CategoriesLegalQuakerismThought of The Day

In Sickness and Health, in New Earswick             

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of one of my best friends. The ceremony was in York, with the wedding reception at the New Earswick Folk Hall, to the north of York.

With my dysautonomia running wild, my recollection of the ceremony is hazy. I do recall that whilst holding hands with my wife (as we tend to do during a wedding – and only during a wedding!), I think that the vicar read the usual “in sickness and in health” line. For the umpteenth time, I felt immeasurable gratitude to my awesome wife for the way that she has looked after me during my “in sickness”, this year, whilst keeping the family running and holding down a demanding job.

Saying my marriage vows, all those years ago, I don’t recall paying much attention to the precise words: thankfully, though, my wife has honoured them. It hasn’t been easy for her, but, somehow, in sickness we have become stronger.

All of this reminded me of the law concerning the value of personal injury claims. How so, you will ask?

Because when valuing a serious injury claim, in which the injured person’s life expectancy and marriage prospects are impacted, occasionally a lawyer must consider whether the value of the claim has changed as a result of the injury. To quantify any losses, lawyers look to statistical information provided by actuaries. European statistics reveal that married men live on average 1.7 years longer than unmarried men, whereas married women live 1.4 years fewer! Yesterday’s marriage appears to be a good statistical bargain for my groom friend.

…………………………………………………………

I lived and studied in York – 2002-2004. My wife and I met in York, and we were engaged there, too, next to the River Ouse.

Although Quakerism is synonymous with York, during my time in this wonderful city, I didn’t encounter Quakerism. Only in 2007, whilst reading the book – Utopian Dreams by Tobias Jones – which explored international communes, did I learn about Quakerism, thanks to the author’s time in New Earswick with Quakers.

Although saddened to miss the wedding reception (noise is too much), I very much enjoyed sitting in the car, in a car park, for four hours, in my finest suit, watching the comings and goings around the Quaker Meeting House and Folk Hall.  What a fine place New Earswick is! Friendly, no-nonsense, communal, child-friendly and purposefully planned.

Created by the Rowntrees as a model village primarily for the workers at their chocolate factory, New Earswick is akin to Bourneville and Saltaire. Foolishly, this was my first time in New Earswick, but it won’t be my last. My wife and I would like to retire here, in sickness and in health.

CategoriesLegalPoliticsHarrogate

Live on BBC Radio: Resigned to No Resignation

Here in North Yorkshire our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is Phillip Allott, a Conservative. Until the last few days, almost nobody in this area knew his name. That’s not a criticism of him, for the same is true for all Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners.

All that changed on Friday 1 October 2021. During a live interview on BBC Radio York, to discuss the heinous murder of York woman Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, Mr Allott said:

“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.

“Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”

Twitter went into meltdown. Keir Starmer, Piers Morgan together with thousands of others demanded his removal from office. Even Reckless Boris criticised him, describing the comments as “wrongheaded”. Mr Allott apologised.

Given that Reckless Boris has given senior Tories carte blanche to do as they please, free from the expectation of being fired or being compelled to resign, I knew that Mr Allott’s resignation was the very last thing Mr Allott would do. This culture is wrong.

Fondly, I remember the time when politicians of all stripes would tender their resignations when they messed up. Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned when Argentina invaded the Falklands and – more memorably, as resignations go, Estelle Morris, Education Secretary under Tony Blair, resigned because, in her own words, that she wasn’t up to it. Her resignation letter reads:

“I’m good at dealing with the issues and in communicating to the teaching profession. I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media. All this has meant that with some of the recent situations I have been involved in, I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be, or as effective as you need me to be.”

Oh, to have that candour and introspection today! Those were the days.

As luck would have it, the PCFC’s team were due to be in Harrogate on the morning after his comments, in order to garner feedback during their planned roadshow – something which should be lauded. Knowing this, I messaged some people whom I thought would be interested in running a petition outside of their roadshow. With only a few hours to arrange it, with social media more use than harm, a “motley” group assembled in the cold and rain, with our sign and our petition.

Petition Phillip Allott

We secured 165 signatures, in less than an hour, despite the inclement weather. People of all ages attended. I’ve never seen members of the public more keen to sign a petition. Perhaps if we had set up the stall on the Sunday instead, when the story was better known, there would have been more signatures, as many of the people who walked by didn’t know about the story.

Pleasingly, random lawyers – many of whom I didn’t know – attended. Speaking to them, all of us would have accepted arrest – as Sarah did – knowledge of the law or not. (Lawyers who know me are bored of my complaint that lawyers exist as a profession: we exist because citizens do not have access to all the laws which govern them, so in that, I have some sympathy with Mr Allott).

My interview in the Yorkshire Post is here.

As I explained to the Yorkshire Post and as you may have seen in this essay, I was subjected to an assault/wrongful arrest on my first day as a lawyer in Manchester. A completely different set of circumstances to the heinous murder of Sarah of course, however, I did feel that this experience of being arrested/assaulted by an off-duty police officer (who was trying to do the right thing), gave me some insight to speak up.

Today, 4 October 2021, I was interviewed live on BBC Radio York about this situation. I followed on from an interview of a long-standing disability champion, as well as the leader of the Fire Brigade’s Union, in calling for the resignation. Being interviewed live wasn’t good for my heart!

During my career, I have represented police officers and have I also brought civil claims when there has been wrongdoing. In my experience, 99.9% of police officers are the very best of us, doing a job that, frankly, I’m not brave enough to do. As George Orwell noted, we sleep peacefully in our beds because we have an army and a police force. I would take our police force over any other that I have seen.

I don’t know Mr Allott. Until those comments, he might have been doing an excellent job. As 99% of politicians go into it for the right reason – to make their community better – and assuming good motives for Mr Allott, I should place on record my gratitude to him for his service. My preference is that politicians in specialist elected roles – such as in Defence, Health, Justice and Policing – have some knowledge of their spheres of influence before taking up such a role. Otherwise by the time the politician has spent a number of years in the role – just to understand the basics – they are then turfed out of office. What a waste!

Mr Allott’s comments came from another era. For a PR man before being elected, his comms couldn’t have been worse. Not only has he lost the support of the public and the victims’ groups, but he’s also managed to make the work of the police far more difficult. A triple whammy. The frequent accusation on this online petition (7,000 signatures at the time of writing) was that he was blaming the victim, Sarah.

Sadly, from the position as a male, the overwhelming majority of those who signed our petition and this one online, are women. Men should be just as appalled, equally keen to sign the petition. Although men are far more likely to be killed by a stranger, the murder of Sarah has shone a spotlight on the fact that a very high proportion of women feel unsafe alone on the streets, including the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. This is a sick culture.

Sadly, when the Tories introduced these commissioners, they didn’t include a power of recall for precisely this type of situation. So, unless Mr Allott does the right thing, then we are stuck with him for four years, probably eight. If Mr Allott remains in post, then although I believe his credibility is shot, perhaps on his cathartic quest to upgrade his thinking, we shall all benefit. I wish him well, whether he stays or goes.

Professionally and personally, I do wonder what will happen to me.

CategoriesLegalEnvironmentHarrogateThought of The Day

Lord: where’s the flies?

As a teenager, during the summer holidays I would wash cars with my mates, for cash. Never have I felt so flush, handling all those one-pound coins. Great times. Although knocking on the doors of strangers was nerve-jangling, without question the worst part of this job was cleaning dead flies from the front of the cars. Awful. My sponge would change colour, from yellow to black, so many flies had met their end at speed.

(That reminds me, my favourite joke as a child would go: “What’s the last thing to go through a fly’s mind as it strikes the bumper of a car at 70mph?…..It’s butt!)

When not washing cars, I was more likely to be found playing football, often until quite late into the evening. During balmy summer’s evenings, the midges – those buggers! – were so numerous that they would follow a player around, buzzing into the ear, ruining the match, attracted to the sweat. Players could be seen swatting the air with rage, their enemies invisible to everyone else. If the swarms went for me, then I would surreptitiously amble over to another player, in the hope that the swarm would latch onto them instead. Those were the days.

Cycling home, you’d better close your mouth, or else you’d swallow a few. Yuck!

I miss those days.

Take a look at any car bumper today: no dead flies. Go for a walk in the evening, even near the trees: again, no swarms of midges, just the odd one or two flies, conspicuous by their scarcity. Walking across The Stray in Harrogate – genuinely – I am more likely to see a bird of prey, usually a Red Kyte, than I am a swarm of midges.

Whilst of course inextricably bound-up with climate change, the decimation of biodiversity in my lifetime (I’m 41) should lead the news, on the hour, every hour. Like a boiled frog, as a species we don’t seem to notice the extinction event before us.

As Professor Dave Goulson writes in The Guardian:

“Few people seem to realise how devastating this is, not only for human wellbeing – we need insects to pollinate our crops, recycle dung, leaves and corpses, keep the soil healthy, control pests, and much more – but for larger animals, such as birds, fish and frogs, which rely on insects for food. Wildflowers rely on them for pollination. As insects become more scarce, our world will slowly grind to a halt, for it cannot function without them.”

As to the percentage of decline, he writes:

“In 2015 I was contacted by the Krefeld Society, a group of entomologists who, since the late 1980s, had been trapping flying insects on nature reserves scattered across Germany. They had amassed insects from nearly 17,000 days of trapping across 63 sites and 27 years, a total of 53kg of insects. They sent me their data to ask for my help in preparing it for publication in a scientific journal. In the 27 years from 1989 to 2016 the overall biomass (ie weight) of insects caught in their traps fell by 75%. In midsummer, when in Europe we see the peak of insect activity, the decline was even more marked, at 82%.”

This mirrors my own estimate of the decline during my lifetime. What is your estimate?

Goulson argues that we should urgently do the following:

  • Create a society which values nature, by educating the next generation.
  • Greenifying our urban areas.
  • Transforming food production, by reducing pesticides.
  • Properly funding groups, such as Natural England.
  • Improving legal protection for rare insects and habitats.

I’m no scientist, but I fear that we moved well beyond the tipping point some years ago. Whilst the political class catches up, on an individual basis, we all urgently need to do much more. I need to do much more.

CategoriesLegalPoliticsEssaysThought of The Day

The Middle Class Advantage?

(I would prefer never to speak of any particular “class”, but as the term retains utility, I shall use it.)

On Friday evening, I had an emergency telephone consultation with a GP. Her advice was unequivocal: go to A & E. Not what I wanted to hear – of course – but I appreciated the clarity.

What I think I needed was for my blood pressure to be checked. Attending A & E alone was a non-starter, as I couldn’t stand up. We therefore asked our wonderful neighbours for an emergency babysitter. In that chat group was a GP.

Now I can assure my readers that I did not want our friend to check in on me, but check on me she did. (As I thought, my blood pressure was too low on standing, flooring me. A & E was spared my needless presence). For our friend, I feel immense gratitude, and I hope that she never needs to check on my again. But such fortuitousness (or not) gave me pause for reflection at the reason for my “luck”.

During my teens, my middle class, wonderful parents secured me two weeks of legal work experience. Unpaid, of course, as such work experience always is. These two weeks not only set me on my career trajectory, but then made it easier for me to find my first job in law. During my gruelling interviews to become a trainee solicitor, I remember citing my work experience as evidence that I understood the profession.

Today, routinely I help my friends and family with their legal problems. No question. Like me, most of my friends and family are “middle class”. Candidly, in the past, I was more likely to sanction a work experience placement if I knew the family.

But let me confess: over the years, I have joined in the pillorying of Old Etonians – particularly the Bullingdon Club boys – for using their upper class connections to further their interests. Even recently, Reckless Boris appointed yet another “Buller” to – believe it or not – take a seat on the Whitehall sleaze watchdog. And let’s not forget Matt Hancock, who appointed his “friend” from Oxford as a non-executive at his department. They soon got to know each other better.

Writing in The Times, Matthew Syed notes:

“The American data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz estimates that the son of a president is 1.4 million times more likely to become president than an average American. He also shows that the sons of governors have a 6,000 times greater chance of reaching high office, and the sons of senators have an 8,500 times greater chance.”

Such statistics will be similar in the UK. Locally, my former colleague, Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East, is the nephew of former local MP, Colin Burgon. More famously, in the next constituency – in Leeds Central – we find Hilary Benn MP, son of Tony Benn. Tony Blair’s father stood for the Conservatives, although usually most Labour MPs are drawn from unions – another club of sorts.

Witnessing the building work carried out on our house, it is clear that tradespeople, on the whole, have their own code of honour, able to call on each other whenever they need to. I envy it. Just as when I give free legal advice to friends or family, or when Reckless Boris appoints another mate, tradespeople often go to who they know; whom they trust; who is any good.

In the same Times piece, Syed also notes that the world’s greatest sport – football – is immune from nepotism. Billions play it, because all you need is a football and two jumpers for goalposts. Very few barriers to entry. In football, family ties mean almost nothing: you need ability to succeed. Connections won’t get you far. Unquestionably, the quality of football improves each season. No Premier League Winner in the 1990s would make a Premier League-winning team in the 2020s.

Whilst I am sure that we would all like to live in a more meritocratic world – a world which is mercifully becoming more meritocratic – it would pay us all dividends to consider how we use our own networks to get on, and to help “our own” to get on. The Etonians of this world are just doing what the rest of us do. The only difference being is that they usually control the levers of power. Our GP friend checked up on me – to my advantage – because we live in the same leafy suburbs. I live in a leafy suburb, thanks in large part to the advantages bestowed upon me from childhood. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with such opportunities being passed down the generations– that I should have rejected our friend’s generosity, due to an acknowledgement of historic injustices – but it is right that I realise that most people cannot call upon a friendly GP on a Friday evening.

Turning to our “clan” is what we have always done as a species. In football, we can see a brighter future, where all our talents are deployed to the benefit of the collective; a nirvana to aspire to. In the meantime, next time I contemplate decrying Reckless Boris, I shall first consider my own hypocrisies.

CategoriesLegal

Never been prouder…

One of the reasons that I set up what I hope is an ethical law firm is to make a difference. Running such a law firm I can tell you that there are so many ups and downs. We don’t always succeed. 

 

Today is a definitely a good day. See:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/19/home-office-grants-man-leave-to-remain-after-28-year-battle?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

And the earlier story:  

 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/14/home-office-lost-passport-osman-bash-taqi-battling-to-remain-in-country?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

CategoriesLegal

Update to self: I am a key worker!

In an earlier blog post entitled Are You Important I declared that the Government did not deem me to be a Key Worker, as that was my reading of the guidance. The guidance was then – like most edicts from the Government during the pandemic – updated. The frequency of these updated schemes stinks of unpreparedness. The new guidance states that lawyer Key Workers include:

  • advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors
  • other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings
  • solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills
  • solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty

I’m proud. My Harrogate law firm’s work, acting for circa 800 people and some businesses, fall into these categories. Of course, we aren’t paramedics, doctors, supermarket workers, teachers or such other key people, but I am pleased that what we do has been recognised by Government as central to the functioning of the country. The Rule of Law must survive during the pandemic.

Where we lawyers have common ground with the NHS workers and teachers etc is that these last ten years access to justice has been under attack by the Government. Believe it or not, but The Ministry of Justice’s budget accounts for only around 1% of Government spending, yet this Government and its media buddies would let you believe that Fat Cat Legal Aid lawyers have bled the country dry. Under this Government, the spend on the MOJ has fallen by a whopping 40%. To quote from a Labour MP in a debate on 3 October 2019:

“The Ministry of Justice budget fell from £10.6 billion in 2010 to £7.9 billion in 2020. Let no one be mistaken: those reductions have had a consequence on the services delivered by the Ministry of Justice, on the performance of staff under pressure and on the safety of staff in prisons across the estate for which the MOJ is responsible. They have also had a consequence on the MOJ’s ability to improve reoffending rates and reduce crime and to provide a service to consumers and constituents of mine and every Member of the House regarding work on legal aid, access to justice, fighting for employment rights through the tribunal system and a range of other matters.”

In the same debate, a Tory barrister, Alex Chalk MP, stated:

“I want to take this opportunity, if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to all those lawyers up and down the country who give of their time to speak truth to power, to redress grievances and to do so entirely free of charge. They really do heroic work. It is ​unfashionable in this place to pay tribute to lawyers, but those who work pro bono are some of the best in our society.”

Amen to that: we do more pro bono than any firm I know.