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Archive for July, 2011

#Hackgate continues with coverage of possible computer hacking in the papers this morning Yesterday Christopher Jefferies, the man ‘monstered’ in some tabloids as the suspect in the Yates murder, has won substantial damages from eight newspapers and The Lord Chief Justice has handed down a very critical judgment holding The Mirror and The Sun in contempt of court

The Guardian reports:

Earlier on Friday, Jefferies accepted substantial libel damages from eight newspapers – including the Daily Mirror and the Sun – over stories relating to his arrest.

In the contempt ruling handed down at the high court on Friday, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Owen described the Daily Mirror articles as “extreme” and “substantial risks to the course of justice”.

The judges said the Sun’s coverage of Jefferies created a “very serious risk” that any future court defence would be damaged.

“These articles [in the Sun] would have certainly justified an abuse of process argument, and although their effect is not as grave as that of two series of articles contained in the Mirror, the vilification of Mr Jefferies created a very serious risk that the preparation of his defence would be damaged,” the judges said. “At the time when this edition of the Sun was published it created substantial risks to the course of justice. It therefore constituted a contempt under the strict liability rule.”

Attorney-General Dominic Grieve led the prosecution himself, unusually, and appears, rightly, to be taking a very hard line on the issue of contempt of court in relation to press and media reporting.

And then, this morning, the political blogger Guido Fawkes has started a petition to bring back the death penalty in the United Kingdom Apart from the irony of a blogger using the name  Guido Fawkes as a nom de plume to suggest such a petition, many have observed that this will do his blog stats no end of good, given the desire of many to bring back the death penalty.  I suspect that PM Camcorderdirect, relaxing in his Tuscan lair, having spent some time de-toxifying the Tory party, will be groaning as various (and sundry) Tory MPs have come out in favour.  The Sun has taken up the story.  Is Guido re-toxifying the Tory party for his own ends to bait them, to trap Tory and other MPs into declaring their position for subsequent vilification in media and social media?

I am against the death penalty on three grounds: (a) It is a barbaric penalty, suitable only for countries living under medieval concepts of justice (b) judges and juries are not infallible and (c) it goes against the foundations of  modern humanitarian and moral precepts of justice.  Quite apart from the fact that Britain would have difficulties remaining a member of the European Union if we bring back the death penalty (Members are required to sign up to the European Convention. 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” –  Edit: and Protocol 13 – Complete abolition of death penalty in Council of Europe states) one just needs to remember the reason why the death penalty was abolished in Britain in  1965the case of Timothy Evans being but one important reason.

They say that 70% of the population in Britain would welcome a return of the death penalty – the argument of the ‘executioneers’ is that Parliament must impose the will of the majority.  To that, I have to repeat a statement I have used before – “5 million flies eat shit, but it does not follow that shit is good for us to eat” .

I suspect (I have no empirical evidence) that few High Court judges would seek return of the death penalty and, I suspect, that few barristers, defence barristers in particular, would welcome the return.

To use a ‘populist’ argument – as a fair few twitter users did this morning… “You don’t trust MPs on taxation, expenses, governance…so why do you want to hand power to them to hang people?” Res Ipsa Loquitur?

Well… there we are.  We shall see what happens with this latest ‘wheeze’ on the part of the right wing to bring our ‘green and pleasant land’ into their vision of control.   If the death penalty does come back… I suspect that Norway with  their mature, humane and inspiring  way of handling serious issues would be a good place to live in?

I did like this sensible tweet from a labour MP… he has a point!

And this is the level of debate that those who want to hang people rely on?  Absurd…. (Me, elitist?  I think not!)

Mr Gaunt is, apparently, a columnist…

I look forward to more ‘gems of reason’ from ‘Gaunty’…. I may have a long wait?

A human rights nazi?  Now that is a concept that may give Mr Gaunt something to chew on?

My fellow blogger, friend and podcaster – David Allen Green – takes up the theme, sensibly,  in a very well reasoned blog post…… I quote his ending…“The devil may well have the best tunes; but the liberals will usually turn out to have the better arguments.”  Well worth reading.

UPDATE Sunday 31 July 2011

Unfortunately… with public opinion… law gets in the way. Guido suggested that Article 2 permitted executions.  As @ObiterJ pointed out in the comments…. Protocol 13 ECHR makes a rather important legal point which public opinion should consider

Yes.. this is right…

PLEASE READ THIS…  excellent… beautifully written with some wonderful imagery… 

Hanging’s Too Good For ‘Em

Jerry Hayes is not a fan of the new e-Petitions. Not at all.

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Listen to the podcast

Useful links

Joshua Rozenberg: Who will be the two new supreme court judges?

Leveson Inquiry | Lord Justice Leveson statement

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I’d like to thank Lawtel, WestlawCassons For Counsel, City University Law School David Phillips & Partners Solicitors, Inksters SolicitorsIken, LBC Wise Counsel, Carrs Solicitors,  JMW Solicitors – Manchester, Pannone and Cellmark for sponsoring the podcast  – and the free student materials on Insite Law – appreciated.

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It has been a while since I wrote a ‘Postcard’… so this evening, sitting at my post overlooking The Thames at Battersea, I thought a non-structured and, possibly random, review of law, oddities and musings would be appropriate as the silly season begins.

Keep marches away from the Ritz, says QC  (The Independent i newspaper)

“Left-wing” marches should be banned from taking place in parts of central London which contain upmarket buildings, a leading barrister has said.  John Beveridge QC was criticised after it emerged that he had written to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, demanding that such a ban should be introduced…… according to West End Extra, he said the marches attracted ‘ragtag’ protesters who “become violent and urinate all over the place.”

It seems that Mr Beveridge was happy for these ‘ragtags’ to go and urinate all over the place attacking Safeway and Costcutter  but observed…“There’s no fun for them in attacking Safeway or Costcutter, but they love beating up the Ritz” He is reported as adding.. “(I) couldn’t care less if such a ban infringed rights”

Given that Mr Beveridge is a trustee of the St James Conservation Trust, one is not entirely surprised by his rather trenchant views about ‘ragtags’. The St James Conservation Trust website reports that he is a retired QC.

But… it isn’t just the Bar side of our profession giving us a good name…. The Lawyer reports….

SJ Berwin was ‘wrong’ to ask summer student to do an all-nighter

SJ Berwin has admitted that the firm “got it wrong” when a summer vacation scheme student was asked to work until the early hours of the morning. A female student is understood to have worked until five in the morning after being asked to help another female colleague on a document for an international arbitration.

Worthy of Dr Erasmus Strangelove – the new Senior partner and CEO of Muttley Dastardly LLP

And… if you are a student… it is not all doom and gloom.  RollonFriday.com reports:  “Nabarro has come top of this week’s announcements of trainee retention figures, with 19 of its 20 trainees set to qualify with the firm in September. But other firms have not done so well. In fact Nabarro made offers to all 20, with one trainee choosing to escape under the barbed wire for pastures new. BLP is at the top of the list as well, also retaining all but one of its 20 trainees. A super result for the firm which just goes to show that giving your future joiners a good bollocking when they’re on the LPC can work wonders.”

Tonight, I shall be ‘prepping’ for our Without Prejudice podcast tomorrow evening.  Sadly, Carl Gardner is away in Holland, but David Allen Green will be at the table, together with our guest Joshua Rozenberg, a leading legal commentator and presenter of the BBC’s Law in Action series, and Amanda Bancroft, a former practising barrister and author of the Beneath The Wig blog.

We plan to look at the possible controversy about the appointment of Leveson LJ to head the #Hackgate Inquiry – given his recently disclosed links to the Murdochs, The Supreme Court ‘Star Wars’ judgment, Legal journalism and blogging, Clare’s law, Secret evidence, Press contempt of court, and, if we have time, the continuing saga of the Solicitors from hell website. I am looking forward to asking Joshua Rozenberg questions.  It may be a novel experience for him to be on the receiving end of questions?   Lucy Reed, barrister and author of The Pink Tape blog, has a thoughtful piece on Clare’s law in the Guardian this week: Why Clare’s Law won’t prevent domestic violence

Making law accessible to the public

Adam Wagner, I Crown Office Row and editor of the excellent UK Human Rights blog has a good piece in The Guardian this week: As legal aid reforms threaten access to lawyers, there are three relatively inexpensive ways to improve public access to law.  

On the theme of legal aid cuts, Professor Richard Moorhead points out: Lawyers are their own worst advocates

The government’s legal aid reforms will shortly become law, even though they are premised on a number of un- and half-truths.

We are not, for instance, a country gripped by a litigation culture, yet this is a problem that the Ministry of Justice is perpetually trying to solve. Litigants in person will cause the courts significant problems, even if the secretary of state is right that many will also give up on their cases rather than litigate them (apparently seeing this as a good thing).

It occured to me on twitter last night, as I marvelled at the usual stream of information and surreality with a glass of Montepulciano, that Michael Gove’s many reported meetings with News International (He used to work for NI, apparently) were almost certainly not about BSkyB, but were more likely to be about education.  This was confirmed by Gove this morning.  Given that it has been reported that UK Murdoch’s ‘loss making’ flagship newspapers,  The Times and Sunday Times, were subsidised by The News of The Screws (Now defunct) and The Sun, and the fact that education is VERY big business in the USA, Murdoch may well be thinking about getting into the soon to be ‘de-regulated’ UK education market.

Apollo, a large US company owns BPP University College (BPP Law School) and The Washington Post owns, inter alia, Kaplan – a keen entrant to the highly profitable GDL, LPC and BPTC market.   On that premise – it would make sense for News Corporation to muscle their way in to the education market in the UK generally.

During the CMS Select Committee hearings a week ago, sitting behind Murdoch, was a man who  sat impassively throughout.  “That man’s name is Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York city’s public schools, the same man who is now heading the internal News International investigation in the UK, he is Executive Vice President overseeing investments in digital learning companies with a News Corp education division and a $2 million salary.”

I am, obviously, not alone in having these thoughts and I draw your attention to an excellent piece of blogging by @Colmmu: Murdoch – The Last Frontier or The Next Frontier? where Jon Harman, director of The College of Law Multi-media division analyses the position in some detail. I intend to speak to Jon and follow up.

Given that there are doubts about News Corporation’s ‘ fitness and properness’ to even hold onto their current BSKYB holding, it may be that David “Two Brains” Willetts MP, Minister for Universities, will not be too keen to have any meetings with News Corporation on the matter of a Murdoch onslaught into education in the UK – at least for the present and medium term future?

Well… there we are… still a lot happening in the legal world….

Best, as ever

Charon

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I read Jack of Kent’s blog post….

1. Hari is not young.  He knew what he was doing and the score. Plagiarism is wrong.

2.  I personally give little thought to the reputation of the journalists I read – with a few exceptions.  I am more interested in the content. Most / Many journalists have little specialist expertise in the field they write about – compared to the expert practitioner, academic or researcher.  Many journalists have to cover a wide brief within a field. The expertise valued in the journalist lies in finding the story and laying it out clearly with interest.  Where the journalist writes as expert, as some do  – then his or her words may be weighed in that context and compared to other experts – and a judgment formed by the reader.

3. It was mildly amusing (the Hari hashtag on twitter) at first – but as often happens on twitter and in blogs, it turned nasty and vindictive.

4.  I do hope for the sake of those who hounded – forensically or otherwise – that Hari has come to no personal harm.  Losing a pretty valueless prize (The Orwell Prize) – all prizes have little value – is not the end of the world.

5. Is journalism a profession? I do not think it is.  Rather as law has become – it is a business.

6.  Hari plagiarised and added colour to what may have otherwise been rather dull interviews.  In the grand scheme of things, while wrong, hardly a hanging offence or going to the very ‘root of evil’.

7.  Was it so necessary for the pack to get precious about it and engage in forensic evisceration and destruction of a reputation?   Would it not have been kinder – and just as effective – to have used humour to ‘call him out’ and persuade him not to engage in such matters?

8.  The pursuit of Hari reminded me of Lord of The Flies.  Kindness and humanity is better before the event – rather than an after the event absolution (For the hounders).

9.  A plagiarism on all your houses.

(PS.. for the avoidance of doubt – the work done by Jack of Kent was balanced and fair  and he had the courage to flag the issue up.)

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Two stories have caught my eye overnight…both from The Telegraph…

George Osborne had dinner with Rupert Murdoch two weeks before BSkyB bid decision

The Telegraph: The Chancellor, George Osborne, flew to New York and had dinner with Rupert Murdoch two weeks before the media regulator was due to decide on whether to approve his takeover of BSkyB.

AND… this.. rather more important one…

Phone hacking inquiry judge attended parties at home of Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law

The Telegraph: The judge in charge of the phone hacking inquiry has attended parties at the home of Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law.

Lord Leveson’s office insisted that David Cameron had been informed of the judge’s attendance at the parties and had not raised any objections.

Lord Leveson’s office continued: “Lord Justice Leveson was not involved in that meeting and he has neither met nor spoken to anyone from Freud Communications since January 2011.

“There is, in any event, no continuing relationship. Prior to his appointment to the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson ensured that these matters were brought to the attention of the Prime Minister.”

Twenty years ago I was involved in a contract dispute.  I won.  The first High Court judge to try the issue had to recuse himself (stand down).  The plaintiffs objected on the grounds that I had had a drink with the judge when he was a QC.  The judge had no problem with this.  Nor did I.

In the present climate – I am surprised that the Prime Minister, aware of the minor connection between Lord Justice Leveson and the Murdochs as reported in The Telegraph – thought it fitting that Leveson LJ should head the inquiry.  I am sure that Leveson LJ would be impartial.  He is highly regarded.  But on this very complex and emotive issue of #Hackgate – it is surprising (a) that this story was not announced at the time Leveson LJ was appointed and, frankly, (b) that Leveson LJ was appointed, and (c) accepted the appointment.

My view on this may not find favour in some circles…. but I do feel, strongly, that Leveson LJ – assuming The Telegraph story is accurate in all respects – should stand down.  There must be other judges with no connections to the Murdochs or their empire, who could do just as good a job?

Chris Bryant MP has objected. I think we should also object...strongly.

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The Independent reports today…. “A claim that James Murdoch gave misleading evidence to a Commons committee is to be referred to Scotland Yard, a Labour MP said today. Tom Watson said he would be contacting Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers – who is leading the phone-hacking investigation – about the claim made by former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former legal manager Tom Crone.”

Today I am talking to solicitor David Allen Green about the legal implications of this and the legal position of News Corp solicitors Harbottle & Lewis and the extent to which they are now able to put their views on the Murdoch testimony of last Tuesday….

Listen to the podcast

(The sound quality is ‘patchy’ in parts – although only one minor cut out.  I had to call David Allen Green on a mobile while he was in a taxi.)

Useful links

Other Without Prejudice podcasts on #Hackgate:  in the last week

David Allen Green in The New Statesman: Allowing the lawyers to speak

Samira Shackle in the New Statesman: Tom Watson asks police to investigate James Murdoch

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I’d like to thank Lawtel, WestlawCassons For Counsel, City University Law School David Phillips & Partners Solicitors, Inksters SolicitorsIken, LBC Wise Counsel, Carrs Solicitors,  JMW Solicitors – Manchester, Pannone and Cellmark for sponsoring the podcast  – and the free student materials on Insite Law – appreciated.

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