Tag Archives: law

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The Defamation Act 2013: Complete & Unabridged

As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on.

James Bridle is probably best known as the artist who first articulated ‘The New Aesthetic‘, but he has run many projects on books and technology. His project ‘The Iraq War‘ is a favourite of mine – the entire Wikipedia Edit History of the ‘Iraq War’ article, from 2005-2009, which stretches to twelve volumes. He’s also the creator of a Book of Tweets.

James’ projects are the inspiration of one of my own – The Defamation Act 2013: Complete & Unabridged. It collects together, in chronological order, every single parliamentary document published during the passage of the recent reform of our libel law. These include the various versions of the Bill (which I have previously published in a spliced together version, ‘Tracked Changes in the Defamation Bill‘), the parliamentary Hansard transcripts of the debates; and the amendment papers. Continue reading

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Queen Elizabeth II did not approve the #EqualMarriage Bill

https://twitter.com/ABC/status/357494803782582273

The #EqualMarriage timeline on Twitter is full of people praising Queen Elizabeth II for approving the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.  There is a strong sense of knowing irony steaming off those messages.  I feel that most of the people celebrating the new law think its rather ridiculous that the approval of the Monarch is still required.

What a relief, then, to learn that actually, Queen Elizabeth II did not formally approve the new law.  ‘Royal Assent’ is actually a procedural step in the House of Lords.  The monarch is invoked in the process, but she is not personally involved in the decision.  From the Wikipedia page:

The granting of the Royal Assent … is simply La Reyne le veult (the Queen wills it)

This matters, because we should recognise that this pro-family reform of the law is the work of Parliament and Democracy. It is not a gift to us from the Establishment.  It is not that ‘La Reyne’ or ‘Le Roy’ wills it… but that the people of the United Kingdom have willed it.  That’s important.

Benjamin Cohen, a long-term campaigner for the reform, has the right formulation:

https://twitter.com/benjamincohen/status/357502765620142081

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A partial defence of Kiefer Sutherland's '24'

The conventional wisdom is that Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 is an apologia for torture, a cultural product of America’s post 9/11 crisis of confidence. It is produced by Fox, a media outlet not known for its liberal bias1.

Every week the show presents a new ‘ticking bomb’ dilemma for Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer. These scenarios properly belong in a university Ethics 101 seminar, not real life. Would you kill one person to save a hundred? Is torture justified if it yields information that saves lives? In Bauer’s world, the answer would always appear to be ‘yes’. He consistently chooses the path that saves more Americans in the aggregate, regardless of the law. And when he does so, he prevails. The people he tortures are always guilty and the confessions he extracts always yield useful information.

This is a 180° reversal of real life, of course. But by promoting the idea that the abolition of due process can be effective, 24 is propaganda for the abandonment of law and decency that characterised the Bush/Cheney administration. 24 skews public debate on such issues.

However, I have just watched Season 7. This block of episodes has a very different feel to the previous seasons. Terrorists still attack passenger aeroplanes, launch WMD, and attempt to assassinate the President. And Jack Bauer foils their plans on an hourly basis. However, this time the action has moved from decadent, decaying Los Angeles to Washington DC. This proximity to the institutions of State clearly inspire the supporting characters. As the action unfolds, Bauer is consistently harangued and brow-beaten over his actions by the people around him. FBI Special Agent Reneé Walker tries to play along with Bauer’s unconventional approach, and finds she does not have the stomach for it. Special Agent Larry Moss says “the rules are what make us better.” Back at the FBI HQ, the analysts complain about racially profiling suspects. In a key scene with a liberal Senator, Bauer is forced to entertain the notion that it is the rule of law that makes America, and that sometimes upholding The Constitution should take priority over saving lives. By the end of the series, Jack has accepted this argument.

Meanwhile, in the White House, POTUS Allison Taylor puts the responsibilities of her office over the unity of her family in a most dramatic fashion, following her head not her heart. The situations that she and Bauer encounter are no less preposterous than anything in the previous seasons… But at least in Series 7 the characters give proper weight to the importance of the law as they make their decisions.

24 Season 7 was made in 2008. You can tell it is the product of a different political wind. In an overt attempt to redeem itself after many years promoting a Manichean worldview, this series ensures that every Muslim character is wholly noble. As Bauer lies critically ill in a hospital bed, he even summons an Imam for spiritual guidance.

It is a shame that 24 took so long to put forward the view that it is the law that is at the heart of the American Way. It is a shame that it took the producers six seasons before they remembered that United States Presidents take an oath to defend the Constitution, not the people. Jack Bauer’s torturing ways are themselves an attack on American ideals, and it is a shame that this is only called out in Season 7.

But hey – at least the series does, finally, make that conceptual connection. Just as Jack Bauer repents his sins to the Imam, so 24 Season 7 feels like it too is asking for forgiveness.

Does the show deserve absolution? That all depends how Season 8 unfolds, and I haven’t watched that yet.



1. Yes, I do know that Fox also produces The Simpsons but that does not excuse Fox News.

Enemies of the Internet

Enemies of the Internet

This week, Reporters Sans Frontiers published their 2013 Enemies of the Internet report.  It begins:

My computer was arrested before I was.“ This perceptive comment was made by a Syrian activist who had been arrested and tortured by the Assad regime. Caught by means of online surveillance, Karim Taymour told a Bloomberg journalist that, during interrogation, he was shown a stack of hundreds of pages of printouts of his Skype chats and files downloaded remotely from his computer hard drive. His torturers clearly knew as much as if they had been with him in his room, or more precisely, in his computer.

RSF names Bahrain, China, Iran, Syria and Vietnam as ‘State Enemies of the Internet’, the most prolific violators of online privacy.  But these countries do not design all their own surveillance technologies in-house.  Appallingly, it is US and Western European companies, including British firms, who create the tools these murderous regimes use to spy on their own people.  RSF names Amesys (France), Blue Coat (USA), Gamma International (UK, Germany), Hacking Team (Italy) and Trovicor (Germany) as corporate ‘Enemies of the Internet’.

These companies are emboldened in their dirty (but apparently, perfectly legal) work by the manoeverings by western Governments to seize greater control over the Internet.  The British Data Communications Bill, commonly known as the Snoopers Charter, proposed to give security agencies to monitor all e-mail and data communications.  For all those horrified at the abuse of online activists around the world, opposing the reintroduction of such legislation in our wn countries is a practical first step.

Read the full report ‘Enemies of the Internet 2013′ by Reporters Sans Froniers.

Traditional Marriage Paves The Way For A Return To Polygamy

Adam and Steve

Photo by Dave Schumaker on Flickr, Creative Commons Licence

Its great news that MPs voted for marriage equality yesterday.  We should remember that the debate yesterday was only one of several stages in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.  There will be other votes on this issue, and the arguments for and against the reforms will persist for a little while yet.

The anti-family campaigners’ main argument is this: If we re-define marriage to include same-sex marriage, what is to stop a future parliament from re-defining the concept again, to allow polygamy, or inter-species marriage, &ct?

The usual rebuttal to this is that marriage has often been redefined – The Liberal Democrat campaigner Mark Pack’s recent post on this topic is a great example of this argument.  There is, however, another argument, that is admittedly less persuasive but worth an airing.  It is this:  If we acquiesce to the traditional, religious conception of marriage, what is to stop future parliaments making further reversions in the future?  The religious books are pretty clear that the male has primacy in a marriage, and a religiously motivated politicians might seek to restore that inequality by redefining marriage.  Likewise, the Bible has passages that warn against inter-faith marriage, such as 2 Corinthians 6:14:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

Stern stuff.  The Old Testament also endorses polygamy.

So giving credence to anything proposed by the religious or social conservatives risks a similar if different ‘slippery slope’ argument.  “Traditional Marriage Paves The Way For A Return To Polygamy”.

This is a reminder that it is in the very nature of our political system that laws may be changed, and that any change to any law means that it could be further reformed in the future.  This is not a bad thing (although those who see their values falling out of fashion tend to see it as such).

Are there any immutable laws that are not open to revision by future parliaments?  In times past, God’s Law performed this function.  But this was a flawed system, not least because religious authorities seem happy to re-legislate the Word of God when it is convenient.  Countries with a written constitution seek to encode some underlying laws that frame what legislators can and cannot do… but constitutions are open to amendment and repeal.  In Britain, the European Convention on Human Rights can trump domestic law.  Its incarnation in British law, the Human Rights Act, has a certain meta-status, governing what other laws can or cannot say.  But even these laws are open to repeal or withdrawal by law-makers.

There is no final arbiter that can prevent the slippery slope towards mad laws, dangerous and unethical laws, if a parliament wishes such things to be so.  This is why the vigilance of the people is so important – to ensure that the law keeps pace with, but does not go beyond, our values.  This seems to be happening in the case of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which reflects the new public consensus that marriage should be available to all.

We Need To Scrutinise Executives' Contracts Before They Resign In Shame

http://twitter.com/MaxWindCowie/status/267730759798898688

The BBC’s Director General has resigned after only 54 days in post. Now there is concern that his £450,000 ‘Golden Handshake’ is disproportionate.

These controversies are not new. The payouts to bankers like Sir Fred Goodwin are well known, as is the money paid to Amnesty International’s outgoing Secretary General Irene Khan. Continue reading

Swan at Utoeya Island

Norway Wins, Breivik Loses

(Les på norsk). There was an interesting piece on the radio this morning on how Norwegian attitudes to immigration have changed, since the Utøya Massacre last year.  Apparently people have become more proud of being Norwegian, but also more accepting of immigration.  This is the polar opposite of the cultural war that Anders Bering Breivik hoped to ignite when he committed his atrocities.

I would say that Norway has also ‘won’ in the sense that it has not compromised on its principles or the rule-of-law in its response to the terrorists.  Breivik’s 21 year prison sentence seems ridiculously lenient to me… but it is the maximum allowed by Norwegian law, and they have stuck to it.  It is admirable and noteworthy that the legal system has withstood such a traumatic shock.  What is it about Norwegian culture that they were able to resist the shrill call that “something must be done”?

Compare this to the knee-jerk responses in the USA and the UK.  More than a decade after the September 11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, America still imprisons foreign nationals without trial in Guantánamo Bay.  Here in the UK Parliament settled on 42 days detention without charge for terror suspects.  Both countries allowed panic and fear to set policies that removed civil liberties.  We should have been more like Norway, and stood firmer.