This illiberal Queen’s Speech is the next step for authoritarian populism after Brexit

11th May 2021

Well, that was quite the Queen’s Speech.

A legislative programme geared to make a certain sort of person grin and clap and cheer about ‘owning the libs’.

But it is not just about mere superficialities – it is in substance a multi-pronged attack our liberties.

The prime minister is not only taking back control of when there will be general elections, the government is making it harder for people to vote.

The government is also making it harder for government decisions to be challenged in court, and it is making it harder for anyone to protest about any of this.

*

Of course: this is not a surprise.

Five years ago, senior members of the governing party affected to want to give effect to the ‘will of the people’.

But, as is often the case with authoritarian populists, the supposed mandate of the people was only ever a convenient rhetorical device for ever-greater central control.

And the sorry state of our politics means that the government will probably get away with this.

There may be opposition in the house of lords – and some measures may be open to legal challenge.

Yet, even with the few remaining checks and balances in out constitutional arrangements – this is what the government does as the next step after ‘taking back control’.

The impression is that Brexit was not about liberation, but about creating a political culture where the opposite of liberation – imposed authority – became more entrenched.

Our post-Brexit polity is now looking very dismal and depressing indeed.

*****

If you value this free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.

Suggested donation of any amount as a one-off, or of £4.50 upwards on a monthly profile.

This law and policy blog provides a daily post commenting on and contextualising topical law and policy matters – each post is usually published at about 9.30am UK time – though some special posts are published later.

*****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

Why the Post Office case will not go away – and the wider implications of the case

26th April 2021

Few appeal cases keep on being news a few days after the judgment has been handed down.

The parties, of course, will keep an interest as they decide what, if anything, to do next; lawyers will consider any legal or procedural point of wide import; specialists and experts will take due notice of any significant development.

But general news value of an appeal decision diminishes rapidly, and soon it will be as old news as a football result.

But the Post Office appeal case has been different.

If anything, many people – this blogger included – are taking more of an interest in what happened.

In part this is because of the detailed judgments – and so some relentless investigative journalism.

The more one looks at the case the more worrying the case becomes.

All sorts of professionals – not just the senior managers – appear to have been caught up in the attempt to oppose the exposure of what happened.

And as the eminent blogger on law and legal ethics Richard Moorhead asks over at his blog: where were the lawyers?

Reading carefully this detailed Private Eye piece on the scandal, there are many moments where anyone with an interest in litigation will gasp. 

The easy way of addressing the question of what were the lawyers doing is to aver that lawyers are not decision-makers, they only advise and so on.

But that old stand-by of an excuse does not quite work with issues, such as disclosure of documents and duties to the court, where the decision-making is done by lawyers rather than clients.

Something very wrong happened, and for a long period, and because of the decisions made of many people.

And the wider question becomes: where else are such commercial-legal scandals and cover-ups where there has not been a success in bringing it to light?

Perhaps not ones where there have been a mass of prosecutions, but where there has been co-ordinated attempts to prevent transparency, scrutiny and accountability.

*****

If you value this free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.

Suggested donation of any amount as a one-off, or of £4.50 upwards on a monthly profile.

This law and policy blog provides a daily post commenting on and contextualising topical law and policy matters – each post is usually published at about 9.30am UK time – though some special posts are published later.

*****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

How proper funding and resourcing means fewer miscarriages of justice

25th April 2021

After every miscarriage of justice there is the question of how the wrong was possibly allowed to happen.

And often the miscarriage comes down to the evidence before the court.

In essence: the court is presented with evidence that [x] is the case, and unless that evidence can be undermined then the court will be satisfied that there is guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The evidence can come from police officers. or from an ’eminent’ expert witness, or (as with the Horizon scandal) an IT system.

(See my Horizon posts here and here.)

*

In a criminal case a court is presented with substantive (-looking) evidence on one side of the scale and nothing – other than perhaps bare denials – on the other side.

And so the scales tip to one side.

To dislodge such (on the face of it) compelling evidence is a difficult task.

To an extent the situation is alleviated by the obligation of the prosecution to disclose relevant evidence, and not just the evidence on which they are relying on.

To an extent the situation is also alleviated by a prosecutor assessing the soundness of the evidence before bringing any prosecution.

To an extent proper preparation for trial from everyone involved – judge, prosecution, defence – should be a safeguard.

And the main safeguard, of course, is (or should be) the forensic process itself.

Evidence – especially evidence which comes from supposedly authoritative sources – should be relentlessly tested for its cogency.

There should not be mere nodding-along in deference – whether to a police officer, a ‘respected paediatrician’ or a ‘robust’ computer system.

*

But.

Disclosure exercises are sometimes not easy – or cheap.

A properly resourced prosecution authority is not cheap.

Proper case preparation is not cheap.

And skilled in-court lawyering and cross-examination is not easy – or cheap.

For justice to be served, however, requires all of this is done well – which requires funding and other resources.

Else the court will be prone to placing the wrong weight on evidence before it.

Or as techies put it: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

*****

If you value this free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.

Suggested donation of any amount as a one-off, or of £4.50 upwards on a monthly profile.

This law and policy blog provides a daily post commenting on and contextualising topical law and policy matters – each post is usually published at about 9.30am UK time – though some special posts are published later.

*****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

Further thoughts on the Post Office Horizon case

24th April 2021

Following yesterday’s important and immense criminal appeal judgment on the Post Office Horizon case (post here), I have had a look at the preceding civil judgments.

(The civil cases were when those affected sued the Post Office – the criminal appeals were challenges to the criminal conviction in prosecutions brought by the Post Office – the distinction explains why there have been two channels of litigation in this scandal.)

The first – favourable – impression is that the judge who dealt with the civil cases did a magnificent job of judging, both in terms of case management and of the substance of the case.

The key 2019 judgment is here – and it some 155 pages and 1024 paragraphs.

It is an outstanding and forensic piece of work, by a (rare) judge at ease with both technology and the law.

Paragraph 929 is a judicial classic.

The judge is a credit to the judiciary.

*

But.

That civil judgment is from late 2019.

The criminal convictions were quashed yesterday.

And the wrongful convictions date back to 2003.

This means there has been a wait of, in some case, nearly twenty years for justice.

However commendable the 2019 civil judgment and the 2021 criminal appeal judgment, there is little or no room for legal self-congratulation at these delays.

Part of the delay can be explained, of course, by the Post Office seeking to contest the cases as long as possible, defending their ‘robust’ system.

Another part of the delay can be explained by the internal Post Office decisions to, in effect, cover up or ignore what happened.

But whatever fingers can be pointed elsewhere, this is a stark example of the failure of the criminal justice system – and it is a systemic failure given how many were falsely convicted.

And so a close look is needed at what, if anything, could be done to stop such injustices again – especially (as is one of my bugbears) the right and power of certain self-interested entities to bring private prosecutions.

*

One or two people have complained about the the legal fees in this case.

It would appear that the lawyers for those unfairly accused and convicted had an immense legal job in taking taking on and defeating a well-resourced Post Office insisting that their system was ‘robust’.

To dismantle such a case so that one could even have the material and evidence before the court that would enable Mr Justice Fraser to be able to make his judgment was an extraordinary task.

That the lawyers who did this successfully were remunerated should not be controversial.

And had the Post Office not contested the cases – and, as the court averred, insisted that the world was flat – then the costs would have been substantially less.

Sometimes lawyers can be fairly blamed for costs – but not, it would seem, in this case.

*

There should also be a shout out to the investigative journalist Nick Wallis, who has both covered and uncovered a good deal of the scandal – and you can support his work and buy his book here.

*****

You can subscribe for each post on this blog to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

The Post Office case is damning, but do not blame ‘computer error’ – it is very much the fault of human error of Post Office managers

23rd April 2021

There are few, if any, criminal appeal judgments as damning as today’s appeal judgment on the post office cases.

This is an appeal judgment that will (or should) sound through the generations, as a detailed description of how the criminal justice system can go wrong.

*

But.

It would be an error to dismiss it as just a grand example of ‘the computer says no’.

Computers, like any automatic processes, will be prone to faults.

The problem was not so much the Horizon software but a sequence of horrible, deliberate decisions made by human beings – about whether to bring prosecutions, to contest civil cases, and to avoid the disclosure of relevant documents.

Every single manager involved in these prosecutions and in opposing appeals are far more culpable than any of the poor defendants.

Yet, unlike the defendants, the Post Office managers are not (generally) named in this judgment: they have their gongs and their pensions and their self-serving supposed exculpations of ‘lessons learned’.

So damning is this judgment that, no doubt, every person reading it will have a view on which of their legal and political opinions will be affirmed by the judgment.

For this blog, the damning Post Office judgment affirms that private prosecutions are generally a bad thing – whether they are brought by the Post Office or anyone else.

Some organisations – and individuals – enjoy the swagger and the bluster of being able to bring (and threaten) cases aimed at criminalising and penalising others.

But as the noted jurist Benjamin Parker averred: with great power comes great responsibility.

And the power to criminalise and penalise others is one of greatest powers and responsibilities of all.

*

Lawyers often boast of being ‘fearless’.

Prosecutions should be – genuinely – fearless: but being fearless including being free of the fear of not proceeding with the prosecution because of the reason of embarrassment.

For, as the damning Post Office judgment shows, it was the fear of embarrassment that meant that things were not said and disclosed that should have been said and disclosed.

The damning Post Office judgment also shows what will happen when the power and the urge to prosecute is free from any checks and balances.

It shows what will happen when defendants do not get the materials and the advice that they need so as to be properly defended.

Yes: the appeal points to the dangers of automation and computerisation – but the appeal points harder at the dangers where managers and other decision-makers hide behind automation and computerisation.

And the delay in this appeal judgment – ten or so years after the miscarriages of justice – also shows the inefficiency of a criminal justice system that can often be so quick to impose criminal liability in putting right things when they go wrong.

Nobody – other than the defendants – come out of this judgment well.

Not least the criminal justice system itself.

*****

If you value this free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.

Suggested donation of any amount as a one-off, or of £4.50 upwards on a monthly profile.

This law and policy blog provides a daily post commenting on and contextualising topical law and policy matters – each post is usually published at about 9.30am UK time – though some special posts are published later.

*****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

The great con trick of the politics of criminal law and policy

 6th April 2021

Anyone who knows and cares about the criminal justice system in England and Wales knows that the system is collapsing – and that the word ‘system’ is itself hardly still applicable.

On the face of it, however, this presents a paradox.

For we have a government – with loud and shouty political and media supporters – committed to ‘Law and Order!’.

You would think that a government with such a stated priority would ensure that the substance of policy would have some correspondence to the rhetoric of its politics.

You would be wrong.

For, as this blog has averred elsewhere, there is a distinction – a dislocation – between the politics and the actuality of the criminal justice system.

It is easy for a politician to get claps and cheers with demands for ‘tougher penalties’ and ‘crackdowns on crime’!

Time-poor political reporters will type easily about ‘new laws’ and ‘longer sentences’ and so on.

And voters will nod-along, as they are fooled into thinking some useful thing is being done.

But there is no point having tougher and tougher penalties, and longer and longer sentences, and more and more laws, if the criminal justice system itself is not working.

As the former attorney general Dominic Grieve sets out in this article, the reality is that the system is halting and crashing.

Part of the problem is lack of cash – and for the the reasons Grieve submits.

But another part of the problem is a lack of policy seriousness – an assumption that it ultimately does matter that the criminal justice system comprises a motley of inadequate court buildings, demoralised staff, badly let contracts, ancient IT systems, health and safety horrors, a general lack of safety for everyone involved, and a general drift of the system towards discharging greater re-offending, and not less.

If you invited a demon to devise the worst possible state of affairs in the criminal justice system the current situation is pretty much what you would get.

But: ‘new laws’ and ‘longer sentences’ and ‘tougher penalties’ and ‘crackdowns on crime’!

Slogans that are like loose gear sticks and brakes, not attached to any other part of the vehicle.

Perhaps the only consolation is that such an absolute system failure tells against England and Wales becoming, in practice, an authoritarian state.

But it is not only authoritarian states that need a functioning criminal justice system – modern liberal democracies need working criminal justice systems too.

And so we have a system that should satisfy nobody – other than of course, dishonest purveyors of easy criminal justice solutions: fraudsters of modern politics.

***

Thank you for reading this post on this daily law and policy blog.

If you value this free-to-read post, and the independent legal and policy commentary this blog and my Twitter feed provides for both you and others – please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

‘We are not public servants’ and ‘policing by consent is not a duty’ – the disturbing and telling views of a police officer

27th March 2021

Here is a tweet.

The tweet purports to be from the chair of the Gloucestershire branch of the Police Federation.

This description must be true, because a tweet from that account was RTd just hours before by the account of the Gloucestershire Police Federation – and it can be assumed that they would not RT an imposter.

And that, in turn, is the account of the Gloucestershire Police Federation as it is directly linked to at their website (top right).

So, yes, it is a real tweet.

A real tweet by a real chair of a real police federation.

*

Having established the tweet’s authenticity, let us now look at its content.

The tweet states that the police are not public servants.

More exactly that ‘technically’ the police are not public servants.

As there is no ‘technical’ definition of the term ‘public servant’ this is a nonsense.

That a police constable is a servant of the crown – as are many civil servants – does not mean that they are also not public servants.

Crown servants – and others employed by the state in whatever legal form – are public servants.

Now look at the context of the tweet – it is intended as a correction in reply to a fair comment that the police should serve the public, not the government.

The reply denies that this is the case.

*

But not only does this tweet deny that the police are public servants – it also frames the concept of ‘policing by consent’ as a ‘general principle’ but not a ‘duty’.

Here the tweeter errs again.

If one actually reads the once-famous Peelite principles of policing, you will see this as the second principle:

‘To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.’

Indeed, each of the principles is set out as an express ‘instruction’ to constables: ‘to recognise’, ‘to maintain’, ‘to use’ and so on.

As such each of the principles is also a duty – and this is because – ahem, technically – a duty can also be a principle, and vice versa.

Especially when they are expressly framed as such, as they are in that formal definition of ‘policing by consent’.

But for our tweeter, these express instructions can be defined out of from having any actual application because they are only ‘principles’.

This, like the tweeter’s other distinction, is itself worrying and telling.

Policing by consent is not an optional nice-to-have in modern society – it is foundational.

That it can be expressly stated to not be a duty – notwithstanding the actual words of the instructions – is a disturbing insight.

*

Perhaps the tweet was a just a slip, not to be taken seriously.

(Though, remember the police themselves are often not so forgiving of the slips of others.)

Perhaps there will be a clarification, or something.

Or perhaps the tweets provided an indication – an insight – into a mindset of certain police officers.

That not being public servants and that not policing by consent are both a quick distinction away from having practical application in the discharge of their important role in our society.

***

Thank you for reading this post.

If you value this free-to-read post, and the independent legal and policy commentary this blog and my Twitter feed provides for both you and others – please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

The performative nastiness of the Home Secretary

24th March 2021

The office of home secretary is one that often does not bring the best out of its occupants.

Indeed, for a while the phrase ‘former Labour home secretary’ was one of the most illiberal phrases in the political lexicon.

Once could think of exceptions – Roy Jenkins, of course, and to a limited extent William Whitelaw and Douglas Hurd (though the latter two only seem more ‘liberal’ by comparison).

On the whole, however, just as certain experiences bring out the worst in human nature, being home secretary can bring out the worst in any politician.

But.

At least former home secretaries had the grace to pretend otherwise.

Remember the grave sorrowful face of, say, Jack Straw as he solemnly warned of the need of some ‘tough new measures’ – enticing you to nod-along with his sense of national emergency.

And Theresa May as home secretary even once stunned the police federation with a full-on speech about police reform.

In essence: the home office was a tough-old job, but some politician had to do it.

But what home secretaries did not do – at least not in public – is revel in the capacity of the office to cause harm and upset.

And so we come to the current home secretary.

Today’s news is typical of their approach:

Before May was home secretary there was a famous conference speech – framed in cautionary terms – about the Conservative Party becoming the ‘Nasty Party’.

For the current home secretary that speech has instead become a manifesto.

And as someone has averred on Twitter, this is not exceptional to the United Kingdom:

The Cruelty Is The Point.

(See here.)

What an unpleasant vista this is on our current politics.

The important thing to note, however, is not so much (yet) that the powers and objectives of the home office have profoundly changed.

These are just about the sort of policies that other home secretaries may have adopted – and not only Conservative politicians.

What seems novel (at least to me) is the sheer glee which accompanies the announcement and promotion of each policy announcement.

One shudders to think what the current home secretary would do publicly if the office still have the power to (not) commute a death penalty.

And rhetorical change can have substantial consequences: each great office of state is subject to and can shape public expectations – that the chancellor, for example, can and will do things in respect of the economy generally, and with taxation and spending in particular.

The more the home office is loudly deployed as a vehicle for nasty policies, presumably the more the demand for more such policies.

And so the approach of the current home secretary cannot be written-off as just vile verbiage: it may and perhaps will lead to more repressive policies.

*

All this is an example of a more general problem with the current political arrangements of the United Kingdom.

The lack of political and constitutional self-restraint – and the removal of the gate-keepers.

There has never really been anything before – other than custom and decency – that has prevented a home secretary exploiting their office in this way.

Just as there was nothing which stopped the prime minister from using the prerogative powers in various unfortunate and unwise ways.

What the home secretary and some other ministers are now doing is showing openly what the constitution of the United Kingdom has long been capable of permitting.

And so what is demonstrated by this exercise of performative politics is not just the politics of the current home secretary – but that there is nothing in place that can prevent such things.

***

Thank you for reading this post.

If you value this free-to-read post, and the independent legal and policy commentary this blog and my Twitter feed provides for both you and others – please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

Clause 59 and ‘TwitterJokeTrial’ – a warning from history

Spring Equinox, 2021

 

Some of those defending clause 59 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, Courts and Anything Else the Government Can Get Away With Bill point out that one purpose of the provision is to set out in statute the old common law offence of public nuisance.

The view is that the enactment is merely an exercise in modernisation and simplification – that there is nothing for us to worry our heads about.

And as this blog has already explained, part of the origin of the proposal is a Law Commission report from 2015.

But.

There is a law more powerful than any statute or common law right, more powerful even than any great charter.

And that is the law of unintended consequences.

*

Here is a story.

There was once an obscure provision in the Post Office (Amendment Act) 1935 that, in turn, amended the Post Office Act 1908:

And for seventy years the offence was hardly noticed, though it was reenacted from time to time as telecommunications legislation was, ahem, modernised and simplified.

Then in 2003 it was reenacted yet again, but in terms that (without any proper consideration) ended up covering the entire internet:

But it was still not really noticed.

Until one day some bright spark at the crown prosecution service realised the provision’s broad terms were a prosecutorial gift in the age of social media.

This resulted in the once-famous TwitterJokeTrial case and its various appeals, which ended with a hearing before the lord chief justice.

In allowing the appeal against conviction, the lord chief justice said:

In other words: the intention of the 2003 reenactment had not been to widen the scope of the offence in respect of fundamental freedoms.

(Declaration of interest: I was the appeal solicitor before the high court in that case.)

*

Coming back to clause 59, it may well be that the intended effect of clause 59 is to merely restate the existing law.

Some are convinced by this view: 

But.

What we will have, once enacted, will be an offence – that is, an arrestable and chargeable offence – which, on the face of it is in extraordinary broad terms, using such everyday language as ‘annoyance’.

It may be that the higher courts will, as any appeals come in, apply the technical meaning in property law of ‘annoyance’.

The law in practice is not that (only) of the judgments of the high court and above: it is what police officers and crown prosecution service case workers believe the law to be and see the law as it is set out.

It is also can be what zealous complainants to the police say it to be.

And none of these people will – understandable and perhaps rightly – be well versed in the case law of ‘annoyance’ in respect of the old law of public nuisance.

They will just see an arresting and charging power – and a power to set conditions.

So it should not be left to the courts ‘to apply the old caselaw’.

*

Criminal offences – and their limits – need to be clear and precise to everyone involved: citizen, complainant, arresting officer, crown prosecution service case worker, busy junior legal aid solicitor giving advice on plea – as well as to erudite barristers and even more erudite judges.

And so: even taking the point about this being a mere modernisation and simplification at its highest, clause 59 currently contains worryingly wide drafting.

Most people reading clause 59 by itself will believe there is a criminal offence – with a sentence of up to ten years – for causing mere annoyance.

Even if that it not the government’s intention, that is how the current provision can be read.

And because of this, people may suffer the life-changing events of being arrested and being charged – and may even plead guilty.

Unless, of course, that is the government’s real intention.

***

Thank you for reading this post.

If you value this free-to-read post, and the independent legal and policy commentary this blog and my Twitter feed provides for both you and others – please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

****

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

‘Not giving the Home Secretary’s assessment the respect that it deserves’ – some initial thoughts on the Shamima Begum decision of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

26th February 2021

This morning the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down its decision in the appeal case of Shamima Begum.

The judgment is detailed and lengthy, dealing with three distinct appeals, and is 137 paragraphs long.

With a decision of this scope and complexity one can only form indicative impressions on the day it is made public.

The decision will take time to digest and to comprehend.

But.

That said, and with the proviso that immediate impressions can often be dispelled, here are some views from the perspective of a liberal commentator on law and policy.

*

The first impression comes from the decision being unanimous.

This is not a judgment where some justices with a more liberal perspective have their say and their more conservative counterparts say something else.

A basis for a judgment was found to which all supreme court justices who heard the case was content to put their names.

This is similar to what happened in the second Miller case – on the prorogation of parliament – and on the Heathrow expansion case.

Perhaps it is a mere coincidence – but the supreme court is at now at least in the habit of putting on a united front in cases that (can be said to) involve issues of high policy and the public interest – even if it is not a deliberate policy.

This is no doubt sensible – if the judicial element of the state is to check and balance another element of the state (or to not check or balance another element of the state) then it is better for it not to be seen as something on which senior judges disagree between themselves.

It also perhaps indicates that there is more going on behind the scenes in seeking to obtain unanimous judgments, rather than a laissez-faire attitude of just publishing what each judge thinks.

*

The second impression is that, as well as being unanimous, the judgment is executive minded.

For example, here is how the court of appeal described the background of Begum:

But in contrast, in the supreme court judgment these same personal details – such as where Begum was born – are expressly presented from the perspective of the home secretary’s desk:

What we know about Begum in the supreme court judgment is expressly framed as being the content of a submission before the home secretary.

We are not directly told Begum was born in the United Kingdom other than that this is an incidental detail in an assessment on national security.

For the details of the individual to be put in such terms in a judgment in respect of their rights is not wrong, but it is quite the tell.

The supreme court judgment also starts in a robust, no-nonsense way about the home secretary’s decisive action:

Nothing rides on it, of course, but note how we are told that the home secretary is both a privy councillor and a member of parliament (gosh, fancy that) and nothing at all about Begum.

That the court is seeing things from the home secretary’s perspective is also perhaps indicated by an unfortunate choice of words at paragraph 134:

The court of appeal has been told off by the unanimous supreme court for not giving ‘the Home Secretary’s assessment the respect which it should have received’.

It is not only an unfortunate choice of words, it is also somewhat chilling in a court which is in effect the final guarantor of our basic rights and freedoms either under the common law, human rights law, or otherwise.

The job of the courts is not to ‘give respect’ to assessments of the home secretary – but to approach such determinations with anxious scrutiny.

Perhaps the use of words here is a slip – but one fears instead it is again a tell.

*

The third immediate impression is that it is a defeatist judgment.

The court of appeal found a compromise which balanced the rights of Begum with those of the executive.

It was an impressive and elegant judgment, and I did a video for the Financial Times:

The supreme court was to have none of this.

For the supreme court justices it is not the job of a court to indulge in such elaborate balancing exercises between the executive and the individual.

Instead, in such a dilemma, there is no judicial compromise:

Not every legal problem, it seems, has a neat legal solution – and the supreme court is averring that courts should not affect otherwise.

*

The overall first impression is that the supreme court has made a firm turn away from liberalism – liberalism being the general notion that the rights of the individual are to be balanced against those of the state.

(As opposed to the notion that the rights of either side will always trump the other.)

If this first impression is affirmed on careful examination of the judgment then the considered reaction will have to be one of disappointment.

For if the supreme court is taking an illiberal turn, then they will be failing – to invoke a phrase – to accord individuals the respect they deserve.

*****

If you value this free-to-read explainer, and the independent legal and policy commentary this blog provides for both you and others – please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.

Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.

You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).

*****

Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.