Saturday, 29 October 2016

Supreme Court: human rights, game on

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
   Go, go, go like a soldier,
   Go, go, go like a soldier,
   Go, go, go like a soldier,
   So-oldier of the Queen!

That’s the last verse of The Young British Soldier, from Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads of 1892.

Nine justices today, mostly obscured from view
Kipling is too readily dismissed as a propagandist of empire but he was a complex, conflicted observer who took the pulse of his times. After the First World War he wrote this epitaph:

If any question why we died, 
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Today's case, Mohammed and others v Ministry of Defence, concerns Serdar Mohammed who was captured in Afghanistan by the British in 2010, held for four months, handed over to the Afghan authorities and convicted as a Taliban commander making roadside bombs. At issue on this seventh and final day of the appeal is whether Mohammed was detained legally under article 5 (the right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

James Eadie QC, fresh from presenting the Government’s case about Article 50 in the High Court, refers to the British armed forces’ position in earlier litigation: ‘There you had all the arguments about hierarchical and structural independence. That, we respectfully submit, is not the game here...’

Words carry accidental connotations and I think of what Kipling called ‘the Great Game’ in his novel Kim. He meant the clash between empires (in his day, British and Russian) radiating from Afghanistan, which ended in the early twentieth century or, in Kim, never:

When everyone is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before.

Kim, an outsider like Kipling, passes for an Indian scavenger-orphan but is discovered to be the son of a dead Irish serviceman and educated among the white elite. Will he choose the Great Game, Buddhism, or both? Kipling is not going to condemn any of those choices.

Also today, the British empire’s Lazarus reflex is under scrutiny close by in the House of Commons: the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights is taking evidence on the potential impact of Brexit.

And downstairs in the Supreme Court there is a spot of soft power play. Among the display of official gifts to the court, the National Judges College of the People’s Republic of China exercises panda diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Rodin and Dance is on at the Courtauld Institute of Art. It includes some of his drawings of Cambodian dancers. All about being free. There is a particularly agile barrister with fluid hand movements sitting in front of me today. I try to draw him in the Rodin manner with mixed results.

Same barrister, twice

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Salon Voltaire: a Dadaist evening at Senate House, London

The spirit of Dada is resuscitated for a cabaret in the space which - according to folklore - was earmarked to be Hitler's London office. We are in the Chancellor's Hall in Senate House.

The brutalist Deco architecture has been modified for the evening with fairy lights, but don't get too comfortable: the building inspired Orwell's Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty Four, and my drawing of my eyes has been enlarged and stuck on the wall to give that Big Brother feeling.

Dada is 100 years old this year. Taking part in this evening of music and words are Hannah Thompson (the Leverhulme-funded sound artist in residence at Senate House Library - her final performance in her residency is on 24 November), Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute), Sarah Churchwell (Institute of English Studies), Catherine Davies (Institute of Modern Languages Research), Sadaf Fahim (Institute of English Studies), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), Dominic Glynn (IMLR), Claire Launchbury (Institute of Historical Research/IMLR), Katia Pizzi (IMLR), Gregory Toth (Senate House Library), Vocal Constructivists, Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR).

The evening is devised and presented by Colin Homiski, Research Librarian at Senate House Library.

The Vocal Constructivists (below):


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Cover, book, judge

You can't judge a book by its cover but I'm covering a book with judges' untenanted robes.

The editors say they'd like a cover picture based on this sketch, but without the man from Ede & Ravenscroft (the temple of judicial costume). He is Christopher Allan, the company's Court and Ceremonial Manager, here addressing an academic workshop organised by

I mull over a few other ideas, including this next one, but we stick with the robes.

I need to inspect ceremonial garb for the Court of Appeal (black and gold), High Court (red) and Circuit Bench (mauve and black), so I head for the Chancery Lane emporium. As I enter, a QC sprinkled with Supreme Court stardust is leaving; he beams into the sunshine, a happy man.

Chris kindly sets up the robes on dummies. They are in beautiful condition, just raring to go - unlike the peer's robe awaiting repair in the basement, with grubby ermine and ripped hem, which looks as if it saw action at the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Back home, I do a rough sketch in ink, felt tips and waterbrush.

Then I do another version in ink and watercolour.

Then, because I would be happier if the robes were inhabited and moving around, I do a faster degraded version in ink...

...followed by some ink splodges.

The title lettering might need a dark background so I proffer a rough ink and wash drawing of figured damask, based on but not slavishly copied from the Court of Appeal robe.

Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity, edited by Professor Graham Gee and Professor Erika Rackley, is published by Routledge in 2017.  

And if you aren't qualified for an Ede & Ravenscroft uniform, don't despair. My party outfit here is assembled from H&M, a jumble sale, Portobello, Oxfam, Claire's, Rigby & Peller and a gift from the law firm Simmons & Simmons' Black Museum of Passing Off.
Work sheet:

Monday, 17 October 2016

A remoaner at the RCJ Brexit hearing, day two

I feel as if I'm watching a massive irrelevance while the nation shunts itself into a siding and waits for the rails to rust. 

I hope I'm wrong, but I think it's grubby political expediency, random acts of idiocy and Macmillan's dreaded  'events, dear boy, events' which will mould Brexit, rather than this court case.

For all the forensic top-gunnery going on here, we're at a seaside Punch and Judy show with freak waves threatening to engulf us.

In an overspill courtroom, watching the proceedings on closed-circuit TV, it's like looking at a box of insects through the wrong end of a telescope. If you get into the public gallery in the rafters of Court 4, you are dazzled by the elaborate light fittings. Drawing is illegal.

Below, you can see the bench, a confetti of highlighters in front of the Master of the Rolls, and a row of court staff, but in this classic piece of Victorian court design you - the public - can't see anyone else, and that's deliberate. If the speakers mumble you can't hear them too well as the miking is not aimed at you. To compensate, a transcript is available as soon as the session is over.

On the way here I passed the National Gallery, King's College and the LSE, all royally shafted by Brexit. 'It is perhaps unsurprising that it was Henry IV who wanted to kill all of the lawyers,' says counsel ambitiously, although 'Let's kill all the lawyers' is uttered by Dick the Butcher in Henry VI Part II

The Attorney-General stands up. The 60-odd people in the public gallery become watchful as cats. Even though we can't see him. A pregnant woman strokes her bump reassuringly. The Master of the Rolls removes his wig for a couple of seconds and scratches his head. Don't we all. 

Now James Eadie QC: 'The prerogative, it has often been said, is the residue of powers left in the hands of the Crown. We submit that words need to be added to the end of that description of the prerogative and the correct and true principle is that the prerogative is the residue of powers left in the hands of the Crown by Parliament.'

We had a civil war to sort out this kind of stuff. Seems like yesterday. Or tomorrow. Parties and lawyers on the claimant side have received threats of violence.

Mr Eadie describes the argument between him (for the Government) and Lord Pannick: 'There is an element of two ships passing in the night because we both assert a constitutional assumption upon which Parliament has legislated.' Is one of them a rescue ship? Will it see us?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Brexit hearing in the Royal Courts of Justice

Brexit means The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19) by Géricault in the Louvre.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Brexiteers in joke-shop barrister fancy dress‎ are giving press interviews. 

Inside, I'm sent to an overspill courtroom to watch Santos and M v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on closed-circuit TV, because the public gallery is full.

The screen is high up and shows two adjacent fixed-camera images of Lilliput, each measuring about 14 inches diagonally. Movements are jerky, as in old newsreels. 

One fifth of the right hand picture is obliterated by a superimposed image of the royal coat of arms. DIEU ET MON DROIT. But whose law, and whose right? The EU's, parliament's, an unelected prime minister's? Will hereditary peers save us from all this? Who's minding the shop?‎

Brexit means bondage: Anna Noctuelle tied by Mercandbear Fet. At the end of the act, Anna tears down the union flag in despair. Berlin, 2016. Photo: Fred Hatt

Each morning, I wake up at the back of the sooty bone-strewn cave with an instinct that something bad has happened. Then ‎I really wake up and remember Brexit.

But back to the overspill courtroom, where four large black monoliths are stacked against the wall behind the empty bench. What is their function? They remind me of the monoliths in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 but they don't seem to be teaching us or transmitting anything. Presumably their alien creators don't think we've reached a worthwhile stage of evolution.

I head for Court 4, where there is now some space in the public gallery near the ceiling. The sunshine picks out carpets of dust on high oak shelves. 

Last time I saw Frances Gibb of The Times she said I was looking diaphanous: I was wearing a gauzy stole, £1 from Portobello. Today she is dressed in what looks from my distant seat to be a nice fitted shift dress with mesh sleeves in a becoming plum colour which matches the courtroom curtains.

You'll have worked out that if you want informed legal commentary, this blog isn't the place for it. I seek out the professionals (see above, plus Ian Dunt, David Allen Green, Jolyon Maugham QC, Joshua Rozenberg et al).

I leave the public gallery and descend a dimly lit narrow spiral stone staircase. My right hand follows the thick red safety rope to nowhere. 

Well hard Brexit:

PS I'm live-drawing on 21 Oct at this Bloomsbury Festival event.