Thursday, 16 February 2017

Job application

Dear Ms Hawkins,

We are writing to apply for the post of President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on a job-sharing basis.


We note that high judicial office is a requirement for the post. We sit at a height of five feet on our retail display point, which gives us an advantage over other applicants. Our bench, being made of glass, offers complete transparency.

We have observed with pleasure the Court’s thoughtful gesture in placing the TV monitors so that, while fulfilling our duties in the cafeteria, we can hear the oral submissions.

We exist in multiples, so we can be in more than one place at a time – something denied to the present incumbent although we believe he would find it extremely useful.

While we have travelled in the briefcases of many senior legal entities and shared their boudoirs, we are noted for our discretion, even though our eyes really do follow you round the room.

Our approach to appellants and respondents would be consistent and, some might argue, overly predictable; our contribution to debate would be modest; our judgments would be noted for brevity, or even for total absence; and we accept that we would find the interview stage of this application rather challenging; but the role which we are proud to uphold in society would make it impossible for us to be defined as ‘enemies of the people’.

As some of our friends in the USA may need to be reminded, we represent a voice, albeit a very quiet one, for unity: E PLURIBUS URSUS.

Yours respectfully,

The bears of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council



Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Supreme Court: council policy out of the window

Blind cord, Court 2
First up, phobias. Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is about post traumatic stress disorder, not phobia, but I’m going to link them as they both enrage people who apply terms such as ‘reasonable’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘pull yourself together’.

My first memory is of being scared witless by some geezer with a fake white beard and red hood. Later, as a student, I was being paid to chop vegetables in a private house on Christmas day. The grandfather crept up behind me in costume and said, ‘Don’t peek, it’s Santa Claus.’ I spun round in terror and to this day I marvel that I didn't stab him as a reflex.




This case also involves an asylum-seeker. The Royal Borough once asked me to draw at an event for looked-after children, some of whom had been asylum-seekers or refugees. Some were from Eritrea. Some had arrived in this country alone. They were a great bunch, and they will always be ambassadors. 

So, as a nation, let’s not turn our back on more kids like these, eh? While we allow rich people from overseas to buy properties and leave them empty?

Empty or full, the housing stock in Kensington and Chelsea is varied. Slapdash Victorian speculators, Peter Rachman and the Luftwaffe have all left their mark




Nowadays, casual violations of planning and conservation rules pop up like weeds. Together with legally permitted vanity projects. And don’t get me started on the basements. If there isn't enough room for you and your cigar storage around here, go to Bracknell.

Today’s case concerns Vida Poshteh who was tortured and imprisoned in Iran. She applied for asylum in the UK; she and her child were housed temporarily by RBKC. 

She was offered permanent accommodation in a housing association flat with a round living-room window but on viewing it she had a panic attack and turned the flat down. She suffers from PTSD and her prison cell had a round window. No one is suggesting that she is lying. The council says she should just live there anyway.

The bench proffers suggestions – that she should maybe put a curtain over the round window or never go into the living room. 

This is kindly meant, but to a PTSD-sufferer it is likely to have overtones of the bloody chamber.

For a couple of seconds we see a photo of the living room
The council says that the window is three feet in diameter, set in a wall five feet three inches wide. There is a rectangular window in the same room. It sounds like some unpardonable jeu d’esprit on the part of an architecture student.

Ms Poshteh’s undoing in the Court of Appeal seems to have been that she had initially agreed to live in that flat on a temporary basis. The council wished to construe this as permanent. But sometimes you might just say things to get authority figures off your back. Ms Poshteh has been served with an eviction notice. Happy Christmas.





















Window fastenings in Court 2 look like handcuffs

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Supreme Court: Article 50 - miserere mei, deus


‘Today the Supreme Court will rule on whether the government needs military consent to begin the Brexit process.’

That kicked off the Radio 3 news bulletin at 6.30am today. I checked it on iPlayer. He really said military and not parliamentary. Valid until the end of February: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bblrh  

Well, it's a thought, isn't it. And anyone can make a mistake. Including an electorate. And an electoral college. Trump and Brexit have normalised waking up in a panic.

Each day I give oracular significance to whatever is playing on Radio 3 when I switch it on. Today it’s Allegri's Miserere for the service of shadows, the Tenebrae. One by one the candles go out. Music to echo through toxic particulates after the end of the world.


Facts are useful at times like these. And at all other times.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.

But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.

On with the motley. Sheep and goats - wool vest, cashmere jumper, mohair wrap (there’ll be a wait outside in the cold). Daily grief. Pencil sharpener.

A woman from the crowd-funded grassroots People's Challenge group, some of whom are in the queue, wishes she could go back to before 24 June when she wasn't interested in politics and didn't have to give media interviews.

Because UK Supreme Court judges are blessedly not chosen for their political allegiance, we don’t know what the ruling will be. The sightlines in the packed courtroom are terrible for a short person, but for connoisseurs of tension the atmosphere is a collector’s item.

Lord Neuberger briskly reads out a summary of the judgment. You know what it is by now. No intake of breath, no gasp of surprise. The mischief-makers wanted the full Monty – a nod to the devolved powers and a court case in Europe – but the grown-ups are content with the outcome.









There’s an orderly press pack outside. ‘Have we got anyone bigger than Jeremy Wright?’ a television journalist asks his telephone, referring to the Attorney-General. The previous AG, Dominic Grieve QC MP, is strolling around in a nice beige coat looking pleased. Despite Radio 3 there are no tanks on Parliament Square and Big Ben has not yet struck 13 although it's shaping up that way across the pond.




As Laura Kuenssberg is being filmed, Gina Miller – poised and radiant but not triumphing – walks past with her entourage. Kuenssberg hastily finishes then sprints after her in clicky heels.


A ‎German journalist, polished and prosperous-looking, does a measured piece to camera out of my earshot, but I don't think my schoolgirl German would have been up to it. The British pack pay him no attention. 

Maybe they should.









Lincoln turns his back on it all











Coda: Nightmares collide on Friday when the member for Maidenhead meets Mr Trump. In preparation, here is the correct way to grab a pussy, demonstrated by American ballet students posing as the White Cat and Puss in Boots in Petipa's Sleeping Beauty.






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 https://www.ukscy.org.uk/


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 cafĂ© where my friend does some quick and easy Christmas shopping, including a teddy bear for a baby.