Saturday, 23 March 2013

Occupy: dreadgate

Tom (left) is refused permission to speak further
Inside the Royal Festival Hall the Philharmonia plays Charlie Chaplin's music to his 1936 film Modern Times, a satire on the Great Depression.

Outside the auditorium, Occupy is having a meeting. Activism and satire are an awkward mix. They create conflict in the soul of Johnny Teatent, aka Tom.

In the squat
From Tom's belt dangles a white man's dreadlock - the only one the man possessed. It is long, springy and shiny. It gives Tom a faint air of My Little Pony back to front. It is described as a scalp, a body part.

What follows is comic and tragic. The glaring need for professional intervention gets lost in a thicket of bureaucracy and self-congratulatory meeting-itis. The victim has asked me to cut what happened. (I suggest he goes to the police, but then I'm a taxpayer.)

Some people leave the meeting in a sweary flurry. Chaplin's sentimental music swells.

Next, the squat pub quiz.

The quiz is at Eileen House, Elephant and Castle, a brutal architectural disaster and subject of an eternal planning dispute. I am accused of seeking glamour in going to the squat. I wish.

'Is the asbestos on this floor?' says someone. Shrug. There is bright cheerless office lighting, a room full of bikes, grey everywhere, a couple of friendly dogs.

My friend Orlando goes to buy himself some tobacco. He comes back. He's left the tobacco in the shop. He goes back for it. Orlando and Tom are probably cool but I don't have a cool gauge. Tom has front teeth missing - knocked out by police, he claims.

Tom, Orlando and I are a team, the Radical Quiz Faction. The questions are monotonous.

'What does LASPO stand for?'
'Name two open-air squats in London.'

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Supreme Court: Bank Mellat and Richard III

Bank Mellat v Her Majesty's Treasury has an undertow of violence. The goodnight-all option.

I'm holding charcoal. That's one thing the planet wouldn't be short of after the bomb.

Observers in the public seats
Is Bank Mellat controlled by the Iranian state and funding nuclear arms proliferation? That's not the issue here, which is a procedural one: are directions made by the Treasury under Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 in breach of, inter alia, the rules of natural justice and/or article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and/or the procedural obligation in Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR?

It's a rare day for forensic twitchers: nine judges are sitting, the maximum. Five is routine here.

Lady Hale is keeping counsel up to the mark. I find her interventions scarier than Lord Neuberger's regular 'Yup' (surtitle: Get a move on.)

Counsel: 'The judgment which I have struggled to explain...'
Lady Hale: 'Do you mean that ironically?'
Counsel changes gear politely.

Lady Hale: 'Why do you say it's only a small point? It was virtually the whole submission in the Belmarsh case.'
Counsel changes it to a short point.

'In what sense is this legislation, that is, lawmaking? Is it not more akin to a private Act of Parliament?...This is not an ordinary statutory instrument. I just toss that out.'

Lady Hale with judicial assistants behind her
'What would be the consequence of this being a hybrid instrument?'
Counsel will have a look at that overnight.

'My lords and lady,' says counsel, 'can I bring in the question of anxious scrutiny?' Anxious scrutiny is what I'm all about here, I think.

The court has to deal with persistent bundle malfunction. And what a bundle. 'Looking at page 6000...'

Students in the public seats
A judge mutters, 'We can tell what the photocopier thought of this judgment anyway.' I don't know if he means the machine or the person (the Victorians called a typist a 'typewriter').

An incongruous sound: a baby is crying offstage.

There is analysis of whether a party was, in legal terms, an unwitting or unwilling actor. I look around the court as I try to think of an example.

I see Richard III carved into an oak bench, his image copied from the version in the National Portrait Gallery. Was his involvement (if any) in the death of the princes in the tower witting or unwitting? And are those car-park bones his beyond reasonable doubt? Leaving aside some apparent national emotional need, would the skeleton stand up, so to speak, if subjected to the rigorous standards of this court? I don't think so.

Coda: this is a report of 20 March 2013. On 21 March the court sits in secret session for part of the time. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Supreme Court art: 'Bunnies can and will go to France.'

The Eurostar dips under the Channel. 'Is Mummy frit now?' yells a little boy to his father. His mother disappears under a blanket.

As we go down the rabbit hole, that line about bunnies pops into my head. The former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was alleged to have written it to an ex-lover and blackmailer, implying that a good job in France could be found to mollify him. The chief victim was Rinka, a Great Dane, who was shot dead. The case went to the Old Bailey.

But I digress. Today I want to show you somewhere more elevated, the Cour de cassation, which is the Paris equivalent of the Supreme Court, but the closest I'm allowed to get is the door [right].

It's Paris fashion week so I'm forced to observe that the Cour de cassation logo, with one C reversing into the other, resembles that of Chanel.

I take my disappointment off to the Cour d'appel, in the same building, for cannabis, theft and fraud - brief hearings with repeat offenders.

The first shock is the sight of the leading judge's bare forearm beneath his robe.

In the arena below the bench, each advocate in turn mounts a display like an auditioning actor or bird seeking a mate.

The territory of the accused is separated from the rest of the court by bullet-proof glass. Papers are passed between narrow gaps in the glass panels. Gendarmes move freely around the courtroom and their guns make my tender English soul recoil.

A gendarme calls me 'tu' even though I'm a stranger, and older than he is. Is that because we're all post-revolutionary comrades together? Or is it a power thing?

When the judges start deliberating, I have to leave.

I go to the vast Salle des pas-perdus, a dimly lit marble loitering area. It contains two unnamed sculptures of lawyers who should each have a caption on the wall.

A monument to Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–94), premier président, inevitably represents the right to advocacy. He came out of honourable retirement to defend the most hopeless client of all time, Louis XVI, and as a result was guillotined, together with his family.

Jean-Étienne-Marie Portalis (1746–1807) could indeed throw the book at you, as he wrote much of it: the Code Civil, which the courts in the Palais de justice work to uphold.

Back in London, I pop into the Supreme Court for a special on-location recording of BBC Radio 4's Law in Action: Joshua Rozenberg is interviewing Lord Neuberger, with Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty in the audience.
BBC technician

Openness prevails.

Joshua Rozenberg