10 October 2011

The Administrations of McGuire

The Guardian reported in a story titled, "Nurofen contamination: man charged"
"Christopher McGuire charged after antipyschotic and antiepileptic drugs found in five packs of painkiller."
The story goes on to say that,
"A spokesman for the Met said unemployed McGuire had been charged with one count of contamination of goods, contrary to the Public Order Act 1986, and two of administering a noxious substance, which is contrary to the Offences Against The Person Act."
The first charge is very likely to be section 38 Public Order Act 1986 the "Contamination of or interference with goods with intention of causing public alarm or anxiety, etc." This offence carries a maximum prison sentence of either ten years if convicted on indictment (s38(4)(a)), or six-months if convicted summarily (s38(4)(b)).

If that was the only charge, he could get away with six-months by indicating that he would plead guilty at his mode of trial hearing (s17A Magistrates' Court Act 1980).

But the article explained that there were other two other charges of administering obnoxious substances; the charges are likely to be ss23 and 24 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.
"23. Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously administer to or cause to be administered to or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, so as thereby to endanger the life of such person, or so as thereby to inflict upon such person any grievous bodily harm, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable ... to be kept in penal servitude for any term not exceeding ten years ...."
"24. Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously administer to or cause to be administered to or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, with intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy such person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable ... to be kept in penal servitude ...."
Question is ... did McGuire administer the noxious substance? Did he bring the substance, directly or indirectly, into contact with the victims' body (Gillard (1988) 87 Cr App 189)?

Assuming that nobody has ingested one of these pills, it looks to me that whether or not McGuire will get up to ten-years or up to six-months, will depend upon whether or not someone took a pill out of the blister pack.

(Or more accurately whether or not the prosecutor can prove that they did).

Update 4th December 2011.

The Mail online explains in, "Nurofen addict 'swapped tablets in shop with his own anti-psychotic medication'" that,
"A Nurofen addict was so desperate for the pills he swapped them for his own anti-psychotic medication in chemist's shops, a court heard.

Christopher McGuire, 30, opened packets of the headache tablets and replaced them with his prescription before slipping out the store, it is claimed.

Two other customers Peter Latham and Paul Connor mistakenly took tablets from the sabotaged packets, Southwark Crown Court heard."

Update 27th May 2012

The Telegraph, under a headline, "Nurofen addict cost drug company £2.4m" from 25th May 2012 explains that,

"Yesterday, McGuire, a penniless drifter from Glasgow, appeared in court after admitting causing a public nuisance."

Details of the crime of public nuisance can be found in, Rimmington, R v [2005] UKHL 63(21 July 2005).

As for my reading of the case, it isn't clear to me that McGuire's actions "cause[ed] common injury to a section of the public" and so didn't have all the elements necessary for the offence. If that is the case, should he have entered a guilty plea?

The Pursuit Of Justice Is Not The Pursuit Of Truth

I have a number of law blogs (blawgs) in my google feed, one of which is James Medhurst's Employment Law Blog. One of his posts (unfortunately) titled, Employment Law And Magic Realism, has the following quote within it,
"What [Courts] find is deemed to be the truth but this is a convenient legal fiction and it must be remembered that it is not always actually the truth. Parties will be more satisfied with the system if this is more widely acknowledged. We must not allow [Court] decisions to construct our reality."
But constructing reality from court cases is exactly what we do.

Consider that person A commits a crime and person B gets convicted for that crime. It may well be that person A and person B are the same person; in that case the right person gets convicted, but just because person B gets convicted doesn't mean that he did it, it doesn't mean that he suddenly becomes person A.

Of these two people, one is fact the other is fiction: person A is real whereas person B is a fiction. Person A can become person B, a person who commits a crime can become a person convicted of that crime; but person B cannot become person A, a person convicted of the crime, if he didn't commit the crime, cannot become the person who committed the crime because he was convicted.

But don't take my word for it, here's a quote from Lord Neuberger speaking extra judicially,

"...it was Lord Wilberforce who famously observed that the traditional function of a common law judge was not to seek the truth. As he put it,"
"In a contest purely between one litigant and another . . . the task of the court is to do, and be seen to be doing, justice between the parties . . .. There is no higher or additional duty to ascertain some independent truth. It often happens, from the imperfection of evidence, or the withholding of it, sometimes by the party in whose favour it would tell if presented, that an adjudication has to be made which is not, and is known not to be, the whole truth of the matter: yet if the decision has been in accordance with the available evidence and with the law, justice will have been fairly done."
So when you hear that a person has been convicted of crime it is not a certainty that they did it, just a mere probability. As for a value for that probability, we should be finding that out in the near future.