Sunday, 29 September 2019

'Carnival Compilation' at Kensington Town Hall

Some of my Notting Hill Carnival drawings were included in a display at Kensington Town Hall in Hornton Street from July-September 2019. All are Elimu Mas Academy except the first one which is from the Launch of the Bands 2019. With thanks to Carnival Village Trust.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Cherry/Miller2: in court for the judgment

Ink and rainwater
Wet. More wet. Queue in rain from 7am. Hide from cameras. Sky journalist Adam Boulton's beige cloth coat is drenched and clings to his bulky form. The crews and photographers are soggy but jocular. I eat a Gregg's croissant.

The omens aren't great. On his way in, Michael Fordham QC pauses to talk briefly to the only man queueing without an umbrella. A couple of minutes later, a member of staff emerges to lend him a big black Supreme Court brolly. It does not open properly. It does not provide comfort or shelter. This is bad. Someone else in the queue assists. Together they prop it half-open.

Even worse: on day 2 of the hearing Aidan O'Neill QC, representing Joanna Cherry QC MP, is going large on Celtic twilight and says 'Macbeth' in open court. Surely that's as ominous as pronouncing it in a theatre? Shouldn't he follow thesps' tradition and leave the court, spin around three times, spit, swear and knock on the door for Derek Allen the Court Usher to let him back in?

Shortly before opening time, we are handed our salmon pink tickets. Mine gets soaked. I could have been having a different kind of watery experience, in Venice, with my friend Jacqueline. I have chosen to be here, among puddles, not canals or lagoons.

Into the courtroom. As Lady Hale begins to speak, a thousand fingers on keyboards patter like sweet rain on the desert where a howling hot wind has been blowing a storm of lies into our faces.

We forget to breathe.

When she says 'unanimous' there are suppressed gasps.

It could be happening.

More gasps and a whispered 'Jeeze' when she says 'unlawful'.

In her judgment she goes back to 1611 - the likely date of the first public performance of Macbeth, although it was performed earlier for King James.

When it's over I stand at the back of the courtroom with water running down my face and Michael Fordham QC touches my shoulder on his way out.

I get an urgent message from Jacqueline. Can I fnd out where Lady Hale got her spider brooch? It's news to me that she's wearing one as I couldn't see her from my seat. The arachnid frenzy breaks shortly afterwards.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Prorogation cases: Cherry/Miller 2 in the Supreme Court, day 3

Tense, head down, guarded by a phalanx of police officers, Gina Miller walks swiftly to the Supreme Court entrance. 'Disgusting,' shouts an agitated man in a lime green hoodie.

'You're doing a great job,' calls out Leo, a German exchange student at King's College London from the French institution Sciences Po, cradle of Marcel Proust, Christian Dior and Emmanuel Macron. He has a mane of red-gold hair from his Celtic grandmother. 'Thank you,' says Gina Miller.

It's the third and final day of R (on the application of Miller) v The Prime Minister and Cherry and others v Advocate General for Scotland.

There's a holiday feeling in the queue - we're enjoying a temporary break watching the grown-ups in court rather than the political Punch and Judy show with its rhetoric made of artificial sausages.

Femi Oluwole, the Darlington-born Remain idol whose idiomatic French has been admired by Michel Barnier, is out here making two of his couldn't-be-clearer explainer videos and interviewing Jolyon Maugham QC, founder of the Good Law Project which is backing Joanna Cherry QC MP's case.

Later, Femi goes to Downing Street with a demand to end the prorogation and icons collide when he meets Larry the Cat - I stole this still from a Twitter clip:

Into court we go. 'Oh no, where's my ticket? If I've lost it I'm ****ed,' someone observes correctly. That little rectangle of coloured paper, handed to us by friendly court staff who engage in the banter, is our entry to Courtroom 1.

Lady Hale warns Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC: 'You might have to speak up a bit.' She explains that the microphones don't necessarily amplify your voice: they are there to 'ensure that it's transmitted worldwide.'

Advocates are focused solely on the bench whereas the court is acutely conscious of its entire audience, well beyond the back of the courtroom (today barely containing a tide of constitutional law geekery which over the next decades will work its way towards the front). Lord Wilson warns Ronan Lavery QC, representing the victims' rights campaigner from Northern Ireland, Raymond McCord: 'I'm really worried about your submissions. So many people are listening to you. Perhaps some of them have just turned on and they will hear these points, these general points about Brexit and its effect on Northern Ireland, and...may come to an entirely wrong conclusion, namely that this is what we are looking at. Now don't abuse our politeness and don't abuse Lady Hale's patience.' A student whispers, 'Wow.'

Michael Fordham QC's personal volume control is erratic, sometimes startlingly so, but his style is arresting.

One downside of being at the back is that you can't see the rich cavalcade of Sir James Eadie QC's facial expressions while his opponents are speaking. Poker cannot be his game.

On one side of me is an undergraduate who has braved a long journey on public transport with a crutch, having dislocated her knee six times. On the other side is an LLB student whose interest in constitutional law comes from being Ukrainian.

The hearing is allowed to overrun by 15 minutes. The back rows don't want it to end. The court is a prelapsarian place of greater safety. Before the potential prolapse of the judgment. Prerogative. Prorogation. Oh Christ.

We don't hear the shouty crowds outside because of the triple glazing. The court has become our reality. The sunlit beauty of St James's Park feels staged. I walk to the Royal Over-Seas League in search of carbohydrates. The information screen in the foyer says that the Teeth Meeting is in the Wrench Room. Good grief, I've been a member for 25 years and still haven't a clue what goes on here. 

There is abundant legal commentary on social media. The Supreme Court Yearbook is learned but approachable, while The Supreme Court: A Guide for Bears caters for a niche audience.

You don't normally have to queue for the court's hearings, which are free and open to all; live and recorded footage is on the court's website, judgment summaries are on YouTube.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Miller 2 at the Supreme Court: day 1

As with the Proms, you may get better sound and vision if you watch the Supreme Court on the live-stream, and today it's more like the Proms than usual as you have to queue. Someone here got up at 2am to drive from Wales.

There is enough bright-eyed consitutional law expertise in this queue to set up a new nation. Enthusiasts from LSE and King's College London include the nephew of a Supreme Court justice from another country and a descendant of Mohammed.

Protests against prorogation are silent and dignified (the abrasive counter-protest is to turn up later). A disconsolate Hulk is joined by RoboCop but otherwise there is hardly any visible policing. Law tutor and PhD student Robert Craig, who has arrived on a bike, is shielded by a friend with a coat while he changes out of his brown trousers - symbolic garb of the sentient part of the UK at the moment - into the pin-stripes that complete his three-piece suit, ready for his TV interviews.

Time to go in and we're told we can't take in liquids. A lot of bottles are instantly emptied against the walls of the court, giving it an unseemly air. A man is not allowed to take his big Europe flag beyond security.

I'm forced to wonder what will happen to the Supreme Court carpet (Welsh leek, Northern Irish flax flower, Scottish thistle, Tudor rose) in any Brexit aftermath.

Lady Hale stills the courtroom by calmly pointing out that the matter in hand has nothing to do with how or when the UK leaves the EU. Then R (on the application of Miller) v The Prime Minister and Cherry and others v Advocate General for Scotland begin. The man next to me takes out his opera glasses.

As legal commentators take flight we hear the skittering of fingers on keyboards, together with the occasional forbidden peeping and chirruping of devices, some in lawyers' hands. For the morning's queue-and-court experience try @louise_rowntree.

In my limited amateur experience, the more important the case, the earlier the bundle malfunction starts, and this case is no exception, but even so it's a huge relief to be in a legal arena. Crude political jabber is absent.

We are in the realm of the grown-ups, who aim to conduct reasoned arguments using facts and laws as a basis for interpretation, rather than whipping up tribal emotions for undisclosed ends. David Pannick is made for voice-overs selling life insurance. With a reassuring warmth in his voice, he is calm, earnest, clear, steady of pace, and not rattled when interventions from the bench change the rhythm.

Lady Hale is wearing her silver dragonfly brooch. Because of the dwindling insect population I have spotted only one dragonfly in my garden this year. We should be concentrating on the environmental crisis in front of our noses, not squabbling about boundaries.