Friday, 18 May 2018

Supreme Court: don't leave me

Ne me quitte pas.

I give oracular significance to the first thing I hear on Radio 3 each day. Jacques Brel is bang on target this morning. Georgia Mann, the presenter, allows the tragic anthem to die away then tells us: 'Brel apparently said that that wasn't a love song but a hymn to the cowardice of men.'

Is cowardice the guiding force today, though? Why choose headline-hogging litigation and have your marital rows anatomised under the searchlights rather than simply let your wife divorce you? Mrs Owens claims that her marriage has irretrievably broken down, under section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Mr Owens claims it hasn't.

Where is the gratification here?

Mushrooms grow in the dark. They are capable of exerting great force when they grow. They can live off dead things. They cast their spores randomly. Mr Owens is a retired mushroom farmer. There is something about this case which remains hidden in darkness.

Time for a song.

The way you wear your hat,
The way you sip your tea...
The way your smile just beams,
The way you sing off key...

The way you hold your knife...

They Can't Take That Away From Me (lyrics by Ira Gershwin) is a love song but could so easily be the reverse. Even that smile could turn into a maddening manic grimace. Who's to judge how bad a marriage is, and whether there are grounds for divorce? Lawyers are trying to divine the opinion of the hypothetical 'right-thinking person'. So far, Mrs Owens's own opinion has been deemed inadequate. The trial judge said her allegations about her husband's behaviour lacked 'beef'.

(The 'right-thinking person' is what used to be the man on the Clapham omnibus, redefined by the President of the Family Division when this case reached the Court of Appeal as 'the man or woman on the Boris bus'. Reason remains rooted in London. On my way home today I see yet another hapless passenger whacked in the face by the boorish back door of the Boris Routemaster, designed by Heatherwick Studio.)

Much is made in this case of the airport incident, the restaurant incident, the pub incident and the recycling incident. Every married couple will now quietly think of incidents of their own.

In the Court of Appeal judgment, Lady Justice Hallett said: 'I very much regret that our decision will leave the wife in a very unhappy situation. I urge the husband to reconsider his position. On any view, the marriage is over. I can only hope that he will relent and consent to a divorce on the grounds the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of two years, rather than force his wife to wait until five years have elapsed.'

Professorial outfit in court
As Lady Hale points out today, the judges have to interpret the law, not create new law. On the morning of the appeal, Resolution is out campaiging for no-fault divorce which would end 'the husband said/the wife said' bickering in court, and indeed would end having to create some legally acceptable fault if none really exists.

Resolution is the intervener in this appeal.

But we'll leave this forensic fetishism and return to Jacques Brel casting his spores in the fungal gloom:

Laisse-moi devenir l'ombre de ton ombre...
Let me turn into your shadow's shadow...

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Play first aid: 'Eastward Ho!' at Shakespeare's Globe

King James I, Mytens, National Portrait Gallery
A staged playreading, rehearsed in the morning and performed in the afternoon, revives jaded audiences. There's no bother about catching the last train. And without all the clutter, a work that's been dozing for a few hundred years can seem fresh. The cast's energy and the director's ingenuity distract attention from any cobwebs.

Today's resuscitation is part of Read Not Dead, a programme run by the education department at Shakespeare's Globe. In the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the cast are slashing their way through jests, japes and bawdy. There hasn't been time to work out all the pronunciations ("manger" versus "manga") but that keeps us on our toes.

Censorship is this year's theme, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK. Eastward Ho!, a parable of one virtuous and one profligate apprentice, satirises London life. Published in 1605, it landed two of its three playwrights in prison for some Scottish jokes which allegedly annoyed King James I. The gags have aged but the old antagonism has been boosted by the divisive horrors of Brexit.

'The Witches' Kitchen' (detail), Francken, Hermitage Museum
We're flying without footnotes but here's meat for costume historians:  

Gertrude: I tell you I cannot endure it; I must be a lady. Do you wear your quoif with a London licket, your stammel petticoat with two guards, the buffin gown with the tuft-taffety cape and the velvet lace. I must be a lady, and I will be a lady. I like some humors of the city dames well: to eat cherries only at an angel a pound, good; to dye rich scarlet black, pretty; to line a grogram gown clean thorough with velvet, tolerable; their pure linen, their smocks of three pounds a smock, are to be borne withal. But your mincing niceries, taffeta pipkins, durance petticoats, and silver bodkins — God's my life, as I shall be a lady, I cannot endure it! — Is he come yet? Lord, what a long knight 't is! — [singing] "And ever she cried, 'Shoot home'!" — And yet I knew one longer. — "And ever she cried, 'Shoot home,' fa, la, ly, re, lo, la!" [In today's reading, a snatch of a song from Grease is substituted here.]
A new age brings new associations. Mention of 'an old jealous dotard' conjures up a flicker of Trump, as does a rude song in the original called 'Golden Show'rs', although in this performance it's ditched for a few soulful bars of Wouldn't It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady.

There are no costumes and hardly any props. Who needs them? The river Thames in spate is a sheet of bubble wrap which makes those satisfying bladderwrack pops when trodden on. Given the play's context, a Meghan Markle mask supplies a frisson of treason. (The royal wedding on Saturday is on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's beheading. No reason for saying that at all.)

All the cast give it welly. I think Michael Matus and Ralph Davis (if the plot is dodgy, drop your trousers) are particularly at home with the challenges of the text but you'd have your own favourites.

Brian Rix and colleagues
Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston was directed by Jason Morell.

Supreme Court: mixed-sex civil partnerships

Rebecca Steinfeld and her partner Charles Keidan are conscientious objectors to what they see as an historic patriarchy embedded in marriage.

I wonder how far back they are going. Elizabeth I would have agreed with them. To show that Venice ruled the waves, the Doge married the sea each year. The Married Women's Property Act, which allowed wives to own and control their wealth, was dated 1882. But are things so bad nowadays? I mean. Don't ask me. I wear my late mother's wedding ring, Dr Freud.

It's easy to dismiss couples who reject marriage as a case of Je t' non plus (I love neither), or as a triumph of experience over hope, but Steinfeld and Keidan are sincere in their public quest which has become the monolithic R (on the application of Steinfeld and another) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary).

Steinfeld and Keidan want to enter a civil partnership; in the UK this is available only to same-sex couples who choose not to marry (gay marriage is not allowed in Northern Ireland but that's another story). They argue that the UK's ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships breaches their rights under Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Their sentiments are echoed in Tim Loughton MP's private members' bill, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill 2017-19, which is at the parliamentary committee stage. Choices which a government might eventually chew over could include civil marriage for all, gay or straight, with a religious ceremony as an optional extra; civil partnerships could be phased out; consultation would be needed.

This campaign takes stamina. The case came to the High Court in 2016. Today Karon Monaghan QC says: 'It will be nine years before we expect to see legislative change.' And that's assuming Brexit allows a (coalition?) government time for anything but fire-fighting.

Lord Wilson points out that the couple are knowingly running risks as unmarried cohabitees with children but without automatic rights. If either of them were to die in the interim there would be 'serious economic repercussions', he says.

Meanwhile, adopt the brace position for royal nuptials this Saturday. Which is also the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's beheading in 1536. Henry VIII did indeed subscribe to the patriarchal view of marriage. As I leave the court, I see this van outside Westminster Abbey.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Supreme Court: shades of innocence

Innocent until proven guilty. But if you are proved guilty, then ruled to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice, are you proved innocent? Can law squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube?

The court is hearing two joined appeals: R (on the application of Hallam) v Secretary of State for Justice and R (on the application of Nealon) v Secretary of State for Justice.

Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon had been imprisoned for serious crimes, then had their convictions quashed. A miscarriage of justice, as defined in the Criminal Justice Act, bars compensation unless a new fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person did not commit the offence. But is that incompatible with the presumption of innocence in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Outside the court, the first day of the hearing is marked by two veterans of notorious miscarriage of justice cases related to IRA bombing campaigns: Paddy Hill (of the Birmingham Six) and Patrick Maguire (of the Maguire Seven) are among those who've come to hold up a banner for Sam Hallam.


Paddy Hill is "driven by seemingly endless reserves of fury" - I'm quoting Jon Robins in his new book Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Biteback Publishing, £12.99) which dissects the calamitously underfunded, under-resourced British criminal justice system. 

Robins writes that "Patrick Maguire visited Hallam in prison in 2006 and, convinced of Hallam's innocence, campaigned for his release. 'My biggest sentence started when I was released - and Sam will have to go through this too,' Maguire said when Hallam was freed [in 2012]."

Sam Hallam served seven years in prison. Victor Nealon served 17 years.