Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR, 23 November 2020

Photo taken near Richmond Park, London, by Max Schofield

Politics

Standards in public life

During a week in which the conduct of government has come under more than usually harsh scrutiny, Lord Evans, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, gave the Hugh Kay Lecture at the Institute of Business Ethics. He began by describing the point of ethical principles, such as the Seven Principles of Public Life defined by Lord Nolan in his 1995 report following the ‘cash-for-questions’ scandal.

Anti-bullying : weak

One of the examples cited by Lord Evans was the failure to publish the report of the Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, “bullied” her senior staff, in breach of the Ministerial Code. The inquiry was instigated after the former permanent secretary of the Home Office, Philip Rutnam, resigned in March 2020 over what he described as a “vicious and orchestrated campaign” against him for challenging the alleged mistreatment of civil servants. Rutman is now pursuing a constructive dismissal claim against the government. Allegations against Patel also included incidents from previous departmental roles.

PPE : procurement, preferment, enrichment?

Another reason for ethical scrutiny of government dealings has been the increasing amount of attention being brought to bear on the way lucrative public contracts for the sourcing and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) mainly for medical use and the care sector, during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. This is something on which investigative reporters at Byline Times, Private Eye and others have been reporting for weeks, if not months, pointing out how the process was not just badly organised but appears to have deliberately favoured people on the basis of their connections with the government or the Conservative Party, rather than their experience or ability. The lack of proper scrutiny is now the subject of a crowdfunded legal action: the Good Law Project is working with the Doctors’ Association UK in bringing legal proceedings to compel the government to hold a public inquiry into the scandal. The GLP is also pursuing or supporting other claims in respect of particular PPE procurement contracts and the appointment of leading roles in pandemic response projects without proper transparency.

  • Awarding bodies should publish basic information on contracts in a reasonable time, in line with guidance to publish within 90 days of award.
  • When procuring directly from suppliers, awarding bodies need to provide clear documentation on how they have considered and managed potential conflicts of interest or bias in the procurement process.
  • The Cabinet Office should review whether requirements for disclosure and management of relevant interests are sufficient in cases where public office-holders hold cross-government responsibilities for awarding contracts or procurement.

Standards Review — 2 little 2 late?

Back to Lord Evans. In September, the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life of which he is chair launched Standards Matter 2 — what it called a “landscape review” of the institutions, processes and structures in place to support high standards of conduct. Announcing the review, Lord Evans said:

  1. Review the evidence as to how well ethical standards are upheld in public life in the UK;
  2. Review the evidence on the strength of the UK’s arrangements for regulating and promoting ethical standards;
  3. Review the adequacy and continuing relevance of the Seven Principles of Public Life;
  4. Identify examples of best practice in the regulation of ethical standards;
  5. Identify examples of best practice in the promotion of cultures that celebrate and encourage high ethical standards.

US Elections

Trumped up claim dismissed

The US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Judge Matthew Brann) has dismissed “with prejudice” a claim by plaintiffs styled as Donald J Trump For President, Inc et al (representing the Trump election campaign) seeking to invalidate millions of ballots and to prevent the certification of the presidential election vote in Pennsylvania in favour of the winner, Joe Biden, and his running mate, Kamala Harris. The dismissal of the claim was at the motion of the defendants, including Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Kathy Boockvar. The Trump claim has effectively been struck out for disclosing no plausible grounds for relief.

International Law

Nazi War Crimes

The Middle Temple blog reminds us that it is 75 years since the Nuremberg Trials, which began on 20 November 1945. Among the defendants in the main trial of 24 political and military leaders of the Nazi Germany regime were

  • Hermann Göring, the second-highest-ranked member of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s designated successor,
  • Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and
  • Albert Speer, Hitler’s favourite architect.

Social media

Equal tweetment

The Lord Chancellor has criticised legal professionals for “vaunting” their political views on Twitter and other social media to “raise their profile and attract work”. He told Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in an evidence session on 18 November 2020 that “they are giving the profession a bad name”. However, some of what he said seemed to be a bit of an own goal. In response to a comment about “derogatory” remarks about lawyers by other members of the cabinet, he said:

Court reporting

Tweeting in court was one of the matters discussed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, in conversation with Ian Murray, executive director Society of Editors, as part of the society’s Virtual Conference for 2020, as reported by the News Media Association.

Courts

Court closures (festive adjournment)

According to this week’s HMCTS weekly operational update, all Crown Courts, magistrates’ courts, County and Family Courts, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Rolls Building, and tribunals will close over the Christmas period, although some emergency courts may operate over the holiday on these days.

  • have installed plexiglass screens into over 300 courtrooms and jury deliberation rooms. Over 250 courtrooms have been assessed as being capable and available to hold jury trials.
  • are installing new Portakabin® buildings to provide temporary rooms for jury assembly and deliberation. They have installed Portakabin® buildings so far at 14 court locations (Birmingham, Bradford, Caernarfon, Grimsby, Guildford, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Northampton, Preston, Swansea, Teesside and Woolwich).

Dates and Deadlines

London Legal Giving Week

A message from the Lord Mayor of London and the Lord Chief Justice about how you can support access to justice as part of London Legal Giving Week:

Neurodiversity in Law: Coffee Talk Series

28th November, 19th December 2020

Family Justice Council Forum

Monday 14 December 2020 — 5.30pm to 7.30pm by MS Teams

And finally…

Tweet of the week

features some fake law felons —

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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.