Sometimes we think we can spot a liar because of the way they behave. It’s encouraging to think that everyone displays signs, or “tells”, that might give them away when they are not speaking the truth.
In the recent plagiarism case against Ed Sheeran, the judge was faced with deciding the veracity of Sheeran’s evidence by comparing what he said at one time against what he said at another and testing both against other known facts or inferences. The judge’s thought process makes for a fascinating read but, in places, I found it thoroughly unconvincing.
Pretty much everyone seems to think the Chancellor’s wife got it wrong. But why?
When companies generate income around the world but are found to pay little tax in the UK, there is frequently an outcry that tax should be paid in the countries where the profits are generated, not the country where the company has its home. But when an individual does the same thing – the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Akshata Murty, for example, taking advantage of the so-called “non-domicile” status – there is an outcry for the opposite to happen.
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.
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.”
I don’t want to start a panic, but I do wonder whether Covid is making people less able to think properly. I’m not talking about those poor individuals who have actually had the disease. I’m talking about (almost) everyone.
Reading the Times newspaper yesterday, I was somewhat gobsmacked to see Sean O’Neill, the paper’s chief reporter, complaining that “The UK has no constitutional protection for a free press and no real cap on costs for libel actions.” These two facts formed the centrepiece of his argument that abuse of British courts is killing free speech. But, after years of campaigning against these protections, is the Times now regretting its success?
In January of this year, Covid-19’s second wave was getting going. The vaccine program was just starting. And recently retired doctors wanted to return to work in order to help out. Famously, the reaction of the bureaucrats at the Department of health was to provide applicants with a tidal wave of online modules to complete. The Times reported one doctor complaining that she was only a quarter of the way through after six hours of form-filling.
Earlier this month, Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the decision to ban someone from its site. The “someone” in question happened to be Donald Trump, but that has no bearing on this article. I want to examine the debate that rages over the principle of social media sites being able to ban anyone at all from their platforms.
This weekend, the professional football community in the UK will boycott social media. The “gesture”, initiated by the anti-racism charity, Kick It Out, and others, is a call to “those with power [within social media] … to do more and to act faster … to make their platforms a hostile environment for trolls”. At the time of writing, British rugby and British cricket has announced that they will join the boycott.
I wish them all luck. Something is needed to deliver major change.
A good place to start might be improved clarity around the nature of social media and the responsibility its providers take for the words and images that appear on their forums. At the moment, much of the thinking is confused and confusing. Read more