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Archive for November 10th, 2009

As the prime minister and Alistair Darling continue to empty the coffers at the Treasury and the Bank of England quantitatively eases yet more money into the banking system, it would appear that ‘Question Time Jack”, our Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice, not to be left out in providing absolute powers for a future government (?),  is continuing his quest to appear in the dark humour footnotes of history.

First up this foggy dark and cold morning is the matter of secret inquests.

The Independent reports: ” Secret inquests which will bar bereaved families and the public from attending hearings into controversial deaths were forced through Parliament last night. The Government narrowly defeated opposition to the new powers by a majority of eight MPs in a highly charged vote in the House of Commons. Under the measures ministers will be able to order that an inquest is replaced with a secret inquiry whenever they deem it necessary.”

Labour’s Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway) described the inquiries as a “disproportionate remedy……In order to rectify what is an evidential problem, the Government is proposing to hand a massive new power to the executive.”

Simon Carr, writing in The Independent, has an amusing sketch: Trust him, he’s the Justice Secretary … Oh, if only we could

I rather liked this….from Mr Carr…”“There’s no reason not to trust me,” Jack Straw told the House of Commons. He wouldn’t dare say that in public.”

But there is some good news….The Independent reports:

‘Big Brother’ database cancelled by ministers’. Plans to store information about every phone call, email and internet visit in the United Kingdom have in effect been abandoned by the Government.

The Independent reports that ministers remain convinced of a need to investigate everything the people of Britain do.  I suspect this delay is not borne of a Damascus style conversion on the part of the home secretary, but is more of a cynical ‘spin’ influenced  postponement until the next election.  Should Labour get back into power (and some reports suggest they not only won’t get back into power but we could be saying goodbye to quite a few familiar Labour figures as they are reduced to a rump party of 120 MPs) the plan will, no doubt, be revived.  The plan will probably be revived anyway… because if the Tories win,  they could find it most convenient to know what we are up to as well.

But.. just as we thought that we could regain some credibility for our justice system… along comes a raft of stories today and yesterday which are worth noting…

Russian oligarchs, tedious celebrities, venal businessmen and sundry assorted scum are putting on their sombreros, oiling themselves up with gel and sun cream and are flying to the Costa del Stranda to superinjunct and bully people into submission.

Libel tourism is big business….perhaps we should be pleased that at least a few lawyers are doing OK at the moment?… but, it isn’t just about the interests of these assorted users of the skills of Mr Justice Eady and others… this goes very much to the heart of freedom of speech.

Fortunately, Parliament, perhaps shocked by the ludicrous Carter-Ruck / Trafigura incident, has been called to action.  Question Time Jack can’t be expected to know everything that goes on in his ‘patch’ – that would be placing an altogether unfair level of competency standard on Ministers – but it would appear that his Ministry of Justice, while able to tell us the precise amount it is reducing the legal aid budget by, hasn’t a clue how many superinjunctions are out there.

“It seems that the select committee’s findings next month could be quite radical. It is likely to recommend that judges be urged to throw out cases that do not directly involve UK publications; MPs may look again at the casino culture of costs and conditional fee agreements. The “no-win no-fee” system was introduced in 1995 with the laudable aim of broadening access to justice. But rich litigants have created a situation where costs can be 100 times the damages awarded.” The Times

The laws that stain Britain’s good name

There is a rather good piece about libel tourism in The Times today by John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship and author of Freedom for Sale – worth a read.   It is a pretty sorry state of affairs when some states in The United States have to pass laws to protect their people from British Libel Laws (Scotland’s libel laws are a bit more sensible, they say) and several publications abroad are thinking of blocking access to their online material by British users for fear of libel litigation in Britain.

John Kampfner notes... “Of many absurd individual cases, one stands out. The science writer Simon Singh is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association after he accused it of promoting “bogus treatments”. Singh has fought a dogged and high-profile campaign. But for every one of him, dozens of individuals are bullied into silence.”

See also: The Guardian Foreign media count cost of UK libel laws

And yesterday……a number of stories about Justice on the cheap with the Police using cautions for even quite serious cases…

““Nearly half of all crimes — or 700,000 a year — are handled outside the courts, including shoplifting, burglary and assault. Under a drive in the past decade towards swift, summary justice, police have been given wide powers to impose cautions and fines (fixed penalty notices), and prosecutors can impose conditional cautions.”

Frances Gibb, writing in The Times, asks: Fixed penalties are efficient and cost-effective. But is it justice?

Well… that is enough to be getting on with for one day. Dawn is breaking.  It is still cold and foggy… and I’m not just talking about the weather.  Time for a cuppa. As they used to say at the end of Crimewatch… Try not to have nightmares.

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