It is World Intellectual Property Day today – not that I am interested in it being so other than to ask who decides these things. Is it our friends from across the pond who can have a world series in sport with no other countries involved?
Politicians’ legal fight in private to avoid trial over expenses
Frances Gibb, legal editor of The Times, has picked up on the interesting issue of the politicians who are being hauled before the courts for ‘fiddling their expenses’. Gibb reports: “The hearing next month, in which the men will claim that they are protected by parliamentary privilege, will be covered by blanket reporting restrictions. “Essentially, you can’t report anything,” one lawyer said. “It is a pre-trial application and, like any other, subject to normal prohibitions on reporting. The two-day hearing is an attempt to block criminal proceedings, under which they could face hefty jail terms if found guilty. The four will invoke the protection for parliamentary proceedings enshrined in the Bill of Rights to argue that the House of Commons rule book on expenses is “privileged” because it is part of parliamentary proceedings, and so protected from scrutiny by the courts.”
Whatever the merits of their parliamentary privilege argument – and many politicians have come out against parliamentary privilege being used in this way (largely because they don’t want to be mocked and derided by potential voters and the press) – the whole business is shoddy. I can well understand that people who have been caught out on their specialist subject wishing to evade penalty – in this case, potentially, quite a long time in prison if found guilty – but Gibb reports that media organisations and the DPP may apply to have reporting restrictions lifted. The trial judge has a discretion to do so if it is in the public interest.
I’m not so sure I want reporting restrictions lifted – for the very simple reason that I want this trial to be ‘squeaky clean’ procedurally so that those charged cannot later claim their trial was not ‘within the rules’ and, of course, because I would like to see our rather battered Rule of Law returned to good health. All are entitled to that. Of course, it would help if politicians would actually understand and realise that you can’t have a Rule of Law of any real worth unless we have high quality lawyers to prosecute and defend and we resource process properly – but it would appear that the last crew of political pirates and quite possibly the next crew do not really know a lot about the law and none of the political parties, as far as I can see from their manifestos, have plans to ensure that the Rule of Law is maintained at an adequate standard. Political waffle about ‘British Justice being the best in the World’ just doesn’t cut it… only a properly resourced justice system can do that. Our politicians seem to have lost sight of that. This is unfortunate and ironic. Enacting rafts of new laws is relatively easy – even a third world dictatorship can do that. Running a proper justice system takes a bit more effort and cash. Trial without a jury, anyone? Let’s go back to the Police bringing charges, anyone? Dispense with trials altogether, anyone? Fixed penalty tickets, anyone? Fast-track everything through Magistrates, anyone…? nice and cheap – and we’ll have more money to enable you to pass on all your property to your children when you die, when you’ll probably be as concerned about justice as you were when you were alive! Ah… sounds a bit like a Ministry of Truth & Justice proposal.
For those keen to see MP heads on spikes on London Bridge…. this last from The Times may cool your enthusiasm. “Any ruling by the judge on parliamentary privilege and whether it extends to give the men protection in this case from the criminal courts will be appealed to the Court of Appeal and from there to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. A criminal trial is therefore unlikely to take place before the end of the year.”