November 23rd, 2016
The year was 1976, and I found myself in the USA. It was that time when the stench of presidential corruption emanating from Richard Nixon’s tenure of office was slowly beginning to dissipate, thanks in large measure to Gerald Ford. He was Nixon’s vice-president, chosen because he was uncontroversial and had no opinions to offer on anything. He was the perfect antidote to the crisis that had enveloped the White House, a safe and steady pair of hands. Plucked from relative anonymity, he made an ideal stand in president.
I remember it well. I was downtown in Omaha Nebraska, not on everybody’s itinerary of places to see, but agreeable nonetheless. I was having lunch with friends and acquaintances, some of whom were American, and the conversation turned to Gerald Ford. I repeated the oft-repeated joke that he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time, and my American acquaintances were mortified. It was one thing for Americans to make fun of their president, it was quite another for a goddamned limey.
But it doesn’t end there, as Hillary Clinton now knows to her cost. Americans are a mixed bag of squirming emotions when it comes to politics, and many of their prejudices make for uncomfortable listening. Their blinkered defence of their gun laws, or more to the point, no laws, are hard to justify, but I digress. During the American election, Hillary referred to Trump’s supporters as ‘a basket of deplorables’. It cost her dear. As one commentator pointed out, there are 58 million ‘deplorables’ in the USA, so it was foot in mouth big time.
I am a fan of ‘Have I got news for you’, it is satirical and at times acerbically funny, but every now and again it oversteps the mark. I refer to a recent episode which had as one of its guests Maureen Lipmann, you may remember her, but I wouldn’t be surprised it you didn’t. In her time she was the archetypal Jewish Momma, and in her time she was very funny, the more so if you like Jewish humour. The joke about the woman who slept outside a synagogue and woke up with a heavy dew on her is a particular favourite. I was surprised to see her, as I thought she was dead, but no matter. The opening part of the show invited the panelists to comment on the recent election of Donald Trump, and before you could say ‘Oy Vey’ she launched into an unpleasant, offensive and remarkably unfunny diatribe about Trump which had me cringing and reaching for the off button.
Satirical humour is often hard to achieve, as there is a fine line between satire and crass stupidity. Whilst American presidents in America are as much legitimate targets as anybody else, those targets don’t travel well, and personal invective becomes crass stupidity.
Maureen Lipmann is not alone in spouting crass stupidity. Boris Johnson is liked because of his informal and at times ‘off the cuff’ style of diplomacy, but there are times to act like the village idiot, and times to behave like a grown up. Like him or not, Donald Trump is with us for the next four years, so best to tread softly, give him the benefit of the doubt, and remember that the special relationship is more important now than it has ever been.
November 5th, 2016
A firestorm erupted yesterday when the High Court sided with “Parliament” against the Executive about Brexit and triggering Article 50. The three judges have received a verbal bollocking from the Executive and their ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. I say ‘Supreme’ but it isn’t, not so long as we remain within the European Union, as their judgments are subject to the European Courts. All very silly, but we’ve known that for several years and done nothing about it until now.
There was the all too familiar media circus on the steps of the Court, an American import we can do without, and fronted by a woman with remarkable teeth calling herself Gill Miller. Other than her name, I know nothing about her whatsoever. I knew a Dusty Miller, and of course the legendary Glenn Miller, and Mitch Miller, but Gill Miller was, until yesterday, a complete nobody. Whatever else, her orthodontist needs a commendation, but other than the teeth, her right to act as the spokesperson in the media circus completely escapes me. My researches tell me that she is neither a parliamentarian nor a lawyer, just the organ grinder’s monkey.
But enough of Gill Miller and her remarkable teeth, and back to the gravamen of the legal challenge. On any view as expressed by those qualified to express a view, the judges trespassed on the territory normally occupied by the Executive arm of the Government and they were wrong to do so. What on earth persuaded them to hear the challenge in the first place is beyond belief, as they were well “off their patch” to use a legal term, not to mention wide of the mark.
And now those seeking to redress the balance are accused of undermining the independence of the judiciary by criticising this ill-advised ruling. I beg to differ. Unlike Gill Miller, I am a graduate of Constitutional Law so I know something about the workings of our Constitutional Democracy and the division of powers between the executive and the legislature. Whilst the Judiciary have an advisory role when asked to advise, they do not, and must not, have an interventionist role. Over the centuries, Parliament has developed a series of checks and balances to ensure that it serves its citizens to the best of its ability, and it doesn’t need the Judiciary to shoehorn its way in. If any one of our 650 elected representatives takes issue with the government, there are recognised ways of bringing them to book, the most draconian of which is a vote of no confidence. As a footnote for Gill Miller and her camp followers, those 650 are elected, unlike the judges of the High Court, who are not elected but appointed.
I hope that wiser counsel will prevail, and Gill will be put back in her box. Hope springs eternal.
PS. Even as I write, some of my more slippery colleagues in the profession are urging Liz Truss to back the judiciary and stand up for their Independence. Humbug! As usual, these characters have an agenda of their own, all to do with self-advancement and very little to do with the high moral ground, so my message to Liz is stand firm, if the judges have got it wrong, as they have, tell them, as you have, and if that is an attack on the independence of the judiciary, then I am Daffy Duck!
September 14th, 2016
The word on the street has it that Liz Truss, the newly anointed Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord High Chancellor, has been advised to breathe new life into devising a Bill of Rights. She told anybody who was listening that it was a manifesto pledge, as if that counted for anything, so it’s back on her agenda. Question for you all – how many of you voted Conservative at the last General Election because a Bill of Rights was a manifesto pledge? Yes, I thought so.
Others have flirted with the idea, most recently Oiky Gove, but then, with the whiff of high office in his nostrils, albeit fleetingly, he fell flat on his face and he and the Bill of Rights bit the dust.
The latest thinking along the corridors of power is that a new Bill of Rights should be a mirror image of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into British law in 1997 with the Human Rights Act. The reasoning behind this decision, if ‘reasoning’ is not an over-statement, is that Parliament would not agree to do otherwise. Call me naive if you will, but doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of a new Bill of Rights? If we are lumbered with a Convention on Human Rights devised by Germany and France to ensure they never went to war again, then by retaining the Human Rights Act, we are burnishing our European credentials just when we thought we had dumped them for good. All very confusing, the more so for Liz Truss, who has no legal training, doesn’t know her mens rea from her actus reus, and who will be relying entirely on her civil servants. ‘Yes Minister’ strikes again!
When she appeared recently before the Commons Justice Select Committee, she was asked bluntly by one of its members what the point was of scrapping the Human Rights Act but staying signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Truss replied: “We were members of the convention long before the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act is a fairly recent phenomenon. What the British Bill of Rights will do is protect our rights but in a better way.” But surely, Ms Truss, the Human Rights Act enacted the European Convention into English law, the two go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other, so if you abolish the Human Rights Act, where does that leave the Convention? Her enigmatic reply? “There are big problems with the Human Rights Act that are nothing to do with the convention – problems have only emerged since the Human Rights Act came in. We are still working on it and I don’t have details about the proposal.” Quite so. If for one am none the wiser.
For some time now, judges at the highest levels of the judiciary have argued that the Convention should be acknowledged where it is helpful to do so, and that the decisions of the European Courts should be duly noted, but they should not be binding on English Law. In this way, our Supreme Court is what it actually claims to be, namely Supreme, so if our Supreme Court does not agree with its European counterparts, it will not follow its judgments, and will say so.
I may not agree with everything the Supreme Court has to say, and in this regard, I remember their pathetic judgement in the banks’ overcharging case, but that said they get it right most of the time, and if they don’t, we can set the Daily Mail on them, and if that doesn’t work, there is always the robust presence of Lord Falkner to put the fear of God into them.
There are many other more pressing matters in her in-tray to occupy Ms. Truss, whose learning curve is almost vertiginous. Prison reform should be her first priority before there is a serious breakdown of law and order. Then there’s the equally ludicrous inquiry into historical sexual abuse, but don’t get me started. That’s worth a blog to itself.
This blog is dedicated to Alexa, the beautiful daughter of our very dear friends, who recently got married. I wish her and her husband Paul every future happiness.
August 9th, 2016
Antipodean Sheila, also known as Dame Lowell Goddard, has come and gone, leaving many saying: “Who was that strange woman?”
Let me help. A few years’ ago, Theresa May, then Home Secretary, was persuaded to set up a child sex abuse inquiry to pander to a vocal lobby led by an absolutely ghastly Labour politician with an agenda all of his own, and as some of the more lurid and wholly unfounded allegations concerned senior Tory ‘grandees’, Tess felt obliged to act.
First up to the plate was Lady Butler-Sloss, whose name conjures up images of hi-jinks in the servants’ quarters. She had experience and gravitas, and was ideal for supping from the poisoned chalice, but her brother was Lord Havers, who was a political as well as a legal heavyweight, and fatally as it transpired, his father knew Lloyd George, so she was discarded as unsuitable.
Next up to the plate was Fiona Woolf, a former Lord Mayor of London and a good friend of Leon Britton, whose father also knew Lloyd George, so she too was shown the door.
It was then that Tess May decided to cast a wider net beyond our shores to the land of the Kiwi, and to the astonishment of everybody including Sheila Flaming Apples, also known as SFA, she found herself thrust into the limelight and, by all accounts, totally clueless as to the demands of the job and the job itself, so she has scuttled back home.
No more, dear Lord, no more, I hear you cry, but sanity and reason take second place to political expediency in the inexperienced hands of the newly appointed Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She and SFA have at least one thing in common – they are both intellectual pygmies.
For those fed up to the back teeth with historical child sexual abuse allegations, with the lies and pure invention going back fifty and sixty years, the belief that an inquiry is going to achieve any meaningful results and lessons for future generations is fantasy. The price of this inquiry, were it to run its full course, will not be far short of £200 million, and like the Savile and Iraq inquiries, a complete waste of time and money.
If those complaining of sexual abuse can make an arguable case against the perpetrators of their abuse, then the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have the power and the tools to bring them to book. Surely this is the way forward, each allegation to be considered on its own merits and either prosecuted or abandoned. If abandoned, it will be for Alison Saunders and her minions to justify her decision.
Enough of this public laundering of dirty linen, and let’s get on with the rest of our lives. Oh, and by the way, my father didn’t know Lloyd George, so I am eminently suited to the now vacant position, terms of engagement to be agreed.
Postscript: From the sublime, Lady B-S, to the ridiculous, SFA, comes news that an complete nonentity has been appointed to drink from the poisoned chalice. I refer to no less a personage than Alexis Jay, who brings with her all the intellectual gravitas of a visiting professorship at the University of Strathclyde, which I am reliably informed is in Scotland. Apparently Amber Rudd and her officials are working on the next appointment, once Alexis hits the dirt. Watch this space.
David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law. His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.
August 7th, 2016
Whilst digesting David Cameron’s ‘Honours for Buddies, Samantha’s seamstress, Downing Street loo cleaner and the cat’ list, I was put in mind of the aphorism: “When everybody is somebody, then nobody is anybody.” Besides being a list that has been very badly handled, I wonder if we have reached the stage when these ‘freebees’ should be abolished altogether. Whatever else, it does Cameron and his legacy no good at all, and sadly, he risks being remembered for all the wrong reasons.
This ‘honours’ circus has been around for as long as time itself, with the favoured few being ennobled, or knighted, or gonged as the case may be, and almost without exception, on the list because they have been loyal to the ‘divine leader’ in one shape or another. But doesn’t loyalty go with the job? Shouldn’t loyalty be rewarded only if the recipient has gone the extra mile?
In my own profession, those who apply successfully for the award of Queen’s Counsel are required to demonstrate an exceptional ability beyond that of their journeymen colleagues, unless they get themselves elected as Members of Parliament. If they keep their noses brown and their shoes polished, and vote as and when directed by the Whip, Queen’s Counsel is just around the corner regardless of professional ability, and if they wait long enough, a knighthood to boot.
I have often wondered why those in my profession need or deserve an honour as they climb the greasy pole to fame and fortune. An appointment to the High Court attracts an automatic knighthood or dameship, and the farther they climb, the greater the honour. Every member of the Supreme Court is a Lord or Lady, and why? Honours and titles don’t make good judges, so why bother?
The same applies to Whitehall Mandarins. It goes without saying that once you reach a certain level in the Civil Service, you are automatically entitled to a knighthood. Why? It’s not that they are badly paid, or the perks are inadequate, on the contrary, they do very well out of the system, not to mention their index linked golden handshakes.
I am reliably informed that the House of Lords (not forgetting the Ladies of course) is now the biggest political debating chamber in the civilised world, with over 850 at the last count, and whilst they do good things from time to time, and hold the Commons to account, this can be done by a fraction of their number. And only a fraction of their number ever turn up. It’s like the Unions of yesteryear, or the Rail Unions of today. They turn up for work, clock on and then bugger off to the pub or the betting shop.
Some say that the right of the outgoing Prime Minister to shower honours on his cronies like confetti at a wedding should be abolished altogether, and I say Amen to that, but only after I have graciously accepted an appropriate honour for myself, befitting my immense contribution to the good of society and, of course, the size of my contributions to the Prime Minister’s political war chest.
If you can’t beat them, join them!
David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law. His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.