Saturday, 4 December 2010

Early December collection ... Are juries under threat; Parliament; Assisted Dying; Victims and a naughty Santa Claus

As an interesting but snowbound week draws to a close, here is further news of legal interest.  (Painting "Winter Breakfast" by Joseph Farquharson 1846-1935).

An article by Rachel Rothwell published in The Law Society Gazette argues that trial by jury is under threat from none other than the judges - "Is trial by jury under pressure from judges?"  This follows a speech by Lord Justice Moses to the effect that trial judges should give the jury a list of questions leading them to a verdict.  Moses LJ has the view that too many expensive appeals are based on the judge's direction to the jury.  The full speech by Moses LJ may be read at "Annual Law Reform Lecture - Inner Temple Hall - 23rd November 2010."

Whilst it may not be very "sexy", the important Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill is before Parliament.  Readers may recall that, on 17th May 2010, the coalition government set up an Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).  This Bill will place the office on a statutory basis and define its role.  It will be led by a 3 person Budget Responsibility Committee appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the consent of the Treasury Select Committee.  The Bill goes on to modernise the National Audit Office's "governance."  The post of Comptroller and Auditor-General will continue but holders of the office will be limited to 10 years.

Joshua Rozenberg, writing in The Guardian, looked at the House of Lords debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - see here for the article.   According to the Daily Mail (4th December) the government will introduce a House of Lords reform Bill in the New Year.  The Bill will replace the present House of Lords by a House of some 300 "senators" elected by proportional representation.  This may be some time coming since it seems that the Bill will be discussed by a Joint Committee of the two present Houses before it enters the legislative process proper.  Meanwhile, the creation of further peerages continues - BBC 19th November bringing the membership of the Lords to around 750.

A "Commission on Assisted Dying" has been formed under the leadership of former Lord Chancellor Falconer.  He was the last of the "old style" Lords Chancellor and was, by virtue of the post, Head of the Judiciary; presided over the House of Lords and also a Government Minister.  He opted not to exercise his right to preside over the House of Lords Appellate Committee (now replaced by the Supreme Court of the UK).  The post was reformed by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.   Details of the Commission may be read on the Solicitors Journal website.  This commission is not a government appointed investigation.  It operates under the aegis of the "think tank" organisation Demos.  However, there seems little doubt that any report it produces might be very influential in eventually amending the law.  See the Commission's website which invites interested persons to give evidence.  The final case decided by the House of Lords was R (Purdy) v DPP [2009] UKHL 45 when their Lordships directed the DPP to draw up a policy relating to prosecutions under the Suicide Act 1961 s2(1).

Frequently, the victims of violent crime or the families of victims seem to be given little consideration by the authorities.  A thought-provoking item appeared in the Daily Mail 3rd December about Frances Lawrence, widow of Philip Lawrence who was murdered in 1995 by Learco Chindamo.  Just how much information (if any) should surviving relatives be given about killers who have been released?

Finally, for some light relief see BabyBarista which continues "a worm's eye view of the English Bar" in fine style and a video of a certain Santa Claus behaving badly may be seen at CharonQC but it is strictly adults only and for viewing after the "watershed."  You have been warned !


  1. On assisted dying, you might be interested in the debate on recent legislation proposed for Scotland, introduced by Margo MacDonald MSP, voted down by the Scottish parliament this week. The position up north is complicated by the fact - almost always overlooked in UK coverage - that the Suicide Act 1961 does not apply in Scotland. As a result, "assisting suicide" isn't criminal per se - but any criminalisation falls under the Common Law of homicide.

    Also a very good excuse to say - very much enjoy the blog.

  2. LPW - thank you for your comment. The differences between England/Wales and Scotland always interest me. Often, the Scots Law position seems to me to be somewhat more robust, more straightforward.

    It can be difficult for "outsiders" to understand why there are major differences in areas of law not especially affected by the historical development of the separate legal systems. Retention of DNA samples is an example. The difference struck the European Court of HR in the Marper case. As far as I can see, England has since done as little as possible about the Marper judgment.

  3. I'm conscious that the law has many facets and corners and we tend - fairly and rather unavoidably - to generalise on the basis of out particular interests. No doubt there will be areas of more or less sense, clarity and simplicity respectively.

    Your comment reminded me of a couple of pieces which might be of interest in the light of the Supreme Court's Cadder judgement on devolution, ECHR and Scottish criminal procedure. Interestingly, Scottish practitioners involved criminal matters have been seriously critical of the High Court of Justiciary compared with English and Welsh approaches.

    "Cadderland" from Mike Dailly and this from Maggie Scott QC on the same issue in the Scotsman.