If Lord Harley of Counsel wants to be taken seriously he should be more polite

Contrary to what some might imagine the Criminal Bar remains, on the whole a polite and civilised profession. Even when offences of deadly seriousness are being contested in court barristers – and indeed solicitor advocates – generally speaking remain on good, or at least polite, terms with each other out of court.

So I was a little surprised to be told yesterday, by one of my learned friends, a Dr Alan Blacker, that I was an “ignorant cretin.” Still more surprising was that the learned friend in question is not just a Solicitor Advocate but an Irish Peer (“The Earl of Dublin”), a Doctor of Philosophy, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Consultant “Transactional Analysis Clinical Psychoanalytical Psychologist,” a Knight of Justice or Grace of the Hospital of St John and even a Privy Counsellor. Taking a deep breath, he also has two undergraduate degrees, two MAs and an MSc in Clinical Forensic Psychiatry, as well as umpteen other letters after his name. He is even a qualified bus driver and a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He is, it would seem, a Jack of all Trades and, if his qualifications are taken at face value, he is eminently well-qualified to accuse others of ignorance, even if his online diagnosis of my “cretinism” might be a little controversial in modern Forensic Psychiatry. Continue reading

Boris Johnson’s proposal to abolish the burden of proof is a dreadful idea that would create more terrorists

Boris Johnson considers it a “minor change in the law” that could be swiftly accomplished. There should be a “rebuttable presumption that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.”

It sounds all very well but it is at precisely moments like these that ill-judged legislation is most likely to be passed.

Before looking at the principled objections to Mr Johnson’s idea, there are a large number of practical ones. It is easy to make sweeping “something must be done” suggestions. It is much harder to draft workable legislation. Unworkable legislation will simply compound the problem. Continue reading

The Stop the War Coalition is inexpressibly repulsive

In language inspired by Private Eye’s Dave Spart after he’s shared the Big Brother house for too long with George Galloway, the Stop the War Coalition has abandoned humanity.

There is not the slightest doubt about what is happening. It was on our television screens last night, and if the STW demonstrators who marched so bravely against Broadcasting House yesterday were not sitting in the pub celebrating, they would have seen it too.

Driven out of their homes by ISIS, thousands of Yazidis are huddling under a few trees as the only shelter from a relentless Middle-Eastern sun, on a rock-strewn mountain. They have no food, no sanitation and apart from that recently dropped by American aeroplanes, no water. Hundreds have already died of thirst, hunger and disease.

Continue reading

Should George Galloway be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred?

There have been calls, led by the distinguished human rights barrister Adam Wagner, for the prosecution of George Galloway for “racial incitement”.


The evidence so far in the public domain consists of a video of Mr Galloway, the Member of Parliament for Bradford West, apparently addressing a public meeting. It would appear that the speech may have been delivered at a political meeting called by Mr Galloway’s party “Respect”. His words, which are delivered by him standing in front of a Palestinian flag, are very clear:

We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone. We don’t want any Israeli goods. We don’t want any Israeli services. We don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college. We don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford even if any of them had thought of doing so. We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel. And you have to do the same.” Continue reading

Hamas is a wicked organisation but that doesn’t put Israel above the law.

The law of self-defence is easy enough to state.  It is much harder to apply in practice.

In a typical criminal case an argument breaks out in a pub. A punch is thrown. The situation escalates and a drinker smashes his glass into someone’s face causing deep cuts. He claims that he did so in the heat of the moment because he thought he was about to be stabbed.

Was his action lawful?

It is impossible to give a purely legal answer. It all depends on what the jury make of his explanation. If the jurors are sure that he’s lying when he says “I thought I was about to be stabbed,” and that in fact he just wanted to join in the fight, he will be convicted.

On the other hand if they accept that he may have thought he was about to be stabbed they will probably acquit him. A glassing is a terrible thing, but if the alternative is a potentially fatal knife in the ribs then it is the lesser of two evils. It would, though terrible, be a proportionate response to an imminent and terrifying threat. Continue reading

Ian West was rude to the judge, but let’s keep a sense of proportion

Those attending His Honour Judge Kelson’s court in Durham on Monday 14th April had an unexpected treat: a blazing row between a judge and a barrister. The confrontation ended with the Judge fining the barrister £500 for contempt of court. The barrister appealed to the Court of Appeal. He was successful in that the Court of Appeal ruled that the judge had failed to follow the correct procedure and quashed the fine. But his success came at the cost of a public condemnation of his behaviour, coupled with what the barrister might have found faintly unctuous praise for the judge. Continue reading

Jeremy Wright is the least distinguished attorney general for two centuries

The role of Attorney-General is an important one.

Constitutionally the Attorney-General is the Monarch’s lawyer.

As the Government’s chief legal adviser he (there has so far only been one female Attorney-General, Patricia Scotland QC), in practical terms responsible for providing legal advice on matters of vital national importance. Many will remember how Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General under Tony Blair first advised that an attack on Iraq would be illegal and then, amidst a maelstrom of political pressure, revised his opinion. Whether he was right or wrong matters not. His advice gave the green light to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by British forces. Had he continued to advise that an attack was unlawful it is probable that Britain would not have become involved in that particular adventure. Continue reading

Butler-Sloss was a superb judge but she should stand down immediately

Like everyone who has ever met or appeared professionally in front of her, I have huge admiration for Baroness Butler-Sloss. She is polite, humane, clever and immensely experienced. She radiates wisdom. All of these are qualities that mark her out as one of the outstanding judges of her generation. But her position as the judge chairing the child abuse inquiry is completely untenable. Continue reading

Should Rolf Harris die in prison?

It is perhaps the worst part of the job. You’ve lost. The police are jubilant and the Crown Prosecution Service is making the finishing touches to its triumphant public statement.

What’s the best way to describe him?

“A prolific sexual offender?”

A bit feeble. How about:

“A prolific and evil sexual predator?”

Better, but still not quite right. Leaves a bit of wriggle room.

I know, I’ve got it now:

A prolific and evil sexual predator who has preyed on innocent children for decades.”

He may be taken down to the cells straightaway, or may be allowed his liberty for a few more days while reports are prepared.

What do you say when you reach the comparative calm of the interview room? Continue reading

Why we need a referendum on the Human Rights Act

The referendum has become a part of the British constitution.

On September 18th Scotland will vote in its independence referendum. It would be unthinkable for the Union to be severed without a “Yes” vote.

The Conservative Party has promised a 2017 “in-out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU and in the aftermath of a fairly dismal showing in the European elections the Labour Party is being urged to do the same. At present Mr Milliband has “guaranteed” to hold one only if the UK is asked “to transfer more power to Brussels.”

UKIP, of course, makes no bones about wanting Britain to leave the EU at the earliest opportunity but even so the Kippers’ exit route involves “an immediate referendum” Implicitly it accepts that the country would require an “out” vote for withdrawal to be legitimate.

Whilst the prospects of the Liberal Democrats being in government after the next election look increasingly remote, they too have made it clear that they would hold a referendum if any further powers are to be transferred to Europe.

A convention has developed that major constitutional changes should not be made unless they are supported by the electorate in a referendum. Continue reading