Archive for the ‘opinion’ category

Documentaries

July 8th, 2011

There are three types of documentary films.

The first, and I’m afraid I tend to associate this with the BBC, is basically a stretched news item dragged out with interviews of outraged or distressed victims / or some variation of a freak-show dressed up an a documentary (Channel 4 are the main offenders for the latter).  They are normally as memorable as last week’s news items.

The second, and this is where C4 redeems itself, is an issue based documentary, often with some sort of celebrity endorsement, which tells a good story.  A good example would be Hugh’s Fish Fight.  Sometimes lacking detail and often a sense of balance in addition to the dramatic visuals, overall I would still say these are a good effort.  They also raise awareness because they tend to last long enough to become the subject of office-chat the next day.

Finally, the rarest is the sort of feature documentary which makes the viewer adjust their world view.  The viewer goes to bed thinking about the issue, and wakes up thinking about the issue.  The trouble with these films is they get such a limited distribution or release that hardly anyone sees them. The first I saw like this was the AIDS documentary A Closer Walk, which probably would have been even more unknown than it was had it not been narrated by Glenn Close.

More recently, I’d add the HBO commission Teenage Paparazzo, which aired on C4 at stupid o’clock earlier this year.  It posed some really interesting (and presently very topical) questions about journalism, celebrity culture and how this influences the aspirations of young people.

I wonder if some upcoming documentary filmmaker could be tempted to consider the issue of legal aid?

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Why Bother?

July 7th, 2011

Lord Prescott, among others, is leading a charge to this website. They are very excited because they have persuaded 140,000 people to click a button, submitting the following to the Consultation on the proposed acquisition by News Corporation of BSkyB Group PLC.

Dear Mr. Cameron and Mr. Hunt,
The undertakings you are consulting on for the BSkyB takeover by News Corporation are not good enough and the takeover shouldn’t go ahead. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation already owns too much of our media and if this deal goes ahead would aggressively cross-promote its products, damaging rival news groups and restricting what we see and read.

The process for this deal is flawed. It looks at a limited set of issues, ignoring a major concern — that Murdoch  trashes media standards and ignores regulators. Hacking and other scandals show how his media often violates ethics and the law. There are serious gaps in the deal you outlined, including no fixed financial penalties for breaches. News Corporation can’t be trusted to stick to it.

I call on you to refuse to grant News Corporation any further control of British media until the deal has been reviewed by the competition commission and a full judge-led public inquiry into the hacking scandal is completed.

[sender_name]

[sender_postcode]

I think even the normal, non-lawyers out there will spot the inconsistencies in this – how can they suggest the process has not complied with English law in the second paragraph (when Mr Hunt has confidently announced he will publish the legal advice stating that it had) and then encourage those laws be ignored on a whim to comply with the request in the last paragraph?  At the slightest appearance of bias, a leading figure in the coalition government was publicly spanked and had the brief withdrawn, which is why this is Mr Hunt’s problem in the first place.  Why should News Corp pay “fixed financial penalties for breaches” when no other media outlet in the UK has such an obligation?  Can those clicking away point to examples of where News Corporation’s output had been found in breach of the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice and failed to comply with findings on that complaint?

Of course I’m not suggesting that members of the public don’t have a right to express their reservations about the deal – it’s very healthy for our democracy that they do.  I also suspect that those closely following the intricacies of the deal could credibly respond to most of the challenges I raise above.  My frustration is with a mob-mentality being given the ability to auto-generate the guff above, to which they have applied absolutely no thought.  I think it lessens the value of having the consultation and will make the government wary of holding such consultations again if they are simply going to be flooded by what is, as far as I can tell, spam.

I refuse to accept Lord Prescott as a leader of those greatly wronged by the tabloid press.  He was the Deputy Prime Minister, caught using the perks of his Office to woo his mistress.  I agree press tactics and maybe even a privacy law should be considered in light of recent allegations, but the test for such measures for me will always mean that such an abuse of power will always get published.

The consultation closes tomorrow – if you have something to contribute, the email is bskyb-newscorp.consultation2@culture.gsi.gov.uk , but at least take the time to write it yourself.

On the most recent news, I see many people are excited that the News of the World will close.  Personally, I think there are British newspapers that emit a far greater level of nonsense and malice than the News of the World has ever published.  It is no surprise that thieving MPs, match-fixing Sportsmen, hypocritical TV journalists, rogue members of the Royal Family, polluting companies and coke-huffing supermodels will delight in the loss of the 186 year-old paper  –  it’s one less watcher holding them to account.

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Tuition Fees

November 10th, 2010

I drafted this on the day the Browne report was published, and then decided it was too boring to post.  I post it now as point 6 came true today and I wish I’d posted it before so I could seem prophetic.  Students are angry at the Lib Dems, say the media – they were betrayed.  So why are they breaking windows at the Conservative Party offices?

Ahhhh, tuition fees.  I’ve spent about eight years talking about tuition fees.  Part of me would love to write a lengthy and referenced summary of the arguments on this blog in the naïve idea that I was contributing to a wider debate.

However, having spent eight years talking about tuition fees, I have learned enough to know that such a post would be pointless.  Instead, I offer you some baseless predictions and observations.

1.       There is no ‘reasoned argument’ to be had about tuition fees that involves institutions or students.  Institutions will repeat, ad infinitum, that they are broke and need more money to make it through another year.  They always make it through the next year.  Likewise, students will say they are broke and debt will stop them from going to university, right up until the point that they sign the loan forms.

2.       Taxpayers, the majority of whom did not attend University, resent the idea that their taxes should pay for others to do so (with the exception of those who are parents with children aged 16-21).

3.       The government will succeed in doing whatever they plan to do, as they have on the last two occasions, because, despite the media headlines and students moaning, there is quite a low political cost (sulking 18-24 year old undergrads, who become far less fussed when they become taxpayers).  Also, there are far more graduates than undergraduate students, which is why a graduate tax would have a high political cost.

4.       Those who talk lovingly about the days of the full grant forget that the full grant supported far fewer students attending even fewer universities.  There are now 130 Universities and a further 122 Further Education Colleges in receipt of funds from the Higher Education Funding Council.  If anyone could point me towards some figures from the time, I would be very grateful, but in my ignorance I guess that there were around 50 Universities in 1970.

5.       I am very very idealistic.  I think you should want to study a degree because a) your passion is a vocational subject, and the degree is prerequisite qualification for a job in that field (Medicine, Veterinary Science, Engineering, Law, Architecture etc.) or b) your passion is a particular subject and you wish to study it out of pure interest with no particular job in mind.  I don’t think either group would be massively dissuaded by higher fees because the earlier group will make a financial calculation and decide it will pay for itself, and the second group are not making a financial calculation at all.  Those that fall into neither category, and have been told that a degree in anything will bolster their employment prospects for any job have received awful careers advice and are right to think very carefully about whether they will get a return on their investment when compared to an extra 3 years early entry into the job market.

6.       There was a time in British history when student action was a genuinely worrying prospect.  This time has long past, and the NUS will be as ineffective at opposing the increase this time as it has been the last two times.  They will, however, be more vitriolic in their opposition, as they no longer need to tread carefully when considering their personal future in politics.  Their desired employer is now the opposition and not the party suggesting the increase.

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ASA Rules For Immaculate Conception

September 15th, 2010

This post would be much more fun if my headline was true, but sadly the opposite is closer to reality.  Today, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against Antonio Fedirici’s latest ad campaign featuring the picture below.

Pregnant Nun eating Ice Cream

The Antonio Fedirici Image

10 people complained to the ASA arguing that the ad was offensive to Catholics, and the ASA were not moved by the company’s protest that “conception” simply referred to the development of their ice-cream.

The Guardian has the full story.

I must say at first I giggled, but on further thought I wonder if this is the ASA saying that playing with religious imagery is off-limits, which seems rather beyond their realm.  Secondly, if this ad really offended Catholics, I fear those offendees are about to have a very distressing week given the media mood about the Papal visit.  Last night, Jeremy Paxman opened Newsnight with: “The Pope’s about to come to Britain – who cares?”.

If you are wondering, and I’m sure you’re not, the preceding ad (also banned) suggests the conception was more mundane.  Do go to the designer’s website for more images.

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A Good Day

July 23rd, 2010

In a previous post, I was a little unkind about defendants in libel actions wimping out before trial.  I’m pleased to say that there was no wimping out on the part of those defendants, and with the assistance of some dedicated pro bono blogger-lawyers, today this case was struck out.

I will never do the tale justice, so I suggest you head over to the Jack of Kent’s blog for a summary of the case.  I’m sure the last instalment will be posted tomorrow as their tide of celebration recedes.

Also, it seems the Jack of Kent is just five followers away from the 6,000 he aspires to – if you are not yet a groupie, go to http://twitter.com/jackofkent and follow him!

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Drugs and Prison

June 2nd, 2010

The Daily Express excelled themselves again yesterday with their front page:

£44M SCANDAL OF JAIL JUNKIES– TAXPAYERS are forking out more than £44million a year to maintain the drug habits of thousands of prisoners”.

There is an issue here that merits discussion.  Crime and drug use are greatly intertwined, and if we are arresting addicts, giving them custodial sentences during which their addiction in maintained rather than treated, and then they are released with the same dependence they were arrested with, clearly something has failed.  However, the Daily Express doesn’t bother with analysis, as it’s too busy inventing numbers.  The “£44m” from the headline is the what the Daily Express claim the Integrated Drug Treatment System (IDTS) will cost in 2010/2011.  This much does become clear in the article; the headline’s implication that inmates are shooting though £44m of methadone is accidental I’m sure.  However, The Daily Mail say IDTS will cost £109m (also note the posed photo of the ‘prisoner’ who seems to have access to quite a garden from his cell).  This is quite a leap from the £23.9m that clinical services, INCLUDING IDTS cost in 2008/2009 according to answers to Parliamentary questions compiled by this blog.

Also,  this quote:

Shocking figures out yesterday show that every day the state pays for one in six of the entire prison population to be given methadone or other heroin ­substitutes.

The report by independent think-tank Policy Exchange warned that by next year 73,000 prisoners will be receiving the medication

The UK prison population last week was 85,147 (Home Office Bulletin) so where does “one in six” come from?  Also, the report they refer to makes no such warning, as it would mean that 85% of the prison population would be given methadone!

Is it laziness, or just writing the story they want to see?  It will come as no surprise that both articles soon get around to blaming the Human Rights Act, and their devoted followers use the comments section to suggest the reintroduction of the death penalty as a solution.  The Guardian attempts something a little more balanced, but comes awfully close to suggesting that it’s all the prison staff’s fault.

The best solution is to read the original report from the Policy Exchange and have your own sensible thoughts on this problem – the media certainly won’t be providing any.

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Can You Buy a Pupillage?

March 18th, 2010

I have quite an important career related interview in the not too distant future, where a group of very established barristers will ponder if I have the potential to succeed in their world.  Understandably, I’m a little nervous and have been haranguing people at every opportunity, not to mention scouring the Internet, to try to be as prepared as I can for my interrogation.  Hopefully, something working in my favour is the intention to make the Bar a little more diverse and remove the presumption that you ride into the profession on the back of a trust fund (excuse the lazy cliche).

So imagine my surprise when I discovered http://www.oxbridgetrainingcontracts.com/pupillage.php.

Clearly not a modest company, they are happy to announce:

Oxbridge Training Contracts™ is not just for training contract applicants. We also empower people who aspire to complete pupillage, a necessary stage before beginning life as a fully-fledged Barrister, and we have special expertise in providing fully customised Model OLPAS Form Essays and in Editing completed OLPAS Form Essays. We at Oxbridge Training Contracts™ know how hard it is to get a pupillage. Our services are organised so as to maximise your chances of successfully navigating the application process.

We contract a growing team of Barristers, Pupils, and Legal 500 ’Band 1 or 2’ Pupils-to-be to provide applicants pupillage-seekers with a wide range of services, from simple Cover-Letters and CVs or Model Application Essays on the OLPAS form, to a ‘Magic Service’ including Interview Preparation and specialist Consultations, enabling you to find and get into the optimum Chambers for you.

As a guide, they’ll complete your OLPAS form for you for a mere £650, interview prep for £150 p/h,  or a “magic service” for £4,500 (I wonder if that includes the brown envelope and delivery to the head of the interview panel?!*)  If I try really hard, I can almost see the justification for this part of the business.  However, offering the same services for Inn Scholarship applications seems pretty distasteful.  If I was seeking a training contract, I would also be disturbed by the idea of a HR lunch.

I have two problems.  Firstly, I don’t have £4,500, and I don’t think I could persuade Natwest to add it to my professional loan.  Secondly, having had my application form drafted by their “experienced Oxbridge-educated and Magic Circle ….lawyers, trainees and lawyers-to-be, as well as Barristers, Pupils” it will promptly become apparent when walking into the interview that I am none of these things and have essentially cheated my way in.

They contend that those with families in law or attending top universities essentially get the same services for free, and so they are simply levelling the playing field.

Either way, I think I was happier before I knew they existed.

(I apologise to any normal humans for my current fixation on inside-the-profession posts rather than more general topics… It’s just where my mind is for the moment, I promise to broaden my horizons next week.)

* This is a joke, I am not suggesting there is anything dishonest about this company but I can’t afford their services or a libel lawyer, so I’m sure they operate an incredibly professional and decent operation.  This service refers to a very lengthy process of support throughout the application process.

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Legal (R)aid?

March 14th, 2010

Lawyers are expensive.  In this country, a large percentage of the population are not used to paying for professional services.  We don’t pay doctors, we don’t pay our banks,  most of us avoid paying accountants or brokers or schools.  Even our heavily subsidised university fees attract a great deal of resentment (certainly from me).  Therefore many people get a rather unexpected surprise when they are confronted with the cost of legal services.

There is also a recognition that this cost is beyond the means of some of those in need of legal representation.  In these cases, a little like the NHS, the government has paid these costs though what began as Legal Aid.  The most recent iteration of this system is administrated by the Legal Services Commission – who, to be frank, have a history of being criticised by lawyers (who struggle to get paid) and the government (who say they are wasteful).  Whatever the truth of that, the LSC do, quite legitimately, oversee the transfer of public funds into lawyers pockets.  I confess to being ignorant of the details, but my impression is that the government try to fiddle with the system, the LSC begrudgingly comply, and the carnival rumbles on.

Until last week, when the Government engaged in wholesale feather ruffling at the LSC by, in essence, absorbing it into the Ministry of Justice.  The Times report seems to express a genuine exasperation by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP.  The Legal Action Group’s Blog has concerns about what this could mean.  I’m not normally a conspiracy-theorist, but you have to wonder if cases like this* will become even more dubious if the Government was in control of the purse-strings on both sides.

*I’m unable to confirm if the De Menezes case was supported by legal aid.  If it was not, I think it still stands as an appropriate example of the sort of cases where a low income can constrain justice.

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Breaking What Law?

January 27th, 2010

If you murder someone, then wander into a police station and give a full confession of what you have done, you have broken the law.  Statutes says what murder is, that you shouldn’t do it and if you do, you are going to prison for life.

There is not a statute about war.  No checklist or procedure exists to decide how to make a war legal (academics will be waving their UN Charters’ around at this point, please stay with me, I am simplifying to prove a point) because there is not an international law statute book that we can check to find out.  International law has more in common with a darts club than criminal law.  The members of the club think of the rules, keep to the rules, interpret what the rules mean and decide what to do if a member breaks the rules.  Problems arise when the members disagree about what the rules mean, but no-one outside the darts club can help them interpret their own rules.   The same group of people who have the standing in law to make a credible declaration that the second Iraq was (il)legal could also be prompted to writing a doctoral thesis about whether international law exists at all.

Then there are lawyers.  Most professions find an answer.  Two competent doctors cannot simultaneously find the same patient to be perfectly healthy and sick.  However, two competent lawyers each make a living by going before a judge and arguing that the claimant is right or wrong, and the judge agrees with one or the other.  In law school, you learn to remove an emotional response to a situation and find a way to argue the law fits your presentation of the facts which is favourable to your client.  The Chilcot Enquiry today heard that a raft of foreign office lawyers came to one opinion, and Jack Straw (the foreign secretary at the time and a barrister before entering politics) came to another.  The media are determined to spin this into some sort of absolute right or wrong answer, but it simply does not exist.  In a year of studying international law I’ve read stacks of opinions and could quite contently make a case for or against the war depending on what you would like to hear, but no judge, lawyer or head of state can say I or Jack Straw is wrong with any certainty.

With hindsight, I doubt Tony Blair, Jack Straw or maybe even President Bush, if they could foresee the ending, would have been so eager for the beginning.  I wonder, in Britain, if Blair and Straw’s  legal training was a factor.  Where anyone else would have heard a team of lawyers say “no” and stopped, did Straw and Blair think “well, that’s one argument, but we have a better one”?  If Saddam Hussein’s palace had been stacked to the gills with long range biological weapons they would have been hailed as brave visionaries overruling the cautious government lawyers to protect their citizens.  As it turns out, it’s the government lawyers that get vindication.  There has also discussion of the idea that the FCO lawyers are specialists and Jack Straw was some over-promoted ambulance chaser.  This is nonsense, as illustrated by the darts club analogy.  Jack Straw and Tony Blair, as Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, joined an elite club of international law makers and in that role, like leaders from Churchill back to Caesar, they are empowered to quite literally make international law up as they go along.

UPDATE: I thought I was being novel and thought-provoking by posting the above.  It seems Jack of Kent beat me to it by three hours – at least someone might agree with me.

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ECHR Puts a Stop to Police Stop & Search

January 12th, 2010

I am supposed to be writing a dissertation, but I will take a short break to perform a small dance of thanks and appreciation to the European Court of Human Rights.
Today the court ruled in Gillian & Quinton v. The United Kingdom that ss.44-47 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (the part that allows Police to detain and search individuals in the absence of the suspicion they have behaved or are about to behave unlawfully) was incompatible with Art. 8, which states:

“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

This is excellent. Of course, as with our home-grown version of house arrest, the government may simply ignore the ruling, but surely there is far less scope to do that here.

Sadly, although the court found in favour of the Art. 8 arguments put by the claimants, they did not consider the argument made in respect of Art. 10:

“The applicants further alleged that their rights to freedom of expression under Article 10, and freedom of assembly under Article 11, of the Convention were violated. It was argued that a stop and search which had the effect of delaying, even temporarily, contemporaneous reporting or filming of a protest amounted to an interference with Article 10 rights”

See the full judgement here and a hat-tip to Charon QC for saving me the effort of searching for it. Watch for a further analysis by him in the future.

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