May 27th, 2015

I’m sure you missed me!  After a well earned break in the sun, I’m back in the saddle, ready to wield the hammer of the ungodly and hold high the sword of justice!

We left these shivering shores shortly after the General Election, well pleased with the result, and as we were in foreign climes surrounded by jabbering Johnny foreigners, our news of Old Blighty came from a glance at the front page of the Daily Mail, stacked unloved and unsold in the corner of our favourite bistro. With the greatest respect to all who buy this particular tabloid, it really is utter tosh!  At least the Sun has tits to liven up its take on the news, and makes no pretence to be anything other than tits and sport.  The Daily Mail likes to think it’s a serious rag, but it fails miserably.

Speaking of Johnny Foreigner, the only news I seem to have missed, and it interests me professionally, is the forthcoming debate on human rights and which, by all accounts, is beginning to hot up.  All the usual suspects have crawled out from under their ‘special interest’ rocks to preach doom and gloom and the end of civilisation as they see it. Amnesty International has even used its precious resources to take out a two page advertisement accompanied by signatures of their most virulent supporters, none of whom means anything to me.

Those opposing the abolition of the Human Rights Act clearly haven’t thought it through. The inference they draw is that we will abolish all human rights, which is absurd.  I prefer the words of wisdom uttered by Lord Judge in a recent speech to the Hay Festival under the headline: “Don’t let European Courts run our lives.” He goes on to make the obvious point (or obvious to me at least) that we in this country have enjoyed an enviable record of human rights going back to 1215 and the Magna Carta, and there is nothing Johnny Foreigner can teach us in this respect.  We simply do not need a court stuck in Strasbourg with poorly qualified judges, some of whom are political appointees with only a passing knowledge of the law, telling us what we can and cannot do.

If further proof be needed that the Human Rights Act should be replaced by our own Bill of Rights, I learn that the Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon who isn’t even an elected Member of Parliament, is hoping to lead the opposition to its abolition, assuming she can get a word in edgeways now that her predecessor the loquacious Alex Salmon is back.

Curious in the extreme that the two most influential members of the Scottish National Party are named after fish!

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May 2nd, 2015

I have never felt comfortable about the Court of Appeal increasing sentences.  The power of the Court to do so goes back to the high point of the blessed Saint Margaret’s tenure of office in 1986, four years before Michael ‘Brutus’ Heseltine and his co-conspirators stabbed her in the back and removed her from the Premiership.  Something back in 1986 must have upset her, and here we are spoiled for choice, as she ordered the acerbic but otherwise wholly ineffectual Scot Lord Clash of McFern, he of the ready wit and lively repartee, to introduce legislation to hammer the ungodly, and section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act saw the light of day.

This section enables three judges of the Court of Appeal who took no part in the trial and so come to their task with an open mind, to determine if the sentence passed by the trial judge was ‘unduly lenient’. The only basis on which they can arrive at this conclusion is not what the tabloids or red tops have to say on the matter, but rather by way of reference to ‘sentencing guidelines’.   It’s a system we’ve inherited from the Americans, and it involves following slavishly all the relevant factors for and against the accused, and mostly against, to ensure uniformity.  A noble aspiration no doubt, but if we are to go beyond the principle of making the punishment fit the crime, sentencing guidelines can become a straitjacket.  They pay lip service, no more, to the accused and his personal circumstances.  They cannot pay lip service to matters that arose during the trial, as these judges weren’t there, and all importantly, they didn’t witness the accused’s demeanour, or the way he gave evidence, or any displays of remorse or indignation, which only the trial judge is qualified to assess and take into account.

I remember one senior judge telling me not so long ago that he was an irrelevance to the sentencing process.  Far better to simply load into the computer all the touchstones, follow the relevant flow charts, push ‘enter’ and pass the sentence that the computer spews out.

What is worrying, and what is becoming a regular event in the criminal justice system, is the prosecution of allegations going back in some cases 50 or so years, where the accused is often elderly, infirm and sometimes of weak mind.  Whilst I do not condone what they did, if they did it, where is the compassion?  And what does it achieve? That’s why I support the decision of the DPP not to prosecute Lord Janner. I hope she is strong enough to withstand the enormous pressure being put on her to change her mind, or worse still, for the decision to be taken out of her hands and reversed. That would be a travesty of justice, and would wholly undermine the role and dignity of her office.

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April 30th, 2015

Poor Ali Saunders, the much beleaguered Director of Public Prosecutions, damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Still smarting from the verbal spanking she received from many quarters after her decision not to prosecute Lord Janner, along comes Nikki Kenward the organ grinder’s monkey in the assisted suicide debate initiated by Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor.

Ms. Nikki Kenward’s legal team, funded by us the taxpayers, has been granted a judicial review over Ms. Saunders’ decision not to prosecute doctors and nurses who help severely disabled or terminally ill people to take their own lives. Whilst Ms. Kenward is seriously disabled, she was never asked if she would like help in popping her clogs, so quite what she is doing in the frame is a mystery.

On review, these lawyers will argue that the DPP’s guidelines will enable healthcare professionals to offer their services to those wishing to commit suicide which, according to these well meaning but misguided advocates, is akin to “crossing the Rubicon”. With respect as we say but don’t mean in the legal profession, the services on offer are precisely the services most needed in these tragic circumstances. Ms. Kenward may have been put up to stir the pot, but this should in no way detract from  two very important issues, namely the right of any person of sound mind who wants  to end it all to do so but who cannot do so without help, and the courage and dedication of the doctors who will bring it about.

Assisted suicide is but one dimension of a debate that isn’t going away and will become more and more relevant over the next several years. Lord Falconer’s proposal is confined to those with terminal illnesses who have less than six months to live, so it is cast within fairly narrow parameters.  Of equal if not greater relevance is longevity itself.  When to call it a day?  And who calls the shots?  The advances in medical science help to keep us alive longer and longer, regardless of our state of health, and as we grow older and older, we are part of an environment ill equipped to provide us with the quality of life essential to enjoy our twilight years.  The argument that the Lord will decide has only limited appeal in our post Christian society, so some help may be needed to speed us on our way.

For my part, I am comforted in the knowledge that when I enter the final stretch, I can decide when it’s time to go, and to suggest that my nearest and dearest would connive with the medical profession to send me on my way before I am ready is as unattractive as it is implausible.

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April 25th, 2015

When I was young, I learned the fable of the boy who shouted ‘wolf’ once too often, and sadly, as you will remember, that was the time there  was a real big bad wolf who ran amok in the village.  I was put in mind of this fable when I read the recent report of a woman who was blind drunk when she attacked an innocent bystander on a night out on the town.  She remembered nothing of the unprovoked attack until she was being charged at the police station.  In sentencing her, the district judge in Worcester commented: “I find it incredible that young people can get so drunk that they don”t even know who they’re with.”  Addressing the woman direct, he continued: “I am sure you are now aware of just how vulnerable you made yourself.” A charitable comment in the circumstances, given that she had behaved disgracefully.

It must have been a quiet day in the newsroom of the Worcester Clarion, as the case was reported along with the judge’s remarks. These were picked up by the national press and found their way to me. In normal circumstances, the case would not merit my attention, had it not been for the fact that Sarah Green, the acting director of the lobbying group End Violence against Women Coalition felt constrained to comment in terms which we are all too familiar with, it’s called the “raddled harridan” rant. In passing, I ask myself what is an ‘acting’ director? Is this somebody who hasn’t made the grade but behaves as if she has?

Her reaction was not to deplore the woman’s inexcusable behaviour and to pass on her apologies to the victim, it was to attack the judge, male as it happens, so no prizes there, without any justification. She wittered on about the judge perpetuating the idea that young women drinking alcohol put themselves at risk of attack, which is not what he said or meant, although it’s true, and in this particular case, the only person this drunk woman put at risk of attack was the woman she attacked. But as if that were not enough, Ms. Green wittered on about the judge’s remarks implying that sexual violence is in some way inevitable and it is the woman’s responsibility to avoid it. And finally, before ending her rant, she complained about getting beyond this focus on women’s behaviour regarding rape and shift it to the men who choose to commit these crimes.

What on earth is she on about?  The poor unfortunate judge said nothing that could tread on Feminist toes, indeed everything he said made eminent common sense, but any comments about women and self-intoxication are like a red rag to a bull, and Ms. Green cannot resist trotting out the well worn mantra.

You may remember that I was roundly criticised by Ms. Green and her fellow Feministas when I made the observation that girls who dress provocatively on a night out and get horribly drunk should bear some responsibility for their behaviour, and despite Ms. Green’s strictures, I remain firmly of that opinion.  I doubt if Ms. Green will change her opinion, and she will continue with her predictable rants.  But like the boy who cried wolf, Ms. Green should be careful not to discredit her opinion  by blinkered one track rants which, eventually, will become meaningless if she sees this problem in black and white. To coin a phrase, if you can’t say nothing worth listening to, best to say nothing at all.

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April 24th, 2015

Two days ago, on the 22nd April to be precise, Sir John Chilcot celebrated his seventy sixth birthday.  You may remember him, although there’s no reason why you should.  Shortly after celebrating his seventieth birthday in 2009, he was appointed as the chairman of an Inquiry into the Iraq war commissioned by Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister.  Brown emphatically denied that he was motivated by his hatred of Tony Blair and his hope that the Inquiry would bring opprobrium on his predecessor whilst exonerating him of all involvement.  On the contrary, he was being even handed in pursuit of the truth and a desire to learn from others’ mistakes.  This was very much his mantra during his mercifully short period in office.

Not even Sir John could have countenanced the possibility that this Inquiry would still be ongoing six years after its first meeting, and by all accounts, it has yet to run its course. For reasons best known to Sir John, it took five months from commissioning to the first meeting, so setting a pace which the Inquiry was to slavishly follow from Day One.  We were told that the purpose of the Inquiry, and I quote from Chilcot’s opening statement, was:     ” to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations. To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn’t – and, crucially, why”. And that, crucially, is the all important question surrounding this Inquiry, why?  And why this Inquiry at all?

Let me see if I can help Chilcot and his fellow panel members to establish what happened, so that I am not writing a similar blog in celebration of Sir John’s eightieth birthday and his report still unpublished. Why did we go to war against Iraq?  Because the Americans asked us to join them.  Why did they ask us?  Because we all believed at the time that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he could unleash on his enemies within 45 minutes.  As it transpired, we were wrong, but so what?  An evil dictator was removed and replaced by a corrupt and useless government which paid lip service to the Americans and very little else. As somebody once said, shit happens, and if those in power are constantly worried about making the wrong call, they shouldn’t be in power.  It’s their job to call the shots, right or wrong.

This Inquiry was misconceived from the outset, but like Topsy, has grown out of all proportion, and once it is published, if ever, it will have its Andy Warhol moment and then, having writ, move on.  There will be other Inquiries, we seem to have an insatiable desire for them, with identical remits to establish what happened.  They too, like Topsy, will grow and grow and take on a life of their own, nobody will accept responsibility and everybody will be exonerated. What a joy!

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