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Archive for February 27th, 2010

Dear Reader,

I have taken up smoking Marlboro Lites – a health kick thingy to supplement my return to the noble art of Smokedo this weekend. I was rather taken with the knowledge that there are now 1440 references on Google for Smokedo which I invented for myself (and others)  last Spring. Pictured left is a drawing done by a very good artist and friend of mine – Lindsey Goldsmith.  The drawing, which took 15 minutes while the artist was pissed at 3.30 am some years back – captures the very essence of my smoking technique.  I am not usually interested in images of myself – but I treasure this one because it was done at 3.30 am while the artist was roaring. I may well have been over refreshed myself at the time.

It is pleasing to see the return of an old friend of mine to the world of law blogging.  The Fat Bigot has returned to enliven our mornings. FB has a great writing style and his insights into the events of our times are worth reading.

Another law blog ‘Law & Lawyers’ , with serious analysis, which I read each day is by Obiter J – who is a regular commenter on my own blog (pleasingly). Have a look?

And since the law blogging world is getting better why not have a look at a blog written by solicitor Matthew Taylor.  Matthew and I plan to do a number of regular podcasts on general law issues of the week.

Mercifully, there are still of a few of us old lags who continue to write nonsense and cover nonsense. I always enjoy my visits to The White Rabbit – who is  Off to London for the weekend…

When Geeklawyer returns from terrorising High Court judges with his advocacy and tweeting with his ‘harem’ on Twitter – it is quite possible that he, too, will contribute to the more surreal analysis of the legal events of our times.  To be fair, Geeklawyer did much to help our understanding of the Middle East with a post only last week… Wimmin Lawyers allowed to speak in Saudi Arabia It is, perhaps, best that I let Geeklawyer explain his thoughts, rather than extract a passage – they are not always ‘office safe’.

THE THINGS YOU SEE (OR READ ABOUT) WHEN YOU HAVEN’T GOT A GUN…

After reading about people turning up at Tesco and other supermarkets to do their shopping in their pyjamas, I did not for one moment think I would witness  such bizarre behaviour myself.  I should have known better.  I have moved to Battersea… near Battersea Square in fact.  This very morning, but a few moments ago, at 10.30 after  returning from doing some Marlboro smoking and reading of the papers at a cafe on the King’s Road, I went into my local newsagent and saw a a man in a fairly unpleasantly coloured check dressing gown, even more absurdly check coloured bedroom slippers and pyjamas with a yellow baseball cap on.  He was buying newspapers and milk and was very pleased with himself generally – judging by the patronising way he spoke to the sales assistant behind the till in a drawling Sloany accent.  I suspect that he may be  ‘something in the City’.  I resisted the impulse to laugh maniacally like those ‘shouters’ who wander about  pissed in the street do and tried to avoid looking as if I was fascinated by the absurdity of his appearance.  I was standing nearby, waiting to buy more supplies.   I haven’t worn pyjamas for forty-five years – it seems to me to be a tad effete to do so – and marvelled that this man (a) would do so and (b) that he thought he was being ‘cool’ by shopping in them. A grown man, dressed in ‘jim-jams and dressing gown more suited to an eight year old boy at prep school in the fifties’, complete with nerdy bedroom slippers, and wearing a baseball cap, is not a good look. If I was Jeremy Clarkson I’d probably want to deport him… but I am not.

Talking about Jeremy Clarkson – he is right on some things. I read The Sun most mornings before turning to more sensible newspapers.  I do this because I want to see what propaganda is being propagated to millions of potential voters by a newspaper which seems to change political allegiance at the drop of a hat.  Clarkson was moaning about the fact that for every electrical device we rely on – laptops, mobiles, camcorders, iPods etc etc there are many separate chargers which have to be carted about if one goes on holiday or even on a short business trip.  Why can’t they come up a universal charger socket and charger?

The nannies are at it again with proposals to require Cinemas to put warnings and calories on popcorn and other foods sold to fat bastards and obese  e-numbered up children. I lost the will to read more of this in The Times this morning and turned the page to read a satisfyingly pleasing story that house prices have dipped again by 1.5% – the point being that this may aid the ‘fragile recovery’.  One of the good things about the recent recession has been that pub and dinner party talk has not been marred by venal and greedy people boring me  to death with how marvellous they are in having a house that has risen in value by gazillions of pounds.  The recent rises in house property prices was beginning to encourage Justin & Annabel to come out of the cupboard again with talk of house values.

Finally… for my ‘Rant du Jour’:  also in The Sun, was a story about a father being told by a security guard at a shopping complex that he could not take a photograph of his own son who was sitting on a toy train….  because he, the father, might be a paedophile. I accept that stupid people have to have jobs – but I do think it best that if people really want to be stupid they should not be employed as security guards. The father objected, remonstrating that he was the child’s father…at which point stupid man says that the father cannot prove this and calls the police.  PC Plod turns up and he, too, it seems, is rather stupid.  PC Plod, it is reported, tells the father that he isn’t allowed to take photographs of children and says that he can require the photograph to be deleted. The father got a bit heated, at which point PC Idiot decides to threaten the father with arrest fror breach of the peace. Christ on a f*****g bicycle…. how do people like this get into the Police?

I am pretty sure there is no law on photographing one’s own child in public and I know of no law which gives the police power to delete photographs taken in this context. I could be wrong, of course… there are so many new idiotic laws in this country that it is difficult to be certain. I appreciate that society has to protect children from paedophiles – but it is getting to a pretty sorry state of affairs when a father can’t even take a pic of his own kid?  Perhaps I am off beam on this and we do need these laws.  I have a photograph of myself aged five naked in a bath.  My parents took the photograph.  I suspect many readers will have pictures from their childhood taken by loving parents.  I also have a photograph of me aged 8 – toothy, wearing short trousers, grey flannel shirt, striped school tie,  a school cap, eating an ice cream – with a parrot on my shoulder…. which appealed to an ex-lover of mine because she said I looked ‘sweet’.  I am pleased to report now… that I am (a) not sweet and (b) do not look sweet.  Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is closer to my ‘look’ these days and,  some say… with an ‘attitude’  to match!

Guido Fawkes has a good story about a Telegraph hackette writing to David Cameron’s friends – on Facebook etc – to dig for dirt about his school days. Telegraph Digging on Dave’s School-days

Frankly, I hope Cameron did have a great time at school and university.  I could not give a damn what Cameron did then. Most people have a few minor skeletons from those halcyon days.  Half the Labour Cabinet popped up some time ago with tales of drug taking at university – with appropriate statements of retrospective remorse  – but it would be most pleasing if he did have a normal childhood and got wasted at university from time to time.

There will, no doubt, be amusements to comment on in the Sunday papers tomorrow…. so I shall hit the send button on my weekly  ‘postcard’ and wander off to find a pub to enjoy a glass of Rioja at locally and think about what I plan to do next.  I think I shall return to painting soon…. My F***Art section needs a few more entries.

Best, as always

Charon

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Labour government Home Secretaries spend a great deal of time expressing disappointment with the judiciary – largely because because their department and those for whom they are responsible do not comply with the law.  The latest opportunity for a Home Secretary to express disappointment came last week when the Court of Appeal decided to reinstate a judge’s criticism of MI5 in a landmark torture ruling.

While The Lawyer focuses on:  “The Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge has rejected claims that Brick Court’s Jonathan Sumption QC had attempted to interfere with a draft judgment by requesting that a paragraph of the Binyam Mohamed torture ruling be redacted.@ The Times dealt with the rather more meaty issue of why the judges refused to bow to government pressure.

The Times reports: “Today, in the interests of “open justice”, Lord Neuberger and two other top judges decided to reinstate the paragraph, albeit subtly rewritten to make the criticism more narrowly focused on the Binyam Mohamed case. To prevent a continuing censorship row, they also decided to publish the original draft text….The decision brought calls from groups such as Amnesty International, Liberty and Reprieve for a full public inquiry into allegations that UK spy agencies colluded in torture during George W Bush’s “War on Terror”. Ministers were furious. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said that he was deeply disappointed by the court’s decision to “criticise the Security Service in this way”.

The government has every right to express disappointment with a particular judgment – although in doing so with an audience prepared to read the judgment of the Court of Appeal it cuts little ice.  It may well appeal, however, in an election year, to voters who are already whipped into a frenzy by coverage in The Sun about ‘killing burglars’ and judges who are ‘too soft’. Unfortunately, the wider public does not read law reports and may, therefore, not fully appreciate why the senior judiciary is at odds with the government on this and other civil liberty issues. The judgment of the Court of Appeal makes interesting reading.

An extract from Lord Nueberger MR judgment:

In these circumstances, the final version of paragraphs 168 to 170 in my judgment of 10th February 2010 is as follows:
“168. Fourthly, it is also germane that the Security Services had made it clear in March 2005, through a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee, that “they operated a culture that respected human rights and that coercive interrogation techniques were alien to the Services’ general ethics, methodology and training” (paragraph 9 of the first judgment), indeed they “denied that [they] knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by or on behalf of the [US] Government” (paragraph 44(ii) of the fourth judgment). Yet, in this case, that does not seem to have been true: as the evidence showed, some Security Services officials appear to have a dubious record relating to actual involvement, and frankness about any such involvement, with the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed when he was held at the behest of US officials. I have in mind in particular witness B, but the evidence in this case suggests that it is likely that there were others. The good faith of the Foreign Secretary is not in question, but he prepared the certificates partly, possibly largely, on the basis of information and advice provided by Security Services personnel. Regrettably, but inevitably, this must raise the question whether any statement in the certificates on an issue concerning the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed can be relied on, especially when the issue is whether contemporaneous communications to the Security Services about such mistreatment should be revealed publicly. Not only is there some reason for distrusting such a statement, given that it is based on Security Services’ advice and information, because of previous, albeit general, assurances in 2005, but also the Security Services have an interest in the suppression of such information.
169. My concern on this point is mitigated by the fact that the certificates appear to be supported by communications from the US, most pertinently the CIA letter and what was recorded as having been said by the Secretary of State. The US Government, like any other Government, plainly has an interest in ensuring that it controls the flow of any information which it provides to the SyS on a confidential basis, and the fact that it (and other Governments) may well be motivated in this case by embarrassment is not the point: one is concerned with hard facts, not moral judgements.

170. My conclusion on this half of the balancing exercise is this. While there are strong reasons for scepticism, I accept that the Foreign Secretary genuinely believes, and has some grounds for believing, what he has stated in the three certificates, namely that the flow of information from foreign Government intelligence services to the SyS could be curtailed if the redacted paragraphs are published, because that publication would be regarded by those Governments as an unjustifiable breach of the control principle. The normal reasons for deferring to his views on such an issue are diluted by the fact that there is nothing inherently sensitive in the information in those paragraphs, the very narrow and technical nature of the breach, the fact that the US must have appreciated the risk of intelligence material being disclosed pursuant to the law, the fact that other material apparently subject to the control principle has been revealed in the first judgement without objection, and a concern which arises from the apparent involvement of at least one Security Services agent in the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed. However, it is right to weigh against these factors the fact that the Foreign Secretary’s opinion is reinforced by the CIA letter and the notes of the views of the Secretary of State.”

Government fury as judges attack security services

The Guardian reports: Ministers back MI5 after highly critical verdict on secret service involvement in Binyam Mohamed case.

That the government should react with such ‘fury’ is entirely predictable.  Perhaps this says more about the present government than it does the judiciary? Are we likely to see further clashes with government in the coming years? I suspect so.

Time to rein in the law schools?

Beth Wanonoo argues on the Junior Lawyer’s Division website:

There needs to be a set of principles in place to protect students in this marketplace. A ‘law schools’ charter’ if you will. And the SRA should enforce it…

This is what it should contain:

1. Fees must be proportionate to the amount of cost law schools accrue. If the majority of the course is online, that course must be substantially cheaper than one which is ‘off-line’.

2. Law schools should be incredibly, incredibly, incredibly clear to prospective students about the marketplace. They should encourage frank self-evaluation BEFORE the course starts. It is too much to expect every student to be interviewed, but admission to law schools needs to be looked at in great detail.

3. There should be a league table of legal education providers. The SRA should allow the Law Society to rate each law school along five criteria, with each criteria having between 1 and 5 stars. Those criteria: 1. Teaching 2. Facilities 3. Careers advice 4. Administration 5. Employment (as in percentage of grads with jobs). These should be published on the Law Society’s website annually.

Having the ’employment’ criteria will mean that law schools will be under pressure to keep their admissions strict or risk their ratios being diluted. We must also have clear statistics of how many graduates are employed as paralegals and as solicitors after one year.

4. The SRA must have a blurb in each law school prospectus or its advertising media, saying something like this “the LPC is the purely academic stage of legal qualification. It is no guarantee of admission to the roll and does not carry any rights of practice.”

If the SRA, or the Law Society, or even the JLD don’t stand up for students, nobody else will. At the moment there is little representation for students and consequently little balance between their position and that of the law schools.

I don’t agree with Ms Wanonoo on the issue of fee pricing. This is best controlled by competition and the market. Central Law Training have entered the market with a cheaper option. Whether students will be attracted by a cut-price option for a course provided through a commercial CPD provider with little direct experience of running courses themselves  (They are teaming up with the University of The West of England) remains to be seen.

I have long felt that the fees for the LPC and BVC are ‘pacy’ – with BPP Law School heading the list – but this is essentially a matter of what the market will bear and regulators may have little appetite for getting involved. Law Schools are now required to brief students about the legal market place and give clear guidance on the the prospects. Her view that law courses carry a ‘health warning’ is not unreasonable to draw attention to the realities in the profession of today.

I do agree with her idea that there should be a league table of Law School providers for the LPC (and for the BVC / BPTC).
The Bar Standards Board is now publishing inspection visit reports and demonstrated only this week they are prepared to carry out robust inspections and be blunt – even if they have little in the way of sanction to correct errant behaviour.

Nigel Savage, CEO of The College of Law has long argued that the SRA should beef up its procedures for inspecting law schools  providing instruction for the LPC.  I agree.  Students (or law firms) pay high fees for these courses and they are entitled to know (a) that regulators are regulating and (b) that information is made public.

In the ‘arse from their elbow’ department this week…

RollonFriday notes: “It’s been another poor week for law schools. First Nottingham Law School set its students an impossible question, then the College of Law forgot to hand out a multiple choice answer sheet. Not wanting to be left out, the School of Oriental and African Studies then set its law students the most bizarre exam question in living memory……

RoF provides a helpful cut out guide for law school administrators.

There is more law news… but it is early on Saturday morning… and I shall return to law later in the weekend….

Postcard from The Staterooms-on-Thames coming…soon.

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