Category: Judges and Juries


Attack of the Clones: Supreme Court keeps its white male first eleven

27 February 2013 by

UK Supreme Court judges walk towards Westminster AbbeyBaroness Helena Kennedy has argued that judges have a tendency to clone themselves when choosing successors. It is hard to avoid that impression in the Supreme Court, which kept its white male first eleven in place yesterday by appointing three new justices: Lord Justice Hughes, Lord Justice Toulson and Lord Hodge. The sole woman amongst 12 justices of our highest appeal court remains Lady Hale. There are no black or Asian judges, not have there ever been.

How did this happen? The answer is we don’t know and won’t ever find out. Around two thirds of the Supreme Court’s case load are public law and human rights, decisions which affect millions of people. Yet appointments are made by an opaque commission consisting of senior judges.

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Judging people – and a case about a Porsche 917

23 January 2013 by

AT-30012 McQUEEN LO RESPiper v. Hales, HHJ Simon Brown QC, 18 January 2013 read judgment

Two types of readers may be interested in this case; the first, who are interested in the age-old judging problem of whom to believe when faced with a conflict of evidence, and the second (and I don’t want to do any gender-stereotyping) those who are fascinated in whether a replica Porsche 917 (think Steve McQueen in Le Mans) over-revved and blew because (a) it had a gearbox fault or (b) the Defendant driver missed a gear.

I will disappoint the second set of readers – but the judgment is short and well-written, so, chaps, read it for yourselves  to find out why the gearbox was acquitted of all charges laid against it.

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UK Supreme Court judgment summaries on YouTube… now we need the full hearings

21 January 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 09.43.46The UK Supreme Court has today launched a YouTube channel showing short summaries of judgments. The summaries are read out by justices when a judgment is released. There are already ten online and more will be uploaded each time a judgment is released.

Since its launch in 2009, the UK’s new Supreme Court has been doing rather well at online access to justice. Its website is clear and elegant, it publishes excellent press summaries at the same time as judgments, it was the first supreme court to join Twitter (@uksupremecourt now has over 27,000 followers) and its hearings can be watched live online thanks to a partnership with Sky News.

Judgment summaries are a good start. Without wanting to sound ungrateful, what would really be useful is to be able to access recordings of full hearings on YouTube, as is provided on the superb Brazilian Supremo Tribunal Federal YouTube channel.
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“Murder most foul”: whole life imprisonment not a human rights breach

22 November 2012 by

Oakes and others v R [2012] EWCA Crim 2435 – read judgment

The imposition of whole life orders for extremely serious crimes does not violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3.

Until relatively recently, the Secretary of State decided the minimum term to be served by a “lifer” – a defendant who subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment. This is now a matter for the sentencing judge whose jurisdiction is conferred by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. Schedule 21 para 4 allows judges to order a whole life minimum term,  a jurisdiction of last resort in cases of exceptional criminality.

It was submitted in these conjoined appeals that this provision contravenes Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Not so, said the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division.


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The BAILII lecture: No Judgment, No Justice

21 November 2012 by

For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.

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A war on Judicial Review? [updated]

19 November 2012 by

The Prime Minister is to “get a grip” on people forcing unnecessary delays to Government policy by cracking down on the “massive growth industry” of Judicial Review. David Cameron told business leaders today:

“When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. … everything was thrown at ‘the overriding purpose’ of beating Hitler. … this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”

The detail of the changes is yet to be revealed (update – more detail is now available on the Ministry of Justice website, including the promise of a public consultation), but the PM plans to ” reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting.”

Clearly some of the PM’s Dunkirk spirit rhetoric is aimed at cheering up business leaders, who need a lot of that at the moment. But putting the rhetoric aside, there is cause for concern here.

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Why we allow dissent – by our judges

14 October 2012 by

Why do judges disagree and publish their disagreements when cases get decided? After all, the Cabinet does not do so (openly at least), and our FTSE-100 companies do not generally do so, when their executives propose a merger or launch a new product.  Surely, judicial dissent is a recipe for diminishing the authority of the majority answer, and an invitation to self-indulgence on the part of the minority to re-fight lost and irrelevant battles.

Lord Kerr has given a very persuasive answer to both concerns in the Birkenhead lecture on 8 October 2012. But it is worth thinking about the alternative way of doing things, before making up your mind on whether the current way is the best way.

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Freemen on the Land are “parasites” peddling “pseudolegal nonsense”: Canadian judge fights back

30 September 2012 by

Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (Canadian) – read judgment / PDF

Almost a year ago, I and some other legal bloggers wrote about a phenomenon known as the Freemen on the Land movement. I called the post Freemen of the dangerous nonsense, for that is exactly what the movement is, for those desperate enough to sign up to it. Now a Canadian judge has done many judges around the world a huge favour by exploding the movement’s ideas and leaders (or “gurus”) in a carefully referenced and forensic 192-page judgment, which should be read by anyone who has ever taken a passing interest in this issue, and certainly by any judge faced by a litigant attempting the arguments in court. 

The Freemen, alongside other groups with similar creeds, believe that if you change your name and deny the jurisdiction of the courts, you will be able to escape debt collectors, council tax and even criminal charges. As this member of the Occupy London movement, “commonly known as dom” wrote in guardian.co.uk (of all places) “if you don’t consent to be that “person”, you step outside the system“.

As you may have guessed, this magical technique never works in the courts, but judges are often flummoxed when faced with the arguments, which are odd and in many ways risible. But what has been lacking is an authoritative, systematic judgment explaining, in detail, why that is. Until now, that is.

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A new president, a blog and a talk

11 September 2012 by

Three quick, unrelated things.

First, the European Court of Human Rights elected a new President yesterday to replace Sir Nicolas Bratza. Dean Spielman (pictured), from Luxembourg, was elected by secret ballot and will succeed Sir Nicolas on 1 November 2012. He is only 49 so unlike the outspoken Bratza he will not be forced to retire before the end of his 3-year tenure (Bratza is now 67 and served for just under a year). Judge Spielman’s C.V. is here (point of interest: he studied at Cambridge). The Court’s press release here.

Secondly, there is a new human rights blog in town, the New Zealand Human Rights Blog. It looks good, and from the initial posts appears to be taking an interest in UK human rights law too.

Thirdly, the Criminal Bar Association and Law Reform Committee of the Bar Council are putting on an interesting debate next Thursday 20 September, 6-8pm: ‘Protecting free speech: A public interest defence for the media?’. All details are here – you will need to download the form in order to book. The event costs £10 in advance or £15 on the door.

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Let the judges blog

15 August 2012 by

The legal blogosphere has been aflame this week with the news, first published on a magistrate’s blog, that the Senior Presiding Judge has sent new guidance to judges banning them from blogging in their judicial capacity. The SPJ has also threatened disciplinary action unless they remove existing content with breaches the new rules.

The key section of the purported guidance is this:

Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

The guidance applies to those who blog anonymously because “it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered“.

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New Publication: ‘Justice Wide Open’ Working Papers – Judith Townend

20 June 2012 by

The real “democratic deficit” in the courts is about limited public access not “unelected judges“, Adam Wagner argued on the UK Human Rights Blog at the weekend, challenging a recent political and media narrative.

In his view, the internet age necessitates “a completely new understanding of the old adage ‘Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done‘”.

Wagner is one of 14 authors who contributed to a new working publication entitled ‘Justice Wide Open’, produced by the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London, following an event on February 29 2012. The individual chapters can be accessed electronically.

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There is a democratic deficit in the courts… here’s how to fill it

17 June 2012 by

The current Government often complains about a “democratic deficit” in the courts. It seems that  “unelected judges” are making important decisions on social policy without any kind of democratic mandate, particularly in controversial human rights cases.

I agree that there is a democratic deficit in the courts. But it isn’t about elections. It is about access.

The Government seeks to solve the problem by involving Parliament more in the judicial process, the latest and most striking example being the Home Office’s attempt to codify Article 8 ECHR, the right to private and family life, in immigration cases. The Home Office wants fundamentally to alter the role of the courts, hoping that it will “shift from reviewing the proportionality of individual administrative decisions to reviewing the proportionality of the rules” (see para 39). The argument is that since judges are unaccountable, those who are accountable must be more central in the decisions they make, particularly in sensitive areas such as immigration.

This is attempt to take power away from judges. But why?
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The rising cost of free speech: Reynolds, contempt and Twitter

12 April 2012 by

Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ –  indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.

Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?

On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.

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When their Lordships open their mouths extra-judicially …

23 March 2012 by

Do Lord Phillips, Baroness Hale and other members of the judiciary have the right to say what they think? At first glance that seems like a ridiculous question. Firstly, it is their job to express their views on the legal disputes coming before them on an almost daily basis. Secondly, to look at it from an entirely different perspective, they enjoy the same protections granted by article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as the rest of us. Of course they have the right to say what they think.

But what about when they are acting in a non-judicial capacity – when they are giving speeches or participating in conferences or being interviewed? What about when the topic of discussion is not a narrowly defined legal point but a more politically charged issue of public debate? The answer must be the same. They have the right to express their views, but whether or not they should is a more nuanced question. This was the topic selected by the Lord Neuberger MR in his Presidential Address to the Holdsworth Club on 2 March 2012.

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Reforming or redefining the European Court of Human Rights? – Noreen O’Meara

8 March 2012 by

This is the second in a series of posts analysing the UK’s draft “Brighton Declaration” on European Court of Human Rights reform.

Reactions to proposals for reforming the European Court of Human Rights contained the recently leaked Draft Brighton Declaration have been rightly critical.  Concerns have been directed at specific features which could impact on the essential role and function of the Court, inhibit access to the court for victims, and which may prejudice the practical impact of the HRA 1998 and the debate on replacing it with a UK Bill of Rights. 

It is testament to the eagerness with which these reforms are awaited—and the weaknesses which have been detected—that the Open Society Justice Initiative has launched a petition against the direction these proposals are taking.

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