A brief exchange on twitter – politics.

I am not a Tory, but I do read and enjoy Iain Dales blog. I  read the transcript of John Sopel’s interview with David Cameron on The Politics today.  (See my weekly Postcard below) I was surprised at how poorly Cameron performed and was very surprised by some of the answers Cameron gave to Sopel’s very well structured and focused questions.  I do appreciate that politicians work long hours and have many pressures and cannot always deliver killer speeches during interviews.  Cameron, however, is putting himself forward as a prime minister in waiting and this interview with a well known interviewer on a well known politics show, in my view, does not show him at his best.

Tweetminster noted earlier this evening that ‘sentiment’ about Cameron had fallen following the Cameron / Sopel interview.I asked Iain Dale a number of questions this evening on twitter.

I have put them in chronological order…in terms of my typing.  Time lags for responses do occur and I sent Iain more tweets than he responded to – inevitably this can happen on twitter.  I have set the tweets out in the chronological order of the way Iain responded which, apart from the Chilcot question (which was not addressed to Iain dale specifically,  was as near as dammit chronological in time as well.  Please remember this was a casual twitter exchange and not an ‘interview’ – that is why twitter is both interesting and not always to be relied on as a public debate / analysis forum.  Iain was responding, as he often does, to a fellow tweeter on a Sunday evening and not being questioned formally  for a more mainstream public medium. This is not to say that his responses would have been any different.

The first tweet was my response to reading Cameron/Sopel interview

Charonqc

Truly dreadful performance by Cameron when torn apart by Sopel on The Politics – astonishing http://charonqc.wordpress.com waffle waffle…

***

Exchange between myself and Iain Dale

Charonqc

@iaindale What is your take on Cameron’s performance on the Politics / Sopel

  1. iaindale @Charonqc You are confusing Cameron’s interview with Mandelson’s. 20 minutes ago from TweetDeck in reply to Charonqc

  1. Charonqc

    @iaindale No.. this one… http://page.politicshome.com/uk/article/5215/burglars_leave_their_human_rights_at_the_door_says_cameron.html 16 minutes ago from web in reply to iaindale

Charonqc

  1. @iaindale Not poking… genuinely interested because you are an objective Tory…. a bit worrying in parts? 15 minutes ago from web in reply to iaindale

  1. iaindale

    @Charonqc Not at all. I assume u r talking about his burglar comments. Totally agree with him. 14 minutes ago from TweetDeck in reply to Charonq

  1. Charonqc

    @iaindale No… his failure to give cut figures and his view of Chilcot et al? Again… not poking… but interested. 4 minutes ago from web in reply to iaindale

  1. iaindale

    @Charonqc I dont expect him to give figures until nearer election. He needs to give general direction not minute details. 3 minutes ago from TweetDeck in reply to Charonq

  1. Charonqc

    Does David cameron have any understand of the Chilcot Inquiry/International law? Doesn’t seem so http://charonqc.wordpress.com Worrying 18 minutes ago from we

  1. Charonqc

    @iaindale Would you say that this interview does credit to Cameron as a prime minister in waiting? 2 minutes ago from web in reply to iaindale

  1. Charonqc

    @iaindale Yes.. I accept that…My last tweet is perhaps the one I should have started with.. Thanks for responding.. less than a minute ago from web in reply to iaindale

  1. iaindale

    @Charonqc I saw nothing in it which would indicate otherwise. half a minute ago from TweetDeck in reply to Charon

Charonqc

@iaindale Thank you.. 12 minutes ago from web in reply to iaindale

Postcard from The Staterooms-On-Sea

Dear Reader,

This is my last weekend Postcard from the Staterooms-On-Sea.  I leave Chatham Maritime on the Medway for London next week; returning to live in Battersea, right on the river opposite the boat I used to live on at Cheyne Walk.  This is not a permanent return.  I feel like a Tuareg, moving my tent and furniture about every six months or so.  I rather like the idea of being able to move about the country and pitch my tent metaphorically in different places.  I have enjoyed my time in kent – but I need a bit more of a social life. The apartment is right on the river overlooking the Thames to Chelsea and about 50 years from the very pleasant Battersea Square. (Right)

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating transcript of an interview with David Cameron by John Sopel of the BBC on The Politics Show. It is quite extraordinary, barely months before the election, that Cam & Dec haven’t got their act together on the specifics of the cuts they are going to impose. Save for those who will vote Tory come what may, how are other voters going to make an informed decision unless they are given details.  Cameron waffled badly in this interview, allowing Sopel to plunge the toasting fork into Cameron’s buttocks several times.  It was like the scene in Tom Brown’s Schooldays when Flashman toasted the young Tom Brown in front of the fire.

Here are a few of the Sopel questions. The answers are worth reading…

SOPEL
I’m sorry to interrupt you, I just want to interrupt you on that because is it that you haven’t identified what the year one cuts will be and therefore can’t tell us, or that you have identified them but now is not the time to tell us?

I want to rattle through some of the specifics where you have pledged, I just want to check that those specifics are still in place, for example on inheritance tax even though there are only a couple of thousand estates, a few thousand people would be affected by it, that commitment, policy commitment remains?

No going back on that one?

And now I want to go to where I think there are, really ambiguity is a good word to use for it. What about recognising tax, recognising marriage in the tax system? Where are you on that because this is going into a right mess at the beginning of the year?

You’ve had two years to work out the answer to that. You launched something and then it kind of all collapsed.

I’m not asking for the detail of everything but for, you’ve had four years to work this one out and you haven’t worked it out.

And then Cameron launched into his ‘Kill a Burglar ‘ speech and made the remarkable statement that burglars leave their human rights at the door. I’m astonished that a prime minister in waiting can make such a statement.

CAMERON
Well we think that the, the proposal has been put forward which is to say that unless the action you take as a homeowner is grossly disproportionate, so you’re raising the bar effectively, that that will be a good step forward. Now if you can find a different -

SOPEL
How have you turned that into law because -


CAMERON
Well I’ve given you two words – grossly disproportionate. That’s -


SOPEL
You can use proportionate force, you just can’t use grossly disproportionate force?

Oh dear… Cameron is not very good at thinking on his feet, it would seem and his side-kick Osbore doesn’t seem to be good at thinking at all.

Interestingly… this from Tweetminster at 6.15 pm this evening:

tweetminster Sentiment (on Twitter) around David Cameron has dropped following Politics Show (& the resulting coverage) http://bit.ly/dAjy1V

Having re-read this grilling of Cameron by Sopel – irrespective of the fact that i am supposed to be ‘socialist’… Cameron worries me. Nothing seems to be structured, coherent, thought out.  This is not really good enough for a prospective prime minister who has had some years to work things out.  Waffle just doesn’t cut it in tutorials with first year students… it certainly doesn’t when it comes to policy statements from a man who puts himself forward as the next prime minister.  Kenneth Clarke?  too late for a Conservative leadership challenge?

AND THIS IS THE KILLER QUESTION FROM SOPEL… Very clever as it reveals that Cameron has no understanding whatsoever of International Law, the ICC or what Chilcot is about… tragic… and I am sure that Sopel must have thought very carefully about that question…

SOPEL
Yeah, do you understand why some people say Tony Blair ought to be tried for war crimes?


CAMERON
Well I don’t, I don’t think it’s come to that. He’s, he’s giving an account of himself as we are speaking right now. I haven’t been able to see that. Let’s let Chilcot do his work and do his report, and then I think we can make more of a judgment.

This is rather worrying?

The Law Society gazette ran an astonishing story this week:

Website for blacklisted solicitors plans expansion

While I am n favour of the Solicitors Regulatory Authority publishing reports of disciplinary proceedings taken against solicitors – I am not so sure the Solicitorsfromhell site is an altogether fair way of dealing with complaints. Quite apart from possible issues of libel and unfairness (the owner of the site says he has been threatened with libel by solicitors) – it is not an analytical or objective forum.  The site does not appear to permit of a dissent or an alternative viewpoint under each listing post.  Mr Kordowski has this notice on the front page of his website:

Note to Solicitors and Firms:

An internet directory or search engine (such as this) is NOT a publisher at common law, just a facilitator.
As held by Mr Justice Eady on July 19 2009.

The Law Society Gazette reports: ” Solicitorsfromhell.co.uk allows visitors to post complaints about law firms and individual solicitors. The postings appear on Google within 24 hours. Kordowski said that he set the website up because he was ‘shocked’ about the number of complaints made about solicitors. He maintained that he is carrying out a public service that is also of benefit to the ­profession. Law firms can pay £299 to have all current and future traces of their name removed from the site. Alternatively, they can pay between £99 and £199 to have specific postings deleted. Visitors are charged a fee for posting a complaint about a firm.” (Mr Kordowski says that visitors to the site are NOT charged a fee)

Gary Slapper, of the Open University (who is always worth reading in The Times) has a truly weird case this weekand I mean W E I R D

“In the film The Matrix, Keanu Reeves plays a character who moves in and out of the real world. He might have thought he was having a similar experience while defending a recent legal action in Canada. Reeves was sued by Karen Sala, a woman he said he had never met but who claimed that he had disguised himself as her husband and, over 25 years, fathered her four children.”

RollonFriday has a classic this week: Exclusive – Eversheds partner questions parent’s commitment
Eversheds has admitted that it had to carry out an investgation after one of its partners sent a email to a colleague wondering how to deal with an interviewee who had recently had a child.

Delighted to see that the Spacehijackers, who painted their armoured car in Police colours to attend the G20 protests last year, are not going to face charges. The CPS appears to have used the common sense test… “

A theatre group charged with impersonating police officers at the G20 protests are planning to sue the Metropolitan Police after the Crown Prosecution Service dropped all charges.

Eleven protesters, billing themselves as the Space Hijackers and portraying themselves as the “laughing cavaliers of capitalism”, were arrested after they jumped out of an armoured vehicle at the Bishopsgate offices of the Royal Bank of Scotland during the demonstrations in London’s Square Mile on 1 April last year. They were charged with impersonating police but the case was dropped after four hearings after the CPS said it had received new information and no longer believed there was a realistic chance of a conviction.”

I accept that it is easy to indulge in a bit of ‘Police bashing’ – and sometimes, as the G20 police behaviour demonstrates, they deserve it – but this action on the part of the police was doomed to failure right from the start and just plain daft. I suspect a jury would have acquitted had it gone the full distance…. the CPS certainly thought so.

Guido Fawkes notes: Andy Murray Cursed (Again) Loses Open

“Back in July last year Andy Murray was cursed by Jonah Brown.  Earlier this week when Gordon wished Murray well against Federer many co-conspirators winced and commented that this was the kiss of death again.”

Another interesting week ahead for law news… I am planning to do some televised short voxpop interviews with members of the public about legal news stories when I return to London.  these will supplement the podcasts which I am already doing and, hopefully, be of interest in terms of seeing how mebers of the public regard our laws and the legal issues of our times.  We shall see how it goes!  (I shall, do not fear, be behind the camera)

Have a good week

Best as always

Charon

Chilcot enquête spéciale: Non, je ne regrette rien

The BBC reports: Tony Blair has said the Iraq war made the world a safer place and he has “no regrets” about removing Saddam Hussein.

The newspapers will be full of it – but after six hours watching it today, admittedly, while doing other things in parts,  Je suis fatigue. On the way out of the Chilcot Inquiry room Blair was heckled by 2 members of the audience.  One called him a liar and the other called him a murderer.   I make no comment on either of these accusations – but will say this, that it would not have harmed his case at all to have shown greater concern about the death toll, military and civilian.

Blair ran rings around the Chilcot Inquiry today. There were many instances today when the Inquisitioners failed to ask probing questions – some will say, and I have sympathy for this, far too many occasions. Blair gave a very good presentation, so good at times that I wondered if he was giving a presentation to a group of investors at a hedge fund meeting.While Blair was articulate, confident and assertive, I suspect that Gordon Brown, when he appears, will not be quite so smooth.

There were thousands of tweets during the day on Twitter #iraqinquiry #blair – this was one that amused me.

I may have to go back to getting my news in print or from the radio. I just  can’t take any more hyperventilating BBC reporters.

Wikileaks needs help: “We protect the world—but will you protect us?”

“Wikileaks has probably produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years ”
—  The National, November 19. 2009

Wikileaks needs financial help.

“The Sunshine Press (WikiLeaks) is an non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public. Through your support we have exposed significant injustice around the world—successfully fighting off over 100 legal attacks in the process. Although our work produces reforms daily and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2008 Economist Freedom of Expression Award as well as the 2009 Amnesty International New Media Award, these accolades do not pay the bills. Nor can we accept government or corporate funding and maintain our absolute integrity. It is your strong support alone that preserves our continued independence and strength.”

Can you help?  If so – click here

Rive Gauche: Contrition from Blair? – he may just tell us to eff off… who knows?

Friday’s Rive Gauche edition  has come around quite quickly after an extraordinary week for law news.   Today, Tony Blair  appears before the Iraq Inquiry.  He will, naturally, be thoroughly prepared.  it is unlikely the questioning will trouble him over much and, after his appearance with Fern Britton, where he said that WMD was not necessary for the war and he would have found other arguments to justify the war, we are unlikely to get anything sensational.

The Guardian reported at the time: “If you had known then that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?” Blair was asked. He replied: “I would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam Hussein]“.

Significantly, Blair added: “I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat.” He continued: “I can’t really think we’d be better with him and his two sons in charge, but it’s incredibly difficult. That’s why I sympathise with the people who were against it [the war] for perfectly good reasons and are against it now, but for me, in the end I had to take the decision.”

In a rather bizarre twist, Sir Martin Gilbert, a panellist on the Chilcot The Government’s Got Talent show, has been praising the prime minister Gordon Brown for his hard work.  The timing isn’t great, given Brown’s imminent appearance before the Iraq Inquiry – but this is Britain, so why should we be surprised?

The Times has the story. It is perfectly reasonable for Gilbert to make statements about prime ministers and anti-semitism in Britain  – but I would thought it would have been more sensible to wait until after the Inquiry?

So that will be a “YES” vote from Gilbert for McDoom then?

UN in secret peace talks with Taliban

The Guardian reports….“Taliban commanders held secret exploratory talks with a United Nations special envoy this month to discuss peace terms, it emerged tonight.Regional commanders on the Taliban’s leadership council, the Quetta Shura, sought a meeting with the UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, and it took place in Dubai on 8 January. “They requested a meeting to talk about talks. They want protection, to be able to come out in public. They don’t want to vanish into places like Bagram,” the Reuters news agency quoted a UN official as saying, referring to the Bagram detention centre at a US military base outside Kabul.”

London is hosting a conference on Afghanistan and while it seems perfectly sensible to me to try to find a diplomatic solution to a nine year old war, many on BBC’s Question Time last night were none too impressed about the government giving money to the Taliban to get them to stop fighting.

President Karzai had talks with David Cameron the other day….

Scientists have discovered a sub-species of Homo Plodiens in Scotland. The BBC reported the other morning… An Ayrshire businessman says he has been fined by the police for blowing his nose while driving. Michael Mancini, from Prestwick, said he was sitting in stationary traffic with the handbrake on when he used a tissue to clean his nose. He claimed he was waved over by four police officers and given a fixed penalty for not being in proper control of his car.”

And finally….

If you haven’t already spotted this and you want a bit of light entertainment with your coffee… then get on to Twitter and watch the feed from @eyespymp

Basically… it tweets about sightings of MPs and what they are doing… Hat Tip to Guido Fawkes…who states “Guido hears that some MPs are up in arms about invasion of their privacy and that hacks are chortling away.”

Here are but a few examples of recent @eyespymp tweets…

“Vaizey spotted with a short homicidal looking chap at St. Stephens”

“Theresa May with horrific faux crocodile skin bright green handbag. Error.”

“Charles Clarke at Peter Watt’s book launch. The book slams Brown – Clarke here like a greyhound”

“Harman marching back and forth across central lobby for the benefit of a TV camera”

“Gerald Kaufman hobbling along cloisters. Thought he’d died ages ago?”

Have a good Friday.  I shall watch a bit of Chalcot and then I’m orf to London to do ‘stuff’ to organise my imminent return to the capital.

Law Review: The judges lay down the law…

Judges throw out measures to freeze assets of terror suspects

The Supreme Court delivered yet another defeat for the government in their latest ruling.  The Times has the full story but this list from The Times article  is a useful reminder:.

Judicial defeats for terror laws

2004: House of Lords rules that the indefinite detention without trial of foreign terror suspects at Belmarsh jail is unlawful. 2007: Law lords rule that the most restrictive aspect of the control order regime — the 18-hour curfew — is a breach of human rights. 2008: Five men cleared by the Appeal Court of offences under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act; judges say that it is not illegal to possess extremist material unless it is used to inspire terrorism. 2008: Court of Appeal blocks the deportation to Jordan of extremist cleric Abu Qatada; he is later released on bail then re-arrested on the basis of intelligence that he was about to flee the country. 2008: Appeal Court blocks attempt to increase four-and-a-half year jail term for convicted terrorist Sohail Qureshi. 2009: Government forced to rescind some control orders after House of Lords ruled that suspects had to be told what some of the secret evidence against them said. 2010: Supreme Court declares that terrorist asset-freezing orders, introduced by the Treasury when Gordon Brown was Chancellor, are unlawful.

‘Criminal barristers feel that they have an economic gun to their heads’

Paul Mendelle, QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association: “We are pragmatic and accept the need for cuts. But that does not have to mean these savage and unprincipled cuts to fees that have already seen their value eroded by a decade of inflation.”

The Times reports: “As chairman of the 3,600-strong Criminal Bar Association (CBA) he is organising roadshows on the latest proposals on criminal legal aid. This battle is far from won. Two sets of options are on the table: one from the Legal Services Commission (LSC) on high-cost trials and the other from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on defence fees generally. Both mean big cuts. The MoJ paper proposes either a one-off cut of 18 per cent for all hearings or a smaller 13.5 per cent decrease over three years — but with strings attached.”

To some extent, compared with other more militant sectors, the legal profession is a soft target for a government intent on cutting. Against a background of a national need to cut back on public expenditure, lawyers are going to have to take a share of the pain and the government will judge the balance finely to ensure expenditure is pitched at a level that the system can continue without mass exodus from lawyers. Lawyers can, of course, exert a fair bit of pressure – the system simply cannot work without them, but will they wish to stir the searing heat of national publicity from the tabloids – as surely they will – by being ‘too assertive’ on the fees issue in the short term. It may be a waiting game or a long game’?

Interestingly, over at the Ministry of Justice: New pilot to increase sustainability and efficiency of law centres

The Sketch: Legality is what the best lawyer says it is

I thought the opening to Simon Carr’s Sketch in the Independent was excellent…

I’ve consulted enough QCs in my litigious life to know how to find out how good your case is. You brief them with your opponent’s case as if it were your own. The advice comes back very unfavourably to your own interest. When you explain the situation, the QC then comes to “the better view” and he gets the business.

And if you want a wonderfully ethereal view of the legality of the war from Anthony Scrivener QC read this

Lawcast164: The legal basis for the Iraq War and Lord Goldsmith’s opinion with Carl Gardner

Lawcast164: The legal basis for the Iraq War and Lord Goldsmith’s opinion with Carl Gardner

Today I am talking to Carl Gardner, a former government lawyer in Tony Blair’s administration and author of the Head of Legal blog, about the legality of the War in Iraq.

The legal analysis turns on United Nations Special Resolution 1441.  Yesterday Sir Michael Wood, Legal Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,  was quite specific in his view that war would be unlawful without a second resolution.   The Foreign secretary, Jack Straw, rejected Sir Michael’s advice.  Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a deputy legal adviser at the FCO, was of the same view as Sir Michael Wood and, indeed resigned, so strong was her conviction that the war was unlawful.

Philippe Sands QC of Matrix Chambers and Professor of International Law at University College London has long been of the view that the war in Iraq was illegal and published a book to that effect some time ago.  There are few supporters of the revivalist theory put forward by Lord Goldsmith at the Iraq Inquiry hearing today – but Carl Gardner is one lawyer who does. The podcast is  a discussion between us rather than a traditional interview style podcast.

Listen to the podcast

iTunes version

Read Carl Gardner’s blogpost on this issue

Guest Post: Jane Lambert on “All Change or Not” The Bar’s Roadshow hits York.

“All Change or Not” The Bar’s Roadshow hits York.

Jane Lambert
Barrister

NIPC Law blog

On 30 Oct 2007 the Legal Services Act received Royal Assent. Part V of that Act provides a legislative framework for legal services including advocacy to be offered by businesses consisting of lawyers and non-lawyers.  Since 31 March 2009 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”) has allowed solicitors to practise in partnership or other association with barristers, patent or trade mark agents and other legal service providers and some non-lawyers. Such practices are known as “legal disciplinary practices” (“LDPs”).

Paragraph 205 of the Bar’s Code of Conduct precludes barristers from participating in LDPs except as employees unless they re-qualify as solicitors as that paragraph prohibits counsel from practising in partnership or companies either with solicitors or even with other barristers. However, on 20 Nov 2009, the Bar Standards Board (“BSB”), the Bar’s regulator, proposed changes to the Code to permit barristers to:

  • become managers of LDPs, regulated by the SRA without having to re-qualify as solicitors;
  • practise in more than one capacity at the same time e.g. as both managers of LDPs and as independent practitioners;
  • form barrister-only partnerships (BoPs), pending the creation of an appropriate regulator for such entities,; currently not in existence, and consultation by the BSB in relation to becoming such a regulator; and
  • practise through other barrister-only companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs).

To bring those proposals to the attention of practitioners and discuss their ramifications, the Bar Council and BSB are holding seminars on each Circuit between 11 Jan and 2 Feb 2010 called “All Change or Not”.    My chambers manager and I attended the seminar for the North-Eastern Circuit in York on 19 Jan.

The York seminar took place at the station hotel and was addressed by the Chair of Bar, Nicholas Green QC, and Sarah Brown from the BSB. Given our well deserved reputation for cussedness (you can always tell a Yorkshireman but you can never tell him much) the speakers may well have expected a rough ride.   In the event, they were treated with great deference by the audience except by me.    Probably the reason for this is that they pressed all the right buttons.   For example, Nicholas Green told us that barristers were on average 20% cheaper than solicitors because we did not have to carry their overheads and that solicitors had probably suffered more from the changes to legal aid fees than had barristers.

While emphasizing that barristers would be free to take advantage of the proposed changes or leave them Green suggested four possible options:

  • members of chambers or other groups of barristers could form companies (referred to as “ProcureCos) which could bid for civil and criminal legal aid contracts from the Legal Services Commission (“LSC”) and other work and distribute it to the members and their pet solicitors;
  • barristers could become managers of LDPs;
  • barristers could practise part of their time as employees and part of their time as self-employed practitioners; or
  • barristers could form barrister only partnerships.

A handout to delegates explained that ProcureCos could be formed at once under the existing rules whereas practitioners would have to wait for the other proposals to be approved.    Since the LSC is expected to invite tenders for block contract work in February, the audience was urged to get a move on with setting up ProcureCos otherwise solicitors would scoop the pool.

Sarah Brown, one of the lay members of the BSB, announced a whole slew of other proposed changes to the Code including the following:

  • counsel instructed under the Public Access Rules will be free to conduct correspondence with solicitors, interview witnesses and settle witness statements;
  • the Public Access Rules will be amended to allow barristers to accept some criminal, family and immigration work without the intervention of a solicitor or other professional intermediary;
  • barristers will be free to attend police stations and interview clients there; and
  • the prohibition on barristers sharing accommodation with solicitors will be scrapped.

As a clear distinction is drawn in the Legal Services Act 1990 between advocacy and conducting litigation I could not help pondering whether some of these changes were actually within the BSB’s gift since collecting evidence and conducting correspondence strike me as conducting litigation.

Such thoughts prompted me to ask the first question which was in two parts:

(1)        how can a ProcureCo contract for work and sub-contract it out to pet solicitors and members of the syndicate without holding clients’ funds which has always been forbidden; and

(2)        if such companies were to manage client funds, how could barristers maintain the 20% cost advantage that we had been told that we enjoy since ProcureCos would require the same sort of accounting systems, bookkeeping staff and premises that solicitors appear to need, all of which cost money?

“Good question” mused Green before telling us that he did not think that a contract for say a million pounds payable quarterly really meant holding clients’ funds and that he was sure that our costs ought to be lower than solicitors’.   It would be wonderful if he is right – especially as I had to withdraw from a panel to provide business support services to new businesses in Bradford funded by the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative last year because the work would have required my instructing patent and trade mark agents – but the advice that I received at the time from the Bar Council was to the contrary.

The only other bolshie question came from Ian West from Middlesbrough.   “You all know me” started Ian (though to be quite honest I did not know him) “as I’ve served on the Bar Council.” He continued that he believed he represented the views of criminal practitioners who made up two thirds of the Bar.    Ian could see nothing in the proposed changes for him or for other criminal practitioners whatsoever.    He explained that solicitors get work through branches in every city and town in the region which enables them to attend police stations and mingle with the public.   ProcureCos can’t do that, said Ian.   He feared that the reforms would accelerate payment on the basis of one case one fee instead of ring fenced advocacy fees and our bidding for work through ProcureCos would alienate solicitors.   The Chair did not really answer that question beyond re-stating that barristers like him were not bound to change their working practices if they did not want to do so and that there would be an end to ring fencing whatever the Bar did.   On reflection, I am not sure that the criminal bar could not compete with multi-branch law firms.   I get work from running inventors’ clubs in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester and intellectual property clinics throughout the North.   Could other barristers not work with local law centres, citizens’ advice bureaux and other local organizations in providing some pro bono services as loss leaders? Just a thought.

The meeting in York took place less than a week after Jackson and yet not a word was said about the report.    That was amazing since Jackson is concerned with costs and the whole point of the 2007 Act is to stimulate competition in the legal services market and so force down costs.    A few days after the seminar I attended the Chancery Bar Conference at Regents Park where both the Chancellor, Sir Andrew Morritt, and the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Justice Morgan, gave pretty strong indications that the Jackson recommendations are almost certain to be carried out whichever party wins the next general election.   They have to be because we as a profession are pricing ourselves out of the market.    Change is coming whether the Bar likes it or not and with all due respect to our eminent Chairperson I think we will have to do more than set up ProcureCos.

27 Jan 2010

Law Review (2): United Nations names Britain as complicit in snatching and torturing prisoners. Proud to be British with this….?

Below is a press release from Reprieve. I have extracted it in full.  The report runs to 221+ pages… I have read some of the more UK specific parts and will examine the document in more detail during the course of the day.

Our adherence to the  international rule of law was questioned by government legal advisers yesterday. Today, Lord Goldsmith will speak about his legal advice to the government on the Iraq War.  He may well be persuasive.  I tend to prefer waiting for all parties to speak before forming a final view.

This United Nations report is blunt. Reprieve has extracted the salient points below.  What do you think?  Do you feel that Britain is justified in ‘teaming up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people’ as Clive Stafford-Smith says our government is doing?

Today’s United Nations report names and shames governments who have secretly held ‘ghost prisoners’ beyond the rule of law; the UK is exposed as complicit in snatching and torturing prisoners in the so-called war on terror.

The UN has today released a wide-ranging report on secret detention which will prove embarrassing for states like the UK who claim respect for the rule of law.

In this report, UN experts put the US-led “rendition programme” in context as another sad chapter in the history of torture and secret detention, alongside the 1970s campaigns of disappearances in Latin America, and the gulags of the USSR. And in case of any doubt, the UN sets out in unequivocal terms exactly why such practices are illegal.

In an investigation spanning 19 countries across all regions of the world, four independent UN bodies worked together to interview victims of secret detention and canvass governments in order to understand and redress the victims’ plight.

The findings make uncomfortable reading for the UK government who – despite their public condemnation of such practices – are revealed as complicit in war crimes like kidnap, secret detention, and torture.

Revelations include:

  • Confirmation that the UK knew about US renditions practices from 2002, yet continued to hand vulnerable prisoners to US custody with no process until well into 2004;
  • Confirmation that the UK knowingly received information obtained from prisoners being interrogated in US ghost detention;
  • Numerous cases showing that the UK took advantage of illegal secret detention practices over at least three continents by colluding in torture;
  • Unanswered questions in relation to the number of prisoners held by torturous Arab regimes at the request of the UK;
  • Indications that the infamous ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan may have been run by the FBI.

Worryingly, the report indicates that the UK intelligence services lack the oversight that would prevent crimes like complicity in torture from recurring in the future. It recommends that:

“To ensure accountability in intelligence co-operation, truly independent intelligence review and oversight mechanisms should be established… such mechanisms should have access to any information, including sensitive information…”

The report warns of the dangers of intelligence services keeping secrets from the bodies that are charged with policing them; precisely this befell the UK, leading to the ISC’s ‘independent’ report on Rendition containing multiple, serious and embarrassing errors.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Sadly, our government has teamed up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people, using information extracted by violence, keeping secrets and protecting their thugs and cronies. It is shameful that it takes a UN report to reveal these shoddy practices to the British people. The victims are still waiting for an apology. ”

Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said:

“The British government comes out of this looking like the War on Terror’s spineless ‘middle management’. It’s time to live up to our own – ancient – standards and refuse to work with regimes that torture.”

The full report may be read here: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-42.doc

Law Review: Chilcot and Geeklawyer… but not in the same context

Philippe Sands QC, a member of Matrix Chambers and professor of International Law at University College, London, suggested on Newsnight that following evidence about the legality of the Iraq war, Tony Blair may have to choose his travel destinations carefully. I won’t make any further comment on that for the present. (Apologies for typo in tweet as to spelling of Philippe)

Sands is the author of a book, Lawless World, in which he accused US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of conspiring to invade Iraq in violation of international law.

I commented on yesterday’s proceedings at the Iraq Inquiry below: Breaking News: What will Jack do now? and Chilcot Special: The government did not like the advice of government lawyers

Today, former Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith appears before the Iraq Inquiry. On Friday, Tony Blair appears. I plan to do a podcast with ex-government lawyer Carl Gardner who is now author of the Head of legal blog tonight.

The invasion of Iraq was lawful

by Carl Gardner on January 27, 2010

“This blog didn’t exist when US and British forces, with others, invaded Iraq in 2003. I’ve never written directly about the legality of the war. But with Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst having given evidence to the Iraq inquiry yesterday, and Lord Goldsmith due to appear today, I think it’s time for me to address the issue.”

Press coverage: Guardian Lord Goldsmith got taxpayer help for Iraq war inquiry legal advice Chilcot inquiry: Lawyers expose pressure to give green light for war | TimesLord Goldsmith to face pressure over legal U-turn on Iraq war | TelegraphGovernment knew ‘no leg to stand on’ legally to go to war in Iraq | IndependentInvade and be damned: Foreign Office lawyers say advice on legality of war was ignored

As a postscript to yesterday’s testimony before the Iraq Inquiry, The Telegraph notes “Margaret Beckett, Mr Straw’s successor as foreign secretary, risked outrage by saying that Dr David Kelly, the government scientist who committed suicide after being accused of leaking secrets about the “sexing-up” of intelligence, would have agreed that Saddam Hussein was seeking to stockpile weapons.”

Tony Blair is due before the Iraq Inquiry on Friday.  Matthew Norman has an interesting piece in the Independent this morning

Matthew Norman: Irrespective of Chilcot, Blair will always remain a pariah

The former PM will never escape the verdict of the court of public opinion

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OTHER LAW IN THE NEWS TODAY

Frances Gibb, writing in The Times, reports

Gilderdale case prompts fresh calls to clarify the law on assisted dying

“One devoted mother who helps her sick daughter to end her life with tablets and morphine walks free from court with a suspended sentence. Another is jailed for murder, to serve a minimum of nine years, after injecting her brain-damaged son with a lethal dose of heroin. The two contrasting cases have reignited the debate over “right to die” and whether those who assist a loved one to end their suffering should be subject to criminal law. Both involved a loving parent who could not bear to see a child suffer. Both, therefore, were acts of mercy. But there were key differences: Frances Inglis’s son, Thomas, 22, who had brain damage, had never indicated an intention to die. His mother believed him to be in pain and could not accept an encouraging medical prognosis.”

I commented on this legalo-ethical debate in Law Review: Assisted dying, Barristers modernise (?) and standards in legal education. yesterday.

Victims’ families demand Edlington boys be named

The Times reports: “Pressure was growing on the Government last night to release the full findings of a confidential inquiry into the Edlington torture case. The Conservatives stepped up demands for the publication of the 150-page report and the Liberal Democrats are considering tabling an amendment to a Bill that would require the findings of all serious case reviews to be made public.”

It is easy to understand the anger of the families and the public in this shocking case. Mr Justice Keith rejected applications to lift the ban that prohibits identification of the two brothers and their family. He said that naming the boys could adversely affect their rehabilitation.  Was he right to do so?  Difficult though it will be for many, I think he was right to do so.  The children involved in this appalling and mindless, sadism are are the product of their backgrounds and part of our justice system in terms of penal theory involves rehabilitation.  There is also the issue of ‘vigilante’ justice being meted out when the boys are eventually released.   There are, it is believed, plans to consider prosecutions against the parents.

OUT-LAW reports:

Sky wins landmark ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’ ruling, HP vows to appeal

Hewlett-Packard has vowed to appeal a ruling announced today by England’s Technology and Construction Court that is expected to cost it more than £200 million. The case is one of the longest-running and most expensive disputes in the technology sector.  The OUT-LAW article is well worth a read. The judgment of Mr Justice Ramsey (500+ pages, one of the longest ever, is due shortly)

Misrepresentation seems to be the flavour of the week this week…. Today, The Independent has a story about deceit on the leafy banks of the Thames : Court battle after ‘garden flooded 80 times’

“A financier who bought a £1.9m family home on the banks of the Thames is taking the previous owners to court, claiming they failed to warn him that the garden flooded as many as 80 times a year. Adrian Howd and his wife, Caroline, claim that, before buying the house – named Tide’s End – their solicitors had asked Bobby and Nicola Console-Verma’s lawyers: “Given its position, please confirm that the property has never suffered from flooding.” The couple’s lawyers responded: “Our clients confirm that the property has never suffered from flooding during their 14-year occupation.” Dr Howd and his wife argue that this response was untrue and fraudulent. However, the Console-Vermas’ barrister Michael King insisted that the question was “ambiguous” and that they had reasonably taken the view that “property” meant “bricks and mortar”, not the garden.” (Independent)

Often very fine lines of interpretation decide the events of history as the Iraq Inquiry is now revealing on the legality of war issues.  It seems that this case may also turn on a fine line.

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Not a law blog – but Capitalists&Work is always worth keeping an eye on.

UK GDP Q4 2009; 0.1%

Wow, that is a poor number. So much for Labour going to call an election on the back of the ‘return’ to growth.

And crocodile tears for the BBC having prepared for weeks on the Government’s behalf a ‘we are out of recesion day special.’ (Love this headline, UK emerges from recession, repeat the BBC is not biased, the BBC is not biased….)

With all the talk of outsourcing work to lawyers in India, this post by Professor John Flood on his RATs blog is worth a look: Lawyering in India

John Bolch, Family Lore, looks at: Attitudes towards cohabitation

He notes: “I’ve just been looking at the press release for the British Social Attitudes (‘BSA’) 26th Report, which was published today. Along with the unsurprising news that fewer people in Britain feel an obligation to vote than at any time since the question was first posed on BSA in 1991, the Report has some interesting findings regarding attitudes towards cohabitation. Cohabitation, it seems, is becoming increasingly acceptable, with 45% of those questioned agreeing that it ‘makes no difference to children whether their parents are married to each other or just living together’, up from 38% in 1998. This rather contradicts those, particularly the Tories, who maintain that it is far better for children if their parents are married.”

Geeklawyer writes…Dear prospective advertiser number one million. Thank you for your interest

Geeklawyer thinks that the ambulance chasers will taint his blog! Geeklawyer is so fabulously rich from his practice at the Bar – he regularly taunts Criminal and Family practitioners about this on his blog and on Twitter  – in jest – that he doesn’t need advertisers.  He is in a fortunate position, indeed.  Thankfully, I am more than happy to allow advertisers to support our free resource projects on Insite Law – for otherwise it would not be possible to give all the comment on here and free resources on Insite Law away free.  I am not, unfortunately, as rich as CroesusLawyer!

Geeklawyer writes…

Dear Casabian,


I’d rather have my bol­locks chewed off by a bad tem­pered rot­tweiler with a taste for slow pain, than have a bunch of low-life ambu­lance chasers taint my site with their ads.

And just to show how appreciative I am that commercial organisations are for sponsoring the free resources on Insite Law  for students et al – I am delighted to say that Accidents Direct are supporting our project – so they can go on my header.  I am also appreciative of the support Wildy & Sons have given consistently over three years as I am to all the advertisers on Insite.  Lunch doesn’t come free in the world most of us live in and if barristers, solicitors, publishers, and other firms (as they are doing)  wish to help support the free legal web concept  – that is good for everyone and I am more than happy to assist them in return.


Chilcot Special: The government did not like the advice of government lawyers

I regarded the invasion of Iraq as illegal, and I therefore did not feel able to continue in my post. I would have been required to support and maintain the Government’s position in international fora. The rules of international law on the use of force by States are at the heart of international law. Collective security, as opposed to unilateral military action, is a central purpose of the Charter of the United Nations. Acting contrary to the Charter, as I perceived the Government to be doing, would have the consequence of damaging the United Kingdom’s reputation as a State committed to the rule of law in international relations and to the United Nations.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, former Deputy Legal Adviser to the FCO
18 January 2010

What an extraordinary session of the Iraq Inquiry.  I watched all the testimony of Sir Michael Wood, David Brummell and Elizabeth Wilmshurst.  I was struck by much of the evidence, but two statements by Sir Michael Wood stood out.

“He (Straw, who was then Foreign secretary) took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn’t used to people taking such a firm position,” said Wood.

“When he had been at the Home Office, he had often been advised things were unlawful but he had gone ahead anyway and won in the courts.”

Sir Michael Wood said this was “probably the first and only occasion” that a minister rejected his legal advice in this way.

The Guardian report gives a flavour of the proceedings: Guardian

While the main event on the legal side will be Lord Goldsmith’s testimony tomorrow it is already clear that the principal legal adviser to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Sir Michael Wood, maintained a consistent line of advice that war with Iraq without a second UN resolution was illegal and that he had rejected the government’s argument that resolution 1441 – passed in November 2002 – requiring Saddam Hussein to disarm was a sufficient basis for military action.

It is very clear that this advice was not to Jack Straw’s taste and, equally clear that it was not to the prime minister’s taste.  Lord Goldsmith, effectively, had to intervene to say that government lawyers were perfectly entitled to give advice inconsistent with government policy!  We know that Lord Goldsmith is believed to have changed his mind, but more particularly, Elizabeth Wilmshurst highlighted the fact that the government seemed to be reluctant to call for formal advice until very late in the run up to the war – when, she suggested, it would then be  difficult for the Attorney to have advised the government that the  conflict was unlawful without a second resolution at that stage . It would, she said, have handed Saddam a massive PR advantage.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst did state there was no substantive difference between her views and the attorney general’s pre-7 March. I did enjoy Wilmshurt’s response when Sir John Chilcot asked  if it made  a difference that Jack Straw himself is a qualified lawyer?.  Elizabeth Wilmshurt replied…“He is not an International Lawyer”. Rather sums it up, I think?

Note for the “Send Blair to The Hague” brigade

Unfortunately for those who wish to see Tony Blair led away in handcuffs to stand trial – this is unlikely to happen. Elizabeth Wilmshurst stated that while the ICC has jurisdiction now in relations to ‘crimes of aggression’, it cannot be applied retrospectively. [See: #Iraqinquiryblog ]

I am doing a podcast with Carl Gardner, ex government lawyer in Tony Blair’s administration and author of the Head of Legal blog following Lord Goldsmith’s evidence tomorrow.

Law Review: Assisted dying, Barristers modernise (?) and standards in legal education.

In the grand scheme of things, the overclaim by prospective Chancellor Osborne is not one of the great sagas. it is, however,  a bit surprising that such a senior member of the shadow Cabinet, with a good university education and who puts himself forward as the next Chancellor, should take ‘flawed advice’ and make an error of this nature (He overclaimed £1666 ). The Independent has the report

There have been rumblings in the Tory blogs and press about Osborne’s competence and Labour, clearly, are targeting him.  The Indie reports that his rating has, in fact, gone up in the light of recent events. I find Hague and Clarke rather more compelling and believable in the role of  ‘Prospective Chancellor’ – as, I suspect, do many.

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It is a pretty shocking indictment of our law, our values, our mores… that a loving mother has to resort to grinding up drugs in a pestle and injecting air into the bloodstream of her daughter to give her daughter relief from the misery that became her life. It is even more shocking that she is then hauled before the courts and is now the subject of national and, possibly, international comment.  There will be many who will decry the compassionate judgment of the jury in acquitting her of attempted murder, there will be many who will pray some god in aid as justification for their view that all killing is wrong and there will be many who will say that we need new laws.  The law does seem to be in a bit of a mess. Perhaps the solution is to keep the law, the guidelines put forward by the DPP, but give the judges more discretion?  Perhaps – let us be radical in these early days of the 21st Century – we need to have a law of controlled and medically supervised assisted dying?

I favour a change in the law of assisted dying. If an individual chooses to die because life is, for them, no longer tenable, no longer sustainable – surely it is barbaric to insist that they live and suffer to salve the conscience and conscientious objections of those who take a different view?   For my part – it is none of their business.  I am not interested in the views of any religious leader, praying in aid beliefs and ‘deities’ from 2000 or more years ago. I am interested in rational, philosophical and moralo-ethical analysis. We should, as a civilised and moral and honest society permit those who wish to die to do so with dignity and die humanely.  It goes without saying – before the ravening crowd pile in with their outrage, ‘moral compasses’ and other assorted ‘mumbo-jumbery’ -  that we need to think through compassionate laws to ensure that decisions are taken by the person who wishes to die without ‘undue influence’ from others and having taken an accurate medical prognosis to ensure that consent is truly ‘informed’.

I applaud the judge, Mr Justice Bean, who said: “I do not normally comment on the verdicts of juries but in this case their decision, if I may say so, shows that common sense, decency and humanity which makes jury trials so important in a case of this kind.”

I agree with Mr Justice Bean on both counts. I also applaud Mrs Gilderdale for being a real Mother.  It must have been the most difficult thing she  had to do in her life. What do you think? Please feel free to use the comments section below as always.

As the Guardian reported: “The case has drawn parallels with that of Frances Inglis, the mother jailed at the Old Bailey last week for injecting her brain-damaged son with a lethal dose of heroin. Is there really, such a substantial difference?  Lawyers will be able to pick subtle legalo-factual distinctions – consent to name but one.  Is there really such a ‘moral’ difference?   In neither case, of course, do we, as readers of newspaper reports, see or listen to all the evidence.  we are, therefore, reliant on accurate reporting.  This, it has to be said, is not always reliable. But..going on what is available to us all in the press.. what do you think?

Barristers ‘gearing up for a revolution in the way they provide their services’

Barristers in England and Wales are preparing themselves for major changes in the ways they provide legal services, the new Chairman of the Bar Council Nicholas Green QC has said. Barristers are ‘gearing up for a revolution in the way they provide their services’. His remarks come as the Bar Council runs a series of nation-wide road shows following the historic decision of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) in November 2009 to liberalise the Bar’s practice rules in the light of the Legal Services Act 2007.

These changes, which will need to be approved by the Legal Services Board, could see barristers, among other things, working in partnership with other lawyers, or forming specialist procurement companies through which to deliver their services on a cost-effective basis.

Nicholas Green QC:

The Bar has major advantages in terms of quality and cost. Barristers have a great opportunity because they are both specialised in advocacy and advice, and often in particular areas of law. At the same time, because of chambers’ significantly lower overheads, barristers’ services are considerably cheaper than those of solicitors. ‘There is also an excellent opportunity for clients and consumers to benefit from the expert services of the Bar in different ways and at less cost. This will provide an important response to the recent review of costs in civil justice, by Lord Justice Jackson, which warned of the need to reduce the cost of going to court.’

I hope to have a fellow user of Twitter, a barrister, doing a guest post on this issue shortly…

Iraq inquiry: Government legal official will disclose advice given to ministers

The Times reports: ” Sir Michael Wood, the former top legal adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has been given permission from the Attorney-General to break with protocol and disclose advice given to ministers in the build-up to the Iraq war.”

I shall certainly be watching this appearance.  Let us hope that Sir Roderic Lyne opens the batting on this one.  Baroness Prashar of Runnymede, despite her appointment as Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, is not one of the sharpest of questioners on current performance, at any rate.

CoL launches online GDL

The Lawyer reports that The College of Law  “has fired another shot in the battle to become the UK’s top legal education provider by launching a new fast-track part-time Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The school has launched an online part-time GDL, which has a January start date and allows students to complete the course in 18 months rather than the usual two years.

CoL’s director of vocational programmes Scott Slorach said: “We anticipate most students choosing this mode will have work or family commitments. It gives them a better work/life/study balance by allowing them to choose their own study times and also reduces the travel and accommodation costs that students undertaking the traditional part-time courses may have to meet.”

No doubt BPP will pop up with a variant on this before too long. The GDL is a tough course, providing as it does coverage of the eight core subjects required by the profession before a candidate may take the LPC or the BPTC.  Part-time students tend to take their studies seriously and this initiative will certainly widen access to education. There are dangers, of course, that this is just another stage in the dumbing down of legal education and that young lawyers are being commoditised, to use a noun that used to be a verb and a concept beloved of the sayers of legal sooths.

I am fairly enthusiastic about the use of new media and technology in legal education but remain skeptical about standards. Neither the SRA nor the BSB appear to have much appetite for rigorous inspection of law schools and, short of the nuclear option of withdrawing accreditation, do not appear to have many teeth to ensure that law schools keep to the standards required and observe the rules.  (The report into BPP’s over subscription has still not been released.  I am advised that it will be soon.)

I am writing a couple more long posts on legal education (here is my first: Law Review: Law Student Special – From here to eternity… (Part I)) and will return to the issue of standards in legal education then. The comments at the foot of The Lawyer article are worth reading.  I have some sympathy with some of the views expressed by students.  I liked the one where a student said… “Makes you wonder why you pay eight grand for a reading list and a library card.”

And finally…

Yale law professor Robert Solomon, director of clinical studies at the institution, is plaintiff’s counsel in a lawsuit filed late last year contending that it is a violation of Connecticut consumer protection law for McDonald’s, Burger King and Friendly’s not to disclose to customers that their grilled chicken contains naturally occurring carcinogens (as do a wide variety of grilled, charred and barbecued food) [From PointofLaw ]

See?… with tall that legal knowledge and opportunity… it is worth it… you too could end up filing lawsuits about carcinogenic chickens.


Law Review (2):Burqas and the divorce laws of Britain..

GuyNews from Guido Fawkes has the gen on Lord Pearson’s plans for UKIP to take away part of the BNP vote: “Guy News wanted to get to the bottom of the UKIP burqa ban.  So we sent Emily Nomates, in disguise, to meet Lord Pearson.”

Subscribers get the videos early on a Friday (You may subscribe free on the Guido Fawkes blog) but here it is!  It really is a must watch.  Lord Pearson does say some extraordinary things!

Another, equally, interesting perspective comes from Dominic Lawson writing in the Times: Banning the burqa is simply not British.

Lawson writes: ” This is not to say that Lord Pearson, UKIP’s new leader, is a figure in the Hitler mould. Far from it. Having met Pearson on more than one occasion, I know him to be a civilised and considerate person. Yet in attempting to gain market share from the British National party in the run-up to the general election, Pearson is indulging in a lethally dangerous form of identity politics; and in his claims to be standing up for “British values”, the UKIP leader is in fact trashing them…….Pearson declared last week: “We are not Muslim-bashing, but this [the wearing of the burqa] is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.” First of all, he absolutely is “Muslim-bashing….”

I am not in the least interested in what people wish to wear. If women are forced to wear the burqa, that is a different issue – but as many women wish to wear the burqa, they should be free to do so, subject to the caveat that they should be subject to the same security issues as everyone else in this country.  I doubt that I would personally find it as interesting to talk to someone wearing a balaclava or a burqa as I would an open face because we tend to read faces when we listen to give sense, emotion and depth to the spoken word. I suspect others may take a similar view.

An area of law I have absolutely no interest in is Family Law. Fortunately there are many good bloggers about to deal with such matters: John Bolch, Family Lore, and Pink Tape to name but two regulars.

I do wonder why lawyers who deal with the fantastically rich are so rich themselves… I can only presume that  these lawyers charge rich people more for exactly the same advice as lawyers dealing with ‘ordinary people’. The law for rich and poor must be ‘roughly’ the same, surely?   The rich lawyers may argue that the financial affairs of the maniacally rich are ‘far more complex’… there are tax issues, off-shore laws to consider…blah blah blah… but, I would have thought that less well paid lawyers who  deal with normal people (who do not have an account at the RichBastardsBank)  still have complex issues to sort?

My only other observation, which is ironic given David Cameron’s plan to encourage everyone to get back to eating Sunday lunch, attending Church and getting married, is that getting married  is not a brilliant idea in the current climate of Britain’s divorce laws. It is quite possible that the Tories, when they came up with this wheeze, had not done any detailed research on our Family laws.  They do seem well up on kill a burglar ideas though.  If you are a rich man or rich woman…. don’t complain when you have to give away half of your fortune to your estranged spouse.  Either live together happily (this is quite possible for many) or don’t get married, don’t let the other party live with you and don’t make promises you aren’t prepared to keep.

The latest nonsense to come out of our divorce courts is covered by the Daily Telegraph: Is divorce law fair?  A multimillionaire faces Britain’s biggest divorce payout. Is Lisa Tchenguiz right to demand £100m of her husband’s wealth?

At least this case – for those of us who have no interest in this field of law -  has a human interest story….well… ‘human’ interest in the sense of greed and duplicity… The Telegraph reports: “Shortly after Miss Tchenguiz filed for divorce, her husband was locked out of his Mayfair office and 20,000 documents were downloaded from his computer…… and then asks: “Was the judge right to rule that Miss Tchenguiz could use this information? Do you think assets are shared fairly in divorce law? What about spousal maintenance? Should the wife get half?..”

Apparently the judge held that she could use the stolen information (she was clobbered for a million in costs) and remarked that on the scale of bad behaviour, nicking documents from the husband in a bit of DIY detective work was pretty severe and shoddy.  This is ‘End of the pier at Brighton’  knock about stuff… but English Law can be a bit ‘colourful’. If you are in the market  for other ‘novelty cakes’ yourself… they do some good ones here. Truly astonishing.

There is a lot of LAW about today…

Solicitors drum up childhood-abuse cases with jail ads

No Shit Sherlock award…

The Times reports… solemnly..

SOLICITORS are advertising in jails for prison inmates to make compensation claims for abuse against former carers and teachers. Some of the claims involve allegations stretching back decades. The prisoners contact the lawyers to inquire about payouts and are told to make complaints to the police about their alleged abusers, partly in order to shore up their compensation claims. They can net up to six-figure sums. In addition to genuine cases of historical abuse it is feared that some former carers and teachers could be wrongly accused — and socially stigmatised — by hardened criminals attracted by the lure of compensation money.”

CPS refuses to reveal details of Nick Griffin’s race hate trial

Guardian: Prosecutors claim releasing information about 1998 case would breach BNP leader’s data protection rights

The CPS decision here is understandable – but here we are not dealing with a private individual.  Mr Griffin is the leader of the BNP.  Mr Griffin’s party will play a part in the coming elections.  The Guardian is appealing the decision with the Information Commissioner.  I hope that the information is revealed.  The electorate and the press do have the right to know about the political views of those who seek election… or the views they may once have held.

The Guardian reports: “  In a letter to the Guardian, which ­submitted the request almost four months ago, the CPS said: “The majority of the information contained in the case papers is personal data. “A large proportion of this personal data is sensitive personal data because it consists of information as to the commission of an offence and Mr Griffin’s political opinions.”…..On appeal, the CPS last week ­reiterated its view that Griffin’s rights are not outweighed by the public interest in the disclosure of the information.”

Law Review (1): Rabbie Burns, Kill a burglar re-visited and Chilcot review

Blawg Review #248 by Scotslawstudent is up…

Welcome everyone to Blawg Review #248, this week hosted at scotslawstudent.com. Today is the 251st anniversary of celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birth, which took place on this day in 1759. Burns was a prolific poet who wrote his best work in Scots, which is not the same as English, and he also recorded traditional Scottish music and spread it to a much wider audience than ever before. He’s why you probably sang Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve no matter where you live.

Read Blawg Review

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Frances Gibb, writing in the Times this morning reports...” A new law to give greater protection to householders is unnecessary and could be a licence to kill, a leading criminal barrister has warned.Paul Mendelle, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, says that a change to allow “disproportionate” force would encourage vigilantism. “The law should always encourage people to be reasonable, not unreasonable; to be proportionate, not disproportionate,” he said, adding that the present law worked perfectly well and was well understood by juries….If, as the Conservatives propose, the law is changed to allow “disproportionate force”, householders who kill burglars could be acquitted.”

Leading lawyers have long maintained that the existing law on self defence’ is more than adequate and that change is not necessary. I agree.  Interestingly, the Munir Hussain case did not turn on the application of self defence laws strictly.  Carl Gardner has written a detailed analysis of the decision which is worth a read:  The truth about Munir Hussain

Frances Gibb also followed her main story up with a comment in the Times that the judges don’t need more laws but do need more discretion, pointing out .. “David Thomas, the sentencing expert, told The Times that in the case of the Hussain brothers a prison sentence of 30 months was “as far from the guideline as [the judge] could properly go”. He added that in the Inglis case: “No one could doubt that the mother was properly convicted of murder.” He said the judge, Judge Brian Barker QC, was required to impose a life sentence. With regard to how long Mrs Inglis should serve, the judge went as far below the recommended level as he could. Judges are increasingly restricted over the sentences that they can impose, and the trend is towards greater straitjacketing: the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 will require them to follow guidelines, not just take them into account, unless contrary to the interest of justice.

The comments in both Times articles are interesting. The general public is on the side of the Chris Grayling school of thought and not the side of lawyers who practise daily before the courts.  Some of the comments are fairly extreme..

The ‘People’ speak….

Bob Evans wrote:
The courts have already proven incapable of responsible discretion. The judges are drawn from the ranks of the lawyers who were sworn to defend and win freedom for criminals. Too often, they have carried this prejudice when charged with delivering justice to *all*.

Mike Longford added to the maturity of the debate with this wonderful diatribe...”Criminal barristers have to be the lowest form of scum on this planet.”
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And then there is this nonsense… from  Johnn Schroeder who wrote: In Britain, the lawyers would rather you die then their clients, that way they get paid! Of course the question is are lawyers able to defend themselves? Judges, politicians? Britain is not a land of free people, and as such, the population has little in the way of protections like Americans have. Too bad really, since America’s right to self-protection was once an English right too!”
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Well…there we are… moving on…

The Chilcot Inquiry will hear from leading government lawyers, Lord Goldsmith and Tony Blair this week in what promises to be an interesting week. The Independent has a critical review of the performance of the Inquisitioners so far… and is worth a read.  I particularly liked this rather good line…
“Former permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office. Member of the Butler inquiry. The occasional anecdotes, nervous cough and oddly frantic panting of Sir John soon raised concerns that the inquiry chairman was more an old-fashioned English eccentric than an interrogator filled with iconoclastic zeal. Those fears were not eased when Sir John asked one perplexed witness: “Was there anything, any juice in the lemon to be squeezed out of trying to peer behind the curtain into the mind of the regime of Saddam?”
Part (2) will follow later in the day…

Postcard from The Staterooms-On-Sea: Legality of the war…. and a bit from the political world….

Dear Reader,

“Philippe Sands QC, a professor of international law, who gave evidence to the Dutch inquiry, said: “There has been no other independent assessment on the legality of the war in Iraq and the findings of this inquiry are unambiguous. It concludes that the case argued by the Dutch and British governments, including the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, could not reasonably be argued.” Guardian 12 January

“The findings of the Dutch inquiry that the war had no basis in international law are even more important for a domestic audience in Britain,” said Sands. “I do not see how the five members of the Chilcot inquiry, none of whom is legally qualified, could possibly summon the means to reach an alternative conclusion.”

Against this background and Jack Straw’s recent appearance before the Iraq Inquiry where he says he was ‘haunted’ we have Sir Michael Wood QC, principal Legal Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 1999 and 2006, likely to testify that he gave consistent advioce that the Iraq War was illegal without a second resolution. This will, The Observer, reports…“This will provide an explosive backdrop to the former prime minister’s appearance before the inquiry on Friday.”

The Observer notes: “His testimony will come the day before the appearance of Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, who is said to have dropped his legal objections days before the invasion, following intense pressure from Blair and his closest advisers, and the US authorities……Wood’s deputy at the time, former Foreign Office lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned two days before the war because she believed the invasion was a “crime of aggression”, will appear at the inquiry after Wood on Tuesday.”

Lord Goldsmith changed his mind about the legality of the war.  Was he waterboarded?  There was talk late last year of him being pinned to a wall by Blair’s enforcers. . This will be one of the key areas of questioning and will pave the way for what could be an extraordinary day when Tony Blair appears on the 29th.  Blair will hold firm and repeat the mantra that he did what believed was right.  I rather suspect that Gordon Brown’s testimony will be as interesting – testimony which will now be heard before the general election which Bob Ainsworth says will be on 6th May.  Tom Harris MP says that Ainsworth doesn’t know the date and asks why we are so interested in conspiracy theories. Harris adds, laconically…“Given the public appetite for conspiracy theories, I’m surprised no-one has actually suggested that Bob’s and Chris Bryant’s comments earlier this month are part of a complex subterfuge aimed at persuading the Tories to prepare for an election on the wrong date…

Interestingly, the Observer reports: “Blair will take his place amid intense security, with mass protests expected in Westminster. Sources close to Scotland Yard said Blair’s appearance had been a major factor behind the government’s decision to raise the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe”.

Brown must now be regretting his ‘masterly’ decision to hold an Iraq Inquiry – an inquiry which, reportedly, angered Tony Blair.

Finally, on the Iraq war issue…The Mail reports :

David Kelly post mortem to be kept secret for 70 years as doctors accuse Lord Hutton of concealing vital information

***

I escaped to London on Saturday – hence no blog post – for lunch. I don’t do it often (but I am moving back to London in early February) – but I do enjoy a long lunch…particularly lunches which start at 2.00 pm and end the following morning.  Curiously, at some point in the proceedings, I was asked if I would like to appear as ‘Chairman of a large Corporate’ in a parody film being made about news by a friend of mine.   Hey… why not..?  I prefer the subtlety of radio/podcasts and I no longer care that much if people run when they see images, still or visual, of me on blogs….  so I appear to have landed myself a ‘part’ in a ‘musical video’… I do enjoy ‘random’.

I left Battersea at 8.00 this morning, walked across the bridge to World’s End in search of much need black coffee...found some at Mona Lisa and another cup at the Chelsea Bun and sat down to read the News of the Screws. (The Observer is best read sober).  Coffee taken…I made my way to Victoria Station to be told there were no trains to Rochester/Chatham because someone had decided to thrown himself in front of a train.  (I do feel for the driver’s of trains in these not so uncommon situations). Onwards to Charing Cross – where I found a train and after faffing about on the internet for a while I had a most enjoyable afternoon kip….


All this is, of course, completely irrelevant… but I would like to link to The White Rabbit, a fellow law blogger who is a serious lawyer but finds detailed analysis of legal issues on his own blog… unnecessary… This week he has several excellent posts and I have no hesitation in suggesting, when you want a laugh.. just pop over to his blog… (he does music as well)… This week I have selected…

Immortal stuff from Steve Bell

White Rabbit notes… “Cartoonist Steve Bell surpasses even his usual standards in the Guardian this morning. For the terminally inattentive Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, has informed the Chilcot Inquiry that he could have stopped British participation in the invasion by resigning.


He didn’t though.”

I read many political blogs and this week, Old Holborn caught me eye with this wonderful idea! I quite fancy the idea of buying myself a High Viz yellow jacket and wondering around talking to Police Community Support Officers….

Oi! YesYOU! Who are you!? PROVE IT

Old Holborn advises: “Do it. Everytime you see one of them watching you, watch them. DEMAND to see their warrant card. And then ask the time(they hate it).”

[Picture Cassie Mayes - which I just had to nick from Old Holborn's post.  Mea culpa]

Guido Fawkes reports: +++ Osborne to Re-Pay £1,666 Expenses Over-Claim +++

“Lyon’s report says Osborne’s breaches were not “major ones, were not intentional and did not provide Mr Osborne with any significant financial benefit.” He will not have to give an apology to the House. Nice to know the Shadow Chancellor can add up though.”

Rather more serious…. Guido Fawkes notes about David Chator MP… David Chaytor, the soon to be former MP for Bury North, drew up a tenancy agreement with his daughter but disguised their relationship by giving her middle name as her surname.  That is deception. …”

Obnoxio The Clown, not ‘knowingly over under-C*****d in terms of  usage of the old anglo-saxon (and not always office safe – assuming you want to keep your job) is a blog I read regularly. Acerbic is a word I like… and Obo can, certainly, be that… here is a recent post on politicans..  Have I got politicians for you

I did enjoy this tweet from Sandanista…

And Jimmy Bastard on NevermindtheBollix…. makes one think…

“If I’m honest, I always knew that walking away would not be the end of it all.

It could never be as easy as opening and shutting a door. There would always be a time when that knock on the door, or that tap on the shoulder in a crowded bar would see me having to face up to my past.

My advice to any armchair gangsters reading my words who still believe that violence brings honour or glory to a man’s name is; seek help, for you are caught up in your own mad world of atrophied emotional dyslexia.

Violence is an opprobrium that sits like a cancer inside a man’s chest.”
And another blogger who not only thinks, but engages in discussion on many blogs.. Obiter J – this is the latest piece.. Children and the law: No.1 – The Edlington Case

Carl Gardner, ex government lawyer, blogger (Head of Legal blog) is always worth reading on the current ‘difficult’ issues of the day. I know Carl.  We enjoy a few glasses of wine together from time to time and I have done many podcasts with him. This piece on the Munir Hussein case is very definitely worth a read…The truth about Munir Hussain

I lost  my parents many years ago.  This week, three people I know (all three met through Twitter – two I have met many times face to face). Geeklawyer lost his Mother.  I think he made a fine choice of music with this.  I would certainly have no hesitation in using it when I finally go.

What better tribute to a parent… Geeklawyer writes… “Thanks old girl. See you around.”

Best as always
Charon

Gordon Brown testifies early at the Iraq Inquiry

Below are extracts  from  what could well be the testimony  that Gordon Brown delivers to the Iraq Inquiry when he does appear…possibly?

Sir John Chilcot: Good morning, prime minister.  Perhaps we could start  at the beginning… when you first heard of plans to invade Iraq?

Prime Minister: Yes..indeed…. It all started in America… I remember the day well… The Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning!  [The prime minister laughs and bobs his head from side to side] …

Sir John Chilcot: Quite… now, if you please…… the events leading up to the war?

Prime Minister: My favourite sport at school was rugby. All sports are teamwork, but rugby particularly is about teamwork and I think teamwork is the essence of this…. but I must emphasise tht it was Tony Blair’s team… my team and I were holed up at the Treasury with other things on our mind… I think I speak for millions of people when I say today that Tony Blair’s achievements are unique, unprecedented and enduring, including sexing up the dossier….. In the hours and questions ahead, my task is to show I have the new ideas, the vision and the experience to earn the trust of the British people..and had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq and the decision… I wasn’t even there…. I was at The Treasury, getting on with the job.

Sir John Chilcot: Prime Minister, we have heard that there was a particularly strong and close relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush….

Prime Minister: Our relationship with the United States is a relationship founded on our common values and the dignity of the individual… I was on the phone just before coming over today talking to President Obama Beach and told him this… that he had nothing to fear from Britain or the Iraq Inquiry…  [The prime Minister leans back in his seat, grinning like a Cheshire Cat and rocks from side to side]

Sir John Chilcot: If I could take you back, please, to the early discussions about the weapons of mass destruction and the issue of whether regime change was ever discussed…?

Prime Minister: Oh yes… I often talked to members of my inner cabinet and, indeed to Mr Blair… about regime change… his!  [The prime minister laughs maniacally, stands, turns to the audience seated behind him and takes a bow]

Sir John Chilcot: Indeed… but if we could trouble you to focus on the key issues?

Prime Minister: I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place – where I will always strive to be – and that is on people’s side….. I think we should do better next week, better the week after, and better right throughout the course of our government. Sometimes in parties these things happen, but it is not acceptable to go around terrifying the British people with talk of weapons of mass destruction.. that is the sort of thing the morally bankrupt Tories and The Daily Mail do… and I do believe that what people now want to do is to debate the future with me… we are a team together…  about policy – and I think the issues about what Tony Blair will or will not do with his time now that he is no longer involved in politics  are going to be left to Tony Blair…who got us into this mess in the first place, according to tape recordings I made secretly at the time. [Brown looks cunning]

Sir John Chalcott: Prime Minister… you had many meetings with Mr Blair in the run up to the Iraq War… what did you talk about?

Prime Minister: That’s between me and the bed sheets  [Prime Minister laughs  and makes unusual hand movement with his right hand]

Sir John Chilcott: Quite… the Iraq War discussions, if you please, prime minister… and in particular the importance of the dossier and its potential to persuade others to a point of view?

Prime Minister: Potential?  This government strives to bring about conditions where everyone can live their lives fully….Pop Idol, X Factor, Fame Academy, there’s so much talent out there. It’s great to see people getting the chance to show their potential…I hope the Spice Girls will come back, although it may be beyond even Bob Geldof to get that to happen.

Sir John Chilcott: We have heard that Robin Cook was the only Cabinet Minister at the time to object to the plan to invade Iraq… what are your thoughts on this?

Prime Minister: Robin Cook’s mastery of the House of Commons was acknowledged on all sides and his incisive mind, forensic skills and formidable and wide ranging debating prowess were seen by the public very clearly. I admired and valued Robin as a colleague and friend and as one of the greatest parliamentarians of our time. His wife Gaynor and his two sons are in our thoughts and prayers… Unfortunately he is dead and can’t be here today.

Sir John Chilcott: Mr Blair told us that he firmly believed in the intelligence reports presented to him in the run up to the War.

Prime Minister: There is nothing that you could say to me now that I could ever believe… I  said that to Tony Blair on several occasions.  For me there is a mission for this country moving forward – there are big long-term decisions we’ve got to take as a nation. We spend more on cows than the poor. I sense a new spirit in Britain: that the people of Britain want this massive demonstration of my competence to get on with the job to be given enduring purpose. Did I tell you that the Arctic Monkeys really get you up in the morning?

Sir John Chilcot: We shall break there for lunch….

***

Much of the above narrative was, of course, taken from well known Gordon Brown quotations (with some midifications to suit my purposes!) … it is quite possible, in the real thing, that he will rehash some of his most famous lines?

Rive Gauche: Blunders edition

I have no idea why the Tories thought it was a good idea to put Caroline ‘Nannygate’ Spelman on to BBC’s Question Time last night - because she didn’t do a very good job.  In fact, Spelman reminded me of my old days when I taught law students who turned up to tutorials hungover and unprepared  after a night on the lash and who, when I inevitably zeroed in on them to kick proceedings off, put on a slightly hunted look, eyes swivelling frantically,  as if to get inspiration from the ceiling. I remember looking up at the ceiling with them just to see if it was their lucky day and the answer to my question was, in fact,  on some celestial autocue. It never was.

Spelman, qua representative of the Tory party (and she is a front bench spokesperson after all), managed to convey the impression of a party which isn’t yet prepared and hasn’t quite thought things through.  She was particularly bad when discussing the Munir Hussain ‘have a go hero’ case and seemed unable to get the distinction between self defence and revenge. I half expected the spectre of Chris ‘Kill a burglar’ Grayling to loom in the background, arms outstretched. I’ve mocked a pic up to show you how I saw Question Time last night when this topic was being discussed.  It has to be said… I do enjoy a few glasses of rioja while watching QT.

The Tory policy on families, I suspect, is doomed to fail – another attempt by politicians to socially engineer people into a bizarre troupe of ‘Stepford’ couples.  I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to comment further on these policies and this was my mildly over refreshed take on it as I added to the nonsense tweets about #bbcqt last night.

First up from the left field this morning is another example of government brilliance and competence at controlling highly personal data.

The Independent reports: ” The personal details of hundreds of magistrates were placed in the hands of convicted criminals in a data loss blunder, it was revealed today. A directory containing names, telephone numbers and email addresses of magistrates and court legal advisors in Norfolk was sent for printing in a prison workshop manned by inmates. The document, containing details of 400 magistrates and 26 legal advisors, was sent to HMP Standford Hill in Sheerness, Kent, at the beginning of the month. Printing, which is carried out by inmates supervised by prison officers, had begun when the mistake was uncovered. The incident prompted an apology from senior courts service staff. A spokesman said all copies of the document have now been destroyed.”

Cue…the Information Commissioner banging his head on the table and some hapless minister being shunted out to do the Lessons have been learned speech from Richard III ( Copyright G.Brown 1997-2010 )

Fear (of something)  dominates the headlines for most newspapers and tv stations. Charlie Brooker’s latest Newswipe on iPlayer (available for seven days, apparently) devoted an entire edition to the way TV and mainstream news media terrorises people with scare stories… and a very amusing edition it was. I was particularly amused at the footage of a hysterical and angry US female news reporter expressing outrage at the failed attempt by Mustapha Al-Blowmyballsoff, the guy trained by Al Qaeda-on-Sea in The Yemen who tried to blow a plane up at Christmas by setting fire to his explosive underpants.  Brooker’s  response to all the shouted questions from the journalist was wonderfully laconic… “I don’t know… you are the fucking journalist.. go and find out and tell us.” (or words to that effect.  I can recommend that edition of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe! In fact, I can recommend all Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe programmes!

The Telegraph tells us that….

Muslim police say Islam not to blame for terror attacks

“Muslim police officers have rebelled openly against the Government’s anti-terrorism strategy, warning that it is an “affront to British values” which threatens to trigger ethnic unrest.” Telegraph

Good to see that the government has got a firm grip on current thinking in a section of the police force.

Over to The Sun, the thinking Tory’s favourite newspaper…… for the latest issues of the day..

The headlines today were particularly good…Blake has been at it again… (left) but the other headlines included… “Cross me and you’re dead…Fergie warns his United stars…” and

“Is this the worst Mum in Britain?…She sniffs 12 cans of lighter fuel a DAY in front of kids and down 10 cans of Stella”

And I discovered, under the headline Simon’s a very cheeky fella that SIMON Cowell patted Cheryl Cole on the bottom as they arrived at the glittering NTAs

The Sun does, eventually, find some news that people who live on earth read… and reports that Gordon Brown will be flamegrilled by the Iraq Inquiry before the election. After Jack Straw’s elegant appearance before the Inquisitioners yesterday (reported more fully in The Independent) we now have the prospect of Tony Blair next week (29th January) and Gordon Brown.  I suspect that Blair will be smooth and effective and “McDoom” will make a complete balls of it.  He is not a great public speaker… but I could be wrong.

And finally… for this week’s edition of Rive Gauche…

Apple turns lawyers loose to keep its big secret

The Times reports: “Apple has turned to its lawyers in an attempt to keep the lid on the company’s biggest product launch in three years. Its lawyers have sent a warning letter to a website that offered cash for photos of its touchscreen tablet personal computer before the product is unveiled, probably next week. The tablet will be Apple’s biggest new product category since it launched the iPhone in 2007. The company, which has turned secrecy into a marketing phenomenon, has declined to confirm even if its event a week today will reveal the much-anticipated device.”

Have a good one… there is some sensible law related stuff in the posts below and I shall, of course, continue with posts over the weekend with my Postcard from the Staterooms-on-Sea, returning to the daily Law reviews on Monday… have a good weekend..

Law Review: Law Student Special – From here to eternity… (Part I)

While I always enjoy reading the enthusiastic PR  put out by law firms in the ‘Student’ editions of The Lawyer or Legal Week,  brimming with adverts from law firms; I sat down over lunch today at my local pub,  a glass of burgundy to my right and a fag to my left (I was sitting outside in the winter sun) and read  Student Law in Times 2.

Just turning the first page of the 12 page ‘pullout’ supplement brought my first reward.  The inside page, all of it, was devoted to an advertisement from The Institute of legal Executives with the quite remarkable headline.” Your best route to becoming a qualified lawyer”

I don’t have a scanner down here at the Staterooms-On-Sea, but it is quite remarkable what one can do with a mobile telephone these days, so I was able to capture an image of part of the advert.

I suspect that The Law Society and the Bar Council may take a rather different view of the best route to qualifying as a lawyer and, being realistic, the chance of a student, studying the long and excellent route to qualification through ILEX and being able to compete with the top quartile of graduates fresh from Oxbridge, Russell Group universities and the shiny temples of legal mammon that are the modern vocational law schools is… frankly… low.

I am a fan of ILEX as a route to qualfication though and not everyone wishes to be a City or BIG Law lawyer…thankfully…. so qualifying while you work and gain experience, reducing the debt burden, can make sense.

Frances Gibb, a seasoned and professional commentator on matters legal has been around for a long time and I mean that kindly because she brings a wealth of knowledge and contacts to her pieces. Frances Gibb kicks off proceedings under the headline The profession is shifting to a legal services market and advises…. “Be broadminded; there’s more to a legal career than simply qualifying as a solicitor or barrister..”

Frances Gibb reminds us of the warning put of last summer by The Law Society that students should think twice before embarking on a law career in the present economic climate. She asks if things have changed and provides some useful facts and figures, noting conflicting information and highlights the point that training places, some say, have dropped by as much as a third.  It does not appear to have dipped. Tim Pierce at the SRA says that 5751 places were offered in 2008-09 compared to 5732 for 2009-10 and that the current figure is 4510, but says that many are offered during the year, so the dip is ‘illusory.  There are, Pierce notes, more applicants so competition remains fierce.

The current state of the market really really depends on who you speak to. There is always an element of wish fulfilment. Listening to a podcast I did a year ago with Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP Law School, one could be forgiven for thinking that the credit-crunch was having absolutely no effect because, he reported enthusiastically, numbers on his courses had never been so high.  This was certainly true on the Bar Vocational Course.  We await (and I will be advised by the BSB when it comes out) the BSB report on BPP’s significant over subscription on the Bar Vocational Course which even The Times observed would net them a ‘cool million’ straight to the bottom line.  (I suspect 650- 750,000 quid is nearer the mark, recalling the very detailed budgeting done when I was involved in founding the school in the early 1990s)

If you have been reading Legal Week and The Lawyer you will have seen numerous stories about even the very biggest law firms cutting staff, partners and associates – but there are signs of resurgence now. It would be wise to read widely to get an accurate feel to the current market and the future.

The bottom line, no matter how you cut the figures is that roughly 14000 LPC qualified students this year are competing for 5700 training places according to figures in the Times. What of those from last year and the year before who have still not been absorbed into legal work?  They can’t all be flipping burgers or working as baristas at Starbucks?

And that leads nicely to the LAW SCHOOLS… all of them, not just the big boys, The College of Law and BPP Law School… and in this section, I include all the universities, all 104 of them providing law courses  in the UK, most of them in England & Wales

Nigel Savage, CEO of The College of Law opens the batting with a typically clever piece, deflecting attention from the vocational law schools to the first line universities with an excellent piece: Law schools: gatekeepers or cash cows? The main theme of the article, which I extracted from the Times summary is…Undergraduate law degrees have been neglected with law schools now isolated from the profession and exposed in the battle for resources.

The really juicy bits of Savage’s article are worth closer and objective analysis.

The inital rubric rehearses the changing nature of the profession but it is not long before the experienced Captain and centre forward takes the ball from an excellent corner kick and slams it into the back of the net with this… ” How are law schools coping? At the professional stage (Legal Practice Course or Bar Vocational Course) the sector has coped well with much innovation and flexibility. Until recently, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have been vigilant in maintaining standards and publishing monitoring reports.”

The elegance of this one crisp paragraph contains three separate propositions: (1) The professional stage is separate from the academic stage (2) We, the College of Law have adapted to change – and they have.  See this excellent piece by Richard Susskind on the College of Law’s new e-learning initiative and (c) Savage, by my interpretation,  has a  dig at the the regulators – The Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

I have some experience of this given my background, but I think that Savage is right to raise this.  It does appear that the regulation of vocational law schools is perhaps not as rigorous as it was in the days of the fearsome and very professional Pauline Collins and her assessment teams (The 1990s). The inspections were rigorous, fair and thorough. In my role as the then CEO of BPP Law School (I resigned in 1997) I took them seriously, as did the other law school heads and their teams.   It is imperative, in my view, that all law schools, academic stage universities and professional stage providers,  are subject to external, objective, scrutiny. It is absurd that the SRA appears to be cutting back on monitoring visits, as Savage states in his article,  and both regulators should make all reports and assessment visits public so that students and others can assess the quality of the provision at each provider. The good law schools will pass muster, the poor ones won’t.

Savage then picks the ball up and runs straight towards the goal – the academic stage universities – with this… ” The key problem is the academic stage and the state of the undergraduate law degree. This should be the gatekeeper for the professional bodies; instead it has been hugely neglected with law schools now isolated from the profession and exposed in the battle for resources. Law is a cash cow for vice-chancellors. There are more than 68,000 students taking undergraduate law degrees, with 15,500 graduating each year. Law faculties used to be powerful centres in university administration. Today they have been absorbed into huge mega-faculties and resources are fought for at a low level. A robust regulator, therefore, is more vital than ever.”

There are 68,000 students studying law currently in universities and colleges. Not all will wish to go into a legal career (and many read law with no intention of doing so).  Law is an important service to the country.  It is not all City and Big Law – although that, as the President of The Law Society Robert Heslett told me in a recent podcast which I did for my Law Society Gazette series, is vitally important to the economic health of our country.

Many lawyers act for private clients doing valuable work in family law, in crime, in employment… the list is long.  Pretty well every field of human activity involves law and lawyers and it is important that we get the quality right.  The universities may well assert that it is not their function to turn out lawyers, that law is a philosophical discipline, a social science, a field of independent study.  They are right – but it is also the bedrock of knowledge needed by lawyers who do practise and if they wish to continue to provide quality education for students who wish to go into practice it is only right that they (as many do)  should tailor the versions of courses for these students to the needs of a modern profession and work with the profession and regulators. The universities would, of course, be free to do as they please with courses for students who wish to study law as a liberal social science. If the universities don’t adapt, if they don’t work with the profession (as many do happily and profitably)  then it would not surprise me if the College of Law, BPP law School and other providers  enjoying degree awarding powers and who are already experienced in providing high quality training like OXford Institute, Nottingham, Northumbria, Kaplan et al pick up the baton and run with it. While BPP Law School and others may have specialist City courses, they and most providers at this level cater for the full range of  training for lawyers in day to day practice.

Savage makes the point that universities are tending to absorb law departments into ever larger Faculties and that competition for resources is high. This is not good for the profession and the Bar Standards Board and The Solicitors Regulation Authority should be far more assertive with the universities and insist on specified student – tutor ratios, correct provision of resources, teaching time et al. The question is – have they the will to do so?   There is absolutely no credible reason why profitable law faculties should subsidise other departments to the detriment of quality standards in law and any attempt by the universities to divert resources from law to other disciplines, to subsidise them, should be resisted.

On that note, I will probably irritate some in the traditional universities – but there we are.  It  won’t be the first time.  Some years ago, at a conference, I suggested that we close 25 % of the law schools and give the money to the better law schools so they could increase the provision and offer more places.  That… went down well, as you can imagine.

In Part II I shall continue to examine student specific issues and  look at the future of legal education for barristers.  I shall also touch on the developing field of E-learning for law students.

Useful articles from The Times Student Law…

Learning at all hours of the day and night

Once, law lectures were given in fine halls. Now, students have the convenience and flexibility of electronic tutorials and online supervision

Why do state schools set the Bar so high?

Aged 10, Charlotte Pickering decided that she wanted to be a barrister. But teachers at her local comprehensive did little to encourage her dreams

Mentoring: more than a helping hand

Being matched with a volunteer from your favoured practice area can help you to network, write job applications – and be successful at interviews

It’s time to spread your wings

Don’t specialise too soon and be ready to change direction; that way you’ll still be in demand in the bad times as well as the good

Ten amazing courtroom film scenes

The real judiciary would not permit some of these classic capers. Particularly the delinquent lawyer who drank a bottle of poison in front of a jury…

New master’s degree in law and finance

The University of Oxford’s groundbreaking degree – already oversubscribed – aims to boost individual careers and legal expertise in the City

Lessons in juggling your workload

Would-be lawyers have always worked hard. But the findings of a new research report suggest that things might be getting more difficult . . .

Law schools: gatekeepers or cash cows?

Undergraduate law degrees have been neglected with law schools now isolated from the profession and exposed in the battle for resources




Megaladon LLP (Formerly Muttley Dastardly LLP) – Law Firm directories

Statement to staff  from Matt Muttley, senior partner, chief executive, managing partner and president of Megaladon LLP

RE: LAW FIRM DIRECTORIES

It would appear, yet again, that Megaladon LLP does not feature in the latest Chambers & Partners directory or, indeed, The Legal 500. It is with regret, therefore, that I have to announce that our former Director of Marketing, David ‘The Airbrusher’ Cholmondely-Cameron-Smythe, was escorted from our premises at 4.30 am this morning by Megaladon LLP security operatives.  I know that some of you may have found this distressing, working as you were on our new and exciting plans to set up our own outsourcing operation in the East Indies  -  but in these dark days of the Jackson report, credit-crunch and the ever present threat of over regulation by sundry regulators, needs must.  Mr Cholmondely-Cameron-Smythe is an enthusiastic gardener, which is fortunate, because he will now have an opportunity to ‘engage’ with this interest and ‘transition’ from employment to a less stressful lifestyle.

The fact, as reported in The Times, that barely 5% of in-house counsel even look at law directories is irrelevant – a fact put ably by Mr Cholmondely-Cameron-Smythe when I held a special ‘closed’  session of the Megaladon LLP Star Chamber shortly before 4.00 am this morning.

I would like to re-assure you all that I was much comforted by a comment in The Times report on the launch of the new Chambers & Partners directory by this viewpoint..and I quote it in full… “Lisa Hart, the chief executive of Acritas, says: “General counsel are in specialist buying roles and they don’t normally need a directory to see who they are going to use.” She maintains that it is only in the rare circumstances when in-house departments are confronted with an out-of-the-ordinary matter that they will resort to looking at a directory.

That said.. we, at Megaladon LLP, must be ever vigilant to all marketing opportunities… and as you know, I shall be going on a Twitter course early next week with a famous celebrity chef, to ensure that we are at the forefront of modern social media tecniques.

That is all.  Be happy in your work and…remember our mantra… one day, you could be a partner at Megaladon LLP.

***

Note to Editors: Megaladon LLP is the new trading name of Muttley Dastardly LLP following the unfortunate ‘departure’ of name partner Dastardly in late 2009