Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The UK Supreme Court Yearbook: an amateur writes

Amazon is offering a mint condition Jackie Annual 1976 for £2,912.91. I was not allowed to read Jackie on grounds of financial, moral and intellectual austerity, but stolen glances suggested it was weak on coverage of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. Spotters will be relieved to hear that The UK Supreme Court Yearbook Volume 7 (2016) is just £90 with free worldwide shipping.

I am reviewing it not as a lawyer but as a tax-paying dilettante. So let’s start with a daft social media meme: ‘Grab your nearest book, and open it to page 117. What's the second sentence you see? What does it mean about your 2017?’

Here goes. ‘The door was opened by the colonel, and one of the other defendants immediately shot him dead.’ It means that 2017 is the same as all my other sentient years, a copy-editing exercise, so I’m going to say leave out the comma and the adverb.

Change gear – we’ve landed in a masterly analysis of joint enterprise following the Supreme Court judgments in Jogee and Ruddock written by Julian Knowles QC, who led for Ruddock and acknowledges the support he received from Associate Professor Matthew Dyson, Dr James Mehigan, Matthew Blower and Jessica Jones. Anyone interested in joint enterprise – student, academic, lawyer, journalist, politician, campaigner – would gain from studying this learned, humane and approachable text. 
Jogee, 28 October 2015

Knowles’s essay is in the Commentaries and reflections section, which starts with Lord Neuberger on Judicial innovation in the UK Supreme Court. The daily assaults of Brexit news and the unwelcome fragility of the Union (I’m a headbanging remoaner, get over it) provide a shudder-making backdrop to the quest for openness, accessibility and inclusivity in his article.

Lord Neuberger concludes with a gentle reminder to our elected masters: ‘…the Government is proposing to make available a large sum of money to overhaul both the physical and the electronic infrastructure of the courts. There will be fewer but larger and more modern court buildings throughout the UK, and the antiquated and fissiparous IT systems in the courts will be replaced by a modern system.’ Let’s hope. But fissiparous is the current word for the kingdom too.

What a shower. We're all doomed
The next section, The protection of human rights by the UK Supreme Court symposium, includes a fascinating discourse on opacity/transparency by Kirsty Brimelow QC, Into the dark: rights, security and the courtroom.

For ‘rare in camera cases and exceptional departures from open justice’ Brimelow suggests ‘allowing designated members of the press to inspect any secret material. Otherwise, they are arguing for an unknown. Undoubtedly, this leads to speculation which may be more damaging than the actual material sought to be withheld’.

But who would want to be in charge of designating members of the press, given the dwindling number of trained legal reporters, some inexcusable coverage of the Divisional Court Article 50 judgment, the once great Daily Telegraph’s recent invention of the Supreme Court Justice ‘Lord Hudges’ [sic] and casual misreporting of facts in cases attended by yours truly? Not to mention the wholesale sacking of sub-editors who could have caught journalists’ growing inability to restrain predictive text. ‘Geniality’ instead of ‘genealogy’ (Telegraph again, misquoting counsel in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council case Pringle). Dear me, is anyone awake?

Starry QCs contribute to the following sections, Thematic analyses of the 2015-16 legal year and The 2015-16 legal year in overview, which range alphabetically from administrative law and judicial review to restitution and unjust enrichment. They provide an authoritative crib for anyone who needs to swot up on their specialism, which is everyone. 

Miller in the Supreme Court
At the time of going to press, Article 50 had not reached the Supreme Court. Lord Millett PC QC examines the Divisional Court’s decision in Miller, while Dominic Grieve QC MP elegantly disses Brexit. The Supreme Court’s case load, he writes, ‘could perhaps act as a salutary reminder for politicians of some of the complex issues with which we are going to have to grapple. One also starts to feel sorry for the Court, which spends its time trying to clarify existing law only to have it all turned upside down before its eyes.’  My sole contact with this great mind has been to warn him off the salt and vinegar crisps. I thought he’d prefer lightly salted, on no evidence at all.

The Yearbook ends with statistics for Wisden types. Whizzing back to the beginning, we have an introduction by Daniel Clarry and Christopher Sargeant, joint editors-in-chief of the Yearbook series, Judicial panel selection in the UK Supreme Court: bigger bench, more authority? This is followed by a foreword by Robert French, the just-retired Chief Justice of Australia: Australia and the United Kingdom: a bit like family, much in common but a lot of difference.

I know you can write a better review, because you have legal training and stuff. Please do.

The frontispiece, drawn by me, features Colin Edelman QC and his natty tailoring in Versloot Dredging BV v HDI Gerling Industrie Versicherung AG. I am very touched that instead of being reproduced on ordinary run-of-book stock it has been allowed some posh coated paper, and the colour reproduction is faithful to the original. This is a high quality number.

For details, please see

Monday, 2 January 2017

Satanic yoga

'What's satanic about it?' I ask. The reply comes later.

Yoga in Black, described unofficially if not on the website as satanic, recoils from modish body fascism in stark white-walled crucibles.

Instead, it is uncompetitive in kind lighting with a soundtrack described as dark ambient, doom metal, drone and Gothic rock.

The finer distinctions elude me but the main thing is that the music isn't loud - you can hear the teacher speaking quietly.

The theme is acceptance and for those who know their chakras it's a variation of Dru yoga. There's plenty of movement and it all looks achievable, unlike the contortionist stuff of the fanatics.

I barely notice the soft-sell paganism. Then I have a hellish four hours with a flat tyre in the cold, dark and rain. 

Just as I am thoughtfully examining the gel-filled pee bags kept in the glove box, someone emerges from the nearest house with several bags of post-festivity rubbish and recycling. 

This denotes a life of civic virtue and social contact, rather than an axe-man in drag, so I ask to use the lavatory. And when the repair man turns up, I take up the sainted Lucia's offer of refuge with her family for the hour it takes him to fix the tyre.

She says I look 'overwhelmed', not 'demonically possessed', please note. A bossy Dachsund called Colin teaches me a ball game. This is the closest I get to a family Christmas.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Supreme Court: contract and carols

There was much chortling in-jokery last week about Lord Sumption’s ties at the four-day Article 50 hearing. Today, Jeeves has clearly returned from his holiday but there are no fervid rune-readers here to report that Lord Sumption is wearing an EU-blue tie with what could from a distance be gold stars on it. They are probably polka dots.

Today’s case is about contract and trusts. It refers to planning permission. Meanwhile the court has a planning application notice outside, as it is seeking to replace an oak floor which has a romantic creak like a ship in full sail. I hope the sound gets archived before the timbers are shivered.

BPE Solicitors and another v Hughes-Holland (in substitution for Gabriel) is the latest in a strand of litigation stemming from a discussion in ‘the Red Hart public house’ in 2007 between two friends: Richard Gabriel is the godfather of one of Peter Little’s children. Mr Gabriel agreed to lend Mr Little’s company £200,000 towards developing a property at Kemble Airfield (Cotswold Airport), formerly the base of the Red Arrows.

I google Cotswold Airport. In its AV8 restaurant ‘you will be able to watch the world fly by in a classy atmosphere with a distinctly Mediterranean feel, something that you do not come across very often in the UK.' I guess that's why I voted Remain.

The property was not developed, the loan was not repaid. Mr Gabriel chose, as counsel puts it today, 'to roll the dice of litigation’. Can he recover from his solicitors the money he lost, and did they have a duty to protect him from the loss? Are Dickens and Kafka playing consequences?

At lunchtime, the Treasury Singers arrive for their annual charity carol concert, this year for Crisis. 

We are ushered into the lofty anarcho-gothic-pre-Raphaelite library (normally off-limits), which has been camped up with pine garlands and poinsettias. Justices pop in. The Supreme Court’s misdescribed Can’t Sing Choir join in with relish and don Santa hats for the finale, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. There is an earnest endeavour that touches the flinty heart. 

I go to the café where my friend does some quick and easy Christmas shopping, including a teddy bear for a baby. 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Supreme Court: last day of Article 50 hearing

I start in one of the overspill courts, watching on a screen. Which way is this case going? We seek a sign. Has Lady Hale been semaphoring all week with her motif brooches? It’s impossible to tell whether today’s is a brooch or simply an ornamental part of her black dress, but it looks like a black flower. Is she alluding to Black Flower, Kim Young-Ha’s novel about migrant workers caught up in a revolution who set up their own mini-nation?

The Brexit analogy is tempting. But I could be reading too much into it.

Helen Mountfield QC (below), for the crowd-funded People's Challenge group, starts with an unnecessary apology: ‘To some the legal arguments in the case may sound dry and antiquarian…’

No, for a non-lawyer this is the good stuff: we get the Treaty of Utrecht, the Seven Years’ War, Henry IV, Henry VIII (whose face is carved into an oak bench in the courtroom), William III and George III.

She adds: ‘Mr Eadie’s submissions are the equivalent of arguing that because none of the attempts to catch the Loch Ness monster succeeded, the Loch Ness monster still roams free.’

In court, there is a strained, earnest longing to find jokes funny. They are scrutinised afterwards by the commentariat like prize-winning bantams at a show for people who know how to evaluate bantams.

In the cruel world of stand-up, they would not win prizes. As a sacrifice to nerves, Mr Eadie started with something baffling which depended on knowing the form of a certain race-horse. Ad libs from the bench win overall on the comedy front.

Manjit Gill QC speaks movingly on behalf of vulnerable people, including British children and disabled people whose parents, guardians or carers, aka bargaining chips, may lose their right to live in the UK.

At lunchtime a punter hands out Cadbury Heroes. Hope he’s got some left for the heroic advocates and justices. Witnessing this superb exposition of legal process is a consolation after the national shame of Brexit and its spiteful aftermath.

In the afternoon I inherit a space in the courtroom. Bad for sightlines, good for authenticity.

Time for the last submission before Mr Eadie returns for the government. Lord Neuberger: 'Final shake of the kaleidoscope of the front bench. Mr Green.'

If I am to abandon my hobby of remoaning, where can I redirect my attention? Il faut cultiver notre jardin. But gardening is no real retreat from the world. The no-borders fox has just left contemptuous paw prints in wet cement. Fuchsia bug mite ignores trade barriers: it reached England from the US about ten years ago. My plants are riddled with it. You can’t disengage from the single organism we belong to, even if you suspect we're all inside a psychopathic alien’s test tube.

Mrs May is going for the ‘best possible’ Brexit. All the possibilities are invited to the Brexit party, but can we rely on them to turn up if there's a better gig somewhere else? Is the best possible Brexit an impossible one?

On Wednesday, David Scoffield QC said, ‘The UK Government's contentions on the extent of its prerogative power are, with respect, cavalier, perhaps in this context with both a small C and a large C.’ So, can anyone read anything into these two maps: the start of the English Civil War and the referendum result?

Yellow = Cavaliers
Yellow = Remain

PS Across the channel, there’s a spat involving the French equivalent of the Supreme Court. In a bureaucratic rejig, the Cour de cassation has been put under government supervision for the first time. The court’s president and the attorney general fired off a terse open letter to the prime minister. Le Figaro claims that the situation is more nuancée than it appears, but the article reads like a phone call from a weary government press officer.

PPS This is the second piece of EU referendum-related litigation to reach the Supreme Court, and presumably not the last as this fiasco plays out over decades of decline [smiley face]. In May, the court upheld a ruling that British expats who'd lived outside the UK for more than 15 years could not vote in the referendum. The Conservatives didn’t get round to changing that in time.

Lord Neuberger - two of many seat positions

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Supreme Court: more Article 50 action

Watching it on the train...
I board a train in Warwickshire. I watch the newest folk hero, Lord Pannick, on my BlackBerry. He should sell his recorded advocacy as a cure for insomnia – he is not boring but soothing, authoritative, sometimes incantatory. 

He makes it all look easy and I am lulled into a heedless trance. Then I leave a breathtakingly expensive pen on the train. Bother. 

...and in a cab
I take a cab. The sign in my drawing is all about Brexit. A late arrival at the Supreme Court, I'm in one of the overspill rooms.

The Irish question. When I got married I asked my husband if he would take British citizenship. He thought it was an absurd idea. His parents marched against Mosley in Cable Street. Now he is a bargaining chip. Will we have to stand in different queues?

It’s a mess. Bones rattle. The auld triangle goes jingle jangle. Ronan Lavery QC addresses the court: ‘Take the applicant, my client, for instance, he is a Protestant from north Belfast, he is a victim of the Troubles, he is a victims' rights campaigner. He is here, has always attended court with his friend who is a catholic. But his son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. He regards himself as British, although many people in Britain may regard him as Irish. It is a complex situation, my Lords, my Lady, Northern Ireland, and there is a complex constitutional settlement.’

The room grows cold. Or is it me.

So, what’s going to happen? Who will win this case? At the end of day three, William Hill are offering 5/2 that the government will win and 2/7 that they will lose. That’s just betting, though, which consists of money, sentiment, superstition and hedging.

What about the index to the day’s transcript? This perfect source of found poetry includes a numeric index for all you Bletchley Park types. Are there any clues in this sample page, for example? I would pay to hear Lord Pannick read this out:

Or is Lady Hale giving us signs? On day one, she wore black and a brooch which looked like a double dragonfly. On day two she wore half-mourning (purple) and what appeared to be a beaten silvery blazing comet or quarter sunburst. Today she is dressed in deep blue and a metallic caterpillar.

‘Don’t be pessimistic,’ someone said to me yesterday, after my latest diatribe. ‘Nigel Lawson says global warming isn’t happening.’ That is an unfortunate combination of words to use against me. I find it hard to trust people at the moment.

David Runciman, a professor from the Remain stronghold of Cambridge, writes in the latest issue of the London Review of Books (read by the people of the smaller bubble inside the larger bubble, like me): ‘By choosing to quit the European Union, the majority of British voters may have looked as if they were behaving with extraordinary recklessness. But in reality their behaviour…reflected their basic trust in the political system with which they were ostensibly so disgusted, because they believed that it was still capable of protecting them from the consequences of their choice….’

His article does not end happily.