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Archive for May 20th, 2010

Big Society: 6.05 pm – Iain Duncan-Smith is in The Diary Room

Big Society: Good afternoon Secretary of State.  Found any exorcists in your new department…?  I’m sure there are quite a few demons over there?

Ian Duncan-Smith: hahaha… no, demons, yes… but no exorcists here.

Big Society: So… you have the distinction of being the only leader of a parliamentary party forced out on a vote of no confidence by your own party.  Recovered?

Ian Duncan-Smith: Yes, absolutely… they called me the ‘Quiet Man’… I even told them not to underestimate me… but they did… but now I’m back with my Centre for Social Justice and a good team.

Big Society: yes… it would appear that you are back. William Hague is another former leader.  I was surprised they didn’t have any room for Michael Howard – the leader who never slept – but I suppose they had to shoehorn all those Lib-Dems in.  So… what has it being like trying to persuade some of your more, shall we say, ‘right thinking’ colleagues  of the value of your centre for Social Justice?

Ian Duncan-Smith: A bit like shining a pencil torch into a dark void.

Big Society: hahaha – ah well… they’re a bit busy at the moment trying to fend of Dave’s brilliant new plan to infiltrate the 1922 Committee to stop it being an internal focus for dissent.  Still… some of your colleagues must have been a bit pissed orf not to have got a nice little number or sinecure and now find those jumped up tree huggers bigging it up in the corridors of power.  Well… it has to be said that social justice agenda is right  at the heart of David Cameron’s repositioning of the Tory party under the Compassionate Conservative schtik.

Ian Duncan-Smith: Yes, absolutely… Mrs Thatcher was right in 1987  to talk about the inner cities. She just never got there.

Big Society: So getting fired by the men in suits didn’t bother you that much… you’ve come back.

Ian Duncan-Smith: It was difficult being leader, I make no bones about it. The Labour Party was in the ascendant, we weren’t. We were still tearing chunks off ourselves. But I have no regrets.

Big Society: How long do you think it will be before some of your disenfranchised and disenchanted back benchers and paid up members of the awkward squad will kick off… to use a modern term?

Ian Duncan-Smith: Not long…. but we have a lot of goodwill in the country with this new politics schtik and with quite a lot of people selling their old principles down the river and becoming ‘born again politicians’ we have a majority…. Labour want to re-group so can’t afford to bring us down yet, so even if a few Lib-Dems escape… we should be OK for a while… Even Ed Balls is trying to persuade people he has mellowed and will listen… hahaha…. I can’t see it myself… but who knows…?  we live in interesting times.

Big Society: Normally, Secretary of State, I can listen endlessly… but I’ve just had a call from our producer…. he’s telling me you are just too reasonable and sensible these days… can you come up with real fruit loop stuff next time you come into The Diary Room..? . perhaps encourage Nadine to go for judicial review of the Speaker election… or get some of them to call for an immediate restoration of hunting and tiger shooting, withdrawal from Europe, abolish the Human Rights Act that sort of thing…?  you know… the shit that sells newspapers and makes Daily Politics and Newsnight watchable?

Ian Duncan-Smith: Ok… err…. I’ll see what I can do… bye Big Society….

Big Society: Bye… mind how you go…. Exorciso te romanum and all that!

***

Lawyer’s disclaimer! All, well some it,  entirely fictitious and made up… obviously.

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With the onset of summer, the work for the day done, I took myself  (and my slightly sinister new temporary  tache) off to a cafe in Battersea Square to sit in the sun, drink black coffee, smoke Marlboros and catch up on a bit of law news in The Guardian and The Times.

After reading about Ken Clarke and how he won’t be an easy lay as Lord Chancellor, I turned to The Times Student Law section which can often a gorge fest for advertorial.  Today was no different.  I was entertained for five minutes by an article where  Peter Crisp,  CEO of BPP Law School,  justified his law school’s outrageous over subscription of students on the BVC last year – because ‘BPP is so popular’.  It appeared to have nothing whatsoever to do with extra wedge or , more formally, income or…indeed…. poor administration. Peter Crisp said there is now a statistician (appointed by the BVC) to ensure that BPP Law School registrars can count.

Yesterday I wrote about the extraordinary story of Katie Best at the BPP Business School saying she regarded the description ‘sausage factory’ as a compliment….

Actually, I take the “BPP is a sausage factory” criticism as a compliment – and not just because it reveals the nervousness of the establishment about the shake-ups in the sector we may prompt. Last time I looked, sausage factories were highly efficient, rational places that make money by providing consumers with a product they desire. Only a very small proportion of sausage factories make their money from churning out products of dubious quality; the rest focus their attention on making affordable, high-quality products that ensure repeat purchase.”

I repeat my hope that this ‘thinking’ does not escape, jump over the wall and infect the quality of work done by the professional team at BPP Law School!

Anyway, you have to hand it to Peter Crisp – he certainly keeps the message that BPP were not at fault in any way for the over recruitment on message.

Good News:  BPP has published the QAA report

I seem to recall that Peter Crisp has two sausage dogs!

Anyway… moving on to other matters legal…

Law firms take up the supermarket challenge

Tesco, the Co-op and others are planning to launch their new legal services under opportunities afforded by The Legal Services Act.  Big brand names are going into the market – including The Halifax.

I am pleased to report that The Times is reporting that high street solicitors are rising to this challenge with their own “BRAND”…. QualitySolicitors – providing no frills legal advice.

The Times reports: “Craig Holt, barrister and chief executive of the new QualitySolicitors network, said: “What the legal market is desperately missing is a recognisable, customer service-focused national brand name — a ‘household name’ — that people can rely on without having to spend hours researching and choosing between dozens of local law firms.”

I’m not sure the name is that great… a bit last century – but hey… what’s in a name?”

I rather suspect that branding this operation will cost a fair bit of money.  tesco, the Co-op and halifax sp[end millions and are already well known.  What’s more – they have the space in their supermarkets and bank outlets.  I rather liked this comment…

Eddie Ryan, managing director of Co-operative Legal Services, said: “Yes, we are a threat, [but] are we going to try and wipe out small firms? No.”

Yeah… right!

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The Sun had a poll this morning suggesting that only one in four people wants to keep the Human Rights Act.
I carried out a very unscientific poll of my own this morning while I had coffee. I asked a few people having coffee at the cafe what they thought of the Human Rights Act. Two said they didn’t know anything about it. This is quite understandable – how many people really do, apart from lawyers, politicos and activists? Two said it had to be abolished, but admitted they had never read the Act or the European Convention and one person said it was absolutely vital we keep it – but he, too, admitted that he had never read the act or the convention. Intrigued by this, I rang up two lawyer friends. They are not Human Rights lawyers (Obviously, human rights lawyers tend to know what is in the Act and the Convention). They were only able to tell me about three of the freedoms enshrined in the convention. I was rather surprised – but not totally surprised. The truth of the matter is that most people don’t know the structure of the Convention or the Act, let alone the main provisions or the detail. This is totally understandable.  They have a broad ‘feel’ based on news and reading in the newspapers.


But have a look at the list of freedoms below and see what you think. Do they look unreasonable ideals to you? I would be surprised if you do think they are unreasonable ideals.

The Human Rights Act has, almost certainly, been misused and has thrown up many anomalies – but is this a reason to remove it from our law? `We can repeal the Human Rights Act, but we can’t take ourselves out of the European Convention on Human Rights without coming out of Europe. It may well be useful to have a British Bill of Rights, building on the provisions on the HRA – a Commission may well recommend this in time.

The Human Rights Act 1998

An Act to give further effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights; to make provision with respect to holders of certain judicial offices who become judges of the European Court of Human Rights; and for connected purposes.

Few, I suspect, if any, would want to live in a country where basic freedoms are not protected with the full force of law.

A British Bill of Rights would have to be consistent with the European Convention – so how much different would it be from the Human Rights Act? I suspect that a Commission may well improve and increase the freedoms. I hope so – the more free we are, the happier and more respected a country we will be. I do agree that we need to get rid of useless, repressive,  laws and misuse of laws designed specifically to combat terror – but which appear to be being used against the people of our country rather than terrorists – ID, photography, protest, wheelie bins et al. I do agree that we need to remove a culture of compensation for everything and discard some of the more ludicrous aspects of political correctness.

Human Rights is important to everyone – the law guarantees our freedom from oppression by the state.

We have ‘relatively’  benign governments in this country – whatever your political leanings – compared to others less fortunate in other parts of the world.   Nick Clegg and his LIb-Dems are saying that we don’t just need to return power to people, we need to give people back their rights.  If he can pull this off, he is to be applauded.  I am only sorry that Labour has not done this – rather surprising given their original political roots.  Hopefully, Labour will have learned from the past 13 years in power that power has to be used wisely, be measured and considered, and not be responsive to knee jerking tabloid ranting….. and certainly  not be misused against the people governed.

The present Coalition government wants to make those freedoms more real, more practical and more usable – but in a balanced way so that our greatest protection – freedom from harm by others  – is properly addressed with open and effective laws designed for that purpose.  I don’t see a Coalition government destroying the concept of freedoms.    Clegg and his Lib-Dem colleagues are right to insist that this is their red line in the sand. Sabre rattling at election time is all very well, but we live a world of ‘real politik’.

Why do so many people ‘hate’ the Human Rights Act (and, of course the Convention)? I haven’t a clue – other than hatred of it whipped up tabloids concentrating on the more bizarre aspects and anomalies – which, is a minority of applications of the laws in daily practice.   Abuse of the Act and the more insane political correctness aspects can be addressed – but do we really want to go back to a pre European Convention law structure?

What, below, is there not to like? Not much, I suspect, will your answer if you are not familiar with the provisions of the Convention and the Human Rights Act. So why do  75% of Sun Readers polled want to get rid of the Act?  Are we living in a country populated by nutters and fascists? No… I suspect the truth of the matter – and I mean no criticism – is that most people don’t actually know how valuable the Convention and the Act is to our country and to maintaining peace in Europe, simply because they haven’t studied it in detail.  They do not see the wood for the trees (and, again I mean no criticism) because Tabloids don’t want to look at success or detail, they just want to bang on about unelected judges releasing terrorists into the community so they can kill everyone, including themselves… and thereby, sell a few more newspapers.  The Daily Mail, the Daily Express – and even The Sun and The Mirror are not exactly immune to such seductive money make ‘SCOOPS’.

Let a Commission get rid of some of the nonsense – but don’t be too quick to talk of ‘powers’ being handed to ‘unelected judges’. Our judges apply the law – that is what judges do.  The judges apply human rights law to protect us – and that has, on occasion, been difficult for Home Secretaries and other politicians who usually use the rubric that they are ‘disappointed’ when a decision of the courts doesn’t go their way.

If you aren’t familiar with the structure – here are the headings.  Wikipedia has more detail.  (I have left wikipedia references in below)

Article 1 – respecting rights

Article 1 simply binds the signatory parties to secure the rights under the other Articles of the Convention “within their jurisdiction”.

Article 2 – life

Article 2 protects the right of every person to their life.

Article 3 – torture

Article 3 prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right. This provision usually applies, apart from torture, to cases of severe police violence and poor conditions in detention.

Article 4 – servitude

Article 4 prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour

Article 5 – liberty and security

Article 5 provides that everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.

Article 6 – fair trial

Article 6 provides a detailed right to a fair trial

Article 7 – retrospectivity

Prohibits the retrospective criminalisation of acts and omissions.[edit]

Article 8 – privacy

Article 8 provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence

Article 9 – conscience and religion

Article 9 provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 10 – expression

Article 10 provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas.

Article 11 – association

Article 11 protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”.

Article 12 – marriage

Article 12 provides a right for women and men of marriageable age to marry and establish a family.

Article 13 – effective remedy

Article 13 provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention. The inability to obtain a remedy before a national court for an infringement of a Convention right is thus a free-standing and separately actionable infringement of the Convention.

Article 14 – discrimination

Article 14 contains a prohibition of discrimination.

Article 15 – derogations

Article 15 allows contracting states to derogate from certain rights guaranteed by the Convention in time of “war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

Article 16 – aliens

Article 16 allows states to restrict the political activity of foreigners. The Court has ruled that European Union member states cannot consider the nationals of other member states to be aliens.[16]

Article 17 – abuse of rights

Article 17 provides that no one may use the rights guaranteed by the Convention to seek the abolition or limitation of rights guaranteed in the Convention.

Article 18 – permitted restrictions

Article 18 provides that any limitations on the rights provided for in the Convention may be used only for the purpose for which they are provided.

Protocol 1, Article 1 – property

Article 1 provides for the rights to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions.

Protocol 1, Article 2 – education

Article 2 provides for the right not to be denied an education and the right for parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious and other views.

Protocol 1, Article 3 – elections

Article 3 provides for the right to regular, free and fair elections.

Protocol 4 – civil imprisonment, free movement, expulsion

Article 1 prohibits the imprisonment of people for breach of a contract.

Protocol 6 – restriction of death penalty

Requires parties to restrict the application of the death penalty to times of war or “imminent threat of war”.

Protocol 7 – crime and family

  • Article 1 provides for a right to fair procedures for lawfully resident foreigners facing expulsion.
  • Article 2 provides for the right to appeal in criminal matters.
  • Article 3 provides for compensation for the victims of miscarriages of justice.
  • Article 4 prohibits the re-trial of anyone who has already been finally acquitted or convicted of a particular offence (Double jeopardy).
  • Article 5 provides for equality between spouses.

Protocol 12 – discrimination

Applies the current expansive and indefinite grounds of prohibited discrimination in Article 14 to the exercise of any legal right and to the actions (including the obligations) of public authorities.

Protocol 13 – complete abolition of death penalty

Provides for the total abolition of the death penalty.[20]

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