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Archive for January 19th, 2010

I see that The Ministry of Justice has got the hang of twitter and social media benefits. I just could not resist the tweet above from Matthew Taylor of the MTPT blog.

I am a fan of twitter, although I tend to misuse it and abuse it and, ordinarily, would not bother to read any blog post or article talking about the benefits of social media to lawyers or, worse, sanctimonious blog posts from newcomers who have spent too much time drinking snake oil.  I do, however, always enjoy reading blog posts which take the piss out of social media mavens and gurus and the Grand Old Duke of New York, Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice, often marches his wonderfully acid twitter media posts up to the top of the hill and down again. His latest on this issue… The Square n00b Answer..is very amusing.

Greenfield starts…” Ever wonder how all the old-time lawyers jump online and screw it all up overnight?  It could be those bar association CLEs teaching how to be a blogger in 30 seconds or less, taught by lawyers who have never been closer to a computer than when they stop at the secretary’s desk to ask for a coffee refill.  Or maybe it’s reading something like this Corporate Counsel post at Law.com by Doug Wood from Reed Smith…….Yes, that Doug Wood, the man who launched a thousand twits and blogs with his thorough, yet persuasive, explication of why corp counsel need to “Get With It … or Get Burned.”  He offers such gems as….. “

Peninsulawyer, who also tweets, wrote an interesting piece on twitter and other social media… Social Media – Out of control? where he reviews the state of play and benefits for lawyers. It is an enjoyable piece but I don’t propose to rehearse the points he makes.  His blog post did, however, prompt me to ask a question on twitter… “Are lawyers foolish to block access to Twitter etc for their staff?”  Inevitably, issues of productivity came up and, of course, it is easier to control it in a small operation than a larger one.  For my part, when I ran businesses and law schools, I regarded it as very much a matter of give and take.  There was also the very real problem of hypocrisy,  as I was a regular poster on RollonFriday in the very early days of that discussion board, as were some members of my team. I suspect that British law firms will use twitter well, some do already, and others will make a complete horlicks of it and use twitter to broadcast their latest offerings and little else.

I shall end with this tweet (I have permission) … sums it up, really. Carry on Twittering!

THE IRAQ INQUIRY

Geoff Hoon says Gordon Brown starved MoD of cash before Iraq war

Geoff Hoon did a boot job on Brown at the Iraq Inquiry – and, pleasingly, the questioning does seem to be getting a bit sharper. The Times reports: “Gordon Brown tonight faced demands to give evidence to the Iraq Inquiry before the election after the former Defence Secretary said the Armed Forces were starved of cash in run up to the war.”

And… the other interesting piece of information to come out was a hitherto classified letter from the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith to Hoon. The Times reported, in a separate piece:

“The Attorney-General sent a furious letter to the Defence Secretary a year before the invasion of Iraq warning that he saw “considerable difficulties” in giving legal approval for war, it emerged this morning.Lord Goldsmith complained to Geoff Hoon that he had put in a “difficult position” by the Defence Secretary’s public claim that Britain would be entitled to use force without a specific United Nations resolution.In a previously secret letter released by the Iraq Inquiry this morning, Lord Goldsmith said that he had given no opinion on the legality of military action.“I think you should know that I see considerable difficulties in being satisfied that military action would be justified on the basis of self-defence,” he wrote.

Of course, later, Lord Goldsmith was able to find enough relevant law upon which to base an opinion that going to war was lawful.  It will be interesting to see what the Iraq Inquiry ‘inquisitioners’  do with Goldsmith.

Sarkozy backs off from Haiti spat as US military airdrops aid

I see that the French president has backed down from a diplomatic spat after one of his ministers complained that the US was ‘occupying’ Haiti.  France, of course, was the colonial power in what became one of the world’s poorest basket case countries. It seems to my jaded eye to be rather hypocritical to complain about the US involvement when it would appear that France has done little to assist Haiti in recent years… or if they did, their assistance was  a spectacular failure. The last thing we need is the French, or anyone else, trying to vie for publicity and ‘power’. The first issue must be assistance, saving lives and building a future.  The US has the ability and resources and it is their money they are spending as well…not just money derived from donations. (The Times has a full report).  For my part it is good to see many nations and the people of these nations doing what they can, whetehr by donating or by direct practical help,  to help another country instead of waging war.

LIBEL… a continuing and burning issue…

“Freedom of expression and investigative journalism are fundamental protections to the democracy of this country.”

Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, January 2010

The Independent reports: ” The success fees which lawyers working on no-win, no-fee conditional fee agreements (CFAs) in defamation cases should be cut from 100 per cent to just 10 per cent, Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced today. The proposal, the latest stage in the Ministry of Justice’s programme aimed at ensuring that costs in publication proceedings are reasonable and proportionate, was put out for consultation today. It is thought that action could be taken through a statutory instrument by May. Mr Straw’s announcement comes hot on the heels of the publication last week of the review of costs in civil litigation in which Sir Rupert Jackson, who sits in the Court of Appeal as Lord Justice Jackson, recommended ending the regime under which success fees for lawyers suing newspapers for defamation and privacy on CFAs are paid by the losing defendant. Instead, he said, damages should be increased by 10% so that the claimants could pay their lawyers’ success fees from the amounts they recovered.

Libel tourism, superinjunctions, oppressive use of law to curtail inconvenient news coverage blights our legal system and much of it arises because lawyers have been able to charge truly astonishing fees.  Other reforms, including  proposals to get rid of juries in libel trials,  are to be welcomed so that libel becomes a fair law to give redress by vindication rather than be seen as a cash cow for lawyers or a tool for corporates and others to shut out debate and freedom of expression and reporting.  Jack Straw, if he can pull a statutory instrument out of the hat before the May election, is at least making a start.

And…since this is a SOCIAL MEDIA edition of my daily Law Review… it seemed appropriate to end with this truly remarkable news story from The Telegraph… you really could not F*****g make it up…

Chef Ramsay is going on a twitter course? Why?  This… I will just have to see… Hat Tip to @Pam_Nash



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Law Review: Measured judgement

The Independent reports: Twitter joke led to Terror Act arrest and airport life ban

When heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers’s travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends. “Robin Hood airport is closed,” he wrote. “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the police didn’t see the funny side. A week after posting the message on the social networking site, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat. After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life. “I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post,” said Mr Chambers, 26. “I’m the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine.”

The police appear to have gone into overkill mode on this one.  As Matthew Taylor observed on twitter – it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when the CPS consider this case for prosecution.  Which law has been broken?  Are they going to be able to bring a case within any known law?  Will a jury think that the country is losing the plot if a case is brought? Will the trial judge throw a  pencil into the air and say that the police and CPS need to get a grip? I was going to write about this in some detail.  Fortunately, Matthew Taylor, on his MTPT blog, analyses  the law and I need not do so.  See: Somebody set us up the bomb, or Making a #TwitterArrest

It is, of course, easy to comment after the event – but even allowing for a heightened state of alert following the failed Christmas airline bombing, surely we need a bit more objectivity and measured judgement being applied? I for one, will certainly not be asking friends for help on Twitter blowing up balloons for a party in case some over anxious member of the public tips off the police that some atrocity is about to be committed and the police decide to interpret ‘balloons’ as meaning a high profile building and ‘party’ as a terrorist group.  Good grief… put this way… almost any tweet could be interpreted by the police to be pregnant with ‘terror and security issue’ meanings… we could be doomed.

I’m not going to discuss this… but I just could not resist this headline from the Times..

Abuse of pre-pack deals ‘could turn Britain into an insolvency brothel’

The knives are coming out and they are sharp. Tony Blair engaged in what came to be known as ‘sofa’ government.  It appears his successor, Gordon Brown, prefers the darkened bunker, with civil servants excluded,  and the brutish tool of political edict.The Times reports

Whitehall rebels over ‘brutish’ Gordon Brown

The credibility of the control order regime has been further questioned by a decision of Mr Justice Silber.

The Times reports: “The two suspects, known as AF and AE, had argued that the orders against them were unlawful and that they were entitled to damages for breaches of their human rights. Mr Justice Silber, sitting at the High Court in London, agreed and quashed the orders yesterday. He said that the men could claim damages from the Government for restrictions placed on their movements during the past three and a half years. However, he added that the ruling did not automatically mean the men would succeed with their claims and emphasised that the level of compensation would be low.”

Alan Johnson responded immediately and the government will appeal the decision. The Times noted that AF and AE won a landmark ruling in the House of Lords last year over the Government’s use of secret evidence to persuade the courts to impose and maintain control orders.

Pressure continues to be exerted for reform of our libel laws generally and The Times reported yesterday that Nick Clegg pledges to curb libel law’s ‘chilling effect’ on scientific inquiry. Fellow law blogger Jack of Kent has long focused his attention on libel reform and his latest post (and others on this theme) is worth a look

Assisted suicide or attempted murder?

Just three months after the Crown Prosecution Service clarified the law on assisted suicide, a”devoted” mother helped her suffering daughter die by handing her a lethal dose of morphine and then administering a lethal cocktail of drugs. The Independent.

I examined this issue in some depth with former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer and Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions,  in two podcasts late last year (Links to the podcasts above).

MPs warn of criminal justice ‘crisis’

The Law Society Gazette reports: “A committee of MPs has warned that the criminal justice system is ‘facing a crisis of sustainability’ as government spending on prisons takes resources away from other aspects of criminal justice. The Justice Committee said the government should make ‘radical moves’ to shift resources away from incarceration towards rehabilitation and projects that tackle the underlying causes of offending like social exclusion, poor education and drug addiction. The call was backed by Law Society legal aid manager Richard Miller, who said that a reduction in spending on prisons would leave more cash for the legal aid budget.”

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Binary law asks... Are blawgs an effective marketing tool?

White Rabbit, an experienced member of the Bar and author, in a post entitled Thought Crimes considers the case of the tweet which led to Paul Chambers being arrested by police.   Accepting that Paul Chambers may not be the brightest knife in the box for tweeting about blowing an airport sky high… White Rabbit concludes..”Clunking, boneheaded authoritarianism by numbers!…. and muses…”A quick blast of Maggie’s Farm seems appropriate.”

The Legal Action Group (LAG) notes… A bill of rights election “Last week saw the opening shots of what is likely to be a four-month general election campaign, assuming Gordon Brown goes for the predicted 6 May polling day. The Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 will feature in this campaign as Conservative leader David Cameron has pledged to repeal it and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. It is unclear, though, what he means by this.”

IPKat has this wonderful story in their Monday Miscellany…“Via a Tweet from Duncan (IP ThinkTank) Bucknell comes news from TorrentFreak that the official logo for Hadopi — the new French mechanism for dealing with file-sharing copyright infringers — was itself a copyright infringement since it employed an unlicensed font. Hadopi has apologised through “gritted teeth” (dents grincées) and is busy seeking an alternative, non-infringing font.

And finally…. I was on twitter last night exchanging a bit of curmudgeon with @jangles (we were discussing the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft) and he suggested I listen to Razzle Dazzle from Chicago.  Good advice and if you need cheering up after Blue Monday yesterday… the most depressing day of the year… then this is definitely worth a listen…

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