Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Kate Allen

Amnesty International Director Kate Allen is, for once, getting what she wants for Christmas. For 20 years she and her colleagues have been determinedly campaigning and lobbying for a Global Arms Trade Treaty, which became a reality this April when the UN General Assembly voted to adopt it. By September it had been ratified by over 50 countries, the magic number needed to trigger the 90-day countdown to entry into force. It becomes enshrined in international law today, on Christmas Eve.

The Arms Trade Treaty is an important link in preventing the highly lucrative arms industry from fuelling atrocities around the world. Each state that signs up to it is required to enshrine new principles into its national laws to stop the flow of weapons, munitions and related items to countries where it is known they would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or other serious violations of human rights. 

“This campaign is a very good example of how Amnesty works” Kate tells me.
“Whilst it’s true that some of our campaigns can have an impact quite quickly, a big proportion of our work is about recognising that big change can take many, many years. This is what I call the Magic of Amnesty. It’s incredible to think that what began as a conversation between colleagues twenty years ago (“Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some kind of control on how arms are exported around the world”) has today become enshrined in international law. It shows how Amnesty will just keep going until it gets a result. With this campaign we were totally relentless! I call it the Magic of Amnesty because it is so important people know that we can make change. Often people who care about the sorts of things we care about can feel quite overwhelmed and helpless. There’s so much injustice around the world and people often feel nothing they could possibly do would ever make a difference. Amnesty provides somewhere for them to go, to take action, knowing our campaigns are well thought through, properly researched and can absolutely make change. You can be confident that Amnesty knows what a particular campaign should look like, where the pressure needs to be placed.”

In the last days running up to its coming into force there was a flurry of countries rushing to sign up / ratify, including Andorra, IsraelZimbabwe and Lithuania. South Africa is expected to follow suit any day. And Kate insists this is not the end of the story: “Amnesty will continue to monitor progress closely, keeping a watchful eye on individual states to see how they are enforcing these principles, as well as putting pressure on more countries to sign up” she asserts. 

I was keen to know what next for Kate and for Amnesty.
“This month sees our Global Write for Rights Campaign. This is a concerted piece of action that runs in December each year. In 2013 activists in this campaign undertook 2.4 million actions in 140 countries and resulting in the release of a number of political prisoners. Again, evidence that Amnesty campaigns, and the collective power they mobilise, make very real change for people. 

“Of course just at the moment we are also busy with our campaign to get to the bottom of the British Government's role following the recent report on the CIA’s use of torture and rendition in the past decade or more.  A truly independent judicial inquiry is essential.

“And we are currently working on a great piece of work developing at EU level really practical guidelines for human rights defenders in Afghanistan, so that these brave people are able to access support and assistance from EU missions once the international forces have departed. 

“And an ongoing project is about making Amnesty a truly global organisation,”
she continues. Amnesty has its roots firmly in the UK: it was founded in 1961 by a British lawyer, Peter Benenson, whose initial focus was the plight of two Portuguese students imprisoned for their political beliefs. His well-placed Guardian article calling for “something to be done” launched a worldwide campaign that secured their freedom … and the idea of Amnesty was born. (It is this, Amnesty’s dual emphasis on enforcing the rule of law combined with clever use of media, that speaks so directly to Kysen’s heart.) “Like any organisation born in the global north, over time we’ve become far less UK- and London-centric. We’re becoming a global organisation, with new action centres in the Americas, Africa, Asia as well as Europe. As membership has grown to significant numbers, there’s real progress in the work we are able to do from those bases. It makes people in those regions feel so much more connected. And our International Secretariat, originally London-based, is now dispersed across offices in Nairobi, Dakar, Johannesburg and others. We recently opened in Hong Kong and we are about to open in Mexico City. Today we have seven million members, supporters and activists in 160 countries (500,000 of which are in the UK). 

“There’s so much more to do!”
she says. This could be Kate’s mantra. It’s been a stellar year for Amnesty this year, the Arms Trade Treaty coming into force on Christmas Eve most definitely being the best present Kate could have wished for. I for one hope that Amnesty gets everything it is wishing for in 2015. The world would be so much better place for it, that’s for sure. 

Click here to find out more about Amnesty's campaigns or how to get involved

Who'd have known it's such a hazardous time of year! There are legal pitfalls everywhere! We all know the employment law minefield that is the modern day work Christmas party.  But have you thought about the personal injury risks over the festivities?  Not to mention the risks of falling foul of copyright.  And I haven't even started on the seasonal perils for retailers.  

Yes, you've guessed it: we've been having fun teasing out Yule-tide topics for our lawyer friends to comment on.  The Evening Standard did us proud this year, running a series of three.  The first have appeared already: a warning not to ignore copyright laws in even the most amateur of pantomime shows (Legal action waits in the wings for panto teams that catch frozen fever); and another on who's responsible when online Christmas shoppers are cyber-hacked.  You'll have to buy your Standard on Friday to see the next one. We do love this time of year... but be careful!
Join us in playing a Christmas quiz game today!  Well, it is the last day of term. The partnership lawyers at Aaron & Partners have created a Christmas Competition by re-writing 10 well known marketing slogans in legalese and challenging contestants to decipher them. You need to articulate the original straplines and name companies for a chance to win a prize. We love it!  Here's your starter for 10:

"We are given to understand that all such amounts however small as are in the contemplation of the parties at the date of this advertisement or other similar promotional message may but are not guaranteed to be of use to the customer."

Can you guess? There's more here. You need to submit your answers to Aaron & Partners by 5 January 2015 to be in the game.  We'll be tweeting our progress today (but no spoilers!). Good luck everybody! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Bianca Jagger

Bianca Jagger made an unforgettable impression at the launch reception for Amnesty's Circle of Conscience. And surprisingly, not because of her star-studded jet-setting past as a 70s actress & model, former Studio 54 regular (counting Andy Warhol and Truman Capote among her many A-list friends).  Nor for being Mick Jagger's first wife. Not even because as a great-grandmother (her daughter Jade became a grandmother this May) this award-winning social and human rights activist is still a stunningly beautiful woman. No. What demanded everybody's attention far more at this launch event in Kensington's Bulgari Hotel... what in fact brought an entire room full of Amnesty supporters to a humbled silence ... was Bianca's explanation of where her campaigning heart comes from, in her speech as the Circle's new Patron:  "My passion for activism didn't come from books, or reading about the wrongs of the world, but from my own personal experience"

Bianca shared with us how she grew up under a corrupt and oppressive regime in Nicaragua in the 1960s.  She left in 1970 with a scholarship to study political science at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.  But in 1972 she returned, to look for her parents after the devastating earthquake which destroyed the capital Managua, claimed 10,000 lives and rendered many more numbers homeless. In 1979 she returned again, this time with the International Red Cross, and was shocked to see how the country had devolved in the intervening years.  "I was horrified to see how the corrupt Somoza regime had taken advantage of the natural disaster and exploited the people of Nicaragua instead of helping them, profiting obscenely from the tragedy.  It inspired me to fight for those suffering from discrimination, injustice and violence.  In the years that have followed, I have visited individuals and communities across the world, from central America, across Europe to South Asia, visiting refugee camps, war zones, remote rainforests, and prisoners on death row.  By witnessing injustice and the denial of human rights first hand, I have become even more determined to use my knowledge, skills, influence and time to become a force for change and a voice for the most vulnerable."

In public Bianca has spoken often about her personal epiphany: in 1981 she was stationed at a UN refugee camp in Honduras, part of a visiting US congressional delegation. At one point in the official visit she and her colleagues witnessed 40 captured refugees being marched off at gunpoint by a death squad. Horrified, Bianca and her co-workers followed the group to see where they were being taken, realising summary executions were about to take place. Armed only with cameras (so at least they could document the raid) Bianca and her team took brave action: once within earshot of the death squad they shouted "You will have to kill us all!"  This stopped the squad in its tracks and forced a reappraisal of the situation: the prisoners were released. In many interviews since, Bianca has pinpointed this as a turning point in her life as she realised positive action can absolutely make a difference.

In private, at the Amnesty Circle of Conscience reception the Kysen team attended, Bianca let us in on another turning point in her life: "after campaigning tirelessly for one particular death row prisoner we came to a very harrowing end of the road when we realised there would be no reprieve and all appeals routes had been exhausted. On a very emotional day we were finally informed of the date for his execution. Not long after, I was stunned to receive a request from the prisoner that I personally attend the execution. I wasn't expecting that. But of course I had to go. I will spare you the details of what it was like, seeing a man you believe to be innocent being put to death by the authorities, right in front of your eyes. You can imagine for yourselves the profound effect it had on me." So when she says her heart for social and human rights action comes from experience rather than books, you can absolutely trust what she says.

"I have always believed in the power of ordinary people to change the world if they work together and I am so proud to be part of the global movement of more than 7 million people brought together by Amnesty International who are actively campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all...  but we need to do more!  With greater help and support, from more people, we can focus on increasing the impact that Amnesty can make helping people to fight for their human rights and live in dignity." 

Well, that's a Call to Action if ever I heard one!

You will find links here about Amnesty's new Circle of Conscience and other aspects of the charity's work. You can click here for information on the Bianca Jagger Foundation.  Do you feel inspired to get more involved? I know I do!
We always look forward to reading Edward Fennell's diary column in Times Law and last week's was particularly classic: I just loved the story of UKIP's Christmas card catastrophe, using a cartoonist's work without their permission. Pilsbury's Paul Harris observes drily in the column that "clearly, the IP in UKIP does not stand for intellectual property". Quite. He continues: "Now it's just a matter of destroying the cards. Pulp fiction, perhaps?" When it comes to UKIP (and please do excuse me, I usually try to avoid party politics) I couldn't agree more!

Take advantage of this Friday's Christmas Jumper Day to clothe yourself in the Christmas Spirit. It's time we all got into the the festive mood. On 12 December Save the Children is encouraging us all to "make the world better with a sweater" (love it!) wearing our woollies to work and donating £2 to the charity.

And if you're worried a Christmas sweater could cause offence in the workplace considering we are all of so many different cultural and religious persuasions, here's the solution: the mixed-faith pullover "for those wanting to celebrate the festive season as the multicultural nation we are." As the Independent on Sunday put it: Oh come all ye multi-faithful! Perfect!!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Glyn Maddocks

Glyn Maddocks doesn't understand why we're all not a whole lot angrier about the Criminal Justice System. I was speaking to the defence lawyer and founder of the Centre for Criminal Appeals at the launch of Jon Robins' book about the 43 year legal fight to clear the name of Tony Stock, imprisoned for an armed robbery Glyn is concerned he didn’t commit. Glyn has spent more than 20 years advising Tony Stock in three appeals.
The book launch was held in Portcullis House, with a number of legal and political heavyweights present (The Times' esteemed legal editor  Frances Gibb, and MP Barry Sheerman to name just two) as well as Tony Stock’s family, which brought home to me that the flaws in our Justice System are not just academic points to be discussed and debated in well-written articles in the popular and specialist press, but have a real and tragic impact on people’s lives. Tony himself sadly died in 2012 but his family, friends, and the professionals who campaigned for his release throughout his life, continue to lobby hard to clear his name. 

"Stock’s case is particularly galling because the Appeal system has failed him even though someone else has confessed to the armed robbery and confirmed that Tony wasn’t even there," Glyn tells me.  "The system just doesn’t cope with Appeals very well. They are almost impossible to get through, even where the evidence is compelling – like for example when someone else actually admits they did the crime and not your client! The system is just not set up to accept that mistakes happen. And of course the individuals in charge of the system are incredibly powerful." Just look what happened in the Huhne Pryce fiasco. Remember the hoo-ha about the jury that was so inept that the judge disbanded it and called in another, prompting debate about whether IQ tests should be brought in for jurors? (For a reminder of the 10 unbelievably dim questions the jurors asked, click here.) “But what was really interesting in this saga was how as soon as the jury system itself was criticised, the establishment brought out its big guns  to impress on anyone that this was an “aberration”, the “exception that proved the rule”, that juries are still the way to go. Even a former Lord Chief Justice and an ex-DPP.  But I tell you, I’ve sat with many a client in front of juries and I’m not sure just how unusual the situation in the Huhne Pryce case is. I have to say, If I had to put you in front of a jury tomorrow, I’d worry for you, so random are the odds whether you get a good jury or an awful one. In part it’s just human nature: as soon as the jury sees a defendant brought into court by a policeman/woman, the assumption is that they must have done something wrong to get to this point. And God help any defendant who isn’t a complete saint: many juries have no qualms of convicting an individual where the evidence on the crime in question is almost non-existent, if they believe he’s "probably guilty" of some other crime.

"Don’t get me wrong: juries can be discerning, rational, logical, fair – and at its best the system of involving the common man or woman in our justice is theoretically a good one. They trouble is though, that often the system simply isn’t at its best. And once that original conviction is secured, it’s almost impossible to reverse the decision.”

But what’s the alternative? Does Glyn have the answer? “No I don’t. But I do think it’s something we should be investing in and researching as a society. There are different models throughout Europe we could explore for a start. But at the moment virtually no public funds are being directed into this area. Public funds are under pressure from all sides. But the financial costs of keeping someone in prison runs to thousands of pounds every week. So it makes no sense to argue we don't have the budget."

And that's before you even start counting the human cost of course...

To help support the work of the Centre for Criminal Appeals, click here.
We enjoyed not one, but two very special Awards events this Tuesday: not only were we hosting a party of clients and friends at Amnesty International's 23rd Media Awardsbut the talents of our very own Sophie Bowkett were being celebrated in a separate ceremony on the same evening, where she was shortlisted for a "Young Communicator" Award. (As she put it, this was her last chance considering she's just turned 30!). So we kicked the evening off all together at Compagnie des Vins, and then went separate ways for our two events, tweeting and texting updates to each other throughout the evening. 

The Amnesty Media Awards is always an inspiring event and, as I always say, a good reminder of the heroic element in journalism: many of the individuals short-listed risk life and limb, quite literally, to bring us the truth about what's really going on in the darkest and most dangerous corners of the world.  

At the PRCA awards Sophie was robbed of a win, but we all thought she was a heroine nonetheless just for making the shortlist. Legal PR is such a peculiar niche that the rest of the PR world usually just shrugs its shoulders and turns away whenever we talk excitedly about our work. But Sophie's stand-out promotional achievements on one very high profile court case, a legal first in fact in the Commercial Court, caught the PRCA's attention and made them realise the value of the very special skill-set she is able to wield. Well done Sophie!

We were kept on tenterhooks right up to the last minute, to know whether Amal Clooney would  be joining our party at the Amnesty Awards along with Doughty Street's Maurice MacSweeney who was one of our guests. We know she has a heart for Amnesty and its work, but her busy schedule and the rather over-intense media interest in everything she does, always meant it was unlikely she would come. Then Amnesty emailed to say Andrew Greste brother of one of the al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt, was flying in from Cairo for the event and was keen to meet her. Amal is representing some of the other journalists. So all of a sudden the "will-she, won't-she" was back on again. She couldn't make it in the end, (and our conversation amongst our guests was sparkling enough anyway) but how nice to be with people who are interested in her because of the amazing human rights work she does, rather than for her celebrity persona.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sean Jones QC

Sean Jones QC is all about the fun, he tells me.  This may seem surprising coming from one of London’s most feared court advocates (he takes no prisoners when it comes to cross-examination, in his eyes the essence of the exercise is "to expose foolishness and dishonesty”).  But having seen him take to the comedy stage at the #LawSmash charity stand-up night and reduce his audience to helpless puddles of laughter with the driest of delivery, I know it to be true.  At one point a Kysen colleague had to remove his glasses to wipe away the tears blurring down his face.  I think it was hearing Sean describe a core skill of the accomplished advocate being “to convert, incredibly efficiently, money  into  self-importance” that tipped him over the edge.

Sean wasn’t the only star turn of the night, (the standard was incredibly high, easily as good as the usual Comedy Store fare).  But he was a favourite of all the people I spoke to.  I was curious to know whether his advocacy training had been good preparation for stand-up.  And equally, whether he has learned anything from the comedy stage that he might bring to his work in court.

“There is an irreducible overlap of course, both involving standing in front of an audience, talking out loud, being confident and using the spoken word to encourage people to see the world your way.  But there is a major difference: comedy works by surprising people.  It’s all about the unexpected twist.  You begin a trail of characteristics for example, to set up an expectation with your audience as to where you are going, which your punchline then shatters.” Here’s an example from the comedy textbooks: the line “As a lawyer I meet some really bitter, angry, sick people” sets an audience up to assume you are talking about clients, then you deliver the punchline: “And that’s just the other lawyers!”  Boom boom.  “But advocacy is the opposite”, says Sean.  “The job is to persuade a judge that your line of argument is the only logical one to follow.  You set out a well-defined, brightly lit path for the court to follow, to lead them to the one conclusion you want them to reach.  And you need to make anything odd or exceptional that your client has done seem completely ordinary.  So by definition, in your advocacy there should be no unexpected  twists, turns or branches off the path.”

And what has Sean learned from the comedy stage that he might take forward?  “That it is great fun and I’d like to do more.”  Well that’s very good news for the rest of us!

You don’t have to wait for the next LawSmash event to enjoy Sean’s humour.  His Twitter followers were recently treated to this comedy store of tips for George Clooney as he prepared for his marriage to top Doughty Street barrister Amal Alamuddin under the hashtag #MarriedtotheBar.  Take a look here to see why it went viral… and follow Sean @seanjones11KBW 


I did some uncomfortable learning this week about the rise of DIY Justice.  Working on a topic about the rise of private criminal prosecutions, I was brought up to speed on the shocking reality that more and more businesses and individuals are bringing private criminal prosecutions where they feel the authorities just don't have the resources to seek justice on their behalf.  

The oft-quoted corporate example is Virgin Media's 2011 suit against fraudsters selling top-boxes giving unlawful free access to channels, since which there's been something of an explosion in private criminal cases. A sound option for businesses needing quick solutions to prevent market disadvantage.  But for individuals?  Are we really to commoditise people's access to justice this way? The latest private case in the headlines concerns a student who was being harassed, who resorted to hiding cameras inside his sunglasses to capture the evidence he needed because the police were too stretched to help him.  As justice champion Glyn Maddocks put it to me when we discussed the phenomenon this week, "forget the threat of Tesco Law: the real worry for our legal system is this rise in B&Q Law".


Looking forward to spending Sunday evening with Brad Pitt.  Yes, you heard that right:  Brad Pitt!!  He is in town to promote his latest WW2 blockbuster Fury and is expected to attend the red carpet premiere IN PERSON as part of the  BFI London Film Festival.  And we have tickets!  Here's a big, formal Thank You to client and friend Julie Gingell for ever suggesting we join the BFI.  Feeling very pleased with the value we get from our membership just now :)

I'll tweet some photos if I possibly can.  And just for you, I'm even prepared to Iet Pitt the Handsome photobomb some of the pictures...  I'll also let you know what I think of director David Ayer's curious observation that "there's something maternal about the tank in Fury" once I've seen the film and consulted my husband's copy of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams...

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Paul Martenstyn

Fountain Court's Paul Martenstyn is not one for standing still. In fact he believes the key to success for any business in an increasingly competitive  market is to get comfortable with constant change and enjoy the opportunities for creative thinking and innovation it brings.  

I met Paul for the first time on stage at the Halsbury Legal Awards, as I handed him and his team the Award for Business Development.  A barrister’s clerk of some 17 years standing (and now Fountain Court's Deputy Senior Clerk) I'd heard some impressive stories about his forward-thinking attitude to legal marketing and how he successfully blends traditional clerking with modern day marketing.  I was keen to know more, so I asked for a conversation in a less formal setting (ie off stage!)

"Something I think we've really got right in our marketing at Fountain Court is that we see business development very much as a team activity, with barristers, clerks and other staff all working together.  It's not seen as just a job for one or two people who have "business development" in their job titles somewhere.  And we work together towards a Common Goal, (still an anathema in some sets), which is described  in our three-year strategic marketing plan" [which Paul himself was asked by his Head of Chambers to create at the end of 2013 which coincided with the start of his reign].  

As well as being a team player, Paul has done a lot to develop his own personal knowledge of marketing. Encouraged in 2006 by his then Chief Executive Ann Buxton, when they were both at Hardwicke Chambers  (given his penchant for doing things differently, I was not surprised to learn he had chalked up six years as first junior clerk at this most innovative of sets early on in his career) Paul embarked on a Chartered Institute of Marketing course focused on professional services marketing. In 2007 he was the first barrister’s clerk to be awarded the CIM qualification.  Now that's dedication!  Evenings and weekends taken up with study, balancing that with the day job (and not exactly a 9 to 5 job at that) and a new baby at home.  Phew!  But he says it has most definitely been worth it.  "It was fascinating learning about SWOT analyses, SMART objectives, looking at the business of chambers, seeing what it wants to become and then working out how to get there. He then brought those skills to Fountain Court when he joined the magic circle set in December 2008, and was Alex Taylor’s first senior clerking recruit.  Fountain Court conducted a client Perceptions survey in 2010, which formed the basis of a new direction, clients and contacts giving us a new perspective on ourselves and what our future could be.  A direct result of this is the development of our international strategy for example, and the clarity we brought to the planning: first the secondment of two junior barristers into a magic circle law firm’s Singapore office, then the hire of Kanaga Dharmananda SC from King & Wood Mallesons in May this year, and more recently" [just two weeks ago to be precise, on 24 September] "the launch of chambers' Singapore office, ahead of the opening of the International Commercial Court in Singapore in 2015.  

"The marketing training has completely changed my perspective across everything I do in my role.  The smaller things as well as the seismic. For example, we are much more strategic now in our CRM programme we choose to do with solicitors and the seminars we lay on, etc.  We know how to identify and target firms we want to do business with, ie those that are penetrating the market in an interesting way themselves, and who can take our practice in the direction we want to go in, ie that aligns with our strategic plan.  

"A particular  benefit of my studies, I would say, has been in helping me understand so much better what our clients need and want", he says.  Really?  This last point  surprises me.  I would have thought that nothing could improve on the classic clerk's role of lots of face-to-face contact and listening in to clients to understand what's important to them.  I've blogged before about how much clerks have to offer a business because they are right at the coal face, hearing first hand from clients and developing an instinctive sense over time about why clients choose to buy a particular legal service, or don't.  So what could you possibly learn from a marketing course that could add to this?  His answer is interesting:  "Certainly there's no substitute for the face-to-face, but for me personally, what the study of marketing has added to the conversations I have with people is a much clearer understanding of the business context surrounding our chats, so their business development imperatives, and their strategies, and how our work fits in to this."

So having got this far, and especially after winning the Halsbury Business Development Award (and a top prize at the Chambers and Partners UK Bar Awards, as Banking Set of the Year, just one week later), does Paul feel he can at least tread water for a bit?

"I’m actually close to completing a two-year leadership & management course"' he tells me.  I told you this man never stands still!  "It's specifically designed for barristers clerks, created in conjunction with the Institute of Barristers Clerks (IBC) and the very visionary Fiona Stuart- Wilson (Director of UMD) and run by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).  It takes two years to complete and you are awarded a Level 5 Diploma with the option of a year’s further study at Edinburgh to achieve a BA Management degree.  I have two assignments left to do, one on performance management, looking at how to follow through from the Bar Standards Board's formal guidance on the subject; and one on Innovation.  This latter one is a form of marketing, as it encourages us to analyse the market chambers is in, how it fits into it and where the opportunities are for it to grow.  I'll be developing a strategic plan to give back to Chambers once the course is complete."

I suggest to Paul that this leadership and management perspective  must be a useful follow-on to the CIM course, adding the new dimension of how to bring everyone in the business along with you, once you've worked out the best strategic opportunity and direction for the business.  "Encouraging followership" is a particularly challenging aspect of leadership in a legal business, for all sorts of reasons readers of this blog will be very familiar with.  He agrees.  "That's why this course is so valuable... and why being bespoke for barristers clerks makes all the difference.  More and more clerks are signing up for it and I really think this course will transform the Bar's ability to adapt to change. This course has been designed specifically for current or aspiring senior clerks and so far there are over 25 fellow clerks on the course with me" 

I ask Paul if he thinks all clerks starting out today, or coming through the ranks, should think about this level of marketing & management training? "Absolutely I do.  Not just for their own benefit (although I do think more and more chambers will expect to see some sort of marketing qualification in clerks moving forward) but for the good of the sets they work with ... and for the Bar as a whole. Equally as important is I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some naturally gifted and hugely successful senior clerks in my career, and none better than the current number one in my opinion, Alex Taylor. Working as his number two, and so closely alongside him over the past six years has been invaluable, and as a mentor I could not ask for anyone better. That level of experience coupled with the training is I believe a winning formula".

Things are looking up for the Bar.
One of the latest threats to free speech in the UK is focussing its attention on ...of all places... the art world.  Did you see the story at the end of last month about the Barbican cancelling a world renowned production after it was stormed by protestors claiming the installation was offensive?  And did you hear the impassioned comments this weekend of Arts Council Chair Peter Bazalgette and playwright Richard Bean as they spoke out publicly against this attack on artistic freedom?

The issue is far from straightforward however.  Exhibit B used live black African actors bound, gagged or shackled, "to force the audience to engage with stories of exploitation". To add to the tension, the artist Brett Bailey is white South African.  Personally I wouldn't choose to go to an exhibition where I would have to walk around a room and face live black African models in shackles. The feeling would be just too strange.  But should they be banned?  Can it ever be right to stand in the way of freedom of artistic expression on these sorts of controversial subjects?  I'm not so sure...

And there's artistic censorship of another kind at this year's Turner Prize, which has just opened at Tate Britain.  One exhibit (James Richard's film collage Rosebud) has been given an X-rating for its graphic depiction of body parts and officials have apparently resorted to sandpapering out bits unsuitable for general public consumption.

Others shortlisted artists feature craft & design (Ciara Phillips), spoken word (Tris Vonna-Michell) and more film (Duncan Campbell).  There is not a traditional painter or sculptor in sight.  And all finalists this year are less well known than in some other years, the judges wanting to "look to the future".  Well, I'm all for that.

Turner Prize winners will be announced in December.  But I'm going to get to the exhibition as soon as I can!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Charles Proctor

Charles Proctor thinks we're all missing something obvious in the currency row in the Scots independence debate: "Who owns Sterling anyway?" he asks. The Fladgate partner and currency law expert tells me the answer is not as straightforward as it looks. With just hours to go before the independence vote, the posturing continues on both sides of the border: the Scots have been "asserting their legal right" to continue to use Sterling, ("it's our pound and we're keeping it!"). But all three major Westminster parties have been promising to block a formal currency union. So whose currency is it?

Both the FT's Alphaville section and The Times' Law pages have been grateful for Charles' wisdom on this point: "Cash is just an asset for the person who holds it, not for the central bank that issues it. The Sterling monetary system is simply a medium of exchange - inextricably linked with the Bank of England which manages and oversees the currency. If we get a Yes vote on Thursday, the Central Bank and other national institutions of course remain exclusively with the remainder of the United Kingdom. At the same time, Scotland has no intrinsic right to a "share" of the pound, despite the rhetoric coming from Holyrood." So I'm not sure I'm any clearer (but perhaps that's the point): who owns Sterling?? Charles tells me no-one does, but I’m not so sure! I've had this experience in conversation with banking lawyers before; looking too deeply at the legal concepts around money lends an odd perspective, taking hard-nosed practical lawyers into a philosophical, abstract and alien world.  Although this new perspective about money soon reaches vanishing point when I'm back on the high street buying shoes... Charles tells me this is the whole point – money is my purchasing asset because it is the Bank of England’s liability --- ah, so that’s it!

"In the event of a Yes vote", Charles continues, "international law requires the two sides to negotiate an equitable division of assets and liabilities". So like a divorce then? O dear, we all know how that goes...  

Charles not only has a busy practice advising the City's leading banks as part of the Fladgate Banking & Finance Team, but he is also a prolific author (for Butterworths, Sweet & Maxwell, Oxford University Press, etc), his titles including The Legal Aspect of Money, The Law and Practice of International Banking, Payment Obligations in Commercial & Financial Transactions, The Euro and the Financial Markets - The Legal Impact of EMU and International Payment Obligations - A Legal Perspective - so he clearly knows a thing or two about this subject. He has a new book coming out later this year which I can't say anything about just yet, but I'm hoping to get an invite to the book launch so watch this space... He also points out that any decision on the Scots currency after a Yes vote will have knock-on effects for the newly independent country's EU membership. "Sterlingisation would in fact be inconsistent with Scotland's application for EU membership because accession arrangements now commit incoming members to join the Euro at some point."

We will all be watching how Thursdays vote go with close interest. But it's what happens afterwards that could be even more interesting. 


Walking back from Sky News' Westminster studio I stumbled across the Fields of Battle : Lands of Peace 1418 outdoor exhibition in St James's Park.  Billed as an engaging street exhibition it really does stop you in your tracks. It certainly did me, as I took a little detour and 15 minutes time out on my way back to the office.  Very moving.  It features the work of award-winning photo journalist Mike St Maur Shiel and juxtaposes World War I landscapes then and now to mark the centenary of The Great War.  It moves shortly to the Royal Albert Hall to provide a visual accompaniment to a musical performance of Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man at the end of this month (Sunday 28 September).  If you haven't caught the exhibition yet, you might be able to catch up with it then.


Those of you who know me well will be familiar with my passion for stories - also at the moment for all things Cornwall-related.  So you will understand my delight in meeting a new Covent Garden neighbour who has just set up shop selling an exotic version of the classic Cornish pasty, with a fabulous fable served on the side.  The Jamaica Patty Co makes Cornish pasties with a tastebud-tantalising West Indian twist.  And the tale to match is about the recipe for the Cornish classic morphing as it migrated to the Caribbean when Jamaican sailors took them home from English ports and their women then substituted indigenous Caribbean ingredients over time.  Of course I had to try one.  Yum! Now we just need @Lawyer_Eats to review them formally for us.  Over to you Nicky...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Su Anderson

Not everything is as it seems...

Ever wondered the extent to which our history has been photoshopped? How big the element of Spin?  Photo journalist Su Anderson has been opening my eyes to the impacts and ethics of photo manipulation, its potential to distort the truth and the rules that photo journalists live by.

I met Su on Twitter, intrigued by an article she had posted on the ethics of image manipulation in the press and how history as depicted to us (both in words and pictures) is not always the immutable truth we believe it to be. “Growing up in the US I was taught that Word War II began in 1942.  It was only when I moved to the UK in 2009 that I realised this was just a national point of view!”  I made contact with her IRL to find out more. In conversation I discovered this is a subject very close to her heart, ever since studying it at Syracuse University as part of her degree in photojournalism and cultural anthropology.  When she moved to the UK her first job was as a Forensic and PR Photographer for the Scottish Police Services Authority, where she ran the picture desk for the entire police force, providing a forensic photography service as well as press photos for the force.  She, more than most, knows the co-ordinates of that line between truth and presentation of facts.

“Photo manipulation is clearly dangerous because of its potential to mislead.  For example to put a political leader in a better light, or to remove someone from a group shot when allegiances change.  Who could forget the cringe-worthy episode of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, found out in 2010 for doctoring a photo to present himself at the front of the red carpet procession of world leaders at the Middle East Peace Talks.  In truth he was out of favour and had been relegated to the back.  The photoshopping was so poor though, his ruse was quickly rumbled.  And of course, being exposed by a blogger (Egyptian Wael Khalil) meant the reaction in cyberspace was vivid.  Spoof versions of the photo manipulation went viral: Mubarak winning the World Cup; breaking the 100 meters World Record; and landing on the moon; to mention just a few.”

But the doctoring of images isn’t just a problem of the digital age.  It has a long case history as Su’s article demonstrates.  “History is rife with photo manipulation long before Photoshop existed,” she warns me. “In fact one of the most famous full-body images of Abraham Lincoln [from the Library of Congress, picture above] is not at all what it seems: Lincoln’s head, taken from a seated portrait, was placed onto the body of 7th US Vice President John C Calhoun. And this was years before Oprah’s head was placed on Ann-Margaret’s body!

For more choice examples of historical photo manipulation you can read Su’s full article here. For my part, I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a history book the same way again…


Ironic attending BFI screening of retro equal pay flick Made in Dagenham, just as new statistics reveal gender pay gap widening. 

The film was being shown at the South Bank to mark the imminent opening of the stage musical (9 October, at London's Adelphi Theatre) starring some time Bond girl Gemma Arterton, who was there in person to introduce the film.  

You tend to think of unequal pay as a thing of the past.  Well I do, at least.  Call me na├»ve but I thought the 1970 Act had dealt with the issue - certainly by now. And the very retro feel of the 1960s-set film / stage production only encourages that view. But a recent Fawcett Society study reveals that changing employment patterns today resulting from the recession are "fuelling a widening inequality gap".  

Now that's definitely something to be making a song and dance about.

Honoured to be invited to Hardwicke Chambers' first ping pong event of the new season.  The set is planning a series over Autumn and Winter, culminating in a grand final at Holborn's famous Bounce next year.  Love the pic of the evening posted by fellow guest Legal Cheek (see right).
Served up with pizza and beer, this is a very contemporary take on corporate entertainment. You can count on Hardwicke to do things differently.  What a breath of fresh air!

A fun metaphor for the daily ping pong of advocacy in the courts?