Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR, 14 December 2020

London festive decorations: image by Kate Bevan @Kate Bevan via Twitter

Coronavirus

Vaccine approved

The approval and the commencement of a programme to administer a Covid vaccine will have implications for all aspects of life, including the restrictions on social and commercial life which various iterations of the legally-enforced lockdown have imposed. While the current restrictions seem likely to continue, there is the prospect of future relaxation, which currently give more grounds for optimism than the stalled and stumbling Brexit negotiations.

Legislation

Trade Bill

The House of Lords last week voted to approve a Labour amendment to the Trade Bill that would require performance of human rights risk assessments in proposed trade agreements, as well as enabling revocation of trade agreements with countries that are found by the High Court to have committed genocide. The amendments, numbered 8 and 9, were introduced during the report stage in the Lords.

UK Internal Markets Bill

The House of Commons voted last week to reinsert controversial clauses in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill which would enable the government to break international law (in a limited and specific way) by allowing ministers to unilaterally override the Northern Ireland protocol agreed with Brussels as part of last year’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. However, as reported on Politico, the government later conceded that it would be prepared to remove the controversial clauses in domestic legislation which would breach international law if the U.K. and the EU can agree solutions that render them unnecessary. The UKIM is currently in “ping-pong” (or as the Prime Minister once called it, whiff-whaff).

Crime

Postal injustice

Following referrals by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, six former subpostmasters have had their convictions quashed, in the latest development in the long-running Post Office Horizon IT scandal. In essence, this is about sub-postmasters being held liable for discrepancies over which they had no control in an accounting system that turned out to have been seriously flawed and who were prosecuted on the assumption that it was they, and not the flawed IT system, that was to blame. Many were pressurised into admitting loss or fault and a large number were also convicted for offences based on the system’s faulty accounting. Now that the system’s failings have been revealed, these convictions are being overturned. There was also a massive civil damages claim.

Judiciary

Judgment writing

In a recent article for Prospect magazine’s new legal report, Sir Robin Jacobs, former Lord Justice of Appeal, comments on the writing of judgments, which he says are often far too long. He explains that

Kindness in clarity

One judge who has been praised for their judgment recently is Miss Recorder Henley in the Family Court at Newcastle upon Tyne, who not only allowed the two children in the case to choose their own “judgment names” for the purposes of publication, but addressed the judgment to them in the form of a letter: see Robin-Simmers and Adrien (Children : Care Order) [2020] EWFC B52. She begins:

Courts

Wellbeing at the family bar

Although last month’s COVID-19: Overview of HMCTS for Civil and Family Courts and Tribunals stated that “There are currently no plans to introduce COVID [ie extended] Operating Hours in the family courts”, Lucy Reed in a recent post on her Pink Tape blog says it is happening anyway, simply by virtue of extended listing and the endless pressure to make an overworked system continue to work:

Media law

Law in the media

Joshua Rozenberg, himself an eminent legal journalist, notably with the BBC, notes in his latest newsletter that The Guardian is to lose its well respected legal correspondent, Owen Bowcott, who is taking voluntary redundancy. This comes hard on the heels of the departure of Clive Coleman from the BBC, says Rozenberg, who now writes mainly as an independent commentator, via his A Lawyer Writes blog, though he still presents the BBC’s Law in Action on Radio 4. He points out that when Frances Gibb retired from The Times last year she was succeeded by Jonathan Ames. He and Kate Beioley of the Financial Times are now “the only full-time legal journalists employed by London-based news organisations”.

Legal Information

AI + BAILII

Researchers at the University of Oxford can now use artificial intelligence (AI) to explore judicial cases across England and Wales, thanks to an historic agreement with the British and Irish Legal Information Institute. An announcement from BAILII states that they have granted the Unlocking the Potential of AI for English Law (‘AI for Law’) research team bulk access to their entire dataset of judicial decisions for research purposes.

Dates and Deadlines

Term dates

The Michaelmas Term ends on 21 December 2020. There will be a short vacation over the holiday and New Year period, before term resumes again, with the start of the Hilary Term on Monday 11 January. This post may well be the last roundup of this year, but we may still do some other posts on the ICLR blog. It only remains for us to wish everyone a very pleasant and relaxing break from work, in the bleak midwinter, and a reminder to stay safe and protect your bubbles.

And finally…

Tweet of the week

is a proud moment from Rocket, one of the women responsible for the award-winning Birds Eye Podcast, reflecting the life of women in Darwin Correctional Centre in Northern Territory, Australia.

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The ICLR

The ICLR publishes The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and other specialist titles. Set up by members of the judiciary and legal profession in 1865.