Monday, February 08, 2010

Is old law bad law? Nick Clegg thinks so, but he's wrong.

Nick Clegg was on Radio 4 Woman's Hour this morning and first question in was what he thought of MPs accused of expenses offences possibly using parliamentary privilege as a defence.

His quick answer was that it was wrong to use a defence dating back to 1689 in this day and age.

And some might agree, how can archaic laws possibly apply in this modern age.

But hang on, there's a lot of law out there and just because it's old, doesn't make it bad per se.

For instance, habeas corpus, the law which allows us to take action against unlawful detention by the state, dates all the way back to 1215. I doubt somehow that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems would rush to do away with habeas corpus simply because it's a bit long in the tooth - albeit that European arrest warrants have rather undermined it already.

Yes, there's a lot of arcane law on the statute books, but to say that something is wrong simply because it's old is rather a foolish argument.

One could equally say that old laws have stood the test of time and so encapsulate fundamental principles which have prevented the need for repeal over the centuries.

Nick Clegg might have justifiable objections to the use of parliamentary privilege, but let's hear something a bit better thought out that simply saying: It's an old law, it shouldn't be allowed. That just insults our intelligence.

Furthermore, he might not like the use of a defence of parliamentary privilege, but surely that's a matter for a jury to decide upon. I would have thought that a Liberal leader, of all people, would defend principles like the presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial, even of his political opponents. Unless of course, that chance to score a few points before an election means the temporary setting aside of such principles.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Former DPP says the PCC is 'farcical'

Sir Ken MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now visiting professor of law at the LSE became the latest figure to attack the PCC last night.

He has advised lawyers and media organisations to withdraw from it.

This is the latest blow to the reputation of the PCC. In November, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, resigned from its code committee after if failed to rule in favour of The Guardian over its phone hacking investigation.

Rusbridger said last night that the PCC's credibility was clinging by its fingertips.

Other voices have criticised the PCC recently. Roy Greenslade described it as an effective mediator of the regional press, but less effective at regulation.

The PCC has been a bit flat-footed in its response to serious criticisms like this, some might say arrogant. It needs to heed such voices.

A new Parliament will be elected this year, and one which will perhaps have more of an appetite for statutory regulation. Criticism like that of Sir Ken MacDonald should be regarded as fair warning.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Working group members

Here's the membership of the working group on libel:

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council
Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science
Desmond Browne QC, of chambers 5 Raymond Buildings
Rod Christie-Miller, partner and chief executive at law firm Schillings
Robin Esser, executive managing editor at the Daily Mail
Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship
Jonathan Heawood, director English PEN
Tony Jaffa, head of the media team at law firm Foot Anstey
Sarah Jones, head of litigation and intellectual property at the BBC
Marcus Partington, chairman of the Media Lawyers Association and legal director of Mirror Group
Gill Phillips, director of editorial legal services at Guardian News and Media
Professor Gavin Phillipson, of Durham Law School
Mark Stephens, a partner with law firm Stephens Finers Innocent
Andrew Stephenson, a partner at law firm Carter-Ruck
Paul Tweed, senior Partner at Belfast-based law firm Johnsons
Sunday Times editor John Witherow
...and me.

The presence of Rod Christie-Miller might explain the 60 or so visits to this blog last week by someone at Schillings. Pity them having to wade through my Welsh column archive, they could have just called me.