Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR – 15 July 2016
Posted on 18th Jul 2016 in Weekly Notes
This week’s roundup of legal news and events comes from Chicago, where ICLR is attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). Coping with the oversupply of news in recent weeks has not been easy and this week is no exception. We have a reshuffled government, a fragmenting opposition, and the legal fallout of conflicts past and all too present to cover, along with some more specifically legal news to catch up on.
Politics as [un]usual
Straight In at No 10: “The Downing Street Shuffle”
This week we began with one prime minister and ended with another. Having led the field of five contestants for the post which David Cameron had announced, following the EU Referendum result, that he would give up, and having calmly waiting for all the other contestants one by one to fall by the wayside, either from lack of support or manifestions of their own incompetence for the top job, Theresa May quietly and confidently walked into No 10 Downing Street without the tiresome necessity even of canvassing for and winning (as she probably but perhaps not certainly would have done) the popular vote of Tory party members.
Over the next couple of days she reshuffled the cabinet, including most significantly from this blog’s point of view the removal of Michael Gove from the government front bench altogether, to be replaced as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice by the former Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, another non-lawyer, whose previous relevant experience seems to have been serving on the House of Commons Justice Committee chaired by Bob Neill.
According to The Times Law Brief (15 July), Bella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, the campaigning group, called on Truss
to abandon David Cameron’s proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act. It is bitterly opposed by all three devolved administrations and would diminish the hard-won protections of everyone in the United Kingdom.”
The long-pledged British Bill of Rights, whose drafting gestation has become a long-running farce, is not the only poisoned chalice on the new Lord Chancellor’s desk. She must also deal with the implosion of publicly funded litigation and the festering legal aid crisis, and implement the badly needed and long overdue electrification of the court system.
For an assessment of Truss’s suitability for these tasks, see
- The Secret Barrister blog: The new Justice Secretary – does it matter that she’s not a lawyer?
- Legal Voice: From pork markets to prisons
UPDATE: we have just heard, via the Times law Brief (18 July) that Lord Faulks, a justice minister, has resigned from the government, reportedly by reason of Liz Truss’s inexperience and his perception that the Justice ministry has been downgraded thereby. Moreover, he doesn’t think she can stand up to the big brutes in the new cabinet when it comes to fighting for the judiciary and the legal system.
As for Theresa May, her confidence and experience counted in her favour, but although her coronation was greeted with general relief, it was viewed with some dismay by a number of legal commentators, because in her six-year tenure as the Home Secretary she has exhibited a tendency towards illiberal policies, such as in her support for intrusive digital surveillance and her eagerness to deport people. Moreover, although she seemed recently to have recanted on this, she has previously voiced a desire to rid the UK of the shackles of the European Convention on Human Rights, either by downgrading the authority of decisions of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as applied in English courts (a point widely misunderstood in any case, as they are currently only persuasive, not binding) or by the more “nuclear” option of renouncing the Convention itself. More more on this, see:
- Aida Edemariam, in the Guardian: Theresa May is no liberal – and her rise to PM is no cause for celebration
- Andrew Griffin, in the Independent: Theresa May could launch huge attack on privacy and internet surveillance protections as prime minister, campaigners warn
The opposition meanwhile continued to agonise over its own leadership, with threats and counterthreats of resort to legal action to enforce disputed provisions of the party’s own rulebook on the election of its leader. The week ended with Jeremy Corbyn still in the top position, but two rival MPs now seeking support for their bids to replace him, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. See, on this:
- Carl Gardner, on his Head of Legal blog: Can Jeremy Corbyn be kept off Labour’s leadership ballot?
- Daily Telegraph : Jeremy Corbyn threatens to sue his own party
- Guardian: Angela Eagle or Owen Smith? MPs say only one should challenge Corbyn
- John Harris, in the Guardian A fetid cloud of acrimony hangs over Labour – this is the end
Chilcot Report prompts legal claims
The long-awaited report of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry (set up by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009) prompted a lot of commentary as soon as it was published, with some seizing on its conclusions to castigate and condemn the politicians (most obviously Tony Blair, the Prime Minister at the time) who led the UK into the war, and others pointing out that the report appeared too weak and watered down to support the consequences which were expected to follow (including legal action of various types).
This blog hasn’t the resources to cover the report or its fallout in detail, but some of the key articles and blog posts dealing with the legal aspects are listed below for the benefit of readers who would like to explore further. A good many of them are published by The Guardian, which has some good little explainer panels (and seems to have set up quite a Chilcottage Industry out of the Report).
- Read the executive summary of the report (HC 264) here: PDF
- Report in The Guardian covering Tony Blair’s press conference after the report was published: Tony Blair unrepentant as Chilcot gives crushing Iraq war verdict
- Joshua Rozenberg, in the Guardian: The Iraq war inquiry has left the door open for Tony Blair to be prosecuted
- Frances Gibb, in The Times, Legal lessons from Chilcot on going to war
- David Allen Green in his Financial Times blog, Chilcot Report: The government hit the legal case from view (Explains how Blair was able to patch together the dubious legal justification – described by Chilcot as “far from satisfactory” – for a war to which he was already committed)
- Geoffrey Robertson, in the Guardian, Putting Tony Blair in the dock is a fantasy
Hate crime: SG speaks out
The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC, gave a speech to the Public Policy Exchange Symposium on effectively tackling Hate Crime this week. The subject is one which he says has long concerned him.
Hate crime of any kind, directed against any person, community or religion has absolutely no place in our society.
The scenes and behaviour we have been witness to in recent weeks, including the desecration of places of worship and abuse hurled at people just because they are a member of an ethnic minority or because of their nationality or faith, are despicable and shameful.
He noted that the timing of the symposium was “unfortunate” by reason of the referendum result, but I should have thought it was, rather, timely and therefore, if not fortunate, at least fortuitous.
These recent events are shocking, but sadly this is not a new phenomenon. …
As to that recent spike – this Government remains committed to combating the harm caused by far and extreme right wing groups in our society. …
As we change Prime Minister, that commitment will not diminish. The incoming Prime Minister, having worked as the Home Secretary for the last 6 years is particularly well placed to tackle this issue.
Among the solutions discussed at the symposium, the Solicitor General promised extra resourcing to deal with the problems:
We will provide a new fund for protective security measures at potentially vulnerable institutions and also offer additional funding to community organisations so they can tackle hate crime.>>
You can read the speech here.
CPS hate crime report
The Solicitor General’s speech also coincided with the publication by the Crown Prosecution Service of its eighth Hate Crime Report, in which it claims that More hate crimes are being prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service than ever before.
Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions said,
My message is that a hate crime is exactly that – a crime – and will not be ignored. Hate crime creates fear and has a devastating impact on individuals and communities. Nobody should have to go about their day to day life in fear of being attacked.
See also: Daily Telegraph, Prosecutions for hate crimes against disabled people surge by more than 40 per cent in a year
Consumer Prepayments on Retailer Insolvency
The Law Commission has completed its investigation into whether greater protection is needed for consumers who lose deposits or gift vouchers when retailers or other service providers become insolvent.
Its report sets out five recommendations which would improve consumers’ position on insolvency:
- Regulating Christmas and similar savings schemes, which pose a particular risk to vulnerable consumers.
- Introducing a general power for Government to require prepayment protection in sectors which pose a particular risk to consumers.
- Giving consumers more information about obtaining a refund through their debit or credit card issuer.
- Making a limited change to the insolvency hierarchy, to give a preference to the most vulnerable category of prepaying consumers.
- Making changes to the rules on when consumers acquire ownership of goods.
The commission laid its report (LC368) before Parliament on 13 July and awaits the Government’s response. You can read more here.
Female bar discriminated against
A report commissioned by the Bar regulator, the Bar Standards Board, has found that almost 50% of women barristers report having experienced discrimination in connection with their work.
The report, entitled Women at the Bar, was based on an online survey sent to all practising women barristers and completed by over 1,300 of them (about a quarter). It was intended to improve the Bar Standards Board’s knowledge of the implementation and effectiveness of the Equality Rules (of the BSB Handbook, which came into effect in September 2012) and to explore issues which might be contributing towards a lack of retention of female barristers.
Two in every five respondents reported experiencing harassment at the Bar, and more than two in every five respondents stated they had experienced discrimination. Concern about the impact on their career was the most common reason for not reporting these issues, along with prevailing attitudes in the profession.
The report highlights the need to change the culture of the Bar and provide better support for those affected by these problems. It also deals with the need to support life choices like maternity, part time working and diversity.
You can READ THE FULL REPORT (PDF) here.
It was also written up in Legal Futures
That’s it for now. Our thanks to all who flagged up stories, via their blogs (which we always try to acknowledge) and via Twitter (where useful tweets are retweeted).
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.