Monday, 25 January 2016

Bastard wean, part two: Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Pringles were border reivers - raiders and livestock rustlers on the Scottish border from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. The authorities were so exasperated that there was talk of reinforcing Hadrian's Wall, but today the Pringles' infighting is confined to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.  

In the matter of Baronetcy of Pringle and Stichill is a skirmish between two branches of the family to see who inherits the baronetcy, following the discovery of an intruder. He inherited the title but was discovered not to be the son of his mother's husband. 

I blogged about the first hearing here. Today's hearing goes into the Scottish ramifications, so who better to be on his feet than Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw Bt QC. 

Court 1 contains a portrait of the eighteenth century magistrate Sir John Fielding. He took over the magistracy from his half-brother, Henry Fielding, who wrote The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

Tom's promiscuity isn't the problem - it's his parentage. His childhood sweetheart Sophia is admonished: 'And is it possible you can think of disgracing your family by allying yourself to a bastard? Can the blood of the Westerns submit to such contamination?' 

Tom eventually finds out who his father is. My father wasn't so lucky. He experienced the stigma as a lonely child brought up by his grandmother in the same back street as - but not mixing with - his mother and her legitimate children. 

My quest to find out about my father's other ancestors slammed up against a granite wall of Smiths. But I did find someone living. 


Ted is kind and proud of his family. He isn't my blood relative, but the widower of one of my father's half-sisters. 

Here he is with my unknown grandfather - Everyman, aka Antony Gormley. Ted has 13 grandchildren. They all know who he is. 

Finally, it's Burns night so here's his poem about his first illegitimate child: 

Welcome to a Bastard Wean

Thou's welcome, wean! Mishanter fa' me
If thoughts of thee or yet thy mammie
Shall ever daunton me or awe me,
My sweet, wee lady,
Or if I blush when thou shalt call me
Tyta or daddie!

What though they call me fornicator
And tease my name in country clatter?
The more they talk, I'm known the better.
E'en let them clash!
An old wife's tongue's a feckless matter
To give one fash.

Welcome, my bonnie, sweet, wee daughter!
Though ye come here a wee unsought for
And though your coming I have fought for
Both church and choir,
Yet, by my faith, ye're not unwrought for --
That I shall swear!

Sweet fruit of many a merry dint,
My funny toil is no all tint.
Though thou came to the world asklent,
Which fools may scoff at,
In my last plack thy part's be in't
The better half of it.

Though I should be the worse bestead,
Thou's be as braw and bienly clad
And thy young years as nicely bred
With education
As any brat of wedlock's bed
In all thy station.

Wee image o' my bonnie Betty,
As fatherly I kiss and daut thee,
As dear and near my heart I set thee,
With as good will
As all the priests had seen me get thee
That's out o' Hell.

Gude grant that thou may ay inherit
Thy mother's looks and graceful merit
And thy poor, worthless daddie's spirit
Without his failins!
'Twill please me more to see thee heir it
Than stocket mailins.

And if thou be what I would have thee
An' take the counsel I shall give thee,
I'll never rue my trouble with thee --
The cost nor shame of it --
But be a loving father to thee
And brag the name of it.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Cameras in the criminal court? Symposium in Bristol

If you notice that you're being drawn, you'll probably feel self-conscious. I see a bit of it at today's symposium about cameras in courtrooms, Screening the Criminal Trial. Some people adjust their position when I lock on to them.

So how will you feel if TV cameras are pointing at you? Chances are you'll change your behaviour - which makes Dr Paul Mason of Doughty Street Chambers dubious about filming criminal trials. He isn't keen on the idea of 'barristers playing up to future employers'.

Truth and transparency are vulnerable to what someone today calls 'the commercially driven imperatives of media'. And the camera could mean 'visibility is prioritised over intelligibility'.

Dr Eleanor Rycroft quotes Sartre: 'The law is theatre.' But should we treat it as a spectacle? The viewing public can't look over the judge's shoulder to read the case documents, so the narrative would seem moth-eaten at best.

Paul Mason says that the public seeks 'gore, sex, drama, violence.' He fears that court footage could be 'voyeurism dressed up as access to justice' unless it is unedited.

There is consensus today that the only way to preserve integrity is to show continuous footage, without intervention. This is already provided by the UK Supreme Court on its website, with judgments posted on YouTube.

There are no cameras in the lower courts in England and Wales except in the Court of Appeal, where footage of judgments is available to TV news editors. They don't often use it: courtroom longueurs don't suit the showbiz pace of news broadcasts.

As it happens, there's a snatch of a Court of Appeal judgment on the news the day after the symposium. Boxed up and miniaturised on screen, the court looks like a Victorian doll's house, all wood panels and wigs.

Several speakers refer to the televised O. J. Simpson trial, that long-running forensic car crash. I remember the Dancing Itos, dressed up as the trial judge. Here they are on The Tonight Show with chief prosecutor Marcia Clark (no, not really). Their cabaret performances were broadcast while the trial was continuing. Did anyone say contempt?

The real Judge Ito played up to his image by, for example, delaying the action one morning to advise everyone to see Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III which he had enjoyed the night before, perhaps not recollecting that some people at the double murder trial were a bit preoccupied.

When Doughty Street is mentioned today, its most famous tenant comes to mind and I play a mental sequence of Amal Clooney outfits including a recent bare-midriff ladyboy number. She dresses for the cameras.

The symposium was held by GW4, a collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. 

In a press release, GW4 says: 'On 8 July the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne [sic], announced the first Conservative Budget for 19 years, placing importance on regional collaboration. The Budget announced that “the government will invite universities to develop proposals for supporting local collaborations”. GW4 was given as an example of a successful partnership model.'

The next public event, on 29 January, is Marx in the Key Hope, 'a workshop to read Marx and Marxists’ work in the context of current controversies, challenges and alternatives'.