OUT OF HER DEPTH

For those of us who heard Alison Saunders on the Today programme the other morning, the first and most enduring reaction was that she had been promoted above her pay grade and certainly above her intelligence.

For those who don’t know, and who care even less, Ms. Saunders is the current Director of Public Prosecutions, and amongst her many responsibilities, she is in charge of the Clown Prosecution Service.  She is also in charge of ordering the office tea bags, but that’s another story.

Ms. Saunders is no stranger to controversy.  This time around  it’s rape again, no surprises there, and a handful of well publicised cases where the alleged rapist has been acquitted after the discovery of texts, social media messages and even videos of the actus reus which flatly contradicted the complainants’ evidence.  In passing, I do not know what steps, if any, are being taken against the complainants who told a pack of lies, but historically Ms. Saunders’ riposte has been that to punish perjurers might discourage truthful complainants to come forward.  Make of that what you will!

How times have changed. In the bad old days, or according to Plod, the good old days, their primary duty was to secure a conviction, not quite at all costs, but pretty close.  All this nonsense about helping a defendant to defend himself, possibly to an acquittal, was just that – nonsense!  And in pursuit of justice as Plod saw it, as well as a good pension and a  long service medal, what more could Plod and the Great British Public want?  And  did it matter  if a few innocent sods were swept up in the process, so long as the guilty were convicted?

In those good old days, I remember them well, because I was there, the best evidence was the full and frank confession, peppered with such immortal lines as “it’s a fair cop guv” and “looks like I’ll do porridge this time”.  These full and frank confessions were not recorded, as they are now.  Once the ‘interview’ was over, Plod, there were always two of them to corroborate each other,  would repair to the canteen and write up the 2 hour interview verbatim, and the amazing thing was that Judges and juries swallowed these confessions hook line and sinker!

Every now and again, when I was representing a defendant who had allegedly made a full and frank confession which he denied, after 15 minutes of incisive cross-examination, a model of advocacy even if I say so myself,  I would invite Plod to write down in his pocket book exactly what questions I had asked him and the answers given.  A simple task, you may think, for Plod and his remarkable powers of recall, but no sooner had I made the request, the judge was riding to his rescue by stating, and I kid you not, that this was not a memory test, and my request was refused.  Silly me, I thought that was exactly what it was.

Fast forward to today.  There have been many changes in Plod-led prosecutions, the two most notable are the presence at interview of the defendant’s solicitor to see fair play, and the requirement that all interviews must be tape recorded and a copy given to the defence.  But there remains a grey area as yet to be determined, and that is the extent to which Plod are obliged to disclose any material in their possession which might assist the defence.

I have some sympathy, especially in more complex cases, where the material could run to thousands of pages, and checking through them all would be very time consuming when Plod could be better occupied keeping the streets safe and giving muggers and hooligans a good spanking.

One thing does surprise me.  With the use of these phones almost 24/7, it is not uncommon for an ongoing record of the user’s dreary life to be downloaded for future titillation.  In these cases, surely it would be the defendant’s first port of call to tell his legal team and Plod that the complainant had recorded their steamy encounter and it’s there for all to see.  It shouldn’t be for Plod to second guess.  After all, that’s above their pay grade.

T & D

A brief history lesson for Sadiq Khan and his camp followers.

The United States of America has been our staunchest ally through thick and thin for over one hundred years.  They didn’t have to help us in the First World war, but they did, and when they entered the Second World War, Winston Churchill announced gleefully: “We have won!”  That gives some indication of just how important they were, and still are, on the world stage.

Then came the Marshall Plan.  President Truman committed $150,000,000 to help rebuild the European broken economies.  They didn’t have to do it, but they did.

And finally, NATO was founded in 1949 ostensibly to confront the Russian menace which had blockaded Berlin and occupied a number of central and eastern European countries.  It was the same menace that built the Berlin Wall.  Perilous times indeed.  Once again, America took the lead with troops and armaments and aircraft and money, at times with little thanks, especially from the self-important Charles de Gaulle, the erstwhile President of France, who only had thanks for himself.  As some wag once quipped: “What do you call a Frenchman with a gun?  Answer: an arms salesman.”

Fast forward to 2016, and the inauguration of a complete outsider and self-made billionaire, Donald Trump.  Love him or hate him, he’s been making waves ever since.

Back to Sadiq Khan.  I remind myself that he’s the Mayor of London, so he’s in charge of congestion zones and parking tickets and one way streets.  He is not, however, on the world stage, and thank God, or in his case Allah, for small mercies.  Nevertheless, that has not prevented him from making snide comments about President Trump, which are well outside his remit as a small fish in a large pond, and therefore unwelcome.

More to the point, his puerile interventions have led to justifiable offence being taken and our special relationship with America potentially damaged.  It is not Khan’s place to lecture President Trump on world affairs.  In this regard, I support the heckling of Khan at a recent meeting, and I deplore his factitious riposte.  According to Mark Twain, it is sometimes better to keep quiet and appear stupid than to speak out and remove all doubt.

T & C stands for tact and diplomacy, two concepts alien to the Labour Party, from whence Sadiq Khan came.  It is perfectly acceptable for friends to voice differences of opinion behind closed doors, but public criticism is ill advised and counterproductive.

The Americans wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they tend perhaps to be over sensitive when it comes to megaphone diplomacy.  I remember being in the States shortly after Nixon had been sent packing, to be replaced by Gerald Ford, and I repeated the joke doing the rounds that he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.  My American hosts were mortified that a limey was making fun of their president.  That was their right, nobody else’s, so I learned a useful lesson about transatlantic diplomacy.

President Trump may appear an enigma, but he is hugely popular in the States.  He is forthright and speaks his mind.  If, which he denies, he described certain countries around the world as “shithole countries”, perhaps these “shithole countries” might be persuaded to clean up their act, but I’m not holding my breath.  Whatever their nomenclature, we all know who they are, and we should all deplore their abuses of human rights, eating the body parts of their opponents, ruling by Voodoo, plundering the state coffers for their own aggrandisement, and seeking to manipulate the reins of power to perpetuate their misrule indefinitely.

so I have two words of advice for Sadiq Khan: Shut up!

IT’S THAT TIME OF THE YEAR AGAIN

It’s a New Year, with hopes and dreams of good health, wealth and love unconfined.  It’s a lottery how long this feeling of euphoria lasts, but to coin a phrase, better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.

Call me curmudgeonly if you will, but ten minutes’ worth of fireworks on Sydney Harbour bridge, year in, year out, is beginning to lose its magic, and endless renditions of Auld Lang Syne leave me cold.  And besides, the lyrics were penned by a Scot, Rabbie Burns no less, so what’s he doing south of the border? I thought the Scots wanted independence from us almost as much as we do from them, so this nonsense seems like cherry picking.

But I digress.  You will not have failed to notice in every newspaper and periodical the New Year diet plan, each making more extravagant claims than the next about shedding those unwanted pounds with results you can see in seven days. The one that caught my eye was in the glossy supplement of my newspaper, about a chef, known affectionately as Lardo, who lost twelve stone, or half his body mass. Frankly I don’t believe him, but that’s by the by.  I don’t know how long it took him to shift all that blubber, perhaps it doesn’t matter, because according to my calculations, this time next year he’ll be good old Lardo again.

And that’s the problem.  Those who are as fit as a butcher’s dog don’t need to diet, as they have a different metabolism to the rest of us and a different attitude to life.  They read recipes by Gwyneth Paltrow, they eat disgusting green slime, and drink nothing but Peruvian bat’s urine, but are they happy?

My father-in-law had a refreshing attitude to dieting and shifting those few unwanted pounds at the turn of the year.  He would have a bowl of Special K cereal immediately before his full English breakfast.  This would last a full 3 days, after which, job done, he got on with the important business of living life to the full.

I remember the last time I dieted, not of course that I needed to.  I did all the right things, I ticked all the right boxes, and I put myself through living hell.  After seven days, weak from hunger, I dragged myself to the bathroom scales, only to discover to my horror that I’d actually put on three pounds.

The diet sheet hit the pan, where it belonged, I embraced my father-in-law’s diet, and got on with the rest of my life.  My wife tells me that with the wind behind me and a favourable light, I look positively boyish, if only for a fleeting moment.  It’s moments like these that must be treasured.

Everything in moderation is my motto, and mine’s a large one.

PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON

For years, I firmly believed that the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” was based on a nursery rhyme inspired by the likes of J.R. Tolkien or Andy Pandy, but this is far from settled.  There are those who believe that the song is all about drugs, the more so as it was recorded in 1963, just when flower power was beginning to take root.  Let’s face it, if you weren’t shooting or snorting or puffing on something to transport you in a haze to Honahlee, you weren’t living, just taking up space (or so I am told).

I remember the 60’s, I wasn’t in Chicago during the Democratic convention in 1968 but I was just over the border at McGill with many young Americans ready to lend a hand to those chanting “Hell No, we won’t go” in response to conscription and the Vietnam war.

And then there was Woodstock, three days of love and peace and shooting and snorting and puffing and hard rock and roll.  It was 1969, the age of innocence before Richard Nixon came along and spoiled it all.

Drugs have been with us since the dawn of time, and many have been developed for the good of pharmaceutical companies and made available to mankind so long as you can afford them.  But for as long as I can remember, there remain a class of drugs which in this country at least, are prohibited, because the government, advised by little grey men in white coats, have determined that on balance, they are harmful.

But these broad classifications, ‘A’ , ‘B’ and ‘C’, should not be set in stone, as more and more research suggests that some of these drugs have medicinal properties that could, and should be, explored.

Two surprising omissions from classified drugs are cigarettes and alcohol, but as they bring in billions in taxation, the government is fearful of interfering with the status quo.  But the income from sales of these drugs is offset in large measure by serious and fatal diseases, not to mention the cost of treating and caring for these many addicts.

But governments allow themselves the luxury of dual standards, so the classifications remain.

Every now and then, along comes yet another study about classified drugs which shows that some have significant benefits and should therefore be declassified.  The fact that in the past, prohibited drugs, especially Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD, were popularised by so-called experts who bore an uncanny resemblance to Doctor Strangelove, meant that their benefits were overlooked and the drugs cast into the outer darkness.

The latest craze is microdosing, which consists of ingesting tiny amounts of drugs such as LSD to produce subtle changes in cognitive function.  Yeah! Right on man!  There are kits for sale on the dark side of the Net, but results are spotty, rather like the spots in front of your eyes after a dose, but some of the results are encouraging.

I suppose if a drug caused clogging of the arteries, emphysema, shortness of breath, lung cancer and premature death, any responsible government would ban it.  Not so.  And I suppose if a drug caused mental impairment, vomiting, liver damage and loss of control, any responsible government would ban it.  Not so.  Cheers!

The simple answer to this ongoing debate is to declassify all drugs, and those determined to kill themselves should be allowed to do so.

 

PLUS CA CHANGE

It’s that time of the year, looking back in reflective mood, wondering if we could have done things better, and hoping against hope that the New Year will be different for all the right reasons.

In the law, we have seen the appointment of Sir Ian Burnett as the new Lord Chief Justice, and in the  fullness of time, he will no doubt take a barony befitting his status as the most senior judge in the land. I hope he takes as his title one we can all pronounce, unlike his predecessor Baron Thomas of Cwmgiedd.  For those of us whose feet are not planted in the green green grass of Boyoland, it is complete gibberish, and take it from me, I am one of the few Anglo-Saxon interlopers who have appeared in the Court of Appeal sitting in Cardiff, and I was hugely underwhelmed.  I mean, talk about a fish out of water, look you Boyo!

The second big change was the appointment of Baroness Hale as President of the Supreme Court, the first woman ever, so many congratulations.  Her appointment coincides with a  difficult time for the Supreme Court, whose reputation has recently suffered following a number of controversial judgments. One in particular stands out, the Brexit judgment delivered in February after a lively debate about the judiciary and the body politic, and which persuaded me to write a blog about the independence of the judiciary.  You will remember it well.  The Supreme Court got it wrong, and some of the Justices got very defensive when criticised for an error of judgment.

Otherwise, the legal profession bumbles along, with more and more mice chasing the same piece of cheese and very little to show for it except a large overdraft and an increasingly disillusioned client base, and now, perhaps too late for regrets, many of them have read the writing on the wall and wished they’d qualified as a plumber.

Finally, and something completely different, it may not have escaped your notice that we have been celebrating the birth of the Son of God to the accompaniment of Noddy Holder, the frontman of the pop group Slade back in the 70’s, whose hit song “It’s Christmas” is played ad nauseam in every shopping arcade up and down the country.  Notwithstanding, it is a Heaven sent opportunity for the Church of England to sell itself as well as the message of the Angels, but sadly, it comes up woefully short, yet again.

The present incumbent of the See of Canterbury, and the most senior archbishop, is Justin Welby, and by all accounts, he is a monumental disappointment even by his own modest standards.  He is completely irrelevant, and gives no guidance whatsoever to his ‘flock’ on a whole range of ecumenical issues.  He simple wafts around with a rictus grin, says little and does even less, so is it any wonder that our established Church is in free fall.

Don’t get me wrong.  The clergy in my parish work incredibly hard, all year   round, with precious little thanks, and even less temporal reward, but where’s the backup from on high?  No, no, not that on high, I mean the Archbishop and his fellow travellers.  In our diocese, we broke new ground in 2015 with the appointment of a woman bishop, controversial at the best of times, but since her appointment, we have seen neither hide nor hair of her.  Perhaps she is frightened to show her face, but that’s no excuse.  Jesus Christ said: “When two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” Be bold, Madam, or at least be seen!

To survive beyond Noddy Holder, the Church must reinvent itself, not by changing the Christian message, but by changing the way it’s delivered.