Archive for June 21st, 2010


I had a bit of fun growing another absurd tache to confuse visiting tourists – who did stare at me.  I was even photographed while reading my newspapers by a couple of elderly Canadians who asked me directions and told me that I had a ‘cute accent’…whatever that is. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told them that I was descended from Vercingetorix (I’m not) and the tache was a family trait.  I enjoy talking to people who come and talk to me – even if I cannot always guarantee that I will talk sense.  Anyway – tacheless until Winter comes upon us again when I may go for a Scott of The Antarctic look.  Now… a bit of Law…

Results of Cherie Blair inquiry ‘were covered up’

The Independent reports: The body which investigates complaints against judges has been accused of covering up the full extent of an investigation into Cherie Blair over her decision to hand down a lenient sentence to a convicted man because he was “a religious person”. An investigation into Mrs Blair, who is a devout Roman Catholic, was launched earlier this year by the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC) following a request from the National Secular Society (NSS), which argued that a person’s religious conviction should not be used as a mitigating factor during sentencing.

….Mrs Blair explained that she was giving Mr Miah a two-year suspended sentence, instead of a six-month jail term, because he was “a religious person” who had not been in trouble before.

Following the NSS’s complaint, the OJC released a two-paragraph statement on 10 June stating that an investigation by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice had concluded that Mrs Blair’s “observations did not constitute judicial misconduct” and that “no disciplinary action” was necessary.

But in a separate letter to the NSS, obtained by The Independent, a caseworker from the OJC admitted that the complaint had in fact been “partially substantiated” and that, while no disciplinary action was needed, Mrs Blair would receive “informal advice from a senior judge.”

Others have noted on blogs and in online newspaper comments that Cherie Booth QC acted within sentencing guidelines in terms of the specifics of the case, it being argued that it is unlikely the defendant’s religious views would have made any difference.  That may well be the case. I make no comment on that.  I have not read all the evidence.  The issue as I see it is straightforward and I would simply make two points:

(a) The OJC should have given clear reasons for their findings when they announced the result.  This lack of transparency is part of the ‘secrecy’ malaise which blights much of the executive in this country and we do not need it in the judiciary or, rather The Office for Judicial Complaints. As the old saying goes… ‘Justice must not only be done, but needs to be seen to be done.’

(b) I can see absolutely no reason why a person’s religion or faith, whatever form that should take, should impact on sentencing.

The Independent notes: Mr Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said the OJC should still have released a more detailed statement which would have informed the public that two senior judges had shown concern over Mrs Blair’s sentencing decision and that she had been spoken to as a result. “It should be noted that the facts we alleged in our complaint are not disputed and that the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice have shared our concerns over this case,” he said. “We welcome them stating their concern that remarks should not be made in court that could be thought to imply that defendants should be treated differently because of their religion or belief. This is a timely reiteration of the fundamental of justice that everyone should be treated equally by the courts, whatever their religion, or lack of it.”

I’m with the NSS on this and not simply because I share the secular state views.

Neuberger report: more solicitor judges wanted

Not, unfortunately Lord Neuberger MR but another distinguished Neuberger – Baroness Neuberger.

The Lawyer reports: The Law Society has long stated its belief that the judiciary should better reflect the diversity of the society it serves rather than being the preserve of the white, heterosexual, Oxbridge-­educated, male barrister.  Last week (15 June) it held a reception to coincide with its response to Baroness Neuberger’s recent report on judicial diversity and to highlight the contribution of solicitor judges, who remain in the minority among the higher echelons of the judiciary. The report proposes 53 recommendations to attract underrepresented groups, including engaging with schools and colleges and promoting part-time ­positions, in acknowledgement that, despite the best efforts of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), women, ethnic minorities and those from working class backgrounds remain underrepresented.

One is almost tempted to say Yada Yada Yada… but I won’t. It is a serious issue – but the last thing people are going to say at a public reception is that we don’t want diversity in the judiciary because we could end up with a  judiciary which, frankly, is not very good at the job because of lack of experience.

The Bar may have  its problems.. There may still be a few walking cliches of the classic ‘white, heterosexual, Oxbridge-­educated, male barrister’ type harrumphing in Chambers and talking about suiting, shooting and solicitor-inadequates.  Frankly, I have not met that many of prejudiced disposition and puffing their innate superiority in 30 years of meeting barristers. Such people are buffoons and deserve to be ridiculed and parodied  when they pop their tailored haircuts above the parapet.   Oxbridge produces good young law students, but so do many other universities and students from diverse backgrounds are rising in the profession.     I am tired of lazy thinking and cliches. Professor Griffith’s book ‘The Politics of The Judiciary’ was written many many years ago – a fun read when I was a mildly radical law student, with much sense in it – but things have changed in 40 years. We’re not there yet – but I do think it fair to say that the profession is trying to move in the right direction and attract a more diverse social group into the the law.

The way to get diversity into our legal profession and judiciary is to promote good quality education to a wider social group and invest in it.  The sad fact is that it is easier for the children of the middle classes to get into law and many of these have been white.  Things are changing slowly – and diversity will come.  I can’t imagine there are tens of  thousands of lawyers saying we don’t want diversity in the profession or the judiciary.

The last thing we need is positive discrimination and a pile of useless inexperienced judges – of whatever colour, creed or social background.  We must resist the temptation to be seduced by the social benefits of positive discrimination or, as I prefer to put it tonight – because I am feeling sardonic – positive patronisation.

As I used to say when I set examination questions – Discuss.

An American cartoonist (and lawyer and artist) friend,  Charles Fincher,  does excellent cartoons.

Always worth looking at both Scribble-in-Law and Bitcher & Prickman

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