How the Daniel Morgan independent panel report substantiates its allegation of ‘institutional corruption’ in the Metropolitan Police

15th June 2021

The report of the independent panel into the death of Daniel Morgan – and how every investigation and prosecution collapsed – was published today.

And if you are to substantiate the serious allegation of ‘institutional corruption’ against the metropolitan police both historically and in the present tense then this is how to do it.

The report is solid, detailed, thorough, methodical, sourced, and it cannot be dismissed.

(Even if the report is ignored.)

It makes out a compelling case of corruption throughout the metropolitan police – and not just some dodgy officers at one police station.

But corruption needs a motive – and this is where the report is at its most compelling – it shows how the police were primarily motivated by reputational imperatives at each stage.

And the report demonstrates that this corruption continued with obstructing the work of the panel itself.

Given the weaknesses of a non-statutory inquiry, this is a far better report than one could have reasonably hoped for – and let us hope it brings at last some sense of justice for the Morgan family.

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The report of the independent panel on Daniel Morgan should be published tomorrow – and three things to bear in mind

14th June 2021

Tomorrow the publication is expected of the report of the independent panel on Daniel Morgan.

We do not know at the moment whether the report will be momentous – or an anti-climax.

Many waited anxiously for, say, the Chilcot report or the Meuller report – only for the news to move on to other things within days, if not hours.

But regardless of the response of news organisations to the report, the report will be significant in its nature – even if it is not momentous in its effects.

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The report is about three things.

The first is the 1987 death of a private detective in circumstances so brutal that the passage of thirty-four years cannot diminish the horror.

I do not know whether Daniel Morgan was about to uncover and expose police corruption or not when he was murdered – but the motivation for any murder does not really matter.

Even without what followed in the aftermath of his death, it was a singular murder that has never been properly investigated or explained.

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The second is the messy and corrupt relationships between the private detective industry, the Metropolitan police and the media from the 1980s onwards – as they merrily sold and bought personal information.

Even if Daniel Morgan’s death was not about the potential exposure of corruption, the circumstances of his death was – for those connected with him – something which hanged over everyone involved for over thirty years.

And for some of those connected with him, the murder and its fallout – all those investigations and prosecutions – was no doubt an inconvenience and a perceived ‘problem’ that had to be somehow ‘managed’ while they were all otherwise engaged in the lucrative trade in the supply and purchase of private information.

This is regardless of whether anyone suspected for the murder was actually involved – the investigations and prosecutions never seemed to go away and were, no doubt, a nuisance.

Insofar as this report covers this messy and corrupt set of relationships, it will be the nearest we will probably get to the now abandoned ‘Leveson 2’.

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Third, there is something rather extraordinary that requires an explanation.

Following Daniel Morgan’s murder there were no less than five investigations and prosecutions – all of which collapsed.

Like those castles built by the king in Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, each successive investigation and prosecution seemingly fell into a swamp – but here a swamp of compromised processes and irregularities and acts of self-protection.

It may well be that there were mundane reasons why each of these five investigations and prosecutions failed – and, of course, investigations and prosecutions fail all the time for all sorts of unexceptional reasons.

But how all these five investigations and prosecutions each toppled over is extraordinary – and extraordinary things require explanations, even if those explanations are themselves not extraordinary.

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I have followed the Daniel Morgan story since 2012 – and I would have blogged more about the case and it possible implications had it not been for the launch of the independent panel inquiry.

The case is potentially a way into understanding what happened at the time between the police and the media and the private detective industry – and how all of this in turn affected public policy and the conduct of the media.

But the human side of this is also crucial.

Alastair Morgan – one of the most decent and determined people you will ever meet – has spent thirty-four years campaigning for justice and to uncover what happened with the death of his brother Daniel and its aftermath.

We should hope the report brings some sense of justice to Alastair Morgan and the rest of the Morgan family.

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Pointing out the United Kingdom government negotiated and signed the Northern Irish protocol is not enough – those opposed to the government’s post-Brexit approach also need a positive policy

13th June 2021

‘I told you so.’

These is perhaps the most dangerous four-word phrase in the English political lexicon.

And the danger is that the one who did tell others so then just shrugs, and does nothing more.

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A political idiot does [x], even though you (and others) averred that [x] would be irresponsible and dangerous.

Of course: it is natural and right to point out the idiot did [x] even though the irresponsible and dangerous idiocy was both foreseen and foreseeable.

And this is what this blog did yesterday.

But.

It is not sufficient.

The government can (and will) just shrug off the criticism.

And a sufficient number of voters will nod-along with the government, regardless of these errors being pointed out.

Any sensible person knows that the government made serious mistakes forcing though Brexit at speed and without a plan, and in signing up to a withdrawal agreement without understanding or caring what it said.

It is bleedingly obvious.

But there is only so much purchase in pointing this out, and that purchase is unlikely to extend to changing any voters’ minds.

Something more is needed.

Something positive.

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The biggest problem in the politics of the United Kingdom at the moment is that neither the government nor the official opposition have any substantial positive vision of the United Kingdom after Brexit.

The government, having obtained Brexit, is the proverbial dog that caught the car.

And the opposition are refusing to engage with Brexit at all, fearful of the repercussions of mentioning it – and a cowered opposition is, of course, a useless opposition.

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It is fun – and easy – to point out the government entered the Northern Irish protocol of its own free will.

The pressure to sign it at speed was self-inflicted.

We know this, and they (if ministers are honest with themselves) know this.

Yet the protocol was only, in effect, a backstop and an insurance policy (though less of a backstop and an insurance policy than the proposed formal arrangements it replaced in the course of the negotiations).

And what is the positive vision of the post-Brexit relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union?

Does anyone – anyone at all – have a positive vision of what happens next?

*****

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The government’s Brexit problems were foreseeable and foreseen – but ministers did not care and went ahead anyway

12th June 2021

Some things remain true even when they are said again, and again, and again.

One of these truths is that a Brexit done at speed was never going to go well – and that the government of the United Kingdom refusing extensions (either to the Article 50 period or the transition arrangements) was gross irresponsible idiocy.

Ministers placed themselves under self-inflicted pressure and suffered self-imposed weaknesses.

All to ‘get Brexit done’.

Another of these truths is that if the United Kingdom left the single market then one of three things would have to happen.

Either the United Kingdom would have to stay aligned with the single market anyway, or there would be a border on the Irish mainland, or there would be a border in the Irish Sea.

Any other possibility would be fanciful, if not fantasy.

A further truth is that there was little point going through with Brexit until and unless the United Kingdom had a settled and realistic view of what would then follow, in terms of its relationship both with the European Union and with the rest of the world, and in terms of what would happen in respect of Northern Ireland.

But on this basis the United Kingdom still does not know what we want, though we want something.

The only possible merit, from a Brexit point of view, of this rushed, muddled and directionless Breixt is that, if the process had lasted any longer, it may well have been reversed.

There may have been other Brexits possible in theory, but this was perhaps the only one possible given the politics before the 2019 general election.

This is not a merit from any sensible and objective view, but perhaps it explains why this botched Brexit did happen, instead of any other.

All to ‘get Brexit done’.

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Judicial review, Dominic Cummings and ‘Potemkin paper trails’ – and why courts require reasons for certain decisions

11th June 2021

In three tweets in a thread posted this week, Dominic Cummings, the former assistant to the prime minister, refers to ‘Potemkin’ paper trails and meetings.

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What does he mean?

And does he have a point?

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What he is alluding to, of course, are the ‘Potemkin’ villages, where things in bad conditions were dressed up to be in good conditions so as to mislead others.

In the context of judicial review, Cummings presumably does not mean that bad reasons would be dressed up as good reasons.

What he instead intends to mean is that there could be artificial reasons and contrived meetings the purpose of which was to make a decision judge-proof.

To a certain extent, he has a point.

In the judicial review case in question, had there been evidence of officials conducting any form of evaluation exercise then the tender award may have been harder to attack legally.

And such an exercise could, in reality, have been nothing other than going through the motions rather than anything that could have actually led to another agency actually getting this valuable contract.

But this is not the reason the courts require reasons for certain decisions – and it may not have changed the judgment in this case either.

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Judges and courts are not stupid and naive.

Judges and courts know full well reasons can be artificial and contrived.

The judges were once barristers and solicitors and, as such, they would have had considerable experience of advising clients on providing reasons for certain decisions. 

The purpose of requiring reasons for decisions – and for ministers and officials to say they are true reasons – is to make it more difficult for bad and false decisions to be made.

For example – take the decision by the government to seek a prorogation of parliament in 2019.

No minister or official – or adviser – was willing to sign a witness statement (under pain of perjury) as to the true reason for advising the Queen to prorogue parliament.

And without such a sworn (or affirmed) reason, the government lost the case.

Reasons also provide a reviewing court with a basis of assessing whether a decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable decision could have made it, and also of assessing whether relevant considerations had been included and irrelevant considerations were excluded.

Providing reasons does not provide an escape route for cynical and irrelevant and unreasonable decision-making.

But it is an impediment, and one that makes it harder for ministers and officials to get away with bad decision-making. 

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And in the recent judicial review, it is not clear to me (as a former central government procurement lawyer) that even an artificial ‘Potemkin’ exercise would have necessarily saved the decision from legal attack.

Awarding a high-value contract to cronies where a nominal (though documented)  exercise of discretion had not shown any actual objective advantage over other possible suppliers would still have been open to legal attack.

So this is not necessarily a case where the failure to provide a ‘Potemkin’ paper trail is to blame for the loss of a legal case.

The pram may well have fallen down the stairs anyway.

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Beware Lord Frost’s ‘legal purism’ line – for it means a disregard for the rule of law and is strategically unwise

 9th June 2021

There is a new line-to-take.

This line is that a requirement to comply with legal obligations is to be dismissed as ‘legal purism’.

This line is being promoted at the moment by Brexit minister Lord Frost in respect of the obligations of the United Kingdom under the Northern Irish Protocol (obligations that, of course, Frost himself negotiated and endorsed).

Frost avers that for the European Union to require the United Kingdom to comply with this obligations is to take a ‘purist’ approach.

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For many years the United Kingdom was protected from the European Union’s legal(istic) approach to its engagement with ‘third countries’.

As one of the big three member states, it generally got its way internally, and had a number of opt-outs for things it did not like.

Trade agreements were left to the European Commission to negotiate: the United Kingdom just benefitted from the results like a teenager benefiting from the washing and ironing magically being done.

And now we are on the outside – looking in on an international organisation that, more than any other in the world, is a creature of law.

And the European Union takes law very seriously.

We are going to have to get used to it.

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That said: it is not unusual for a party to a serious agreement to want to re-negotiate terms.

And mocking Frost for wanting to change something he so recently approved can only go so far, and it does not rid us of his perceived concerns.

Perhaps there is a case for the protocol to be amended, or perhaps not.

But, either way, it is a folly for him to approach the problem by dismissing legal obligations as ‘purist’.

For, if this is the United Kingdom’s casual approach to law, why would one expect the United Kingdom to abide by any replacement legal obligations?

By attacking the very notion of legal compliance, Frost is not helping the long-term interests of the United Kingdom.

What he is doing is a silly thing, and he should not go there.

The rule of law matters – pure and simple.

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How Neil Gaiman kept control of the Sandman characters

8th June 2021

How can a creator keep control of the characters they create when the intellectual property in those characters are owned by others?

In the DC and Marvel universes there are thousands of characters, the intellectual property rights in which are owned and exploited (and tightly policed) by the relevant corporations.

Usually the creators – writers and artists – will be subject to contractual provisions that assign the intellectual property rights in the characters they create to the corporation hiring them for their work.

(Note that there is not really an ‘intellectual property right’ in characters as such – what we are talking about here is a mish-mash of copyright, trade marks and other legal rights that, taken together, mean that the rights holder can prevent anyone else from using the character.)

Much of the time this does not cause any problems.

But it means that usually creators lose control of their creations – and sometimes this can be rather a shame.

For example, Jack Kirby radically extended the DC universe with his New Gods – but now the characters he created are just part of the DC universe, and Darkseid is just another supervillain among others.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen characters – who were carefully placed in their own self-contained world – have now also (and regrettably) been put into the DC universe, and Dr Manhattan is now just one super-duper powered character among others.

But.

There is one group of characters owned by DC that have not been absorbed into the wider universe and made available for other writers and artists to exploit.

These are the Sandman characters created by Neil Gaiman (and various artists).

The character ‘Death’ has not become a member of the Justice League, and “Destruction’ has not been brought out of retirement to battle with Darkseid and Dr Manhattan.

The Sandman world has somehow kept its integrity – even though (a) it would be commercially valuable for DC to exploit the characters in other titles and (b) nothing at law could stop DC from doing what it likes with its characters.

So why has the Sandman world not gone the way of the New Gods and Watchmen and been squeezed dry by the Warner corporation (that owns DC) seeking to maximise profits from its assets?

This has long puzzled me.

And so I asked Neil Gaiman himself:

And – wonderfully – he replied and at length – and the reasons are interesting:

‘It goes in several stages (and could go away tomorrow).

‘1988-1992 Sandman was selling. Nobody quite knew what I was doing. Whatever it was it was working. I had no power or control, but DC people were fans and Dave McKean and I had won a battle not to have Morpheus on covers.

1992-1994 Vertigo happened, and Sandman was the Vertigo flagship title. People wanted to know what would happen when Sandman was done, and I’d explain that if DC let it end then, I’d keep working with DC. If not, I wouldn’t. And the powers at DC wanted to keep me on board. And graphic novels collections of ongoing comics were, as of The Doll’s House, a thing. And they were selling and selling. So the loss of an ongoing comic wasn’t a disaster.

‘1995-2015 Sandman is allowed to end. I do occasional books for DC. In 2003 ENDLESS NIGHTS is the first graphic novel to turn up on the NYT bestseller list. Paul Levitz (and Diane Nelson, when Paul leaves) and Karen Berger, and when Karen leaves, Shelly Bond are always supportive.

‘Meanwhile many attempts to make Sandman movies and TV happen and fail, without my involvement.

‘Warners was always aware that Sandman is, in their words, a jewel in the crown, and once Good Omens had happened, and they realised that I knew what I was doing in TV more or less, they realised that it would be better for Sandman if I were actively making it.

‘I’ve always been aware that they own the characters I created for them when I was 26, and legally can do whatever they want with them.

‘But I’ve tried to make it a more attractive proposition for them to work with me than to end the working relationship, and they’ve always stepped up.’

[Lightly edited – the original tweets are here.]

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This is absolutely fascinating from an intellectual property law perspective.

Scheherazade-like, Neil Gaiman used commercial and creative imperatives to keep achieving what he could not enforce at law.

And Warner has had the wit and sense not to just exploit these particular assets in the way they had done with the Watchmen characters.

(Though the recent Watchmen television series shows how allowing another great creator access to prized characters can sometimes work well.)

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There is a misconceived notion that intellectual property rights in characters (and not just comic book characters) always have to be exploited to the full.

Had Warner freely exploited the Sandman characters as it had done with others, we would now be unlikely to have the upcoming Sandman series with Neil Gaiman as show-runner.

Sometimes holding off exercising legal powers leads to better outcomes.

For, as the eminent jurist Benjamin Parker always averred, with great power comes great responsibility.

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Why is it so difficult to prosecute for the sale and purchase of peerages?

7th June 2021

A person is in the news because they donated £500,000 to a political party days after taking a seat in the house of lords.

This post is not about that person.

I have no idea about the circumstances of that appointment. and so I do not make any allegations in respect of those circumstances – and this is not just safe libel-speak, I genuinely do not know, and nor (I suspect) do you.

(And anyone commenting below who makes an allegation of criminality in respect of that appointment – or anyone else – will not have their comments published – this is not Twitter, you know.)

This post is instead about the legislation that is usually mentioned when such appointments are made: the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

It is a curious statute – not least because the offences it creates appear hardly to have ever been successfully prosecuted.

(The one early exception appears to be Maundy Gregory.)

 

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The legislation has one substantive clause that in turn creates two offences.

The first offence is (and in language itself as cumbersome as the name, title and style of any obscure peerage):

‘If any person accepts or obtains or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, or for any purpose, any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

Let’s try to make sense of this word-soup.

This first offence relates to the person who is (in effect) on the supply-side of a relevant transaction – the person ‘accepting or obtaining’ the ‘inducement or reward’.

This supplier has to be shown to (a) accept, (b) obtain, (c) agree to accept, or (d) attempt to obtain [x] in return for [y].

The [x], in turn comprises two things: (a) any gift, money or valuable consideration which also has the quality (b) of being an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of [y].

This means proof of a ‘gift, money or valuable consideration’ is not enough: there also needs to be proof of its purpose.

The [y] is the most straightforward: ‘the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant’.

What all this means is that showing there is cash and an appointment is not enough: there has to be proof of intention to the criminal standard of proof – that is (in general terms) beyond reasonable doubt.

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The second offence deals with (in effect) the demand-side:

‘If any person gives, or agrees or proposes to give, or offers to any person any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

There is no need to unpack this like the first offence – but you will notice that again there is the need to prove that the ‘gift, money or valuable consideration’ is for the purpose of bing an inducement or a reward.

So, as before, showing there is cash and an appointment is not enough – there needs to be proof of intention.

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Those with good political memories will recall the ‘cash for honours’ investigation of 2006-2007.

This investigation included the extraordinary moment of a dawn-raid on the home of a government official and the questioning by the police of the then prime minister.

All very dramatic.

But nothing came of it.

No charges were brought.

The Crown Prosecution Service provided detailed, legalistic reasons for their decision not to prosecute.

The CPS averred that not only did it need to prove intention (on both sides) but also that it also had to prove that there was an agreement:

‘If one person makes an offer, etc, in the hope or expectation of being granted an honour, or in the belief that it might put him/her in a more favourable position when nominations are subsequently being considered, that does not of itself constitute an offence. Conversely, if one person grants, etc, an honour to another in recognition of (in effect, as a reward for) the fact that that other has made a gift, etc, that does not of itself constitute an offence. For a case to proceed, the prosecution must have a realistic prospect of being able to prove that the two people agreed that the gift, etc, was in exchange for an honour.’

These CPS reasons were compiled and endorsed by some very clever criminal lawyers – though the rest of us may struggle to see the absolute need for proving an agreement under the 1925 Act.

Nonetheless the CPS insisted:

‘In essence, the conduct which the 1925 Act makes criminal is the agreement, or the offer, to buy and sell dignities or titles of honour. Section 1(1) is drafted in wide terms and captures any agreement in which a seller agrees to procure a peerage in return for money or other valuable consideration. Section 1(2) is also drafted in wide terms and captures any agreement in which a buyer agrees to provide money or other valuable consideration, in order to induce a seller to procure a peerage.’

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If the CPS are correct in this interpretation and construction of the statutory offences, then this makes it hard, if not impossible, for the offence ever to be prosecuted successfully.

And, even without the CPS gloss, the requirement to show intention made the offence hard to prosecute in the first place.

There may be other laws which may apply – for example, fraud legislation – but not the one piece of legislation that actually has the sale of honours as its dedicated purpose.

For, as long as those involved make sure there is no paper-trail and that the choreography of nods-and-winks are done in the right order, there is no real danger of any prosecution under the 1925 Act.

What the 1925 Act prevents is the blatant Lloyd-George style of an open market for the sale and purchase of honours.

For a statute to only regulate (in effect) the seemliness of the trade in peerages and other titles is a very, well, British (or English) thing to do.

Otherwise, the 1925 Act is an ornament, not an instrument – and so it is as much a mere constitutional decoration as any ermine robe, and is just as much use.

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The Prime Minister’s disregard for rules-based regimes

6th June 2021

This is just a short post today – more of a signpost – to point you towards an interesting and thought-provoking post by Hannah White at the Institute of Government.

Her post brings together various examples of the contempt in which the current prime minister holds a range of rule-based regimes – showing that for Boris Johnson, to echo Leona Helmsley’s supposed words, rules appear to be for little people.

There are, of course, a number of problems with the prime minister’s approach.

For example, a great deal of the constitution of the United Kingdom is based on self-restraint and convention – and, although many prime ministers have breached constitutional norms, none have done so as openly and unapologetically as the current prime minister.

Another problem is that – especially at the time of this pandemic and also as the United Kingdom adjusts to its post-Brexit future – there will be a need for various rules to be followed as well as made.

And it is difficult to insist on others keeping to the rules when the head of the government himself sees compliance with rules as, at best, optional.

And perhaps the biggest problem is that there is a sense of checks and balances simply not mattering any more – a further move towards a central command polity.

Of course, in our present day hyper partisan political culture, few will care about such things.

The constitution of the United Kingdom is now, essentially, whatever Boris Johnson can get away with.

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