Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Stories of the Day as thoughts turn to Christmas 2011

James Tissot - The Journey of the Magi
The Supreme Court:  Two new justices have been named.  They are the Scottish Judge Lord Reed and Lord Justice Carnwath.  Their appointments are consequent upon the death in June 2011 of Lord Rodger of Earlsferry (who also came from Scotland) and the pending retirement of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood.

2012 will see also see the retirement of Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers who is currently President of the court.  Lord Phillips announced that he would retire, slightly early, at the end of September 2012.

Dr. David Kelly:  In June 2011 the Attorney-General - Dominic Grieve QC - rejected calls for an inquest to be held into the death, in 2003, of scientist Dr David Kelly. A judicial review of this decision has also come out against the holding of an inquest - see BBC.  The Hutton Inquiry  was established to look into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly and Lord Hutton decided
that he had committed suicide.  This has always been controversial.  An inquest was opened but, once the Hutton Inquiry was concluded, the Coroner decided not to resume the inquest.

Kenneth Clarke and his Legal Aid etc. Bill:  Kenneth Clarke has published a defence of his policy of reducing legal aid - see The Guardian 20th December 2011.   Clarke argues that those who oppose his legal aid reform "have fallen prey to a kind of well-intentioned legal paternalism."  If true, that would make almost the entire legal profession and many many others "paternalistic."  Even Lord Tebbitt has entered the fray and is seeking an amendment in relation to legal aid for children's medical cases.  He could hardly be described as paternalistic!   Given the fact that many (perhaps most)  in the population would already not qualify for free civil legal aid, the major concern has always been that access to justice for the most vulnerable in society is being taken away.  Law and Lawyers looked at principal objections to the Bill recently.  The House of Lords has commenced the Committee Stage on this Bill.   For a view about the impact of the Bill see Legal Action Group, and Amnesty.  The Sound Off for Justice campaign continues to seek amendments to the Bill.

The taxman cometh:   ... or perhaps in some cases, he does not !  The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee is incandescent about the so-called "sweetheart deals" being reached between Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and various businesses - see the Telegraph 20th December.

The  Public Accounts Committee report and the remarks by the committee's chair Margaret Hodge MP are available via the Parliament website.   A sum of £25 billion is said to be outstanding in unresolved tax bills and it would appear that HMRC officials have been rather cagey with the committee.  The Guardian 20th December also takes a look at "HMRC and the Tax avoidance industry."  Interestingly, the Guardian is critical of the committee which it sees as being cosy with the tax avoiders and several politicians (past and present) are named as having links to large accounting firms.  (Not that it is suggested that they are tax avoiders: Perish the thought).

Banking:   The government has announced that some reform of banking law will take place.  The Independent Commission on Banking (Vickers Commission) made recommendations (see report) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now made a statement in Parliament about implementation.    A White Paper will be issued in the Spring of 2012 with a view to legislation before the end of the present Parliament (2015) with implementation "as soon as practically possible" thereafter.  Neither the legislation nor implementation are going to be simple matters and there are significant inherent risks.  Furthermore, much may yet depend on economic developments, especially over the next 12 months.  For some analysis of this see Outlaw.com 19th December - "Government will legislate for retail and investment bank ring fencing by 2015, Osborne says."

Parliamentary Privilege:   A draft Parliamentary Privilege Bill is being presented to Parliament - see the statement by the Leader of the House of Commons.  Parliamentary Privilege exists to protect freedom of speech in debate etc.  An attempt to use it to prevent criminal prosecutions relating to MP's expenses was famously rejected by the Supreme Court and a selected few former MPs subsequently had a look at the inside of one of Her Majesty's prisons. 

What the blogs are saying:  UK Human Rights has some case reports.  Their "write ups" on decided cases are always interesting and well written and their latest offerings include two posts relating to conditions for serving prisoners in the UK and the case of Rahmatullah where the Court of Appeal issued a writ of habeas corpus.  (The latter case is also referred to on Law and Lawyers).

A new blog has appeared and is welcome - it is Barristers' Hub.   The blog is produced by 1 Gray's Inn Square.  It looks promising and well worth following.

The Marilyn Stowe blog considers the unmarried couple and what might happen to the house in the event of death.  This excellent blog is beautifully presented and carries items on some serious topics.  The items are well-informed by the considerable legal experience and expertise of the author.  "A new report points to confusion about what happens to the estate of a person who dies intestate, married or unmarried. I know about the injustices that can occur all too well. A few years ago I acted for a very pleasant man in his divorce. He bought a property with his new partner. This is her story."  ... see the blog for the rest ...

The website of Garden Court North Chambers (based in Manchester) is a further excellent example of legal practitioners making law more readily available to the general public.  They periodically publish excellent legal bulletins which are well worth reading.  Today, they bring us the case of Hanif and Khan v UK in which the European Court of Human Rights has held that there was not a fair trial due to the presence of a Police Officer as a member of the jury.  The trial was held in 2007. 

Inforrm's blog covers media law and looks at the case of The Law Society v Kordowski in which the High Court issued an injunction closing down the "Solicitors from Hell" website.

The Supreme Court blog keeps tabs on the happenings at that illustrious establishment and looks at the permission to appeal granted to Julian Assange who is fighting extradition to Sweden.  The key point of law is whether a Swedish Prosecutor can properly be regarded as a Judicial Authority for the purposes of the European Arrest Warrant system.  See also Law and Lawyers 2nd November 2011.

The inimitable CharonQC has a series "Chrimbo with Charon" and looks at "You really do need a turkey", "The Frenchie flag: a study in white" (can't think what he is getting at); "The Square fried egg" and, assuming you are not satisfied with an egg, you can eat a Christmas card.

The Legal Bizzle has a series of quite brilliant Santa Claus letters including No. 5 "The writ before Christmas."

The Michaelmas legal term ends on 23rd December.  Hilary starts on 11th January.  I confess to being somewhat fond of these old, if antiquated, ideas!  The world of blogging will hopefully continue depending on the "state" (alcoholic or otherwise) of the various bloggers.

A bit of the Christmas Story:

The Journey of the Magi - (listen to JS Bach Christmas Oratorio)

The picture of the painting at the top of this post is "The Journey of the Magi" by James Tissot (1894).   A further painting of the same name was by the artist Sassetta (c.1400-50) shown here.  A poem of this name was by T S Eliot who is recorded reading it here and there are many musical compositions with this title.

St Matthew's gospel states - ".. there came wise men from the east" ... to visit the new-born Jesus at Bethlehem but his gospel neither says that there were three of them nor that they were Kings.  Probably, the number three is generally mentioned because the gospel refers to "gold, and frankincense, and myrrh."  "And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."

We three Kings of Orient Are - sung by Ella Fitzgerald back in 1967.

The link between Herod and The Massacre of the Innocents is a matter which, as far as I know, has never been factually proved though we have St Matthew's Gospel's version (Matthew 2: 16-18).  However, this story is the basis of the very haunting Coventry Carol sung here by the choir of Westminster Cathedral.

Christmas is, of course, a time for family and children.  It is also a time when, for many, there is unhappiness as painful memories return of lost love-ones.  As you enjoy the festivities, please spare a thought for those who are less fortunate and do something to make their days a little happier.

I will leave the last thought to the Military Wives Choir singing "Wherever you are" which, in my view at least, deserves to be this year's Christmas No.1.

1 comment:

  1. Some news from last week that relates to my previous comments here about Welsh legal devolution - Wales now has its own Seal:

    Neither the BBC Wales Political Editor nor the Commenters considered where the separation within the UK demonstrated by and symbolised by this Welsh Seal is leading.

    This development at the topmost part of the legal system compares with the erosion of local justice at the bottom that you drew attention to last week.