Home Office announces that the world is flat

Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced today that he found Professor Nutt’s advice inconvenient and not consistent with policy… or so it would seem.

The Guardian reports rather more precisely:

“Professor David Nutt, the Government’s chief drug adviser, was sacked today after claiming ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol, Home Office sources said”

Ah well…. The Curse of The Home Office appears to have another victim.

A rather grave matter…

When I was a law student, I dug graves to keep myself amused with cigarettes, wine and other sybaritic pleasures.  I don’t dig graves these days,  but as I get older I am definitely interested in the idea of supermarkets flogging coffins.  I can quite happily picture myself, on a Saturday when I collect my shopping, wheeling a coffin out of of Sainsburys on a trolley, taking it home and perhaps using the coffin as a coffee table (and storage facility) until the time comes to get into it.

I just could not resist this story from the BBC this morning…. Halloween?  What’s that? This is far more ghoulish. Have a good night if you are out and about on the night of ghouls.

A Round Tuit (7)

A Round Tuit (7)

Colin Samuels, author of four award winning Blawg reviews and until recently a sherpa on Blawg Review – produces an excellent weekly round up of Blawgs.  While inevitably US centric, Colin looks at a range of blog posts each week and often features blog posts from elsewhere.  Always worth a read – the themes covered are, more often than not, of interest to all lawyers and students wherever they practice.

Do have a look?!

 

Lawcast 159: Charles Christian on new technologies for lawyers

 

Legal Technology Insider

Lawcast 159: Charles Christian on new technologies for lawyers

 

Today I am talking to Charles Christian, lawyer, writer and Editor of Legal Technology Insider. Over the next 12 months law firms will once more be ramping up their investments in legal IT as the country climbs out of recession – but what sort of technologies should they be looking at?

Listen to the podcast

Podcast version for iTunes

Imagine….

Imagine a country where the right to trial by jury has been undermined, where an individual can be tried twice – the rule on double jeopardy abandoned – where well over 3000 new crimes have been enacted in the past ten years; where racial, sexuality and religious tensions are said to need the protection and might of law.

Imagine a country where the chief justice and many leading judges fear for the future of justice and civil liberties because the government of that country has eroded civil liberties in the name of countering terror and  has reduced support for those of limited means, and vulnerable people, to fight their corner and pay for lawyers.

Imagine a country where people are imprisoned without charge for 28 days (42 days was defeated).

Imagine a country where the right to speak freely is restricted and individuals can be threatened by lawyers who can simply telephone a judge in Chambers to restrict them from speaking out,  on what may well be a matter of great public importance,  to protect sectional and very private corporate interests, where attempts to restrict the reporting of the proceedings of the press are routinely granted through the use of super-injunctions and, latterly, a country with laws which allowed lawyers to attempt to restrict the reporting of proceedings in parliament itself.

Imagine a country that leads the world in CCTV surveillance with more cameras per head of population than any other on Earth.

Imagine a country where not only the police but local authorities and other civilian bodies can routinely spy on you, intercept your email, bug your phone and can intrude to examine your bank accounts and then, even for quite minor offences, can seize your assets, freeze your bank account and seize and crush your car; powers intended to tackle terror and organised crime but which now will, inevitably, be used for far less serious offences.

Imagine a country which has restricted the money paid to experienced criminal lawyers with the result that many lawyers can no longer afford to practice in the field and the quality of representation may decline as a result.

Imagine a country with over 85,000 people in jail, a country where the Justice Ministry wants yet more prisons and even considered hiring prison ships from elsewhere.

Imagine a country where the government uses the device of statutory instrument to slide controversial legislation through into law without the eyes of the public, expert commentators or members of parliament being able to see, or objective  minds,  to consider those laws.

Imagine a country that allows the prime minister to wage war without the consent of the elected representatives of the people…

You don’t need to imagine such a country.  You are living in it.

The Home Office has finally administered the coup de grace on common sense and civil liberties

The Times reports…

Draconian police powers designed to deprive crime barons of luxury lifestyles are being extended to councils, quangos and agencies to use against the public, The Times has learnt.

The right to search homes, seize cash, freeze bank accounts and confiscate property will be given to town hall officials and civilian investigators employed by organisations as diverse as Royal Mail, the Rural Payments Agency and Transport for London.

The measure, being pushed through by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, comes into force next week and will deploy some of the most powerful tools available to detectives against fare dodgers, families in arrears with council tax and other minor offenders.

The radical extension of the Proceeds of Crime Act, through a Statutory Instrument which is not debated by parliament, has been condemned by the chairman of the Police Federation. Paul McKeever said that he was shocked to learn that the decision to hand over “intrusive powers” to people who were not police was made without consultation or debate.

This is a very worrying development and reveals that mission creep has finally crept up to the limit of common sense.  I agree with the Police Federation spokesman.  The government wants to ‘embed’ seizure powers across the board in the Criminal Justice System and raise £250 million.

Putting draconinian powers in the hands of council officials is not a clever move and will, inevitably, result in poorly trained council officials making poor decisions.

I’ve lost patience with Labour over their continued and almost relentless attack on common sense when it comes to civil liberties.  Their much vaunted talk of human rights seems futile when they give with one hand yet take with the other.  This decision will be a disaster like many other decisions of a Home Office which has not, to coin a phrase, been ‘fit for purpose’ for some time. And to think, after the crazies we have had running the Home Office in recent years, I thought that Alan Johnson might actually be vaguely sensible.  This is not sensible…and while I am permitted in New Orwellian Labour Britain.. I shall say so.

I have stopped voting labour…. this means I shall not be voting for the first time in nearly 30 years. Not that this will have any effect whatsoever on the voting figures for Labour bar one less vote.

POLICE STATE BRITAIN ? … NAH… MORE OF A TRAFFIC WARDEN STATE BRITAIN  – and this will be even worse…. have you ever tried to speak to a council official?

If you want to pay your council tax PRESS 1…if you want to pay your parking fine PRESS 2… if you want to pay your fine for putting your bin out too early PRESS 3… if you want to enjoy your life in Britain… sorry… we don’t accept calls on this.

Shock Horror: Charon may be related to Edward 1

The Daily Mail worries me, but in a week where there is actually quite important news  – The Daily Mail has come up with a story about inbreeding in the Royal Family. You have to have a quick look at this - to get the point… astonishing, however, how all the royals do look alike?

It really is astonishing how a leading newspaper can be so pre-occupied with so little… what is more worrying is that their readers may also be pre-occupied with so little and, like everyone…Sun Readers, Mirror Readers… Guardian,Times, Indie, Telegraph etc etc readers….  … they have a vote.

I love Britain…… serious about politics… You bet!

Anyway… let me re-assure you, I am a republican. I am not related to any Royals or Boris Johnson… and while my father was in the Army during the second World War, he didn’t have liaisons with any members of the royal family past or present… or even dead ones.

Lord Neuberger: A rather good speech..

I would like to draw your attention (if you have not already seen it) to a good speech by Lord Neuberger MR.  Amusingly, it includes a scripted slip of the tongue in para 14!

LORD NEUBERGER OF ABBOTSBURY, MASTER OF THE ROLLS

A JUDICIAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE CONDUCT OF CLAIMS IN THE CURRENT
CLIMATE

Yes… more of this from the senior judiciary, please.  Very interesting reading.

Worth reading

Comment du Jour: Genocidal maniacs, conmen…and other matters

The legal news over the last few days has thrown up some curious and interesting stories.

Genocidal maniacs

Yesterday we had Justice Minister and Lord Chancellor Jack Straw announcing that Britain would not become a haven for warlords and genocidal maniacs – which is reassuring given our history over centuries and, some would say, more recently (Interestingly the Radovan Karadzic genocide trial began and was suspended)…yet today  The British government wants allegations that it was complicit in the torture by the US of Britons held as terrorism suspects to be heard in secret.

“In documents seen by the Guardian, lawyers for the government argue it must be allowed to present evidence to the high court with the public excluded, otherwise Britain’s relations with other countries and its national security could be damaged. The government also wants its evidence kept secret from defence lawyers.”

It is, perhaps, not appropriate that I refer to Tony Blair in the context of genocidal maniacs – but he has been told in no uncertain terms by the prime minister and by David Miliband that he must fight or risk losing the European Presidency. (Guardian)

While I do vote Labour,  I have some reservations about Tony Blair becoming President of Europe.  I understand the need for Europe to have a well known politician to represent European interests on the world stage.  I suspect that other candidates (who have to hold or have held prime ministerial office in their own countries) may well be ‘invisible’ outside their own countries. Unfortunately, Blair is all too visible.  His pro-European sentiments were clearly not to the fore when he sided with Bush on the Iraq war.  Henry Porter did a rather good piece in The Observer last Sunday and, as always, made sense and put his views carefully and in a rational manner.

“What European leaders should want is the most principled individual for the job, not someone who cuts a dash on the G20 catwalk and knows how to abuse power.”

Having read Alastair Campbell’s The Blair Years recently, I have reservations about Blair’s ability to lead a complex entity of nations without being overtly ‘Presidential’. Blair also tended to be over reliant, it would seem, on a few people to govern and this, in the context of the European Presidency, would not appear to be a tactic which could be deployed successfully.  There is also the question of why he would wish to do it when he can earn fantastic sums of money on the after dinner speech and consultancy circuit. This latter. of course, is a personal issue for him.

I also have grave reservations about the baggage he carries with him over the prosecution of the war in Iraq and, more particularly, the use of the sexed up dossier.  Former Foreign Secretary (Lord) David Owen, is not alone in believing that ‘contempt of Parliament should always be a disqualification for holding high office’.   This, I feel, disqualifies him play a leading role in Europe  and, as Philippe Sands QC observed in the Observer on Sunday -  Blair is associated with the possible use of torture by the US and UK governments.  Sands puts the boot in, albeit elegantly as befits a Professor of Law at University College London and a leading Silk, by saying “Europe needs a president who is associated with promoting modern values, including the rule of law and fundamental rights for all.”

That said, there is no doubt that Blair was one of the most dynamic prime ministers of the modern era and would certainly bring profile, energy and drive to the job and perhaps this is of more value to Europe than baggage from the past? I suspect, had there not been a war with Iraq, that Blair would have gone on to be a very credible prime minister, albeit  not one with overtly or natural socialist principles. Who knows?  we did go to war with Iraq on a premise which has been revealed to be incorrect.

We also have some potentially sinister developments on the Policing front

Guardian: Chief constables will be forced to justify the legality of recording thousands of law-abiding protesters on secret nationwide databases, the government’s privacy watchdog announced today. Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, said he had “genuine concerns about the ever increasing amount” of personal data held by police.

 

The present government does not have a taste for following advice from incumbent Information Commissioners and it is no surprise to hear the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, saying “The police know what they are doing, they know how to tackle these demonstrations, they do it very effectively.”

To be fair to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, he has intervened at the eleventh hour in the case of Gary McKinnon,  the hacker who faces 60 years in jail in the US for hacking into the Pentagon computer system..  Alan Johnson is going to look ‘very carefully’ at the medical evidence being put in support of a likely suicide if the extradition goes ahead. Times

And finally… a conman who told women that he was Keir Starmer QC, the DPP, to lure them into his bed has been jailed…

Independent: A swindler who pretended to be the country’s top lawyer and dressed in pinstripe suits, wigs and robes to trick women is behind bars after being convicted of a string of offences including fraud and theft.

 

 

 

Inspiring…

This was sent to me by a good friend in Australia – an English barrister who lives out there now with her teenage boys.

As we get older we sometimes begin to doubt our ability to “make a difference” in the world.  It is at these times that our hopes are boosted by the remarkable achievements of other “seniors” who have found the courage to take on challenges that would make many of us wither.  Harold Sclumberg is such a person.

I’ve often been asked, ‘What do you old folks do now that you’re retired’?

Well..I’m fortunate to have a chemical engineering background, and one of the things I enjoy most is turning beer, wine, Scotch, and margaritas into urine.

And I’m pretty damn good at it, too!!



Chef Charon présente Boeuf Bourguignon

I could not cook many years ago…but now I can – simply by watching programmes on cookery, reading cook books, trying things out and by having had the good fortune to eat some very good meals in different parts of the world. I am not a foodie.  I just enjoy cooking and eating the results. I also like cooking for friends.  It has to be said that I have had to go out to dinner after cooking – simply because what I tried was, shall we say, not too good.

There is a fantastic range of information on the net and on television for those of us who enjoy cooking.

Tonight… a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon done in a slow cooker or ‘crockpot’

1. Buy a slow cooker (£20 – or use a hob and cook gently for about 2 hours and then transfer to a hot oven 180C to thicken the gravy for about 15 minutes.)

Using the slow cooker on a high setting for 5-6 hours:

2. Chop topside, sirloin,  rump or even cheaper cuts of beef into chunks. Coat with flour (I prefer cornflour) and season with salt and  pepper.  Brown in frying pan using groundnut or sunflower oil until the meat has a good colour on the outside

3.  Chop carrots, onion, mushroom, onion/challots and small potatoes (keep the skin on) garlic  – some mixed herbs and anything else you fancy by way of veg.

4. Add about 1/4 pint of beef stock available from supermarkets.  Put in a small amount of fat from the beef to render down and provide depth to the gravy.

5. Add a full bottle of decent burgundy.  The burgundy will cost about £6-10 depending on your budget.  It is worth using good wine. Frankly any heavy bodied wine will give good flavour

6. Cook for 5-6 hours with the slow cooker on high or 9-10 hours with the slow cooker on low.

Garlic and chive mash

It will take about 20 minutes or so to cook some small potatoes with or without skins (I like skins on for this dish)

1. Cook potatoes until you can put a fork into the heart of the cut potatoes. Drain water, mash, add garlic puree or chopped garlic, chopped chives and butter.  Mash until you have the mash the way you like it.

Quantities are irrelevant with slow cooking.  Some people are greedy.  Work out how much you like, add for friends. Make enough for some the next day – because it does taste better the next day and you can heat it up fairly quickly on a stove. Best to make a new batch of mash, though.

Rioja, Burgundy, Barolo, Cotes du Rhone… in fact.. most reds go well with this.

I have just had a boeuf bourguignon prepared in this way … and I am feeling no pain at all.. and I am never, knowingly, under refreshed… at night.

Blawg Review #235 from Counsel to Counsel

On this 80th Anniversary of the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Counsel to Counsel hosts Blawg Review and dedicate Blawg Review #235 to The Great Recession.

How has our current crisis changed the practice of law and affected our careers as attorneys? Fortunately for me, there was no shortage of reading material on the subject this past week. While US centric – much applies to Britain and elsewhere… I would have thought?

Read Blawg  Review

College of Law Inside Track Podcast: Simon Myerson QC- Life at the Bar and advice on gaining pupillage

College of Law Inside Track Podcast:
Simon Myerson QC- Life at the Bar and advice on gaining pupillage
I talk to Simon Myerson QC. He considers the OLPAS form, the pupillage process, how best to prepare for pupillage interviews and the likely legal landscape for those who wish to join the Bar. He is generally optimist about the future and his advice is that it is a good career, if you are good. Simon Myerson’s blog Pupillage and How to get it is essential reading for prospective barristers.

Listen to the podcast

Religion… a Panopticon for the future?

I am a liberal atheist, by which I mean that I do not seek in any way to persuade others to my belief that there is no god of any kind, nor do I seek to encourage others to adopt a rationalist stance on the matter.  If people wish to believe in a god or gods – and there do seem to be quite a few gods in religious belief systems – and enjoy their beliefs,  that is their right … but, inevitably, because this is a law blog I introduce a Benthamite caveat…provided it does not cause more harm to others than it provides pleasure to believers.

I used to teach Jurisprudence… a subject, sadly, which many universities now consign to the larder of obscure options and which legal regulators appear no longer to regard as a subject which will help the young lawyer become an expert in conveyancing, prosecuting and defending criminals or become a highly paid maven on mergers and acquisitions or… indeed…. legal work of any kind.  Be that as it may.

It was Voltaire who said “If god didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him” and history reveals that it was remarkably convenient to have a god and a structured system of rules as an instrument of social control.  I hesitate to go further lest I find myself banged up at a secure police station in West London for breaching the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

I would like it to be perfectly clear, as a liberal atheist,(Lest some police officer is behind with his ‘nickings’ this month)  that I have no intention of breaching s. 29B of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act because I am, just that, a liberal atheist – tolerant, inclusive, relaxed and  laid back, about the things fellow human beings believe in.

I would, however, like to commend a piece written by Professor Turley, a US academic, on Blaspemy laws.

Professor Turley writes in USA Today…

Perhaps in an effort to rehabilitate the United States’ image in the Muslim world, the Obama administration has joined a U.N. effort to restrict religious speech. This country should never sacrifice freedom of expression on the altar of religion.

I leave you with one thought – is it sensible to have prime ministers, presidents, ayatollahs, et al who believe in so many different gods, running our various countries?  Perhaps the world would be better served without the influence of so many religions?  I am just asking, in a spirit of reasoned debate, and not inciting.

PS… One of the great ironies of Jeremy Bentham is that he designed the Panopticon, a prison designed is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the “sentiment of an invisible omniscience.”[1]

Postcard from The Staterooms-On-Sea: QT, BNP and OTT…..

Dear Reader,

I write this week from my penthouse garret, replete with boeuf bourgignon cooked on my new slow cooker, and with no Professional Masterchef to watch, I shall in all probability take of the wine of the gods and do a spot of writing….. the results of which are set out below.

Last night I watched BBC’s Question Time, a programme I usually enjoy. The BBC were right to invite Nick Griffin onto the panel.  The protesters at the BBC appeared to be the usual mob of professional protesters (some even wore masks), and students.  The irony of a group of left wing protesters protesting about free speech was not lost on me.  Frankly, the fact that 3 police officers were injured because of the antics of these people is appalling.  Protesting in a violent way is not the answer to issues of this nature.  The programme, discussed in detail elsewhere, was poor.  The audience and Bonnie Greer were rather good.  Griffin revealed himself to be a man lacking in mental acuity and tried to play the moderate card… absurdly referring to meetings with the Klu Klux Klan – the ‘non-violent wing’. He couldn’t tell us why he used to talk about racism, holocaust denial etc etc because of European Law.  This, of course, is bollocks.  We do not have a holocaust law in the UK.   His racist, intolerant bigotry shone through. He also looked rather weak.  Not a convincing dictator for a new order at all. Unfortunately, he will get more support because there are many in our sceptred isle who lap up his brand of racial and social intolerance.

With hindsight, Question Time may not have been the right vehicle.  Perhaps 10 minutes on Newsnight with Paxo or Andrew Neil on Straight Talk would have been a bit more rigorous and more credible from an intellectual honesty point of view.  I got the distinct impression that the BBC were revelling in their own sanctimonious and unctuous pomposity and brilliance… and… the ratings as well.

The only good thing is that the BNP morons will not form the next government – but I have no doubt that some other self serving politicians will be part of the next government, whichever party wins.

Following my fifth Michelin star, awarded to myself earlier this week, I have purchased several items of kitchen equipment – a slow cooker and a vegetable rack.  The slow cooker (£17.95 from Range)  is excellent.  15 minutes prep with fresh ingredients, toss in a bottle of decent wine, adjust chef hat, turn slow cooker on.  10 hours later - boeuf bourgignon – another Michelin star.  Recipes galore on the internet.

The vegetable rack was a design nightmare. Basically it comes with two side struts, on casters.  The idea is that four wire baskets fit onto wires on the side struts to create the whole and provide support strength.  The trouble is, with the casters, and only two hands, I began to lose the will to live.  Expletive followed expletive to the point that I felt like Basil Fawlty thrashing his car with a branch a la Fawlty Towers years ago – and wanted to toss the whole thing into the river. However, reason prevailed.  I had a cuppa. And cunningly outwitted the side struts (and the casters)  by laying them flat on the floor to assemble the vegetable rack. Job done. I then had to go and buy some vegetables to put in it, of course.

Props to RollonFriday for this remarkable picture from a New Zealand Barristers website, EquityLaw.

It does rather look like an early Village People publicity shot.  I just love the ‘evil dictator’ look with the guy in the dictator’s uniform…. so 2010.

A RollOnFriday t-shirt goes to anyone who can translate the following:

“In a similar manner to the ancient arts of budo law is a discipline, which trains the ethical character, the fighting spirit and the will. [Law] represents the ultimate battle of mind, will and knowledge. Equity equates with equality, fairness and justice. This is the philosophy and approach of the firm, which has developed a new vision of law for the 21st century.”

It has been an interesting week. I did a podcast with Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite having had no sleep on the Sunday night, emergency dental treatment in the early hours of Sunday morning – but the show must go on and I had to get up to London to The College of Law multi-media studio to record it at 12.00 midday.  It was probably the only time the DPP has been interviewed by someone high on drugs (legal – heavy pain killers and anaesthetic!). I’ll give you the link when it goes out.  It was a very interesting discussion. Keir Starmer was very open and pulled no punches.

Well… only one glass in… but time to do a bit of work… for, tomorrow, I ride on London to escape from my garret and my desk.

Best,  as always

Charon

Lawcast 158: The Bar Professional Training Course at Kaplan Law School

 

Kaplan Law School

Lawcast 158: The Bar Professional Training Course at Kaplan Law School

 

Today I am talking to James Wakefield director of the Bar course at Kaplan law School in London. From September 2010 the Bar Vocational Course BVC will be called the ‘Bar Professional Training Course’ BPTC. Kaplan has been validated by the Bar Standards Board to deliver the Nottingham Law School course in London as from September 2010.  Kaplan states on its website that The Nottingham Law School Bar Vocational Course has been long established as one of the best in the country with double the average pupillage rates and the highest student satisfaction rates.

Controversially, while the Bar Standards Board was not able to introduce an aptitude test after Office of Fair Trading intervention – Kaplan is introducing one of its own.

Listen to the podcast

Podcast version for iTunes