Thursday, 10 October 2013

Supreme Court art: heartbreak hotel

Peter Bull
So here I am next to a real court artist, one with skills and stuff. She has a huge box of loose well-used pastels. A vast sheet of thick buff paper undulates over her lap.

I ask if I may sketch her while she is drawing. She politely refuses.

I'm used to rough drawing gigs where comfort goes out of the window (see my Occupy posts here passim) so I'm faintly puzzled by her response, until the hearing starts.

She has to draw feverishly, against the clock, with no distraction, such as being stared at by me. It's as if a pistol is held to her head. She must isolate each person clearly from the rest and preserve the scene in client-friendly aspic (her client today being the Press Association), all by high noon.

Hazelmary Bull flanked by lawyers
Normally she draws in the lower courts, or rather outside them, because drawing inside them is against the law. She's got The Trained Memory.

Today, I think, she has the rare luxury of not having to draw from memory. I glance sideways. She's drawing from memory, using the models before her as an aide mémoire. She fixes the scene and the poses with brown chalk, then skims hectically from model to model, estimating how they would look if they'd stayed at the same angle. Clever.

She agrees that I can sketch her in the afternoon - but the tempo is brisk and the hearing ends before lunch.

Oh, the case. Bull and another v Hall and another. Does the Bulls' refusal on religious grounds to let a double room in their hotel to a gay couple in a civil partnership constitute discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007?

There's an attentive party of schoolgirls here. It's like a L'Oréal commercial. Oceans of lustrous hair.

 Before kick-off, Robin Allen QC (in what he describes after the hearing as 'my poncey pinstripe suit which I hardly ever wear') turns to ask the girls if they know what the case is about. They assure him that they do.

When it's time for them to leave they move osmotically, silently. Benenden. Worth the money I'd say. A single anorak-clad tourist can make more of a racket than this group of 30 plus.

The mood is genial as counsel air cool abstractions, oblivious to the former hoteliers' presence.

Robin Allen QC points out that impoverished students hitch-hiking will share a bed to save money.

Robin Allen QC
In response, counsel remarks: 'Sharing a bed while hitch-hiking, which I have never done...'

'Sharing a bed or hitch-hiking?' enquires Lord Neuberger. 

I'd like to show you the official drawing but I'm advised that the Press Association would visit a plague of locusts on me if I did. Tiens. A PA photographer snaps it on the pavement in Parliament Square while autumn leaves scurry around.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Supreme Court art: a pipe is not a painting of a tax return

SKRANNNKK goes the unforgiving minute hand of the slate clock in Court 2.

SHWOOSHH goes my Pentel waterbrush on textured paper.

Cotter v Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is the attraction.

Should Mr Cotter's claim for tax relief be adjudicated by the court (s9A Taxes Management Act 1970) or the first-tier tribunal (schedule 1A TMA)?

René Magritte's painting
What does 'in a tax return' mean? In fact, what is a tax return?

'This is like the painting This is not a pipe,' says Lord Reed.

Counsel invites their lordships to consider the distinction between 'in a return' and 'in the return'.

Lord Neuberger remarks on the surreality of tax law while dizzying flowers on the velvet curtains, owing more to the Pre-Raphaelites, play around the wigs of counsel.

Last night I had a drink with someone who's been let loose on the freelance world by the cash-strapped Lebedevs. Worryingly, I was the person she asked for advice. 'Accountant,' I said. 'Spreadsheet. Monthly. Claim.'

Today I'm out of my depth.

'Why do you say that?' says Lord Neuberger in response to counsel. 'Other than common sense which is unwise in tax revenue cases.'

More pictures if you scroll down.

Mr Cotter - not the respondent but
someone in the public seats