Recent developments in the world of law

  • The question has been raised about whether the age of retirement for law lords should be raised by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.  Currently, those who have been appointed since 1993 have had to retire at the age of 70.  But with judges being appointed later and later in their careers, should they be able to remain in their posts for a longer time?
  • As of June 2009, new accounting rules governing M&A transactions (mergers and acquisitions) will be put into effect, which will put commercial lawyers under further pressure to reduce their fees.  The new rules, which are designed to create greater transparency in the system, will force companies to record the fees they pay to lawyers, bankers, etc. as a separate entry in their accounts rather than simply being included in the overall price.  
  • Lord Bingham of Cornhill attacked the Bush administration for ‘cynical lack of concern for international legality’ regarding the Iraq war and the War on Terror.  He stated that there was no clear legal justification for the invasion of Iraq, and moreover criticised the legal advice of Lord Goldsmith who stated that a second UN Security Council resolution was not needed for the invasion of British troops in Iraq.  Lord Bingham cited such reasons as a serious violation of international law, which reflected deficiencies in the international sphere.
  • There could be a potential breakthrough in copyright law following a recent agreement between Google and American publishers regarding copyright issues relating to Google’s book search service.  Following proceedings being launched against Google in 2005, both parties agreed to settle out of court last month.  Providing the new settlement is approved by the courts, Google will set up a new Book Rights Registry which will allow holders of American copyrights to register their works online and receive compensation in exchange for Google’s usage of it.
  • The Law Commission has last week proposed a radical reform of bribery laws, which could make British companies liable for prosecution with regards to their activities overseas, for example for corruption or bribery.  The law will also extend to foreign nationals who live in and conduct their business in Britain. Such changes will eliminate the distinctions between private and public law in such instances, and will furthermore adopt a more hardline approach on the current laws which are unclear and uncertain.  This will therefore allow official to more effectively deal with cases such as the abandoned inquiry by the Serious Frauds Office into the BAE systems in Saudi Arabia.

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The American Scene

Long overdue post, from a couple of months ago.  There was an exhibition held at the British Museum entitled ‘The American Scene: From Hopper To Pollock’.  It was love at first sight for me.  The exhibition itself focuses on the first half of the 20th century, from around the 1900s to the 1960s, and it is really interesting to see how the artists depict the changing times in America.  

Some of my favourite prints…

Martin Lewis - Little PenthouseLittle Penthouse, 1931 by Martin Lewis


Broadway Canyon - Werner DrewesBroadway Canyon, 1930 by Werner Drewes

 

Jackson Pollock - UntitledUntitled, 1951 by Jackson, Pollock

 

And… my favourite, accompanied by my all-time favourite poem:

Franz Kline - Poem

Poem, 1957 by Franz Kline

The signposting stated that this print was made in response to a love poem by Frank O’Hara, a close friend of Kline.

I will always love you

though I have never loved you

a boy smelling faintly of leather
looking up at your window

the passion that enlightens
and stills and cultivates, gone

while I thought your face
to be familiar in the blueness

or to follow your sharp whistle
around a corner into my light

That was love growing fainter
each time you failed to appear

I repent my whole life searching
love, which I thought was you

it was mine so very briefly
and I never knew it, or you went

I thought it was outside disappearing
but it is disappearing in my heart

like snow blown in a window
to be gone from the world

I will always love you.

 

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OBAMA WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FINALLY. SOMETHING IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD.

obama

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Round Two Of Hutus v. Tutsis?

According to the Economist, violence between Congo and Tutsi rebels is erupting into a full-scale war in North Kivu after the collapse of the January peace deal.  At the root of the problem are the Democratic Forces For The Liberation Of Rwanda (FDLR) which is composed of former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu extremists who orchestrated the 1994 genocides; and Rwanda’s Tutsi-led army.  Rwanda’s army is determined to crush the FDLR, and has also accused the Congolese army of colluding with the FDLR – with credible evidence.  Since the collapse of the January peace deal, over 100,000 people have had to flee their homes since mid-August due to ongoing violence in the region.

Let’s not forget what happened the last time round – hopefully lessons can be learnt from past mistakes.  In the 1994 genocide of Tutsis to create a complete Hutu state, around 1 million people were killed.  Due to the disastrous mission in Somalia, the US were highly reluctant to get involved in another such mission, or to support other countries who were willing to help.  As stated by political thinker Chris Brown, the US, Britain and France referred to events as ‘ethnic violence’ or ‘civil war’, rather than the term ‘genocide’ for fear of bringing into play the Genocide Convention with the obligation it lays on the international community (Brown, Chris. Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity Press 2002, p.134-159).  In 1993 a UN peace-keeping mission was sent to Rwanda, however this turned out to be more disastrous due to them having little mandate or reinforcements; how can a non-violent peace keeping mission operate when there is, effectively, no peace to keep?

Currently it appears there could be a potential repeat of previous events if the UN does not act fast.  Earlier this month, the head of the UN in Congo appealed for more troops to end the violence, however troops are being earmarked for the Darfur mission in Sudan and thus, if Rwanda does invade Congo, UN troops will once again have too little capacity or mandate to stop the violence.  

The way I see it, the troops the US insists on deploying in places like Iraq could be better utilised in missions such as these, where there is an ongoing conflict that needs to be resolved from the grassroots.  Once again, I begin to question these ‘humanitarian interventions’ – whose interests are they in?  Is less attention being paid to Rwanda because they do not have oil or resources which could benefit the intervening countries?  

If another fully fledged war does erupt in Congo, I can only hope that an adequate amount of troops will this time be deployed, this time with a clear mandate and proper equipment and resources.  Moreover, countries need to be prepared for a long-term deployment of troops to stabilise the country and prevent rebel forces from being mobilised.  Furthermore, we cannot once again ignore the large-scale destruction of human lives.  With the notable increase of 24 hour rolling media, it is inexcusable to once again turn a blind eye.  If it is genocide, it is genocide – it cannot be named by any other term such as ‘civil war’ or ‘ethnic violence’.  If we want our voices to be heard and help to save the lives if potential victims of inhuman violence, we should perhaps turn to NGOs such as Amnesty International to campaign and help such causes.  After all, as stated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to live’.

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On Stalin…

Currently reading: Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century In His Life by D.M. Thomas 

Picked this book up randomly a few weeks ago at a closing down sale at a bookshop in Oxford Street.  It is a really thick book (well, it would be if it is a ‘century in his life’!) so I have only managed to read one third of the book so far, but it is seriously fascinating!  

I find the Moscow show trials particularly interesting.  Stalin would basically torture people whom he felt were a potential threat to his regime, even if they were completely innocent, until they would agree to testify in court that they had been involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government.  They would even have to go as far as to pretend they had collaborated with other prisoners to do so.  In this way, Stalin was able to portray a false image to the rest of the world; by having them actually testify in court and give evidence albeit false, it would not appear to the rest of the world that he was actually simply eliminating people who opposed his regime.

It is so difficult to even imagine living in society under Stalin.  Imagine everyday feeling an intense fear that either you or someone you know could be sent to a concentration camp at any moment.  Generally this would lead to torture and death.  For example, when Stalin collectivized agriculture in order to increase agricultural output and bring the peasantry under direct political control, his estimates for a 200% rise in industrial production and a 50% rise in agricultural production were not met.  He blamed the kulaks (rich peasants) who resisted collectivization, and the peasants who were only slightly better off than some, and sent them to labour camps or to be shot.  This means that they were completely ordinary people, whose only crime in that respect was being slightly better off than the poorer peasants.  Imagine being persecuted for that!  

These events were, by the way, after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) had been drawn up, thus indicating that the UDHR did not automatically effect a new world order.  In fact, the Soviet Union has been quoted for stating: “We will never tolerate interference in our internal affairs.”  This is one of the main problems that has been found time after time with the UDHR – it does not hold any legal enforcements.  Whilst there have been many declarations and agreements drawn up amongst the international community since that time, the fact of the matter is it is all very difficult to enforce.  For example, the Optional Protocol to the Civil Covenant allows states to optionally allow individual victims of human rights violations within their countries to complain to an international body… however there has been very little support for this, which is hardly surprising considering the countries who are the biggest violators of human rights are very unlikely to allow themselves to be subjected in international criticism.  The USA themselves withdrew from the Optional Protocol after Nicaragua brought them before the International Court of Justice on the grounds that the USA were against democracy in Nicaragua and trained and supplied Contra rebels, and furthermore had the US navy lay mines outside Nicaragua ports leading to attacks on its harbours.  However, when the USA lost the case, they walked out, refusing to be bound by any decisions that did not suit its interests.  Whilst the USA has done a great deal to assist in humanitarian interventions, sometimes situations such as these make me wonder if their missions are truly in the interest of human rights.  And also if any humanitarian ventures of other states are truly altruistic?

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Interning

Currently interning in an immigration law firm for these past 2 weeks; has been a pretty interesting experience.  Although the workload has been slightly less than I have experienced in the past, it has given me the opportunity to spend time reading up on cases and to listen to the other lawyers advising clients over the phone as there is an advice line phone operating in the office.  

Last week I was asked to phone various DNA testing services to enquire about a paternity test that needs to be done for a father and 2 sons for immigration purposes.  The situation was that mother is in Pakistan unlike the father and sons who are in the UK, however she had signed a consent form to allow the paternity test to go ahead.  However, when I was later asked to phone one of the companies to find out if the consent forms were approved, the guy told me that the affidavit needed to be apostilled by the Pakistan High Commission for it to be valid.  Not having any clue whatsoever as to what those terms meant, he may as well have been speaking in a different language to me, but Google enlightened me considerably.  Basically from my understanding an affidavit is a statement sworn under oath.  However, this does not mean it is automatically accepted as a legal document in another society, and therefore may need to be apostilled which certifies the legalisation of the document for international use under the terms of the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents.  This is now the general requirement for most affidavits when used for cross border issues.  I’m sure this will all be very familiar to a lot of people, particular those with a knowledge of the law, but just some new terminology for me 🙂

Last Friday I was asked to deliver some bundles of documents to some barristers’ chambers.  After the inital shock of the heavy load I had to carry on to the tube with me, it quickly became a very fun experience.  Got off at Chancery Lane, first stop = Lincoln’s Inn.  It was such a beautiful place… such a kodak moment.  If only I had my camera!  Next place was Hare Court down the road.  Seeing these beautiful places made me want to be a barrister even more!!  It was just such a beautiful, fascinating place.  The next place I hope to visit next is the Royal Courts of Justice which I haven’t had the chance to see yet!

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A ‘Legal Pluralism’

I was reading the news and it was saying that apparently religious/ethnic courts are gaining momentum in the UK, which are able to enforce, for example, Somali customary law, Islamic law, and Jewish law.  The article used the term ‘legal pluralism’ to describe this.

For example, the Jewish Beth Din court hears divorce settlements, contractual rows between traders, and tenancy disputes.  Whilst they cannot force anyone to come within its jurisdiction, if someone agrees to settle a dispute in Beth Din, they are bound by English law to abide by the court’s decision, with English law recognising Beth Din as an agreed third party.

Sharia law is another controversial issue in this respect.  Currently, Islamic courts, like Jewish courts, are confined to only rule on civil matters; for example Islamic marriage/divorce and inheritance.  In this case, I wonder if allowing this system would disadvantage women, who are generally seen as inferior in these cultures?  I am sure it would not be legal if it heavily contradicted English law, however perhaps it could be leading in that direction?  For example, in some countries, an Islamic court’s punishment for adultery is death.  Whilst I am not condoning adultery, it is an unmistakable fact that it is now perceived as overall normal behaviour in Western society.  In emigrating to this country, many people, particularly 2nd generation immigrants, will adjust to the culture in the UK and settle in with the community.  So how can they then be held in court under the rulings of an ethnic court who may perceive their actions differently to that of an English court?  

I attended an LSE lecture last February entitled ‘Is Islamic Law Ethical’?  One of the questions the lecturer addressed was whether Muslim values inevitably clash with values of liberal democracies and civil societies of the west?  I do not believe that this is entirely true – the Qur’an does contain sharia, but not in any legal sense of the matter – that is a result of juristic activity.  As with many religions, including Christianity, there are always different interpretations of the text and thus, as the lecturer pointed out, sharia law cannot be said to be simply a monolithic and unequivocal expression of God’s will.

Therefore, is having a pluralised legal system within the UK really the answer?  Perhaps I am being narrow minded in this sense, but I personally feel that in a particular country people should abide by that country’s laws only; all cases should go through a normal UK court.  Perhaps instead of creating a plural legal system, the UK should instead simple take its multi-cultural nature into account in its legislation.  Even the Muslim Council of Britain says it will not support a dual legal system.

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