The Prison Papers – After Pickwick

Since the time of Charles Dickens, prisons in Britian have long been an issue.

It has been considerably over 100 years since Dickens wrote his masterpieces. With his father having been jailed for debt, Dickens himself saw appalling issues with prisons first hand, and the shortcomings of the criminal justice system. In his books, Dickens took every opportunity to bring such injustice vividly to life.

In 2017, Dickens’ father would not have been jailed for debt. But Dickens would have recognised the failings of criminal justice and the prison service that still remain – although updated for the modern age.

Amidst such failings, earnest reformers, Civil Servants, “experts” and similar have all weighed in on the causes and solutions of issues in British jails. Even as recently as 2016, the government of the day set out yet another solution for the prison service. Indeed, the prison service has long been the downfall of many a Minister in either the Home Office or Ministry of Justice.

One key issue often mentioned is overcrowding. Britain’s (often) Victorian era prisons had a population of 40,000 in 1990. Those same prisons now have a population in excess of 80,000. Obviously, a key method to tackle issues in prisons is to reduce the number of prisoners. One accusation levelled against the criminal justice system is that sentences are often too long, and too readily imposed. As such, if sentences could be reduced – then there would be less prisoners.

Veteran Conservative MP Ken Clarke (MP for Rushcliffe since 1970) saw himself removed as Justice Secretary amidst proposals to cut prison numbers, which included reducing sentences. Michael Gove MP saw little sucess himself in this regard. Calling upon his successor last November to take urgent action to reduce prison numbers, he admitted to his own lack of action; “[it is] an inconvenient truth – which I swerved to an extent while in office – that we send too many people to prison. And of those who deserve to be in custody many – but certainly not all – are sent there for too long.” Current Justice Secretary Liz Truss MP has herself now entered the debate – by refusing to reduce prison sentences.

For this, Ms Truss is to be applauded. Whatever the very real issues with the prison service, and whatever part sentencing plays in those issues – it is not for Government, or a politician, to interfere with judicial sentencing. The nature of the British judical and legal system is that judges should be able to sentence convicted offenders before them, in a manner they deem appropriate, without external Governmental interference. In some cases, sentences have been referred to Justice Ministers, on various grounds; but the principle still stands firm that politicians, however well intentioned, have little or no democratic right in interfering with sentencing.

Admittedly, the issue of whole life terms has been debated in various places – including Parliament – due to human rights concerns. As such, whole life terms has entered the political arena. Aside from that, there are judical guides and reccommendations regarding sentences. Those, however, are guides mainly determined by the judiciary and criminal justice system, by bodies such as the Sentencing Council – not by politicians.

This ultimately returns to a key theme of democracy. In an open democracy, there is an independent judiciary, ready to uphold the law, and even prepared to call the Government to account. Government should not be able to interfere with the deliberations and decisions of judges. Judges apply the law as it stands – and do not carry out government agendas. Although many legal matters might involve a matter of legal policy – those policies are not government or Civil Service policies. An independent judiciary is there to impartially uphold the law, without risk of justice being interfered with by government.The British Judiciary has a long and proud heritage of fiercely defending that independence – and in doing so have often been a thorn in the side of the government of the day. Today, that principle still remains strong.

With that democratic concept of upholding an independent judiciary – judges need to be able to sentence prisoners was they see fit, and with the needs of public safety in mind – not government statistics on prison numbers, or Civil Service policy documents. Although admittedly well intentioned, and perhaps a positive method to tackle the issues in prisons – a policy to reduce prison sentences is undemocratic, and contrary to having an independent judiciary.

Quoting from the speech Ms Truss gave when she rejected the policy, “We all agree it is desirable to have a lower prison population but it has to be for the right reasons … Public protection is paramount which means managing the prison population in a safe and sustainable way.”

The Magwitch of today would still be spending a long time behind bars. Today, however, it is not because he was involved in circulating fake money with an accomplice, but rather because of democratic principle.

Parliamentary Sovereignity? Future Prospects For Article 50

“Bringing power back to Parliament” was a much used slogan by Leavers in the Referendum arguments. In a sensational High Court ruling regarding Brexit in early November, the principal of just such Parliamentary Sovereignty was shown to be not as simple as those Leave campaigners originally assumed.

In their verdict in November, the judicial panel in the High Court found that Parliament needs to have a vote prior to invoking Article 50, as Royal Prerogative powers usually extensively exercised by the government essentially do not apply in this instance.

The doctrine that Parliament makes and enacts law was hardly contested – as was the concept that the Government of the day can make international agreements and treaties without Parliamentary process, in part using Royal Prerogative powers. However, as dismantling existing EU treaties would effectively alter domestic laws, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas was forced to concede that a Parliamentary vote was needed regarding triggering Article 50, so that Parliament could fulfill its duty and right in making and altering statutes.

Ultimately – and unsurprisingly – Lord Thomas ruled in favour of the principal that Parliamentary Sovereignty is supreme. It was a hollow victory for Remain supporters, as the Government was swiftly granted a leave to appeal the High Court verdict (after all, a matter such as Brexit was never going to be settled at the High Court: the case was always destined for the Supreme Court). The matter has been referred to the Supreme Court who will hear and rule on the case as a matter of urgency in December.

Despite a conclusive victory, it is undoubted that with the matter being thrown back to Parliament if upheld, the whole issue of Brexit is once again thrown into confusion and uncertainty. The financial markets did indeed see a boost just after the verdict was announced; however that could fade away as the positive news is replaced by further, and indeed deeper, uncertainty.

>After all, trying to get a parliamentary vote on this matter will be difficult. Prime Minister Theresa May will probably whip enough votes, and will be able to instill a sense of party unity (even if somewhat disjointed and fractious) amongst the Conservative benches in support of triggering Article 50. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has still yet to come up with an effective way to rule the Labour Party, let alone come up with an effective EU strategy about Article 50 or anything else. That leaves the Scottish Nationalist Party – who will fight with one loud and united voice against Brexit, abd to securecan advantageous deal for Scotland. It is likely that, trailing behind them, but no less vocally, will be Welsh and Northern Ireland parties and MP’s.

With so few MP’s currently – but with a significant presence in the House of Lords – the Liberal Democrats will hardly have a voice in any Parliamentary proceedings. Inevitably, UKIP and Nigel Farage will undoubtedly find some method to condemn the workings of democratic party politics, and some method to inject themselves into the debate, with their unique brand of toxic populism and nationalism. Amidst such scenes, and such infighting on the green benches and elsewhere – the whole matter of Brexit is again thrown into utter confusion, delays, grandstanding and uncertainty.

Despite a definitive verdict, the whole Brexit matter is now less certain than before the verdict. Such jitters will doubtless be reflected in the economy, and in European and foreign investment and dealings with the UK. Ultimately, this does not aid an already emotive matter – and a matter where the clock is ticking, and Brussels and other nations are waiting to start exit negotiations.

This is similar to accident at work litigation, in that it is a question of timing. For personal injury law, the rules are very strict: the injured employee has three years from the accident at work within which to make a claim for compensation for their injuries. There are other legal criteria for accident at work compensation claims: the accident must not be the employee’s fault, and the negligence of the employer must be proven. In most cases, that last criteria is assumed automatically, as employers have a duty of care to their employees, and a legal obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure the workplace is safe to work in.

If injured in an accident at work, it is your right to seek compensation from your employer if those and other criteria are met. When dealing with any such legal claims, it is always advisable to seek a good accident at work lawyer. Returning to the upcoming Supreme Court hearing, the government similarly has excellent legal representation in the form of First Treasury Counsel James Eadie QC, well known for his expertise in constitutional and national security cases.

Similarly to the three years deadline for personal injury litigation, Mr Eadie and his equally well known opponent Lord Paddick QC also have a tight time scale. Following the High Court verdict in November, they only have a month to prepare their respective cases prior to appearing before all eleven Supreme Court Justices in December. That is necessary, though, to ensure that No10 has enough time for Parliamentary proceedings prior to March 2017 and the Prime Minister’s promise to trigger Article 50. For all parties – time is of the essence.

For an accident at work claim – provided that criteria including fault, employer liability and negligence are met  – then it is in most cases a foregone conclusion.

For Brexit- how Article 50 will be triggered, and indeed when, is not so straightforward. What is evident is that if the verdict leads to a Parliamentary vote, and that vote goes against Brexit – the majority who voted Leave will probably feel disenfranchised, and let down, by the current government – who ended up in power primarily on a Brexit mandate.

Brexit Vote Result: Unity Out Of Disunity

The historic vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union last week was very close.

The night began well for Remain, and was close throughout the night. However, Leave secured a victory in the early hours, even if it was by only four points.

As with recent domestic political events – it was rather unexpected. Even ardent Out supporters were surprised at the level of success their campaign had – and their subsequent victory.

As with recent domestic political events and votes – there was another message from the voters lying underneath the votes, and another layer of meaning. The message from voters was essentially that the UK public are fed up and tired with mainstream politics and politicians, and are no longer trusting in experts. The media seemingly picked up on the latter in the run up to the voting, with the former only becoming very evident once the votes were counted and announced. Whilst choosing to leave, many voters, it was felt, were expressing their sentiments against the established political orthodoxy. Two party, Westminster politics is no longer popular with the public; quite the opposite. As with the Scottish Referendum, and recent local elections, voters are increasingly looking to local administrations, and regional authorities, for resolution of local matters. Rule from Westminster is increasingly unpopular, and is seen as increasingly out of touch, in many regions.

It is not just a London centred, Westminster approach, to government and administration. The whole political system was seemingly condemned as voters rejected the political orthodoxy of the Remain camp. This was not just a matter of choosing to stay or remain in a troubled Union; it seemingly was  also perceived as choosing whether to continue supporting a tired, out of touch political system in the Remain camp, or the change and new approaches in the Leave camp. If that interpretation, as advance. by some political theorists and commentators, is true, then the actual nature of how the United Kingdom is governed is also due for overhaul, whether the politicians want that or not.

The other (but related) layer of meaning in the Leave win is that the  UK is very disunited. The four nations voted very certain and separate ways, essentially according to their own national interests. Scotland has long been the most European of the home nations, with Edin dubbed by some as the Athens of the North. Unsurprisingly, the result was overwhelmingly for Remain. This once again demonstrated the togetherness of the Scottish nation; recent political events have seen the Scots by and large acting together in support, and showing a united front. Be it at the polls, or by the remarkable unity and discipline of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scotland has never been more united.

In Northern Ireland, the voting was very close – but the vote was overall for Remain, similar to Scotland. That result, and the subsequent speeches of Northern Irish leaders, has called into question the status and relationship of Northern Ireland with both the United Kingdom, and indeed the Republic of Ireland. There is much that can be said about that. Clearly that story has yet to be written; the Leave vote will very much dominate the future of that troubled Province for years to come.

The majority of the Leave vote came from England & Wales. London, however, was interesting in that great parts of the city voted to Remain. However, in recent years, the sway and power that London has over the rest of the country has diminished as the regions seek more power and autonomy, and people have got ever more fed up with London centred rule and polices. So, moving swiftly on, how the various regions, cities and rural areas voted is very informative. Doubtless political experts will be picking over that carcass fro a very long time.

The essential point is that the United Kingdom showed a very disunited front when confronted with the choice. The four nations voted so very differently, and in accordance with their national interests. All four nations have had a turbulent relationship together, since long before any Acts of Union. It is the very disunity, the very disharmony, the often great animosity and misunderstanding of each nation for the other that over the years has made the United Kingdom – united. That very disunity has, ironically, created a very stable, united, prosperous and successful United Kingdom. Acting together, even with often very deep distrust, over the centuries the four home nations have come together and shown a wonderful and perfect union.

As the calls go out over the next few months for further independence, further Referendums, and the scene essentially set for what could be the breakup of a centuries old Union, the four nations and their people would do very well to remember and. insider this. Out of that very disharmony, as demonstrated so clearly as the votes were counted, lies the successful union of four opposing nations. It would be a shame for such a great Union to be destroyed by the nation as a whole whilst leaving the greater union of the European Union.

A Controversial Budget – With Devolution In Mind?

Education featured heavily in the latest Budget delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne earlier this month.

Firstly, there was the surprising introduction of a ‘Sugar Tax’. When introduced, it will be a tax imposed on sugary drinks. In two bands, soft and sugary drinks will be taxed according to how much sugar they contain. The money raised will be for education initiatives. Although welcomed by those concerned by child obesity and increasing risks of diabetes in the young and by campaigners such as chef Jamie Oliver – the tax also attracted it’s critics. Drinks firms saw a drop in share value following the announcement, and those in business and industry are concerned that the prices of soft drinks could rise to accommodate the new tax.

Other measures in the Budget included plans to extend the school day by adding an extra hour of study, sport or extra curricula activity. Again, the response was mixed. Schools campaigners are welcoming the longer day – but some teachers have raised the issue of extra workloads for teachers and support staff. Those in education, either teachers or support staff, are already overstretched by current regular school requirements, and there are severe issues (verging on a crisis) with recruiting new teachers.

The flagship education measure introduced concerned academies. Under the Chancellor’s plans, all schools will become academies by 2020, or be committed to converting to academy status by 2022. Again, although welcomed by many – the proposal has been heavily criticised.

Teachers, education commentators and campaigners, trade unions, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have all spoken out strongly against the academy plan. Such dissent was a feature of Mr Osborne’s latest Budget. Most of the main proposals and plans have attracted great criticism and a large number of critics – some from within the Conservative party. The biggest row came over planned alterations to disability benefits. The ensuing row saw the resignation of long-standing Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith before the measure was scrapped. Consequently, Mr Osborne had to revisit his figures so that he could address an estimated £4bn gap in his financial planning which arose from from not making the same in cuts to disability benefits.

When it was debated in Parliament, heated moments and comments followed, from all sides of the green benches. In the end, Mr Osborne won a victory – but a close one. 310 MP’s approved the Budget  – with 275 against it. 35 votes may be a large margin in politics – but it is a narrow margin at the same time.

Although disability benefits cuts were scaled back – the academy plan remained. Academies are state funded but are also independent of government. Academies are also directly funded and run by central government – as opposed to from local government and Local Education Authorities (LEA). Academies are run by the Head Teacher or Principle – but are overseen by a charitable trust known as an academy trust. Many trusts are part of a chain of academies; indeed, there are several chains that run the vast majority of nearly 5,000 academies nationwide. With less oversight from local government, academies have greater freedom regarding admissions and the national curriculum

Government and supporters claim that academies, with less oversight, are able to drive up standards. Critics cite the issues with many academies, and academy trust chains. Whilst supporters praise having less government oversight and control – critics fear that such decreased oversight will actually  lower standards. Teachers have concerns over terms and conditions, and those in education fear that education might become commercialised. With no need to slavishly teach the National Curriculum – the scope for subjects to be taught for corporate agendas or needs is only too great. However, many greatly enjoy the independence and freedom that academy status brings. Although inspected by Ofsted to the same standard, academy schools considered outstanding are not subject to routine inspections.

It must be noted that these changes only apply in England. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, education policy is devolved, with differing results in policies and implementation, and academies do not exist.

All those regions have gained greater powers, autonomy and greater freedom from central government in London over the last two decades. In keeping with that theme of greater independence – schools have now gained similar independence.

Last year saw the Independence Referendum in Scotland. Chancellor George Osborne and others have long championed a Northern Powerhouse with greater local powers and freedoms. More regions and cities either have, or will be getting, locally elected Mayor’s (or similar) with increased powers and autonomy. Constrained less by central government,those authories will also have greater finanacial powers. Power is seemingly returning to the regions.

It was mostly under the Labour Government led by Tony Blair that power and control was increasingly centralised in Westminster. Central government had greater control of local and regional matters, authories and finances. Ironically, it was also under the Labour government that Scotland and Wales saw their respective devolved powers and Parliaments.

Under the Conservative government of David Cameron, power has seemingly returned to the regions and local cities. Under there recent Coalition, at times it seemed that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg favoured even more powers for local authorities, or indeed further regional devolution. Indeed, at times public opinion was greatly in favour of greater regional devolution. Together, both leaders presided over a seeming reversal of where the national centre of power was.

With these drastic reforms to education, it is evident that this reversal is not limited to geographical regions or cities. Infrastructure, for example, has seen a comparable ‘devolution’. HS2, Crossrail and similar projects have seen great involvement from local authorities, although overseen by central government. Humber and Hull have seen regeneration plans for their respective dockyards and coastal areas, mostly due to regional influences. Plans for future high speed rails link between Leeds and Manchester are similarly overseen by central government – but with great local involvement.

Greater freedom and autonomy comes in various forms. Whilst being a major Opposition party in Westminster, the SNP still pursues agendas and policies of increased autonomy and freedom from England, for example. The greatest freedom of all, though, derives from being a sovereign, independent entity, free from external control.

Since the Referendum of 1975 that saw the UK integrate with the (then) European Communities, the UK has been part of a greater entity itself – the European Union. Freedom, autonomy and independence across the board have been sacrificed and fallen by the way for the sake of being part of a greater Union across Europe. In June, the British people will get the choice whether to maintain the status quo – or to be an independent nation again.

Government in Whitehall has been seemingly reversing a system of centralised government in favour of greater control and freedoms for local areas and interests. The EU institutions have gone the opposite way, with more powers being handed over to Brussels. In June, the British people get the choice; local and regional freedom, power and autonomy, or central control.

By 2022, all schools will be academies, with greater freedom from the constraints of the national curriculum. What will those future academies be teaching in future years regarding the EU Referendum of 2016? That the British people chose centralised control – or greater freedom?

Sooner Rather Than Later: Consensus & Discord for the EU Debate

After all the hype and talk, it begins in earnest in 2016: the European Union renegotiation and referendum campaign.

Currently, Prime Minister David Cameron is having exhaustive talks with EU leaders from across the board (notably focussing on a few key players such as Germany’s Angel a Merkel) as he renegotiates the UK’s position in the EU. He has met with some opposition- but recently has begun to win some converts.

Discussions in the EU with political, legal and business leaders from the other 27 nations continue apace. Meanwhile, what of things on the home front?

Back in the UK, both in Westminster and outside, the EU debate is gathering momentum. Various pressure groups have been formed to argue the case both for and against.

Setting aside emotive and vote winning issues such as benefits, EU immigration and similar, a key matter is the impact of the referendum on the economy and business. Many political leaders have long cited the positive (or negative) impact the EU does and will have on British economy- some in more detail than others.

Many businesses cautiously welcome the EU, and cite the economic benefits. In a recent far reaching report (Our Global Future [2013]), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI- a business lobby group) found that, on pure economic grounds, the EU was beneficial to British business. Indeed, the EU is our largest trading partner. The CBI report found that the financial benefits of EU membership amounted to around 4-5% of GDP- or £3,000 per household per year.

That, however, is pure economics. Many in business have other reasons for supporting Britain’s membership of the UK- mainly focussing on the trade benefits. Many businesses headquartered in the UK find it useful that they can do business with the EU whilst based in the UK. Some such businesses have hinted that they might indeed move their headquarters, or indeed withdraw from Britain entirely, if the country leaves the EU. Britain Stronger in Europe The official pro- EU campaign group is headed by Sir Stuart Rose (formerly head of Marks & Spencer), and has many business and political luminaries endorsing it, such as Sir Richard Branson

Neither the CBI, nor that instinctive pro- EU viewpoint of business, is informative of the viewpoint of all British businesses. A 2015 poll saw 68% of businesses supporting the in/out referendum, implying a certain amount of dissent, dissatisfaction, or concern with the EU. The rival anti- EU campaign group Business for Britain has its fair share of concerned business leaders, such as Sir Rocco Forte (Executive Chairman, The Rocco Forte Collection), Luke Johnson (Chairman, Patisserie Valerie) and Lord Kalms (President, Dixons Retail Plc).

There are some in business who see that EU rules, regulations and laws can have a very negative impact on their business, and ability to trade freely. For many in business, the EU has become anti-competitive, and inflexible, to the detriment of British business interest. Additionally, the Common Agricultural policy and Common Fisheries Policy have also for many years been singled out and roundly condemned by British farmers and fishers. Lord Bamford (JCB head) has also stated that without the EU, British business could trade freely with smaller and emerging economies.

The business and trade world is evenly divided for and against the EU. That is fairly indicative of much of the EU debate. Parliament is seemingly equally divided. The Conservatives are long seen as Euro – sceptics (with several notable exceptions), and welcome the debate and vote on the issue. Labour has seemingly not made up its mind over Europe; or rather, Mr Corbyn has not made up his mind how he wants his party to act on the issue. As such, the voice of opposition falls to the SNP, who are ardent advocates of the benefits of the EU for Scotland- either as part of the UK, or a sovereign nation.

Despite such vocal disagreement, there is a surprising element of consensus. Although Nigel Farage and UKIP seems to dismiss the possibility of any renegotiation, across party political lines there is a sense that the UK could benefit from a changed, altered and renewed membership of the UK. Essentially, that is what Mr Cameron is striving for, and wants himself.

Another further point is the uncertainty. Under the terms of the European Union Referendum Act (2015), there must be a referendum on the matter before the end of 2017, following efforts to renegotiate the UK/EU relationship. The only question is- when?

The government has not yet set any date. The media has effectively done that for them, with speculation as to several possible dates. It is that uncertainty, however, which is bad for the UK. It is bad for the UK regarding trade, enterprise and investment deals, and no one will know how a ‘Brexit’ will affect matters, or even if there will be one. Politically and diplomatically, it is the same. Many nations (particularly the United States) see dealing with the UK as a method of dealing with the EU. Will those nations still be able to do so?

It is the uncertainty, the subtle plans by business and political leaders preparing for either outcome, that is extremely damaging to the UK. It is the sheer uncertainty which is coasting potentially millions in lost deals, or in lost diplomatic ability.

Whatever their views on the EU, many agree on one simple thing. The sooner that vote happens, the better. The sooner that uncertainty is replaced by a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ the better for the nation as a whole, whatever the outcome.





Scotland, Mi5, The Workplace – And A New Leader For Labour

In the intervening year since the Scottish Referendum, seemingly a lot has happened regarding the Scottish Question, and constitutional reform – and at the same time absolutely nothing has happened at all. What remains unchanged is that Scotland continues to dominate the political landscape.

In Scotland, the major political parties are still trying to make headway against the apparently unstoppable force that is the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). Following its defeat in May, the Labour Party has been in disarray, both in Westminster and in Scotland. Whilst the Labour Party has been focusing on the leadership contest, the past few months have seen Scottish Labour trying to reinvent itself, and seeking to regain support in Scotland, and political power. The two were very much linked, as Scottish Labour needs the support of the Labour party apparatus and supporters nationwide for their own efforts in Scotland, with the Scottish Labour voice necessary for the leadership elections.

In that regard, a strong Labour leader was needed, to unite the Labour faithful, and to reinvigorate the party nationwide. The results of the voting revealed a clear win for the former 200/1 candidate – Jeremy Corbyn. He promptly celebrated this victory by courting controversy in his first few days, and attempting to alter the venerable format of Prime Ministers Questions (PMQ’s). Such actions, and prior actions, opinions and behaviour over the last decades have won him both supporters and critics. This was only too evident as he put together his Shadow Cabinet, to great backlash from both Labour and the media. With such a divisive figure leading the Opposition -for better or for worse- British politics will be more interesting over the next few years

Although welcoming his appointment, as a warrior welcomes their enemy to the arena, Prime Minister David Cameron also lost no time in countering the new Leader of the Opposition. Despite a seemingly cordial PMQ’s in which the Prime Minister took every effort to make his adversary comfortable and welcome, the inevitable campaign to challenge the new leader at every stage had already started.

With the announcement barely made, both Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, and the Prime Minister, stated that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is “now a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security.”

In support of such a statement are Mr. Corbyn’s actions and declarations previously, such as inviting Sinn Fein leaders to Westminster, expressing empathy (and implied support) for Hamas and Hezbollah, and similar support for Russia and Vladimir Putin. The Leader of the Opposition gets access to the same classified material as figures in government, and indeed receives similar intelligence and security briefings. Some might very well question his trustworthiness with such sensitive material and matters of national security, given his past actions.

At this time, the (tenuous) issue of Mr. Corbyn’s trustworthiness is just one of many issues for MI5 Director General Andrew Parker. In a historic first, he gave a radio interview to the BBC recently, in which, amongst other things discussed, the intelligence chief was quite clear as to the threats Britain still faced.

In the same week that the Prime Minister warned of the danger of Britons being radicalised, travelling to Syria, and turning towards extremism, and the rise of online methods of turning vulnerable people Mr. Parker seemed to echo such views – having probably warned Mr. Cameron of those problems in the first place. For Mr. Parker, MI5’s concerns are more modern ways of inciting extremism. Online videos, chat rooms, social media and similar are all alarmingly contributing to turn some in Britain towards extremism.

A further great concern of Mr. Parker’s was cyber warfare. As modern society, life and working practices have evolved to use technology and online systems more and more, Mr. Parker considered that one of the greatest threats to the UK is cyber warfare, and cyber terrorism. In that, it is fairly well known that Britain is still lacking in sufficient defences, and trained and experienced IT Security specialists to defend against such attacks.

In specifying those security threats, Mr. Parker and Mr. Cameron clearly demonstrate just how the workplace has changed. Technology, the Internet, and even robots have all contributed to revolutionise how we work, and the very nature of some industries. The attitude of the workplace has similarly undergone a great change, adapting to such new working practices and processes.

In other ways that the workplace has changed has been the nature of workplace accidents. However, the law has not changed; how to make a claim following a workplace accident is still rooted in 19th and early 20th century tort law, and employment law dating back 30/40 years, to a different era of employment. However, by and large, that system of employment law is still very effective, and fit for purpose. Despite that, legislation and court cases continue to appear that subtly alters employment and personal injury law to take into consideration modern society, and the modern workplace.

Further to that, it was suggested in 2014 that the security services in some cases should be classed as emergency services. It was proposed that vehicles operated by the security services should be able to have flashing lights, and be treated as emergency vehicles, at times of national incidents or crises. Nothing seemed to come of that suggestion- but whatever the advantages, there was great scope for road accidents, and accident claims, if such an idea went ahead. Accidents and personal injury could have arisen as a result of the security services speeding to save lives.

Aside from changes to the workplace, and related employment and personal injury law, constitutional law has similarly seen alteration. After the 2014 Scottish referendum, greater moves towards regional powers and devolution, political stalemate in Northern Ireland, and greater voter engagement, the legal and political relationship between the regions of the United Kingdom is doubtless set for a great change over the life of this Parliament.

Part of that change will be Jeremy Corbyn. A new, divisive figure, a man of convictions but no opinions, set to reform the Labour Party, the new Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition will doubtless play a major role in either supporting or criticising efforts for constitutional reform.

At this time, though, there has been little change constitutionally. There has been much talk, much planning, and new political issues and figures introduced onto the political landscape. Everything has changed- but nothing has changed. Yet.

The Setbacks of Plans for Modern Infrastructure

As has been mentioned in an earlier post ( ), the UK needs to start investing in complex, long term infrastructure projects- particularly concerning transport.

With much of the UK’s infrastructure dating back to Victorian or Edwardian tines, those existing systems need upgrading, or even replacing. In addition, much of the UK’s infrastructure needs a large scale modernisation, to bring systems into line with the modern, technological, computer driven age. It is not just to infrastructure that the above statement applies.

2015 has seen many such projects start in earnest. Aside from the controversial HS2, the North was seemingly finally acknowledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and central government earlier this year with statements and intentions regarding a ‘Northern Powerhouse.’ Greater regional autonomy, and greater financial powers for regional authorities, are also seen as the way forward, with tentative steps being made in that regard- especially following the Scottish referendum and the ensuing recommendations of the Smith Commission. Indeed, Manchester and some other northerly cities have seen great boom, growth, investment and redevelopment over recent years.

In this matter of modernising, both infrastructure and cities, seemingly the regions have been quicker off the mark that London and the South East- an irony not lost on many millions who have long criticised the South East centred policies of central government.

London still exists on a very reliable but elderly (and absolutely vital) Underground network, with similarly elderly and unreliable local and regional train service. Crossrail, lengthy underground and station upgrades, and the Thameslink renovations will indeed go far in reversing that. As welcome as such projects are, and for the benefits they will bring overall- are they far enough?

In a related area, there has also been the on-going issue over airport expansion. Everyone agrees that the elderly airports in the South East either need to be expanded, or a new one built. The recent decision of the Airport Commission recommended a third runway for Heathrow; both during the decision making, and after the announcement that was greeted with a range of responses. It is uncertain as to whether that preferred option is the best option; but at least a decision has finally been made after years of delay and prevarication. With the current system costing the UK, and in need of updating and moving onto the 21st century, any movement, any firm action, is welcomed.

On the ground, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has shown great vision, regarding such infrastructure. He has opening backed cycling in London, and has been a significant part of great transport developments around the Capital. One such change was the efforts of City Hall and Transport for London (TfL) to make the Underground 24hrs, as such systems are in many other cities globally. In this, however, Mr Johnson has had problems.

The increasingly strong grip that the Unions have over transport means that there has been great opposition to this. There have been disputes over pay and conditions, work/life balance amidst the prospect of 24hr shift work for drivers and other underground workers. These have recently resulted in strikes. Currently, the matter is still unsettled, with both sides still in talks.

Due to a lack of agreement at time of writing, the unions have announced another strike. This will be in the middle of the week prior to the August Bank Holiday and Notting Hill carnival; although for only 24hrsm, it is predicted that the knock on effects of the strike will last into the weekend. The current contentious issues are rosters and timetables for those staff involved in overnight services.

With the deadline for the commencement of the 24hrs services as 12 September- both sides nowhere close to any agreement or consensus. Londoners should start seriously considering alternative forms of transport in the meantime- perhaps a return to the humble taxi.

However, the venerable taxicab is under threat. The iconic ‘Black Cab’ in London, with their equally iconic and knowledgeable drivers, has seen severe challenges over recent years. For all of the gripes and critics, Uber has changed and modernised taxi services.

Uber, in this way, has seen great opposition from local taxi drivers, unions, and associations in many major cities worldwide. In some places, there have been protests, legal actions, and even assaults and violence against Uber and its staff and drivers in some cities. The same fate has befallen similar taxi companies, such as Hailo.

In court cases that have been heard, the algorithm of the Uber app has been under severe scrutiny. It has to be determined as to whether the app was a meter. Such meters are banned from private cars in London, with many other cities having similar regulations. 2014 saw TfL announced that it considered the app not be a meter. A key factor in their decision was a lack of a physical connection between the device and the vehicle, as the app is in a smartphone, unlike in a black cab. However (and amidst protests from London cabbies), TfL referred the matter to the High Court to get a binding, legal ruling. After filing and starting the case before the courts was delayed and held up, the matter is to be heard over this summer, according to City Hall and the High Court. Both sides are in agreement that a legally binding decision regarding Uber is welcomed.

Despite the legal challenges, and opposition, Uber remains popular amongst customers – despite many of those customers professing support for traditional taxis. For better or worse, Uber and its (app? algorithm? meter?) are the future of taxis, and are here to stay. For better or worse, Uber is progress, and the next evolution of the humble taxis from a horse drawn hansom carriage to today.

Despite the best of plans and intentions- new projects of all types are being held up, and delayed. The delay does not come from government, private interests, funding, pressure groups, or lobbyists – but by ordinary people themselves. Such a social shift in itself is in keeping with greater awareness and engagement following the Scottish Referendum and the recent General Election. Such a social and cultural change is more welcome and better to behold than any modern infrastructure project.

Cutting the Cost of Justice, From Grayling To Gove

It was very recently announced that the government is to commence discussions over closing up to 91 courts and tribunals nationwide.

From Education- to Lord Chancellor

From Education- to Lord Chancellor

After making his mark in no uncertain way as Education Secretary, the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove is only the second non lawyer ever be Lord Chancellor- the first being his unpopular predecessor, Mr Chris Grayling. After Mr Grayling’s savage legal aid cuts, and bewildering policy decisions, the legal sector was perhaps hoping for a new style of Justice Secretary for this new Parliament. In that they were disappointed. It seems as if Mr Gove is seeking to carry on his predecessor’s good work. With little legal aid left to cut, this time the axe is seemingly going to fall on courts and tribunals under the consultations.

In an era of economic uncertainty, instability and slow recovery, in a government marked economically by its austerity measures, and when there is less and less public funding available to provide more and more services, it is only necessary and inevitable that the Ministry of Justice would feel further cuts to its budget. Savings must be found from somewhere, and court services will need to be streamlined, cut back, or phased out over the next few years to provide those savings needed under austerity measures. During the last Parliament, the Ministry had to find savings of an estimated £2.5bn from an annual budget approaching £10bn. However, closing courts and tribunals to achieve that aim will not be easy or popular.

Setting aside the job losses, and the internal restructuring and issues that such closure will cause, after the legal aid cuts, closing courts is potentially another step in reducing access to justice. Further, senior judges (notably the combative President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby) have long called for measures to process, hear, and settle cases faster. In some areas (notably Family and the Court of Protection), it can take months for a case to be brought to court, and even longer for a case to be settled completely.

In the criminal justice system, a previous Criminal Justice Minister, Damian Green, was moved in 2013 to state that “[Such] delays cause extra crime.”

“The faster you can get it through, the more likely you are to have gone through the system, be put on probation and these days hopefully to be put on a drug rehabilitation programme which will stop you needing to shoplift in the first place. That’s a very direct link between a more efficient system and a system that actually helps cut crime… [These] unforgivable delays all too often characterise our system… Nobody involved in the system finds it shocking, because that’s just the way it is… Actually, with a completely fresh pair of eyes, this is shocking, this is not acceptable.”

“It is unacceptable that only 44 per cent of trials go ahead on the day they have been listed, if every day only 44 per cent of trains left the stations, or 44 per cent of planned hospital operations took place there would be a national uproar. Yet every day this happens in the Magistrates’ courts.”

“It is simply not good enough… Ineffective trials should be the exception, not the rule.”

In some aspects, little has changed since 2013 in this regard; 2015 still sees delays in the criminal justice system. This is partially due to a lack of custody lawyers available to represent defendants- which in itself was partly due to a shambolic new system rolled out for lawyers and law firms to tender for police station contracts. That attracted much criticism from criminal lawyers- as have the much maligned cuts to legal aid. Indeed, one of Mr Gove’s first actions as Justice Secretary was to seek to introduce a pay cut for those custody lawyers. Custody lawyers are not famous for their inflated pay cheques- unlike their legal brethren in the corporate world.

Not only have cases been adjourned or delayed due to this, but there have been cases of the police simply bailing suspects because the officers know that there is no representation available for them. Further, in some cases, a lengthy delay in hearing a case can be considered to be a breach of Article 5 of the Human Rights Act; the right to liberty enshrined in Article 5 provides for a trial ‘within a reasonable time’. In a true sense of irony, in acting in accordance with Article 6 (the right to a fair trial, and legal representation), the police may be acting accidentally and unintentionally in breach of Article 5.

Such delays are not just in the family and criminal sectors, but can also be seen in many other areas of law. Closing courts will only serve to exacerbate such delays, and to make the issue worse. Although alternative measures (mediation, arbitration, etc) can be found, and are encouraged and preferred, quite often a case simply needs to go to court. With less courts, time in court will be increasingly precious.

Potentially, court hearings could become much shorter, sharper, and brisker. There might be less time for the crucial details which so define the legal sector. Although no one, from judge to juror to usher, wants lengthy court hearings, sometimes they are necessary. Returning again to Article 6, it is absolutely essential under the rule of law that a case is tried for as long as it takes to fully investigate all and every aspect of the case as is necessary to see that justice is done. If that means calling expert witnesses, spending hours debating a single point of law- then so be it. For natural justice to be done, such lengthy hearings are necessary. With leas court space, and therefore less court time, that essential legal right might be infringed upon.

At time of writing it must be stressed that these are consultations only; the following months and years will actually decide what happens in this regard. Such public sector cuts are sadly inevitable, and indeed need to be found in Justice Ministry. However, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently found creative ways to reduce the ever growing burden of social security spending, surely the Lord Chancellor can similarly find more creative ways to save money than closing courts.

Whatever the outcome of the discussion, one thing is certain- Mr Gove is set to make his mark as Lord Chancellor just as he did as Education Secretary. Those who celebrated the departure of Mr Grayling might well soon welcome his return to the Woolsack as Lord Chancellor.

Protecting Workers: Common Overlooked Health And Safety Issues

Health and safety standards are improving around the world, but lapses do still occur, and when they do, the consequences can be disastrous for workers and businesses alike.

As well as the personal suffering that can be caused, companies can experience a range of ill-effects. Safety training specialists Phoenix HSC point out that even a single safety incident can result in lost productivity, legal costs and reputational damage.

If you’re keen to boost your company’s risk management efforts, it’s vital that you control all potential dangers. With this in mind, here are some of the most commonly overlooked safety issues to watch out for.

Slips and trips

They might not sound particularly serious, but slips, trips and minor falls have the potential to be highly dangerous. When workers suffer accidents like this, they can experience anything from minor bruising to broken bones and severe head injuries. It’s therefore imperative that you remove hazards that could lead to such accidents. For example, make sure that any spillages are cleared up quickly, and always put warning signs up when floors are being washed. Also, keep floors free of paperwork, wires and other potential hazards that could cause your employees to fall.

In addition, make sure that any changes in the level of paths caused by slopes or small steps are clearly marked. You should also ensure that your outdoor paths are safe to navigate during wet and freezing weather too. Bear in mind that in some areas, you might need to install handrails to help people keep their balance.


Electricity might be the lifeblood of your business. Without it, you’re operations may quickly grind to a halt. Because we’re so used to relying on electrical equipment, it’s easy to become complacent about the risks it can pose. However, if strict safety standards aren’t adhered to, employees are at risk of suffering severe and even life-threatening injuries.

To reduce dangers, make sure all the electrical equipment that your firm uses is suitable for the work and check that it is in good condition. Many faults can be found simply by conducting a visual inspection. Warning signs include burn marks or staining and damaged wires. If you are concerned about the standard of equipment, take it out of use and ask a trained specialist to inspect it. Meanwhile, you must also ensure that your devices are compatible with your power supply, and your staff members should be trained in the use of the relevant equipment.

Manual handling

Lifting and moving objects is something most of us do multiple times a day. However, when done badly, even simple manual handling tasks can lead to back injuries. In your risk assessments, your company should decide if particular objects need to be moved at all and, if they do, whether your workers would benefit from using lifting aids like pallet trucks, trolleys, hoists or conveyors. Also, shortening carrying distances and reducing the need for twisting movements can help to raise safety standards, and better lighting and flooring can make these tasks safer too. In addition, your personnel should be trained in manual handling techniques.

By focussing on these commonly overlooked health and safety issues, as well as the other risks facing your personnel, you should be able to keep your workers out of harm’s way.

Flags, the EU- and the Politics of a National Election

This upcoming General Election has seen much talk and discussion of the European Union. The major parties are also fairly divided as to the issue internally- with the exception of UKIP. Their anti European Union stance is very well known, and a cornerstone of their planned policies and manifesto.

By contrast, the other political parties have, seemingly, yet to have a coherent and unified policy as regard the EU. Referenda and renegotiation of the EU, and similar plans, have exposed internal party rifts. Even the traditionally Euro sceptic Conservative party find it hard to wholeheartedly support the Prime Minister’s plans for an ‘in/out’ referendum if re-elected.

Whether Europhile or Eurosceptic, both sides have to admit that the EU, for better or worse, had had a quite an impact upon the UK, in what has proved to be a troubled union throughout. Aside from rules and regulations regarding everything from free movement of people to trading standards, the introduction of human rights legislation, and the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU has definitely left its mark upon nation states. Legally, the EU has made its mark upon the canon of legislation and case law that guides the UK legal system.

Aside from polices, trade, and the law, infrastructure is another area where the EU has left its mark- literally. EU funding and initiatives- most notably the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)–  have often sponsored or assisted in domestic infrastructure projects, from railways to port improvement, to funding local and regional smaller scale projects. Those projects, as commented in a prior post ( ), often come with great opposition due to their nature, expense and Byzantine nature. However, such projects are often very necessary, and drive the country forward; they are a long term national gain and are necessary for the future.

From this under the EU -

From this under the EU –

Under the relevant EU regulations, such projects have to be marked with the blue and gold starred EU flag, signifying the EU involvement with the infrastructure project. Under plans from Liberal Democrat Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, that is set to change. Under the plans, projects funded by the UK government will be marked with a Union Jack to reflect the money invested by the taxpayer. Setting out the Union Jack plaques in March, Mr Alexander said that they would “proudly adorn infrastructure investments from roads in Cornwall to broadband in Caithness”.

“I’ve prioritised infrastructure in this government because only long-term investments will support UK businesses and get the public finances and economy on a firm footing… It’s only right that we recognise the contribution of the UK taxpayer in supporting this economic growth, which is why I’m delighted to launch these union jack plaques.” The plaques have been dismissed as gimmicks, however, politically motivated by the government. Critics point out the need of the three major parties, which include the ruling Coalition, to rally voter support following a surge in support for the SNP and UKIP in a scheme worthy of the The Thick of It.

- To a more national approach

– To a more national approach

The Liberal Democrat ministers behind the scheme claim that the plaques are about celebrating British infrastructure and British endeavour- a throwback to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s famous “British jobs for British workers” statement.

It is clear to see that the regional parties such as the SNP and Plaid Cymru will gain great local support in May, and could be a challenge or a part of, the next government. By visibly marking projects as British, it is a local reminder of the national whole, of a nation state beyond the region. In the same way, the EU badge on domestic infrastructure projects is a remainder to the member state that it is but a member of a bigger Union.

Both the UK- EU relationship, and regional disharmony, are issues that will become more important, and will be top of the agenda for the next government, whoever it is. Sadly, dealing with such emotive issues will not be as easy as plastering over it with a flag, national, European Union, or regional.