today for your case. 


I am a forensic psychiatrist with experience and expertise in correctional health care administration and clinical practice. My area of expertise is suicide and wrongful death in jails and prisons. By researching and analyzing risk factors of suicide and developing prevention strategies, I have established considerable expertise in the field. As a consultant, I provide expert opinions and, if reasonable medical opinion, testimony on disputes such as standard of care, deliberate indifference, and civil rights violations. I have consulted on at least 70 cases under litigation in the United States and testified in at least 20 cases.


During the last forty years, courts have attempted to address issues about legal liability related to suicide. The decisions cover various practices in jails and prisons, including diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, communication, policies, staffing, and training.

1          Inadequacy of mental health evaluation

In Comstock v. Mc Crary (1), psychologist Mc Crary did not perform an adequate psychological evaluation and risk assessment of an inmate who committed suicide. Had he done a detailed psychological evaluation, he would have known that several enemies who called him a snitch bothered the decedent.

2          Failure to identify obvious and substantial risk factors

In Williams v. Mehra (2), the significant issue involved a failure to identify an inmate’s substantial risk factors, including depression, psychiatric hospitalization, suicide ideation, and a previous suicide attempt with antidepressant tablets. The psychiatrists neglected to review the record that contained his diagnosis, suicidality, and specific treatment measure to address his suicidality, i.e., prescribing liquid medication.  Also, procedurally, the nurse failed to manage his medication on a watch take basis.

3                Psychotropic medication practice 

In Greason V. Kemp, (3), the Court held abrupt discontinuation of psychotropic medications of an inmate with a recent history of suicide attempts constituted deliberate indifference.  Greason killed himself in a Georgia prison. A doctor abruptly discontinued his antidepressant medication without reviewing his clinical file, conducting a mental status examination, or ordering close monitoring. The Court identified the department’s failure to train the staff, inadequate mental health care delivery, and delayed or denied treatment.

In Steele v. Shah, (4), a psychiatrist discontinued Steele’s psychiatric medications. Steele had a long history of depression, drug addiction, and attempted suicide twice before starting his long sentence.  The district court granted the psychiatrist’s motion for a summary judgment, indicating that his decision was nothing more than a disputed medical opinion. On appeal, the 11th  Circuit held that “psychiatric needs can constitute serious medical needs and that the quality of psychiatric care one receives can be so substantial a deviation from the accepted standards as to evidence deliberate indifference to serious psychiatric needs.”

4          Officers’ failure to communicate an arrestee’s suicide statements

In Gordon V. Kidd (5), the Court established that failure by an arresting officer to communicate to booking officers constitutes deliberate indifference.

In Conn v. City of Reno, (6) the Court of appeals reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of two officers because there was “sufficient evidence to create a genuine fact regarding defendants’ “subjective awareness” of a serious medical need. 

In Freedman v. City of Allentown, (7), in contrast to Gordon v. Kidd and Conn v. City of Reno, the Court decided that a probation officer’s knowledge of an arrestee’s previous suicide attempt did not reach the threshold of deliberate indifference when he did not inform the arresting officer. Therefore, his actions were not intentional, malicious, or reckless, and “at most the averments against the officer amount to a lack of due care and are not actionable as a 1983 claim.” 

5          Suicidal ideation, suicide watch, and logging 

Mental health professionals often release inmates who deny suicidal ideation from suicide watch.  Some inmates intentionally conceal their true intentions after they make their decision to exit the world. 

In Woodard v. Myres, (8), the claims centered on the failure to institute standard suicide watch, lack of suicide watch monitoring and logging, premature discontinuation of suicide watch, and noncompliance with the facility’s policies and practice.

In Simmons v. Navajo County, (9) the Court opined that placing a pretrial detainee on suicide watch, even the highest level, standing alone “does not demonstrate that an official was subjectively aware of a substantial risk of imminent suicide.”  As per Simmons ‘ Court, determinants of imminent suicide risk include “observed suicidal actions, heard statements of suicidal, or witnessed evidence of suicidal intent,” indicating a strong likelihood of suicide.

In Hott v. Minnesota (10), falsification of suicide watch by an officer resulted in an unfavorable court decision for the officer.  

In Minix v. Canarecci (11), the district court opined that there was enough evidence to allow a jury to find a direct causal link between the Jail’s practice of classifying and releasing detainees from suicide watch and suicide.

In Broughton v. Premier Health Care Servs., (12), the issue was intentional concealment of suicidal ideation, making it difficult to stake a successful claim against correctional officials. The Court opined, “While Broughton’s disclaimer of suicidal ideation does not automatically insulate the defendants from liability, it does undermine the claim that they willfully ignored his past medical history and current symptomology.”

Strickler V. Mc Cord (13) illustrates the difficulty for jail officials charged with the care of inmates who are determined to commit suicide.  The Court found, “He lied on the intake form; he lied when questioned about suicidal thoughts at the Bowen Center, and he deceived the guards about his medication and the razor blades.” 

6          Recent Suicide attempt and failure to get prior medical records.

A recent suicide attempt is the most significant predictor of suicide. The courts have not opined on the recency of suicide attempt relevant to a liability claim. Clinically, a near-lethal suicide attempt within six months to a year has the most predictive value.  Failure to question an inmate about history of past suicide attempts can lead to potential liability. While some inmates intentionally withhold the information, the prior records serve as the most reliable vehicle to get such information. To prevail in a lawsuit, a plaintiff must establish the decedent previously made near-lethal suicide attempt/s/ 

In Terry v. Rice (14), County officials went out of their way not to collect information from the prison where the decedent was transferred, presumably for “safekeeping.”  In denying the summary judgment, the Court opined, “Going out of your way to avoid acquiring unwelcome knowledge is a species of intent. Being an ostrich involves a level of knowledge sufficient for a conviction of crimes requiring specific intent.”

In Mc Kee v. Turner, (!5) the treating psychiatrist was sued for failing to get prior jail records that indicated that the decedent had attempted suicide by hanging six weeks before he arrived at the prison. The dissenting judge opined, “McKee is distinguishable in one specific aspect, i.e., failure to obtain medical records.”  

7          Diagnosis and Treatment Issues 

Prisoners have claimed several diagnostic and treatment issues to support § 1983 claims. 

a)        Diagnosis of Mental illness

The diagnosis of a mental disorder or failure to diagnose per se does not support a claim of liability. While inmates diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder have a high degree of suicidal propensity, unless indicators of suicide vulnerability accompany the diagnosis, the claim is not sustainable.   

 The Courts have held that displays of erratic behavior or signs of mental illness, without specific indicia of suicidal tendency, “do not rise to the level of a serious risk of suicide” and do not provide “the level of notice” required to trigger the deliberate indifference standard (16, 17)   

b)        Incorrect diagnosis

In Steele v. Choi (18), the Court concluded incorrect diagnosis or improper treatment does not support an Eighth Amendment claim. In affirming a summary judgment in favor of Dr. Choi, the 7th Circuit opined, “Estelle requires us to distinguish between `deliberate indifference to serious medical needs on the one hand, and `negligence’ in diagnosing or treating a medical condition.”

c)         Intentional refusal to provide medical care.

Courts have acknowledged that intentionally refusing to respond to an inmate’s complaints, including repeated requests to see a mental health professional constituting deliberate indifference. Thus, to prevail, the plaintiff must establish the providers intentionally refused to provide medical care or denied access to a physician. Further, such refusal must cause the inmate undue suffering or threat of injury.

d)        Delay in treatment

Courts have established that repeated delays in treatment of medical or dental conditions support a claim of deliberate medical indifference (19, 20). However, isolated delays or delays due to the natural course of events in a facility and administrative procedures, not an uncommon occurrence in a correctional setting, may not be actionable.  

Delay of treatment claim depends on the length of delay, the nature of the medical need, and the reason for the delay (16)   In Harris v Coweta County, (21), the Court held that such “a delay created a genuine issue of material fact about deliberate indifference.”

Delay in responding to repeated requests to see a mental health professional by a potentially suicidal inmate may result in a liability claim.   In O’Quinn v. Lashbrook (22), the Court decided a claim of delayed treatment was meritorious.

e)        Improper medication or modality of treatment

Improper medication treatment and medical supervision by the psychiatrist can support a claim of deliberate indifference if it can be proved such improper medication treatment cause suicidal ideation and serious injury resulting in death. Prisoners are not entitled to a specific prescription or modality of treatment if the choice of medication prescribed by the physician or the modality of treatment addresses his medical need.

f)         Inadequate treatment

In Durmer V. O’Carroll, (23), the Court opined that all inadequate treatment provided to a prisoner could not be construed as deliberately indifferent. Instead, it can simply be “no more than mere negligence.” The Court further opined a failure or delay in providing prescribed treatment if deliberate and motivated by non-medical factors, a constitutional claim may be presented.

In Arenas v. GA Department Corrections, (24), the Court found that a failure to provide adequate treatment to a young inmate with a longstanding history of depression and bipolar disorder constituted deliberate indifference.

       g)  Inadequate monitoring of inmates in administrative segregation

Periodic reviews of inmate’s suitability to continued stay in administrative segregation is a standard procedure.  Courts have recognized “substantial risk of psychological harm and decompensation posed by extended placement in segregation” including anxiety, panic, paranoia, depression, PTSD, psychosis, and disintegration of a basic sense of self-identity (25, 26)

8)         Policy, staffing, and training 

In many deliberate indifference lawsuits, counties face Monell claims related to suicide prevention policy, mental health and correctional staffing, and training.

  1.    Absence of suicide prevention policy   

In White v. Watson (27), the Court opined that the absence of suicide prevention policy and lack of training and supervision were “the moving force behind the failure to protect the inmate from the known risk of suicide in the Jail.  

Other Court decisions show that for a successful claim based on the absence of suicide prevention policy, evidence must be presented to show a pattern of suicide or suicide attempts.

         2)        Policy or custom causing or contributing risk of harm.

In Gibson v. County of Washoe, (28) the Ninth Circuit opined that County’s failure to respond to the decedent’s urgent need for medical attention was a direct result of “an affirmative County policy that was deliberately indifferent, under the Farmer standard, to this need.”

In Gates v. Cook (29), the Court noted multiple policies or practices that combine to deprive a prisoner of a “single, identifiable human need,” such as mental health care, can support a finding of Eighth Amendment liability.

          3)        Shortage of staff

In Bragg v. Dunn (30), the Court found persistent and severe mental-health and correctional staff shortages, combined with chronic and significant overcrowding, as the “overarching issues that permeate” the contributing factors of inadequate mental health care and suicide.

            4)        Failure to Train

Failure to train the staff focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in City of Canton v. Harris  (31). A County can be found deliberately indifferent if it fails to train officers to recognize suicide indicators, policy issues, monitoring procedures.   Officers cannot be held liable for deliberate indifference “unless an inmate was so obviously mentally ill that the deputies, who had received no training regarding the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, must have known that [he] was exhibiting symptoms of mental illness” (28)


The court decisions noted above provide valuable insights and directions to develop appropriate risk management strategies in jails and prisons.


Note: This article is abstracted from my book in preparation, titled, “Suicide in Jails and prisons: preventive and legal perspectives.


  • Comstock v. Mc Crary, [2001], 273 F.3d 693, 6th Cir
  • Williams v. Mehra [1999], 186F, 3d 686,690,6th Cir
  • Greason v. Kemp, (1990) 891 F.2d 829 (11t h Cir
  • Steele v. Shah, [1996], 87 F 3rd 1166, 11th Cir
  • Gordon v. Kidd, (1992) 971 F.2d 1087, 1095, 4th Cir
  • Conn v. City of Reno, 591 F.3d at 1105, 9th Cir
  • Freedman v. City of Allentown (1988) 853 F.2d 1111, 1117, 3d Cir
  • Woodward v. Myres, (2002) No. 00 C 6010, 99 C 0290, at *1, N.D. Ill.
  • Simmons v. Navajo County, (2010) 609 F.3d 1011, 1018, 9th Ci
  • Hott ex rel. Estate of Hott v. Hennepin County, (2001) 260 F3d 901, 8th Cir   
  • Minix v. Canarecci, (2010) 597 F.3d 824, 833, 7th Cir
  • Broughton v. Premier Health Care Servs Inc, (2016), No. 15-4150, 6th          Cir
  • Strickler v. McCord, (2004) 306 F. Supp. 2d 818, N.D. Ind
  • Terry v. Rice, (2003) CAUSE No. IP00-0600-C K/H, at *1, S.D. Ind
  • McKee v. Turner, (1997) No. 96-3446, 1997 WL 525680, *3, 6th Cir
  • Jackson, 787 F.3d at 1354-56.
  • Cavalieri, 321 F.3d at 621
  • Steele v. Choi, (1996) 82 F.3d 175, 178, 7th Cir
  • Gutierrez v. Peters, (1997) 111 F.3d 1364, 1371, 7th Cir
  • Hunt v. Dental Dept. (1989) ,865 F.2d 198, 200, 9th Cir 
  • Harris v. Coweta County, (1994) 21 F.3d 388, 393-94, 11th
  •  O’Quinn v. Lashbrook,(2019) No. 18-cv-2013-SMY, S.D. Ill
  • Durmer v. O’Carroll, (1993) 991 F.2d 64, 69, 3d Cir
  • Arenas v. Ga. Dep’t of Corr, (2020) No. CV416-320, at *2, S.D. Ga.
  • Palakovic v. Wetzel,(2017) 854 F.3d 209, 225-26, 3d. Cir.
  • Braggs v. Dunn, (2019) 367 F. Supp. 3d 1340, 1344, M.D. Ala
  • White v. Watson, (2016) No. 16-cv-560-JPG-DGW, S.D. Ill.
  • Gibson v. County of Washoe, (2002) 290 F.3d 1175, 1189, 9th Cir
  • Gates v. Cook,(2004) 376 F.3d 323, 333, 5th Cir
  • Braggs v. Dunn, (2017) 257 F. Supp. 3d 1171, M.D. Ala
  • City of Canton v. Harris, (1989) 489 U.S. 378

How to Proceed When Dealing with Criminal Drug Charges

Criminal drug charges can threaten your future. If you don’t spend time in prison, you’ll still spend time on probation or parole. You could be forced to pay hefty fines, too. That’s why you need to take care and respond appropriately when accused. Here’s how to proceed when dealing with criminal drug charges.

Don’t Give Them Anything That Can Be Used Against You

Have you been pulled over for a traffic violation? Don’t do anything suspicious like throwing things in the back seat or rushing to hide things in the passenger compartment. Don’t get into a confrontation with officers asking to see ID. Acting like you don’t want to be searched can lead to them searching your car or your person. You might be stopped for legitimate reasons, too, such as matching the suspect in a crime. Be calm, present ID, and don’t answer any more questions than you’re legally obligated to answer. For example, you need to give them your name. You don’t need to give them an explanation for what you’re doing or why you’re in the area. Have the police shown up to your address in response to a wild party? Turn down the music, ask people to calm down, and don’t give them a reason to enter the premises. Clean up things as the party progresses so that there aren’t open beer bottles or bongs sitting in the middle of the room.

Hire a Good Attorney Immediately

Don’t try to defend yourself against drug charges. And don’t try to explain what happened. Police will use everything you say against you, and nothing you say will make them dismiss the charges. Hire a good Ottawa drug lawyer. Furthermore, you should seek their advice before you answer any questions from the police. Always have legal counsel present, whether it is a court hearing or an interview with the cops. Contact your attorney when you have questions so that you don’t make a mistake.

Follow Your Attorney’s Advice

This shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately, too many people negate the value of having good legal counsel by not following their advice. If your attorney says not to talk to the cops, don’t meet with them to “give your side of the story”. If you’re advised to stay silent about the case, don’t complain about the arrest and try to explain it all away on social media. The police can use what you say on social media against you. If you’re advised to stay clean, don’t push it by getting drunk or smoking cannabis to relax.

Stay Out of Trouble

An unfortunately reality of life is that you are more likely to be found guilty is you demonstrate a habit of “troublemaking”. If you’re facing drug charges, a DUI arrest can be used against you. Why? Because it shows you choose to abuse other recreational substances. That’s aside from the fact the tests may show illegal drugs in your system. Subsequent arrests for drug crimes can prevent your attorney from negotiating down the charges in a plea deal.

If you’re given parole, probation or a stint in rehab, obey the rules so that you don’t get hit with more severe consequences.

Flag it Up – How can solicitors work to identify and tackle the risk of money laundering in the UK?

Organised crime costs the UK more than £24 billion each year – that’s £1 a day per citizen. The fact that criminals are using the services of legal professionals in order to try to hide the origins of their illicit funds is nothing new, but there are important questions that solicitors must ask themselves to avoid becoming drawn in without their knowledge.

Criminals are likely to have built what appears to be an authentic business to avoid unwanted scrutiny and this makes you and your profession vulnerable to becoming unwittingly involved in serious and organised crime. For solicitors, the consequences of being involved in money laundering, are severe. These can range from loss of your practicing certificate, damage to your own and your businesses’ reputation, significant fines and even a prison sentence. The creation of the Participation Offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 makes it a crime – punishable by up to five years in prison – to participate in activities which an individual “reasonably suspects” contribute to organised crime.

With this in mind, it is imperative that solicitors continue to take responsibility to comply with money laundering regulations, particularly the obligation to complete adequate due diligence on new and existing clients. By doing their due diligence and submitting quality Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) where appropriate, solicitors can play a significant part in tackling the threat through identifying potential cases of money laundering before they enter the economic system.

Spotting the red flags

The most effective way to ensure that solicitors remain compliant and are able to spot the red flags of money laundering is to implement an effective and well-documented risk-based approach. This will not only protect a legal firm from criminals, but in the unfortunate event that there is an issue it will reassure law enforcement and the regulator that the appropriate precautions have been taken.

In the first instance, they should step back and consider whether there are any immediately apparent warning signs. By considering whether there are inconsistencies in the information clients provide, if the client runs a cash-rich business, if there are unusual amounts or sources of funds, or any discrepancies in previous transactions, solicitors can begin to assess whether there are any suspicious activities that could ultimately lead to them becoming implicated in a crime.

In order to identify these red flags, firms should always continue to undertake comprehensive due diligence checks on new and existing clients in order to sweep for any risks. But due diligence extends beyond obtaining a passport and utility bill, and adopting a merely tick-box approach. It should be risk based, include lateral and critical thinking, and may include scrutiny of all beneficial owners with a controlling interest of over 25%, in addition to the client. Conducting internet searches on a prospective client could help to pick up any obvious warning signs with regards to their professional credibility.

Asking the right questions

Ultimately, while those working in the legal profession certainly have an awareness of money laundering, and how drastic its impact can be, there can sometimes be a lack of recognition of how it affects them personally. In all cases, solicitors should be looking at the whole picture, in order to build as comprehensive a client profile as possible.

For instance, a solicitor approached by a potential client that differs from their normal client profile should always ask “why me?” irrespective of the size of their firm. If a client is atypical of the regular client demographic, whether due to factors such as scale, sector, jurisdiction or any other reason, they should look to establish why their firm has been approached.

If something doesn’t stack up, asking a direct question is usually the most efficient way to get to the bottom of the irregularity. If the client is subsequently evasive, or if the answer is vague and lacks detail, that should immediately trigger suspicion.

Applying any local knowledge is critical when considering whether a business is legitimate or not. It might be helpful to make a visit to their premises during normal working hours. Often a lot can be taken from an organisation’s place of business that helps to reveal how authentic it is, and it allows legal professionals to make judgments on the accuracy of the information they are providing. For instance, if a firm is asked to work on behalf of a retail outlet that is empty at peak time, this could be an indicator that all is not as it seems.

Taking action

If any due diligence checks call the credibility of the client into question, solicitors should ask themselves if this amounts to suspicious activity, and consider going through the proper reporting processes. As a starting point, they should educate themselves about how low the level of suspicion has to be in order to get to this point. It is critical to remember that this assessment is not about being beyond a reasonable doubt, or building a case against a client. In R vs. Da Silva (2006), it is simply defined as “a possibility, which is more than fanciful, that the relevant facts exist”.

If they decide that a particular client does meet this criterion, solicitors have a legal obligation to submit a suspicious activity report (SAR) in line with internal procedures. Submitting a SAR can be seen as a much more drastic move than it is, and can be a concern for legal professionals. Solicitors are trained to maintain the highest levels of client confidentiality, so there is often apprehension that if the information they have is vague or imprecise; it may appear as if they are taking an extreme step without possessing the requisite evidence.

However, it should always be remembered that submitting a SAR is confidential. And it is also worth noting that if a SAR is not submitted when there are grounds to, solicitors risk breaking the law under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and potentially allow criminals to escape with the proceeds of their wrongdoing.

One additional consideration to take into account is the quality of SARs. If a solicitor is submitting a SAR, they should ensure that it is filled in honestly and correctly, without adopting a defensive tone. Bad quality SARs often lack the information needed to build a wider intelligence picture so it is important to get them right first time, every time. The National Crime Agency (NCA) has created guidance on submitting better quality SARs, and solicitors should review this regularly.

Making a difference

Money laundering is undoubtedly a pervasive influence on the UK economy, and as professionals that are often operating in the financial space, solicitors are at risk of being unwittingly caught up in criminal schemes.

However, by taking a risk-based approach to due diligence, being direct with clients about perceived discrepancies, and submitting SARs if they have suspicion, they can avoid becoming involved. Ultimately, solicitors are in a unique position when it comes to disrupting the risks of money laundering, and can play a huge role in ridding the UK of this threat.

The complications surrounding defendant anonymity

Whilst the anonymity of complainants in serious sexual offences has long been protected in English law, defendant anonymity has proved a far more contentious issue.  It was initially granted along with victim anonymity in the 1970s, but later abolished in 1988.  It was argued that, unlike the case for victims, there was no reason to make a special exception for defendants and in fact, by doing so, it could imply that rape complainants were less reliable. It has also been argued by both women’s groups and the police that such a law would prevent investigating officers’ calls for other complainants to come forward in serial cases, such as in the case of the taxi driver, John Worboys, the ‘black cab rapist’.

The issue has been raised a number of times over the last few years following a string of high-profile cases, affecting politicians and celebrities alike.  The media spotlight on these cases and the public sympathy towards individuals like Sir Cliff Richards has helped move the debate forward.  A YouGov poll in 2015 found that there was widespread opinion favouring the need to protect both complainant and defendant.  Speaking after the police dropped his case, Sir Cliff described a unique violation of his privacy by a sensationalist media.

In addition to the disproportionate attention these stories attract, the coverage is often of such a lurid and intrusive nature that it arguably leaves a stigma which goes beyond other crime.  In 2015 both Nigel Evans the conservative MP and the radio one DJ, Paul Gambaccini, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about their personal suffering whilst subjected to protracted and highly publicised investigations by the police.   In his concluding remarks Committee Chairman, Keith Vaz, spoke of the destruction and irreparable damage to the reputation of defendants.

It now appears that we are moving towards ever tighter restrictions on press coverage in respect of sexual offence allegations.  The above committee report called for anonymity for sexual offence suspects, unless they were charged or police needed to name them. More recently in late 2016 the DPP, Alison Saunders, came out in favour of anonymity for defendants.  She was quoted in The Times as saying, “you don’t shout about it before you come to any conclusion”.

Building trust between police and complainants

Investigations into allegations of sexual abuse pose unique challenges for the police, especially in striking the right balance between their responsibilities to the complainant and to the accused.    The ongoing football abuse scandal serves to highlight some of these challenges.

The unfolding revelations that followed Andy Woodward’s decision to waive anonymity and speak out about his ordeal at Crewe Alexander, raised the spectre of widespread and systematic abuse reminiscent of that uncovered during the Saville investigation.  Similarly, the personal accounts we have heard from ex-footballers like Mr Woodward and Paul Stewart, the former England and Spurs star, served as a timely reminder of the psychological damage inflicted upon the victims of these crimes, and the unique challenges they face in coming forward.

It is essential that survivors have the confidence and reassurance to speak out, and the police undoubtedly have a role to play in this.  Days after Woodward’s revelations to The Guardian, Cheshire constabulary put out highly publicised appeals urging victims to contact them, and assuring them their reports will be taken ‘extremely seriously’.

Despite the seemingly compelling evidence that surfaced in relation to at least one sexual predator, police had to, and must continue to, remain vigilant against the risk of bias creeping into their conduct.   However, following the string of failed investigations in the wake of Saville, there is a growing concern that the impartiality and objectivity of the police has been found wanting.

It is widely accepted that Saville’s offending went undetected as long as it did because of a society-wide reluctance to speak openly about child abuse.  Police forces have taken it upon themselves to remedy this problem.   Operation Hydrant was set up in the wake of the Saville revelations to share good practice.  It emphasised the need to build trust and rapport with the complainant.  To this end, it was felt that anyone who came forward should be recognised and referred to as a victim. In explaining the new approach, the head of Operation Hydrant, Chief constable Simon Bailey, claimed that “if we don’t acknowledge a victim as such, it reinforces a system based on distrust and disbelief”.

 A Policy of ‘believing victims’

The end of 2016 saw the publication of Sir Richard Henriques’ report into the mishandling of Operation Midland, the 18 month investigation by Scotland Yard into allegations of historic abuse levelled against prominent members of the establishment including former head of military, Lord Bamell, and former conservative MP, Harvey Proctor.  Sir Richard’s report identified 43 separate failings by the police during the investigation.  The central criticism being that they were too ready to believe the complainant without sufficient scrutiny of the evidence. It attributed these failings directly to Operation Hydrant.  Sir Richard took aim at the police practice of labelling complainants as “victims”, (just as Cheshire constabulary did in the wake of Woodward’s revelations, saying that it was a cardinal principle of the justice system that a complaint maybe false. He stated that “the policy of ‘believing victims’ strikes at the very core of the criminal justice process” and warned that “it has and will generate miscarriages of justice on a considerable scale”.

It is now widely felt that in so many of the high profile investigations into abuse since Saville, such as Operation Midland and those levelled against Sir Cliff, Paul Gambaccini and Nigel Evans, the investigation was pursued in spite of the lack of credible evidence.

The real damage to these individuals is to do with the unique stigma attached to the suspects of sexual abuse and how in the above cases their reputations were trodden on by unscrupulous officers who were quick to name the accused in the hope that it would encourage others to come forward and bolster inherently weak cases.  In his evidence to the home affairs select committee, Mr Gambaccini described the way police hung his name up in public during a year-long investigation as being a ‘fly paper tactic’.   Sharing his grievance, conservative MP Nigel Evans said, “I don’t believe that people ought to be plastered all over every national newspaper just to fish other people out”.

It is the strength of these personal accounts that has driven a recent revival of debate around the issue.   As already mentioned, prominent figures like Keith Vaz, Sir Henriques and the DPP, Alison Saunders have now called for a change in the law to reintroduce defendant anonymity.

The Power of Reporting

However, there may be an occasion when naming a suspect is a necessary and proper adjunct to an investigation. The manner in which the recent football revelations unfolded speaks eloquently of the power of reporting.  Andy Woodward’s brave decision to waive anonymity brought media coverage and attention to his ordeal and acted as a rallying cry to others to come forward.  It is arguably the case that naming his attacker added further weight to the story and helped propel it onto the front-page news, thereby maximising its impact.  Cheshire police confirmed that a further 11 footballers came forward in the days following the stories publication, and the NSPCC reportedly received 50 calls to their helpline in the first two hours of its operation.  This domino effect of complaints is reminiscent of what happened in the Saville investigation, along with other serial abuse cases, and many see the police’s discretion to name the suspect as being a vital trigger in this process.

Furthermore, it should be appreciated that many of the footballers who have come forward have suppressed painful memories of their ordeals throughout their entire adult lives. Mr Stewart, for example, talked about the heartbreak he felt in sharing his story with close family members before its publication in the Mirror.  They need every reassurance that their claims will be taken seriously.  Some feel a blanket law protecting defendant anonymity in sexual abuse cases alone will set it apart from other types of criminal case and in doing so send the wrong message that complainants, like Mr Stewart, are less likely to be believed than complainants in other types of criminal cases.   Following the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report in 2015, rape victim’s campaigner, Jill Saward talking on the Today program described how the committees proposal were insulting and claimed that it implied victims are lying.  Peter Watt of the NSPCC also spoke out against the committees proposals arguing that the naming of suspects gave other victims the strength to speak out.

The matter has now gone to parliament following the tabled amendment of the Policing and Crime Bill and already the issue is proving to be as polarising within the house as it has been in the wider public.    During recent debate in the House of Lords, Lord Judge spoke out openly against a blanket protection of defendant’s anonymity invoking the overriding principle of open justice.  He said, “That is not how we work in this country. We do not want people locked up for any time at all without being able to say so.”   Lord Lamont on the other hand suggested that a lack of defendant anonymity, in the case of this crime, undermined the British understanding of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Responsibility of the Police and their relationship with the press

The debate within parliament must go further than a consideration of the rights of defendants against those of victims and pay heed to a wider issue; that of the public’s confidence in the police handling of abuse investigations and in particular their relationship with the media.

It is interesting that the highly controversial report produced by the Home Affairs Committee back in 2015 did little more than call for reform of the law in terms already set out in current police guidance.   In November 2012, Leveson LJ said in his Report on The Culture Practices and Ethics of the Press that ‘It should be made abundantly clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances (for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public), the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press nor the public.’

In 2013, the College of Policing published ‘Guidance on Relationships with the Media’ which dealt with the issue of the police revealing the names of individuals suspected of committing serious crimes. It followed the principle set out by Leveson. The Guidance advocates that ‘police forces must balance an individual’s right to respect for a private and family life, the rights of publishers to freedom of expression and the rights of defendants to a fair trial. Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis but, save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public.

The loss of impartiality and objectivity of the police, and the danger that unscrupulous officers are ignoring the above guidance and publishing the names of suspects in desperate attempts to attract others to come forward and bolster inherently weak cases is highly problematic.  The objections to defendant anonymity boil down to the argument that the police must retain operational independence.   However this argument in turn raises the question of whether the police can be trusted to pursue their investigations impartially and objectively. The opinion of some, such as Sir Henriques in his report on the failed Operation Midland is that currently they can’t.  His report concludes with the warning that “nobody is safe from false accusations and damaging exposure under present arrangements”.

The investigation into allegations of historic abuse raises particular challenges. The recent failures discussed, highlight the fundamental requirement upon police that their conduct remain objective and impartial, and that any derogation from this principle would constitute an abuse of their powers. The naming of suspects is such a power that has been too readily abused.  Perhaps we have now reached the stage where a change in the law to provide added protection to suspects is necessary where the police guidance has been so flagrantly disregarded in a long line of investigations.  However, as the recent football revelations highlight, there will be cases where the naming of a suspect maybe a necessary and proportionate step and just as the select committee first proposed back in 2015, rather than a blanket protection, any such change to the law must allow for the possibility of judicial intervention to waive defendant anonymity in such rare cases.

Recreational Marijuana’s Economic Advantages

As Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has famously touted, marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs has failed.[1] Evidence does not suggest that the War on Drugs reduced drug-use rates or drug dependency.[2] At any given time, there are at least 137,000 men or women locked in prison or held in jail on drug possession charges, according to the ACLU and Human Rights Watch.[3] Additionally, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch report, citing FBI data, suggests that police and local law enforcement nationwide make more arrests for marijuana possession alone than for all violent crimes combined.[4] The local evidence suggests the same; in the first two years, law enforcement saw a decrease in work load anecdotally attributed to lack of those possession arrests, and now the Washington State courts are seeing the same.

The Washington recreational marijuana market has now been in effect for three years, and while the law has changed rapidly during that time, the economic benefits have clearly proven themselves. As the Washington and Colorado markets expanded, being the first two states to legalize adult and recreational use of marijuana products, other states began to take notice of how lucrative the legalized marijuana market could be, as both Washington and Colorado generated nearly 70 million dollars in tax revenue alone in each their first complete fiscal years.[5] It is clear that recreational marijuana turned the tide of the War on Drugs, and forced it to become an economic benefit that is becoming increasingly enticing to the rest of the nation.

Washington State’s Weed Economy

While Initiative 502 was voted for in November of 2012, the first Washington state producer and processor licenses were not issued until March 5, 2014.[6] In the 2014 fiscal year[7], a total of 279 producer/processor licenses were issued, and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) only generated 1.78 million dollars in total marijuana related income, which is impressive for how small the industry was, and for only 3 months of revenue generated during that fiscal year.[8]

The 2015 fiscal year, however, as the first complete fiscal year after legalization, showed real promise for the legalized marijuana industry:  total shelf price[9] sales generated nearly $260 million dollars, and generated $64.63 million dollars in tax revenue alone, as well as $1.08 million in just licensing fees and other related costs while the state was operating at only a 25% excise tax.

The 2016 fiscal year for Washington compounded on industry success, nearing $1 billion dollars of total shelf price sales, and created a total tax obligation of almost $186 million.[10] Much of this increased tax revenue can be attributed to the implementation of Senate Bill 5052 and House Bill 2136 in July of 2015, which, among other things, changed the state excise tax from 25% to 37% at the point of sale, and merged the less regulated medical marijuana market with the regulatory system established by I-502.

As of October 12, 2016, the WSLCB has issued 172 producer licenses, 894 producer/processor licenses, 131 processor licenses, and 445 retail licenses, which have combined to generate nearly $500 million dollars of total sales in less than four months.[11] It stands to reason, then, that the Washington market will generate well more than $1 billion dollars in total sales, leaving the state with (if sales in Washington remain on this course for the rest of the year), with around $300 million dollars of tax revenue for this year alone.[12]

Washington is not the only state that has had incredible success with regulated marijuana. Colorado has seen similar sales numbers creeping on $1 billion dollars a year and generating around $70 million in tax revenue in 2015. With five states voting on recreational legalization and 4 voting on medicinal legalization this November, it is clear that the legalized marijuana market will be a multibillion dollar industry nationwide, and the lure of tax revenue in the hundreds of millions seems to be convincing even the most historically conservative states that legalization is not only valuable economically, but is a better system than prohibition.[13]

A Better Way

With the plethora of tax money created by the legalization market, grander steps toward reducing youth access to drugs, education, and crime have occurred in the last three years than the strategies implemented by the war on drugs. According to the I-502 Fiscal Note[14] produced by the state, over the five years from the implementation of I-502 in 2012 to 2017, only $5 million dollars will be used by the WSLCB for program administration, whereas $44 million is to be dedicated to marijuana public health education, $68 million on youth drug prevention, and a staggering $244 million on health care. In fact, the state estimates that the funds generated could provide for services for up to 600,000 patients per year, and could cover a five-year average for insurance for 83,000 enrollees.”[15]

Legalization has also had significant impacts on the reduction of crime: According to Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, court filings for low level marijuana offenses for adults over 21 has dropped 98% since the approval of I-502.[16] Additionally, according to the Crime in Washington Report compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, marijuana law violations decreased 63%, and the number of marijuana related convictions has dropped 81%.[17] Legalization of marijuana has not merely freed up police enforcement and the courts however; violent crime declined by 10% statewide, and the murder rate decreased by 13%.[18] [19] Youth access and use rates have also remained steady, despite legalization, and traffic fatalities involving marijuana reported by Washington Traffic Safety Commission have seen a 4% decrease.[20] [21]

As regulation in Washington becomes increasingly robust and license standard enforcement becomes more effective, these numbers should continue to decline and profits from the industry should continue to rise. While the market may eventually level out, the sky seems to be the limit, as the WSLCB plans to continue to accept applications for new businesses.

Washington’s first three years of legalized marijuana has certainly had its struggles (Washington remains the most highly regulated of all the states that have legalized recreational marijuana) but above all else, it seems that Washington voters may be right; legalization is a better way than prohibition, and the Washington economy proves that recreational marijuana has turned the War on Drugs into a very convincing economic equation.

Anne van Leynseele, founder of NWMJ Law, led the evolution of what legal services were needed in the newly formed cannabis industry and identified how to best use her business and legal abilities. A critical step was partnering with noted cannabis trial lawyer, Aaron Pelley. Their complimentary practices brought together the power of both litigation and transactional law experience and diversified what NWMJ Law now provides.  Anne shares the responsibility with a great team of lawyers, each of them skilled in their own practice areas.


[1] Pete Holmes has been recorded claiming that the war on drugs has failed, and that Seattle and Washington generally has shown that legalized marijuana is a better way, both at Hempfest 2011, and more recently at the King County Bar Association new attorney Swearing-in ceremony in 2016.
[2] Tess Borden of Human Rights Watch: Interview
[7] Please note that the WSLCB’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
[9] The WLSCB considers shelf price as sales price and tax combined
[11]; accessed October 14, 2016.
[13] California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada are voting on recreational use, and Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota are voting on medicinal marijuana provisions.
[14] The I-502 Fiscal Note uses projected numbers and estimations based on the data available at the time to project budgets through 2017, so based on the success of the industry, these numbers could be even larger at present.
[19] It is important to note, however, that the data does not establish causation, but it is significant evidence that legalization of marijuana did not increase crime rates, as opponents to legalization seemed to believe it would.

Legal firms in the Hackers Crosshairs

Despite a media backdrop of breaches and compromises, Legal organisations are not automatically a target for hackers. That does not mean they are exempt, just there needs to be sufficient motivation to threat actors enticing them to launch a virtual raid.

This first article, of a two-part series, looks at why some Legal firms may become a target and the hackers M.O. (modus operandi.)

What is the specific security challenge faced?

A law firm will only be targeted if there is sufficient motivation for attack. As, without motivation, there is no targeted threat.

As for any organisation, the nature of the firm’s business will determine which threat(s) it is at risk from. A large multi-national organisation that deals with the corporate interests of international businesses may find itself at risk from state-sponsored attack; in addition, firms specialising in M&A, IPO, High Net Worth Individuals or Intellectual Property may find themselves coveted by those seeking financial gain; a human rights lawyer or even those practicing criminal law may find hacktivists wishing to cause disruption.

Just as clients come and go so too does the hackers attention. If the firm acquires a new client or moves into a new area of interest, the threats facing the law firm can radically change in tandem, meaning the security strategy needs to evolve alongside the business strategy.

The key question the firm needs to ask itself is, ‘Is there any activity that my firm is involved in now, or planning for the future, that provides the necessary motivation for threat actors to attack?’

The Hackers M.O.

Recognising that they’re a target in the first place is a struggle for many organisations, not just those in the Legal sector. This is often accompanied by the misperception that threat actors need to utilise fully customised, expensively researched exploits to successfully target the infrastructure.

The evidence is that, rather than a ‘sophisticated’ attack, most firms are generally breached with a combination of reconnaissance, widely available commodity malware, and well known ex-filtration techniques.

That said, there are those more sophisticated threat actors who might deploy advanced techniques to facilitate their objectives either more ‘quietly’, or in a way that carries more impact.

The initial attack path

How a criminal may strike is the first stage to understanding, and mitigating, the attack path that the threat actor will aim to leverage.

The majority of the effort spent in a targeted attack is in early reconnaissance. There is nothing particularly advanced about this, other than the need for time, logic and discipline. Indeed, law firms tend to make it rather more straightforward than other industries by publishing the contact details of individual lawyers online, along with their practice area. This openness, combined with the constant clamour for publicity from marketing departments issuing articles and press statements, enables threat actors to determine three key pieces of information to assist in the attack:

1) To whom should I deliver my initial payload, and how can I make sure they open it?

This could be as straightforward as sending an HR administrator malware embedded in a CV (phishing). However, in an advanced case of reconnaissance, it’s more likely to take the form of a document sent to a lawyer, ‘spoofed’ to come from a known client or perhaps from a journalist, attaching a list of questions regarding a sensitive case.

Whichever the approach, thorough reconnaissance can all but guarantee an initial payload is opened somewhere within the infrastructure.

2) Who are the organisation’s System Administrators or security personnel?

IT staff are the highest-value target in law firms; if compromised, their credentials can be used to accomplish anything from standard data exfiltration, to hard drive wiping, to setting up legitimate remote access for a threat actor to come and go undetected.

Armed with the knowledge of their identities, an attacker will either target these staff from the outset (and in increasingly sophisticated ways), or make IT staff their first target when landing elsewhere on the network.

3) Who in the organisation has the credentials to access the information I want to steal?

This phase of reconnaissance is usually the trickiest requiring an initial foothold within a network to enable the further internal reconnaissance of such assets as the company intranet, which could well contain staff lists, groups and roles.

However, law firms tend to make this easier than most firms; once again, the company website, press releases and resources such as The Legal 500 enable attackers to map individual lawyers to practice areas and key accounts. This means that attackers can target law firms with both eyes open and a clear plan, rather than taking the usual ‘sit and observe’ approach that tends to be necessary once an initial foothold has been established.

Effective Security Controls

Once an attacker gains an initial foothold on one system inside a victim network he needs to work to expand his influence. This will typically involve gaining credentials and privileges which will enable him to move to other systems.

As an attack progresses, more systems are compromised and more credentials are gained along the way. Eventually the attacker will gain access to a high value, high privilege account and the victim network is now effectively ‘owned’ by the attacker.

So, what factors will hinder the progress of an attacker on his way to becoming domain admin and stealing all of the firm’s secrets? Here are five steps to consider:

  • The privilege level of the attacker when the first system is compromised. For this reason it is highly advisable to configure all users to run with the minimum level of privilege required to perform their job, and no more.
  • The design of the network itself. An attacker can only compromise those systems which he is able to communicate with over the network, so network segmentation will be a big factor in preventing lateral movement.
  • Attackers will use whatever tools are available to them to achieve their objective. If they discover network enumeration tools, port scanners or password cracking utilities on a system then they will likely use them against you. Many system administration tools (especially Sysinternals) can also be abused in this way, so best practice would be to remove such software if it is not required.
  • Implementing Software Restriction Policies or AppLocker will also cause a potential headache for any attacker trying to move around the network.
  • Multi-factor authentication for systems/applications of high value could prevent an attacker from reaching the firm’s crown-jewels if he is unable to authenticate.

Covering relevant attack paths is only half the equation. At some point an attacker may be successful in moving around the network, gaining access to sensitive data and ex-filtrating that data. In this event, the ability to detect and respond to the malicious activity is paramount.

The next article, in this two-part series, discusses effective detection controls focused around typical attack paths and will look at ways to achieve best practice in light of the legal sector’s specific challenges.


Some Justice for Timbuktu

On 27 September, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment by Trial Chamber VIII of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for intentionally directing attacks against ten religious and historical monuments located in Timbuktu. The ICC Prosecutor had opened an investigation following the self-referral by Mali of its situation on 13 July 2012, immediately after the attacks took place. A week after an arrest warrant for Mr Al Mahdi had been issued by the Court, he was caught and surrendered to the ICC by the authorities of Niger on 26 September 2015.

This is the first time the ICC has prosecuted an individual for the war crime of attacking cultural heritage, which was also the only charge brought against Mr Al-Mahdi. It was also the first time that a person accused of a crime before the ICC admitted guilt, likely as a result of the large amount of evidence against him, including the public sermons and interviews he conducted with journalists before the attacks. His early admission of responsibility allowed for a swift judicial process, with a trial lasting just three days, sparing the Court not only time but also precious resources as the Prosecution did not have to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt.

Since 1961, Mali has been a party to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which obliges parties to an armed conflict to refrain from any act of hostility against monuments, including those of a religious nature, ‘of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people’, unless in case of imperative military necessity. The ICC Statute also considers that intentional attacks against such buildings,  ‘provided they are not military objectives’ constitute a war crime. In the case of the attacks perpetrated in Timbuktu, the buildings were not legitimate targets which would have offered a military advantage to their attacker if they were destroyed. In addition, the buildings in question, including nine mausoleums of saints and a mosque, were almost all listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites and were thus known as important cultural landmarks.

This obligation to respect monuments is applicable both in international and non-international armed conflicts. The ICC Statute also provides that intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion or historic monuments constitute a war crime in those two types of armed conflicts. In late June and early July 2012, when the buildings in question were destroyed, Mali was clearly in a situation of non-international armed conflict, involving the Malian armed forces and non-state armed groups, which met the requirement of being sufficiently organised given that they took control over Timbuktu for a protracted period.  Therefore, members of a state armed force or a non-state armed group can be held criminally responsible for such attack. Mr Al-Mahdi has been associated with Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Islamist militant groups for which he led the ‘Hesbah’, a morality brigade which sought to prohibit certain practices within the population of Timbuktu which were considered heretical, including the use of the mausoleums as places of prayer or pilgrimage. According to these groups’ beliefs, nothing should be built over a tomb and, as a consequence, the mausoleums had to be razed to the ground. Mr Al Mahdi led their destruction, even actively participating in five of the attacks. A witness in the case stated that “destroying the mausoleums, to which the people of Timbuktu had an emotional attachment, was a war activity aimed at breaking the soul of the people of Timbuktu.”

In her statement opening the trial, the Prosecutor underlined that “[T]he protection of cultural heritage is an essential part of the post-conflict social reconstruction and reconciliation process. This is because cultural heritage gives meaning as well as a sense of continuity and direction from the past to the future.” She added that Mr Al Mahdi’s recognition of criminal responsibility “is crucial for Timbuktu’s victims” and that “[I]t will also support the reconciliation process in the field.” In the course of the trial, the Chamber noted his remorse and empathy towards the victims, such as the imam of the Mosque which had its door destroyed. However, the longer term impact of this trial on the post-conflict situation in Mali will take some time to be properly evaluated.

In the meantime, the sentencing of Al-Mahdi will now be followed by a reparations phase, during which the scope and extent of any damage and loss to victims will be determined, with the assistance of experts called in to assess the harm caused to the international community by the destruction, as well as the monetary value of the damage caused to the monuments and the economic and moral harm caused to individuals or organisations. This process will allow the possible order of reparations, such as compensation, which should be decided during the course of next year.

This landmark trial, as the first of its kind focusing on attacks against cultural heritage before the ICC, delivers a clear message to those who may perpetrate this type of crime and could possibly serve as a deterrent in the future. It underlines that attacking cultural heritage is a serious international crime which affects not only the local populations, which were particularly attached to it, but all of us. While the ICC may in the future prosecute more individuals for such crime, it should be stressed that it functions on the basis of complementarity: it is only if domestic courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute the alleged perpetrators of crimes enshrined in its statute, that the ICC may open an investigation into such matter. The 1954 Hague Convention also provides that states must prosecute and impose penal or disciplinary sanctions upon individuals, of whatever nationality, who have committed (or ordered to be committed) an act of hostility against a monument of great cultural heritage importance. Therefore, this case will hopefully also have an effect on domestic proceedings as states should criminalise such unlawful conduct and prosecute the alleged perpetrators of such a serious crime.