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Archive for July, 2009

31st July: In conversation…..

Today, Friday 31st July 2009, brought the curtain down on a venerable institution – the Judicial Committee of The House of Lords – to be transformed on October 1st into The Supreme Court of The United Kingdom. The judges of the Supreme Court are to be styled ‘Justices of the Supreme Court’.

But… there is still a problem… how are they to be referred to in the papers, on television?  As Joshua Rozenberg pointed out in the Law Society Gazette this week… calling them ‘Justice’ is either a bit too American and could lead to confusion with our most senior judges being on a lower level in title terms than a High Court judge (Mr Justice or Mrs Justice ) or the Court of Appeal judge ( Lord Justice or Lady Justice).  Rozenberg suggests that Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony is just not going to fit in the television captions or, I would add,  be capable of being remembered by the average television autocue based presenter/interviewer.

I opened a bottle of Rioja and imagined a conversation between two men who meet in the pub quite a lot.  I shall call them  Man in a Hat and Man in a Cap.

Man in hat: You do know that the Law Lords stopped being Law Lords today don’t you?

Man in cap: Stopped being Law Lords…?  what sort of Lords are they going to be then?

Man in hat: Well.. they’re still going to be Law… Lords… as in Lords who do Law… but they won’t be Law Lords… The House of Lords… or part of it… … see… has changed into the Supreme Court….

Man in a cap: Yeah… I read about that in The Telegraph… they’ve got a new building an all…. an expensive new building…. 65 million quid  it was… did you see that? And.. I also read that new judges to this Chicken Supreme Court aren’t going to be Lords at all…. just law judges… so won’t they feel a bit left out… what with all the others being Time Lords who aren’t any longer… and that?

Man in hat: Yes… I saw that in The Mail.  Disgraceful… you’d have thought a man or woman who works all his or her  life for his or her country and goes to our highest court of law would get a Lordship wouldn’t you? … especially since all the other lords who do law but aren’t law lords any longer have got lordships.

Man in cap: So if a new judge is appointed to this Supreme Court aren’t going to be Lords what will they be?  Sirs? Dames? ….

Man in hat: Well… they will probably be Sir or Dame already because of being a High Court judge.

Man in cap: But that is a bit confusing…. I read that a judge … if a bloke… goes to the High Court… the Queen gets her sword out and he becomes a Sir and then everyone calls him My Lord. But…  he is a ‘Sir’, gets called My Lord and he  is called Mr Justice in the newspapers and on the telly…. what’s that all about then?  I’ve got a Scottish mate… he says it is even more confusing up in Scotland.  There… he says… judges of the Court of Session don’t get Lordships but are called Lord and when they go from the Outer House  to the Inner House…First or Second Division… some of them who are already called Lord… get real Lordships in the House of Lords….. and can call themselves Lord…even though they already have been calling themselves Lord… even though they aren’t Lords…. .. but they can’t call themselves Lord Lord.

Man in hat and Man in cap sip their drinks… both in a reflective mood…

Man in cap… continues: And what about the geezer who isn’t a Lord or a Sir when he leapfrogs straight from his Chambermaid  or from his law firm or university to the Supreme Court…  as is allowed… I saw that in The Telegraph… by the new laws…. does he get a Sir en route before calling himself Lord like the Scots judges ?…. and if not, why not…?

Man in hat: Fuck it… I can’t cope… fancy another?

Man in cap: Don’t mind if I do My Lord….. perhaps the new judges will be called The Supremes…..?

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Barbecue Summer…?

It’s an old joke… and I am grateful to my dear friend in BrisVegas, Australia for sending it to me… but I just could not resist after the ludicrous predictions of the Met Office that we would have a long hot sizzling “Barbecue Summer”.  Well… as we all know… we haven’t….. and even the Third Ashes Test was delayed… and you can’t get more serious than that in the great scheme of life.

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Time for a bit of non-law… a few very good reads – and while The White Rabbit is a serious lawyer who specialises in blood stains, writing about law on his blog is a rarity. A man after my own heart – and always a pleasure to read – including his comments on my Lord Falconer podcast (which have, predictably, absolutely nothing to do with the podcast) where he engages with Jimmy Bastard (or Sir James, as I know him from our fortnightly lunches at the Langham).  Jimmy Bastard’s Never Mind The Bollix is unpredictable and raw – one just does not know what will come up next.  It could be deep and beautifully written, it could be a rant or it could be some surreal and very un-PC stuff. Always enjoyable to read.  He paints a picture with remarkable ease – and that ain’t easy.

Obnoxio the Clown is on twitter and his blog is direct, to the point and more often than not… not office safe.  But his observations on life and politics in particular are worth a read even if they do, occasionally, shock or repel!  I often find  myself feeling mildly guilty at laughing at some of the stuff he writes about or finds on the net.  It is a good feeling – but I wouldn’t tell my doctor about it.

And then there is James Higham, a writer, who has a fascinating  blog Nourishing Obscurity – an eclectic mix of whatever James is interested in that day.  He and the Blog Bloodhounds (Sleuthing the sphere) have a very wide range of blogging interests – a must look at and read.  The pleasures of exploration are also to be enjoyed on James Higham’s blog – his blogrolls, his categories – a mine of information and non-law blogging pleasure. Today.. James is, in fact, Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth Higham.  Tomorrow he could well be James Robespiere-Higham. One just does not know.

Fancy a political kick in the balls? Then… over to The Devils Kitchen.

And… in this brief look into the non-law world, have a look at Ms R – A Woman of Experience. her blog is tight, well written and always entertaining or just funny.  She’s also writing a book. (details on her blog)

There are many more blogs I read… soon, I shall do another section on non-law blogs and, of course, as the political conference season starts up I’ll do a run down on some excellent political blogs. For the moment…. that is all.

Oh… and don’t forget about Geeklawyer… he doesn’t write much about law either… largely because he spends his life on Twitter with his harem and drinking mead – but when he does do a blog post – always worth reading…. always!  Mind you, in relation to twitter… I cannot take a lofty attitude… it would appear that I spend industrial amounts of time on Twitter myself… actually… I multi-task…. until I get so pissed I can only tweet.

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On the day when the Law Lords bade farewell to the House of Lords and sit as Justices of the Supreme Court of the United kingdom at the new Supreme Court in October,  they gave judgment on one of the emotive issues of our times in R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2009]

The Times reports: “Five Law Lords unanimously backed the woman’s call for a policy statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the circumstances in which a person such as her husband might face prosecution for helping a loved one end their life abroad.”

“The Law Lords agreed that changes were a matter for Parliament, but upheld Ms Purdy’s argument that the DPP, Keir Starmer QC, should put in writing the factors that he regarded as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute. After the verdict, Mr Starmer issued a statement accepting the decision and saying that an interim policy would be produced by the end of September. He added that his final version should be published by spring 2010.”


I spoke earlier in the week to Lord Falconer on his amendment to the law on assisted suicide. We now have a clear statement from the Law Lords that the DPP is under a duty to put in writing the factors he regards as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute and, thereby, clarifying the position for those, Like Ms Purdy who wish to end their lives knowing that their loved ones will not be prosecuted if they assist.

A step in the right direction but by no means a change in the fundamental law – a challenge for a future parliament. The next stage must, inevitably, be pressure on Parliament to change the law to permit assisted dying in this country.

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An issue of justice

While our own legal history has a grim and primitive past; with trial by ordeal and combat being replaced by rough justice and the penalties of death by hanging, drawing, quatering et al – and the Americans and other supposedly civilised jurisdictions around the world continue to exact the penalty of death – we do have the right as commentators to say that  this and other cruel punishments are plain wrong, just as we have the right to observe in this country when bad laws are made and bad judgments are handed down.

We are not, by any means yet, in a state of grace where we can legitimately say that our Justice is perfect,  or even more foolish –  the best in the world – for that degrades the evolution of our system and the work of judges who do their best, in the main, to dispense justice within the confines of a flawed menu of laws.

That stated, there is a shocking story in the Guardian today about a flawed legal system and the remarkable courage of a young woman who has renounced her UN immunity by resigning from her job with the United Nations to protest and test the Sudanese judiciary and Islam itself as it is interpreted in that country.

Sudanese journalist quits UN job to go on trial for wearing trousers

Guardian: A  female Sudanese journalist facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public told a packed Khartoum courtroom yesterday that she was resigning from a UN job that grants her immunity so that she could challenge the law on women’s dress. Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested on 3 July in a raid by members of the public order police force on a popular Khartoum cafe. The women were all wearing trousers, considered indecent under the strict interpretation of Islamic law adopted by Sudan ‘s Islamic regime. All but three of the women were flogged at a police station two days later.

I have read with some irritation suggestions from Lord Phillips, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others that we should embrace Sharia law concepts within our nation,  and The Times only recently had a Sharia gorge fest reporting on the views of a cleric who wants to see Sharia courts given greater prominence.

We live in an increasingly secular country. I accept, for reasons of history that the Church of England enjoys a degree of primacy,  but rather than suggest that we embrace all religious systems within our law, I would prefer to see all religious systems and overt influences  removed from law and judicial hearings.  We have a common law system which, while not perfect,  is evolving. That is one of the benefits of a common law system over more structured written constitutions or civil systems based on codes. It may well lead to imperfection and inconsistency but many of these can be tempered, evened out or put right through our appellate system.

This is not a crass political issue – it is about justice and the rule of law in our country.  For my part I do not see how we can operate several different types of law within our nation and I certainly do not feel attracted by the justice of Islam when it continues, even in this country, to be manifestly oppressive to women – most alarmingly, in this country, in terms of the rights of islamic women in relation to divorce and family law issues. I have no difficulty at all with those who wish voluntarily and with informed consent to have their disputes settled by Sharia courts in this country,  but I would not wish to see those ‘courts’ have any force of law at all in terms of ousting the jurusdiction of our own courts and system of law – or mediation  by those courts barring the right to appeal to the courts of England & Wales.

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30th July: News updated on Insite Law

Farewell to the law lords
Times / David Pannick QC
Today the law lords sit to give judgment for the last time in the House of Lords and, as Lord Hope of Craighead said there last week, the upper chamber will be “losing part of itself”. From October the law lords will become Justices of the Supreme Court, created under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

Insite Law now has a daily editorial section – with an archived RSS feed – so if you wish to check back over the events of the last week covered in editorial (or even further back) you may do so by visiting the editorial page on Insite Law.

Insite Law news updated: cases, professional news, legal news, editorial and blogs.

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Guardian: This is how we let the credit crunch happen, Ma’am …

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