Thursday, 5 October 2017

Supreme Court: a shard of history

I wish I'd watched a recent episode of Coronation Street in which an artist breaches section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 by drawing live action inside one of the lower courts (i.e. not the Supreme Court, which doesn't sit in Weatherfield).

In real life, an artist has to draw such scenes from memory. This was not a plot line but a collective mistake. The subject of the picture is the alleged victim of sexual abuse so she would not be portrayed anyway, even from memory. It has led to complaints to Ofcom and apologies from Corrie chiefs.

This is Lady Hale's first session as President, joined by two of the three new Justices, Lady Black and Lord Lloyd-Jones. All is serene on the bench while courtroom nerves are about normal: just before the second half, a lawyer breaks a glass. Symbolists would say this represents a ceiling.

The usher emerges cheerfully from behind the scenes: 'Did someone make an impact in there? Everything OK? I've seen a lot worse.' He sorts everything out.

The appellant, who in 2010 was the first barrister to become a partner in a legal disciplinary practice, is here to observe. Daphne Evadne Portia O'Connor v Bar Standards Board asks whether, in a claim that a prosecution breaches human rights, the time limit for bringing proceedings under the Human Rights Act 1998 runs from the date of acquittal/conviction or the date on which any appeal is concluded. And was the High Court judge right to conclude, for the summary judgment application, that Portia O'Connor's claim of indirect discrimination under ECHR had a realistic prospect of success?

Counsel are softly-spoken. Lady Hale reminds them: 'The first duty of any advocate is to be heard,' adding that the microphones are mainly for recording and transmission, with only a small amount of amplification.

'I can't hear anything,' says the woman behind me. She adds, 'They are all beautiful,' referring to the row of students in front of us, and leaves.

Outside, another bench, another beginning.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Bench pressing: 'Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity'

Are you bench-fit? There's a handy 'Am I Ready?' guide on the Judicial Appointments Commission website.

I picked up this tip in Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity (Routledge, £115) edited by Graham Gee and Erika Rackley. These essays spotlight key questions, such as the level to which judicial appointments should be political.

And what is merit? Sir Thomas Legg, former Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor, writes: 'We appear to owe the concept of merit for public appointments originally to the Chinese Civil Service in the Qin and Han dynasties.' I would like a whole chapter on this, with sample exam papers and ink drawings of Confucius, but it is not to be.

Legg expresses doubt about lay members of selection committees: 'For many reasons, lay members are often likely to defer to their judicial colleagues in these decisions.' This is countered by Jenny Rowe, the first Chief Executive of the Supreme Court: 'The judges were always very respectful of these levels of expertise and welcomed the perspective offered by lay members...There was no shortage of lively discussion and debate, and no question at all of the lay members being supine.'

Sadly, proof-reading budgets are slashed nowadays. For example, page 34, with its three references to the 'Prime Minster' [sic], sounds the Proof-Reader Attention Deficit Alert (PRADA), pointing to that trippy state in which subconscious urges to be skimming Vogue over-ride what you see. But cost-cutting doesn't allow for a second proof-reading and sometimes not even a first.

Sketch of Christopher Allan at Judicial Images workshop
Uncritically, I would say that the best bit of the book is Appendix IV - included in the free preview on Amazon - which is about how I came to draw the cover illustration. I'm indebted to Christopher Allan, Court and Ceremonial Manager at Ede & Ravenscroft, for giving me a close-up view of the robes in his care, groomed like champion race-horses.

If you think you're hard enough for the bench, then - even without issues of diversity - you'll be interested in the matters this book raises.

Coda: if you prefer the soft and fluffy, may I recommend The Supreme Court: A Guide for Bears.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Another pro-EU march

People wear the flag any way they can. A woman with a seaside-postcard cleavage is wearing a plunging tight blue sheath dress and gold stripper heels. She sits next to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square.

You can't beat a good reversible hand-embroidered placard.

The man wearing an ersatz space outfit didn't expect to meet a veteran of the Apollo moon landing programme. Pat Norris received the Apollo Individual Achievement Award from Neil Armstrong in 1969, and the Arthur C. Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

David Davis has said: "Half of my task is running a set of projects that make the Nasa moon shot look quite simple." But he's having a bash, on our behalf. Marvellous.

Brexit threatens to harm the UK space industry. Athough the European Space Agency sits outside the EU, a third of ESA programmes have EU funding. The UK is preparing to shut itself out of those.

The speakers here are a mixed bunch. Protest marches depend on volunteers and donations. But we're trying to look like the top team, not something dumped outside Oxfam in a bin-liner. So can we apply a bit of quality control? Be ruthless about who's allowed to speak. Set time limits. Screen out the ranters and the laboriously unfunny. Jab speakers in the arm with a darning needle if they go on too long. Today an emerging star is Conor McArdle, a twenty-year-old law student from Northern Ireland.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Notting Hill Carnival - day 2

I'm a local resident - one of the few around in my road this bank holiday.
This morning I start drawing members of the Elimu Mas Band getting ready in the Paddington Arts building, but I begin to shiver on a hot day, leave early and make my way home.

The hundred-plus Batala drummers, sounding like the apocalypse, open proceedings and I pause to watch their complicated cornering manoeuvre into Westbourne Grove.

I revive at dusk and wander out. Concerned citizen journalists are videoing something through gaps in a hedge: police are subduing someone in a garden. But that means riot police and - oh joy - horses.

People are entranced. Pat-the-horse becomes the only game in town. 'I could stay here for ever,' says one boy as his girlfriend pulls him away.

One drunk boy offers to punch a horse. 'I really wouldn't do that,' says the rider.

'What a shitty carnival,' says a drunk white girl wearing hardly any clothes. In one sense she is accurate: as I walk past the villas tonight, the faecal smells are horse, fox and human; the neighbourhood dogs will have a diverting walk tomorrow morning.


Havona House

Havona House at the foot of Portobello Road has been a building site for years. Keen scholars of planning disputes can look it up on the council's website. The interludes when there are actual builders present are characterised by temporary traffic lights, reversing lorries and slippery mud. It has the obligatory ballroom and a two-storey basement - the last of these monstrosities to be permitted by the council. 

Visitors to the front door such as Mr Fox (pictured here) will enjoy not a red carpet, but a zebra crossing. Unlike the pastiche architectural flourishes all over the unfortunate frontage, the Belisha beacon is at least useful.

The ho-hum list of plants (all shade-tolerant, natch) planned for its poky, east-facing, overlooked back garden includes viburnum. Most viburnums in Notting Hill get blighted. That tree outside - is it a robinia or a gleditsia? Don't know, but it's got roots, just a few feet from the walls. There are reminders nearby of what tree roots do to walls.


Would anyone who could afford £14.5m (Zoopla's estimate) really want to live on top of a pedestrian crossing which can barely cope with the tourist tide at weekends? An absentee owner, perhaps? Or someone who likes looking into the top decks of buses?

I benefitted from the post-war boom in social housing even though some people - including my geography teacher, Miss Newell - were rude to me about it when I was growing up on the estate. Now it's collapsing while homes in this borough stand empty. If Havona House ever gets finished, someone who likes having balls had better move in quickly.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Notting Hill Carnival 2017: day one

A country which is capable of organising a minute's silence (pretty much) in the Notting Hill Carnival is making a total lash-up of Brexit. You're free to draw your own conclusions.

In the morning I draw people in Elimu Mas Band getting ready in the Paddington Arts building. All is calm and order.

Later in the day I wander out to see what's afoot.

Two views of Babylon:

I start to draw a girl who is rag-doll limp and shouting hoarse abuse at the world but I discover some finer feelings and tell her boyfriend that there's a first-aid centre nearby. It's early evening and her body is dyed which means she's been around since the morning's powder-paint-flinging ceremony. Her boyfriend opts to half-carry his cantankerous burden to the Tube instead. There is a lot of poison in her system which may find an outlet on the Central Line.

In the small area which I patrol, numbers of visitors are down this year but there are many more police. The hippy-ish-looking guy I saw being busted for the contents of his Old Holborn tin probably didn't expect a dozen riot police to find him an object of fascination.

In the streets I look for signs of green for Grenfell:

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.