Tuesday 31 May 2011

European Convention on Human Rights

A BBC Film on Human Rights. The key point is that most rights are not absolute, but are qualified. There is a balancing of rights.

Monday 30 May 2011

Another Bank Holiday

Today is another Bank holiday in England - "Spring Bank Holiday". We've had quite a rash of these in recent weeks - two extending the Easter weekend (22nd &25th April), two the following weekend (Royal Wedding 29th April and Early May Bank Holiday on 2nd April) and today.

Actually there are two types - Bank Holidays and Public Holidays - Bank holidays are covered by statute, and the UK Government's website states "Bank holidays are holidays when banks and many other businesses are closed for the day. Public holidays are holidays which have been observed through custom and practice."

Sadly today is more like a traditional English bank holiday - windy with the threat of rain ! - but sunshine is promised for Thursday! (I exaggerate a little - while rain is forecast for much of central England, it doesn't look too bad for Milton Keynes!)

And that's it for a while - no more until the Summer Bank Holiday on 29th August.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Gil Scott Heron

Gil Scott Heron passed away this week. This video provides his commentary on Ronald Reagan.
Obituaries can be found on the following sites
BBC News
The Nation
San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday 28 May 2011

Who are the paymasters?

There's a line spoken by 'Deep Throat' in "All the President's Men" that has always stayed with me. Asked for advice by Bob Woodward, he advises "Just... follow the money"

As the American political system has become more dependant upon corporate money and "gifts" from some very wealthy individuals, concerns have grown about the expectations of these donors. What do they gain from 'sponsoring' legislators and the parties? Ethics rules have been developed and refined over the years to attempt to curtail certain behaviour. There is now a huge ethics manual for the House of Representatives. It can be accessed here.

The public has a right to know who is making the donations. The Sunlight Foundation's website allows you to see who is donating to whom. Visit the website here.

Friday 27 May 2011

Learning More...

Want to know about the workings of Parliament? The House of Commons Library publishes research papers and standard notes on the parliamentary website. I have found these to be of a consistently high standard - and a superb tool for research - and just learning more.

You can access the service here.

The Congressional Research Service - which also has high standards of independent research - doesn't publish directly to the public. However OpenCRS republishes many of its papers. OpenCRS can be accessed here.

Whether you are a student (particularly of Law or Politics); or interested citizens - there is much available from these sites. In the UK they are covered by parliamentary copyright - however in the US some companies take CRS reports and resell them (except they never bought them in the first place) to businesses and the public. Don't be cheated out of your cash by these people!

Thursday 26 May 2011

Magna Carta

JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting.

KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, at the advice of our reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter Bishop of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, William Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warren, William earl of Arundel, Alan de Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin Fitz Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and other loyal subjects:

(1) FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church's elections - a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it - and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.

TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:

(2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a `relief', the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of `relief'. That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay £100 for the entire earl's barony, the heir or heirs of a knight l00s. at most for the entire knight's `fee', and any man that owes less shall pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of `fees'

(3) But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward, when he comes of age he shall have his inheritance without `relief' or fine.

(4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men or property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to a sheriff, or to any person answerable to us for the revenues, and he commits destruction or damage, we will exact compensation from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent men of the same `fee', who shall be answerable to us for the revenues, or to the person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given or sold to anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes destruction or damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and it shall be handed over to two worthy and prudent men of the same `fee', who shall be similarly answerable to us.

(5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

(6) Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing. Before a marriage takes place, it shall be' made known to the heir's next-of-kin.

(7) At her husband's death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband's house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.

(9) Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor's sureties shall not be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt. If, for lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge his debt, his sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so desire, they may have the debtor's lands and rents until they have received satisfaction for the debt that they paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he has settled his obligations to them.

(10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.
(11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

(12) No `scutage' or `aid' may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For these purposes ouly a reasonable `aid' may be levied. `Aids' from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

(13) The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.

(14) To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment of an `aid' - except in the three cases specified above - or a `scutage', we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those who hold lands directly of us we will cause a general summons to be issued, through the sheriffs and other officials, to come together on a fixed day (of which at least forty days notice shall be given) and at a fixed place. In all letters of summons, the cause of the summons will be stated. When a summons has been issued, the business appointed for the day shall go forward in accordance with the resolution of those present, even if not all those who were summoned have appeared.

(15) In future we will allow no one to levy an `aid' from his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable `aid' may be levied.

(16) No man shall be forced to perform more service for a knight's `fee', or other free holding of land, than is due from it.

(17) Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around, but shall be held in a fixed place.

(18) Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d'ancestor, and darrein presentment shall be taken only in their proper county court. We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will send two justices to each county four times a year, and these justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place where the court meets.

(19) If any assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county court, as many knights and freeholders shall afterwards remain behind, of those who have attended the court, as will suffice for the administration of justice, having regard to the volume of business to be done.

(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

(21) Earls and barons shall be fined only by their equals, and in proportion to the gravity of their offence.

(22) A fine imposed upon the lay property of a clerk in holy orders shall be assessed upon the same principles, without reference to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice.

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.
(24) No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other royal officials are to hold lawsuits that should be held by the royal justices.

(25) Every county, hundred, wapentake, and tithing shall remain at its ancient rent, without increase, except the royal demesne manors.

(26) If at the death of a man who holds a lay `fee' of the Crown, a sheriff or royal official produces royal letters patent of summons for a debt due to the Crown, it shall be lawful for them to seize and list movable goods found in the lay `fee' of the dead man to the value of the debt, as assessed by worthy men. Nothing shall be removed until the whole debt is paid, when the residue shall be given over to the executors to carry out the dead man s will. If no debt is due to the Crown, all the movable goods shall be regarded as the property of the dead man, except the reasonable shares of his wife and children.

(27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(29) No constable may compel a knight to pay money for castle-guard if the knight is willing to undertake the guard in person, or with reasonable excuse to supply some other fit man to do it. A knight taken or sent on military service shall be excused from castle-guard for the period of this servlce.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

(31) Neither we nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.

(32) We will not keep the lands of people convicted of felony in our hand for longer than a year and a day, after which they shall be returned to the lords of the `fees' concerned.

(33) All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

(34) The writ called precipe shall not in future be issued to anyone in respect of any holding of land, if a free man could thereby be deprived of the right of trial in his own lord's court.

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

(36) In future nothing shall be paid or accepted for the issue of a writ of inquisition of life or limbs. It shall be given gratis, and not refused.

(37) If a man holds land of the Crown by `fee-farm', `socage', or `burgage', and also holds land of someone else for knight's service, we will not have guardianship of his heir, nor of the land that belongs to the other person's `fee', by virtue of the `fee-farm', `socage', or `burgage', unless the `fee-farm' owes knight's service. We will not have the guardianship of a man's heir, or of land that he holds of someone else, by reason of any small property that he may hold of the Crown for a service of knives, arrows, or the like.

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs. This, however, does not apply in time of war to merchants from a country that is at war with us. Any such merchants found in our country at the outbreak of war shall be detained without injury to their persons or property, until we or our chief justice have discovered how our own merchants are being treated in the country at war with us. If our own merchants are safe they shall be safe too.

(42) In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants - who shall be dealt with as stated above - are excepted from this provision.

(43) If a man holds lands of any `escheat' such as the `honour' of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other `escheats' in our hand that are baronies, at his death his heir shall give us only the `relief' and service that he would have made to the baron, had the barony been in the baron's hand. We will hold the `escheat' in the same manner as the baron held it.

(44) People who live outside the forest need not in future appear before the royal justices of the forest in answer to general summonses, unless they are actually involved in proceedings or are sureties for someone who has been seized for a forest offence.

(45) We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.

(46) All barons who have founded abbeys, and have charters of English kings or ancient tenure as evidence of this, may have guardianship of them when there is no abbot, as is their due.

(47) All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested. River-banks that have been enclosed in our reign shall be treated similarly.

(48) All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably. But we, or our chief justice if we are not in England, are first to be informed.

(49) We will at once return all hostages and charters delivered up to us by Englishmen as security for peace or for loyal service.

(50) We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné', Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers.

(51) As soon as peace is restored, we will remove from the kingdom all the foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants, and the mercenaries that have come to it, to its harm, with horses and arms.

(52) To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgement of his equals, we will at once restore these. In cases of dispute the matter shall be resolved by the judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace (§ 61). In cases, however, where a man was deprived or dispossessed of something without the lawful judgement of his equals by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once render justice in full.

(53) We shall have similar respite in rendering justice in connexion with forests that are to be disafforested, or to remain forests, when these were first a-orested by our father Henry or our brother Richard; with the guardianship of lands in another person's `fee', when we have hitherto had this by virtue of a `fee' held of us for knight's service by a third party; and with abbeys founded in another person's `fee', in which the lord of the `fee' claims to own a right. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice to complaints about these matters.

(54) No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.

(55) All fines that have been given to us unjustiy and against the law of the land, and all fines that we have exacted unjustly, shall be entirely remitted or the matter decided by a majority judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace (§ 61) together with Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he wishes to bring with him. If the archbishop cannot be present, proceedings shall continue without him, provided that if any of the twenty-five barons has been involved in a similar suit himself, his judgement shall be set aside, and someone else chosen and sworn in his place, as a substitute for the single occasion, by the rest of the twenty-five.

(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way

(57) In cases where a Welshman was deprived or dispossessed of anything, without the lawful judgement of his equals, by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. But on our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice according to the laws of Wales and the said regions.

(58) We will at once return the son of Llywelyn, all Welsh hostages, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace.

(59) With regard to the return of the sisters and hostages of Alexander, king of Scotland, his liberties and his rights, we will treat him in the same way as our other barons of England, unless it appears from the charters that we hold from his father William, formerly king of Scotland, that he should be treated otherwise. This matter shall be resolved by the judgement of his equals in our court.

(60) All these customs and liberties that we have granted shall be observed in our kingdom in so far as concerns our own relations with our subjects. Let all men of our kingdom, whether clergy or laymen, observe them similarly in their relations with their own men.

(61) SINCE WE HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirety, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us - or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice - to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chiefjustice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power. We give public and free permission to take this oath to any man who so desires, and at no time will we prohibit any man from taking it. Indeed, we will compel any of our subjects who are unwilling to take it to swear it at our command.

If-one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is prevented in any other way from discharging his duties, the rest of them shall choose another baron in his place, at their discretion, who shall be duly sworn in as they were.

In the event of disagreement among the twenty-five barons on any matter referred to them for decision, the verdict of the majority present shall have the same validity as a unanimous verdict of the whole twenty-five, whether these were all present or some of those summoned were unwilling or unable to appear.

The twenty-five barons shall swear to obey all the above articles faithfully, and shall cause them to be obeyed by others to the best of their power.

We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished. Should such a thing be procured, it shall be null and void and we will at no time make use of it, either ourselves or through a third party.

(62) We have remitted and pardoned fully to all men any ill-will, hurt, or grudges that have arisen between us and our subjects, whether clergy or laymen, since the beginning of the dispute. We have in addition remitted fully, and for our own part have also pardoned, to all clergy and laymen any offences committed as a result of the said dispute between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215) and the restoration of peace.

In addition we have caused letters patent to be made for the barons, bearing witness to this security and to the concessions set out above, over the seals of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Henry archbishop of Dublin, the other bishops named above, and Master Pandulf.

(63) IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fulness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.

Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit. Witness the abovementioned people and many others.

Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215: the new regnal year began on 28 May).

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Justice and Balance

The symbol of justice includes scales, representing balance. Often the law has to seek a balance between competing interests. Few rights are absolute. Take for interest the rights of Freedom of Expression and the right to privacy. In English law both rights, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (which Parliament requires the English courts to give effect to - Human Rights Act 1998), must be balanced. The dispute about super injunctions is over whether Art 8 has been given too much weight, at the expense of Art 10.

In an ideal world the law should not favour special interests. "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

The concern about super injunctions is that they protect the rich and powerful alone (who else can afford them?). Government and Corporations gather more and more information about us as individual's; train their cameras on us (even as I write this on the bus, Arriva's CCTV camera silently observes me & my fellow passengers) - but ordinary citizens are denied justice. State funding of legal actions have been progressively (a wholly inappropriate word) restricted. Powerful individuals have been allowed to use the law to intimidate others. (Robert Maxwell was a master of this - he used the threat of legal action to indimate people into silence, only after his death was the truth about him able to come out).

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Coming up on the Parliamentary Website

Written Parliamentary Question

Mr Amess: To ask the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, what historical material the House of Commons Commission is planning to make available on the parliamentary (a) intranet and (b) website in the next two years; and if he will make a statement.

John Thurso: There is currently a project under way to digitise House of Commons Journals between the years 1836 and 1997. Scanning is in progress. Publishing to the website is yet to be scheduled and resourced.

There are plans to put up new content on the Living Heritage section of the parliamentary website on the themes of Parliament and Belief, Parliament and Empire, and Parliament and Ireland in the financial year 2011-12.

The Parliamentary website is http://www.parliament.uk/

Aylesbury & Liberty

Since February I have been visiting Aylesbury three times a week to teach law at Aylesbury College. Some of mstudents took their exam on Friday, and the rest of the exams take place this week. So, the number of visits will fall off for a while.

It is appropriate that my final law sessions should occur this week in Aylesbury. The news has been dominated by the issue of 'Freedom of Speech', as a well known TV personality and journalist faces the possibility of jail for Contempt of Court for tweeting the name of a football player who gained an injunction stopping anyone mentioning the fact of his adultery, or even that he had gained such an injunction. A Scottish newspaper published a photo of the player, with his eyes blocked out, but soccer fans (I'm not one) wouldn't have much difficulty in recognising the player. The editor may be liable. Thousands refused to be gagged yesterday by tweeting the name.

What has this to do with Aylesbury? In the 18th Century the MP, and resident of the town was a man called John Wilkes. He went to jail for publishing material which upset the rich, famous and powerful. He was one of the heroes of the struggle for freedom of speech in England (as well as a friend of liberty for America). His former home still stands in Aylesbury.

Another hero of liberty, who found that a majority of Judges were not prepared to support him (The Ship Money case), has his statue in the centre of Aylesbury - John Hampden - who was also the local MP for a short time (he represented nearby Wendover for a longer period).

Sad to say, our judges have not been the protectors and promoters of free speech in England. So it is again. That's why the right to trial by jury needs to be protected. There have been times when juries of ordinary citizens have refused to uphold attempts to enforce laws which do not have the consent of the people. Of course if any action is taken against journalists, tweeters or Twitter itself, there will not be a jury. Contempt of Court cases - which can lead to 2 years in jail - are exclusively dealt with by the judiciary ( the third branch of Government).

Sunday 22 May 2011

Government Websites

Quality in Government is important. As citizens we should expect OUR government to strive for the highest possible standards.

The purpose of government is to serve its citizens - to provide 'goods' (not merely in the physical sense) that we would otherwise not have if individuals had to provide them for themselves. Examples include Security - against external attack (be that violence directed against the country or individual criminal behaviour); a level playing field (ensuring that the powerful don't wrongfully exploit the less powerful (trading standards has a history over the centuries); and providing collective provision to insure against individual misfortune (in Britain, the National Health Service; assistance when illness and unemployment hit).

I was encouraged to see on "Twitter" that a spreadsheet had been provided which enables designers of government websites to check for compliance with good practice. It can also be used by citizens to judge the sites - and provide feedback to our governments. High Standards are worth pursuing.

The spreadsheet is available here. If you are interested in promoting Good Government can I recommend the "Government in the Lab" website. It is in every citizen's interest to have accountable, transparent and effective Government!

Monday 16 May 2011

Exam Thoughts

In school's, Colleges and University's across the UK, exams are underway. In the subjects of Law and politics what will examiners be looking for?

The first thing to remember that examiners don't mark for the pure entertainment of it! They have a job to do. Their task is like that of an auditor - they must look at what a student has written (in the way an auditor looks at the accounts the company has provided), and then must satisfy himself that the evidence is there to justify his conclusions. An auditor may conclude that the accounts are a true and fair record - or he may have to conclude that his report must be qualified in some way. The examiner must give the student's work a grade - he must do so on the evidence provided by the student in the exam script.

So help the examiner out! Put yourself in the examiner's shoes - ask what he needs to see in order to justify the grade YOU want? Examiners reports, your course (module) guide can help here. Your university, school or college is expected today to give you more information about the criteria for the different grades. Use that information.

Make sure that you answer the question set. If the examiner concludes that you have a general knowledge of the subject, but have not sufficiently applied the knowledge to the specific problem or issue asked for in the question - it is inevitable that you will get a lower Mark!

A well planned and structured answer will attract higher marks than a "stream of consciousness". Time spent planning and structuring your answer isn't a waste of valuable time - it enables you to present to the examiner a readable, well argued & logical piece of evidence. It shows that you've engaged with the subject matter and thought about the substance - and how best to communicate it.

In Law exams particularly, if you make an assertion, back it up with the appropriate authority - be it the relevant section of a Statute, a case or a distinguished academic opinion. (note to my students - AV Dicey is a powerful authority - "David Morgan said in lectures" is not.)

Definitions are useful - to describe and explain something, but don't waste your time trying to achieve word perfect quotes. Explaining in your own words show you have thought about the subject - being able to quote lots of sayings is a party trick.

It's good to describe; better to explain too. A reasoned discussion shows higher levels of thought. Critical evaluation - weighing up arguments is the best.

If you are facing exams - may I wish you all the best - but that's not going to help you pass. When the Prime Minister walks into the House of Commons he is prepared. He knows what his objectives are for his weekly ordeal. He anticipates and prepares for what MAY come up - but has prepared to be flexible in the face of the questions he is actually faced. Go and do likewise

Sunday 15 May 2011


A song by Jacques Brel, about life before all the gains were made - and which now the Right seeks determined to roll back.

Your comments are welcome

Saturday 14 May 2011

Understanding Voters

Last week Pew Research Center produced an excellent report classifying voters into a number of groups. I've been encouraging people to read the report, as it has much to provoke thought about the different things that lead people towards their political views. Whether you are in the US or elsewhere, it is useful to understand how different people think.

C-SPAN interviewed Carroll Doherty from Pew about the report.

Further information and a link to the full report can be found here.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Privacy and the Law

A Hot topic of the moment - particularly in the UK where the use of 'superinjunctions' has dominated the media in recent weeks - and the publication on Twitter of details of these has posed a huge question about how Parliament and the Courts should proceed.

The Brookings Institution has published a paper that contains some real meat for lawyers; lawyers and citizens to think about. It takes a look at US law and applies US constitutional principles - but illustrates the problems that any legal system faces when trying to balance the rights of privacy and free expression - in the face of technological developments.

The paper can be accessed here.

Sunday 8 May 2011

The EU Flag dispute

Tomorrow is "Europe Day" - the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration - which is seen as the genesis of the developments which have taken us to the European Union. I'm saddened to report that Europe is again being used as a distraction device to move the spotlight off the deeper problems of the current government. (This is NOT a party political point - governments of all colours have turned to Europe to provide distraction since - well since the Schuman declaration was made!).

Patrick Hennessy reports -

"While No 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office will not fly the European Union flag on Europe Day tomorrow, the Department for Business, headed by Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat, will do so.

No 10 flew the blue and gold EU banner on May 9 during Gordon Brown’s time as Prime Minister.

However, a spokesman said last night: “We are keeping it simple. We are flying the Union flag.”

The Foreign Office, where William Hague, the Cabinet’s leading Eurosceptic, is in charge, will not fly the EU flag in Whitehall or any of its official buildings in Britain.

The Treasury also said it will not fly it. Embassies and other diplomatic outposts abroad will “make their own decisions” on the issue.

However, a spokesman for Mr Cable’s department said that its senior civil servant, Martin Donnelly, had decided to continue with its recent tradition of raising the 12-star flag.

The split over the flag mirrors tensions between the coalition partners that surfaced when Tory and Lib Dem negotiators were drawing up the agreement last year that joined them in government.
 Lib Dems, who have backed closer ties with the EU, are suspicious of what they see as anti-EU stance among many Tories.

Europe Day marks the anniversary of French foreign minister Robert Schuman’s call in 1950 for a coal and steel community, which became the forerunner of the European Union."

When the Soviet Union and its empire existed, "Comminism" or "Russia" was the bogeyman. Since the loss of that convenient distraction, the Right in Britain has adopted the European Union for that role. Like many such tactics - it relies on playing on prejudice and fuels that prejudice by disinformation.

See this example from the Daily Express on May 4th - headlined "EU FLAG RULE: BIG FINES IF OUR PUBLIC BUILDNGS FAIL TO MARK EUROPE DAY" - full "story" (in both senses of the word) is available here.

The British Office of the European Commission tried to put the record straight (the Editor of the Daily Express declined to print this!)

"Regarding your front page of today, only 2 buildings in the UK are expected to fly the European flag for Europe Day and the Commission would not fine countries that did not do so. The rules that make this provision were passed in 2006 by all EU countries, including the UK. No other public building has to fly the flag on 9 May though some may choose to do so. Some schools want to do something to mark the day and ask us for ideas. We send these purely on demand and they in no way constitute “instructions”.

Such is the volume of disinformation that a website has been set up to deal with Euromyths. It can be accessed here. The only antidote to lies is the truth - and informing people of what is reality. Had we adequate education about the EU in this country - then most of these myths would fail to take hold.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Colombey-les-Deux Eglises

Yesterday, I posted about Nixon's "final" press conference. Six years later he became President - after a short withdrawal from public life. Charles de Gaulle also retired from public life, only to return - finally as President of the Fifth Republic. In fact he retired so often that - as an entry in Wikipedia says (and which appears word for word in a disturbing number of other webpages!) "Colombey became widely used as a political metaphor for a statesman's temporary withdrawal from political life, until his country would come calling for him again."

Friday 6 May 2011

Furzton, Milton Keynes - Result

Dawn had already broken before the result was announced. However the drama sometimes shown on TV when a result is announced does not reflect reality. The first stage is to check that the number of ballot papers equals the number issued. At that stage observers from the parties can "sample" - they note how each ballot paper has been marked, and estimate the probable proportion going to each candidate. Therefore I knew fairly on that I wasn't going to win.

The final result for Furzton ward was

Turnout 38.28%

Chris Williams (incumbent Liberal Democrat councillor). 1077. 43.29% (2007 - 1193)
Maggie Geaney (Conservative). 622. 25.00% (2007 - 622)
J David Morgan (Labour). 557. 22.35% (2007 - 299)
Stuart Henry Moore (UKIP). 161. 6.47% (2007 - 125)
Beverley Caprice (Green). 72. 2.89%

Nixon says farewell

Victory speeches are often remembered - concession speeches seldom are. But here is a reminder of a famous one. Nixon had lost two elections in a row - the Presidency in 1960 and the election for Governor of California in 1962.

The text of the speech can be accessed here. He said "I leave you gentlemen now and you now write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know- just think how much you're goign to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

Ten years to the day after this speech, he won a massive re-election to the Presidency.

Thursday 5 May 2011


Today is election (and referendum day) in Britain - so I thought I'd share this video with you

I'm your top prime cut of meat, I'm your choice
I wanna be elected
I'm your yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls Royce
I wanna be elected

Kids want a savior, don't need a fake
I wanna be elected
We're gonna rock to the rules that I make
I wanna be elected, elected, elected

I never lied to you, I've always been cool
I wanna be elected
I gotta get the vote, and I told you about school
I wanna be elected, elected, elected

Hallelujah, I wanna be elected
Everyone in the United States of America
We're gonna win this one, take the country by storm
We're gonna be elected

You and me together, young and strong
We're gonna be elected, elected, elected
Respected, selected, call collected
I wanna be elected, elected

(note: this was a bit of fun - heavily ironic)

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Quite a Weekend

It has been a second four-day weekend in England. My wife and I spend much of it exploring Milton Keynes - with the help of the Parks Trust. They do a fantastic job - and throughout the year put on activities in the City. This weekend was the walking Festival. During the summer there will be events in Campbell Park - from festivals to Open Air Shakespeare - and the Open Air Film Weekend.

Milton Keynes suffers from a wholly unfair reputation as a concrete city which only came into being in the last 40 or so years. Yet it is full of history (Our walk on Saturday took us to the Roman Villa and Bradwell Abbey) - and so many beautiful places. The amazing thing is that you can be really close to the modern shopping centre and the theatre district; to say nothing of the Snow dome - yet feel as if you were miles outside in the country. All these photos were taken WITHIN the grid system - and within 2 miles of the city centre!

I also had time to watch President Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner - if you haven't seen it yet - it is worth a view - and can be accessed here.