This week’s survey of legal news and commentary includes global warming, the general election, terrorism, Brexit and legal services. It’s been a tumultuous fortnight and it isn’t going to get calmer for a while. Welcome to the Trinity law term, which begins on Tuesday 6 June.
Last week, while Weekly Notes was on holiday for the short Whitsun legal vacation, we published a survey of the main proposals in the national parties’ manifestos relating to law and justice.
We reported in Weekly Notes — 15 May 2017, on the CPS’s decision not to pursue criminal charges relating to Conservative Party candidates’ expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign, in respect of evidence provided by 14 police forces. We added that there remained one investigation on which the CPS had not yet reached a decision: the expenses relating to the South Thanet constituency in which the Conservatives defeated UKIP candidate and one-time party leader, Nigel Farage.
Last week the CPS announced that they would now be pursuing criminal charges in respect of that constituency.
“We have concluded there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to authorise charges against three people.
“Craig Mackinlay, 50, Nathan Gray, 28, and Marion Little, 62, have each been charged with offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 4 July 2017.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and it is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”
The Independent, reporting on this development, commented that
‘So tight are the polls that losing even a modest level of support as a result of these developments puts the Tories’ fortunes in even greater jeopardy.’
London Bridge incident
Over the weekend a major terrorist incident prompted calls for a suspension of election campaigning by political parties and even a postponement of the election itself. In the incident, three men in a rented white van ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge before getting out near Borough Market and stabbing victims with knives. The three were shot dead by police within eight minutes of the commencement of the attack, which is impressive, but not before they had killed seven and injured up to another 50. It appeared they were wearing fake bomb vests, perhaps to deter intervention and/or capture. (BBC report here.)
The incident follows less than two weeks after the Manchester attack, in which a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed 22 others and injured 116 others at a pop concert by the American singer Ariana Grande at the Manchester Arena (BBC report here). Indeed, it took place on the very eve of the “One Love” benefit concert for the victims, which Grande herself and a number of other famous performers were due to put on in Manchester on Sunday 4 June.
That concert went ahead. Political campaigning was suspended for a day by all parties except UKIP, whose leader Paul Nuttal said it would be giving in to terrorism not to carry on as normal.
The terror attacks (including earlier ones at Westminster) have prompted a good deal of discussion during the election about cuts in police numbers and funding. In fact a specific warning was given in 2015, following the Paris terror attacks: see Guardian, Police chiefs say cuts will severely affect UK’s ability to fight terrorism. Since Theresa May was Home Secretary at the time, it puts her in an awkward position as she campaigns for re-election as Prime Minister.
There were also concerns about international intelligence sharing and anti-terror cooperation after some American newspapers published details about the Manchester attack which must have been leaked by US officials (see Guardian report here).
One of the aims of terrorism is to generate publicity, as Des Freedman observed in a post on Inforrm’s blog entitled The Terror News Cycle, and by sensationalising each incident the newspapers do the terrorists’ work for them.
Coverage mostly consisted of commentators speculating on motives, along with a series of harrowing eyewitness accounts that helped to amplify the main objectives of terrorism: to create fear and to sow division.
He also discusses how certain commentators use terrorist incidents as a launchpad for their own, often extreme or obnoxious, agendas. (I won’t repeat the names but the ones identified seem very much the usual suspects.) He proposes a less hysterical and more responsible approach to coverage of such events.
It’s hard not to agree. The way foreign newspapers represent our cities as ‘paralysed’ and ‘reeling’ from attacks is often wildly exaggerated, and this should prompt us to take reports covering incidents elsewhere in the world with a pinch of salt too. We’re not the only ones who can ‘keep calm and drink tea as normal’ as we like to think.
Social media hysteria can also be unhelpful. Following the London Bridge attack the Metropolitan Police urged people not to share any images they might have from the attack on social media, but rather to pass it on to them, via the National Police Chiefs Council, to assist in their investigation. (You can do so here.)
Dublin case discontinued
For reasons which he explains in a post on his Waiting for Tax blog (Sometimes you try and you do not succeed), Jolyon Maugham QC has now agreed with others involved in the Dublin Brexit litigation to drop the case in the face of evident lack of appetite by the Irish government to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ).
The problem is partly one of timing — the ultimate decision of the ECJ might not be given until October 2018, by which time the Brexit negotiations might be more or less concluded. Secondly, there is the considerable amount of the likely costs, and the uncertainty of funding to pay for them.
It was right to try; but, says Maugham, the money raised might still be applied in equally constructive ways, perhaps with other Brexit litigation.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to review the role of the Inns of Court in the training of barristers, according to Legal Futures.
The BSB had agreed in March that students should continue to be members of the Inns, and the inns should continue to call them to the Bar. But at a board meeting last week, the BSB said it wanted to review the Inns’ other roles in training, such as approving pupil supervisors and their training, providing training courses for pupils and student discipline.
Late court sittings petition
A petition addressed to the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has been launched on the 38 Degrees platform, urging against the proposed late court sittings which are currently being piloted in courts around the country. The proposal is opposed on a number of grounds, including:
It is unfair and discriminatory for Court staff, Judges, Barristers, Solicitors, and court users, particularly those with children. It will have a detrimental impact on well-being and diversity at the Bar and Judiciary. […] It is impractical and fails to take account of the cab-rank rule, listing practices, and that lawyers need time to prepare their cases and travel to and from court.
The Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) is among the organisations who have expressed their opposition to the idea, in a press release issued last month. As well as the objections about the unequal impact the plans might have on women and families, it points out that late night courts should not be necessary in a properly resourced justice system:
The pilots are unnecessary — the government has closed many courts since 2011. The pilots, it is assumed, are partly initiated to deal with a backlog created by the closure of such courts. Rather than introduce night courts with all the difficulties and potential gender imbalance that causes, the AWS asks the government to re-open the courts it has closed so as to deal with the backlog.
The petition currently has over 4,000 of the 5,000 signatures needed: you can sign it here.
Lord Neuberger slams retirement age of 70
The compulsory retirement age for judges of 70 is illogical and should be scrapped, according to Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, who is due to retire this year. He says the exception to age discrimination law for judges is illogical and results in a huge waste of judicial talent. Furthermore, he says,
the situation is demonstrably illogical as judges who must retire at 70 are able to sit as part-time judges until reaching 75, and people can be jurors until 75.”
He made the remarks in an article for the Times Law Brief Premium, which you have to pay for over an above a subscription to the The Times, but which was flagged up in the (free) daily Brief.
Law (and injustice) from around the world
Trump decision to exit Paris climate change accord
Theresa May and the United Kingdom were noticeably absent from a joint statement on 1 June issued by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris climate accord.
The Italian, German and French leaders expressed their regret at Trump’s decision, and dismissed his suggestion that the global pact could be revised or renegotiated more favourably to suit American businesses, which Trump said would suffer from the “draconian” financial and economic burdens imposed by the deal.
Downing Street defended Theresa May’s reluctance to join in the European statement, pointing out that other G7 nations Japan and Canada had also chosen a different path to express their disappointment. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, accused May of a “dereliction of duty to our country and our planet” for failing to issue a stronger condemnation, according to The Guardian.
Lady Justice statue reinstated
A statute of Lady Justice created by sculptor Mrinal Haque, having been removed at the prompting of religious zealots, has been restored to a more discreet location on the country’s Supreme Court premises, following mass protests by secular groups. The statue depicts the Greek titaness of justice, Themis — said to be the personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law, and custom — holding a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other, while wearing a sari.
Blasphemy offence abolished
Denmark was the only Scandinavian country with a blasphemy law, which called for up to four months in prison upon conviction, although most people were fined instead. Now the country’s lawmakers have repealed the law, introduced in 1683, under which acts like burning religious books and other public insults against religion were outlawed. According to the Guardian (Denmark scraps 334-year-old blasphemy law):
Only a handful of blasphemy trials have taken place in the past 80 years, and several high-profile cases have been dropped, including one involving a caricature of the prophet Muhammad published in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005.
Blasphemy offences remain in force elsewhere: not long ago the broadcaster Stephen Fry was at risk of being roasted over the crime of being rude about religion in Ireland (see Weekly Notes — 8 May 2017).
Assange rape investigation dropped
Following the announcement last month by the Swedish Director of Public Prosecution, Ms Marianne Ny, that their investigation into the alleged rape for which the extradition of Julian Assange had been sought, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement reaffirming that Mr Assange is still wanted for another, albeit much less serious offence, namely that of jumping bail.
“Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following his failure to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012. The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.”
The Met said it would continue to provide “a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence”, adding that
“The priority for the MPS must continue to be arresting those who are currently wanted in the Capital in connection with serious violent or sexual offences for the protection of Londoners.”
Which is a bit like saying, if the Swedes are going to be chill about this, why should we get hot and bothered?
Assange himself, while maintaining his innocent of the Swedish allegations, has made clear that what he is really afraid of is being extradited to the USA, where he is wanted in connection with the leaking and publication on Wikileaks of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents. While tweeting repeatedly about being kept in “detention” in this country, he is in fact a fugitive from justice, who happens to have incarcerated himself voluntarily, and with their consent, at the Ecuadorian embassy.
See: BBC report
Tweet of the Week:
This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content at ICLR, who also tweets as @maggotlaw. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation. Comments welcome on Twitter @TheICLR.