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‘Crisis’ in barrister numbers as average wait for rape victims exceeds five years | Politics News

There is a “crisis” in the number of barristers available for rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) cases, a new survey has shown.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said 64% of prosecutors and 66% of defence barristers will not reapply to work on RASSO court lists going forward due to the low legal aid fees they are paid and the impact on their wellbeing.

Politics live: Cameron holds ‘very important’ meeting over detained British man

The figures come as the average wait for a bailed rape trial to conclude from the day of an alleged offence hit around five and a half years – including an average wait of 18 months from someone being charged until the end of the trial.

The CBA said many cases were now waiting longer than 18 months, with members telling them of court dates being set for the end of 2026, despite the charges happening in 2022.

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Chair of the organisation, Tana Adkin KC, said barristers were “committed to do everything [they] can to address the backlog and continue providing the highest quality advocacy whilst ensuring the vulnerable, complainants and the accused alike are heard”.

But, she said, without “urgent intervention” from the government, the delays will only continue to grow, adding: “Our ability to deliver what government wants, what courts require and the public expects is currently unsustainable.”

More on Ministry Of Justice

According to figures from the CBA, there has been a 30% fall in income for barristers over the past 20 years, with some specialist criminal barristers taking home an average of £12,000 a year after expenses in their first three years at the bar.

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Why did barristers go on strike over fees?

Following strike action in 2022, the government increased legal aid fees by 15% – but the CBA argued this was the bare minimum recommended in an independent review of charges, and higher pay was needed to keep people in the profession, with swathes of young barristers quitting the courts.

Now, according to the survey, barristers will be walking away from RASSO cases altogether, which represent nearly 9,800 cases in the current backlog of over 66,000 in crown court – up 226% from the historic low of 3,005 at the end of 2018.

A total of six out of 10 of the 780 barristers who responded to the survey cited poor legal aid fees as the reason for refusing to take on RASSO cases in the future, while half pointed to poor well-being as a result of the challenging work.

“Doing nothing to increase RASSO fees is not an option unless we want to accept that rape and serious sexual offence trials will continue to be delayed for years, repeatedly postponed on the day because there is no barrister to prosecute or defend,” added Ms Adkin.

“The human cost for victims of these crimes as well as innocent defendants is beyond financial measure.”

Sky News has contacted the Ministry of Justice for a response.

Tonight could be coldest January night for 14 years – with ‘bitterly cold’ days to come | UK News

Tonight could be the coldest January night in 14 years, with -15C possible in some parts of Scotland.

Sky News weather presenter Joanna Robinson said if this temperature is reached, it would be the lowest on a January night since 2010.

It would also be the lowest temperature for winter 2023/24 so far.

The freezing temperatures and snow are expected to continue for much of Britain this week because of cold Arctic air.

Get the five-day forecast where you are here

A snowplough on the A66 near Keswick in Cumbria. Much of Britain is facing another day of cold temperatures and travel disruption after overnight lows dropped below freezing for the bulk of the country. A "cold plunge of Arctic air" has moved south across the whole country over the past few days, making it 5C-6C lower than usual for this time of year, the Met Office said. Picture date: Tuesday January 16, 2024. PA Photo. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
A snowplough on the A66 near Keswick in Cumbria

And this is expected to be replaced by “potentially disruptive” stormy weather which lands over the weekend.

A “cold plunge of Arctic air” has moved south across the whole country over the past few days, making it 5C to 6C lower than usual for this time of year, the Met Office said.

A Met Office spokeswoman said: “It’s staying cold until Friday, and then looking further ahead into the weekend we’ve got some deep areas of low pressure pushing in, so a big change in weather type, and we could see some stormy conditions by the end of the week.

“The cold isn’t lasting right to the end of the week, but we have a very different type of potentially-disruptive weather arriving.”

More than 100 schools were closed in Scotland on Tuesday, while drivers faced difficult conditions thanks to the wintry weather across north-west England, including in Merseyside, Cheshire and Cumbria.

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Gorilla makes snowballs at Belfast Zoo

There are three yellow weather warnings in place for Wednesday.

One for snow and ice covers northern England and parts of Wales and comes into place from midnight for 24 hours.

Another ice warning covering parts of Scotland around Glasgow and Edinburgh also comes into force from midnight for 24 hours.

The third snow and ice warning covers the northern section of Scotland and Northern Ireland and is in place until 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Read more:
Weather in pictures: Snowy scenes across UK

More than 40cm of snow could be seen on high ground in northwest Scotland by the end of Friday as it continues to build up over the coming days, the Met Office added.

Meanwhile, lower ground in northwest Scotland could see between five and 10cm of snow by the end of the working week.

The Met Office is reviewing the situation and any new warnings could be issued at short notice, it said.

The UK Health Security Agency has issued a cold-health alert, which warns of possible impacts for the health and social care sector.

National Rail has warned the wintry weather could affect train journeys all week.

Woman who died in North Berwick house on New Year’s Day named as Keotshepile Naso Isaacs | UK News

A 33-year-old woman who died in an East Lothian house following a disturbance on New Year’s Day has been named by police.

Keotshepile Naso Isaacs, known as Naso, was pronounced dead at the scene after emergency services were called to Craigleith Avenue in North Berwick following a “report of concern” at around 8.20am.

A 37-year-old man was arrested in connection with Ms Isaacs’ death last week.

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A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Enquiries are continuing.”

Two teenagers arrested on suspicion of murder of Harry Pitman on New Year’s Eve in north London | UK News

A 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy have been arrested on suspicion of murder over the death of 16-year-old Harry Pitman on New Year’s Eve.

Harry had been with friends near the viewing platform on Primrose Hill to watch the New Year fireworks before he was stabbed to death.

The Metropolitan Police said shortly before 11.40pm he had been involved in a “fight with another male” that ended with “the stab wound that took his life”.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of murder on Tuesday, while an 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of affray.

A 16-year-old boy who was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder has been released on bail pending further enquiries.

Scotland Yard said the two boys arrested remain in custody after attending a west London police station on Thursday.

A vigil for Harry
A vigil took place for Harry in Haringey

Detective Chief Inspector Geoff Grogan said: “This is a fast-paced investigation, and my team is working around the clock to identify those responsible.

“This is clearly a significant development, and we are keeping Harry’s family informed.”

DCI Grogan added: “Our enquiries so far have established that there was no racial or gang element to this incident, it appears to have been a spontaneous fight between two people who didn’t know each other, that quickly escalated to extreme violence.”

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Boy, 16, stabbed to death on New Year’s Eve in London | UK News

A 16-year-old boy has been stabbed to death on New Year’s Eve in London.

A murder investigation has been launched following the fatal stabbing in Primrose Hill on Sunday night.

Police were called at around 11.40pm and officers administered first aid to the victim before ambulance crews arrived.

The boy was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.

His family have been informed and they will be supported by specialist officers, the Metropolitan Police said.

A male has been arrested on suspicion of murder and is in police custody.

Extensive police cordons remain in place as forensic examinations of the scene and the surrounding area are carried out.

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You can receive Breaking News alerts on a smartphone or tablet via the Sky News App. You can also follow @SkyNews on X or subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with the latest news.

Amount paid out by Ministry of Defence for bullying and harassment claims doubles in four years | UK News

The average settlement paid out by the Ministry of Defence for bullying, harassment and discrimination claims has more than doubled since 2020, new figures have revealed.

The average compensation payout made by the MoD for these types of claims reached £235,564 in 2022/23.

Only a few years earlier, in 2020/21, the figure was £100,527.

The number of settlements has also increased by more than 100%, from five to 12 in the same time frame.

Earlier this month it emerged that 60 senior women had complained of a “hostile” and “toxic” environment at the government department, which is responsible for the UK’s armed forces.

And it comes just a day after Sky News detailed the “toxic culture” of sleaze and bullying within the RAF’s elite flying squad, the Red Arrows.

Young female pilots were treated like “fresh meat”, and one claimed she was plied with alcohol by a senior member of the squad, while others said they were harassed for sex.

More on Ministry Of Defence

Although an investigation was launched, the victims claimed the air force misled the public by telling parliament that none of the allegations heard by the inquiry team met a criminal threshold.

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Red Arrows: Victims break silence

‘Shocking’ data

Labour called the newly released settlement data “shocking” and has urged ministers to “root out” unacceptable behaviour in the department and armed forces.

The figures were obtained by shadow defence minister Maria Eagle, following a written parliamentary question.

She said: “That both the number of settlement payments and the average payout has more than doubled in just two years lays bare the MoD’s problems with bullying, harassment and discrimination.

“Ministers must lead from the top to root out unacceptable behaviour in the MoD and the armed forces. Labour in government will legislate to establish an Armed Forces Commissioner to act as a strong independent voice to improve the lives of serving personnel and their families.”

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “We do not tolerate abuse, bullying or discrimination of any kind, which is why we have introduced many changes to improve the experience for everyone across defence, including improvements to reporting mechanisms, diversity and inclusion training, and increased access to support.

Read more: Teenage soldier killed herself after ‘sexual harassment’

“We actively encourage any personnel who believe they have experienced or witnessed unacceptable behaviour to report it.

“All allegations of unacceptable behaviour are taken extremely seriously and are thoroughly investigated. If proven, swift action will be taken.”

‘Warmest’ Christmas Eve since 1997 as Christmas Day set to be hottest in years, says Met Office | UK News

Today (Sunday) has provisionally been recorded as the warmest Christmas Eve since 1997, according to the Met Office.

The weather agency said temperatures reached 15.3C at Heathrow, west London.

The warmest Christmas Eve on record was in 1931, when 15.5C was recorded in Aberdeen and Banff in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Christmas Day is expected to be the hottest in years as some parts of the UK are predicted to hit 14C.

Most of the country will remain mild and cloudy with drizzle at times ruling out a white Christmas, apart from the mountains in northern Scotland which could see snow.

Temperatures are unlikely to exceed the warmest Christmas Day on record when the temperature reached 15.6C in 1920.

However, Met Office forecaster Dan Stroud said this Christmas could see the “warmest Christmas day since 2016” as the UK hit 15.1C.

Met Office forecaster Liam Eslick said: “It’s been an exceptionally mild couple of days across all of the UK, temperatures have been well above average for the time of year, the maximum for December being 7C.

“Temperatures today have reached 15C in quite a few locations across the UK, the highest being 15.3C in two locations – one in Heathrow and one in Cippenham, Berkshire.”

No more white Christmases?

With 15.3C recorded at Heathrow, it’s certainly one of the warmest Christmas Eve’s in recent years – but the warmest on record was in 1931 when 15.5C was recorded in Aberdeen and Banff.

That was obviously some time ago, although that may have been down to mountain effects (the Fohn Effect, whereby air descending downwind of a mountain range is warmer than on the upwind side),rather than a more general warmth.

It is hard to draw any real conclusions, especially where records for a single day are involved.

But the relatively high temperatures are consistent with the general warming we’ve been experiencing (it looks like this is the first year the Central England Temperature has been above the 1961-1900 average in every month, for example), coupled with a south-westerly flow, thanks to the position of the jet stream.

Does it mean no more white Christmases?

No – firstly, it looks like there’ll be snow over the northern Scottish hills this Christmas, while more generally, changes in the jet stream may put us on the cold side in future years, bringing an increased risk of snow.

The UK is drawing in warmer air from the south contributing to this unusually mild weather.

Two separate yellow wind warnings were issued by the Met Office in Scotland and northern and central areas of England for Christmas Eve, saying people should expect travel disruption, damage to buildings and power cuts, while the rest of the country may see showers.

In Wales persistent and heavy rain could cause disruption to transport and power supplies with the possibility of flooding.

And further yellow weather warnings have been issued by the Met Office for later in the week, including parts of Scotland which could face heavy rain and snow.

Alex Batty: Grandmother reveals final phone call before boy went missing for six years | UK News

The grandmother of the teenager missing for six years has recalled overhearing the boy’s mum say they’re “getting rid of the phones now” in their last phone call.

Alex Batty, now 17, did not return from a trip to Spain when he was 11 and is said to have lived an “alternative” lifestyle abroad before deciding to return home.

The teenager – now under the legal guardianship of his grandmother Susan Caruana, 68, in Oldham – said his mother was “anti-government, anti-vax” whose catchphrase was “becoming a slave to the system”.

Speaking to the Sun newspaper, Ms Caruana said she had allowed the boy’s mother, Melanie Batty, and his grandfather, David Batty, to take him on holiday in September 2017.

But when Alex called to tell his grandmother they won’t be coming back, she feared she’d seen the last of him.

“They completely and utterly betrayed me and left me heartbroken,” she told the Sun.

“I knew as soon as I heard her say, ‘we’re getting rid of the phones now’. I thought ‘I’ll never see him again’.”

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Alex Batty: Police launch investigation

She added she didn’t know “if they were alive or dead” during the entire six years.

“Every time there was some sort of disaster I feared that he could be a victim,” she said.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) confirmed on Friday that a criminal investigation has been launched into Alex’s alleged abduction.

Alex landed in the UK on Saturday having been found by chiropody student Fabien Accidini near the French city of Toulouse last week after walking across the Pyrenees.

Officers in the UK interviewed Alex after his return from France, GMP said.

Last week, French prosecutors said the teenager’s mother, Melanie Batty, who does not have legal parental guardianship, may be in Finland.

Alex Batty 
Alex at a younger age. Pic: GMP

Alex – who said he gave his grandmother a “massive hug” when they were reunited – said he didn’t go to school at all during his time abroad.

He said he must have read the Harry Potter books “at least 20 times” and his main pastime was reading as he could rarely access Wi-Fi.

Read more:
Alex Batty says it feels ‘surreal’ to be home after being missing for six years
Alex Batty’s mother ‘spent summer living in French caravan using fake identity’

“During all my time away, I never attended school for a single day,” he said.

“The only qualifications I have are my SATs test results from primary school when I lived back in Oldham.

“That’s one of the worst things that’s happened to me throughout all this – not having a proper education.”

Alex Batty: Teenager says it feels ‘surreal’ to be home after being missing for six years | UK News

The teenager missing for six years before he was found in France said it feels “surreal” to be home and still goes to sleep not expecting to wake up in England.

Alex Batty was 11 when he went on holiday with his mother Melanie Batty – who does not have legal parental guardianship – and his grandfather David Batty, 59, in 2017.

He never returned and is said to have lived an “alternative” lifestyle abroad before deciding to return home.

A police investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance is ongoing.

Speaking to the Sun newspaper, the 17-year-old said he spent six years wandering around Europe with his mum and grandfather and first thought of leaving when he was 14.

He finally returned to the UK last weekend and says he is now staying with his grandmother in Oldham.

“Being back with my grandma feels quite surreal. Every time I go to sleep, I feel like I’m going to be waking up back in France. It’s not really kicked in yet that I am back in England,” he said.

“For the first few years, when I was in Spain, it was a vacation really, spending most days doing whatever I wanted, reading, drawing, going to the beach.”

He said he “started to pick up slack” at around 14, when he took up odd jobs in construction, decoration, painting walls and renovation work.

“I had a non-existent social life to be honest,” he said, adding he didn’t go to school and instead learned languages and studied maths and computing when he came across a textbook.

“And the entire six-year span, I made one friend and it was the only person really that I’d met for the entire six years that was even close to my age.”

Alex Batty's grandmother, Susan Caruana, pictured in 2017
Alex Batty’s grandmother, Susan Caruana, pictured in 2017

Speaking about his mother, who he described as “anti-government, anti-vax”, Alex said: “She’s a great person and I love her but she’s just not a great mum.

“I had an argument with my mum and I just thought I’m gonna leave because I can’t live with her.”

“I realised it wasn’t a great way to live for my future,” he added.

“Moving around. No friends, no social life. Working, working, work and not studying. That’s the life I imagined I would be leading if I were to stay with my mum.”

According the Sun, Alex walked out of a rented house they were staying in near Chalabre, in southern France, and left a goodbye note on Monday last week.

He was picked up by chiropody student Fabien Accidini near the French city of Toulouse in the early hours of Wednesday – two days later.

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Student recalls rescuing Alex Batty

“He was delivering parcels so I helped him because it’s the least I could do,” Alex said.

“He let me use his phone to contact my grandma. After that he calls the police and a squad car nearby takes me to the nearest police station.”

After being looked after by the French authorities, Alex met his step-grandfather at Toulouse airport on Saturday before boarding a flight back to the UK, Greater Manchester Police said.

He can now look forward to spending time with family members, friends and others he grew up with in Greater Manchester, where he was living as a young boy and police say is “where he wants to be”.

Read more:
Alex Batty’s mother ‘spent summer living in French caravan using fake identity’
Missing Alex Batty ‘had been staying in French guesthouse without his mother’

“When I got back to Manchester it was raining as usual,” he added.

“I was driven back to my gran’s house and I walked in the door and she’s in the living room. I started shaking and just gave her a massive hug.

“The house is different now but still feels the same.”

French prosecutors said last week that Melanie Batty may be in Finland.

British boy found six years after kidnapping ‘wants to live a normal life’, student who found him tells Sky News | UK News

British teenager Alex Batty did not seem angry about being “kidnapped” by his mother six years ago and now just wants to live a “normal life”, the French student who found him has told Sky News.

Fabien Accidini offered the 17-year-old a lift in the early hours of Wednesday morning after spotting him walking alone in heavy rain near the southern French city of Toulouse.

As the pair travelled together, Alex revealed he had been kidnapped by his mother in 2017 when he was just 11 and had lived in a luxury house in Spain with around 10 people as part of a “spiritual community”, before moving to France in around 2021.

The teenager said he had been hiking in nearby mountains for more than four days in an attempt to return to England.

Speaking to Sky News in his first interview with a British news organisation, Mr Accidini said Alex seemed tired and stressed when he picked him up, but was otherwise calm and was “really fine physically”.

The 26-year-old initially did not believe the Briton’s story but eventually agreed to call the police after hearing more details of what happened to him.

Alex Batty 
Alex Batty Pic: GMP

‘He didn’t have regrets’

Mr Accidini said: “After I called the police to explain the situation, when the cops arrived, that’s when I realised the whole story [was real].”

The student said Alex did not seem angry at being held in the “community” and said he had not been chained up – although it was unclear if he had been allowed to leave at any time.

“He didn’t have regrets [about leaving the community]… he just wanted to live a normal life, to see his grandmother again and to have a normal future, that’s the word that he used,” the student added.

When asked if he had a message for Alex, Mr Accidini said: “I hope that your grandmother will be happy… I am sure of it. And if you want to meet again I am here.”

The student was working as a driver delivering medicines to pharmacies on the night he picked up Alex, and said the teenager had helped him with his job along the way.

He jokingly added that if Alex “want[s] to work with the pharmacy deliveries again call me”.

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Missing since he was 11

Alex went abroad with his mother Melanie Batty, 38, who does not have legal parental guardianship, and his grandfather David Batty, 59, on a pre-agreed trip when he was 11.

He flew with them to Malaga Airport for a week-long stay in the Benahavis area near Marbella. However, the family did not return to England as expected in October 2017.

Mother Melanie Batty does not have parental guardianship of Alex
Mother Melanie Batty

David Batty is wanted in connection with Alex's abduction
Grandfather David Batty

Despite international public appeals, Alex’s legal guardian – his grandmother Susan Caruana – has not seen him since he left the UK.

She previously said her daughter and ex-husband lived in a commune in Morocco with Alex in 2014 as part of an “alternative lifestyle”, which she thought lay behind the youngster’s disappearance.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said: “We are supporting a British national in France and are in contact with local authorities.”