Wednesday 28 August 2013

The Power of Misinformation

I thoroughly recommend reading Dana Milbank's piece in today's 'Washington Post' - "It's Obama vs Misinformation". (Accessible here). He has some truly terrifying results from some opinion poll research. "Opinions" being the appropriate word. It captures the astonishing beliefs that some people hold.

Why do 29% of Louisiana Republicans believe that President Obama was responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005? [he became President in January 2009].

I'm not aware that Fox News, or any right-wing 'shock-jocks' have been peddling this particular myth - and this was not an event that happened in some "far off country...of whom we know nothing". Katrina hit Louisiana, only eight years ago. So how has it arisen?

Milbank's article says -

“Obama derangement syndrome is running pretty high right now among a certain segment of the Republican base,” Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, told me. “There’s a certain segment of people who say, ‘If you’re going to give me the opportunity to stick it to Obama, I’m going to take it.’ ”

In other words, a large number of that 29 percent who said Obama was responsible for the Katrina response knew that he wasn’t but saw it as a chance to register their displeasure with the president.

It's not the direct result of misinformation peddled by Opponents of Obama - or by crafty Republican operatives - but the result of a climate of hate and distrust.

Could it happen this side of the pond?


Joseph Goebbels knew the value of spreading lies to build an atmosphere of distrust, leading to hatred. In fact it's a technique as old as the hills. It is also seen in the effectiveness of "Euromyths" - stories peddled in the Eurosceptic media - and those ready to fire off an anti-EU opinion, be it in the pub or on late night radio.

Perhaps it is time we started to call out those who are so ready to pollute and poison political debate. To refuse to let their false claims go unchallenged. We are not just fighting the particular lie they tell at that moment - but begin to tackle the atmosphere these multitude of little lies are designed to generate.

Deliberation not deliberate lying is needed.

[You might find the following websites useful -
Immigration myths
Benefit myths]

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Recall of Parliament

It has been announced that Parliament will be recalled on Thursday to discuss Syria. This will be the 27th recall of Parliament since 1948. The House of Commons Library published a paper on recalls - available here.

In summary

"Under Standing Orders, the Speaker of the House of Commons determines whether the House is to be recalled on the basis of representations made by Ministers.

Under the previous Labour Government, Members argued that they, rather than the Government, should be able to make representations to the Speaker to recall Parliament. The Labour Government announced proposals to effect this change but the proposals were never implemented.
In 1994, the House of Commons introduced an allowance to meet any costs incurred by Members in attending the House of Commons when it was recalled. The responsibility for meeting the expenses of Members has now transferred to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. IPSA first made explicit provision for meeting expenses incurred in the event of a recall of Parliament in the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses that came into force on 1 April 2012.
The Standing Orders of the House of Lords and of the devolved legislatures in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast provide for early recall if the circumstances require it."

Monday 26 August 2013

Bank Holiday

So this is it...the end of summer. Today is the last bank holiday of the summer. Our next official holiday is Christmas Day! (at least in the US 'Labor Day' is a week later - so I'll be following the US example!!).

But a new season is about to begin...

The House of Commons returns on 2nd September. The week's business can be found here. (and they'll be discussing cycling on their first day). Conference season starts with the TUC Conference in Bournemouth from the 8th September - and the party conferences follow.

The Institut francais in South Kensington reopens and there's a lot on - I hope, with my newly found free time, to make my visits more frequent. There are a number of films on that I'm keen to see. The programme can be accessed here.

In Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes - Feastival returns.

So, if you are in Britain - enjoy today! (to friends overseas, also enjoy yourself - even if it isn't an official holiday!)

Sunday 25 August 2013


I hope today to get along to the Sky Ride Milton Keynes. (Further details here). It's on all day - and is a gentle ride.

"The 5km route starts from the Willen Lake Cafe, opposite the mini bowl, at 10.00am, and stays open until 4.00pm. You can ride the traffic-free route as many times as you like, circling the lake and taking in the peace pagoda, the stone circle, the labyrinth as well as all the leisure facilities in the park. With off-road tracks, gentle climbs and gentle descents, there’s something for everyone."

I enjoy watching the Tour de France, but sadly I'll never be up to that standard (on Friday I reached 31kmph for a couple of moments - going downhill - on the Tour the average speed, sustained over an hour, can exceed 50kmph). For me cycling is a way of saving money - it's cheaper to ride to Milton Keynes Central station than to take the bus, or to take the car & pay the parking fees. Most of all it is good for my health! When I go for a cycle I feel better afterwards; and my studying is more productive. There's increasing evidence that exercise boosts studying.

On Friday I took two hours off to cycle along the Loughton Brook; up to Wolverton; across to Stony Stratford and alongside the Roman "Watling Street" to my home. I felt so much better - in mood - and also I've written quite a bit since.

I can recommend taking up cycling - even if you are no longer in your first flush of youth (I'm certainly not - I can remember watching Churchill's funeral!) - and the city rides that are being put on around the country are a gentle way to do it.

Saturday 24 August 2013


It can be very useful to look at old exam papers (OU Law Students can access these through 'Elite') - but even more useful to take a look at examiners reports. These often highlight common mistakes that have arisen. If you read a few reports you'll see that the same issues frequently turn up.

One comment I'd like to stress appeared one year (though it is a perennial) - "Some students in fact forgot to apply the law to the facts at all, and simply listed cases; although these were usually relevant ... it was very important...to apply the rules and principles as well as setting them out."

Cases are important - especially in English Law where precedent plays a key role - but there can be a tendency to fixate on memorising case names and facts. I've known students who have sought to memorise over a hundred cases. (to which I say, how many cases can you discuss in a three hour exam in which up to an hour can profitably be spent choosing the best questions to answer; planning the answers; writing them; and reviewing them?)

Use cases to illustrate a point you are making; to support your argument; to demonstrate different approaches to the issue - but never just recite cases and their facts.

How should you "revise" cases?

The first task is to select the cases that you plan to revise. As you revise each topic, think about which cases are most important. Clues can also be found elsewhere - what has the manual; textbook; tutor stressed most? (My students will be familiar with me banging on about ...)

[W200] - Pepper v Hart; The Practice Statement of 1966; Young v Bristol Aeroplane; R v R (Marital Rape); Donoghue v Stevenson; Costa v ENEL; Factortame (Numbers 1, 2, 5); Van Gend; Von Colson; Foster v British Gas; Marleasing; Francovich;  Dassonville; Cassis de Dijon; Keck;  Defrenne v SABENA; Marshall v Southampton & SW Hampshire AHA; United Brands v Commission...

[W201] Entick v Carrington; Ghaidan v Godin-Mendoza; Campbell v MGN; Carltona v Commissioner of Works; Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury; The GCHQ case (Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service); Porter v Magill; R v Ghosh; R v R (Marital Rape); R v Cunningham; R v G (Recklessness)...

Prepare brief notes. Students, almost since "time immemorial", have used revision cards to prepare for exams. The value of these cards are that they require you to condense the information. This is a (the?) key process in revision - (there are some professionally written cards on sale - some value, but you lose the process of condensing yourself - similarly, copying out from a text or revision book has the same value-deficit). There is some value in reviewing the finished cards frequently.

Consider the application of cases. Cases should not be used as decoration. They are a vital part of legal argument. Consider where and how you would deploy these cases. This is where using old exam papers can come in useful.

Friday 23 August 2013

Letter to a student worrying about the exams...

Dear Student.
You are worried about the forthcoming exam. As President Roosevelt said in his first inauguration address - "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"
 Exam nerves are natural - and most people suffer from them. In fact my experience is that I needn't worry about my students who worry about their exams - the ones to worry about are the ones not worried. Their complacency usually shows that they haven't engaged with the subject yet. I remember one girl who got so het-up about the exam that I had to take her out of the hall 10 minutes after the exam began - and she was sick. She returned - and walked off with first class honours!!!
I will continue to attempt to address the issue of exam nerves and revision in my tutorials; tutorial key point videos and washminster posts.
Try to treat exams as a game (OK, not a fun game!) - but actually exams resemble a game - with its rules (such as you must answer 4 questions in 3 hours; you must answer two questions from each part etc - break the rules in either football or exams and you are penalised.
Like crossword games - the wording of questions have certain conventions, they contain clues that help you solve the problem)
There are no word targets! You have 3 hours to answer 4 questions of equal value. I argue that the most valuable time is at the start of the exam
- give yourself time for the "panic" after seeing the questions to subside (we've had suffered it - the fightback begins when you start saying - "this is a disaster, what can I can salvage from it..." - and the memory & logic returns);
- to consider which questions give YOU the best opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding;
- to think about and make a detailed plan for each answer - and ensure that it's arguments are logical and complete, and have as much support (cases and statute & academic writers cited)_as possible.
Allowing for a few minutes at the end to review - and add anything you might has missed earlier -
you probably have 30 minutes or so to turn that each essay plan into an answer.
If, like me - you don't physically write much - as opposed to typing it on a computer - it may be useful to get a little "exercise" to get used to writing for a long time.
All the very best

Thursday 22 August 2013

Criminal and Civil Law

In English Law, one of the most important distinctions is between Criminal and Civil Law. For Law students at any level, it is important to be able to discuss what distinguishes them.

Here's a framework -

Governing Relationships
Criminal - between an individual and the rest of the community [embodied in the 'State']
Civil - between individuals

(This is a generalisation - there are exceptions - especially in Magistrates Courts which have some civil jurisdiction)
Criminal - Magistrates Court; Crown Court
Civil - County Court; High Court.
The Court of Appeal has a Criminal and a Civil Division.

Criminal - Prosecution/Prosecutor (usually a case is brought by the authorities, but most offences could be the subject of a private prosecution) and Defendant
Civil - Claimant and Defendant/Respondent

Who can bring a case?
Criminal - Generally anyone (though in practice it is the Authorities - and some offences may only be brought by certain officials eg. DPP)
Civil - Limited to a person who has suffered the loss

Who can halt a case?
Criminal - generally only the State
Civil - only the parties themselves

Language Used
Criminal - Prosecutes; Guilt
Civil - Claims (sues); Liability

Standard of Proof
Criminal - Beyond reasonable doubt
Civil - Balance of probabilities

Criminal - Sanctions - Imprisonment; Fines; other punishments; discharge (conditional or unconditional)
Civil - Remedies - compensation;

If faced with an exam question on the differences - do illustrate the answer with examples. It is important to stress that the same event may lead to criminal AND civil proceedings.

Wednesday 21 August 2013


My Open University students (on the W200 and W201 Law courses) - plus other OU students face exams this autumn. I will be using Washminster to publish material that they should find useful for revision.

The courses cover -

W200 - [Major Subjects] - English Legal System; EU Law
[Short introductions to] - UK Constitutional Law; Rights & Police Powers; Contract; Tort; Criminal Law.

W201 - UK Constitutional Law; Human Rights Law; Administrative Law (focused in on the UK's 'Judicial Review'); and Criminal Law.

But Washminster will continue to follow US Congress; UK Parliament; the European Parliament and the French Assemblee nationale. There will still be posts about history; jazz - and of course the American Football season is about to begin!

It is possible to subscribe to Washminster (see above).

A while ago I made and posted a video about techniques for retaining information from studies. It is republished below

Tuesday 20 August 2013

How EU Law is made

An informative video on the EU legislative video. Please feel free to share this post (and the blog itself) with friends; colleagues; students....)

Thursday 15 August 2013

Assemblee nationale

When I was in Paris during our holiday, my first destination was the 'la boutique de l'Assemblee nationale'. Details of the shop - which sells books; posters; postcards and a variety of gifts - can be found here.

I bought a small book published by Dalloz entitled "Les grandes dates de la Cinquieme Republique" (to complete Arnaud Teyssier's "Histoire politique de la Cinquieme Republique (1958-2011) which I had bought earlier, and which became my main reading during the holiday.)

But my main purchase was "Notices & Portraits 2013". Pictures and brief descriptions of the current members of the Assemblee.These are set out by Departements. At the back an outline map of each departement shows where each circonscription (Constituency [UK]; District [US]) is.

There is an excellent website for the French parliamentary channel at http://www.lcp.fr/


Wednesday 14 August 2013

Politics in America

I have received the latest volume of this excellent book published by CQ Roll Call. This covers the 113th Congress and includes biographical details of every member of Congress and details of election results. I have been buying Politics in America since the 2002 version (107th Congress) and used both my own copies and earlier volumes whilst in Washington for background research on the individuals who had been (or are) whips.

It is available in the UK through Amazon (your purchase through this website will cost you the same, but contribute to "Washminster") - or from CQ Roll Call in the USA.

I also buy National Journal's "Almanac of American Politics". That is not yet available, but can be ordered at


(My order is already in).

Tuesday 13 August 2013

The use of EU law

Interesting story in today's Guardian. Apparently the UK is considering using EU Law to "ensure the Spanish government allows the free movement of people across the border with Gibraltar". One to watch. I can't but help note that the desire to opt-out of anything connected with the EU declines when the advantages to the UK are obvious. Hence the pressure to opt out of the European Arrest Warrant - demanded by the Eurosceptics - is being resisted by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary.

I'm currently marking essays on Free Movement (of Goods). It's another area where consumers have seen the advantages of being in the EU. Customs duties and "charges having equivalent effect" on goods imported and exported within the EU are prohibited. (TFEU) Article 30. Of greater practical significance is the prohibition on "Quantitative restrictions...and measures having equivalent effect [MEQRs]" (TFEU Arts 34 & 35). The case law demonstrates the clever wheezes Member States came up with to discourage goods from other Member States coming in and competing with national products.

Bresciani - a case where a charge was imposed for compulsory veterinary and public health inspections carried out on imports of raw cowhides - even when home country inspections had been undertaken and the cost was disproportionate.

Schottle - charges made for freight involving long distance road journeys, but not short journeys (in other words within Germany)

Dassonville - Belgian requirement that all importers of Scotch whisky have a British certificate of authentication. Direct imports to Belgium would generally have these. Imports from (usually a cheaper source) in another country where such certificates are not required could be discouraged.

Schloh v Auto Controle Technique - Test for imported cars (requiring a fee), even when the car had a certificate of conformity with Belgian rules.

Commission v France (21/84) - French authorities consistently refused to approve postal franking machines from other Member States.

Commission v France (C-265/95) - French authorities had failed to police demonstrations where imported goods were seized and destroyed. Cassis de Dijon - ban on sale of alcohol which had "insufficient alcoholic strength", favouring the German version of 'Cassis' but banning the French version.

Cassis de Dijon - ban on sale of alcohol which had “insufficient alcoholic strength”, favouring the German version of ‘Cassis’ but banning the French version.

In each of these cases the European Court held that the ploy was illegal & couldn’t continue. As a result we as consumers have greater choice.

[This article also appears on my new Blog "Positively European". That website, unlike Washminster, is not primarily an educational website. Instead it seeks to provide some balance to the strongly eurosceptic bias within the UK Press. Please feel free to take a look]

Monday 5 August 2013

Final instalment of "Common Sense"

I hope you have enjoyed this series which set out the thoughts of a great Englishman.

Thursday 1 August 2013