Archive for February 4th, 2010

In jealousy there is more self-love than love.  ~François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1665

Frances Gibb, writing in The Times today, has a remarkable story about intrigue, jealousy, rejection, skulduggery and mysterious goings on in the shadows of the establishment. Frances Gibb was not writing about some new docudrama about lawyers – she relates the extraordinary story of the selection of the 12th Justice of the Supreme Court and details Jonathan Sumption QC’s  rejection as the 12th Justice.

It is an astonishing story – and her article is worth reading in full. Briefly, by tradition the law lords have been appointed from the ranks of the senior judiciary.  The establishment of the Supreme Court changed the law and provided for a wider range of applicants, allowing academics and practising lawyers to apply.

Gibb notes The panel was chaired by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, and included Lord Hoffmann, and representatives from the Judicial Appointments Commissions (of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland). Sumption and two others, Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Collins, were interviewed for the two two posts. A third, vacated by Lord Justice Kerr, had by tradition to be filled with another Northern Irish judge. Sumption was privately informed in early February 2009 that Clarke and Collins would be appointed, But, he was assured, it was expected that Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, a law lord, would take the position vacated by Clarke as Master of the Rolls — and he, Sumption, would then be appointed to fill Lord Neuberger’s post. Straw was informed and agreed.”

The judges of the Court of Appeal started chucking metaphorical buns around, objecting that Sumption, who had little experience of ‘judging’ had been able to continue earnings five (possibly more) times their earnings as judges and should not be allowed to ‘leapfrog’ into the new Supreme Court over their heads. Out of the shadows stepped.

Frances Gibb notes…”The upshot was a compromise: when Lord Neuberger was announced as Master of the Rolls (July 2009) there would be a fresh appointments round, with the same panel but open also to new candidates. Privately, Sumption was told that this second round was not expected to make any difference.”

Lord Mance, who just happens to be husband to Dame Mary Arden, herself a candidate for appointment to the Supreme Court, stepped out of the shadows wielding the metaphorical dagger… “he approached Jack Straw to say that the whole process of Lord Phillips’s five-strong appointments panel could be illegal. What had happened was that, ahead of the October 1 reforms.”

Straw, not keen to be involved in the appointments bunfight… did a runner.  There was even talk of whether Lord Clarke’s appointment was legal, being ahead of the October 1 reforms.  It was fine… he had already sat with the law lords – which, as a peer, he was entitled to do.  (Did he do that deliberately to ensure legality?  We are not told)

“The post was re-advertised last autumn and this time there were only six Court of Appeal candidates. They were to be notified if required for interview by December 7. This time Sumption heard nothing. Anxious about how long his diary had been empty because of the possible appointment, he made his own inquiries. A call to Lord Phillips confirmed that he had not been selected. His chambers announced his withdrawal soon after.”

Frances Gibb says, rightly in my view, that this is ‘an  unedifying story, reflecting poorly on the selection of one of the country’s top judges’.. and she notes whether the idea of winding appointments to the judiciary from the ranks of academics and practising lawyers – which I think  would probably be a good thing – is a sham. Jonathan Sumption QC appears to have been treated in a rather shoddy way – but perhaps that is ‘how things are done’ in the shadows of the establishment?  I can’t believe so…and it certainly should not be so.

Extraordinary goings on?

Expenses row: MPs ordered to pay back more than £1m

House of Commons braced for ‘devastating’ final verdict from Sir Thomas Legg on expenses scandal

The Guardian reports: “The former civil servant charged with probing MPs’ expenses claims will deliver his final, damning verdict on their conduct when he reveals that he has ordered 350 of them to pay back a total of more than £1m.In a report said to be “devastating” for the reputation of parliament, Sir Thomas Legg will criticise the “culture of deference” MPs created in which they expected Commons officials to unquestioningly pay out for their claims. Using blunt language, he will accuse MPs of a collapse in their ethics regarding the expenses system.”

It will be interesting to see how many MPs stand down on health grounds in order to get the departure bonus, which, presumably, they’ll need to pay back the expenses they’ve already ripped off. Maybe they won’t be allowed to get their usual departure allowance?  Maybe there will be more prsoepcutions, maybe the revisionists will ease forward to erase our memories of this rotten parliament?

I have just moved back to London. I write this, overlooking the Thames at Battersea (I am right on the river).  So far, I have not seen any pigs flying in.. although there are cormorants and gulls…and a few ducks.

Alastair Campbell, enforcer to governments, spin doctor, consumate performer at the Iraq Inquiry, blogger, author of  pacy fiction (with a bit of sex thrown in) writes in his blog: Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian, states ‘David Cameron is a mess. When will the media say so?’ It is a question I have been asking for some time, and it is nice to be joined by someone from The Guardian, some of whose reporters and commentators have been as much a part of the ‘give Dave an easy ride’ crew as the Murdoch press, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Beeb and the other broadcasters.”

The curious thing about political writing – blogs, mainstream media et al –  is that it is inevitably coloured by bias.  He’s a Tory and won’t admit to any  sensible points made by Labour or Lib-Dem pundits.  (We can safely exclude the BNP pundits – they are not known to have ever said anything particularly sensible)  He/She’s a raving socialist, New Labour / NuLibore… with a huge class chip on the right shoulder and all Tories are rotten closet fascists etc etc etc.  Well this, of course, is  a gross over simplification and parody – but, listening to pundits on the television assessing speeches from politicians at election time  one does wonder whether objectivity, analysis, truth, reality matters to them.  Their main pre-occupation seems to be to get their man/woman in and to form a government. It was ever thus.

To give you an example:  I was quite impressed by George Osborne’s speech the other morning when he set out 8 Benchmarks.  It seemed to make sense and while there wasn’t any detail, it did seem to be vaguely credible.  I read in a tabloid that Dragon’s Den pin up boy James Caan interviewed Osborne, asked him a few perfunctory questions and then announced that he was *In* (Diluting the brand?)  We then heard that George Osborne had ripped much of his speech / ideas from an earlier speech of Lord Mandleson’s.  The Prince of Darkness, predictably, laughed, admitted to being flattered and made references to George Osborne’s future career as an intern doing the photocopying and made  a sniping reference to US Vice President Biden – who, famously, ripped off one of Lord Kinnock’s speeches years ago.

I was moving yesterday and missed this story about Cherie Blair / Cherie Booth QC…

Cherie Blair in the dock for religious stance

The Telegraph reports: “Cherie Booth, QC, as she is known while sitting as a judge, is the subject of a complaint for allegedly keeping a violent yob out of prison becausehe was “religious”. Shamso Miah had left a mosque when he grabbed Mohammed Furcan and punched him. The thug ran outside but Furcan chased after him and demanded to know why he had been struck. Miah punched him again. Sitting at Inner London Crown Court, Mrs Blair told Miah: “I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable.”

The news report is rather sparse and there may well have been other mitigating circumstances justifying a suspended sentence.  Mrs Booth may well have added the religious point for added emphasis.  It could be that a religious person being castigated in this way ‘you are a religious person and know that this is not acceptable’ would find that more shaming?  We don’t know the full facts and it does not appear from the report in the press that the newspaper does either.  Is this fair reporting?

Obviously, if it can be proven that a non-religious person, on exactly the same facts, mitigating circumstances et al would have sent to prison – there is a problem.  That, I’m afraid, is not clear at all from the press reports and on that ground is unfair.  What is your view?

More later in the day….

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