31st July: In conversation…..

Today, Friday 31st July 2009, brought the curtain down on a venerable institution – the Judicial Committee of The House of Lords – to be transformed on October 1st into The Supreme Court of The United Kingdom. The judges of the Supreme Court are to be styled ‘Justices of the Supreme Court’.

But… there is still a problem… how are they to be referred to in the papers, on television?  As Joshua Rozenberg pointed out in the Law Society Gazette this week… calling them ‘Justice’ is either a bit too American and could lead to confusion with our most senior judges being on a lower level in title terms than a High Court judge (Mr Justice or Mrs Justice ) or the Court of Appeal judge ( Lord Justice or Lady Justice).  Rozenberg suggests that Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony is just not going to fit in the television captions or, I would add,  be capable of being remembered by the average television autocue based presenter/interviewer.

I opened a bottle of Rioja and imagined a conversation between two men who meet in the pub quite a lot.  I shall call them  Man in a Hat and Man in a Cap.

Man in hat: You do know that the Law Lords stopped being Law Lords today don’t you?

Man in cap: Stopped being Law Lords…?  what sort of Lords are they going to be then?

Man in hat: Well.. they’re still going to be Law… Lords… as in Lords who do Law… but they won’t be Law Lords… The House of Lords… or part of it… … see… has changed into the Supreme Court….

Man in a cap: Yeah… I read about that in The Telegraph… they’ve got a new building an all…. an expensive new building…. 65 million quid  it was… did you see that? And.. I also read that new judges to this Chicken Supreme Court aren’t going to be Lords at all…. just law judges… so won’t they feel a bit left out… what with all the others being Time Lords who aren’t any longer… and that?

Man in hat: Yes… I saw that in The Mail.  Disgraceful… you’d have thought a man or woman who works all his or her  life for his or her country and goes to our highest court of law would get a Lordship wouldn’t you? … especially since all the other lords who do law but aren’t law lords any longer have got lordships.

Man in cap: So if a new judge is appointed to this Supreme Court aren’t going to be Lords what will they be?  Sirs? Dames? ….

Man in hat: Well… they will probably be Sir or Dame already because of being a High Court judge.

Man in cap: But that is a bit confusing…. I read that a judge … if a bloke… goes to the High Court… the Queen gets her sword out and he becomes a Sir and then everyone calls him My Lord. But…  he is a ‘Sir’, gets called My Lord and he  is called Mr Justice in the newspapers and on the telly…. what’s that all about then?  I’ve got a Scottish mate… he says it is even more confusing up in Scotland.  There… he says… judges of the Court of Session don’t get Lordships but are called Lord and when they go from the Outer House  to the Inner House…First or Second Division… some of them who are already called Lord… get real Lordships in the House of Lords….. and can call themselves Lord…even though they already have been calling themselves Lord… even though they aren’t Lords…. .. but they can’t call themselves Lord Lord.

Man in hat and Man in cap sip their drinks… both in a reflective mood…

Man in cap… continues: And what about the geezer who isn’t a Lord or a Sir when he leapfrogs straight from his Chambermaid  or from his law firm or university to the Supreme Court…  as is allowed… I saw that in The Telegraph… by the new laws…. does he get a Sir en route before calling himself Lord like the Scots judges ?…. and if not, why not…?

Man in hat: Fuck it… I can’t cope… fancy another?

Man in cap: Don’t mind if I do My Lord….. perhaps the new judges will be called The Supremes…..?

Barbecue Summer…?

It’s an old joke… and I am grateful to my dear friend in BrisVegas, Australia for sending it to me… but I just could not resist after the ludicrous predictions of the Met Office that we would have a long hot sizzling “Barbecue Summer”.  Well… as we all know… we haven’t….. and even the Third Ashes Test was delayed… and you can’t get more serious than that in the great scheme of life.

A few good reads.. from Bastard to White Rabbit and a very direct Clown

Time for a bit of non-law… a few very good reads – and while The White Rabbit is a serious lawyer who specialises in blood stains, writing about law on his blog is a rarity. A man after my own heart – and always a pleasure to read – including his comments on my Lord Falconer podcast (which have, predictably, absolutely nothing to do with the podcast) where he engages with Jimmy Bastard (or Sir James, as I know him from our fortnightly lunches at the Langham).  Jimmy Bastard’s Never Mind The Bollix is unpredictable and raw – one just does not know what will come up next.  It could be deep and beautifully written, it could be a rant or it could be some surreal and very un-PC stuff. Always enjoyable to read.  He paints a picture with remarkable ease – and that ain’t easy.

Obnoxio the Clown is on twitter and his blog is direct, to the point and more often than not… not office safe.  But his observations on life and politics in particular are worth a read even if they do, occasionally, shock or repel!  I often find  myself feeling mildly guilty at laughing at some of the stuff he writes about or finds on the net.  It is a good feeling – but I wouldn’t tell my doctor about it.

And then there is James Higham, a writer, who has a fascinating  blog Nourishing Obscurity – an eclectic mix of whatever James is interested in that day.  He and the Blog Bloodhounds (Sleuthing the sphere) have a very wide range of blogging interests – a must look at and read.  The pleasures of exploration are also to be enjoyed on James Higham’s blog – his blogrolls, his categories – a mine of information and non-law blogging pleasure. Today.. James is, in fact, Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth Higham.  Tomorrow he could well be James Robespiere-Higham. One just does not know.

Fancy a political kick in the balls? Then… over to The Devils Kitchen.

And… in this brief look into the non-law world, have a look at Ms R – A Woman of Experience. her blog is tight, well written and always entertaining or just funny.  She’s also writing a book. (details on her blog)

There are many more blogs I read… soon, I shall do another section on non-law blogs and, of course, as the political conference season starts up I’ll do a run down on some excellent political blogs. For the moment…. that is all.

Oh… and don’t forget about Geeklawyer… he doesn’t write much about law either… largely because he spends his life on Twitter with his harem and drinking mead – but when he does do a blog post – always worth reading…. always!  Mind you, in relation to twitter… I cannot take a lofty attitude… it would appear that I spend industrial amounts of time on Twitter myself… actually… I multi-task…. until I get so pissed I can only tweet.

Lords rule on assisted suicide: R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions

On the day when the Law Lords bade farewell to the House of Lords and sit as Justices of the Supreme Court of the United kingdom at the new Supreme Court in October,  they gave judgment on one of the emotive issues of our times in R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2009]

The Times reports: “Five Law Lords unanimously backed the woman’s call for a policy statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the circumstances in which a person such as her husband might face prosecution for helping a loved one end their life abroad.”

“The Law Lords agreed that changes were a matter for Parliament, but upheld Ms Purdy’s argument that the DPP, Keir Starmer QC, should put in writing the factors that he regarded as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute. After the verdict, Mr Starmer issued a statement accepting the decision and saying that an interim policy would be produced by the end of September. He added that his final version should be published by spring 2010.”


I spoke earlier in the week to Lord Falconer on his amendment to the law on assisted suicide. We now have a clear statement from the Law Lords that the DPP is under a duty to put in writing the factors he regards as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute and, thereby, clarifying the position for those, Like Ms Purdy who wish to end their lives knowing that their loved ones will not be prosecuted if they assist.

A step in the right direction but by no means a change in the fundamental law – a challenge for a future parliament. The next stage must, inevitably, be pressure on Parliament to change the law to permit assisted dying in this country.

An issue of justice

While our own legal history has a grim and primitive past; with trial by ordeal and combat being replaced by rough justice and the penalties of death by hanging, drawing, quatering et al – and the Americans and other supposedly civilised jurisdictions around the world continue to exact the penalty of death – we do have the right as commentators to say that  this and other cruel punishments are plain wrong, just as we have the right to observe in this country when bad laws are made and bad judgments are handed down.

We are not, by any means yet, in a state of grace where we can legitimately say that our Justice is perfect,  or even more foolish -  the best in the world – for that degrades the evolution of our system and the work of judges who do their best, in the main, to dispense justice within the confines of a flawed menu of laws.

That stated, there is a shocking story in the Guardian today about a flawed legal system and the remarkable courage of a young woman who has renounced her UN immunity by resigning from her job with the United Nations to protest and test the Sudanese judiciary and Islam itself as it is interpreted in that country.

Sudanese journalist quits UN job to go on trial for wearing trousers

Guardian: A  female Sudanese journalist facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public told a packed Khartoum courtroom yesterday that she was resigning from a UN job that grants her immunity so that she could challenge the law on women’s dress. Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested on 3 July in a raid by members of the public order police force on a popular Khartoum cafe. The women were all wearing trousers, considered indecent under the strict interpretation of Islamic law adopted by Sudan ‘s Islamic regime. All but three of the women were flogged at a police station two days later.

I have read with some irritation suggestions from Lord Phillips, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others that we should embrace Sharia law concepts within our nation,  and The Times only recently had a Sharia gorge fest reporting on the views of a cleric who wants to see Sharia courts given greater prominence.

We live in an increasingly secular country. I accept, for reasons of history that the Church of England enjoys a degree of primacy,  but rather than suggest that we embrace all religious systems within our law, I would prefer to see all religious systems and overt influences  removed from law and judicial hearings.  We have a common law system which, while not perfect,  is evolving. That is one of the benefits of a common law system over more structured written constitutions or civil systems based on codes. It may well lead to imperfection and inconsistency but many of these can be tempered, evened out or put right through our appellate system.

This is not a crass political issue – it is about justice and the rule of law in our country.  For my part I do not see how we can operate several different types of law within our nation and I certainly do not feel attracted by the justice of Islam when it continues, even in this country, to be manifestly oppressive to women – most alarmingly, in this country, in terms of the rights of islamic women in relation to divorce and family law issues. I have no difficulty at all with those who wish voluntarily and with informed consent to have their disputes settled by Sharia courts in this country,  but I would not wish to see those ‘courts’ have any force of law at all in terms of ousting the jurusdiction of our own courts and system of law – or mediation  by those courts barring the right to appeal to the courts of England & Wales.

30th July: News updated on Insite Law

Farewell to the law lords
Times / David Pannick QC
Today the law lords sit to give judgment for the last time in the House of Lords and, as Lord Hope of Craighead said there last week, the upper chamber will be “losing part of itself”. From October the law lords will become Justices of the Supreme Court, created under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

Insite Law now has a daily editorial section – with an archived RSS feed – so if you wish to check back over the events of the last week covered in editorial (or even further back) you may do so by visiting the editorial page on Insite Law.

Insite Law news updated: cases, professional news, legal news, editorial and blogs.

Good time to be a lawyer?

There is a certain irony  that the  Bar Standard Board could be forced to abandon plans to introduce a compulsory aptitude test designed to reduce the number of people taking the Bar Vocational Course  after The Office of Fair Trading ‘dubbed it’ anti-competitive earlier this week. (The Lawyer)

Far be it from me, a blogger who spends a lot of his time with his wine supplier, to suggest that the OFT may actually have got this wrong. But…  I think the Bar Standards Board have got it right by introducing an aptitude test to give students a realistic idea in advance of spending a great deal of money as to whether they have a realistic prospect of making a decent career at the Bar.  There are far too many people chasing too few tenancies.  This is unlikely to improve in the current climate and may well not improve at all given that we are unlikely to return to the heady days of the past fifteen or so years bull run. While law schools will solemnly give students warnings about the difficulties they face, it is a bit like asking turkeys what their plans for the Christmas holidays are to leave entry to a Bar exam course to the law schools.  I would make the same point about LPC providers. 7000 LPC students taking less than 6000 training contracts is not an ideal situation for students in the bottom 1000.

By the same token – full marks to The Law Society for taking a pragmatic approach to the current difficulties by launching  a campaign warning students to think twice about embarking on a career in law (The Lawyer).

That said – the law has always been a competitive profession and if a student believes that he or she  possesses the qualities (the aptitude test will assist here) and knowing the risks, they are prepared to take the risk – the profession will benefit from that attitude and we should be wary of warning students off.  The public and private interest is best served by maintaining standards of excellence – and we do not want to see diversity or risk issues bring in a culture where no-one loses and there are no prizes.  Equality of opportunity to compete for the best education to allow competition for the best opportunities should be our goal – not some artifical construct where people are weeded out to cap numbers and control real markets.

Frankly – an idea few will like,  is to make the examinations for law a lot more difficult. That would weed out those who have little prospect of  a career in law and raise standards in universities… Oh… and get rid of this ludicrous idea where everyone should get an Upper Second or a First.  Degree inflation is a farce…..  I’ll get my coat.

Lawcast 152: Lord Falconer on assisted dying and the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Lawcast 152: Lord Falconer on assisted dying and the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Today I am talking to Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, about two important and interesting themes – assisted dying and his amendment to the Suicide Act defeated in the Lords recently and secondly his thoughts on the reasoning behind establishing a new Supreme Court and the direct it may, in time, take.

Lord Falconer became Lord Chancellor In 2003, with the remit of abolishing the office. His reform included the creation, for the first time, of a Supreme Court for the UK, the creation of a commission to appoint judges, making a full-time independent judge the Head of the Judiciary for England and Wales, and introducing an elected Speaker for the House of Lords.

Listen to the podcast

Podcast version for iTunes

“My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch” – Jack Nicholson

I do like a bit of irony… and in the wake of my podcast with Dan Hull of Whataboutclients? only last Saturday where Dan put forward his very strong views that bloggers and those who comment on blogs should identify themselves and not hide behind a cloak of anonymity – there is a certain delicious irony and schadenfreude (for anonymous bloggers?) in finding, only a day later,  that our best known blog commenter, the lovely LawMinx,  awarded Dan one of her LawMinx blog awards. (I got one as well – and while I usually like to give awards to myself I was very pleased to receive it.)

The news today that Avon and Somerset Police force is issuing its female officers with head coverings to be used in places of worship to improve relations with Muslim communities (Independent) prompted, I’m afraid, rather dark thoughts about all forms of religion, about the stated purpose of Jihadists to not rest until the whole world knuckled under to Islam and even darker thoughts about moving to France where they have an extremely sensible attitude to SECULARISM.  I have been reading the work of Christopher Hitchens but I shall resist the temptation to write a peroration on the theme of atheism and the ills religion has caused the world in the last 2000 years.

So… I had a glass of Rioja and came up with the perfectly reasonable thought that if various communities, muslim, ethnic, Northern, Souther, Scots, Irish,  lagerlouts, clubbers etc etc etc, wanted better relations with the Police then it might be an idea for some of those community elders or parents of those who commit offences to tell their offspring to commit less crimes and show a bit of respect for the community and country we live in .  It was at this point that I went into the bedroom, opened the cupboard and was relieved to see that a Blazer and cravats had not appeared, as if by magic,  and that I had not joined a golf club.

Back later….

Insite Law – major upgrade

I have almost completed the structural upgrade to Insite Law. Each weekday morning, and once over the weekend, Insite Law will be updated with editorial, Editor’s pick and all the important latest legal news from The Times, Telegraph, Independent,  Guardian, Ministry of Justice, Bar Council and The Law Society. the Law reports will also be updated daily.

The ICLR does not have an RSS feed – so I have created a website specifically for ICLR / WLR summaries and these will link to each summary as they are published by the ICLR.

Law Reports: I have collated RSS feeds from all the major free law reports and summaries covering cases from The House of Lords, Court of Appeal (Civil and Criminal) and all divisions of the High Court. These may be found here

I have created two new websites to serve up daily legal news and news from the Bar Council and The Law Society.

There are also news feeds from the Law Society Gazette and Legal Week on the Insite Law news page.

This – hopefully, will make it fairly easy for you to keep abreast of developments in news, law reports and the blogs in one easy stop.

Law books: And you can even buy the latest law books stocked by Wildy & Sons who sponsor Insite Law.  There is a new RSS feed to take you direct to their website.

All these resources are accessible through the Insite Law Homepage

27 July: News up on Insite Law

News is up on Insite Law

The news is up in RSS feed format on Insite Law. There is also a searchable news blog which provides the feeds of headlines and a brief summary.  The links, of course, go to the full news report from the Insite news blog archive.

I have also built a widget to feed the ICLR Weekly Law Report cases directly to the right hand panel on the front page of Insite.  Again, there is a searchable blog archive.  The RSS feed provides the area of law, name of the case, date and the cases blog archive gives the summary.  The link on the law reports blog archive is searchable and the link takes you to the ICLR daily summary.

Law Minx: Thanks For Doing a LOVELY Job: The First Annual Minx Blawggies………
Law Minx has been handing out the prizes… (Charon QC got one!)

Lawcast 151: Scots lawyer Brian Inkster on Crofting law, technology and other matters

Inksters

Short film on Brian Inkster and his practice

Law firm that is just that little bit different

Lawcast 151: Scots lawyer Brian Inkster on Crofting law, technology and other matters

Today I am talking to a Scots lawyer – my first podcast with a practitioner from Scotland. Shetland born Brian Inkster founded his own practice, Inksters, and as we will see…does things a little differently, providing a City level of service from his Glasgow offices to his crofting clients in Shetland and his other clients throughout Scotland… Brian is on Twitter, not surprisingly, given his passion for technology and after finding out a bit about practice in Scotland I want to ask him what makes his delivery of legal services special enough to attract the attention of the Telegraph and other news services.

Listen to the podcast

Podcast version for iTunes

26 July: Postcard from the seaside

I shall not be taking a holiday this year.  This is not unusual.  I have not had a holiday for five years – and it suits me.  Drinking a small glass of Tempranillo with my toast and marmalade at 5.30 this morning,  as the gulls flew in, I wondered where the middle classes would be holidaying this year and, in particular how Her Majesty’s judges do holidays.  I cannot for one moment picture a High Court judge dancing in a foam filled nightclub dance floor  in Ibiza or running amok in Magaluf – so where do they go?  I shall return to this shortly.

In these credit-crunched times the middle classes are developing a taste for ‘Staycations’.  So instead of pouring into Tuscany en masse in their linen jackets and Panama hats, they are staying at home.  Those with young lager lout offspring may well piss off to Cornwall so that Harry from Stowe, Jack from Eton and Thomasina from St Paul’s can take recreational drugs and ‘hang out’.  Others may head for Wales, The Lake District or Scotland for something more spartan and ‘uplifting’.

I have this image in my mind of a High Court judge on holiday with his wife. He is used to presiding,  so I imagine him sitting in splendid isolation on his side of the table – in the centre; his wife positioned opposite like counsel. The waiter has just delivered the skeleton argument containing details of the meal.  The judge asks his wife to put her submissions on what points she is likely to take in terms of the food set out in the schedule. The judge listens patiently, nodding approvingly when his wife makes a particularly interesting selection, calls the waiter as an expert witness to clarify some particularly troublesome evidence in French,  and satisfied with the veracity of the evidence,  places his papers on the table, turns to the waiter and gives judgment. The judge speaks slowly to ensure that the order is reported accurately to Chef in the kitchens.

It may be that a glass of Tempranillo at 5.30 am is not one of my better ideas when I start to have thoughts of this nature – but it is National Silly Week tomorrow according to Man in a Shed.  One must do one’s bit.

Apropos of nothing… I don’t have children. Some people don’t. The upside however, is that at least I won’t have a son or daughter anxiously asking ‘after my health’ in later life or worse, shuffling me off to Green Lawns Hall for the demented and gaga and advising me about my cigarette and alcohol consumption while consulting a Wills & Probate textbook and clutching a power of attorney form.  But if you do have a young family and decide to holiday in rain soaked Britain then you may find a trip to the cinema useful.  I did my 150th podcast and my guest was US lawyer Dan Hull yesterday. I like the idea of having ‘guests’ on podcasts, makes it sound like a ‘show’.  I always enjoy podcasts with Dan – I have no idea what he is going to come up with next.  Yesterday it was his latest fave rave ‘Anonymity on the blogosphere’ – and, of course Geeklawyer and Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice were mentioned. After the podcast Dan was telling me about his friend Ellen Bry, a well known actress in the States.  Ellen has made a new film which would be perfect for holiday family viewing.

I haven’t seen it – but I have read about it and Dan describes it thus… ” In the film, we meet a determined and spiritual woman who is surprised to learn that she has inherited just one thing from her dead businessman husband: a run-down old house in Georgia, and the turbulent foster family living in it. Taken from the story Mrs. Hobbes’ House, The Lost & Found Family is a poignant, uplifting, instructive and remarkably powerful family film set in the American South.” You may watch the trailer here

So… if it is on at a Cinema near you and the family is missing their wifi, twitter, Facebook or their Playstation… no need to panic…

I haven’t had swine flu yet despite the fact the pandemic is currently sweeping across Britain,  causing further problems for British holiday makers who are being touched up and screened by French Immigration and Health officials (apparently).  It is curious how the French over react to everything and then make a complete hash of things – but they do do making a hash of things with style and elegance… Trafalgar, Waterloo, Maginot Line etc…

As my Grandfather, Sir Humphrey Charon KCMG, our man in Paris many years ago used to say… “Charon…. just remember… the Frenchies invented the hot air balloon…. entirely appropriate… remember that when you visit France and all will be well”.  I have never forgotten his advice.

So there we are… another weekend postcard written.  The gulls are having breakfast.  I am only moderately over refreshed and it is time for coffee.  I shall, of course, be back later in the day to blog.  Now I must scour the horizon for U-Boats… and, as Gordon Brown ponders his future after the ludicrous result in the Norfolk by-election where a Labour majority of 5000 was turned into a Tory majority of 7000 – I shall have some breakfast.

Best, as always

Charon

Lawcast 150: US lawyer Dan Hull of Whataboutclients? on anonymity and blogging.

Lawcast 150: US lawyer Dan Hull of Whataboutclients? on anonymity and blogging.

Today, in my 150th podcast, I am talking to US Lawyer, fellow blogger and friend Dan Hull, co-founder with Julie McGuire of Hull Mcguire PC and founder of the WhatAboutClients? Blog which on Saturdays turns into the WhatAboutParis blog.

Dan and some other leading US law bloggers have had it with anonymity and they are refusing to publish comments unless you stand up to the plate using a real first name, real second name and a verifiable email address.

It is fair to say that Dan Hull, Rob Bodine and Holden Oliver from Whataboutclients?  started the ball rolling on this anonymity issue on the other side of the Atlantic – and his thoughts are being adopted and developed by others. He believes the legal internet (and wider internet) needs a few rules – non-anonymous blogging being one of them… subject to exceptions.

Mark Bennett from Texas, author of Defending People who did a podcast with me some time ago has already intitiated this policy…WhatAboutClients? notes… Texans are quirky Americans. Internet handles like Law Gringo, Smokestack Lightning and Young Cardozo Speaks won’t cut it with them. We also look at the recession in the US/UK, and the issue of blogging generally. Geeklawyer, Scottgreenfield, Mark Bennett and a few other blogging luminaries are mentioned!

Listen to the podcast
(It is a fairly long podcast – you may want to have an ‘interlude’!

Podcast version for iTunes

27th July… Silly Week?

Although readers may not notice any change in substance on my blog, I am quite happy at James Higham’s suggestion to promote and support  Man in a Sheds ‘Silly Week’ . James Higham writes an excellent blog -  Nourishing Obscurity -  and is often to be found posting on blkogs as the mood takes him – which is often.  Support Man in a Shed’s Silly Week on your blog?

I thought I would kick off with an observation.  I was watching ‘Cromwell’ the Hollwood blockbuster where Richard Harris got to look saturnine as Cromwell and Alec Guinness played Charles 1 better than Charles I may well have done – right up to my favourite bit (I am a mild republican) where they did the Chop-Chop business.

My contribution to the start of ‘Silly Week’ is this ‘tweet’ – done last night as I was a bottle into the proceedings… it shows.

The news (on my new RSS news panel widget) and editorial etc is up on Insite Law.