Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR, 8 November 2021
This week’s roundup of legal news and commentary includes a pong from Parliament, too much hot air in Glasgow, a scandal in the post office, a green new prison, and international human rights; plus recent cases and commentary.
The Great Stink
The original Great Stink occurred in 1858 when the stench of sewage and effluent in the River Thames grew so insufferable that sittings in the expensive newly-built Houses of Parliament had to be suspended. According to one report at the time, “With ‘speeches shortened, threatened opposition withdrawn, bills discharged,’ the very business of government was threatened by the stench from the river.” The incident prompted the development of modern sewers. In more recent times, we have yet again had problems with sewage in our rivers, as discussed in debates over the current Environment Bill (covered here); but the great stink of present times is a more metaphorical one: that of corruption in public life.
Last week’s domestic political news was dominated by domestic turmoil over the disciplinary regime for investigating and dealing with breaches of ethics by MPs. One MP, Owen Paterson, had been found by the Committee on Standards in Parliament to have breached the code of conduct by undertaking paid lobbying activities for one company, failed to declare an interest as a paid consultant for another, and used parliamentary facilities for private business, for all of which he was to have been suspended from sittings for 30 days. He, however, denied doing anything wrong, complained that the investigation system was unfair, and all his friends in the government stepped in and tried to change the system before the committee’s ruling could take effect. An amendment proposed by Andrea Leadsom MP was eventually passed, after heated debate, but the plans were boycotted by the opposition parties and therefore unworkable and the next day the government (as it had done with the non-metaphorical sewage in rivers) changed its mind, much to the disgust of those MPs who, holding their noses (metaphorically) had voted along with the plan, having been whipped to do so and threatened with political or career consequences if they didn’t. And you have to remember that these are the people who make the laws for the rest of us to follow.
COP 26 in Glasgow: too much hot air
The other big political story last week was the international fight against the heating up of the world’s atmosphere, at the COP 26 summit in Glasgow, with some gains in combatting methane pollution, less so in relation to carbon dioxide, and agreements to limit deforestation. Negotiations continue inside, while protests have taken place outside.
New Scientist: COP26: 105 countries pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent
Post Office Horizon IT scandal
The official inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, Britain’s biggest miscarriage of justice, begins today at the International Dispute Resolution Centre near St Paul’s Cathedral in London. According to its own website, “This is an independent public statutory Inquiry established to gather a clear account of the implementation and failings of the Horizon IT system at the Post Office over its lifetime”.
You can watch the hearing on livestream via the inquiry website. There is also a new website set up by Nick Wallis to cover the scandal going forward. His old website, Post Office Trial, set up to cover the Bates v Post Office group litigation, will continue to be accessible but is not being updated. Wallis has been covering the scandal for many years and has written a book about it, which will be launched later this month.
The new blog includes a post setting the scene for the opening of the inquiry, and issues of legal professional privilege and disclosure of documents which are likely to frustrate some of the inquiry’s investigations: Post Office Inquiry hearing preview.
The scandal has also been covered extensively in Computer Weekly by Karl Flinders, who last week wrote that Number of subpostmasters appealing convictions reaches 137 at one legal firm
See also the work of the Evidence Based Justice Lab at Exeter University Law School, Post Office Project
Prisons will run out space by 2023 as ‘stressed’ jails fail to keep up with plans to clear court backlog
Prisons will run out space by 2023 as ‘an already stressed prison system’ fails to keep up with government plans to clear the court backlog, according to Jon Robins on The Justice Gap. The Prison Governors’ Association (PGA) has written to the new Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab to express ‘grave concerns for the safety, health and wellbeing of all who live and work in our prisons’.
Older prisons are certainly overcrowded and insalubrious. However, new ones are being built, though perhaps not enough. In the last week the Lord Chancellor, using his more grandiose title of Deputy Prime Minister, has made two announcements about new prisons but, just as Chancellors of the Exchequer like to announce the same money more than once, they turn out to be about the same prison.
The first makes the topical (for COP) claim that the new prison will be “the greenest ever as the government moves towards operating as net zero in the future”. The announcement continues:
“The new prison at Glen Parva, Leicestershire, will play a crucial role in cutting crime by training up to 500 prisoners at a time in the skills of the future such as coding, recycling and waste management to help them find a job on release in new and emerging technologies and dramatically reduce their chances of reoffending.”
The second announcement, Deputy Prime Minister attends topping out ceremony for new prison at Glen Parva, was the text of the Lord Chancellor’s speech. He states that
“The government has earmarked £3.8 billion to build six state of the art prisons and expand other sites across the country, so that we can protect the public from dangerous criminals and cut crime.
The huge investment will create up to 18,000 additional prison places and up to 2,000 temporary ones, which will give us more flexibility as our tougher sentencing rules come into force and we make progress working through the court backlogs.”
The promise to have “earmarked” money sounds, it has to be said, a little bit vague. Can money be un-earmarked, if suddenly needed for something temporarily considered more important, like new wallpaper for the spare room or a Royal Yacht or something? Just how non-fungible is earmarked cash? I think we need to know.
Meanwhile, the new prison is said to have capacity for 1700 places, which leaves “up to” 16,300 additional prison places to be provided for out of the earmarked money.
International Human Rights
The situation in Afghanistan
“In Afghanistan, young babies are now starving to death. Those parents who fear this fate are selling off their children to survive themselves. More than half of Afghanistan’s 39 million people do not have enough to eat and are ‘marching to starvation,’ in the haunting words of the World Food Program. By next year, the United Nations warns, 95 percent of the country could be plunged into poverty.”
So reports Saad Mohseni on Politico. We covered the situation for women judges and activists in lasts week’s roundup, but the situation is dire for many others in Afghanistan, as this report suggests. The world’s agenda appears to have moved on, with COP 26 in Glasgow being the latest distraction. But if governments have short attention spans, there’s no reason for the rest of us not to maintain our attention. The same goes for other problems.
Lest we forget, as the government appears to have done
For more on this, see The Guardian: Richard Ratcliffe on hunger strike: ‘There’s no plan to get Nazanin out’.
Ratcliffe is seeking to prompt intervention by the UK government, which has been curiously supine since Boris Johnson, who was Foreign Secretary at the time of Nazanin’s arrest, became prime minister. Ratcliffe
“… will continue until there is acknowledgment that ministers need to act fast to spare his wife, the British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from another year in a Tehran prison after completing a five-year sentence on the spying charges she has always denied.”
Recent case summaries from ICLR
A selection of recently published WLR Daily case summaries from ICLR.4:
ADMIRALTY — Dock owners — Limitation of liability: Holyhead Marina Ltd v Farrer, 03 Nov 2021  EWCA Civ 1585;  WLR(D) 554, CA
CRIME — Abuse of process — Jurisdiction: Mansfield v Director of Public Prosecutions, 03 Nov 2021  EWHC 2938 (Admin);  WLR(D) 555, DC
DATA PROTECTION — Personal data — Access to: R (Open Rights Group) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Liberty intervening), 29 Oct 2021  EWCA Civ 1573;  WLR(D) 548, CA
MARRIAGE— Financial provision — Final order: BT v CU, 01 Nov 2021  EWFC 87;  WLR(D) 557, Fam Ct
PRACTICE — Disclosure — Third party: Various Airfinance Leasing Cos v Saudi Arabian Airlines Corpn (International Air Finance Corpn, third party), 01 Nov 2021  EWHC 2904 (Comm);  WLR(D) 553, QBD
TRIBUNAL — Upper Tribunal — Jurisdiction: AB v Disclosure and Barring Service, 01 Nov 2021  EWCA Civ 1575;  WLR(D) 552, CA
Other recent publications
Why Policy U-Turns are a Good Thing — but also can be a Very Bad Thing
David Allen Green via his Law and Policy Blog comments on the large number of u-turns performed by the present government, and considers the political implications and what it says about the quality of the government’s policy-making and decision-making generally.
The micro-politics of email
Lucy Reed via her Pink Tape blog reflects on the implications of sending or not sending emails at particular times and the implications for professional wellbeing. “Late night emails from opponents are annoying, and we all hate bombshells dropped before a hearing — but if I’m going to receive one, I’d rather have a late night bombshell than an 8am bombshell.”
The ICO’s Draft Data Protection and Journalism Code: A First Look,
David Erdos, writing for Inforrm in two parts, takes a first look at the Information Commissioner’s Office Draft Data Protection and Journalism Code. See Part 1 and Part 2. The Privacy Perspective Blog has also written on the ICO’s consultation for the draft code. (Source: Inforrm’s weekly Law and Media Roundup, 1 November 2021.)
The draft Online Safety Bill concretised
Graham Smith on the Cyberleagle blog considers the implications of the draft Online Safety Bill, based on a hypothetical scenario involving an amateur blogger.
“Whether it is defining the adult (or child) of ordinary sensibilities, mandating proportionate systems and processes, or balancing safety, privacy, and freedom of speech within the law, the draft Bill resolutely eschews specifics. … We have to concretise the draft Bill’s abstractions: test them against a hypothetical scenario and deduce (if we can) what might result.”
UK IPO’s first AI-powered tool for trade mark applications
The IPO is receiving higher quality trade mark applications following the launch of a new service powered by AI. In the year since the IPO’s trade mark pre-apply service was launched, the average number of trade mark applications rejected due to unsuitable Nice classification terms has dropped by 14%, reports the IP Kat blog.
Tweet of the week
is from James Timpson, Chief Executive of the Timpson Group, who has form for hiring ex-cons, and can’t get enough of them.
Incidentally, people have made fun of our sometimes embattled-looking Deputy Prime Minister, but one of his better ideas as Justice Secretary has been the hiring of serving or rehabilitating prisoners to drive lorries when no one else was available.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your tweets and links. Take care now.
This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation.