Friday, 12 May 2017

Supreme Court: something of the night

Today's case is about Soho sex shops but punters' eyes will glaze over: in R (on the application of Hemming (trading as Simply Pleasure Limited) and others) v Westminster City Council, is the council's scheme of charging fees for licensing sex shops permitted by Directive 2006/123/EC on Services in the Internal Market, as implemented by the Provision of Services Regulations 2009?

The source of strife is how the council makes licence-holders subsidise the cost of dealing with unlicensed sex shops.

This case has bounced back from the European Court of Justice. 'We weren't anxious to come here, my Lord,' says Philip Kolvin QC. He is Chair of London's Night Time Commission, working to keep the city open all hours.

The nine interveners include the Bar Standards Board, the Law Society and, for reasons I am unable to explain but which may have something to do with rogue blacksmiths, the Farriers Registration Council.

On the bench, Lord Neuberger is a stranger to repose.

Counsel are going at breakneck speed - there's a lot to get through. Even so, the bench is lenient: 'I wonder if you are conceding that too readily,' muses Lord Reed, offering an opening.

'There's an air of Alice in Wonderland about all this though, isn't there,' says Lord Clarke.
'My Lord, with respect...' says Victoria Wakefield.
'Alice Through the Looking-Glass,' says Lord Neuberger.

On the way up to the courtroom this morning I glimpsed Lord Carnwath in a looking-glass as he entered a mirrored lift with a tennis racket on his back. The optical and philosophical possibilities would have kept Velรกzquez happy for months but I did not pursue this image and the doors closed.

When I worked in an office in daytime Soho, the sex industry was just one of many lattices laid over the area: it was possible not to see it at all. The last time I went to Soho was for the launch of a periodical called The Amorist which despite the title is stocked in WHSmith - forgive the plug but I'm in the first issue. I found myself talking to a woman with exquisite manners carrying a feather duster like the plumes on Louis XIV's bed ('I'm here as Cynthia Payne') who turned out to be Koo Stark.

Waiting for reinforcements on Parliament Sq...

Going into the courtroom...

Sorting out the bundles...

Taking a note of proceedings...

Coda: you are welcome to a law and art salon in London on 23 May. I'll be joined by intellectual property lawyer/organist Hubert  Best, crime writer/former criminal lawyer Frances Fyfield and artist Jacqueline Nicholls - details here.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Amorist, a new magazine

'Never get involved in a new publication,' my boss would intone, in the days when old publications were deemed to be safe. We did editing with pencils, rubbers, scissors, glue, a Rotadex full of jokes, and an art department along the carpeted corridor. They had scalpels and a more narcotic glue. The art director was chairman of the Royal Yachting Association. The editor's PA's boyfriend had a sideline in porn but she was so posh it didn't count.

We moved on. One of us married the chairman of a big four accountancy firm. One became the Duchess of Buccleuch.

Selfridges' window, 2016
And I got involved in a new publication.

The Amorist is edited by Rowan Pelling, who negotiates the boundaries of taste with zest and refinement.  Billed as 'a romantic, witty and discursive erotic magazine – a flirtatious conversation, designed to appeal to women and men', it's aimed like Cupid's arrow at readers of The Oldie, London Review of Books, History Today, The Lady, The Spectator, The TLS, New Statesman, Private Eye...
Selfridges' window, 2016

My own involvement is low on stress (for me, anyway). It's a feature written and illustrated by me about drawing Japanese rope bondage in performance (see my other blog, two clicks away, for background). I'm very happy to have it in the launch issue, out on 26 April in WHSmith and elsewhere, including an online edition. There's a cheapo subscription deal.

For more information please see
Selfridges' window, 2016

Ladbroke Square Gardens, Notting Hill

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

I am dying, Europe, dying

I've just done a swathe of English things.

I don't normally watch telly at 9am but this is Hue and Cry, the Ealing comedy/adventure from 1947, a love-letter to bombed-out London. Street kids in hand-me-downs outwit the powerful enemy. The population is lean; sugar and meat still rationed; the NHS unborn.

The kids escape along sewer tunnels without waders. Amid the odd fist-fight, the film celebrates kindness, inclusion and defence of the weak. You know, those values we're chucking down the sewer.

I set out for the anti-Brexit march. A Christian is proselytising on the bus: 'Egypt means house of bondage,' he says. Babylon. But there are very few police needed on this demo.

In Park Lane we wait calmly for an hour and a half while coaches from the provinces disgorge polite campaigners. Damn, I've forgotten my Soho House membership card. I'd rather be a member of the EU though. I'm with a friend whose work is endangered by Brexit. He designs MRI scanners. Nah, we don't need those any more. We protest along Piccadilly, nip in to use the loos in a club off St James's, and end up in front of the speeches in Parliament Square. Gallant losers. Numbers are estimated at between 25,000 to 100,000.

I walk up Bond Street, past some contemptuous demo-chic. 

I turn to the best bit in The Times, the obituary column. Lucky Gordon is dead. He became a building block in the end of deference when his face was slashed by a jealous lover of Christine Keeler. What could expose the tribal English more than the Profumo affair - aristocracy, cruelty, hypocrisy, sex, money, drugs, Soho, Notting Hill, a fall guy driven to suicide - and the disapproving prism of a restricted childhood through which I uncomprehendingly read the gloating reports in Beaverbrook's Daily Express. 

I'm going to the RSC (kept alive by taxpayers, punters and corporate sponsors, all of whom will take a harsher view of their spend after Brexit).

I swot up by reading Plutarch's life of Julius Caesar: 'Writer after writer had entered the bitter controversy. Britain was just a name and a legend, they said; the island did not exist and never had existed. Now Caesar attempted to conquer it, and advanced the Roman Empire beyond the bounds of the human world. He sailed twice to the island from the opposite shore in Gaul, and in a long sequence of battles he did more damage to the enemy than good to his own men, for there was nothing worth taking from a people of such wretched poverty.'

I'm in denial. Brexit won't happen.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Supreme Court: ICLR OU mooting competition grand final

My safe word is remain.

That’s how I was going to begin this post when I thought that the case behind today's competition was R v Brown (Operation Spanner), about consent to sado-masochistic acts which incur actual bodily harm. I was polishing an analogy with Brexit.

But I hadn’t read the brief properly so I prepared for the wrong case. Are barristers’ nightmares made of this? Plus being bombarded by what Lady Hale cheerfully calls horrible questions? Quick, what’s the test for calculating the measure of damages in contract? What’s the test for direct discrimination? What are the facts of Schnorbus v Land Hessen?

Lady Hale is judging the ICLR Open University Law Society mooting competition. The level of nerves looks normal – even starry QCs can blush or address Lady Hale as ‘my Lord’, so the four finalists have nothing to worry about on that score.

Jacqueline Roque by Picasso

This court is not judgmental about looks but the Erin-O’Connor/Jacqueline-Roque-looking finalist can come back and model for Picasso.

The moot question involves a gay wedding, religious convictions and a contract to supply photography and catering.

I am pathetically relieved to see that I know a little about two of the authorities mentioned in the notes – Preddy v Bull, which I sat in on here as Bull v Hall, and Gough v the UK concerning the Naked Rambler, two of whose appearances I attended at Winchester Crown Court.

Top tip for contestants: if there’s a microphone, it’s your friend, so know where it is. Old hands take time to adjust a desk mike if necessary.

Another tip: criteria plural, criterion singular. That gets clocked here. Along with everything else.

And a final tip for life from Lady Hale: ‘When you realise you’re on to a loser, you move on to the next point.’

After giving what is in effect a tutorial, she compliments the finalists on standing up to her interrogation very well. ‘I must be a natural sadist,’ says Lady Hale.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Carnival Captured exhibition

The Carnival Village Trust have just held a multi-media art competition to mark 50 years of the Notting Hill Carnival. 

There is a free exhibition of selected entries at the Tabernacle, 34-35 Powis Square, W11 2AY, until 5 March 2017, 10am-9pm.

I won second prize in the 18+ category with these five drawings. Elimu Carnival Band and Paddington Arts kindly allow me to draw people getting ready in the morning. It's indoors, and quiet, with a proper chair. 

This photograph, taken in 1994 by Chandra Prasad, is the competition winner. It looks at skin but is the only image in the show which gets under the skin of the carnival. No one is smiling. Hard to date (and hard to photograph in the gallery lighting), it's in one of those parts of Notting Hill haunted by Peter Rachman.

And do you know who this woman is? She was dancing at last year's carnival. It would be nice to find her before the exhibition ends. This photo, by Denise Turley, shared third prize.

Thanks are due to the competition benefactors - Arts Council England, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (despite what I said about them in a recent blog post and in repeated submissions to the planning department), the Tabernacle and the Westway Trust.

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