Archive for January, 2010

Blawg Review #248 by Scotslawstudent is up…

Welcome everyone to Blawg Review #248, this week hosted at scotslawstudent.com. Today is the 251st anniversary of celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birth, which took place on this day in 1759. Burns was a prolific poet who wrote his best work in Scots, which is not the same as English, and he also recorded traditional Scottish music and spread it to a much wider audience than ever before. He’s why you probably sang Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve no matter where you live.

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Frances Gibb, writing in the Times this morning reports...” A new law to give greater protection to householders is unnecessary and could be a licence to kill, a leading criminal barrister has warned.Paul Mendelle, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, says that a change to allow “disproportionate” force would encourage vigilantism. “The law should always encourage people to be reasonable, not unreasonable; to be proportionate, not disproportionate,” he said, adding that the present law worked perfectly well and was well understood by juries….If, as the Conservatives propose, the law is changed to allow “disproportionate force”, householders who kill burglars could be acquitted.”

Leading lawyers have long maintained that the existing law on self defence’ is more than adequate and that change is not necessary. I agree.  Interestingly, the Munir Hussain case did not turn on the application of self defence laws strictly.  Carl Gardner has written a detailed analysis of the decision which is worth a read:  The truth about Munir Hussain

Frances Gibb also followed her main story up with a comment in the Times that the judges don’t need more laws but do need more discretion, pointing out .. “David Thomas, the sentencing expert, told The Times that in the case of the Hussain brothers a prison sentence of 30 months was “as far from the guideline as [the judge] could properly go”. He added that in the Inglis case: “No one could doubt that the mother was properly convicted of murder.” He said the judge, Judge Brian Barker QC, was required to impose a life sentence. With regard to how long Mrs Inglis should serve, the judge went as far below the recommended level as he could. Judges are increasingly restricted over the sentences that they can impose, and the trend is towards greater straitjacketing: the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 will require them to follow guidelines, not just take them into account, unless contrary to the interest of justice.

The comments in both Times articles are interesting. The general public is on the side of the Chris Grayling school of thought and not the side of lawyers who practise daily before the courts.  Some of the comments are fairly extreme..

The ‘People’ speak….

Bob Evans wrote:
The courts have already proven incapable of responsible discretion. The judges are drawn from the ranks of the lawyers who were sworn to defend and win freedom for criminals. Too often, they have carried this prejudice when charged with delivering justice to *all*.

Mike Longford added to the maturity of the debate with this wonderful diatribe...”Criminal barristers have to be the lowest form of scum on this planet.”
And then there is this nonsense… from  Johnn Schroeder who wrote: In Britain, the lawyers would rather you die then their clients, that way they get paid! Of course the question is are lawyers able to defend themselves? Judges, politicians? Britain is not a land of free people, and as such, the population has little in the way of protections like Americans have. Too bad really, since America’s right to self-protection was once an English right too!”
Well…there we are… moving on…

The Chilcot Inquiry will hear from leading government lawyers, Lord Goldsmith and Tony Blair this week in what promises to be an interesting week. The Independent has a critical review of the performance of the Inquisitioners so far… and is worth a read.  I particularly liked this rather good line…
“Former permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office. Member of the Butler inquiry. The occasional anecdotes, nervous cough and oddly frantic panting of Sir John soon raised concerns that the inquiry chairman was more an old-fashioned English eccentric than an interrogator filled with iconoclastic zeal. Those fears were not eased when Sir John asked one perplexed witness: “Was there anything, any juice in the lemon to be squeezed out of trying to peer behind the curtain into the mind of the regime of Saddam?”
Part (2) will follow later in the day…

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Dear Reader,

“Philippe Sands QC, a professor of international law, who gave evidence to the Dutch inquiry, said: “There has been no other independent assessment on the legality of the war in Iraq and the findings of this inquiry are unambiguous. It concludes that the case argued by the Dutch and British governments, including the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, could not reasonably be argued.” Guardian 12 January

“The findings of the Dutch inquiry that the war had no basis in international law are even more important for a domestic audience in Britain,” said Sands. “I do not see how the five members of the Chilcot inquiry, none of whom is legally qualified, could possibly summon the means to reach an alternative conclusion.”

Against this background and Jack Straw’s recent appearance before the Iraq Inquiry where he says he was ‘haunted’ we have Sir Michael Wood QC, principal Legal Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 1999 and 2006, likely to testify that he gave consistent advioce that the Iraq War was illegal without a second resolution. This will, The Observer, reports…“This will provide an explosive backdrop to the former prime minister’s appearance before the inquiry on Friday.”

The Observer notes: “His testimony will come the day before the appearance of Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, who is said to have dropped his legal objections days before the invasion, following intense pressure from Blair and his closest advisers, and the US authorities……Wood’s deputy at the time, former Foreign Office lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned two days before the war because she believed the invasion was a “crime of aggression”, will appear at the inquiry after Wood on Tuesday.”

Lord Goldsmith changed his mind about the legality of the war.  Was he waterboarded?  There was talk late last year of him being pinned to a wall by Blair’s enforcers. . This will be one of the key areas of questioning and will pave the way for what could be an extraordinary day when Tony Blair appears on the 29th.  Blair will hold firm and repeat the mantra that he did what believed was right.  I rather suspect that Gordon Brown’s testimony will be as interesting – testimony which will now be heard before the general election which Bob Ainsworth says will be on 6th May.  Tom Harris MP says that Ainsworth doesn’t know the date and asks why we are so interested in conspiracy theories. Harris adds, laconically…“Given the public appetite for conspiracy theories, I’m surprised no-one has actually suggested that Bob’s and Chris Bryant’s comments earlier this month are part of a complex subterfuge aimed at persuading the Tories to prepare for an election on the wrong date…

Interestingly, the Observer reports: “Blair will take his place amid intense security, with mass protests expected in Westminster. Sources close to Scotland Yard said Blair’s appearance had been a major factor behind the government’s decision to raise the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe”.

Brown must now be regretting his ‘masterly’ decision to hold an Iraq Inquiry – an inquiry which, reportedly, angered Tony Blair.

Finally, on the Iraq war issue…The Mail reports :

David Kelly post mortem to be kept secret for 70 years as doctors accuse Lord Hutton of concealing vital information


I escaped to London on Saturday – hence no blog post – for lunch. I don’t do it often (but I am moving back to London in early February) – but I do enjoy a long lunch…particularly lunches which start at 2.00 pm and end the following morning.  Curiously, at some point in the proceedings, I was asked if I would like to appear as ‘Chairman of a large Corporate’ in a parody film being made about news by a friend of mine.   Hey… why not..?  I prefer the subtlety of radio/podcasts and I no longer care that much if people run when they see images, still or visual, of me on blogs….  so I appear to have landed myself a ‘part’ in a ‘musical video’… I do enjoy ‘random’.

I left Battersea at 8.00 this morning, walked across the bridge to World’s End in search of much need black coffee...found some at Mona Lisa and another cup at the Chelsea Bun and sat down to read the News of the Screws. (The Observer is best read sober).  Coffee taken…I made my way to Victoria Station to be told there were no trains to Rochester/Chatham because someone had decided to thrown himself in front of a train.  (I do feel for the driver’s of trains in these not so uncommon situations). Onwards to Charing Cross – where I found a train and after faffing about on the internet for a while I had a most enjoyable afternoon kip….

All this is, of course, completely irrelevant… but I would like to link to The White Rabbit, a fellow law blogger who is a serious lawyer but finds detailed analysis of legal issues on his own blog… unnecessary… This week he has several excellent posts and I have no hesitation in suggesting, when you want a laugh.. just pop over to his blog… (he does music as well)… This week I have selected…

Immortal stuff from Steve Bell

White Rabbit notes… “Cartoonist Steve Bell surpasses even his usual standards in the Guardian this morning. For the terminally inattentive Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, has informed the Chilcot Inquiry that he could have stopped British participation in the invasion by resigning.

He didn’t though.”

I read many political blogs and this week, Old Holborn caught me eye with this wonderful idea! I quite fancy the idea of buying myself a High Viz yellow jacket and wondering around talking to Police Community Support Officers….

Oi! YesYOU! Who are you!? PROVE IT

Old Holborn advises: “Do it. Everytime you see one of them watching you, watch them. DEMAND to see their warrant card. And then ask the time(they hate it).”

[Picture Cassie Mayes – which I just had to nick from Old Holborn’s post.  Mea culpa]

Guido Fawkes reports: +++ Osborne to Re-Pay £1,666 Expenses Over-Claim +++

“Lyon’s report says Osborne’s breaches were not “major ones, were not intentional and did not provide Mr Osborne with any significant financial benefit.” He will not have to give an apology to the House. Nice to know the Shadow Chancellor can add up though.”

Rather more serious…. Guido Fawkes notes about David Chator MP… David Chaytor, the soon to be former MP for Bury North, drew up a tenancy agreement with his daughter but disguised their relationship by giving her middle name as her surname.  That is deception. …”

Obnoxio The Clown, not ‘knowingly over under-C*****d in terms of  usage of the old anglo-saxon (and not always office safe – assuming you want to keep your job) is a blog I read regularly. Acerbic is a word I like… and Obo can, certainly, be that… here is a recent post on politicans..  Have I got politicians for you

I did enjoy this tweet from Sandanista…

And Jimmy Bastard on NevermindtheBollix…. makes one think…

“If I’m honest, I always knew that walking away would not be the end of it all.

It could never be as easy as opening and shutting a door. There would always be a time when that knock on the door, or that tap on the shoulder in a crowded bar would see me having to face up to my past.

My advice to any armchair gangsters reading my words who still believe that violence brings honour or glory to a man’s name is; seek help, for you are caught up in your own mad world of atrophied emotional dyslexia.

Violence is an opprobrium that sits like a cancer inside a man’s chest.”
And another blogger who not only thinks, but engages in discussion on many blogs.. Obiter J – this is the latest piece.. Children and the law: No.1 – The Edlington Case

Carl Gardner, ex government lawyer, blogger (Head of Legal blog) is always worth reading on the current ‘difficult’ issues of the day. I know Carl.  We enjoy a few glasses of wine together from time to time and I have done many podcasts with him. This piece on the Munir Hussein case is very definitely worth a read…The truth about Munir Hussain

I lost  my parents many years ago.  This week, three people I know (all three met through Twitter – two I have met many times face to face). Geeklawyer lost his Mother.  I think he made a fine choice of music with this.  I would certainly have no hesitation in using it when I finally go.

What better tribute to a parent… Geeklawyer writes… “Thanks old girl. See you around.”

Best as always

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Below are extracts  from  what could well be the testimony  that Gordon Brown delivers to the Iraq Inquiry when he does appear…possibly?

Sir John Chilcot: Good morning, prime minister.  Perhaps we could start  at the beginning… when you first heard of plans to invade Iraq?

Prime Minister: Yes..indeed…. It all started in America… I remember the day well… The Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning!  [The prime minister laughs and bobs his head from side to side] …

Sir John Chilcot: Quite… now, if you please…… the events leading up to the war?

Prime Minister: My favourite sport at school was rugby. All sports are teamwork, but rugby particularly is about teamwork and I think teamwork is the essence of this…. but I must emphasise tht it was Tony Blair’s team… my team and I were holed up at the Treasury with other things on our mind… I think I speak for millions of people when I say today that Tony Blair’s achievements are unique, unprecedented and enduring, including sexing up the dossier….. In the hours and questions ahead, my task is to show I have the new ideas, the vision and the experience to earn the trust of the British people..and had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq and the decision… I wasn’t even there…. I was at The Treasury, getting on with the job.

Sir John Chilcot: Prime Minister, we have heard that there was a particularly strong and close relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush….

Prime Minister: Our relationship with the United States is a relationship founded on our common values and the dignity of the individual… I was on the phone just before coming over today talking to President Obama Beach and told him this… that he had nothing to fear from Britain or the Iraq Inquiry…  [The prime Minister leans back in his seat, grinning like a Cheshire Cat and rocks from side to side]

Sir John Chilcot: If I could take you back, please, to the early discussions about the weapons of mass destruction and the issue of whether regime change was ever discussed…?

Prime Minister: Oh yes… I often talked to members of my inner cabinet and, indeed to Mr Blair… about regime change… his!  [The prime minister laughs maniacally, stands, turns to the audience seated behind him and takes a bow]

Sir John Chilcot: Indeed… but if we could trouble you to focus on the key issues?

Prime Minister: I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place – where I will always strive to be – and that is on people’s side….. I think we should do better next week, better the week after, and better right throughout the course of our government. Sometimes in parties these things happen, but it is not acceptable to go around terrifying the British people with talk of weapons of mass destruction.. that is the sort of thing the morally bankrupt Tories and The Daily Mail do… and I do believe that what people now want to do is to debate the future with me… we are a team together…  about policy – and I think the issues about what Tony Blair will or will not do with his time now that he is no longer involved in politics  are going to be left to Tony Blair…who got us into this mess in the first place, according to tape recordings I made secretly at the time. [Brown looks cunning]

Sir John Chalcott: Prime Minister… you had many meetings with Mr Blair in the run up to the Iraq War… what did you talk about?

Prime Minister: That’s between me and the bed sheets  [Prime Minister laughs  and makes unusual hand movement with his right hand]

Sir John Chilcott: Quite… the Iraq War discussions, if you please, prime minister… and in particular the importance of the dossier and its potential to persuade others to a point of view?

Prime Minister: Potential?  This government strives to bring about conditions where everyone can live their lives fully….Pop Idol, X Factor, Fame Academy, there’s so much talent out there. It’s great to see people getting the chance to show their potential…I hope the Spice Girls will come back, although it may be beyond even Bob Geldof to get that to happen.

Sir John Chilcott: We have heard that Robin Cook was the only Cabinet Minister at the time to object to the plan to invade Iraq… what are your thoughts on this?

Prime Minister: Robin Cook’s mastery of the House of Commons was acknowledged on all sides and his incisive mind, forensic skills and formidable and wide ranging debating prowess were seen by the public very clearly. I admired and valued Robin as a colleague and friend and as one of the greatest parliamentarians of our time. His wife Gaynor and his two sons are in our thoughts and prayers… Unfortunately he is dead and can’t be here today.

Sir John Chilcott: Mr Blair told us that he firmly believed in the intelligence reports presented to him in the run up to the War.

Prime Minister: There is nothing that you could say to me now that I could ever believe… I  said that to Tony Blair on several occasions.  For me there is a mission for this country moving forward – there are big long-term decisions we’ve got to take as a nation. We spend more on cows than the poor. I sense a new spirit in Britain: that the people of Britain want this massive demonstration of my competence to get on with the job to be given enduring purpose. Did I tell you that the Arctic Monkeys really get you up in the morning?

Sir John Chilcot: We shall break there for lunch….


Much of the above narrative was, of course, taken from well known Gordon Brown quotations (with some midifications to suit my purposes!) … it is quite possible, in the real thing, that he will rehash some of his most famous lines?

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I have no idea why the Tories thought it was a good idea to put Caroline ‘Nannygate’ Spelman on to BBC’s Question Time last night – because she didn’t do a very good job.  In fact, Spelman reminded me of my old days when I taught law students who turned up to tutorials hungover and unprepared  after a night on the lash and who, when I inevitably zeroed in on them to kick proceedings off, put on a slightly hunted look, eyes swivelling frantically,  as if to get inspiration from the ceiling. I remember looking up at the ceiling with them just to see if it was their lucky day and the answer to my question was, in fact,  on some celestial autocue. It never was.

Spelman, qua representative of the Tory party (and she is a front bench spokesperson after all), managed to convey the impression of a party which isn’t yet prepared and hasn’t quite thought things through.  She was particularly bad when discussing the Munir Hussain ‘have a go hero’ case and seemed unable to get the distinction between self defence and revenge. I half expected the spectre of Chris ‘Kill a burglar’ Grayling to loom in the background, arms outstretched. I’ve mocked a pic up to show you how I saw Question Time last night when this topic was being discussed.  It has to be said… I do enjoy a few glasses of rioja while watching QT.

The Tory policy on families, I suspect, is doomed to fail – another attempt by politicians to socially engineer people into a bizarre troupe of ‘Stepford’ couples.  I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to comment further on these policies and this was my mildly over refreshed take on it as I added to the nonsense tweets about #bbcqt last night.

First up from the left field this morning is another example of government brilliance and competence at controlling highly personal data.

The Independent reports: ” The personal details of hundreds of magistrates were placed in the hands of convicted criminals in a data loss blunder, it was revealed today. A directory containing names, telephone numbers and email addresses of magistrates and court legal advisors in Norfolk was sent for printing in a prison workshop manned by inmates. The document, containing details of 400 magistrates and 26 legal advisors, was sent to HMP Standford Hill in Sheerness, Kent, at the beginning of the month. Printing, which is carried out by inmates supervised by prison officers, had begun when the mistake was uncovered. The incident prompted an apology from senior courts service staff. A spokesman said all copies of the document have now been destroyed.”

Cue…the Information Commissioner banging his head on the table and some hapless minister being shunted out to do the Lessons have been learned speech from Richard III ( Copyright G.Brown 1997-2010 )

Fear (of something)  dominates the headlines for most newspapers and tv stations. Charlie Brooker’s latest Newswipe on iPlayer (available for seven days, apparently) devoted an entire edition to the way TV and mainstream news media terrorises people with scare stories… and a very amusing edition it was. I was particularly amused at the footage of a hysterical and angry US female news reporter expressing outrage at the failed attempt by Mustapha Al-Blowmyballsoff, the guy trained by Al Qaeda-on-Sea in The Yemen who tried to blow a plane up at Christmas by setting fire to his explosive underpants.  Brooker’s  response to all the shouted questions from the journalist was wonderfully laconic… “I don’t know… you are the fucking journalist.. go and find out and tell us.” (or words to that effect.  I can recommend that edition of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe! In fact, I can recommend all Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe programmes!

The Telegraph tells us that….

Muslim police say Islam not to blame for terror attacks

“Muslim police officers have rebelled openly against the Government’s anti-terrorism strategy, warning that it is an “affront to British values” which threatens to trigger ethnic unrest.” Telegraph

Good to see that the government has got a firm grip on current thinking in a section of the police force.

Over to The Sun, the thinking Tory’s favourite newspaper…… for the latest issues of the day..

The headlines today were particularly good…Blake has been at it again… (left) but the other headlines included… “Cross me and you’re dead…Fergie warns his United stars…” and

“Is this the worst Mum in Britain?…She sniffs 12 cans of lighter fuel a DAY in front of kids and down 10 cans of Stella”

And I discovered, under the headline Simon’s a very cheeky fella that SIMON Cowell patted Cheryl Cole on the bottom as they arrived at the glittering NTAs

The Sun does, eventually, find some news that people who live on earth read… and reports that Gordon Brown will be flamegrilled by the Iraq Inquiry before the election. After Jack Straw’s elegant appearance before the Inquisitioners yesterday (reported more fully in The Independent) we now have the prospect of Tony Blair next week (29th January) and Gordon Brown.  I suspect that Blair will be smooth and effective and “McDoom” will make a complete balls of it.  He is not a great public speaker… but I could be wrong.

And finally… for this week’s edition of Rive Gauche…

Apple turns lawyers loose to keep its big secret

The Times reports: “Apple has turned to its lawyers in an attempt to keep the lid on the company’s biggest product launch in three years. Its lawyers have sent a warning letter to a website that offered cash for photos of its touchscreen tablet personal computer before the product is unveiled, probably next week. The tablet will be Apple’s biggest new product category since it launched the iPhone in 2007. The company, which has turned secrecy into a marketing phenomenon, has declined to confirm even if its event a week today will reveal the much-anticipated device.”

Have a good one… there is some sensible law related stuff in the posts below and I shall, of course, continue with posts over the weekend with my Postcard from the Staterooms-on-Sea, returning to the daily Law reviews on Monday… have a good weekend..

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While I always enjoy reading the enthusiastic PR  put out by law firms in the ‘Student’ editions of The Lawyer or Legal Week,  brimming with adverts from law firms; I sat down over lunch today at my local pub,  a glass of burgundy to my right and a fag to my left (I was sitting outside in the winter sun) and read  Student Law in Times 2.

Just turning the first page of the 12 page ‘pullout’ supplement brought my first reward.  The inside page, all of it, was devoted to an advertisement from The Institute of legal Executives with the quite remarkable headline.” Your best route to becoming a qualified lawyer”

I don’t have a scanner down here at the Staterooms-On-Sea, but it is quite remarkable what one can do with a mobile telephone these days, so I was able to capture an image of part of the advert.

I suspect that The Law Society and the Bar Council may take a rather different view of the best route to qualifying as a lawyer and, being realistic, the chance of a student, studying the long and excellent route to qualification through ILEX and being able to compete with the top quartile of graduates fresh from Oxbridge, Russell Group universities and the shiny temples of legal mammon that are the modern vocational law schools is… frankly… low.

I am a fan of ILEX as a route to qualfication though and not everyone wishes to be a City or BIG Law lawyer…thankfully…. so qualifying while you work and gain experience, reducing the debt burden, can make sense.

Frances Gibb, a seasoned and professional commentator on matters legal has been around for a long time and I mean that kindly because she brings a wealth of knowledge and contacts to her pieces. Frances Gibb kicks off proceedings under the headline The profession is shifting to a legal services market and advises…. “Be broadminded; there’s more to a legal career than simply qualifying as a solicitor or barrister..”

Frances Gibb reminds us of the warning put of last summer by The Law Society that students should think twice before embarking on a law career in the present economic climate. She asks if things have changed and provides some useful facts and figures, noting conflicting information and highlights the point that training places, some say, have dropped by as much as a third.  It does not appear to have dipped. Tim Pierce at the SRA says that 5751 places were offered in 2008-09 compared to 5732 for 2009-10 and that the current figure is 4510, but says that many are offered during the year, so the dip is ‘illusory.  There are, Pierce notes, more applicants so competition remains fierce.

The current state of the market really really depends on who you speak to. There is always an element of wish fulfilment. Listening to a podcast I did a year ago with Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP Law School, one could be forgiven for thinking that the credit-crunch was having absolutely no effect because, he reported enthusiastically, numbers on his courses had never been so high.  This was certainly true on the Bar Vocational Course.  We await (and I will be advised by the BSB when it comes out) the BSB report on BPP’s significant over subscription on the Bar Vocational Course which even The Times observed would net them a ‘cool million’ straight to the bottom line.  (I suspect 650- 750,000 quid is nearer the mark, recalling the very detailed budgeting done when I was involved in founding the school in the early 1990s)

If you have been reading Legal Week and The Lawyer you will have seen numerous stories about even the very biggest law firms cutting staff, partners and associates – but there are signs of resurgence now. It would be wise to read widely to get an accurate feel to the current market and the future.

The bottom line, no matter how you cut the figures is that roughly 14000 LPC qualified students this year are competing for 5700 training places according to figures in the Times. What of those from last year and the year before who have still not been absorbed into legal work?  They can’t all be flipping burgers or working as baristas at Starbucks?

And that leads nicely to the LAW SCHOOLS… all of them, not just the big boys, The College of Law and BPP Law School… and in this section, I include all the universities, all 104 of them providing law courses  in the UK, most of them in England & Wales

Nigel Savage, CEO of The College of Law opens the batting with a typically clever piece, deflecting attention from the vocational law schools to the first line universities with an excellent piece: Law schools: gatekeepers or cash cows? The main theme of the article, which I extracted from the Times summary is…Undergraduate law degrees have been neglected with law schools now isolated from the profession and exposed in the battle for resources.

The really juicy bits of Savage’s article are worth closer and objective analysis.

The inital rubric rehearses the changing nature of the profession but it is not long before the experienced Captain and centre forward takes the ball from an excellent corner kick and slams it into the back of the net with this… ” How are law schools coping? At the professional stage (Legal Practice Course or Bar Vocational Course) the sector has coped well with much innovation and flexibility. Until recently, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have been vigilant in maintaining standards and publishing monitoring reports.”

The elegance of this one crisp paragraph contains three separate propositions: (1) The professional stage is separate from the academic stage (2) We, the College of Law have adapted to change – and they have.  See this excellent piece by Richard Susskind on the College of Law’s new e-learning initiative and (c) Savage, by my interpretation,  has a  dig at the the regulators – The Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

I have some experience of this given my background, but I think that Savage is right to raise this.  It does appear that the regulation of vocational law schools is perhaps not as rigorous as it was in the days of the fearsome and very professional Pauline Collins and her assessment teams (The 1990s). The inspections were rigorous, fair and thorough. In my role as the then CEO of BPP Law School (I resigned in 1997) I took them seriously, as did the other law school heads and their teams.   It is imperative, in my view, that all law schools, academic stage universities and professional stage providers,  are subject to external, objective, scrutiny. It is absurd that the SRA appears to be cutting back on monitoring visits, as Savage states in his article,  and both regulators should make all reports and assessment visits public so that students and others can assess the quality of the provision at each provider. The good law schools will pass muster, the poor ones won’t.

Savage then picks the ball up and runs straight towards the goal – the academic stage universities – with this… ” The key problem is the academic stage and the state of the undergraduate law degree. This should be the gatekeeper for the professional bodies; instead it has been hugely neglected with law schools now isolated from the profession and exposed in the battle for resources. Law is a cash cow for vice-chancellors. There are more than 68,000 students taking undergraduate law degrees, with 15,500 graduating each year. Law faculties used to be powerful centres in university administration. Today they have been absorbed into huge mega-faculties and resources are fought for at a low level. A robust regulator, therefore, is more vital than ever.”

There are 68,000 students studying law currently in universities and colleges. Not all will wish to go into a legal career (and many read law with no intention of doing so).  Law is an important service to the country.  It is not all City and Big Law – although that, as the President of The Law Society Robert Heslett told me in a recent podcast which I did for my Law Society Gazette series, is vitally important to the economic health of our country.

Many lawyers act for private clients doing valuable work in family law, in crime, in employment… the list is long.  Pretty well every field of human activity involves law and lawyers and it is important that we get the quality right.  The universities may well assert that it is not their function to turn out lawyers, that law is a philosophical discipline, a social science, a field of independent study.  They are right – but it is also the bedrock of knowledge needed by lawyers who do practise and if they wish to continue to provide quality education for students who wish to go into practice it is only right that they (as many do)  should tailor the versions of courses for these students to the needs of a modern profession and work with the profession and regulators. The universities would, of course, be free to do as they please with courses for students who wish to study law as a liberal social science. If the universities don’t adapt, if they don’t work with the profession (as many do happily and profitably)  then it would not surprise me if the College of Law, BPP law School and other providers  enjoying degree awarding powers and who are already experienced in providing high quality training like OXford Institute, Nottingham, Northumbria, Kaplan et al pick up the baton and run with it. While BPP Law School and others may have specialist City courses, they and most providers at this level cater for the full range of  training for lawyers in day to day practice.

Savage makes the point that universities are tending to absorb law departments into ever larger Faculties and that competition for resources is high. This is not good for the profession and the Bar Standards Board and The Solicitors Regulation Authority should be far more assertive with the universities and insist on specified student – tutor ratios, correct provision of resources, teaching time et al. The question is – have they the will to do so?   There is absolutely no credible reason why profitable law faculties should subsidise other departments to the detriment of quality standards in law and any attempt by the universities to divert resources from law to other disciplines, to subsidise them, should be resisted.

On that note, I will probably irritate some in the traditional universities – but there we are.  It  won’t be the first time.  Some years ago, at a conference, I suggested that we close 25 % of the law schools and give the money to the better law schools so they could increase the provision and offer more places.  That… went down well, as you can imagine.

In Part II I shall continue to examine student specific issues and  look at the future of legal education for barristers.  I shall also touch on the developing field of E-learning for law students.

Useful articles from The Times Student Law…

Learning at all hours of the day and night

Once, law lectures were given in fine halls. Now, students have the convenience and flexibility of electronic tutorials and online supervision

Why do state schools set the Bar so high?

Aged 10, Charlotte Pickering decided that she wanted to be a barrister. But teachers at her local comprehensive did little to encourage her dreams

Mentoring: more than a helping hand

Being matched with a volunteer from your favoured practice area can help you to network, write job applications – and be successful at interviews

It’s time to spread your wings

Don’t specialise too soon and be ready to change direction; that way you’ll still be in demand in the bad times as well as the good

Ten amazing courtroom film scenes

The real judiciary would not permit some of these classic capers. Particularly the delinquent lawyer who drank a bottle of poison in front of a jury…

New master’s degree in law and finance

The University of Oxford’s groundbreaking degree – already oversubscribed – aims to boost individual careers and legal expertise in the City

Lessons in juggling your workload

Would-be lawyers have always worked hard. But the findings of a new research report suggest that things might be getting more difficult . . .

Law schools: gatekeepers or cash cows?

Undergraduate law degrees have been neglected with law schools now isolated from the profession and exposed in the battle for resources

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Statement to staff  from Matt Muttley, senior partner, chief executive, managing partner and president of Megaladon LLP


It would appear, yet again, that Megaladon LLP does not feature in the latest Chambers & Partners directory or, indeed, The Legal 500. It is with regret, therefore, that I have to announce that our former Director of Marketing, David ‘The Airbrusher’ Cholmondely-Cameron-Smythe, was escorted from our premises at 4.30 am this morning by Megaladon LLP security operatives.  I know that some of you may have found this distressing, working as you were on our new and exciting plans to set up our own outsourcing operation in the East Indies  –  but in these dark days of the Jackson report, credit-crunch and the ever present threat of over regulation by sundry regulators, needs must.  Mr Cholmondely-Cameron-Smythe is an enthusiastic gardener, which is fortunate, because he will now have an opportunity to ‘engage’ with this interest and ‘transition’ from employment to a less stressful lifestyle.

The fact, as reported in The Times, that barely 5% of in-house counsel even look at law directories is irrelevant – a fact put ably by Mr Cholmondely-Cameron-Smythe when I held a special ‘closed’  session of the Megaladon LLP Star Chamber shortly before 4.00 am this morning.

I would like to re-assure you all that I was much comforted by a comment in The Times report on the launch of the new Chambers & Partners directory by this viewpoint..and I quote it in full… “Lisa Hart, the chief executive of Acritas, says: “General counsel are in specialist buying roles and they don’t normally need a directory to see who they are going to use.” She maintains that it is only in the rare circumstances when in-house departments are confronted with an out-of-the-ordinary matter that they will resort to looking at a directory.

That said.. we, at Megaladon LLP, must be ever vigilant to all marketing opportunities… and as you know, I shall be going on a Twitter course early next week with a famous celebrity chef, to ensure that we are at the forefront of modern social media tecniques.

That is all.  Be happy in your work and…remember our mantra… one day, you could be a partner at Megaladon LLP.


Note to Editors: Megaladon LLP is the new trading name of Muttley Dastardly LLP following the unfortunate ‘departure’ of name partner Dastardly in late 2009

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There were two important criminal law cases yesterday:  The so-called ‘have a go hero’ case and the case of a mother who killed her son through love.

Munir Hussain
The Independent reports:
“A businessman jailed for seriously injuring an intruder after the lives of his family were threatened by knife-wielding burglars in their home was shown “mercy” and freed by senior judges today. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting at the Court of Appeal in London with two other judges, replaced 53-year-old Munir Hussain’s 30-month prison term with one of two years, and ordered that it should be suspended.”

The facts of this case are well known.  The case caused an outcry, prompting politicians  to respond ‘robustly’. Many lawyers took the view that the self defence, reasonable and proportionate force,  laws in this country are sufficient.  Many, including me, felt that the trial judge was right to sentence Mr Hussain and his brother to prison.  Chasing someone down the road and battering them so badly with a cricket bat that the bat broke and the victim suffered serious injury is not self defence.  It may well be a completely understandable reaction, but no matter how one looks at it, it is retribution.  It is vengeance.  iIt is taking the law into your own hands.

Today the Court of Appeal, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord judge, freed Mr Hussain – but not his brother.  Mr Hussain was given a suspended sentence of one year.  His brother had his sentence reduced to a very merciful one year.The brother had not been subjected to threat and violence during the burglary.

The Independent noted: “Lord Judge said: “This trial had nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes…… (lord judge rehearsed the violence of the tack on the burglar)…..this was “not an ordinary or normal case or one that falls within the overwhelming majority of cases, not least because of the character of the two appellants”.

I have not read the judgment, so I am reliant on the Independent report. That being said.. this appears to be the key point..“Involvement in this serious violence can only be understood as a response to the dreadful and terrifying ordeal and the emotional anguish which he had undergone.”

This is not a precedent directly in the sense of being a licence for retribution.  These were exceptional circumstances. I watched a BBC report later in the day.  An ex senior police officer and a probation officer were brought on.  The probation officer said that experts, judges, commentators, lawyers and others can say what they like and it won’t make a blind bit of difference to public opinion.  The public, the probation officer said, were alienated from the criminal justice system and we only had ourselves to blame because we are not tough enough on young career criminals. The Police officer reinforced the sense in the judgment but did say that provided reasonable force is used when an intrusion is taking place, prosecution is unlikely.

We are good at shades of grey.  Our legal system is built upon flexibility. Too much definition or strict liability can lead to inflexibility and injustice. Today’s decision may well be one of those classic fudges where the rule and principle of law is upheld, the law emphasised by an experienced judge, and a degree of ‘mercy’ applied.  I’m not against that  type of justice.  I think quite a few people would suffer from a red mist after an intrusion. The thing is, would we have beat a man so badly with a cricket bat?  I’m not so sure and for that reason, I would prefer  not to see the law changed and in exceptional trouble cases… there is always the objectivity of  appeal.


‘Mercy killing’ mother is jailed for life

The Independent reports: A mother who gave her brain-damaged son a lethal heroin injection to end his “living hell” was told today she must serve at least nine years in jail. Frances Inglis, 57, was given a life sentence for killing 22-year-old son Tom after he suffered severe head injuries when he fell out of a moving ambulance.

Reports reveal that Mrs Inglis made two attempts to kill her son, not believing medical advice that the son was showing signs of recovery, to put him out his misery.  The judge made the very important point,while acknowledging that her motives were born of love…“What you did was to take upon yourself what you thought your son’s wishes would have been, to relieve him from what you described as a living hell…..But you cannot take the law into your own hands and you cannot take away life, however compelling you think the reason. You have to take responsibility for what you did.”

Now the Royal College of Physicians slams the DPP’s plans for euthanasia

The Telegraph reports: “Poor Keir Starmer, the luckless Director of Public Prosecutions forced by some simpering Law Lords, who fancy the idea of euthanasia, into the impossible task of “clarifying” when it’s okay to assist someone to kill themselves, keeps being slapped down by medical professionals.

The British Medical Association and the General Medical Council have already made it abundantly clear that they want no part in voluntary euthanasia becoming a clinical practice. Now the estimable Royal College of Physicians, the professional body representing over 20,000 physicians that “aims to improve the quality of patient care by continually raising medical standards”, has weighed in with a strongly worded letter to the DPP.

“We would go so far as to say”, writes the College’s Registrar, Dr Rodney Burnham, “that any clinician who has been part, in any way, of assisting a suicide death should be subject to prosecution.”

I did a podcast on this topic with Lord Falconer (Listen to the podcast )  – an opposing view. Also with the DPP, Keir Starmer QC (Listen to the podcast)


Twelfth Justice – How are we getting on?

“We thought that it was time to have an update on the appointment process for the twelfth justice.  As our readers will recall, some time ago applications for this post were invited – with a closing date of 26 October 2009. Since then, there have been no official announcements.   There was much press speculation about the possible candidacy of Mr Jonathan Sumption QC.  However, in December 2009 he announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy….

The saga goes on… but it is an important one….


Jackson costs review divides market

I have read Jackson LJ’s report – thankfully this article from The Lawyer relieves me of the need to explore some of the more problematic issues – and it comes straight from the mouths of the people at the coal face.  I enjoyed reading it.  Definitely worth a read.


And a bit of Social Media  Mavenry and Gurudom for the weekend, Sir, Madam?

As regular readers know… I am not enthusiastic about mavens or gurus droning on about social media – but I do like Brian Inkster and Chris Sherliker,  who are both regular twitterers… so I shall make one final exception. They usually make sense, so perhaps they will take a different view to a lot of the nonsense I have seen on the net about twitter and other social media and how lawyers can benefit. Brian wrote and asked me if I could flag this up… knowing of my views!. Of course… a pleasure….

This Friday, 22 January, at 3.30pm you can learn how UK lawyers are using social media. American Attorney and social media expert, Adrian Dayton, will be interviewing Glasgow Solicitor, Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors, and London Solicitor, Chris Sherliker of Silverman Sherliker, about their experiences particularly with Twitter. Adrian will be seeking to find out whether things are really that different in the UK from the US.  Are lawyers in the UK and abroad using social media to make connections and bring in business?  Or are UK lawyers too serious for Twitter? You can listen and join in by way of a free conference call by registering in advance at: http://adriandayton.com/2010/01/how-uk-lawyers-are-using-social-media/

I may, of course, listen in… so if they do talk nonsense, I shall run amok.  They would, I am sure, expect nothing less.  🙂

The Social Media Maven pronounces (2010)
Oil on Canvas

In the Collection of @ScottGreenfield

The painting comes from my F**kArt series. I have a couple to finish and then I start on tmy Surrealist period of paintings in late January!

PS… I will be posting out paintings to recipients soon… I am just a bit behind on my life at the moment… mea culpa.


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