Saturday, 29 July 2017

Supreme Court: one for the road

Whisky. Horrid. Had some once. Never again. Some people like it so much that it kills them.

Attempts to find political solutions are charged; the agenda can change. I'm reminded of an upset from 2009 - here's a quote from The Guardian: 'Professor David Nutt, the government's chief drug adviser, has been sacked a day after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.'

Over two days, starting on the anniversary of the forced abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, Scotch Whisky Association and others v The Lord Advocate and another asks whether the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 is incompatible with EU law and therefore unlawful under the Scotland Act 1998.

Over the road in the House of Commons, the merest mention of the ECJ can provoke boorish jeering and it's a relief to be in a more enlightened setting.

Should alcohol be subject to a minimum price of 50p per unit, which producers claim would make them less competitive? Or, as counsel asks at the beginning: 'Why not tax?' It's pointed out that Buckfast Tonic Wine, already more than 50p per unit, fuels a lot of crime.

There is passing mention of people who can afford 'a decent Burgundy from Waitrose' but the focus is on the one per cent of drinkers who are 'hazardous and harmful drinkers in poverty'.

You don't have to walk far from the court to meet street drinkers. Beyond the issue of price, tackling drunkenness involves looking at poverty, unemployment, deprivation, family breakdown, homelessness and mental illness. Once you've done volunteering stints somewhere like Crisis you don't just see a street-drinker shape any more: you look into a face and wonder if you've met that person before.

William Hogarth's engraving from 1751, Gin Lane, depicts the plague of cheap spirits. The Gin Act of 1736, which raised taxes and attempted to impose licences on the legions of gin sellers, was widely flouted.

This is Lord Neuberger's last hearing as President but it's business as usual. There are no epoch-marking verbal posies presented to him by counsel - not while I'm in the courtroom, at least. Instead, there's a beginning: Philip Simpson QC finishes bang on lunchtime by saying: 'This has in fact been my first appearance before the Supreme Court or indeed the House of Lords and it's been a privilege to address you in this case.'

'Mr Simpson,' says Lord Neuberger, 'it may have been your first appearance here but you have timed your ending of your submissions extremely well.'

The President has set a swift pace and in the afternoon proceedings end with an hour in hand.

'The Court is now adjourned,' says Lord Neuberger.

Sunday, 23 July 2017


I'm asked to draw scissors for the third issue of Proof, the magazine of This number is about legal aid cuts and access to justice.

Okay. My pinking shears (dianthus flowers are called pinks because they look pinked, not pink) make seam edges neat. They are not chosen.

My dressmaking shears from Morplan (the West End rag trade emporium where you go for tiara stands) try to look hard. An innocent implement for a tough subject.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Supreme Court: a guide for bears

This is a picture book for people who like bears and litigation.

One day I bought a Supreme Court pen and pencil and used them to draw a souvenir bear which was on display.

I then bought a bear and drew some putti around the view from the public seats of Robert Howe QC.

Some people are a bit snooty about the fact that the Supreme Court stocks bears, along with Christmas tree baubles, baseball hats, bone china mugs and other goods. As a tax-payer I'm happy if they can make a few bob and, more importantly, good-quality souvenirs help to spread information and goodwill.

I occasionally draw real life scenes from the public seats, with the Court's permission, but I did most of the bear drawings at the kitchen table - a home from home for the bears, because the table had been made by Luke Hughes's company, which was involved in the design and layout of the refurbished court.

This project didn't make the front burner for a while. One delay was caused by doing rough drawings for a children's book written by someone else about the snail in the bottle case. She is seeking a publisher. Lawyers will guess rightly that this is the Stevenson tartan.

The final unpredictable interruption was a new magazine, Rowan Pelling's The Amorist, for which I wrote and illustrated a couple of articles.

The horror of self-publishing at least meant that I had control, even if I agonised over the choices. What size should the book be? Too late, I now know the answer: whatever fits into the pillar box near your home, so you don't have to go to the post office.

The choice of typeface was easy: Perpetua, as used by Faber in its poetry books. The bears' utterance on the back cover is in Gill Sans - they don't see the world in terms of serifs.

I left the front cover until last. I sat on the wall of a shrubbery on Parliament Square to sketch the building.

Not ready for its close-up
Then I took approximate layouts and the drawings to Dick Makin Imaging for imaging and book design.

Ready for its close-up

It was printed, very quickly and without drama, by Biddles. 

The Supreme Court: a guide for bears is available from the Supreme Court, Avizandum, Daunt Books (Marylebone and Holland Park), Heffers, Heywood Hill, Wildy & Sons, Amazon, eBay and me for £6.95 plus relevant postage.  

Paperback, 32pp, 8” x 10”, illustrated in colour, ISBN 978-1-9997146-2-8    

“Isobel Williams’s drawings capture the essence of these inquisitive and endearing characters – and her words help bring to life some of the things they get up to when the Justices and staff aren’t looking.” – Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court 

“Clever, funny, informative.” – Ann McAllister, Judge

"A charming guide for children and adults alike. Who knew there were so many bears at the UK Supreme Court?" – Joshua Rozenberg

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Supreme Court: on tour in Edinburgh

'This fetch is looking good.'

'A bit of a zigzag here but they're on line most of the time.'

'I think that's one of the best drive turns we've seen.'

'If they do well over the rest of the course they should qualify for the Supreme‎…'

‘Three hundred and thirty-eight points scored - he's through to the Supreme!’

Yes, I’ve been watching sheepdog trials on BBC Alba (in Gaelic with subtitles), reflecting that Lord Neuberger's 'Yup' could sound a bit like a Highland shepherd’s call.

Setting up

The Supreme Court is playing to a full house in Edinburgh’s City Chambers, equipped with a sparkly new Instagram account and its travelling livery. The thistle in the court’s emblem seems more secure since the general election but the blue flax flower of Northern Ireland looks pale.

The home of Edinburgh City Council, City Chambers is an eighteenth century building with Victorian-Gothic/Celtic-twilight décor incorporating earnest cod-mediaeval scenes of Scottish history. The unavoidable Scott Monument looms outside.

There are a trio of local cases. Sadovska and another v Secretary of State for the Home Department considers where the burden of proof lies in an alleged marriage of convenience.

Aberdeen City and Shire Strategic Development Planning Authority v Elsick Development Company Limited is an intricate examination of planning obligations, compliance and jurisdiction.

Brown v The Scottish Ministers and others asks if recalled extended sentence prisoners should benefit from the duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to facilitate rehabilitation and release. Counsel cites Lord Atkin’s question, "Who then, in law, is my neighbour?", a pillar of Donoghue v Stevenson known to all law students, even the drop-outs. 

We are close to the cradle of this litigation with its trail of known unknowns - e.g. what was the gender of May Donoghue’s friend? Was there actually a snail in the ginger beer bottle? The first hearing took place in the Court of Session just over the road in 1929.  

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Moko jumbie family workshop

Moko jumbie is dancing on stilts. I drew an outdoor workshop at the Yaa Centre in London by Touch D Sky, featuring Adrian Young from Trinidad (starry sweatshirt) and Alan Vaughan. It was organised by Carnival Village Trust and Elimu.

I didn't draw Adrian's demonstrations - I just wanted to watch - but you can see clips on YouTube. He moved to the beat from his headphones, his mobile phone in one hand.

Performers from the 2015 Carnival

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 Velázquez 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.