Postcard from The Staterooms-on-Thames: Kafka edition

Dear Reader,

“The Trial (German: Der Process) is a novel by Franz Kafka, first published in 1925. One of Kafka’s best-known works, it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime never revealed either to him or the reader.”

Demand open justice for Julian Assange

Mark Stephens, in The Guardian: Our high court should refuse extradition when the trial in prospect is likely to be unfair – as it is in this case

Mark Stephen, Assange’s lawyer in the UK, writes…”Julian Assange will, according to the judge’s finding of fact, be held in prison in solitary confinement when he is returned to Sweden and will then be interrogated, held without bail and later subjected to a secret trial on accusations that have been bruited around the world, not least by this newspaper. He has a complete answer to these charges, which he considers false and baseless. Even if acquitted, however, the mud will stick and, if convicted, the public will never be able to able to assess whether justice has miscarried. This country, which has given to the world the most basic principles of a fair trial – that justice must be seen to be done – denies that basic liberty for those that are extradited to Sweden. How come our courts abandon our cherished principles in deference to European systems and prosecutors?……..

I interviewed Mark Stephens in a podcast before Christmas.  In our first “Without Prejudice” podcast David Allen Green, Carl Gardner and Joanne Cash  reviewed the decision of District Judge Riddle handed down on Thursday.

There is, of course, another side to Mark Stephens which I enjoyed reading about in the Financial Times.  He is allergic to bees – but he has lots of them in his garden.

Meanwhile in modern Britain…..

Phone-hacking libel claim contested by Metropolitan police

The Guardian: Scotland Yard applies to strike out lawsuit by solicitor representing victims of phone hacking

Scotland Yard is to contest a lawsuit that could establish the true number of victims in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Mark Lewis, a solicitor who has acted for people suing the newspaper, contends that a senior figure in the Metropolitan police, Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly, told him in 2008 that as many as 6,000 phones may have been hacked.

We are certainly living in strange times….. and I cannot help but wonder, given that there appears to be an even greater need now for lawyers and judges to keep a close eye on what government does in our name, whether those who complain about The Human Rights Act, complain about the ECHR, the interventions of third parties in Europe, may have a preference for allowing their view of the rule of law to prevail without the inconvenience of independent and objective analysis and critique.  I cannot resist the line from The House of Cards by Michael Dobbs….“You may think that….I could not possibly comment’.

I shall leave it there for today…and return to happier things later in the day

Best, as always

Charon

15 thoughts on “Postcard from The Staterooms-on-Thames: Kafka edition

  1. I have no problem at all with Assange being tried in Sweden….. but I do think that trials should be in public….. and on that issue Mark Stephens makes a fair point.

    It is very easy to make allegations and talk bollocks/troll etc etc behind a cloak of secrecy and anonymity.

    I am not an anonymous blogger….as my *About* section makes very clear!

  2. I’m afraid that your fears and concerns are well justified, and would add only this – at this time when both individual freedoms and the rule of law itself come under attack from a legislature ravenous for power, the ability of the legal system to hold them to account is simultaneously weakened by the stinging attacks on legal aid.

    It seems we are all cursed to live in interesting times.

  3. Agreed this is a problem.

    But how to win the public relations battle? The sentiments expressed by @SJacksonMP, Conservative MP for Peterborough, in a tweet a couple of days ago (“Public sick of greedy Leftist lawyers arrogant judges & human rights taxpayer-funded bandwagon. MPs and Peers make our laws not lawyers”), which he apparently thought was “hilarious” (see his next tweet referring to a “deranged primal scream … from various agitprop Lefties”) probably have a frightening amount of sympathy with the public.

    There are many levels on which the battle needs to be fought: (a) that human rights apply for all but issues tend to arise more with minorities and those who are harder to support, (b) lawyers are not necessarily all greedy fat cats and many work extremely hard for their clients for little or no reward, (c) legal aid is not a gravy train but an essential safety net – cf. MPs’ expenses, (d) the ECHR is not a foreign-imposed system nor part of the EU, but a reflection of what the lawyers of Churchill’s Britain thought in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

    I do wonder if some effort should be made to find suitable tabloid-friendly ECHR test cases, like challenging improper bugging of hard-working family’s bins by over-exuberant council, or similar, to make the point, and make sure it is publicised. The problem is that the public only hear of prisoner challenges etc and not of more sympathetic cases.

    Glad I issued my own primal scream to the, in my view, irresponsible and unconsidered tweet of the MP, but it is a scream which needs to come from the populace at large, not from lawyers. How to reach that stage?

    @Wattyler999 (yes, I accept my twitter name probably doesn’t help…)

  4. @Watttyler999 – good comment! Thanks for taking time to do so.

    Missed that tweet by the MP

    Lawyers are, of course, part of the populace – but agree…. the more non-lawyers who look at things critically the better!…as, of course, they are doing…….

  5. I thought originally this case was all about how he was supposedly at risk from the US getting at him if he was deported to Sweden (extradition etc) and that it was all some form of conspiracy due to the recent military disclosures on Wikileaks etc.

    Now it appears to be a full frontal assault on the Swedish criminal system itself?

    I know little of that system but would imagine it is rather alien to our legal processes. And whatever system it is then I guess it will have its quirks and potentials for injustice….something that this country often unfortunately does as well. But is it really being said that a long established legal system of a civilised and stable western democracy is one that is not capable of holding a fair trial?

    Assange is not a UK citizen, Sweden is not a failed state run by a despot and the alleged acts that potentially contravened their criminal law took place within their jurisdiction.

    Spending one minute watching one of Assange’s “on the court steps” speeches leads me to the uneasy view that we are parties to a bit of displacement activity. I would be far more comfortable observing his senetorial views on life, liberty and the universe were he to firstly to faced the accusations head on in the appropriate forum (ie Sweden).

  6. The Trial is indeed a significant book because it’s about a man who is being tried for an undisclosed crime. A terrible predicament to be in as it is impossible to mount a defence. Truly sinister.

    I think Assange’s lawyer is over egging the pudding. It is a complete exageration to say that Assange will be tried in secret. If Assange is innocent of the allegations it is probable that the Swedish courts will aquit him. Sweden is a member of the EU and is a signatory to the ECHR. To imply that Sweden is some sort of totalitarian state does Assange and his legal team no credit.

    As your most recent podcast discussed, the European Arrest Warrant is problematic and perhaps Assange’s extradition is controversial. I don’t believe that this point is relevant to Assange getting a fair trial, however.

    I am a supporter of WikiLeaks and of Assange’s mission to expose governments for the lying, conniving crooks they are but Assange should live up to his own principles and face srutiny for his alleged actions. Hard but fair, to quote from a well known Monty Python sketch.

  7. “…probably have a frightening amount of sympathy with the public.”

    I suspect most people’s affected loathing for lawyers doesn’t survive the first time they themselves have need of one.

  8. That “affected loathing for lawyers” may return, however, when you discover that lawyer did not finish the job, as many of us have.

    Those who keep arguing that Assange has nothing to fear from the Swedish justice system have not been paying attention to the complicity of Swedish courts in the illegal kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition,” as the Americans are pleased to call it) of two men handed over to US agents and transported to Egypt to be tortured. The UN has condemned Swedish complicity in those cases, and Sweden has had to make formal restitution in one case (not sure where the other is just now). US cables published by WikiLeaks record the willingness of the Swedish gov’t to collude with US foreign policy under the radar of public scrutiny.

    The UK and other Western powers have also been complicit, in one way or another, in the torture regime of the past decade, but Sweden, which claimed for so long to be neutral and independent of NATO, eg, has been peculiarly supine and dishonest.

    It is not shocking that a defence lawyer should speak out on behalf of his client. It is shocking that a prime minister (Sweden’s Reinfeldt) should intervene in a legal process, which he has done.

    Why should anyone trust to Swedish justice? I sure wouldn’t.

  9. i am delighted to hear that the public-spirited mp for peterborough can look down on lefty loony lesbo lawyers (or whatever random collection of 80s knee-jerk insults he can manage to vomit in some random and inexplicable order, like the alphabetti spaghetti of right-wing hatred. does ANYONE say agitprop any more?) from the lofty heights of his history of work serving his fellow human beings in human resources and for a bank. mind that glass house stewart!
    how i love the honesty and perspective of this government and its reptilian members.

  10. What about a system in which you can be deported to a country that may kill you on the basis of evidence that you never to get hear of?

    Where would that be? Oh…

    Fact is all liberal democratic countries have flaws in their justice system. This is because no justice system can ever be perfect; their are balances to be made. Where the balance falls is ultimately a matter for the state’s legislature to decide.

    Criticising the Swedish justice system from here is hypocrtical in my opinion. Those in Europe have – and some probably still do – think that our system of trial by jury is inherently unfair. They may ask how can you convict someone of an offence without them ever finding out the reasons for why they were convicted?

  11. What about a system in which you can be deported to a country that may kill you on the basis of evidence that you never to get hear of?

    Where would that be? Oh…

    1) do you mean sweden?
    2 have they done that?

    neitehr is a rhetorical question; the first is because i’m unsure whether you mean england or sweden (or indeed anywhere else) and the second is that i don’t know if you consider that has happened in either country.

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