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Archive for January 14th, 2010

Rex Charon MP: I can go on like this

As ever, I am grateful to my red flag flying twin  non moustachio’d  brother Charon QC for hosting my occasional pieces. The truth be told, I have barely enough time to accommodate my long lunches these days without fiddling about on the internet.  The day started well enough with Guido Fawkes rallying the troops with his Scoop du Jour: Labour Faked Cameron “Airbrushing” only for @BeauBodOr (who has an excellent website btw) to come along and spoil the fun with this tweet: “http://bit.ly/7teozH Guido EXCLUSIVE accuses Labour of faking Cameron airbrushing. Nope, they used myDavidCameron template and credit them.

I was going to attend the Hemming motion about Withers  being in contempt of parliament but also to have a laugh at the expense of the Lib-Dems,  but others were able to do this rather well and I note that CQC has already written this up below… the assiduous, conscientious,  bastard.

Then came the news that Labour are trotting out their ‘pledge’ ploy. They have five of them, apparently.  Boris did quite well out his pledge card when he ran for Mayor but the Pillsbury doughboy lookalike, David, described them as vacuous. Pundits are speculating.

Guido Fawkes then ran with an exclusive story about the BBC inviting Damien McBride to give a speech to the BBC.  In the meantime, almost unnoticed, the BBC were amusing themselves by getting Anjem Choudary, no longer a member of the proscribed Islam4UK (one assumes) on to Daily Politics to talk to Andrew Neil. The Financial Times waded in with… The return of Damian McBride? and gave a platform for Eric Pickles to do the outraged slings and arrows bit and trot out the old impartiality trick…which I am sure he just does to wind up the liberals and Guardian readers. I have no idea, of course…  “Impartiality must be at the heart of what the BBC does. This raises serious concerns.  Did Mr McBride get paid, were his travel and other expenses paid, did he receive any gifts for attending this event? The BBC must come clean on all these issues.”

The tragedy in Haiti needs no comment from me and certainly didn’t need this pile of toss from the Daily Mail this morning…

“For tourists on cruise ships plying the Caribbean, Haiti appears a beguiling, mysterious place…. blah blah blah… But it is no paradise for the country’s nine million people. Indeed, the devastating earthquake now bringing death and heartbreak is the latest in a long line of tragedies to befall a place dubbed the Island of the Damned.”

The blood lust was up and Malone went into hyperdrive… with much talk about voodoo dolls, TonTon Macoute and Haitians eating each other….. “Successive dictators have raped, murdered and even reputedly eaten their enemies…….Described by one commentator as an ‘international crime scene’ rather than a country….. [more more lurid scribbling of cannibals, children being sold into slavery, TonTon Macoute wandering about shooting anyone they fancied [ etc etc etc.]…

The picture is from the Mail.There can’t have been any pictures of Haitians eating each other on Corbis or Getty Images. I’m assuming Malone wrote this from the comfort of his own UK desk?  But I just love the way this compassionate soul, Malone, ended his piece… “For the people of Haiti, though, hope has always been a rare commodity”

I’m just surprised that Malone didn’t manage to shoehorn the Chris Izaak  lyrics in…

I know what to do when your sad and lonely,
I know what to do when you love her only.
I know what to do when no one needs you,
I know what to do you do voodoo. Voodoo.
You do voodoo.

I’ll end with a bit of Alastair Campbell…from his blog:

“Now that things have calmed a bit after the frenzy of Tuesday, normal political service resumed here, with a reminder that there are only two parties in this country capable of forming a government, so that the big choice on the agenda is whether we want Labour or the Tories in power, Gordon Brown or David Cameron in charge…….

and Campbell continues... “Meanwhile I may be back later developing on the theme of last night’s tweet about Paul Dacre allegedly being in love with me and possessed of homoerotic fantasies, as many right wing extremists appear to be.”


As Abraham Lincoln said… “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Sometimes I think… that Lincoln wasn’t quite right on this…


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I have just watched the motion brought by John Hemming MP (Lib-Dem) alleging that an email he received from Withers was intimidatory and a contempt of Parliament.

The full email is here (Scroll down) – but the relevant part of the email, which damned Withers, was this:

In order to settle this matter we, therefore, require an apology in respect of both the serious allegations plus payment of our client’s costs, a substantial payment to a charity of his choice and an undertaking not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations, particularly in Parliament.

Interestingly, the MPs distanced themselves from the specific facts or Mr Hemmings’ conduct outside parliament and inevitably their focus was on the principle enshrined in our law and parliamentary procedure for hundreds of years that MPs may say what they like in parliament and newspapers that report on parliamentary proceedings may do so without fear of contempt.

This is an important issue and as MPs noted, there have been two attempts in recent months (Trafigura / Carter-Ruck) being the first by lawyers to gag MPs, prompting David Heath to observe cynically that lawyers do not appear to know about parliamentary privilege.  He also made reference to a notice sent out this morning by The Law Society.

The debate was brief, reinforced the right to the freedom of MPs in parliament.  Geoffrey Clifton-Brown was fairly scathing about the Lib-Dems and what they say on their leaflets outside parliament but made very clear that the central issue  of parliamentary privilege was vital, noting that with power came responsibility not to, for example, over use it or comment on matters sub judice.

The matter will now go before the Standards and Privileges Committee.  Perhaps lawyers need a brush up on Constitutional Law 101?

***

In fairness to Withers and I do agree on this latter pointMatthew Taylor writes: ” The debate strongly confirmed my view that John Hemming is in the wrong here, and that Withers’ hand has been forced. That said, Hemming’s comments about and allegations against their client are now in the public domain, and freely reportable. There is a problem if John Hemming could give an undertaking not to repeat allegations (to avoid a lawsuit), but remain free to repeat them in Parliament without sanction. It does not defeat the purpose of Parliamentary Privilege, but does debase it.”

Hemming has certainly used parliamentary privilege to enable the Withers client to be named in parliament and, thereby, for newspapers to freely report on it.

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The Legal Services Board hit the ground running with coverage in the Times. Frances Gibb reports...“Stacked on David Edmonds’ desk is a pyramid of 18 varieties of baked beans. “It’s a private joke,” he insists — declining to be photographed with them. “It shows the huge variety you can have, and quality at the same time.” The joke is a reference to the Big Bang in legal services — opening up the market to different ways of meeting consumers’ legal needs. Edmonds, as chairman of the Legal Services Board, is the arch-regulator under the reforms of the Legal Services Act 2007 and is given the task of policing the landscape that is taking shape.

It is too early to tell whether the Legal Services Board will be of any value whatsoever. I suspect it will turn out to be yet another bloated, expensive, quango – but, as always, happy to be shown the error of my thinking by results. Mr Edmonds ‘has extensive leadership experience of senior management teams in commercial and public sector organisations, in both Chair and Chief Executive roles…etc etc etc.”

Frances Gibb  asks: “So what is next in the pipeline? First, he is launching a quality assurance scheme for advocates, to be in force by mid 2011. It will start with family and crime and move to other areas, unless the profession can show a good reason why not. “We are setting up a joint advocacy group with representatives from the regulatory bodies for the Bar, solicitors and the Institute of Legal Executives and that will work out the detail and the scheme. We will not prescribe how the assessment will be done or its cost . . . our job is to take the lead and ensure that something happens.”

This sounds like a reasonable plan.  I’m all for regulation which improves quality – an objective eye on the smug self satisfaction of any group of professionals when they are charging (in many cases, substantial amounts)  is always welcome.  It is quite likely, I am told by experienced criminal barristers, that the LSB will find some pretty appalling advocacy out there and, I am also advised,  that there is some pretty ropey civil advocacy going on in the lower courts as well. So plenty to keep the LSB busy.

Gibb asks: “What will the new landscape look like? “I don’t think it will be a Big Bang but before next year we will see people using in a different way.” He predicts more telephone legal advice, like NHS Direct, for the straightforward simple advice and greater use of technology and trained non-lawyers for lower-level work. “It is perfectly possible we will see firms floating on the stock market, but more likely in the first place we will see private investors investing capital in law firms.” Would he? “I couldn’t, as a regulator, but as an individual, some of the returns law firms make are very good . . . so why would I not?”

I’m all for change – so long as the public realise that the old maxim “You get what you pay for” applies. I do not need to be Nostradamus to predict that we could be reading news stories soon about members of the public bleating that they had dodgy advice from some telephone call centre ‘operative’  contacted through one of those adverts on daytime television! We shall see. It could be more a case of cans of worms than beans.

The first signs that the legal landscape is changing came with the report that Sky television are keen to get stuck in and televise court proceedings.  What they mean, of course, is get stuck in to reporting the ‘juicy cases’.  I really can’t see Sky television solemnly televising  proceedings relating to international commercial contracts or complex matters in Chancery relating to taxation and trusts etc. Predictably John Ryley, head of Sky News, said that there was one branch of the democratic system that broadcasting had still not properly penetrated – the courts. “A coherent, and fair, judicial system is the keystone of a democratic system,” he said in a speech to the Cambridge Union Society.  Good grief… what a revelation.  I rather liked Mr Ryley’s ‘euphemism’ ‘penetrated’…

Are we to have Sky newshounds hyperventilating from the door of the court, reporting solemnly on a ‘miscarriage of justice’?  Are we to have cricket style commentators – perhaps retired barristers and judges, commenting on cases as they proceed?  Perhaps we could have a Hawkeye style bit of technology to analyse an advocate’s ‘telling’ cross-examination with re-plays to see if the point is a ‘killer blow’?

The Times notes…” Sky News planned to campaign hard after the general election to lift the ban on cameras in courts, contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1925. “We will explore every opportunity to mount a legal challenge against the ban on cameras, launch a public petition as we did for the Leaders’ [television] debates. And remind our viewers, listeners and website users about the campaign every time we report from outside a court with no pictures of what has taken place inside.”

Sky?  Ah… commercial television provider… adverts?  “I’m sorry…after the break, we’ll give you the verdict”.  It could be highly entertaining car crash tv and give the media yet more opportunities to get things wrong when reporting about legal matters.  I’m in favour….not of that, but of more transparency and the recording of important cases in a mature, objective manner in the style of parliamentary proceedings. That would be valuable and interesting. .

Dutch PM clings on as inquiry finds invasion had no mandate

The Times reported yesterday...”  The Dutch Prime Minister insisted yesterday that he acted honourably in supporting the Iraq war despite the verdict of an independent inquiry that the invasion had no mandate under international law. In a devastating rejection of the position of the Dutch Government, the inquiry, led by the former head of the Netherlands Supreme Court, decided that the UN resolutions did not provide a legal basis for the use of force. Like the US and British governments, Jan Peter Balkenende relied on UN Resolution 1441 of November 2002 as the legal basis for supporting the Iraq war. This resolution threatened serious consequences if Saddam Hussein did not fully comply with his obligations to disarm. However, the Davids commission in the Netherlands concluded in its 551-page report: “Despite the existence of certain ambiguities, the wording of Resolution 1441 cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions without authorisation from the Security Council.”

The Dutch prime minister is ignoring the report, as I suspect our own prime minister would, had such a report been commissioned from an experienced judge. We got a foretaste of what Tony Blair is likely to say when Alastair Campbell gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry a couple of days ago.  It may well be that Britain went into an illegal war… but what value international law when the biggest players in the Iraq war, America, Britain and other coalition countries are found to have invaded Iraq unlawfully?  For the ravening horde, expecting to see Tony Blair and George Dubya Bush wearing orange pyjamas and handcuffs at The Hague… I wouldn’t hold your breath. International law, particularly war law, tends to go in favour of the victors rather than the defeated…

Interestingly.. “Dutch ministers were further criticised by the commission, which sat for ten months, for using intelligence from Britain and the US that showed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, rather than the “more nuanced” assessment of its own secret services.”

We do know now, Mr Blair told us so himself, that even if there hadn’t been weapons of massive destruction, the decision would have been the same.  His decision may well have been – but would he have had the support of members of his own party, opposition parties or even the people of Britain who were happy to support the decision to go to war? I suspect not. Would other nations have joined in? Mr Blair’s evidence could be most interesting to watch – assuming we are allowed to see most of it…and let us not forget about those letters to George Bush… they could be pivotal.  Nick Clegg is stirring things up by requiring Gordon Brown to give evidence  to the Iraq Inquiry before the election.  Gordon Brown is right to say that it is an independent inquiry.  It is up to the Iraq Inquiry to determine when people give evidence. Making political capital about this so the Lib-Dems can showcase their opposition to the war may well backfire on them.  Brown has stated that if he  is required to give evidence before the election by the Inquiry, he will do so. Perhaps Mr Clegg would like to exert undue, inappropriate, pressure on the Iraq Inquiry to suit his ends ?  That would be just an irony too far.

European court rules stop and search illegal

I blogged about this the other day – the comments are interesting…and later today, I am doing a short podcast on the issue with Matthew Taylor of the MTPT blog – a practising lawyer.

I do like twitter… not just social. Today, a fellow blogger, reminded me…

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