Thursday, 27 March 2014

Revising for Law Exams?

Washminster is written by an Associate Lecturer on the Open University's W200 and W201 Law courses. These cover what more traditional universities may describe as

  • English Legal System
  • EU Law
  • Constitutional & Administrative Law
  • Criminal Law
As a result there are a number of posts designed to assist with exam revision in these subjects (and revision techniques generally). Most of these were published in the August/September of each year (immediately preceding the OU exams).

If you are facing exams (Law Degree; Law A-Levels), do feel free either to use the search engine to the right of this post - or browse through the posts in date order (year & month).

Monday, 17 March 2014

Thank you

I will no longer be maintaining the Washminster blog. I've enjoyed posting about so many subjects since this blog was started in March 2007.

This resource will remain, I hope, available for the foreseeable future - so whether you are a law student wanting material on UK Constitutional Law; English Legal System; EU Law - or a student wanting general materials on study and revision - do use the search engine on this page,

So much has been put into this blog - that there is something to cover most interests. The blog can be searched by date or by keyword in the search box,

Many thanks to everyone who has inspired or helped with posts - but especially, I want to thank you for reading Washminster

With every best wish


Friday, 14 March 2014

The First of the Nixon Tapes

When the taping system was installed, Alexander Butterfield explained to the present how the system worked. The transcript is available here.

The audio can be listened to here.

This conversation took place sometime between 7:56 am and 8:58 am on Tuesday 16th February 1971.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Watergate Tapes

I was in Oxford today for a conference on Watergate: 40 years on. I presented a paper about the Watergate Effect on the November 1974 elections entitled, "Who's the Daddy: The Influence of the Watergate Scandal in the Election of the "Watergate Babies".

But the conference's highpoint was a spell-binding hour and a half during which Alexander Butterfield, Deputy Assistant to President Nixon; and John R Price, Special Assistant to President Nixon for Urban Affairs - shared their memories; observations and thoughts about Richard Nixon. I can't express how incredibly fascinating their talks were - and will return to some of them in later posts.

The video below shows Butterfield before the Senate Watergate Committee - and captures the moment when the investigation takes a completely new turn - and the rest, as they say is history...


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Parliamentary Privilege

In these days when legislatures and their members are so often distrusted and under attack from the media; conspiracy theorists; and individual members of the public - the term "parliamentary privilege" seems a needless provocation. Why should MPs; Congressmen and other legislators have privileges that the people they represent don't have?

The answer can be found throughout history. Legislatures, and democracy itself, have come under attack from outside. Powerful interests have sought to intimidate Parliaments and parliamentarians. Parliamentary privilege is designed to ensure that legislators can do the job we expect of them.

Robert Maxwell - himself a former MP - demonstrated effectively how criticism of powerful individuals can be silenced. His strategy was anyone who dared criticise him - or point out what he was doing - faced the EXPENSIVE threat of being sued for defamation. Truth is a defence to such an action - but failing, even on a technicality can bankrupt the individual sued. Maxwell knew that individuals, and those who could uncover wrongdoing would be silenced by that fear. So it proved to be.

MPs can bring up allegations in Parliament - which, without 'parliamentary privilege', could lead them to face the reality of legal action. Legal aid isn't available - and a powerful individual like Maxwell can (and in his case, frequently did) hire the most expensive lawyers. If the defendant has costs awarded against them, they can be financially ruined. In any case to defend an action they need to get good legal representation. Defamation law can be a great good - allowing an individual to protect themselves from malicious and damaging assertions. But it can also be used to suppress free speech.

Some sections of the press can do a great job in uncovering wrongdoing - but a newspaper's editors need to take into account the danger to their publication of being sued. That's what Maxwell knew - and counted on. Parliamentarians receive complaints from their constituents about the actions of powerful individuals and companies. Sometimes it is necessary to use parliamentary privilege to expose and hold to account. The use of privilege is taken seriously [the Committee of Privileges in 1986-87 stated "We should use our freedom of speech...with the greatest care, particularly if we impute any motives or dishonourable conduct to those outside the House who have no right of reply."- and a legislator who abused the privilege could find themselves in deep trouble with the legislative body itself.

In 1955, Kim Philby was named in the House of Commons as a Soviet spy. The academic author of a textbook on Constitutional Law, Hilaire Barnett commented - "...which surely would not have been made without the protection of privilege."

In its disputes with the Stuart Monarchs - and in response to James I's assertion that Parliament's rights were derived only from the 'grace and permission of our ancestors [former Monarchs] and us [James I using the 'royal we'] - the House of Commons asserted in its Protestation of 18th December 1621 that

"every member of the House of Parliament hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech to propound, treat, reason, and bring to conclusion the same"

Last week the Court of Appeal ruled on the issue last week - this report is from the BBC:

"John Bercow has said he is "absolutely delighted" that an attempt to sue a former Football Association boss for libel over comments he made to a parliamentary committee has failed. Lord Triesman made corruption allegations against some members of the sport's governing body, FIFA, in 2011. But the Court of Appeal ruled he could not be sued, as he had spoken while protected by "parliamentary privilege".

House of Commons Speaker Mr Bercow called this a "victory" for Parliament. Lord Triesman, a Labour peer and former minister, was part of the team involved in England's failed bid to host the World Cup in 2018. In 2011, when he appeared before MPs on the Commons Culture Committee, he made corruption allegations against some members of FIFA. Worwawi Makudi, former head of Thailand's football federation, attempted to sue Lord Triesman, former FA chairman, for defamation. Mr Makudi has denied any wrongdoing and Lord Triesman's allegations...

The Court of Appeal ruled last week that the comments to the committee had been covered by the legal protection of parliamentary privilege, established by the Bill of Rights in 1689, which bars MPs' and peers' proceedings from being "questioned in any court or place outside of parliament".

The chairman of the Culture Committee, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, said this was "a significant re-establishment of the rights of this House". Had the court decided otherwise, it could have had a "severe effect in terms of preventing us exposing truth", he added.

Mr Bercow, who wrote to the Court of Appeal last year expressing his views, said he had shared the "grave concern" of Mr Whittingdale and that he was "delighted... the court found as it did". He added: "That was a victory not just for Lord Triesman but for the precious principle of parliamentary privilege and a victory for Parliament itself." "

Erskine May, the handbook of Parliamentary procedure, defined privilege as being "...the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament, and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. Thus, privilege, though part of the law of the land, is to a certain extent an exemption from the general law."

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Cycling Around Furzton

I was so nice to see the sunshine! I decided to go for a cycle around Furzton, which is part of Milton Keynes. I know I won't be in line for an Oscar - this was a video cam strapped to the front of my bike - and the "soundtrack" is from the editing software. But if you have any preconceptions about Milton Keynes being a concrete city - see what it's really like. The Lake is a balancing lake designed to limit the flooding which used to occur in the Loughton Valley. This winter it has been severly tested!!!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Pepper v Hart

I mentioned the case of Pepper v Hart in yesterday's post. It was quite a breakthrough - prior to the decision, it was not possible to argue using Hansard, what the "intention of Parliament" was. While there were good reasons for the original rule, it did seem strange that the one document which recorded the reasons for introducing a bill and the aims of the proposed legislation couldn't be used.

The speech of the Minister or member who brought forward the bill during Second Reading usually sets out the "mischief" which the proposed legislation sets out to address. MPs and Peers will use the legislative process to get explanations about the intended effect of specific words and phrases. Ministers may seek to assure the House about the meaning (and what is NOT intended).

The House of Commons Library produced a paper on the decision - and what we may now call "The rule in Pepper v Hart". The paper states -

"Following the decision in Pepper v Hart in 1993, if primary legislation is ambiguous or obscure the courts may in certain circumstances take account of statements made in Parliament by Ministers or other promoters of a Bill in construing that legislation. Until that decision, using Hansard in that way would have been regarded as a breach of Parliamentary privilege.”

The paper is available here.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Lawyers Obits

I was going to write a post about some of the judges that law students will recognise from law reports. I intended to start with Lord Denning. The first page I came upon to undertake some research was the Daily Telegraph's obituary - and I became distracted.

The Telegraph has a whole series of obits about people associated with the law. I thoroughly recommend taking a look around. It can be accessed at


It is of course being added to all the time! It covers not just judges; but  famous barristers and solicitors (though their fame may derive from other activities); academics (students may recognise the names of certain textbooks); and others involved with the law.

I also discovered that "Hart" of Pepper v Hart was the first person to win Mastermind! (I used to take students on unofficial tours of the Palace of Westminster - when I was a full time law lecturer, and before I worked at Westminster & had a pass! - and I took one group in to hear arguments in that case - and we saw the actual judgment being delivered - it just happened that we were there on the days!)

Law is certainly a profession which produces some interesting characters!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Pilgrims Way

During our stay in Kent, we crossed the Pilgrim's Way (Sadly this soggy winter has continued - and it was too wet to go for a walk). We did have a lovely meal in the Cock Horse Inn adjacent to the Pilgrims Way. This ancient route is now part of the long distance path known as the 'North Downs Way'. A leaflet about the route can be downloaded here.

I've walked short stretches of the path - my wife grew up in Rainham; and a couple of years after we married her parents moved to Culverstone Green, near Meopham. I would often go for walks along parts of the route. There's some beautiful countryside around there.

The Pilgrim's Way may actually be thousands of years old - being an ancient route across southern England, linking Stonehenge to the Kent coast (perhaps even being in use when the land bridge to Europe still existed). In the medieval period it linked two important cities in England, Winchester and Canterbury.

There is a fascinating website about the Pilgrims' Way at http://www.pilgrimsway.net/index.html

Saturday, 1 March 2014


I've been down in Kent for a couple of days - and had to visit the town centre of Gravesend. I parked in the public parking area next to St George's Church - and had to walk through the church yard. The photograph is one I took of the statue of Pocahontas which stands there.

Pocahontas was on a ship, the "George" sailing down the Thames - she was dying, and may even have died whilst on board. The ship arrived at Gravesend. She was buried in the vault beneath the chancel of St George's. That church was burned down a hundred and ten years later - and it is believed that her remains were reburied somewhere within what is now the present church.

The church's website has a couple of pages about Pocahontas - which can be found here. The local council's webpage on Pocahontas is available here. At the Tourist Information Centre, which overlooks the statute, there were a number of guides to historic walks around Gravesend - and a leaflet about the princess.