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Archive for June 6th, 2009

Obama Beach Boy…?

Gordon Brown may be extremely tired after recent events and this may well explain why he referred to OBAMA beach instead of Omaha beach at the D-Day remembrance ceremony today.  D-Day veterans gave him the bird. Fox News covered it. (Hat Tip Guido)

Guido has another possible explanation…

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The Rule of Law…and Harriet Harman QC

Mosaic representing both the judicial and legislative aspects of law. Woman on throne holds sword to chastise the guilty and palm branch to reward the meritorious. Glory surrounds her head, and the aegis of Minerva signifies armor of righteousness and wisdom.


Lord Phillips, soon to be president of the UK Supreme Court, has been attending the QatarLaw Forum. Joshua Rozenberg has an interesting piece in the Law Society Gazette ‘Gavels not guns’ in which he summarises the points made by Lord Phillips and draws attention to the curious matter of Harriet Harman QC, a former practising solicitor, and her enthusiasm for changing the law restrospectively.

Summary from The Gazette

Professor Professor Pierre Legrand of the Sorbonne in Paris stressed that the rule of law should not be regarded as a technical framework disseminated by benevolent people who understood the way of the world. If the rule of law was to operate persuasively across cultures and traditions, it had to take account of local circumstances, values and legitimate expectations. ‘There is no one-size-fits-all model,’ he said, ‘and indeed there should not be’.

Lord Phillips agreed that ‘the search was not for identical laws or legal procedures’. Phillips set out six broad propositions by which adherence to the rule of law was to be judged. Nothing less than the survival of the world depended on them, he said. Huge international pressures were building up, both environmental and political. There were only two ways in which these tensions would be resolved. ‘One is war and the other is law.’

“Without a universal commitment to the ultimate authority of law – law founded on principle and administered through independent, stable and respected judicial systems – the world as we know it is not going to survive.” Lord Phillips said.

Rozenberg writes:Which brings us to Harriet Harman. One of the Phillips principles is that the rule of law requires constant vigilance. ‘It is not a luxury item that can be put away in the cellar in times of emergency, to be brought out again when things get better,’ he said.  Phillips thought bankers and other ‘fat cats’ who had received apparently ‘obscene’ bonuses should face sanctions if they had breached their legal duties. But not otherwise – ‘what is not acceptable is to attempt to punish them by retrospective legislation or by media blackmail’. Everyone present understood this to be a reference to Harman, who had insisted that the law would be changed to deprive Sir Fred Goodwin of his pension from Royal Bank of Scotland. Labour’s deputy leader said at the beginning of March that Goodwin’s contract might be enforceable in a court of law ‘but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion; and that is where the government steps in’.”

Harriet Harman is not a stupid woman.  Quite the opposite – but it was curious to hear her express these views in connection with Goodwin.  The so called Court of Public Opinion is a very dangerous concept, an ‘unruly horse’ as Lord Denning and others (albeit talking about public policy) put it many years ago.

I tend to agree, as most will I suspect, with Lord Phillips’ statement: “‘Judges and lawyers have a particularly important role to play in ensuring that popular emotion does not subvert the rule of law.”

There is a wider issue here and it is that of respect for the law. The rule of law can only work if those subject to the law respect it.  This  applies both to domestic and international law. For good law to work there must be consensus – it may not be perfect, but at least is is agreed at international level between states and in a domestic setting through the electoral process.

Democracy, with all its inherent failings, allows men and women to be elected to represent our interests as a nation, as a people, to an agenda the particular political party in power sets out in a manifesto. When governments depart from their manifesto, they may well run into dissent from the electorate.  The European referendum promised by Labour is but one illustration of the phenomenon.

There has been a tendency in recent years to bring out new laws to react to events: the counter terror laws, an illustration of these laws.  Policy made on the run, on the hoof, without expert and experienced review can lead to some badly thought out laws – quite apart from the problem of the state, or de-centralised organs of local government,  then misusing those laws to their own needs and ends.

We have far too many new and ill thought out laws – some deeply unpopular with different parts of society.  By way of simple and possibly emotive example – the Hunting Ban laws are so badly drafted that the Police have, effectively,  given up trying to enforce it.  The intrusion into our lives through DNA databases, identity cards, legislation permitting several hundred agencies to share information  – perhaps kneejerk over reaction to the perceived terror threat – are deeply unpopular with many in this country from all political persuasions.

When people start to lose respect for the laws, it is but a short step to losing respect for law and enforcement then becomes more difficult;  ultimately leading to protest and, possibly, riot.  The Poll Tax law of twenty years ago is a classic illustration of what happens when respect for law is lost.

China knows how to enforce Law.  They did it twenty years ago in Tiananmen Square.  A man with a shopping bag standing in front of the tanks may have held them up – but not for long.   Lord Phillips is right… the rule of law is preferable to war but, in a domestic setting, it is the politicians who bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that our laws meet the needs of the majority and are not drafted to suit the interests of a state hell bent on control.  The rule of law can only work, ultimately, through consent and support.

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Dear Reader,

The men and women in togas skulked in the shadows; James Purnell, keeping his own counsel, Hazel Blears wearing her ‘rocking the boat’ badge, Caroline Flint praising one moment and then damning when she didn’t get the job she wanted; quite possibly a job vacated by one of several Cabinet Ministers who fell on (or were pushed onto)  their Gladius during one of the most amusing weeks I have seen in politics for years.

Unfortunately, Foreign Secretary Miliband (not, it would appear, the bravest of souls) decided not to follow his mate James Purnell into battle.  Darling is now sitting pretty in an unsackable position and the Richard III of the Labour government, Jack ”The Lad Chancellor’ Straw, sits, as ever , smiling inscrutably… waiting… always waiting;  presiding over a Ministry of Justice which appears to be hell bent on delivering legal services and justice  to the public at the lowest possible cost with his legal aid reforms, virtual courts and complete indifference to the legal profession as a whole in terms of its preparedness to do work at the pitiful rates being offered.

All three parties have provided us with wonderful entertainment over the past three to four weeks –  so much so that it has been like the Circus Maximus sitting here East of Londinium.  Brown sits in splendid isolation in his bunker at Number 10 waiting, now, for the next round of bad news – the results of the Euro elections. The hyperventilating autocuties at the BBC, the self important ‘newscasters’, the pundits, the ravening  horde from the press and the political bloggers are taking a breather until the next battle to topple the prime minister begins again on Sunday night and in the Monday press.

I too, shall take a break from politics.  I shall, as always, be at my post… scanning the horizon for U-boats to ensure that our shores are safe.  I’m getting on with the job. So far I have a 100 % hit rate.  Not a U-boat in sight. WIN!!!

England expected and England f****d it up big time yesterday by managing to lose their game in the Twenty Twenty series to Netherlands. Being, British, I offer my congratulations to the Netherlands – they played the game of rounders well –  and pour deserved scorn on the boys who lost yesterday.  With The Ashes just around the corner I am beginning to wonder if I should invest in the Sky Sports package for a month or so. (I shall, of course, do so)

Here is the BBC match report – it makes grim reading.

There have been quite a few comings and goings in the last week but none quite so spectacular as the departure of David Carradine who, Thai Police say, died in his hotel room with a noose around his neck and penis.  His agent maintains that he was murdered – but, according to The Sun, Thai police say that no-one entered or left the room, a statement based on examination of CCTV footage.

Auto-erotic asphyxiation, appears to be a fairly common pastime with some men, and I recall the tragic case of Stephen Milligan, a conservative politician who was found dead in 1994 with a noose around his neck and an orange segment in his mouth.  There was some talk, at the time, that INXS musician Michael Hutchence may have died as a result of auto-erotic asphyxiation. As ever, I take a fairly broad liberal view on private entertainments –  but, as these cases demonstrate, it is probably best to have a partner around when indulging in the more extreme pleasures in life.

I enjoy watching The Apprentice. I am also a fan of Sir Alan Sugar so I was sorry to learn in The Sun this morning (one has to read the tabloids to keep a finger on the pulse of modern Britain) that Margaret Mountford, one of Sir Alan’s so-called ‘sidekicks’, is leaving the show.

Margaret Mountford is always amusing to watch;  the subtle expression, the raising of the eyebrows, the amused disdain.   A former partner of City law firm Herbert Smith, she has been a non-executive director of Amstrad for years.  She is leaving the show to concentrate her attention on her Ph.d research on Egyptian manuscripts. I shall miss her shrewd and wry observations.

Well… that is all for the moment – but these being momentous times.. I shall be back with more posts later today and, certainly, tomorrow.  Now for some scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and a mug of tea.

Best as always

Charon

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