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BILL OF RIGHTS

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.

 

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FLAMING APPLES

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.

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TARNISHED IMAGE

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.

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UNFIT FOR PURPOSE?

July 23rd, 2016

I remember many years ago, a defence barrister colleague of mine rose to his feet to deliver his final speech to the jury after the midday adjournment. “Members of the Jury,” he began unsteadily, “we’ve reached that stage in the trial when I address you on behalf of the Defendant, the learned judge will then direct you on the law, and you will then reach your verdict.  However, I am far too pissed to give a damn, the learned judge is notoriously ignorant of the law, and you lot look far too stupid to reach anything.”  He was led quietly away. Whilst he may well have been right on all counts, it wasn’t politically correct.

Which brings me effortlessly on to Liz Truss.  In case you  missed the clean up of the Augean Stables, she has replaced Brutus Gove as Secretary of State for Justice, and with it goes the appointment of Lord Chancellor (surely Lady?).  Some reservations have already been expressed about her suitability to fill both appointments.  Those of the backwoodsman mentality have expressed reservations about her sex, by which I assume they are referring to her gender.  The argument goes that she cannot be expected to stand up to crusty geriatric judges, almost all of whom to a man are men.

Pausing there, and I may need your help, am I allowed to refer to men and women as men and women, or is this sexual discrimination?  What happens if some or all of the men and women are actually transgender?  One suggestion I read recently is that they are referred to collectively as ‘zie’ instead of he or she. I could be wrong, but I think this was a serious suggestion, and not tongue in cheek.  Hang on, can I say ‘tongue in cheek’?  Doesn’t this have sexual innuendos? And does this apply to the fragrant Liz, and if so, how so? But at the risk of blundering on, can I describe our Liz as ‘fragrant’?  Doesn’t this typecast her as a woman, or can transgenders be ‘fragrant’ as well?

But there’s more: can I refer to ‘our Liz’ as ‘our Liz’, or is this patronising, the more so coming from a man (me)?  More to the point, am I a man, or am I also transgender?  Enough I say, lest I get dragged to the stocks.

Back to Liz, fragrant or otherwise, there are others who complain that she has no legal training or experience, and she hasn’t.  Those who wish to volunteer should form an orderly queue!  OMG, can I say that?

She is not exactly breaking new ground.  Her two immediate predecessors had no legal training or experience either.  Grayling wasn’t in post long enough to make any sort of an impression, even on himself, or should that be ‘zieself? But Brutus Gove, for all his recent transgressions, was making a fist of it before events overtook him.  He muttered darkly about abolishing the Human Rights Act and having our own Bill of Rights, hugely exciting, but of more relevance was his stated intention of reforming the prison service.  Ms. Truss has promised to continue these reforms, I say ‘continue’ advisedly as no serious reforms have yet to be implemented, but be warned, time is against her.  Our prisons remain seriously overcrowded and, according to the Chief Inspector of Prisons: “Far too many of our prisons have become unacceptably violent and dangerous places.”

As I have said before, treat human beings like animals and they’ll behave like animals.  It’s not good enough to lock them up and throw away the key.  Shorter sentences, education and rehabilitation should be the norm in a civilised society, not the exception.

As for the fragrant Liz, I am all in favour of women in the workplace.  It used to be called the kitchen, but that is positively antediluvian, and there’s a new life, a new dawn, and it’s time to move on. Hang on a minute: isn’t that plagiarism?  Apologies to Nina Simone, or should that be Michelle Obama, or Donald Trump’s present squeeze?  Sadly, I’ve forgotten her name, but whilst English is clearly not her language of first choice, she is very easy on the eye.  Oops, there I go again!

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.

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

July 11th, 2016

Tony Blair, one of the best postwar Conservative Prime Ministers we have ever had, has recently been heavily criticised following the publication of the Chilcot report, which cast some blame on him for going to war in Iraq with the Americans.  Out of the woodwork have crawled all the usual suspects, seeking to distance themselves from their role in the mission, and they do themselves no credit.  I refer in particular to John Prescott and Jeremy Corbyn, two who leave me cold, and with friends like these, who needs enemies?

The Report has taken so long to see the light of day it’s almost meaningless.  It’s almost as meaningless at the Saville Report, which took ten years and cost £100 million, and told us nothing we didn’t already know.  A complete waste of time and public money, and much the same can be said of Chilcot.  All this nonsense about leaving no stone unturned when what we need is a couple of pages highlighting the issues and the conclusions to be drawn.

We in this country seem to have a fetish about long-winded reports on this, that and the other.  As far as I can tell, it’s jobs for the boys, mainly the Civil Service, keen as they are to pass the buck and absolve themselves of any responsibility for anything.

Let’s put the record straight.  Tony Blair joined America in what he believed was a just war to rid the Middle East of a brutal and unpredictable tyrant. He was wrong in his belief that Hussain had weapons of mass destruction, but the end justified the means.  He and President Bush totally miscalculated the peace, as we in the west have done time and again, and in particular, the Americans cling to this naive belief that the world would be a better place if we all chewed gum, wore baseball caps and drank Coca Cola.  As an aside, I have never understood why golfers and tennis players, to name but a few, wear baseball caps when they are clearly not playing baseball.  But I digress.

On a more serious note, on the first July 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, British forces lost 20,000 dead, yes, dead, in one day of complete carnage.  Between March 2003 and May 2011, British forces lost 179 dead.  Whatever else, let’s try and keep a sense of proportion.  Every life lost in battle is a life to be mourned, but in many ways, given the mayhem of sectarian strife in Iraq, it is a minor miracle we didn’t lose more.

The Press and the Media have much to answer for, as they  sensationalise a Report that is totally devoid of sensation.  There may be lessons to learn, but pillorying Tony Blair is not only unfair, it’s unworthy even of the usual suspects.  Though the likes of Prescott and Corbyn may not understand the concept of honour, best to leave them squabbling on the sidelines and let decent people lead from the front.

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