Rebel yell….

I am, as you know, a fan of US blogs and I have met many amusing and interesting US lawyers (and non-lawyers) through blogging, my podcasts  and Twitter.  I am delighted to say that I have been invited by Molly McDonough, Assistant Managing Editor/Online for the ABA Journal, to write a piece for the ABA Journal Legal Rebels project which is due to run shortly….

US lawyers are, of course, familiar with the legal concept Volenti non fit injuria (“to a willing person, no injury is done” for post-Woolfians) and Molly is fully aware of the nonsense I write…. so may, safely, be taken to be Volens on the matter.  The word limit is 300-500.  Monsieur Prolix is my alter ego so I have obtained special dispensation to ignore the word limit.  I have, however, promised that it will not be 48 feet long like one of the Blawg Reviews I wrote earlier in the year.

I plan to contribute a stirring (as in stirring up) piece on legal education – because one of the things that is wrong with the profession and which will help the future of the profession is legal education. I shall explain my views, cover themes in Uk and US legal education, light the blue touch paper and then I shall deport myself. I am looking forward to writing it and I shall, of course, let you know when it goes out.  I am in distinguished company. All the other contributors have a photograph.  As I am a figment of my own imagination (and I am writing qua Charon QC) I shall provide a cartoon image.

Let me introduce you to @Little_Lawyer…

@Little_lawyer is an enthusiastic user of twitter.  I am always keen to encourage new UK bloggers to get blogging so it is my pleasure to have Little_Lawyer as a guest blogger today!

Here is the first post on Little_Lawyer’s blog (Do have a look at the blog as well and put it on your blogroll?)

***

Have I introduced you to….?
By Little_Lawyer

So here I am, newly unemployed.  Times are tough out there, and when I finished my training contract (just like in firms up and down the country) there wasn’t any room at the inn.  There was however, room for my fellow trainee, in the department I always anchored my preference for and in which fellow trainee hadn’t contemplated before it became obvious that if there was to be any vacancy, it would be there.

The best trainee won?  Maybe.  But I don’t think its entirely irrelevant that fellow trainee’s father is also a partner at my training firm.  Bitter?  Maybe a little, even if it is understandable in the current economic climate.

But is it?  Is it ok for nepotism to exist in a larger than high street law firm when faced with two, equally qualified and competent candidates?  Part of me thinks it is even if it is contrary to my personal interests.

Hugely successful businesses have been built on familial connections and I think clients like it.  In fact, one can even extend the definition (if I may be so bold as to rewrite the dictionary), to giving a leg up to friends, or family of friends.  Isn’t it what we all do?  Isn’t it the point of networking?  Most of us wouldn’t think twice using personal contacts, or shmoosing about a common interest to open doors – and it is what networking sites like LinkedIn are all about.

Research by Transparancy International (discussed in an article in the FT found here suggests it is one of the reasons for corporate corruption.  I wouldn’t go that far.  I mean, wouldn’t a person with a familial tie want the family business to be a success?  Wouldn’t a person who got his/her job at a friend of his father’s accountancy firm want to prove that he/she deserved the role, by working harder than may be necessary?  Although the latter suggests that someone else would not be so hardworking.  If such an accusation was to be pointed in my direction, I would be mightily offended, since I’m annoyingly conscientious and need to know that I have earned every penny I am (or rather was) paid.

The fashionable and wider issue, is the effect nepotism has on the diversity of the legal profession.  I was going to quote some wonderfully wise words from the Master of the Rolls, but came across a rather entertaining examination of the class ceiling which appears to exist in the legal field, written by student Aryan Sharahi and edited and produced by ThePurpleRobot found here

Times are tough out there, so whatever gives us the edge is fair play, and I value loyalty to family and friends.  Would I have an issue with nepotism if my uncle Bob was the owner of Uncle Bob LLP, or my father golfed with the Chief Exec of Commercial Ltd?  I’m not sure.  What I
can be certain of, is that from the moment I began my (self funded) studies, to getting and completing my training contract, it was achieved with my personal charm (yep, even the checkout job at Tesco) and qualifications (ditto the Tesco job).  Granted, this gives me an enormous sense of self satisfaction, but there is a problem.  One can’t live (financially, emotionally and professionally) on self satisfaction alone.

Little_Lawyer’s blog: Fill My Days in Legal London

@Little_Lawyer on Twitter

All aboard the BPP Bar Vocational Course train… plenty of room….

RollonFriday reported the story that BPP Law School is asking students to defer taking the Bar course until next year (and providing an incentive of a £2000 reduction on the fee to do so) because they have taken on too many students.  I felt that the RollonFriday story, although designed to be cutting, was pregnant with a number of unstated possibilities.

We are not dealing with airlines overbooking, or holiday companies selling more holidays than they have – we are dealing with a fairly serious and important matter of legal education and the hopes and aspirations of prospective members of the Bar. In the interests of getting the story straight I contacted BPP Law School and the Bar Standards Board.

In my emails to BPP (below) and the Bar Standards Board I took the following line:

The issue is a simple one.  Did BPP exceed the number of authorised places or not?.   I would be surprised if this is the case – but if it is, then it should be made clear.  If you did not exceed your authorised accreditation numbers why is the BSB asking you to reduce your intake? If BPP did not exceed the number they are authorised to take the BSB is acting inconsistently with its own stated policy of not placing a cap on numbers applying.

When I telephoned Peter Crisp, CEO and Dean of BPP Law School, this morning he told me that the BPP response was in a Press Release:

“Following a marked increase in demand for this year’s Bar Vocational Course (BVC), we have been working with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to explore the possibility of students deferring their place until 2010.

All students with places on the BVC were notified of this on Thursday 17th September, and those who would consider deferring have been invited to contact the Director of BVC Programmes to discuss.

BPP has emphasised that any decision to defer needs to be carefully thought through, and that any deferrals will be guaranteed a place on the Bar Professional Training Course (which replaces the BVC from 2010) as well as eligibility for a loyalty discount of 15% on next year’s fees.

As discussions are currently taking place, we are unable to tell how many will take up the offer at this stage.

The demand for places this year demonstrates the quality of our provision as well as our reputation and standing in the legal profession”.


The Bar Standards Board statement received following my telephone call to the BSB late this afternoon:

The BSB is committed to the highest standards of education and training.  The BSB has not recommended to BPP that their students should defer for a year on the basis of the current job market. The BSB are currently in dialogue with the BPP about the number of students recruited on their BVC course this year.

BPP Law School is a leading provider of high quality vocational law courses and, most recently, has been accredited to award their own degrees by the Privy Council.  This provides BPP, now owned by US education firm Apollo,  with many advantages and opportunities – but with rights go responsibilities – the responsibility of complying with authorised numbers, the responsibility of ensuring that students are properly advised and taught to the very high standards they themselves set and which are set by the Bar Standards Board.

BPP Law School has developed in a very short time to deserve their  place in the top tier of vocational legal education and I have no doubt the school will soon earn respect and validity for their law degree offerings.  I have said this before.

***

I have not, as yet,  had a direct answer to my very simple question:  – Did BPP exceed the number of authorised places or not?

I’ll leave the question on the table and it may be answered at any time. As soon as I receive an answer from BPP I will publish their response.

In the meantime – there are only two possible constructions:

(a) BPP  have broken the terms of their Bar Vocational Course validation as to maximum numbers – deliberately or inadvertently

(b) BPP have not broken the terms of their validation  and they are asking students to defer for some other unspecified and non-contentious reason – but not because of the current job market,  as the BSB makes clear in their statement (above).  The original BSB statement issued to Legal Week and others last week made no mention of the point about the BSB not recommending to BPP that their students should defer for a year on the basis of the current job market. This has been inserted, one assumes, to counter rumours circulating to that effect in the market.

I raise a number of points which I believe, in the circumstances, are fair to raise.  They may be answered very simply with a response from BPP

1. It is worth noting that all fees received over and above the maximum validated number go straight to the bottom line and it is pure profit, it being unlikely that an institution would recruit additional lecturers and take on additional space and resources to service the extra students taken on.

Institutions are validated to take a specific number of students on – based on the BSB assessment of resources, space and lecturer-student ratios available or projected at the time of the validation.  This is why institutions are not permitted to exceed the validated number of places. This, when fees are at the £14800 mark, could be a very substantial profit. How many students are BPP oversubscribed by on the Bar course?

I am assuming that there may have been a fairly significant over subscription to have attracted the need to reduce the numbers.  It is, I suspect, unlikely the BSB would be concerned by an overbooking of one or two students.  De minimis?

2. If BPP has broken the terms of their accreditation to run the Bar course –  this does not reflect well on an institution recently validated by the Privy Council to award degrees.

3. If BPP has broken the terms of their authorisation –  this should be (and I assume will be)  investigated and dealt with by the Bar Standards Board. The BSB is in dialogue with BPP about “the number of students recruited on their BVC course this year.” and will, one assumes, make public this dialogue, in time,  given the publicity t this story has attracted on RollonFriday,  Legal Week and  elsewhere?

4. If BPP has not broken the terms of BVC validation and  If students are happy to accept deferment until next year and take the 15% reduction in fees (£2000) next year – all well and good.

5. On the other hand, if BPP has broken the terms of their validation and are required to reduce numbers and students are required to defer – subject to a duty to mitigate loss –  they will have an action for breach of contract.

6. If a student has deferred and taken BPP’s offer,  it is not unreasonable to speculate on what information was provided to the student by BPP underpinning the request.  If it  transpires that BPP has broken the terms of the validation and did not make this clear to deferring students then contractual issues may arise in relation to the deferral agreement.

There may be no story at all here and if that is the case well and good.  It is, I hope, fair to raise these issues and get the story onto the table fully – given… and I use BPP’s quote from their press release…” the quality of (their) provision as well as (their) reputation and standing in the legal profession”.

I have In the meantime left the two possible outcomes on the table.  As ever, you may use the comments section to comment. If BPP responds to my emails and phonecalls earlier  I will, of course, publish their response in full.

UPDATE

Wednesday 30th September 10.30 am

I have received an email from Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP law School:

As the BSB has stated, it has not recommended to BPP that students defer due to the current job market.

Our statement clearly says that “we have been working with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to explore the possibility of students deferring their place until 2010”.  Our discussions with the BSB have been as a result of an increase in demand for this year’s course, and are a confidential matter between the two parties.  There is no question of students being “forced off the course”.

The story was (rightly or wrongly) covered in the legal trade press last week, and there is nothing further that I can add at this stage.


It is important to understand that all law schools invest heavily in providing good infrastructure and on a course like the BVC, where numbers are smaller than for the LPC in most institutions,  judging the number of applicants to maximum validated numbers can be a very key issue in terms of viability. I know from personal experience that it is not easy.  Some students given offers drop out and have to have fees refunded, others don’t meet the grade requirements set by the Institution and do not get a place (if applicable). It is important for all institutions offering the BVC, an expensive course to run, that they ensure viability.   The BSB has confirmed that the issue is being discussed and that it is not a significant problem.  The BSB also confirmed that no student will be prejudiced by being forced to defer.

POSTSCRIPT

Of course… it is always possible that other BVC providers have exceeded their numbers and in the interests of fairness and objectivity I am asking each of the providers.  If any institution admits to having a possible over subscription I will indicate this in a postscript below.

Thus far I have had confirmations from:

Nottingham Law School, Kaplan,  The College of Law, and Manchester Metropolitan confirm that they have no over-subscription issues.  I have left messages with other providers – but with the beginning of term it is inevitable that the Course Leaders are involved with students/teaching so it may take time to get a full report on this out.

Northumbria University

I have spoken to Deveral Capps, the course director for the BVC.  Deveral Capps was very open with me on the telephone when he told me that Northumbria did have a minor over subscription problem and that they had dealt with it last week to the Bar Standard Board’s satisfaction last week.  The over subscription is on the fullt-ime course but their part-time course is under subscribed by 44%.  There are, therefore, no issues of resource, space, pressures on the lecturing team and resources can be re-deployed.  The quality of provision is being maintained. Deveral Capps did make the point – and I agree with him – that over-subscription this year to the BVC has come about – because of a marked increase in students applying for the BVC before the Bar Professional Training Course kicks in next year.  The BPTC is going to be a more demanding course.  I recall the same increase in BVC applications arising when the Bar had deferral of call plans some years back.

University of The West of England

I have spoken to the administrator at UWE.  They do not have an over subscription issue.

Cardiff University Law School

I have spoken to the Course Leader for the BVC.  She confirms that while they were two oversubscribed earlier in the summer,  two students have had to withdraw (for personal reasons) and they are spot on the number permitted.  The course director did make the perfectly valid point that it is  a difficult judgement call to get the numbers spot on because most institutions will make slightly more offers than places to ensure that if people do withdraw (and they do) they are not left in a situation where they have less than the permitted number and fall below their budget expectations.

City Law School (Formerly The Inns of Court School of Law)

I have spoken to the Course Director for the BVC – They do not have an over subscription issue.

I have now heard from all the providers – The providers  were more than happy to discuss the position with me.

Insite Law Free resource project: European Union Law

Insite law FREE resource project: European Union Law

Carl Gardner, ex-government lawyer for 10 years, author of the Head of Legal blog is the author of our new free resource (text, lectures, case analyses) on European Union. The project is being built from scratch and Chapter 1 – Introduction is now up.

We are on target to put 12 free books/resources up by Friday and the project is now growing rapidly and will be updated weekly from 1st October.

Comment du Jour: A tragic suicide….

The Guardian reports on a truly tragic case: “Police errors and inaction were partly responsible for driving a vulnerable single mother to kill herself and her severely disabled daughter after years of abuse from youths, an inquest found today.

Returning a verdict of suicide on Fiona Pilkington, 38, and unlawful killing for her 18-year-old daughter, Francecca, whose bodies were found in a blazing car on a layby in October 2007, the jury decided that the police action “contributed” to the deaths, notably the failure of officers to connect dozens of separate calls for assistance.

The jury heard Pilkington contacted police on no fewer than 33 occasions in seven years in which youths throwing stones and shouting abuse had kept her a virtual prisoner in her home in Barwell, near Hinckley in Leicestershire. Asked how police were responsible, the jury said: “Calls were not linked or prioritised.” Guardian

I felt a sense of rare anger when I read about this some weeks ago and again today. It is all very well setting up investigations, commissions, inquiries to determine what went wrong – but yet again, despite increased resources going into policing in this country, we have a systemic failure which led to what I suspect was a horrible and very lonely death by suicide for Fiona Pilkington and her severely disabled daughter.  I cannot even begin to comprehend what must have been going through that Mother’s mind when she killed herself and her daughter.

These women were bullied by carrion and scum, mindless thugs from an estate in the Midlands – yet the Police did nothing, the parents of these yobs did nothing, the people who lived on the estate, and who must have known what was happening, did nothing.  I find it very difficult to understand how young boys can be so cruel as to hound a woman and her disabled daughter, how people can stand by and pretend it is not happening – but that, sadly, is often the way in Britain.  We prefer not to get involved.  No screaming here, We’re British. British bulldog spirit, support the underdog?  You have to be joking on this one….The British of today in some parts of our country are more likely to support a fucking dancing dog on Britain’s Got Talent than concern themselves with the misery their children and yobs are causing to others.

Two women lived a miserable life in fear for seven years and  died, the Mother unable to take any more,  because of the vile behaviour of scum and the cowardice of others. The Police did nothing – most probably through sheer inefficiency – but it is quite possible that this Police force was more interested in crime clear up rates for minor offences and the revenue generated from speeding tickets. Who knows?  We shall see what the ‘Investigation’ throws up. The report may well be in stock already.

And just to ram the point home…. it appears that no-one was convicted of a crime.  I find this rather shocking.  The scum responsible for hounding this poor woman and her daughter with a mental age of four are still out there – their parents quite  possibly living on benefit at the tax payer’s expense.  Welcome to post modern Britain in part of our sceptred British bulldog spirit isle. The people who did this should be investigated thoroughly, if necessary by another Police force,  and prosecuted to the full extent permitted by law.

IronicallyGordon Brown, at the Labour Conference, wants a crackdown on bad parents. Well… that is a start but, sadly, too late for Fiona Pilkinton and her daughter Francecca.

The folly of men of advancing years…

I have passed the pleasure of writing this story over to my far more acerbic (and rather dull, pompous and academically flatulent) brother, Professor RD Charon.

A view from Academe on the issue of Lust.
Professor RD Charon

I write from the perspective of many years in academe and not once was I touched by the desire to flirt with a female student or, it has to be said,  be the recipient of flirtatious behaviour on the part of a female student.  Should such an event have occurred, where I was called upon to exercise my academic judgement in favour of an attractive female to her advantage, against my natural and better judgement, I would have had her rusticated.

To have my attention drawn to a salacious piece in a law blogger’s website, a website called Law Actually, by my asinine brother who wastes his days on Twitter, writing incomprehensible nonsense on here and getting drunk with lawyers in the capital City is bad enough;  but to find that the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, an otherwise most sensible man by the name of Terence Kealey,vice-chancellor of that most esteemed establishment, and the author of Sex, Science and Profits (2008) has been giving intemperate advice,  has made me most dyspeptic.

I quote from the passage written by ‘The Michael”, as I believe this blogger refers to himself, from his electronic Tractatus, Law Actually.

In an article for the Times Higher Education magazine on lust, part of a feature on the seven deadly sins of universities, Kealey wrote: “Normal girls – more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos – will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays.

What to do?  “Enjoy her! She’s a perk.”

Flashing a few literary allusions, he continued: “She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.”

De-constructing the piece, I can find no hint of hidden allusion, nor even the illusion of great writing – all I see is delusion; the delusion common to many men – my asinine brother is so afflicted – that they are still young.

***

As you have gathered, my academically dessicated brother and I do not get on…. it was ever thus.  He is, however, to me…. an amuse bouche, and I do like to poke the odd academic occasionally, if you forgive the expression (in the circumstances) –  so I like to draw him in when opportunity allows. I suspect that Kealey was having a laugh – but even I would not have ventured into that territory.  It is quite possible that my fellow blogger Geeklawyer would have been happy to do so – but I must not encourage him any further in his ‘depravity’ – Geeklawyer’s that is, not the VC’s!
Charon.

***

To be serious – the whole article in The Times Higher Education about the Seven Deadly Sins was, in fact, rather good and worth a read… and I am quite sure Terence Kealy intended no moral outrage or slight on women… it did, however, come across as being a bit ‘creepy’! and… it is his problem, not mine!

Good effort, Michael  of Law Actually for picking this story up.

Blawg Review # 231: Hosted from VEGAS!

Blawg Review #231 is up and it is from Vegas., by Legally UnBound….

Legally Unbound writes…. “I live here. Other than that, though Sin City is not known for its verbosity, it is known for its short catchy phrases, its buffet sign deals and its staged antics, in and out of the casinos. What you may or may not know about Las Vegas is that our persona is much larger than our history, our population, our sq. miles (km) and certainly our legal prowess. In fact, I’d say that Las Vegas has an incredibly narcissistic ego that is only surpassed by this persona which generates the appetite for its own cannibalistic, self-indulgence. In other words, Las Vegas can’t get enough of itself.”

It is a great Blawg Review, amusing, incisive, covers the blogs and I enjoyed it immensely.  I’ve not been to Las Vegas… but after reading this BR it is certainly somewhere I would enjoy visiting.  Go and feel the sin….

College of Law Podcast: Jenny Rowe, CEO of Supreme Court

Jenny Rowe, the CEO of the new Supreme Court

Today, as part of my series of podcasts for The College of Law Inside Track I talk to Jenny Rowe, the CEO of the new Supreme Court.

Jenny Rowe  gives a behind the scenes view of the new Supreme Court, (which opens on Thursday 1st October), the budget for running the court and the new technologies, events, publication of judgments with commentaries being employed to make the court more accessible to the public.

Listen to the podcast

Comment du Jour: Business as usual, an absurd prosecution and cleaning up the story

The Independent reports: After years of over-charging, City lawyers could face tough justice

Opportunistic city lawyers who over-charge their clients face tough new rules aimed at tackling the excesses and mismanagement of corporate law firms, under proposals to be published this week. The crackdown on the City’s legal profession comes after growing concerns that regulators have failed to deal with abuses at multi-million pound law firms. Clients have told a review led by former Tory cabinet member Lord Hunt of Wirral that lawyers are guilty of over-charging, failing to provide objective advice and breaching commercial confidentialities.

Crackdowns on anyone, be they bankers, lawyers, binge drinkers – sometimes all three of these modern day pariahs are combined in the same individual – are always good for the soul of the newspaper reader in the morning – but one wonders whether they have any effect on behaviour.  The word is spreading, they say, that the recession is over, fees will start to rtise again as law firmns wrest ‘control’ from the hands of General Counsel / in-house lawyers and all will be good in the Kingdom of Mammon again….  We shall see.

In the meantime, Keir Starmer QC, fresh from providing guidelines on assisted dying, is reported in The Times as having “brushed aside objections and decided last month that 11 of the Space Hijackers would face a four-day trial at a magistrates’ court in February.” I remember the G20 conference.  I spent half a day tweeting about it.  I even had a purely imaginary Tiger tank which I used to drive to the G20 protest.  Unfortunately, what started off as being a good humoured protest turned into a rather more dark affair with the death of Ian Tomlinson and videos appearing on You Tube showing police officers using batons against unarmed and peaceful protesters with gusto.  It also showed pictures of police officers dressed like Robocop with their epaulettes covered so they could not be identified from their police number.

Now, it seems, the Metropolitan Police – not having managed to get nearly enough recent publicity for their antics – are to be given another opportunity to make complete fools of themselves with the prosecution in February of 11 people (just under half the number of people being prosecuted for offences at the G20 protest – excluding police officers)

I quote from The Times report: ” ONE woman is dressed provocatively in a black bra. Another sports red high heels and stockings. Their long-haired male companions are dressed in scruffy blue boiler suits and the occasional riot helmet. The costumes may look harmless, but for the Space Hijackers — a small group of part-time anarchists with a penchant for street entertainment — they have been enough to earn them charges of impersonating police officers. The group was pictured en route to last April’s G20 protests surrounding a dilapidated personnel carrier, complete with fake plastic machinegun and speakers blaring out the Ride of the Valkyries. Their jaunt now forms the cornerstone of one of the most bizarre prosecutions mounted in a British court in recent years.”

This is bizarre and almost certainly a waste of public money. The Press will cover the trial – much amusement will be had at the expense of Plod, it is even possible the magistrates may find the skyjackers ‘not guilty’ – a verdict still open, thankfully, to magistrates – but in the meantime the Police have to face the issue of the possible prosecution of one of their own for possible manslaughter in the case of Ian Tomlinson.  We shall see what transpires, but this prosecution may well rebound to the discredit of the CPS and the Police.

And finally.. cleaning up the story

The Independent reports: ” The Home Office faced demands last night to reopen its investigation into the illegal immigrant hired by Baroness Scotland after the Attorney-General was accused of lying by her former housekeeper. Lady Scotland’s claim that she scrutinised Loloahi Tapui’s passport to check she was entitled to work in Britain was flatly contradicted by the 27-year-old Tongan in The Mail on Sunday. The UK Border Agency, administered by the Home Office, concluded its inquiry by imposing a £5,000 fine on the Attorney-General. The disparity between the two accounts led to fresh demands from opposition parties for Lady Scotland’s resignation.”

//

Comment du jour: Supreme confidence

With the new Supreme Court to open shortly, I would like to share with you a letter I read in The Law Society Gazette if you haven’t already read it.  It is written by Lord Lester QC.  Lord Lester deftly brushes aside Lord Neuberger’s warning made some weeks ago about the ‘peril of mucking around with’ the British Constitution by creating a new British Supreme Court

Lord Lester wrote:

Lord Neuberger may be unaware of what gave rise to the pressing need to separate the powers of the law lords from the political branches of government. Before he was appointed to the Chancery Division, there had been cases in which Lord Chancellors, wearing three hats, had acted judicially in highly political cases. There had been instances of law lords entering the political arena by speaking and voting in controversial debates in the lords, even though the senior law lord, Lord Bingham, asked them not to do so. On one occasion a serving law lord moved (but did not vote on) a highly controversial amendment which suited the political convenience of the government of the day.

Lord Lester stated that in a modern democracy this was not acceptable  and noted “The European Court of Human Rights had indicated that a lack of separation of powers was a breach of article 6 of The European Convention on Human Rights.” Lord Lester ended his letter “The fact that The Supreme Court will be, and will be seen to be, separate and independent from the government and parliament should be welcomed.  That will strengthen the rights of the citizen against the misuse of the powers of the state”

I am not a specialist in constitutional law but have an interest in human rights law and issues – as do many.  It seems to me that Lord Lester QC, a noted expert in both of these fields, has put forward a very reasonable point.

On Monday, I talk to Jenny Rowe, the CEO of the new Supreme Court (in a podcast) . I thoroughly enjoyed doing this podcast for The College of Law series “Inside Track”.  Jenny Rowe takes us behind the scenes, discussed the building and costs, the facilities and the very open access for members of the public.  She also talks about the use of television at the Supreme Court and the new commentaries being written on leading judgments so that the press and others will get a clearer picture of the major decisions being made by the Justices.  I’ll publish the link to the podcast as soon as it becomes available on The College of Law website on Monday morning at 9.00 am.

This is stunning….

Ukraine’s Got Talent – rather more sophisticated than a dancing dog.  This will amaze you, I think…..Kseniya Simenova recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman’s face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes – with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene “you are always near”.

Postcard from The Staterooms-On-Sea: 26th September

Dear Reader,

While my adaptation of a famous soliloquy from Hamlet may also be appropriate to Baroness Scotland – at least the first lines – I was inspired to do this parody by a very good pastiche over at Capitalists@Work by Nick Drew….  his is actually worth reading!

This week, now that Nick Cleggo (14 1/2)  has asked Jim to Fix It for him to be the next prime minister, we get down to the conferences for the two main parties – by which I mean the parties that actually have a chance (a) of losing power big time – Labour  and (b) Winning power – The Conservatives.

Gordon Brown’s soliloquy while waiting for some One-on-One action with President Obama
G20 Conference 24th September 2009

To go, or not to go: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the end to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous voting,

Or to take a post running the G20,

And by doing this ruin Britain even more? To lie: to shout;

No more; and by a flight to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

My government is father to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d by many. To lie, to fly;

To fly: perchance to dream of legacy: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that flight of political death what dreams may come

When I have shuffled off this prime ministerial coil,

Must give us pause: there’s no respect

That makes calamity of my long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

For my Chancellorship’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy taxes,

When he himself might his quietus make

Without my mobile phone? who would MPs fear?,

To grunt and sweat under a weary wife,

But that the dread of something after Brown

I abuse Twitter… and thoroughly enjoy the many exchanges I have (over 27000 tweets in 14 months) with quite a few people. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Channel 4 broadcaster and newsreader, is a reasonably enthusiastic user and sometimes he asks questions – as he did on Friday evening before the 6.00 news.  I have printed my answer to his question below…

And so to a semi-serious point about the so-called ‘special relationship’ with the United States. Brown made himself and our country look rather ridiculous with his reported desperation to get a bit of  PM on President action with Obama at the G20. This led to ridiculous reports of the Foreign Office trying ‘FIVE’ times to get a response to a request for this one on one meeting  and mocking laughter from the press, voters back here and a bit of bafflement from people I know in the United States who actually asked… “What is this ‘special relationship’ the Brit press is going on about… we don’t know anything about this over here!

We have enjoyed good bi-lateral relationships with the United States ever since WWII when they stepped in to save the world, and took our colonies to pay for some destroyers. The US called it Lend-Lease.  Some here, in the pubs and bars of Blighty,  called it economic rape.  There was a time when a British Naval blockade could make the seas safe for us to go off and pillage the known world of colonies – but those days, thankfully, are long gone.  What is the pre-occupation with the ‘special relationship’? Why do British Prime Ministers demean themselves and us by appearing to want to be primus uppus your arse and tell the world and the voters back here that they are *IN* with whichever psychopath just happens to be in charge of the US nuclear arsenal at the time? (And to be fair…Obama …not withstanding, there have been a fair few nutters leading America in recent years.  How could we forget the Nutter-in-Chief himself… Dubya?

The real politik is (a) we have a perfectly good relationship with the United States if reports are to be believed (b) The United States is looking outward under Obama to reach a wider world (c) Obama seems vaguely sane for the present (d) Our prime minister, some say, is off the planet and will, in any event lose the next election… BADLY.  he is not so much a lame duck… but, as our friends in America would say… just LAME (e) we are over reliant on our relationship with the US and should, ourselves, be forging alliances with other countries – for trade, for fun, even…. rather than our usual motives of financial greed, control and a bit of war to keep things tagging along with the Yanks.


Oh… and when will politicans get the hang of the idea that the average voter is not interested in the legacy of any prime minister? .. they are interested in what the government is doing for them… not the Yanks or any other nation on Earth.  Yesterday Number 10 announced (On twitter!) with great solemnity that they were giving £250 million to world health.  I asked, on twitter, which bank they were going to borrow money from – and suggested Lloyds. Fortunately, I am not running the country… but I do live in it and the antics of the present prime minister are becoming, frankly, bizarre… if reports from independent blogs and some vaguely sensible newspapers are to be believed. Andrew Grice of The Independent puts a bit of sanity and perspective into the nonsense of recent days.

Well… there we are… I may well write two postcards this weekend… but now, as the sun goes down over the Medway…. I must find a glass and put some wine into it.

Best as always

Charon

PS… and now this…



The Attorney could be in some difficulty….

Carl Gardner has posted a thoughtful piece – with some very interesting analytical comments by posters about the disparity between what the UKBA said and what Baroness Scotland said.  Baroness Scotland’s former cleaner has been arrested.  Two issues (a) The cleaner/housekeeper is saying that she did not produce her passport and (b) it seems that there is no evidence that her husband is a solicitor

Guido Fawkes is now reporting that The Undertaker (Max Clifford)  has arrived to act for the cleaner and her husband.  I agree with Carl that the expenses issue is far more difficult for The Attorney (and that has yet to be examined in detail?). I suspect it is now only a matter of time and, quite probably a very short time before Lady Scotland goes – with the Labour Party conference about to start (and be overshadowed by these events)?  We shall see.  It is a bit more complex than it appeared the other day.   Lady Scotland’s every statement now will be scrutinised very much more closely given the housekeeper’s statement that she did not show her passport to Lady Scotland. (Guido Fawkes)

Obama snubs McDoom….

Telegraph: Barack Obama rebuffs Gordon Brown as ‘special relationship’ sinks to new low.

“Gordon Brown has been snubbed repeatedly by Barack Obama during his trip to the United States, as the fall-out from the release of the Lockerbie bomber appeared to have left “the special relationship” at its lowest ebb for nearly 20 years.”

Yeah yeah…. but the Americans still want us to support the war in Afghanistan… maybe it is a question of empathy? Would you want to be stalked by McDoom?

Oh what a lovely day….

I may as well have missed yet another train last night – when I found myself being kidnapped by Johnny Biltong and a very amusing American writer who lives in Switzerland when he isn’t living here – because it felt like one of those post-hangover surreal days all day with various items of news.

First we had Stephen Hesford MP resigning, according to the BBC website (now corrected), “on a point of principal”.  I thought this a rather good bit of post-ironic neo irony on the part of the Beeb, but…. no… it was just a humble typo and no-one at the BBC will have to resign over it.  Mr Hesford has decided that he can’t work in a department where the head of the department, Law’s top dog, breaks the very laws she helped bring in.  I don’t suppose cutting one’s career short by six months or so is going to be a great sacrifice.  Mr Hesford won’t, probably, have to worry about a ministerial career after the next election and may not, indeed, have to worry about even being an MP.

Then we had Nick Cleggover from the Liberal-Democratic People’s Carnival Party who ( reminiscent of David Steele years ago who told conference delegates “Go home and prepare for government),…. declared that he wanted to be prime minister.  Well Mr Clegg… we can’t all have what we want.  I wanted to be a ship’s captain when I was eight… largely to see a bit of  rum, sodomy and the lash…. as Churchill used to put it about the Royal Navy… but I went into law instead and  two out of three ain’t bad… and I prefer Port to Rum anyway.

Then I discovered that chief of the mumbo jumbo men (Catholic branch) The Pope is going to walk across The Channel and visit us in Blighty….Some say, when he was in the Hitler Youth all those years ago,  that he thought about visiting England then… but I could not possibly confirm the veracity of this or, indeed, comment upon it…. so I won’t. Pope Benedict (Ratzinger) was, in fact, only obeying orders when he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth as membership was required – Wikipedia. This will give the god botherers something to look forward to as Jesus doesn’t appear to have any plans to pop back in the immediate or medium term future.

Then we had Judge Bruce McMillan 63 who threw himself on his sword before he was “dishonourably disrobed by The Lord Chief Justice and The Lord Chancellor” (Oooo er, Matron! as White Rabbit might say) for being nicked, for a second time, by Plod for drink driving.   I have no idea whether MacMillan was a good judge  – but The Times notes…. He made headlines in January this year when he sentenced a man who was found naked stuck in a supermarket chimney in Wigan for a “singularly inept” attempted burglary.

“Were this matter not so serious the facts would be decidedly comic,” Judge Macmillan said.

And then I read Oedipus_Lex’s amusing post about police stupidity and the erosion of civil rights. Lex gives us a first hand report of his experience at the hands of the guys whose eyes are just that bit too close together when he attended a protest being held at the annual dinner for arms dealers.


If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast with Richard Susskind which  I did for The College of Law (It has been shoved down the page a bit) – you may find it by scrolling down or by clicking here.  I think you will find it worth listening to – particularly if you are a student going into the profession.

Finally… for barristers...The Bar Council has finally responded to the sweeping changes going on around them with a letter to barristers… … The letter urges all barristers to respond to the BSB’s consultation paper, stating that ‘at the heart of this matter are the likely future changes to the way in which barristers practise…it is of the utmost importance that the Bar now addresses its future and engages in the debate on these fundamental and historic issues’.”

I just love the unintended irony in the last sentence.

Comment du jour: The Attorney-General, ironing and irony

It is, inevitably, going to be seen as ironic that Baroness Scotland, the Attorney-General, took an oath to uphold the rule of law, is part of a government that passed the law on employing illegals and has now ended up being investigated for allegedly breaking those very laws. (Picture from Guido Fawkes blog post on the expenses issue below)

The Independent reports this morning: ” Lady Scotland is fighting to save her job after the revelation that she employed a Tongan cleaner who had overstayed her student visa by five years. She sacked Loloahi Tapui last week, before her status became public, and asked the agency to look into the matter. If the Attorney General did not carry out sufficient checks, she could face a £10,000 fine under the 2006 Asylum Immigration and Nationality Act, which she helped to push through parliament. She will say today that in January she was shown documents which stated that Ms Tapui was entitled to remain and work in Britain. The agency, whose officials raided Ms Tapui’s west London flat on Saturday, is believed to have found discrepancies over at least one of these documents. Lady Scotland’s office declined to comment last night.”

Unfortunately, Guido Fawkes and others also have Baroness Scotland in their gunsights over the issue of £170,000 claimed for a housing allowance. Guido Fawkes notes: “Patricia Scotland, who was at the Home Office before becoming Attorney-General, has wrongly claimed some £170,000 since 2004.  The £38,280 a year over-claim is only for ministers who have a primary residence outside the capital.  Patricia has a £2 million home in Chiswick, West London.

Labour MP Graham Stringer told The Mail on Sunday that if Lady Scotland did not make a ‘principled resignation’, she should be fired by Gordon Brown.

The Telegraph notes: ” A parliamentary guide to ministerial salaries makes clear that the payments are intended for “ministers in the House of Lords who maintain a second home in London”. Although she owns a cottage in Oxfordshire, Lady Scotland lists her family home in West London as her main residence. A spokeswoman for the Attorney insisted that she is entitled to the allowance, which is paid automatically to her by the department rather than being claimed as an expense, as legislation does not specify where the peer should live to qualify.”

Interestingly, despite the apparent lack of clarity in the application of the law here, “…other Government ministers who are also members of the House of Lords, including the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, do not take the allowance.”

It is, at the very least, one could argue – inelegant, with just a hint of political hypocrisy, for a well paid member of the government, the senior law officer, a Labour Attorney-General to live in an expensive Chiswick property (but a half hour ministerial car ride to her office or less on the Tube)  and yet claim this allowance? Some from the less well paid sectors of society may well take this view, especially if they are Labour voters.

On the issue of the cleaner, I am not at all certain the mob should be standing outside Lady Scotland’s house with flaming torches.  Many people employ cleaners in this country.  Few, I suspect, check their documents – and even fewer would have the ability to determine if those documents have been ‘doctored’.  We don’t live in a country where identity papers or other documentation are routinely scrutinised by the police on our streets, let alone by employers employing cleaners.  I wonder how many of those who employ cleaners and who are enjoying Lady Scotland’s discomfort declare payments to their cleaners for Tax and National Insurance.  One assumes that Lady Scotland has declared the relevant payment to her cleaner to HMRC and has deducted tax and NI?  For my part, based on the very limited information available in the press on this matter, I do not think that Lady Scotland should be held up to public ridicule and censure.  I suspect this is more a cock up than an intentional act to break the law covertly.  It could be a case of ‘premature ejaculation’ for the horde who wish to see Lady Scotland and, indeed, other Labour government apparatchicks, hounded from office.

On the issue of expenses – we shall have to see.  It would appear that the law is not at all clear on this matter and if that is shown to be the case then perhaps a bit more clarity would be helpful.

A very rough straw poll of lawyers I know yesterday revealed that Lady Scotland is highly regarded by lawyers and seems more than competent in her job. Given the fantastic levels of incompetence shown during the credit-crunch by government members, bankers and the like, we should be thankful that a  government law officer is able to do her  job to ‘fit for purpose’ standards?

Unless you know otherwise?

Update  22 September 9.00 am : The Independent reports this morning that Baroness Scotland did pay tax and NI which rather strengthens, than weakens, the point that Baroness Scotland inadvertantly employed an ‘illegal’  because the housekeeper was registered for tax and NI – a not unreasonable conlusion to put forward?

Political blogger Iain Dale has a different view and states that Baroness Scotland should do the honourable thing and resign.  She has been fined £5000 according to the blog post.

“How on earth can Baroness Scotland stay in office when, according to reports, she is being fined £5,000 for employing an illegal immigrant. It can’t be put down to a simple technical error when it was she who took the original legislation through parliament.”

College of Law Podcast 2: Richard Susskind OBE on the Future of The Profession

The future of the legal profession

Today, as part of my series of podcasts for The College of Law, I speak to Professor Richard Susskind OBE.

Listen to the podcast

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter will shape the way that lawyers work in the future, Professor Richard Susskind predicts. He says that the legal industry will be transformed over the coming years by the need to embrace ways of improving efficiency such as new technology and outsourcing. He predicts that while the new legal landscape will reduce some of the conventional areas of legal work it will open up a range of new, exciting roles for young lawyers entering the profession.

“Lesson one for law students is to disabuse themselves of the thought that legal practice tomorrow might look anything like legal practice today,” he says. “If you are about to enter the profession by the time you’re my age, 48, the legal world’s going to look wildly and vastly different.

Professor Susskind has specialised in legal technology for 25 years and is an independent advisor to major professional firms and the Government.  Since 1998 he has been IT advisor to the Lord Chief Justice of England. He’s enjoyed a distinguished academic career and in his recent book ‘The End of Lawyers?’ aims to think ahead for the legal profession and anticipate trends in the delivery and receipt of legal services.

Listen to the podcast