Welcome to Blawg Review #290 which hails this week from Blighty, where we offer a warm welcome to the libel tourist and the would-be-wealthy divorcee alike. In a week of exploding aircraft and travel chaos there has been much said on twitter (#twitterjoketrial and #iamspartacus) and across the blawgosphere about the conviction of Paul Chambers for making a joke about exploding airports and travel chaos on twitter. Even ex-poet laureate Betjeman has offered his posthumerous support and no doubt David Allen Green (Chamber’s own solicitor, who has acted pro bono throughout) will add his two penn’orth in due course either via his Jack of Kent blog or whilst wearing his New Statesman hat (UPDATE: he now has). Comment on the conviction of Chambers for so-called ‘menacing’ remarks from both blawggers and bloggers (and pupil blawgers and more bloggers) alike has been pretty much universally condemned as a sorry indicator of the corrosive effect of terrorism on our approach to civil liberties. The judge has yet to tweet a response but no doubt it will simply be a matter of time. Other examples of crap jokes gone nuclear, resulting in arrest or legal action and a social media song and dance abound.
Also this past week we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”, and the 50th anniversary of the first judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. It seems only right therefore to take as my theme this week “the trouble people get into for saying stuff”. Funny stuff can turn out to be dead serious and vice versa The ironic collision of both anniversary and verdict is not lost on Charon QC, but then not much gets past him, other than ducks.
Libel reform then: Jack of Kent hosts a post from libel survivor Simon Singh in a plea for further signatures on the libel reform petition. In a trans-atlantic libel case reported on Afua Hirsch’s Guardian Law Blog, lawyers in London have obtained judgment and an award of damages in a defamation action relating to remarks on a US website viewed in the UK. Question is, how will they enforce it, and do they care? Nonsuch reflects on the Paul Chambers twitterstorm and the current libel reform campaign in the UK, opining that such in the US, where people are reasonable (allegedly) and where legal principles are rather different, many such potential storms would amount to no more than a gust.
Also in trouble for apparently saying stuff he oughtn’ta done was a firearms officer giving evidence at the inquest into the death of family barrister Mark Saunders, alleged to have played the lumberjack game whilst testifying, by quoting song titles (I attribute my 2:i entirely to the repeated use of the word lumberjack in my finals). Much bluster in print media and online, skillfully deflated by (yes, again) David Allen Green on The Staggers.
Popehat continues to entertain with its exposes of hopeless spammers, in this instance via The Bloggess (thank you popehat for that introduction). And also with its thoughtful posts about adoption, here a recent post about what not to say in response to difficult questions about adoption. Legal Satyricon also know’s that it’s hard not to be an asshat when it comes to speaking out to protect your kids, also covered by abovethelaw (spot on about Eyes on the Prize btw, important to watch). We are reminded also that on the internet stealing other people’s words is liable to result in a ‘web justice driveby’ if not an action for copyright infringement. Scott Greenfield covers the same story, with language in technicolor. Web justice drivebys involving such linguistic artillery are clearly commercially very dangerous (the jealous guarding of recipes for apple pie is it seems, a tradition as American as – urm – apple pie**). Damola Awoyokun, writing on opendemocracy.net has so much to say to his unborn daughter that he writes her a letter. She will have a thoughtful teacher in life, but it will be many years before she is able to fully understand the importance of To Kill A Mockingbird.
There is a raft of Parliament related stories, all of which raise interesting political and legal questions. Firstly, in a spot of bother for saying stuff in election material he probably shouldn’t have is the now ex-MP Phil Woolas, as reported by Head of Legal. Who knew there even was such a thing as an election court? Head of Legal also reports on the ruling that the three MPs being prosecuted for expenses fraud cannot rely on parliamentary privilege to avoid a prosecution. And thirdly, the e-storm (she said, struggling to find the collective term for a combined twitterstorm and frenzied blogging / media interest) surrounding Tory MP Nadine Dorries, her “70% fiction” blog and her apparently contradictory accounts to constituents v the public accounts committee continues. A good summary of why this matters can be found here, and those with stamina will wish to immerse themselves more fully in this may begin by visiting both Dorries’ own blog and this counter blog – warning: caffeinate first. Finally, a councillor called Compton tweeted a ‘menacing’ joke about stoning Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death and has wound up arrested (totally predictable outcome, both ought to know better). It is a long established proposition that stoning jokes should only be attempted by highly skilled comedians.
On the subject of public servants with controversial online activity: in Michigan the sacking of the Assistant Attorney General was definitely not for exercising his right to free speech (h/t The Daily Show, although only a little h/t since we can’t view your clips in the UK so I haven’t linked to it. Tsk). No, it was for engaging in conduct unbecoming a public office including calling someone a radical homosexual, a Nazi and Satan’s representative by internet.
The excellent UK Human Rights Blog runs a piece on the future of control orders including a speech on the topic by Mr Justice Silber to the Bar Council Annual Conference.
The Guardian reports on the Feminist Judgments Project, a “dynamic and innovative research project in which a group of feminist socio-legal scholars have written alternative feminist judgments in a series of significant cases in English law. Rather than simply critiquing existing judgments, the participants have put ‘theory into practice’ by engaging in a practical, ‘real world’ exercise of judgment-writing, subject to the same constraints that bind appellate judges. In doing so, they have pioneered a new form of critical socio-legal scholarship, which seeks to demonstrate in a sustained and disciplined way how judgments could have been written and cases could have been decided differently“. What a brilliant project. The recently published book is on my christmas list – a sort of ‘what they should have said’.
Sometimes of course it’s not talking that can get you into trouble. And Family Lore reminds us that sometimes you just have to think the wrong thing before it causes all sorts of unfortunate consequences. For US troops who don’t want out of the forces it seems the love that dare not speak its name must remain unspoken.
Lowering the Bar offers tips on what to say under the voir dire in order to skyve off of jury duty.
Binary Law gives up on trying to use words to tell us he’s got the social meeja blues, and resorts to diagrams instead. Here’s hoping he climbs out of his trough of disillusionment soon.
And Cari at Rincker Law (a food and agriculture law blog – who knew?) offers the best argument yet on why it is romantic to say ‘I do’ to the prenup before tying the knot. A gal needs to know who’ll get to keep the cows apparently. My clients’ concerns tend to focus more on such important items as cheap leather sofas, flat screen tellys and (in the really big money cases) gas barbecues. The bovine descriptor is usually reserved as a romantic epithet for one’s soon-to-be-ex; the male equivalent most often as a descriptor for the quality of his disclosure. We are still grappling with the Radmacher decision over here, which seems unlikely to make it much easier to predict how many head of cows with which one will exit a marriage, and certainly will not help us carve the one scrawny old knacker that many families have in the pot to feed the family. I know, there’s only so far you can take a cow analogy. I’ll stop.
Well, I hope this blawgreview has given you a few things to ruminate on, some moos and views (sorry – can’t help milking it). It’s been fun (some blawgreviewers enjoy it a little too much), but sadly I can’t afford to give up the day job just yet, although we family legal aid lawyers may be on the scrap heap before too long.
I’ll end on this: in these times where so much is said and written and at such pace (all ) Armistice Day / Remembrance Sunday prompts us to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of the really important things. I rang for the Remembrance Service today and even with my cackhanded assistance our 8 sounded beautiful half-muffled, though not quite as grand as these (iplayer recording of bells at Westminster on Remembrance Sunday- 6 days left). I’m not religious (no good bellringer is although, in truth, I am not a good bellringer), but sometimes in quiet moments just listening and breathing your perspective is different – perhaps it’s all be no more than tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Blawg Review has information about next week’s host, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.
**Food related tenuous aside: This weekend I myself have been dry running a recipe for cornbread in advance of thanksgiving: my husband of 10 years having recently remembered he is a US citizen it seems we are celebrating it this year, notwithstanding that I have not the remotest idea what I am supposed to be giving thanks for (tweet me a summary of thanksgiving in 140 characters please). Celebration of thanksgiving it should be said was not in our pre-nup. But the cornbread was pretty damn tasty. Incidentally, and by way of translation I can confirm that corn meal does = polenta. Still, whilst I have been whirling around the kitchen baking, whilst simultaneously frantically typing hilarious, informative etc blawgreviews in a display of multi-tasking Sunday awesomeness, the kids have been well looked after.