Thursday, 20 December 2007

I still haven't found what I'm looking for

While I would still like to see something that allows me to easily cross search Athens resources, I have been using a little Firefox addon for a while which is fantastically useful. Dr. Evil's 'Add to Search Bar' creates a search bar entry for pretty much any website that has a search facility. It works well with sites like BAILII and you can use it with Westlaw as well, but so far I haven't been able to get it to play with LexisNexis. A bit more tweaking perhaps.

Christmas Party Food Safety Warning

Geeklawyer has been busy robustly defending Manchester Council's brave anti-photo policy and quite rightly too. Won't somebody please think of the children? Now Mrs Publawyer has pointed out a disturbing trend by the CPS to allow youngsters to roam the country hurling party snacks at all and sundry without fear of prosecution. While some will applaud this as a victory for common sense, I can see the darker and more disturbing side. Everyone knows that cocktail sausage assaults are the cannabis of the non-fatal offences ladder. Before you know it they'll be sharpening the corners of doritos and turning them into 3-point throwing stars and bludgeoning the unsuspecting with empty coke bottles with cocktail sticks inserted.

And before my other regular reader points out that this is an old story, I would like to highlight that this story did indeed break in August, but it is only this week that the CPS have decided to discontinue the case and as I only heard about that yesterday evening I have to work with what crumbs I can.

Following on from that revelation was a discussion on youth justice on Radio 4's 'Unreliable Evidence'. Lots of complaints, but not much in the way of workable solutions. A working party is all very well and good, but any ideas, any at all, for the way forward? Someone (I think he was a magistrate, but I can't get the Listen Again function to work to check it) appeared at one point to be just a well-timed Clive Anderson intervention away from advocating all out vigilante reprisals as the way to cure the defects in the youth justice system. Marvellous. Some mention was also made of the tendency of the police to arrest and charge youngsters even in trivial cases due to their targets etc, but why do the CPS make the decision to prosecute anyway?

Saturday, 1 December 2007

"It’s a free country, i'n'it?”

Excellent stuff from Baroness Hale (at 112) as the House of Lords slapped down the Countryside Alliance's latest challenge against anti-hunting legislation this week. Head of Legal has some more serious analysis, but I want to know if the Lords will be completely embracing this kind of approach and soon be texting their speeches in. Presumably this fella would completely flip out at such a development. Assuming of course that he hasn't already.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


D'oh! Perhaps Sir Ian Blair's resignation letter has got lost in the same way. Just don't judge him on one letter ok? Equally don't judge HMRC on one lost CD ... there was two? Morons, why didn't they just use a DVD?

Anyway, if HMRC can rustle up the cash they can get the disks back through eBay and everybody can stop frantically giving their kids new birthdays so that they can change their PINs to something they can still remember - "Chantelle, CHANTELLE! Mummy can't remember when your new birthday is, go and get another new PIN from the bank and we'll get you another birthday. Hmm, how many months are there in a year anyway?"

More seriously, the whole sorry scenario is more proof, if it were needed, that big government and secure, efficient, value-for-money IT project management do not go hand in hand. Remember kids, aggravated damages are available for misuse of private information, I think we can slap something together.

More on this from Charon QC, Geeklawyer and IMPACT.

Update: eBay have pulled the listing, doubtless after HMRC turned up at their door thinking they had the CDs, but there is a copy at The Register. Of the eBay listing, not the CDs, that would be just plain crazy. And in order to improve my posting average I reserve the right to branch off into restaurant reviews.
The NAO link in my comment below should be
Sorry bout dat.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Play nicely now

The Guardian this week reported the case of several blogging critics of Sheffield Wednesday being unmasked. The judgment is up on BAILII.

Elsewhere apparently "claims of patent infringement are rife" within open source.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Athens toolbar - not quite there yet

The Athens toolbar has been around for quite a while now - the most recent version is almost one year old. It's a good idea in principle, but missing a few key features that could make it a vital addon.

When not logged into Athens the toolbar has only one option, which is to take you straight to the MyAthens login screen. Once logged in you have a drop down list of all your Athens resources, a log out button and a few account management options. Ok, these are relatively useful, but not really anything that couldn't be achieved with and some judicious tagging. Far better are the features that it doesn't have yet. Add in an easy way to switch between Athens accounts for those us of us with more than one that cover different areas and it's instantly more useful. How about a search box? I realise cross searching might still be a step too far, but a search engine box like Firefox's standard one which allows you to specify Westlaw or LexisNexis would save me literally seconds every day. Over the course of a year the savings could be as much as a couple of minutes. Until then I fear the toolbar might be taking up too much screen real estate to justify its existence.

Monday, 24 September 2007

More letters after your name than in it

They're all at it. The College of Law was granted the power to award degrees last year and has now awarded 599 LLB degrees to students who have completed their GDL and BVC or LPC courses. The Inns of Court School of Law allows BVC students to gain an LLM (in Professional Legal Skills) by completing a 15,000-20,000 word dissertation. Now BPP has also gained degree awarding powers. I understand that they will be offering LLB degrees to GDL students and will provide an option for BVC/LPC students to upgrade to an LLM by completing a couple of extra courses. The big question is what value will these qualifications have to the outside world?

Friday, 14 September 2007

This has made me think...

(You know, it's got me thinking)*. Yes, although it has been rather quiet round here lately (leading to a public rebuke), a number of interesting issues have arisen which have led me off of some tangential thoughts. One subject that has exercised me lately has been that of retribution and rehabilitation. The case of Chindamo started me off on this path. I appreciate that the world has moved on since then, but I must plead the defence of being exceptionally busy as I have started a new job and a new course at the same time, leading to me being quite behind the times at the moment. The issue of retribution and rehabilitation is central to why and to what extent we punish criminals for their crimes. Once they have served their time then the retributive component of that punishment must be over. This is why I have no issue with Learco Chindamo's right to stay in the UK upon his future release from prison. The argument could be made that the sentence itself is too short, but that is an entirely different issue. For what it's worth I think that the length of sentence is appropriate given his age, but it is an argument that I could entertain. What I cannot see is what the purpose of expelling him would be, when he is to all intents and purposes a UK national.

One of the most fascinating aspects of studying and working with the law is how it makes you think, challenges your preconceptions and then forces you to acknowledge that you may have been wrong. It's probably true to say that at certain levels the academic study of many subjects does this too, but what I have noticed with law is particularly how my own internal inconsistencies of argument are challenged. This leads me back to Chindamo. I have few difficulties in accepting that upon his release he should be allowed to try and build as normal a life as any other murderer. However, my initial reaction when I first heard that Lee Hughes was to be signed by Oldham Athletic FC was an outbreak of moral outrage. Hughes was a moderately succesful forward (0 goals in 23 Premier League games) whose chairman used to reward his goal scoring feats with gifts of fast cars. This proved to be a particularly bad idea when his Mercedes CL500 was involved in a crash which killed a passenger in another vehicle instantly. Another passenger died over a year later. Hughes went on the run for a day. Publawyer will wisely avoid to suggest that this would allow the Jack Daniels in his bloodstream to dissipate. During his incarceration he somewhat inevitably found religion and is now a 'changed man'. While I feel that the sentence (six years) is atrociously light I also have to accept that I cannot square my gut feelings on this with my thoughts on Chindamo. Unlike Oldham's chairman Simon Blitz I cannot cowardly refuse to pass moral judgement, but I can admit that once his sentence is complete perhaps Hughes does have the right to resume his career. I sometimes naively cling to the ideal the professional sportsmen should act as role models, but they are, at least from one perspective, all businessmen. Of course the other perspective is that football clubs are all institutions with their roots in the local community and should bear this in mind rather than scrambling mindlessly to reach the soul sapping money of the advertisers. Once they lose interest clubs are going to realise that all they have left is the fans.

Hughes has so far only played one game for Oldham, playing all 90 minutes of a 4-1 defeat to Hartlepool. Perhaps his punishment is still ongoing.

There are a couple of interesting current American cases to contrast these with. One is Michael Vick who is unlikely to play professional American Football again after his guilty plea to dog fighting and gambling charges (although note that the NFL's main objection is to the gambling not the animal cruelty), the other is the case of Scott McCausland. McCausland was convicted of piracy and upon his release from prison is only allowed to use a computer with monitoring software installed forcing him to use Windows. Cruel and unusual, anyone?

*10 indie prestige points to the first person to identify this line. Don't just google it, you're only cheating yourselves. Anyway if you do cheat how do you sleep? How do you last the night and keep the dogs at bay?

HR Update

I missed this when it first came out, but courtesy of the Consilio updater here is the latest Joint Committee on Human Rights report. It is 107 pages long so might be one for a lengthy train journey, but the topic (Older People in Healthcare) is vitally important and one of the areas where Human Rights legislation can potentially make a great difference, but which are traditionally ignored in the media hysteria about KFC for perps and convicts getting released when they've finished their sentences.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Spot the Difference

If you've written for the "popular" press in the last week try this little exercise. See if you can spot the difference between this and this. Then try applying your new found knowledge to the Chindamo judgment.

Then you might like to try:
The Chindamo case

Human Rights - once more with feeling
Learco Chindamo and the law

Finally, you might be surprised to discover that it is possible to write a reasonably balanced and (shock horror!) accurate report. Try The Guardian and The Times.

This exercise is available free of charge, even if you are a lowly Secretary of State for Justice or a humble Leader of the Opposition. Not too hard was it?

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Nu Looks

Ok, I try to keep the non-law postings brief and to an absolute minimum, so all I've got to say is that I'm in the process of messing around with the site look. Let me know if I hit upon anything you really like or really despise. I check any changes with FF, IE and mobile Opera, but do let me know if it seems to be broken in any browser/OS combination.

If you subscribed to the feed a long time ago it might be worth changing to the feedburner one, it doesn't seem to randomly claim to have a whole load of new postings all the time.

Incidentally, is it just me or are Blogger templates a total pain to try and change? Would I be better off switching to Wordpress? On the subject of templates if you use Google Analytics and then change your template, don't forget to add the tracking code back in again otherwise you end up why absolutely nobody has visited for two weeks, which is what happened to ... err ... somebody I know (puts hands in pockets, walks away whistling).

Friday, 10 August 2007

Pupillage and Postgraduate Qualifications

Slightly off topic for this august web journal, but I have been thinking quite a bit about this post on Simon Myerson's excellent blog. Simon suggests that a Masters degree is generally not much use in gaining a pupillage. Barrister-2-b has also asked whether a Masters degree can boost the chances of getting pupillage. As the last few pupils I have spoken to have all had some sort of postgraduate qualification it seemed to me that this must confer some sort of an advantage, but the opinions of those in the know was mixed.

In the spirit of statistical adventure I donned my favourite anorak and gathered information from 50 sets in the South East, mainly in London, chosen on a random basis (although it seems to be slightly skewed towards Chancery sets and away from Criminal) from the latest Chambers Student Guide, on tenants that they have taken on in the last five years. This has not been done with any degree of scientific rigour so don't be surprised if it seems like cold fusion if you try and recreate these results. I have tried to exclude the Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin 'fake' MAs, although it is possible that some have slipped through. It is equally possible that some qualifications have been under reported on the web. A few websites have not been updated for the most recent batches of tenants, so the information used is for just three or four years. What I haven't been able to do is analyse the type of postgrad qualification in too much detail as many websites don't list these, but merely describe them. So, if for instance, someone is described as having "a Masters from UCL" I can't tell if that is an LLM or an MA in Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, so I have simply recorded it as a postgrad level qualification. The websites of the 50 sets yielded information on a total of 350 barristers. At an average of about 600 new tenants a year, this represents around 11-12% of the total number taken on during this time. Perhaps most importantly, this data is for pupils who were offered tenancy - it does not tell us anything about those who got pupillage, but weren't good (or lucky) enough to continue past a year.

Out of these 350, seven had moved over after practising as a solicitor. I have included them in the pie charts, but left them out of the percentage comparison chart at the bottom. Note how the purple (or the blackcurrant in the pie) which represents those with postgraduate qualifications increases as the value of the pupillage award offered increases and the yellow (or custard) decreases correspondingly. At Chambers offering over £20,000 for a pupillage over half of the recent tenants have a postgraduate qualification.

There is definitely a correlation of sorts in this last graph. I think the slight reversal at £45k could possibly be attributed to the relatively small sample size for that level of pupillage award.

Although as I mentioned above I have not been able to dig into the level of postgraduate qualifications in any great detail, amongst all these qualifications there are:
31 BCLs
40 LLMs
42 MAs
12 MPhils
14 PhDs

What does this mean in terms of the usefulness of a postgraduate qualification in gaining pupillage? It's difficult to be too certain as it's very possible that some of these qualifications have been gained after securing pupillage or even after securing tenancy. None the less, the more that chambers pays its pupils, the greater the likelihood that they will have an extra qualification. As an anecdotal observation, but not one that I recorded data for, it seemed to me going through the websites that at these 'top-end' chambers it was only Oxbridge graduates that were taken on without any postgraduate level qualifications. There are, of course, many non-sinister explanations for this, so I'm not going to jump to the obvious old boys network conclusion.

I'm sure this data needs far more analysis to build an accurate picture, but I hope this adds something to the debate. What I am acutely aware that it does not do, nor do I make any claim that it does, is show causation. The whole thing may also seem blindingly obvious to some, but I think pretty graphs are always good.

Update (1): See Simon Myerson's new post on this topic here.

Update (2): Simon requested a further breakdown of the courses and the institutions offering them. I have gathered information on a further 19 sets bringing us to a grand total of 500 barristers. These extra 150 reflect the general picture given above, but they also offer up a few more examples of different qualifications, so that I now have information on qualifications from 42 different institutions, as follows:
54 Oxford
40 Cambridge
14 KCL
11 Harvard
7 London
6 City
4 Toronto
3 Columbia
3 Pennsylvania
2 College of Europe
2 EUI, Florence
2 McGill
2 Paris

There were a further 26 institutions which only had one representative, such as Birmingham, Bristol, Chicago, Courtauld Institute, Duke Law School, Essex, Georgetown, Konstanz, Middlesex, Newcastle, Nottingham, Open, Belfast, Coventry, Sheffield, Siena, Sorbonne, Virginia, Westminster and Yale.

Among the level of qualifications that I could obtain information on are:
65 LLMs
46 MAs
41 BCLs
20 MPhils
13 PhDs
5 DPhils
5 Diplomas
3 MScs
2 MSts
1 MJur

Among these were the following varied specialisations:
DPhils: Public and Regulatory Law; Modern History; Ancient History; Philosophy
LLMs: Commercial and Corporate Law; Comparative, European and Public Law; Human Rights; Criminal and Public Law; EC Law; French and European Law; International Trade Law; Employment Law; Comparative European and International Legal Studies
MPhils: Medieval History; Political Thought and Intellectual History; International Relations; Historical Studies; Politics; Economics; English Literature; International Development; Philosophy; Theology
MAs: Modern History; Communication Policy Studies; International Economic and Stragetic Studies; Irish Politics; Medical Law and Ethics; 20th C Literature; Irish Politics; Law; Comparative Legal and Constitutional Theory; Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies; Crime, Human Rights and the International Community; Disability Studies; Ethics; Administrative Law; Privacy in English Law; Architectural History; Labour Law; Legal and Political Philosophy
PhDs: Development Education; International Criminal Law; Neuroscience; Urban Consumer Space; Damages and Human Rights; Philosophy; Musicology
Diplomas: EC Competition Law; EC Law; International Human Rights

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Judges - they're not all bad

Turns out that when judges aren't making up daft codes, failing to stand down and then coming over all intemperate, getting blackmailed over affairs or smuggling cigarettes and alcohol (way back in the day) they are actually doing an ok job. At least that's what the Annual Report of the Office for Judicial Complaints would have us believe. Dale Simon, Head of the OJC, has been interviewed by The Times about this.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Stockwell II: The Return of the Cover-up

Apparently we're supposed to believe that Ian Blair was totally ignorant about the chaos and misinformation spread by the Met in the aftermath of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station. Either someone's lying or that's a heck of a way to run a police force. Still, hands up who really thought someone would take the blame and get punished? After all it was only Jonathan Foreigner wot got shot.

The full Stockwell Two report is here, a short list of questions and answers is here (
note the instructions for the subs at the top of page 2 - very professional).

Elsewhere in the blogipeligo: Geeklayer ¦ Adrian Monck

Friday, 20 July 2007

Inept and Secretive

Well, if you're going to be inept it's probably best to be secretive about it, isn't it? It seems that certain people haven't been secretive enough and the Constitutional Affairs Committee has blown their cover, while saying that the role of the Attorney General is "not sustainable" in its present form. The full report is due next Thursday, by which time we should also have seen Baroness Scotland's consultation paper on the future of her office. Until then I can only speculate about whether it will call for a better grade of ineptitude, one that is even more secretive and thus better at cover-ups.

Head of Legal has already commented several times on possible reforms of the post of Attorney General, for instance Brown's constitutional package, Pat it is indeed, Goldsmith's injunction against BBC and David Pannick and Attorney General, so I won't add anything else until the consultation paper and report are published next week.

Update: By way of a brief update free from any attempt at analysis, here are the consultation document and report as promised, as well as few other vaguely relevant links.

Consultation Press Release
A Consultation on the role of the Attorney General
Constitutional Role of the Attorney General
Times article
The creation of the Ministry of Justice
Scrutiny of Constitutional Reform

Friday, 6 July 2007

Reflections and Musings on YL v Birmingham

Publawyer has been on his holidays with his lovely wife for a little while, so things have been even quieter here than usual (possibly even reaching tumbleweed levels), but between them Nearly Legal and Head of Legal seem to have covered pretty much all the interesting issues while I've been away. Nearly Legal's extensive Blawg review (I counted a bumper crop of 46 links, including one to this humble effort - Thanks NL!) is particularly worth checking. While I've been away I have been thinking a little bit about the recent YL decision. Head of Legal thinks it's quite correct, but I can't agree with that. This is a very important judgment, so this post should be a little bit more detailed and reasoned than normal, possibly with an eye on these guidelines.

Firstly, a bit of background for anyone new to the whole "public authority" debate. Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 states that “[i]t is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right”, therefore the concept of a “public authority” is crucial to the reach and effectiveness of the Act. “Public authority” has never been adequately defined, but the HRA effectively recognises that there are two different types of public authority – core public authorities and hybrid public authorities, although this terminology is not used in the Act. A core public authority, such as a local authority or the police, must not act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right, unless one of the section 6(2) exemptions applies (which is essentially when other primary legislation conflicts with Convention rights). A hybrid public authority is one which carries out some “functions of a public nature” (s.6(3)(b)), but is exempted for particular acts if they are private (s.6(5)). The meanings given to “functions of a public nature”, and to a lesser extent section 6(5)’s “private acts”, are key to determining the scope of the HRA. These questions have come before the courts several times, such as in Poplar Housing v Donoghue, Heather v Leonard Cheshire Foundation, Hampshire v Beer and Aston Cantlow and now most recently in YL v Birmingham. The 3:2 majority decision in YL is a clear blow to advocates of an expansionist approach to the HRA or one based on increasing its effectiveness rather than limiting its scope. The House of Lords held that a care home, operated by Southern Cross, providing care and accommodation to the elderly, which had been arranged by the local authority under the National Assistance Act 1948, was not carrying out functions of a public nature. While this has obvious implications for anyone in the same position as Ms YL (possibly as many as 300,000 people according to one BBC report), the effects will also be wider than this. While there is still no single definitive test of what makes a function public in nature the judgment must inevitably restrict the number of functions that can be considered to be so.

Whether this is correct can be examined from two perspectives, both of which are contentious, but one of which is probably clearer than the other.


Firstly, is this right as a matter of public policy? In other words, regardless of the legal correctness of the decision, is this the way things should be? The better view, as a matter of principle, is surely that Southern Cross is carrying out functions of a public nature and section 6(3)(b) therefore applies, although the section 6(5) exemption may still be relevant in certain circumstances. This conclusion is the only one that gives full effect to the HRA and is based on the simple premise that the provision of care and accommodation to the elderly, whether fully or partly funded by a local authority, is a public function. This is the view laid out in the opinions of Lord Bingham at para 19 and Baroness Hale at 61-72. Therefore, even though Southern Cross is operating as a profit making enterprise, residents placed in one of its homes by a local authority are entitled to the protection of the HRA. It has been suggested that protection for residents like Ms YL is best entrusted to a contractual approach, but this does not give an adequate level of protection for some of the most vulnerable members of society (see Paul Craig, ‘Contracting Out, the Human Rights Act and the Scope of Judicial Review’, Law Quarterly Review, 2002 and Catherine M Donnelly, ‘Leonard Cheshire Again and Beyond: Private Contractors, Contract and S.6(3)(B) of the Human Rights Act’, Public Law, 2005). As a matter of policy this expansionist approach to “public functions” is that preferred by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and seemingly the DCA. It also surely reflects Parliaments intentions in passing the Act in 1998.


Even if we accept that in a perfect world the public good and public policy are best served by Southern Cross being viewed as carrying out functions of a public nature, the second question to be asked of the YL judgment is whether it is correct as a matter of law. As the HRA did not define “functions of a public nature” the courts are effectively being asked to decide what can be considered to be public on a function by function basis, as recognised by Lord Nicholls at para 12 of Aston Cantlow and Lord Bingham at para 5 of YL. Lord Neuberger acknowledges at para 128 that the test applied in any individual case will be constructed to justify a policy based decision. The majority have clearly reached a view on the policy and they don't agree with me. Be that as it may, have they reached the legal decision within the loose framework that the legislation and previous decisions have defined? On the face of it the judgments appear to acknowledge the criticisms of earlier decisions which concentrated too much on the nature of the institution in question. Instead they appear to analyse the function concerned. However, on closer inspection the majority appear to have been too influenced by the nature of Southern Cross as an institution, reflecting their opinions on the policy forces behind this issue. So in all three opinions of the majority it is possible to detect a thread running through them which is concerned with Southern Cross as an institution, and a profit-making institution at that. This is most noticeable in Lord Scott's speech at para 26 and Lord Mance's at para 117, but it runs deeper in the majority's thinking than simply those two paragraphs. That is why Lord Neuberger can list seven factors that suggest Southern Cross was performing a public function (para 154) and still discount them all. While he rightly states that none of these factors are on their own sufficient (at least with the HRA as it currently is), he is, with respect, not giving them sufficient weight when considered together. This is how this judgment has effectively raised the bar for other functions. Despite this it is difficult to say, when no prior definition exists, that they have got this completely wrong. As a matter of law it seems that this function could have quite easily been public or private (or perhaps there's a third category - non-public) and it all comes down to the circularities inherent in a policy-driven definition which is supposed to prove that policy.

It is tempting to draw the conclusion that the majority are basically saying that both interpretations may be valid, but because they don't like one of them the legislation should have been more explicit (as an aside here, notice that Lord Bingham praises the draftsman's wisdom at para 5, while Lord Neuberger criticises the drafting at para 130). In defence of the majority here, that is perhaps not a wholly unreasonable stance to take. Prior to the HRA Ms YL would clearly have had no domestic action against either Southern Cross or Birmingham in defence of her Convention rights. The HRA would clearly give her rights against Birmingham if they were accommodating her, but as the position is not clear with regards to Southern Cross then perhaps the pre-HRA position can be viewed as unaltered. Still, this only works if you don't see care and accommodation for the elderly as a public function.


The problem still remains though - how can this be phrased in the HRA or what else can be changed? This of course is only relevant if you accept my proposition that YL runs counter to the prevailing policy. I have already mentioned my support for the Human Rights Act 1998 (Meaning of Public Authority) Bill and I still believe that this would be a useful clarification to support the underlying policy, but it wouldn't actually have helped Ms YL in this case. The minimum requirement on Birmingham CC under the 1948 Act is simply to arrange her accommodation and they haven't contracted out the arrangement, so unless there is to be an incredibly semantic debate about whether "provision" necessarily includes "arrangement" we probably haven't advanced very far, at least in terms of care homes. Some situations were hinted at in passing in YL which this Bill would affect, so I still believe it has its merits. Beyond that, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has looked into this twice before, in the 7th report of 2003/04 and the 9th report of 2006/07. They considered four possible ways forward:
  • Amending legislation
  • A contractual approach
  • Guidance
  • Judicial interpretation
Their preferred solution in 2004 was to allow the interpretation of section 6 to develop in the courts, but that die has been well and truly cast now. This possibility was recognised at para 116 of the 2007 report and the more recent report concluded that new legislation would be necessary. If there is a strong feeling that this particular case is wrong then a simple amendment to the National Assistance Act stating something like "acts carried out in accordance with these sections shall be considered to be functions of a public nature for the purposes of the Human Rights Act". This then causes a knock-on problem in that roughly similar acts which don't have any such statement about them may well be considered not to be public functions precisely because they will be seen to have been excluded and then we're into the problem of having to list every single public function or authority, which is awkward for a concept which Lord Mance rightly regards as not being immutable. This approach has been ruled out by the Joint Committee in terms of listing all public authorities, but they have given some limited support to the possibility of amending specific Acts to state that a particular function is public. My tentative suggestion is a combination of a broader definitional clarification, such as the Chairman's bill, coupled with specific amendments for oddities such as the arrangement of care and accommodation under the National Assistance Act. This may then provide appropriate guidance and framework for the courts to re-examine the concepts and ensure that the original intention of Parliament in 1998 is not frustrated.

Apologies if that wasn't all quite as considered and structured as first promised, it's been a long while in the typing.

There is also a very worthwhile commentary from 1 Crown Office Row here (registration might be needed, I get straight in, but that might be because of cookies).

A few other random links:

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

YL v Birmingham CC

Otherwise known as "what's a public authority?" Not surprisingly, but very disappointingly, the House of Lords has held by 3-2 majority that private care homes are not covered by the Human Rights Act, even when they looking after clients on behalf of a local authority. This was the view of Lords Scott, Mance and Neuberger, Lord Bingham and Baroness Hale dissented.

As the government supported the appeal surely they must now throw their weight behind Andrew Dinsmore's Private Members' Bill. Publawyer will believe it when he sees it.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Power of Information

The Government has recently published a report entitled 'Power of Information' focussing on how they can "empower individuals and communities to create solutions to improve their lives and make informed decisions" through technology, especially the internet (which is apparently spherical).

All well and good, but do we really want to see politicians on Facebook? It's just for bandying insults about really. Which on reflection makes it perfect for PMQs.

Binarylaw has also picked up on this report.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Shine a little light

Ages ago I happened upon this article on Wired about, a new(ish) development in mashups which aims to highlight links between campaign contributions and the votes that legislators cast once they have been elected. Maplight started out covering the California Legislature and promised in the Wired article to expand and track Congress too. This has now been implemented and my brilliantly planned tardiness can now be seen as a cunning strategy to wait until this project had reached its second stage before posting about it (ahem).

Digging into the data suggests some intriguing results, but is there really a direct correlation between the amount of money spent and the way in which a vote was cast? If there is, then doesn't an analysis of some of the votes suggest that a better (more targetted) use of funds could have produced a different result? This is obscured by the way in which information relating to a specific campaign can be presented as it suggests that the funds referred to have been donated solely in support of that particular measure. As this is not the case then we need to consider how much influence each donated dollar has across all the campaigns in which it might be relevant.

As a purely random example consider the result of a Californian measure dealing with forestry resources which failed to become law by 36 votes to 33. Supporters of the Bill donated around $105k, while its opponents donated about $267k. This suggests that the trigger value for a Yes vote was much lower. The Bill's supporters donated a total of $18.25k to people who voted against it (including $12k to one individual). At a 'price' of $2,648 per succesful vote this money could be said to be worth six extra votes (and a 39-30 victory). The point is that campaign donations are part of a much more complex web of influences and that generally (absent outright corruption) the value of each dollar in determining how someone votes is variable depending on a whole range of other factors, such as their moral and social incentives and other donations that are competing for their attention on this particular issue. Despite this I'm sure that there are some interesting patterns to be discovered here which can hopefully lead to difficult questions for elected representatives. At a time when access to information about our legislators seems to be going backwards again perhaps Maplight is also a good model of the kind of connected thinking that would be welcome in any new analysis of Parliamentary activity. Of course, this information could very useful not just to scrutinisers of accountability, but also to lobbyists. I think Henry Ford is supposed to have said that he knew that only 10% of his advertising spend was effective, but he had no way of knowing exactly what comprised the ineffective 90%. Ok, this is probably apocryphal, but Maplight's figures suggest that if donations were made with to intent to secure influence then some of them have failed. This project may make it clearer just what was wasted.

Maplight stress that their data only shows correlation, it does not prove causation. For that we have to rely on cartoons.

All of which leaves only one question remaining - how can Web 2.0 track brown envelopes stuffed with used notes?

Neatly tying in with some of the points that I was trying to make about the nefarious range of influences on legislators and politicians in general, Lawrence Lessig has announced that he is going to dedicate the next decade to the issue of the "corruption" of the political process.

Friday, 15 June 2007

New Jury Research

This was actually published on Wednesday, but I've only just got round to looking into it. It is apparently ground-breaking and debunks myths. I'm all in favour of myth debunking, but I prefer to destroy ridiculous chain email urban legends, leaving this sort of laborious and far more worthy stuff to people far better qualified. While the official releases are understandably very positive (MoJ, University of Birmingham) a couple of places have picked it up under headings suggesting ethnic minority defendants get an easier ride from juries, for instance "Juries 'more lenient' to minority defendants" and "Jurors show leniency to ethnic minorities", which distorts the report's findings.

The full report contains several interesting points (and I may discover more if I get the time to read it properly), among which are:

  • "There was some evidence that BME jurors on jury panels appeared to be selected to serve on juries less often than White jurors on jury panels, which may be the result of court clerks inadvertently avoiding reading out juror names that are difficult to pronounce." (p.14)
  • "There was no significant gender imbalance on juries at any of the three courts: 88% of all juries at all three courts had a male to female ratio of 6:6, 7:5 or 8:4." (p.14) Which means that in 12% of cases (1 in 8) there was a gender imbalance of 3:1 or greater. Which, if it makes any difference (and I can't recall any research either way off the top of my head), is pretty significant.
  • There can be quite wide disparities between different jurors, depending on the defendant's race (p.166). However, the report goes on to make the point that it is the final verdict of the whole jury which really matters and their whole point is that any individual biases are evened out by the system.
  • "White jurors at Blackfriars do not demonstrate bias against BME defendants, but instead show a more subtle bias in favour of the White defendant." (p.176)
The final kiss off is particularly revealing as it demonstrates just what they haven't investigated yet - "Research will now be conducted into whether all-white juries show any signs of bias against ethnic minority defendants."

Also, MoJ has been warned that it needs to do more to actually get benefits from IT and indeed "harness the power of IT". While the last bit is a piece of consultant buzzwording par excellence, there is undeniably great scope for improvement. Maybe they can get a supercomputer to crunch numbers for these reports faster.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

A "squalid little bill"

So said Lord McNally as progress of the dreaded FOI amendment appeared to grind to a halt yesterday. Publawyer has been very busy for the last few weeks and neglected his sorry little blog, but he appears to have timed his return to coincide expertly with the latest development in what appears to have become his hobby horse. He also remembers, too late, that he was going to dispense with this whole third person malarkey. Oops. The usual sources are here and here, although The Times can't appear to get David Maclean's name right.

Elsewhere, as everyone probably knows by now, the House of Lords has ruled that the Human Rights Act applies to certain military acts carried out abroad. A "seminal decision" indeed.

I have been updating my links and added several EU law sites. It appears that the EU Constitutional Treaty might be reborn, but the same problems about agreeing a direction will still need to be dealt with.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

"A bad day for Parliament"

As mentioned previously David Maclean's attempts to stifle the flow of information out of Parliament have come before the Commons. Rather sadly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, his Bill has passed and will now go on to the Lords (the one where they vote for things, not the one where it rains).

However, all may not yet be lost as the House of Lords could still come to the rescue, at least in part. Hopefully they might still succeed in shaming some of the MPs who voted for this on Friday. The Times has provided a list of who voted which way, which is easier than scrolling through pages of Hansard (although that method did lead to the headline quote from Mark Fisher). There are a couple of other Times articles here and here.

Just as I was about to click on 'Publish Post' Geeklawyer weighs in. The lesser known Publawyer wishes to respectfully adopt Geeklawyer's submissions and also those on IMPACT, who say exactly what I was trying to say, but better.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

It's not soccer, it's football...

... well it certainly isn't cricket. Football and legal battles have been hitting the headlines a bit recently. Jose Mourinho was arrested this week after he appeared to smuggle his dog out of his house under the noses of the watching police officers. Apparently he claimed he needed to make an urgent phone call, which I can only assume was genuinely to set up a meeting with a man about a dog. Meanwhile, the IPKat reports that Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn have achieved something of a victory. It's probably just as well that every puerile football fan's favourite German forward and Paraguayan defender weren't involved or the puns would be out of control.

The real burning issue of late has surrounded West Ham and Carlos Tevez, the Argentinian international stiker they signed in convoluted circumstances last year. (They also signed Javier Mascherano at the same time in roughly the same way, but this hasn't been the focus of so much recent attention, presumably because he is now at Liverpool and didn't play a part in helping West Ham stay in the Premiership). Amid much furore West Ham eventually admitted to breaching two Premier League rules; B13 ("in all matters and transactions relating to the league, each club shall behave towards each other club and the league with the utmost good faith") and U18 ("No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies or the performance of its teams in league matches or in any (other) competitions.") Having admitted this they were spared a points deduction and hit with a hefty £5.5 million fine. Cue much uproar, which has seen Sheffield United seeking to take the Premier League to arbitration proceedings. As far as I can make out the main complaints with the decision relate to the factors taken into account by the Hearing in the decision not to deduct points. Some of these factors are plainly nonsensical, especially these two:

Four, there has been a delay between the discovery of these breaches and these proceedings. Whilst that delay is due to no party's fault, the consequence is that a points deduction, say in January, whilst unwelcome, would have been somewhat easier to bear than a points deduction today which would have consigned the club to certain relegation.
Six, we have considered the position of the players and the fans. They are in no way to blame for this situation. Of course, if the impact upon players and fans was to be the overriding consideration, there may never be a deduction of points. However, in this case, the fans and the players have been fighting against relegation. They have been doing so from between January and April. They have been so doing against the ever-present threat of a deduction of points. Those efforts and that loyalty would be to no avail were we to now, on what might be termed the eve of the end of the season, to deduct points.
So what? Those are pretty poor reasons for leniency. I think far more relevant is the finding that "had the club in time made disclosure of the third party contracts to the FAPL, then, in all probability, contracts could have been entered into which would not have offended the Rules." Basically, it didn't really make any difference - no harm, no foul. Of course if West Ham have lied about the new arrangements regarding Tevez then it could all kick off again.

As the club with the most to gain at West Ham's expense Sheffield United's response was understandable, if a little lacking in dignity, until the ridiculous 21 team league suggestion. Dave Whelan at Wigan is just getting annoying. Middlesbrough appear to have joined in out of bitterness at the 3 points taken off them years ago. Tottenham are keeping quiet, presumably because of their history of 'buying' points back.

Anyway the full judgment is here, but perhaps they should just take two points off of West Ham and be done with it.

Elsewhere, Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd appears to have agreed to sell Michael Owen to a group of Liverpool supporters for £9 million. He presumably hasn't mentioned this yet to new manager Sam Allardyce, who is now ridiculously the third highest paid manager in the Premiership. I wonder just how much of his £3 million annual salary will be coming indirectly from the BBC, who Allardyce still won't talk to despite not making good on his threat to sue them. Hmm, that kind of attitude will get you the England job.

Finally to round off this bumper and rather rambling post, The Magistrate's Blog has beaten me to another bit of tabloid law coverage.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Protest votes (2)

I obviously don't understand Blogger properly - despite posting this at about 9.50pm on Thursday it has been date stamped as 26th April. I guess this is because I used an old (unpublished) post as a template. Never mind, but by way of a brief update the PVP candidates came ninth out of nine candidates in both Central Hove and Wish wards. Although their candidate in Wish got pretty close to the two Liberal Democrat candidates I don't think that the whole experiment has received much coverage in any of the mainstream media outlets. Publawyer doesn't necessarily think that the whole idea was a good one, but he equally doesn't want to call anyone a 'crank' without thinking about it a little more. It's fair to say (even if it is a sweeping generalisation) that a lot of the electorate feel disconnected from the political process, but this is not making the reconnection.

What would be interesting is to compare the number of spoiled papers in these two wards with all the others. Or if someone was really interested they could look at the overall swings since the last round of elections in these wards to see if they had made any appreciable difference. Maybe for another day.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Vote for sale!

Just a quick link, courtesy of The Register. I will try and put up something about the Protest Vote Party soon. Do people in Thatcham really have no honour?

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Charter of the Forest

Publawyer's Sunday got off to a fairly slow start, but he heard a fascinating programme on Radio 4, 'The Things We Forgot To Remember', on the relationship between the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest. It's a good overview in 30 minutes and Michael Portillo continues to surprise as a very decent presenter. Publawyer enjoyed hearing an array of historians saying the phrase "common people", but can't help but feel that they missed a trick by not getting Jarvis Cocker involved, but nonetheless he was left raring to go. No, really.

As far as I know it isn't included in most statute collections, but there is a translation of the Charter on the St John's College website.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Page 3 Law Reporting

Publawyer promised to try and tackle some of the more misinformed reports of law and from yesterday's London Lite came this gem: "Theme Park's ad for a Fat Controller banned". I can't find the original online, but the Daily Mail version is here. If you actually take the time to read the article, which most of the commenters don't appear to have done, then you discover that the advertisement wasn't 'banned' at all. Instead Drusillas Park simply received legal advice that they might have to interview a thin man if one applied. Now the advert states that candidates "must look and act the part". Hmm, big fat difference. Ok, it's hardly the worst example of law in the press, but the whole manner of it irked me, not least in the way that the advice of an unnamed lawyer (a human resources adviser according to the Telegraph) is in fact the Law, without any effort to back this up with any authorities.

Just a random couple of other accounts here and here.

"Something is happening here, but you don't know what is, do you, Mister Jones?"

Friday, 27 April 2007

Information to become less free?

Publawyer notes from the Guardian that a debate on David Maclean's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill is to be delayed to 18th May. It has been suggested that this a strategic move in order to help pass the Bill. Publawyer will be watching this one with interest - he thinks freedom of information is generally a Good Thing and has yet to be convinced of the merits of this Bill. It remains to be seen whether this delaying tactic will be succesful. Apparently this is an altogether better way of achieving a goal through Machiavellian machinations.

Much more about the Bill (including an interesting briefing paper) here.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Protest votes

As the polling booths prepare to close (and probably will have done so by the time I finish this) I thought it was time to make good on my promise to flag up the Protest Vote Party. They are standing in two wards in the Brighton & Hove City Council elections and promise that if elected they will immediately stand down as a, well, protest against the modern political system. What happens if they do stand down? Well, there will be a by-election, which will apparently be on 14th June. I think it's fair to consider the cost to the public purse of this, especially when one of their main gripes is the waste of public resources. If they win and then stand down and the other parties subsequently submit the same candidates they have promised to stand against that party's leader at the next General Election.

All of this raises some intriguing questions. What happens if they don't stand down? Could it all be a cunning ruse to grab power on the South coast? Is this just a silly stunt, a satire on voter alienation or a convincing protest designed to reengage mainstream political parties with local issues? Only if it really reaches a wide audience can it be said to be the latter otherwise it's just a waste of time. However, it has to be said that some of the behaviour they describe is very poor and has apparently been mirrored in Publawyer's local council. Perhaps a Code of Civility for Councillors is in order. Regardless, I'm all for democratic accountability and if the whole thing does make one or two councillors improve their performance in office then it will have achieved something noteworthy.

My personal favourite of this type of thing is Michael Moore's ficus plant. You could probably also do worse than check out Richard Pryor in 'Brewster's Millions'.

In other news the latest (and probably last) installment in the OK! v Hello! saga was decided yesterday. I'm sure far more qualified commentators than I will have plenty to say about this, but as a self-professed king of the indie boys in his heyday Publawyer was delighted to note the mention of Oasis (twice!) in Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe's speech.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

In which Publawyer introduces himself and wonders whether he should continue to refer to himself in the third person

Firstly, does the world need another blawg? I was initially suspicious of blogs, partly because they just seemed to be a platform for the very most self-opinionated to rant on and on, and partly because the word 'blog' seems so inelegant. It's fair to say that I still am fairly suspicious of most of them, but have found some of the legal blogs, or blawgs, to be very useful and interesting, which led me to consider whether I had anything worthwhile to contribute, rather than just lurking. This was also spurred on by Pupilblogger's retirement announcement. As I had found Pupilblog to be one of the best reads among all the blogs I wanted to even up the balance. Thankfully Pupilblogger appears to be still posting, for the time being at least, but I still think it could be time for me to jump in. Or maybe not, you can be the judge of that.

However, I didn't want to just launch something aimlessly, especially as there is apparently a blog born every half second although on checking this I find that it's actually now slowed down to a new blog about every 0.72 seconds. I want whatever I produce to have some value, so Publawyer was born.

To backtrack slightly, the good blawgs seem to split roughly into two categories (this a huge generalisation, but bear with me). Firstly, there are the 'experience' ones, like Pupilblog and Baby Barista. I doubt that most of my legal experiences will be of much interest to anyone, but I might slip some in along the way. No, I have decided to join the second group, those revolving around a particular area of law. While it has been discussed elsewhere that these tend to attract less interest than the first group that will probably suit me, at least while getting this off the ground. The particular area that I wish to focus on is (broadly) public law - which is half of the reason behind the rather feeble pun in the title. I know that Head of Legal covers much of this area, but hopefully I can approach things from a different angle so that there is room for both in the (ugh) blogosphere.

The other motivation is to address some of the legal issues that people often bring up in pubs (not that I spend too much time in them, you understand, it's purely for research purposes), which should also definitively explain away this blog's title. You know the ones I mean, someone demonstrates that the law is an ass by highlighting an absurdity from that day's Metro and I can only ever think up a decent response on the tube several hours later. Well now there's a space for these responses.

Now Publawyer must away to find an issue to pontificate on, but before that Publawyer wishes to leave you with some bastardised Shakespeare:

"Cry havoc and let slip the blogs of law."