In my previous offering on these pages, I concluded with an example of two judges seeking to assert – quite unconvincingly, I suggested – that their decision in a case was simply the result of legislation enacted by Parliament. The judgment was, I thought, a rather convoluted legal analysis arriving at a result that few, if any, MPs would have contemplated or intended. My attention has since turned to another example of a senior lawyer trying to suggest that responsibility for his own reasoning lies with others.
Reading reports from the BBC, Sky News or the Guardian, one could be forgiven for thinking that the judges had ruled that the police should have allowed the vigil for Sarah Everard to go ahead. They did not.
The judges decided only that, in arriving at their decision, assorted officers at varying levels of seniority messed up in different ways over several days. The court very deliberately stopped short of saying whether a correct analysis would have resulted in a different decision. That would, I think, have required the court to hear expert evidence from doctors, epidemiologists and mathematical modellers before applying its own jurisprudential expertise.
Far better, the court decided, that such matters be left to Scotland Yard on a Thursday afternoon before the Saturday evening vigil.
I’m a big tennis fan. Back in January, I was glued to coverage of Djokovic’s thrilling on-court tussle with the Australian government. I even downloaded several of the legal documents to get a better understanding of the evolving scoreline. (I do stuff like that.) But what on earth did the Beeb think was the breaking news story yesterday?
Much has been written and spoken about the price of energy in recent months, reaching something of a crescendo a week ago when a new price cap was announced by the energy regulator, Ofgem. But much of the coverage seems to be based on baloney.
The medication was giving me side effects so uncomfortable that I felt the pills were just protecting me in order that I could be miserable. I wanted to stop taking them and the GP agreed. “But first”, he said, “let’s just take a look at the numbers.”
My Twitter feed contains way too many comments about proportional representation (PR). It’s my fault. I follow the wrong people. But a few weeks ago, I received a Christmas card from a treasured friend with a PR message in it. That was too much. (You know who you are. This post is for you. Everyone else can read on or skip past, just as they wish.)
It is well-known that MPs are not allowed to call each other “liars” in the House of Commons. When Labour MP, Dawn Butler, used the term in July of this year to describe the Prime Minister, she was asked by the chair of the debate to “reflect on your words and withdraw your remarks”. Ms Butler refused. The chair promptly ordered the MP to leave the House for the rest of the day, citing Standing Order 43.
There is nothing wrong with the Standing Order. It deals with “grossly disorderly” conduct. But there is a problem in the notion that MPs shouting and baying at each other, drowning out each other’s words, as happens frequently, is not a gross disorder, but quietly and patiently pointing out a lie is.
The Daily Mail is at it again. In 2016, they famously labelled three Court of Appeal judges as “Enemies of the People” for ruling that an important decision had to be referred to Parliament. Today, they accuse three (different) Appeal judges of unleashing “a dark day for truth and free expression” by undermining “the right to rigorously test in court the evidence in any given case” – a right which “has, over the centuries, become one of the cornerstones of a civilised society.”
Words matter. That’s why we keep misquoting them. When criticising politicians, accuracy is treated as an optional extra. Faultfinders find it so much more fun, it seems, to repeat a misquote if, by doing so, they can make the powerful look silly.
Owen Paterson was not an innocent man, but he seems to have convinced himself that he was and – for a while, at least – he persuaded the Conservative hierarchy that his case provided ammunition to criticise the Parliamentary Standards process. The principles at issue are straightforward enough for most people to conclude that Paterson had done wrong. And yet the rules are complex enough for him to believe, fervently, that he had not and, worse, that the system had mistreated him. But it is not too difficult to pick one’s way through the conflicting arguments to see what lies within.