The ordeal of Father Bill Bulloch

In May 1650 the “Rump” House of Commons passed an “Act for suppressing the detestable sins of Incest, Adultery and Fornication.”

Adultery by either sex became punishable by death, although if committed by a man with an unmarried woman it was deemed merely “fornication” with a sentence of 3 months imprisonment for a first offence (in a seventeenth century version of the “three strikes” rule it was death for a third offence of fornication). The Adultery Act was so successful in eliminating the detestable sin, that it during its ten years in force it only proved necessary to execute four women, and no men.

However, by 1660 its time was up. Other “Acts” of the Rump Parliament had included the abolition of the House of Lords and the abolition of the monarchy, so upon the restoration of both institutions in 1660 the Adultery Act was no longer recognised as being a validly created law. Since then adultery has not been a criminal offence in England and Wales. The misleadingly entitled tort of “criminal conversation” – it was not criminal and did not require any conversation – lingered on till 1857. Well into the second half of the twentieth century one could in theory obtain damages for adultery, but that ended in 1970. Adultery lingered on in law as a ground for divorce until last year, but with the enactment of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 even that disappeared.

So it was a little odd to read in the Church Times last year that a Southend vicar, Father Bill Bulloch, was cleared of adultery in an English court. Continue reading “The ordeal of Father Bill Bulloch”

Essex Court Chambers, genocide and the allure of Chinese money

Lawyers, and perhaps especially barristers like to speak of the high nature of their calling. We defend human rights. We give a voice to the voiceless. We fearlessly ignore all personal considerations and strive only to uphold the rule of law. We are independent and cannot be bought or bullied. “Do right, fear no-one,” as the Criminal Bar Association used to say quite often. Fine words indeed.

At the Commercial Bar – that rarified corner of my profession where chambers, and even some individuals earn millions from international litigation and arbitration – the principle seems to have been watered down to “do nothing to upset China.” Continue reading “Essex Court Chambers, genocide and the allure of Chinese money”

Unless he apologises Tim Crosland should never work as – or call himself a barrister again.

Tim Crosland says he has been a lawyer for more than 25 years, but he may not be one for much longer.

For the last five years he has also been a trustee of Plan B, a registered charity which he helped to found, whose objectives are given at length in its governing document, but are more pithily summarised in its twitter profile as:

Taking legal action against the British Government to secure a safe climate future for people and planet.”

He is a strong supporter of Extinction Rebellion, which he considers has achieved more in 18 months than other environmental groups achieved in three decades.

He is the very model of a “left wing activist lawyer,” and if you are interested in his politics and you can face over 40 minutes of his preening self-righteousness then you can watch him talking to Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam – not to be confused with the equally but very differently deluded Roger Helmer – here

On Plan B’s website he is described as:

Tim Crosland, Director

Tim Crosland, Barrister, brings to Plan B expertise in international human rights, environmental law and litigation, and an inter-disciplinary, partnership-based approach to tackling climate change.”

One of Plan B’s legal actions was against the government. Indeed it was originally against the previous administration’s principal unsafe pair of hands Chris Grayling, the former Secretary of State for Transport. Along with Friends of the Earth, Plan B argued that Mr Grayling had unlawfully ignored the Paris Climate Agreement when it designated the “Airports National Policy Statement” as government policy. The ANPS does not of itself grant planning consent for the proposed third runway at Heathrow, but it does set the “policy framework” in which the decision on that consent will be made. It is a framework that makes it more likely that the third runway will ultimately be built.

Plan B lost in the Divisional Court, but last February it won in the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the Mr Grayling had not taken into account the government’s policy commitments on climate change as agreed to in the Paris Agreement.

The Government – by now Mr Johnson was Prime Minister – decided not to appeal. In truth, their defeat in the Court of Appeal may have been rather convenient. It allowed the Prime Minister, who once made what now seems a possibly disingenuous pledge to lie down in front of the bulldozers to prevent the airport’s expansion, to avoid, or at least put off, making any decision about a contentious issue.

By this stage, however, Heathrow Airport itself – Heathrow Airport Ltd – a company who very much did want the third runway to go ahead, had intervened in the case, and they did appeal, hence the case ended up in the Supreme Court.

The judgment itself is not easy reading: those who want to follow the various arguments without getting completely lost will, like me, find the Supreme Court’s Press Summary a good place to start. There will be some who would find the Supreme Court’s video recording of the hearings interesting; but I doubt there will be very many. Mr Crosland represented Plan B, and did so, no doubt in a revolutionary gesture, wearing a suit but no tie. I would illustrate this with a screenshot were it not for the fierce legend at the bottom of the Supreme Court screen:

“… re-use, capture, re-editing or redistribution of this footage in any form is not permitted. You should be aware that any such use could attract liability for breach of copyright or defamation and, in some circumstances, could constitute a contempt of court.”

It may sound rather hair-splitting, but he appears to have represented Plan B in the Supreme Court in his capacity as “Director of Plan B” rather than as a barrister. That, at any rate is how he is described on the first page of the judgment.

Anyway, he lost. I say nothing of the merits of the decision. It turned to a large extent on an arcane point of statutory construction, namely the proper meaning of the phrase “government policy” in S.5 (8) of the Planning Act 2008. There is nothing in the judgment about the merits or otherwise of a third runway, and it makes no more sense to say that the Supreme Court supported its construction than to say that the Court of Appeal opposed it.

As is normal with Court of Appeal or Supreme Court judgments, the parties were supplied with copies of the draft judgment a day or two beforehand. There are lots of reasons for this. It gives them a chance to check the judgment for mistakes or obvious factual errors. Correction of these might occasionally make a significant difference to the outcome; a draft, after all is just a draft. There may be consequential arguments, perhaps about the wording of an order or about costs. It is hardly fair to ask the counsel involved to address these without at least a little time to prepare. But the drafts are supplied on the very clear understanding that their contents are not to be made public until “handed down,” either in open court, or by being formally made public by the Court itself. It is a system that usually works well and does so, like so much in the legal system, on the basis of trust. Solicitors and barristers – whether they have won or lost – can generally be trusted not to abuse it for personal or political advantage. Lawyers who believe that they have a monopoly of virtue are both tiresome and dangerous. Lawyers who cannot be trusted are a menace.

Unfortunately Mr Crosland could not be trusted. The day before the Court was due to hand down its judgment, using the twitter account of Plan B, he denounced the Supreme Court’s decision. He described his outrageous breach of trust as an “act of civil disobedience.” He had, he said “deep respect for the rule of law and the vital role of the judiciary in holding power to account,” although only, it seems, when he wins. The Supreme Court, in upholding what he called Mr Grayling’s treasonous betrayal of the young people of this country” had, he said, “betrayed us all.” 

Talk of treacherous judges in the Supreme Court is reminiscent of President Trump, and it certainly does not sound very respectful. It is the mirror-image of the “enemies of the people” language that some of the British press engaged in during the Article 50 or Prorogation litigation.

Mr Crosland knows that he – and possibly the charity whose twitter account he was usingwill face proceedings for contempt of court. The Court has already referred him to the Attorney General who we must hope will deal with the matter appropriately. Unfortunately he is a fanatic who will – Tommy Robinson-like – try to use a perfectly proper prosecution for contempt of court to turn himself into a political martyr.

The Court has also, entirely properly, referred him to the Bar Standards Board. It is almost inconceivable that they will not seek to discipline him.

However, there is a bit of a mystery here. Despite describing himself as a barrister, Mr Crosland does not appear in a search of the Bar Standards Board register of practising barristers.

It may be that he is an “unregistered” barrister. The law is not entirely straightforward, but is summarised on the Bar Standards Board website:

If someone is a barrister but they do not have a valid practising certificate, they are known as an unregistered barrister. Unregistered barristers are allowed to refer to themselves as “barristers” providing it is not in connection with offering or providing legal services. People who are not barristers may be committing a criminal offence if they describe themselves as a barrister. We may notify the police if we hear someone has been wilfully pretending to be a barrister.”

Unregistered barristers, just like practising barristers, are subject to disciplinary proceedings. They too can be suspended, struck off  or otherwise disciplined.

If Mr Crosland is indeed a barrister, and if he backs down, apologises and admits he was wrong then it may be possible for the tribunal before which he will eventually appear to take a lenient view. If he continues to grandstand and behave as though the ordinary rules of professional conduct do not apply to him because of the purity of his ideals I very much hope it will ensure that he is never able to work as, or call himself, a barrister again.

 

 

Those British Isles lockdown questions answered

Do I have to stay at home all day?

No. You may leave home if you have a “reasonable excuse.” Unless you live on the Isle of Man (and possibly in the Bailliwick of Guernsey) where even a reasonable excuse is no excuse.

What is a reasonable excuse?

It is an excuse which is reasonable.

Can you give me any examples?

There are lots of excuses which are deemed reasonable throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The full list is quite a mouthful but here it is:

In these jurisdictions a reasonable excuse includes:

the need:

(a) to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household)

(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;

(c) to seek medical assistance …;

(d) to provide care or assistance … to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;

(e) to donate blood;

(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

(g) to attend a funeral of—

(i) a member of the person’s household,

(ii) a close family member, or

(iii) if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;

(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;

(i) to access critical public services, including—

(i) childcare or educational facilities …;

(ii) social services;

(iii) services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;

(iv) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);

(j) … to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, …

(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;

(l) to move house where reasonably necessary;

(m) to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

That seems clear enough. So I can leave the house to exercise as much as I want?

Maybe, but not necessarily, and probably not in Wales.

Why not in Wales?

For obscure reasons the Welsh regulations differ from those in the rest of the UK, and deem that it is reasonable to exercise “no more than once a day.” That does not mean that exercising twice a day is necessarily illegal in Wales. It does mean that if the matter were ever to go to court it would be for you to prove that you had a “reasonable excuse” for doing so. Perhaps if your intended run was curtailed after 5 minutes because you forgot your phone, then you might have a reasonable excuse to go back home and start again. But I expect others can think up more imaginative reasonable excuses.

The English, Scottish and Northern Irish regulations contain no such restriction, despite the Prime Minister’s initial broadcast announcement that exercise was to be permitted only once a day. However, the Prime Minister does not make law by ministerial broadcast.

But although there is no “once a day” rule in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you must still “need” to exercise in order to leave home legally under the exercise exemption. If you have no “need” to exercise, a zealous police officer, of whom there seem to be a great many, could still ticket you for breaching the rules.

What is a “need” to exercise though? Oh sorry, I’m meant to be answering the questions, not asking them.

You’ve got me confused now. I live in Wales, can I exercise more than once a day? Yes or no?

Oh alright then. No.

What about England? Can I exercise more than once a day?

Yes, but …

I don’t want to hear any buts. Yes or no?

Yes.

Scotland?

I’m not a Scottish lawyer but …

Oh for crying out loud, how difficult is it to give a straight answer?

Yes.

Thank you. Northern Ireland?

Yes

How about the Isle of Man?

I’m not a Manx lawyer, but …

Come on, just answer the question.

Yes, but …

I don’t want any buts.

This one is quite interesting.

OK, what’s the “but” about the Isle of Man?

In the Isle of Man you can exercise as much as you like, but it has to be just “one form of exercise.”

I’m sorry?

In the Isle of Man you can leave your home to exercise as much as you like but you must only undertake “one form of exercise per day.” Paragraph 5 (1) (c) of the Emergency Powers (Prohibitions on Movement) Regulations 2020

What does that mean?

You have to choose. Running. Walking. Bicycling. Gymnastics. Rock-climbing. You can do any one of them as much as you like and as many times as you like, but you have to choose which one and stick with it for that day. You can try a different form the next day if you like.

How many forms of exercise may I undertake in a week in the Isle of Man?

Seven. But not all on the same day. And don’t say “that’s not reasonable,” there is no exemption for leaving the house with a “reasonable excuse” in Manx law.

How can I go rock-climbing unless I can walk to the rocks?

You can go by motorbike. The Isle of Man is good for motorbikes and criss-crossed by roads. The rules say you can leave home “in order to undertake one form of exercise per day,” so I imagine biking to the rock face would be permitted. Just don’t try walking or running there. Anyway, we’re getting diverted.

No, no, this is really interesting stuff. Isn’t riding a motorbike at 120 MPH round a twisty mountain road a form of exercise?

I suppose it could be, yes. But maybe not if you just rode the bike very slowly and cautiously.

How about Jersey?

Ah, Jersey. The rules say you can’t go into any public place at all until 8 a.m. on 13th April, unless you’re an authorised officer, or travelling to your place of work, or if you’re under a legal obligation to go somewhere.

So in Jersey I can’t exercise outside at all?

You can if you have a reasonable excuse.

What is a reasonable excuse?

I’m not a Jersey lawyer, but my hunch is that it means an excuse that is reasonable.

Is exercise deemed a reasonable excuse?

No, it’s not deemed to be a reasonable excuse in Jersey, but it’s not deemed unreasonable either. It all depends.

So can I exercise in Jersey?

Jersey law is silent on the point. Consult a local lawyer.

What about Guernsey?

There is a lockdown of sorts, but the Island’s Chief Minister has admitted that even he doesn’t understand it:

We have no rule book or precedents. There will be difficult judgments and nobody said it would be easy … and there simply has not been time in many cases to deliver fully fleshed out measures that covers every circumstance.”

At least he sounds honest. What about Sark?

All I know about Sark law is that it has the world’s smallest prison.

The Government should be careful what it wishes for from the Supreme Court

Barristerblogger is normally risk averse when it comes to commenting on great questions of constitutional law. I have always thought it is something best left to the experts: academics like Professors Paul Craig  or Mark Elliott, for example, or former Government lawyers like Carl Gardner or David Allen Green who know how these things work from the inside.  However, since everyone else has been putting their two pennyworth into the Prorogation cases, including “Britain’s rudest manDavid Starkey, perhaps I can throw in the contribution of a polite criminal hack.

1. The Supreme Court will be criticised whatever it does

If the Court upholds the Scottish Court of Session decision that the Prorogation of Parliament was unlawful it will be criticised for making a political decision.

If it upholds the English Divisional Court it will give a gift to Scottish Nationalists who will denounce a court made up largely of English judges for over-ruling the unanimous judgment of the highest Scottish court.

Incidentally, the decision to increase the number of judges hearing the case from 9 to 11 has increased the English majority from 5 – 4 to 7 – 4. (The “non-English” judges are Lords Reed and Hodge from Scotland, Lord Kerr who is from Northern Ireland and Lord Lloyd-Jones who is Welsh). Continue reading “The Government should be careful what it wishes for from the Supreme Court”

There are dangerously authoritarian tendencies in green politics

I am not going to criticise Greta Thurnberg but it would be wrong if the climate rebels of Extinction Rebellion and green political theorists were given a free ride because of our admiration for an undeniably impressive 16 year old.

As Extinction Rebellion was making its final preparations for its Easter campaign of civil disobedience, my brother Tom was selected as one of the Green candidates for the Euro elections that may not, but probably will, take place next month. He would make an excellent and hard-working MEP, and after waiting in Cornwall for years for the right wave to come along, a combination of indignation over climate change inaction and the Brexit debacle may now give him an opportunity to surf his way into power.

In the still improbable event that he is elected, I wish him well. As his political career takes off I will be content to be Piers to his Jeremy: an eccentric blogger brother of whom he is always slightly embarrassed. Continue reading “There are dangerously authoritarian tendencies in green politics”

Lessons from the Ipswich Family Court: 7 mistakes that litigants in person often make

If only I had the near miraculous ability of Gordon Exall, editor of Civil Litigation Brief, to convert complex and often rather turgid case-law into manageably-sized blogposts of crystalline clarity. Sadly he hasn’t yet done that to the extraordinary matrimonial case of VW v. BH, and I doubt that he will because Gordon’s posts tend to be aimed at legal practitioners. The lessons of VW v. BH, a divorce case recently heard by HHJ Lynn Roberts at the Ipswich County Court, are more for those attempting to litigate without lawyers.

HHJ Lynn Roberts

Before we dive into the detail of the case, a warning: I really don’t know a great deal about family law. I tried my hand at it many years ago and found that I was pretty hopeless. If you want to read a blog by someone who really knows about family law, I would recommend either Lucy Reed’s Pink Tape (Lucy has also written the fantastically useful Family Court without a lawyer, a handbook for litigants in person), or David Burrows, who likes to concentrate on broader questions of family law policy.

What I do know is that the disputes are usually about money or about children. The days when the evidence from the latest celebrity defended divorce could fill the Sunday papers – seedy Brighton hotels with private eyes examining the sheets, hoping that the Queen’s Proctor would not smell a rat, and so on – have long since gone the way of co-respondent shoes. Continue reading “Lessons from the Ipswich Family Court: 7 mistakes that litigants in person often make”

Abi Wilkinson should be ashamed of her abuse of Danny Finkelstein

Danny Finkelstein – or Baron Finkelstein of Pinner to give him the title he hardly ever uses – has become the latest person to be the object of a twitter hate campaign.

He is, according to Abi Wilkinson, a Corbyn-supporting journalist, “a racist scumbag” who is “chill with ethnic cleansing.”

It may seem surprising that Finkelstein, former member of the SDP and since that party’s demise a leading voice of “moderate” Conservatism, should be so characterised, even by Wilkinson who believes that “incivility isn’t merely justifiable, but actively necessary.”

His columns in The Times are typically reflective, considered and measured. This has not prevented him sometimes receiving the most appalling online abuse, accusing him of defending paedophilia, for example, because he expressed scepticism about groundless allegations levelled at politicians. Continue reading “Abi Wilkinson should be ashamed of her abuse of Danny Finkelstein”

I’m a Remainer but I’m not campaigning for a second referendum

Last Saturday something like 100,000 people marched through Westminster demanding a second referndum on any final Brexit deal. The “People’s Vote” petition has gathered what, at present, seems a fairly modest number of 145,000 signatures at the time of writing, asking for the same thing. According to the Petition:

The future of this country and young people is too important to be decided by politicians alone, who cannot unite around the national interest.”

It is a mirror image of the argument that “politicians alone” should not have decided on our continued membership of the EU; a populist, anti-representative-democracy, argument that led directly to the 2016 referendum. Continue reading “I’m a Remainer but I’m not campaigning for a second referendum”

Secret Barrister Set To Become Special Tribunal Judge

The leaked news that the Secret Barrister, who recently published the critically acclaimed The law and how it’s broken, has been appointed as a Special Tribunal Judge has come as a surprise to his or her many fans.

The Special Tribunal is a little-publicised court that sits in private at undisclosed locations, including, according to some unconfirmed rumours, the Cold War nuclear bunker inside Box railway tunnel in Wiltshire.

Box Bunker

Created by the anodyne sounding Court Publicity (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2015 under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, a Special Tribunal can be convened, according to Paragraph 1 of Schedule 4, whenever the Minister of Justice certifies that a secret court hearing is necessary:

in the interests of national security, maintaining public confidence in the justice system or when for any other reason the Minister believes a closed hearing would be expedient in the interests of justice.” Continue reading “Secret Barrister Set To Become Special Tribunal Judge”