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My last word in the matter. This IS a black mark on the legal profession
I asked a firm of solicitors to draft a pre-action protocol letter that an assistant Local Government Ombudsman said I should secure from a solicitor if I wished to call into question her decision.
She did not send me a template for that letter as the solicitors did when, at some length, they declined to do so and used their professional eminence to discredit it; they said that an action for judicial review would be “bound to fail” and professionally neither they nor I as a non-practising barrister should do so.
I have been arguing, not just with them, but with many members of the legal profession and those speaking on their behalf that my case was at least arguable. But this goes beyond that.
I now regard myself as a former barrister, but I can just recall that when I was called to the Bar my attention was directed to the advice given to all newly qualified barristers by Sir Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett, Kt, PC, QC on their professional responsibility.
It is on public record in a speech he delivered to the Lawyers Club of Toronto on September 10th, 1947.
Erskine laid down the first rule with regard to the English advocate. “When the day comes” said Erskine in the course of, that magnificent defence, ‘when the day comes that the advocate in England is permitted to choose whom he will and whom he will not defend and becomes not the advocate but the judge in the cause, at that moment the liberties of the citizens of England are at an end.”
And that quality, the result of the unwritten law, that the advocate trained in the law to defend the citizen shall be available to the citizen, is one reason why the lawyer in England is unpopular. Why, it is said, does the lawyer affect views in which he does not believe? He puts forward to the court submissions which he may or may not think sound, but that is the role of the advocate. What the public will never understand is that the man who stands there to plead is not pleading his own view. He may be putting forward a view of which he profoundly disapproves, but he is putting forward for the client, the view of the client.
I cannot believe that this does not also apply to solicitors in a case such as this.
The citizen has responsibilities as well as rights. Some Human Rights lawyers stress rights but ignore responsibilities, especially their own.
And it cannot be a good thing that no-one in the profession, when given an opportunity to do so, asserts this along with the importance of doing all in their power to assert the right to protest and complain.
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THE WORLD OF LABOUR’S LAWYERS AND THE REAL WORLD -A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
Why do some lawyers think that I am wrong, and why do I think that they are?
And they do think it.
One lawyer writes “I have already disagreed with your utterly flawed legal opinion … It seems you cannot abide anyone disagreeing with you, which is so self-defeating and also narcissistic as well as sad. Do not email me again.
Another lawyer of some eminence writes “Some might regard you as arrogant and stupid. I am merely puzzled and sad. “
A third lawyers, once a friend, who shared the same pupil master writes. “I must make abundantly clear that I will not be responding or in any way getting involved with these or similar matters, so will you please not send me any more such communications.”
There is an explanation. We see the world through different eyes and after different experiences.
Those who live in Hampstead and Highgate see a world that disappears at Watford.
They see some rights with a true missionary zeal, but other rights of people who live different lives elsewhere they do not see at all, they are far too passionate and justice is the loser. This journey may help to explain why the Labour Party has alienated the “Red Wall”.
Human Rights lawyers are the Praetorian Guard of the Labour Party.
Although there are cycling enthusiasts everywhere the great divide between the metropolitan elite and the vast majority of people can be no better illustrated than the story that I tell of cycle lanes and red lines proposed for non-existent cyclists on Gosforth High Street, Newcastle.
The lawyers’ view is like a Hockney collage. It is a series of individual snapshots taken on an old box brownie camera, individual court cases, individual statutes and regulations and individual human rights that they categorise as equal.
Their picture in one sense is actual but in another it is selective, and it is distorted.
They do not see the world as it is, with its infinite variety and its challenging imperfections. And they are naive. Clever yes, but unwise also.
Labour lawyers believe that when they pass a law and create a right, today’s dreams will automatically become tomorrow’s reality. Some human rights lawyers appear to believe that they do God’s work even when they do not believe in God. The human touch is much more important. Caring, if you believe in God, is his work.
In their own lives, the elite among them scarcely sees the real world at all. What they excel at is seeing arguments, and above all words. That is their world. Arguments and words.
There is a saying, you cannot see the wood for the trees. With these lawyers, they cannot see the facts for the words. This thought may take a bit of coming to terms with, especially by lawyers.
When I was chairman of a special school threatened with closure, I saw the world of education as I had never seen it before. It provoked me to write my play Death of a Nightingale, stage it, and follow it up with a book and a website. At the time I regarded it as an obscenity.
At Limmud Festival 2020 I gave a presentation entitled Death of a Nightingale – Is Equality a mischief word. When you have finished reading this, find out the provocation from a Labour-controlled council. Lockdown gives you the time Click https://youtu.be/b4yh1d3gWXQ Come all the way. You will end with the sweet taste of hope, not the sour taste of criticism, and you will discover why, out of the blue, I became an author, and why my plan for a stress-free quiet retirement went awry.
It has stayed that way. Today, another provocation. I see the malign influence of Sustrans, the cycling lobby, on the UK’s town & city roads, witnessing another set of ideologues hijacking a different part of the UK’s system of government.
Both pictures were sharply defined by my own experience of them.
You be the judge which you should rely on, the lawyers’ view or the outsider view. I suspect that there are many like me. I invite you to recognise where you are.
I can give you a precise situation. In 1976 the Labour Government passed an Education Act that gave children with special needs the right to mainstream education. You should read how this happened. https://www.deathofanightingale.com/index.php/note/note2. It was not a sound start. A small number of ideologues used a debate in the Lords to steal a march on Baroness Warnock and her report that came two years afterwards. Meanwhile, later parents of children with a Statement of educational needs secured the right to the school of their preference again by statute.
Clause 1 (3), 2001 SEN Act: ‘If a statement is maintained under section 324 for the child, he must be educated in a mainstream school unless that is incompatible with – (a) the wishes of his parent.
When the director of Education in Sunderland called a meeting of parents to give them the news that their children would be going to a mainstream school, there was a vote. Not one single hand went up in favour. They all wanted the school to stay as it was, as did the staff and the children themselves. Each one of those parents had a statement for their child. The children could not have been at the school without one.
You now have a situation where human rights conflict. I am sure this situation repeated itself elsewhere as over 100 special schools were closed in the UK. No one broke the law. Those that drafted the 1976 Education Act, passed it, started to implement it and I am sure that all felt that this was social progress.
But here we have the great paradox that human rights provide both the strength and the weakness of the Left in politics. They are its strength when they assert those rights that are equal, absolute, and imperative – suffrage, gender, colour. But they are its weakest when those rights are relative and indicative, and conflict with other rights that do not command their endorsement. Then I have seen their consciences fly out of the window.
And because the rights they endorse are human rights, in their world they do not consider the cost, the practicalities, or factor in human fallibility as I can demonstrate.
Extracts from Costs and Outcomes for Pupils with Moderate Learning Difficulties in Special and Mainstream Schools 1999
For many, inclusion is a fundamental human right – not simply one form of SEN provision amongst many, to be evaluated on the balance of advantage it confers on children. It is important to be clear, therefore, that an analysis of costs and outcomes cannot properly be used to determine questions of rights.
They did not anticipate that mainstream teachers could not cope, and they would have to employ tens of thousands of NTAs, Non-teaching Assistants at +/- £15k each, sometimes on a one-to-one basis, much more than the entire cost of the education in a special school. The video on the home page of my website www.deathofanightingale.com details that.
They did not anticipate that nine out of ten children with special needs would be bullied in mainstream. Maybe they saw it as a learning experience when it leads to mental health problems, self-harm, with self-esteem scarred. They did not anticipate cyber-bullying today’s curse. They never factor human fallibility into legislating human rights. This becomes even more apparent when we come to cycling and the health and safety factors the DfT and RoSPA close their eyes to.
When It comes to human rights, they work on the ratchet principle. Once you have established a human right you cannot diminish it or alter it in the light of experience. Consider the NHS and the right to care “free at the point of use.” The world of health care has changed out of all recognition since 1948, much the direct result of its abounding success. The evidence is that we are all living much longer.
But costs have risen exponentially and social care for the aged now presents itself as an unresolved political issue. Their attitude is a roadblock in the way of change; to recognise for instance that people should be encouraged to share some responsibility for their health with the NHS. Introduce the insurance principle that other countries have successfully adopted; calculate premiums to meet demand, payable during people’s lives, not just their working lives. And a hypothecated revenue stream that would free the Treasury from having to adjudicate rival claims for funding. I repeat, beware the ratchet, the dead hand of the past.
Lawyers live life in arrears, and they see human rights snapshot by snapshot. Voters see them differently.
In the UK and elsewhere, Labour’s lawyers take a pride in defending the equal human rights of the terrorist. They ignore other people’s right of self-defence. They assert the right of the vaccine refusenik, they ignore the right to life of the resident in a care home and carers who look after them or even the hairdresser’s client. And, as I shall show later on, they give cyclists the feeling that they have an equal right to be on the road with other road users when they have a right to be on some roads, and other road users have better rights. The word Equality here confuses. Fair play is the right word to use when human rights collide. As I keep repeating, we are equal only sometimes, unequal most times and different always. Our rights are equal only sometimes.
There is something else that they do not see. They do not see that by asserting them as equal rights when they are not, they build up hopes only for them to be dashed on the rocks of disappointment.
The result, Human Rights lawyers enjoy the fruits of Utopia while everyone else has just a partial glimpse of it.
I will give you one further important illustration. Until my involvement in special needs I never saw this myself. Equality of opportunity to go to University is what many people think education should be about. I myself thought this way.
However, when the parents of Barbara Priestman School voted to keep the school as it was, that was not in most cases the aspiration for their children. All they wanted was Opportunity.
They are not alone here. In the real world only half of the school population at most are destined for University. From my experience in retail, I know that children who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ambitious can make a great success of their lives without a university degree. They might benefit from a one-year University course, but they cannot afford more time than that. When it comes to their education what about their rights? Failing GCSE’s and worrying about failure is no gift. They are force-fed a National Curriculum preparing them for University when an alternative holistic Curriculum preparing them for their life would make much more sense. I include my suggestion for one here so that you understand what I am getting at.
And offer them the prospect of a 5 Star accreditation, not equal to a degree, but well worth having when they apply for a job.
I suspect that some pupils diagnosed with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, may simply be rebelling against a curriculum that bores them to tears. Certainly, my great hero, the late Sir Ken Robinson, that great educationalist thought that prescribing Ritalin for millions of children in the UK and USA was a mistake.
There is a saying. One size does not fit all. In education, it helps to be more precise. Sizes 4,5, and 6 feet can get into size 7,8, and 9 shoes but that does not mean that they can walk in them, never mind the half sizes! Never mind the different journeys. The question TimesEd should address is whether timetabling can accommodate this in an inclusive environment and whether schools are there for the children or children are there for the system.
There is one further reason why I see the world differently from lawyers. Stay with the camera and think of the word focus. The lawyers have a wide-angle lens and focus on equality and parity of esteem. I have a telephoto lens and focus on diversity, individual excellence, self-esteem. I am sure that Sir Ken Robinson would never have dreamt of writing what follows. It is totally alien to his lectures you can discover on YouTube.
Times Educational Supplement 23 June 2000 – Professor Alan Dyson
We need, for many children at least, to abandon the individualised approach that has become the shibboleth of special needs education. Children with difficulties do not come into schools in ones – they come in 10s, scores, even hundreds. Instead of a case-by-case approach, we need robust organisational and teaching strategies which schools can routinely use on whole groups of learners.
When some egalitarian lawyers are legislating, they think of levelling, I think of aspiration and I do not worry a jot about natural inequalities. They think lawyers should be respected because they are lawyers and because they have a degree. I respect lawyers only when they are any good.
I repeat, we see the world differently. And when it comes to teachers, I think that a good teacher uses a telephoto lens.
I wrote this in the notes to my book Death of a Nightingale:
William Armstrong, living in 19 Century was the first engineer, inventor, scientist, to be made a peer. He built the first house lit by hydroelectricity, Cragside in Northumberland, his firm manufactured the machinery that lifted Tower Bridge, the guns and ships of war that helped defend this country, and much else besides. He was Newcastle’s great benefactor in so many ways, not least in education and training. This is what his biographer Henrietta Heald writes in his biography entitled “William Armstrong, Magician of the North”:
He opposed the manipulation and regulation of labour in the quest for a more equal society, believing that individual ambition should be given a free rein within the law. “Struggle for superiority is the mainspring for progress. It is an instinct deeply rooted in our nature. … To what a dead level of mediocrity would our country sink if struggle for superiority were stamped out amongst us, and how completely would we fall back in the race of nations.” The gifted and talented should never lose out in the quest for equality.
Is this why he has been largely airbrushed out of the history books, and the fame to which he should most certainly be entitled, a man who helped to create the real world, not just the world he wanted it to be? We forget the largesse of Capitalism, people like Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the founder of the Whitney Museum.
Today’s media does not rate a “boss”, an engineer, an armaments manufacturer, a highly successful capitalist leaving in Newcastle a legacy in science, training and much else besides.
The message that Michelle Obama, in London with Barack Obama for the G20 Meeting, delivered on her surprise visit to the girls of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School put it more simply “Be the best that you can be.”
In short, what I am saying is that some lawyers just do not see any of this. Although they are on the Left, LibDem as well as Labour, ironically they are part of the conservative elements in our society.
When it comes to Cycling and Sustrans it gets worse.
At this stage there is a moral to my story. It does not just apply to lawyers.
You can be clever and stupid at the same time. In a fast-changing world, if you do not keep up with change, you can look very stupid indeed.
Let me first paint the scene. The cycling charity, Sustrans, was born in Bristol in the 1970’s. Nobody anticipated then that fifty years later the whole auto-industry would be tooling up to manufacture cars with an electric engine. They expressed their vision in their Annual Review 2013-2014: “By 2020, four out of five local journeys will be made by bike, foot or public transport.” Put it another way, only one in five local journeys will be made by car with double the number of those who cycle. “We think a street should be designed for residents rather than those driving through, with slower speeds and slower moving traffic, so people are more inclined to walk and cycle for their journeys, some or all of the way.” Note my underling. Know that slower traffic means greater pollution.
They sold this vision to the Government. The Government then paid local authorities to hire Sustrans to bid for £bns to give effect to the vision using the services of Sustrans as their architect.
Now I come to Newcastle, and one illustration of my saying that cleverness and stupidity could be combined at one and the same time.
In their Ambitions Bid with Sustrans name attached to it Newcastle City Council said “Our programme will increase cycling trips by 73% (1,232,177 additional cycling rides are forecast.)” Note its precision. Measure that against the real world: National Cycling to Work Stats for Newcastle 1,781 in 2001 up to 3,223 in 2011.
Drawing the line for this cycle lane was the easy bit. The professional would address its practicability. Did they do so? Or was it just the world of “wouldn’t it be nice if?” It looks as though it was.
To achieve this, amongst other proposed cycle lanes elsewhere, they proposed cycle lanes for Gosforth High Street along with red lines. Quite regardless of the merits and demerits of the national and local policy I took the view that this was a thoroughly bad idea. I was now living near to it. I travelled along it often. I enjoyed its facilities.
This is how I described it at the time.
“Gosforth High Street is a section of the main arterial road that starts at the main bridge over the Tyne, bypasses the city centre, going North with Jesmond to the East of it and the Town Moor to the West.
Before it heads North, when it passes through the shopping centre for Gosforth, it is known as Gosforth High Street. It is so narrow at this point that when a local trader measured it for me, he said that the width of four bus stops was wider than the width of the road.
Congestion here is chronic, partly because it is narrow, partly because it is the main arterial road for buses, emergency vehicles and vans, lorries, and cars, and partly because it supports the shopping centre for all the amenities that are there with vans and security vehicles regularly loading and unloading there. There are banks, building societies, estate agents, cafes and restaurants, a busy hardware shop, travel agents, charity shops &c.
Prominent on Gosforth High Street is Trinity Church that has had over £1m spent on it making it a hub for 78 different organisations in the city. Its own car park holds only about a dozen cars. Many organisations have evening meetings in Trinity Church, including the one I used to chair – the Tyneside Decorative & Fine Arts Society, now known as the Arts Society.
There are over 5 “green men” pedestrian crossings creating three real and unavoidable bottle-necks, one a traffic light-controlled crossing at St. Nicholas’s Avenue where the cars enter and exit the large 160 car park above Gosforth’s Shopping Precinct that includes Sainsbury, Boots and W H Smith, one a bus stop on both sides of the road for diesel buses serving twelve bus routes running North of the city, and one at the Northern end of the High Street controlling access to a major cross road adjoining the Salters Road carpark.”
In 2014 the Council had this plan designed by Sustrans:
They consulted the public with drawings of the future and a choice of sorts. Their choice.
What they lacked in accuracy, Sustrans compensated for with their megawatt imagination and their design flair. The cycling lobby’s role in all this and their vision a closely guarded secret.
At the time the project manager sent me an email saying “The current cycling figures are lower than we would like, and these changes will help increase the numbers of cyclists using the junction and the high street. Currently, there are less than 1000 cyclists a day using the High street, but we want to see that grow so that 20% of all trips in Newcastle use this mode. Given that 30,000 vehicles use the Great North Road per day for return trips then it is not unreasonable to see that figure grow to 3 or 4 thousand return trips by bicycle.” <my underlining>A local estate agent commissioned a check on the number of cyclists using the High Street. The figure he came up with – 70, some probably on return journeys.
I have nothing against cyclists – I used to cycle to school, and I cycled at University – but I do not share the belief of Sustrans and others that once you provide cycle lanes, some positive encouragement to cycling and some real discouragement to motoring, outside London, Oxford and Cambridge significant numbers of motorists will abandon their cars for a bicycle. The weather, narrow, congested roads including potholes, and above all the risk of serious injury work against it.
The main hope to get clean air must now be to accelerate the purchase of electric vehicles.
I shall now try to make what was a lengthy personal experience as short as I can.
It is now easy to get a clear picture of the real world the Council and Sustrans had in mind in the first half of the decade. In 2020 Covid-19 struck with a worldwide pandemic. The Government thought it would help if more people could cycle instead of using public transport. They paid local authorities to facilitate that. Newcastle was happy to oblige with the plan they had had some second thoughts about. No red lines, just bollards designating the cycle lanes on Gosforth High Street. Some recent photographs illustrate it. Imagine “3 or 4 thousand return trips a day” by cyclists using them.
Initially the cycle lanes were intermittent on the western side of the High Street with cyclists having to cycle in the traffic or on the pavement on the eastern side. I saw both. Then they squeezed some cycle lanes on the eastern side, again intermittent. Most recently they then designated some, as here, pedestrian walkways, leaving others, largely unused, as cycle lanes.
You can see a number of things. The narrowness of the cycle lane. The bus parked in the traffic lane with pedestrians having to cross the cycle lane. (I underlined in my description of the High Street.) The cause of the long tailback with slow-moving traffic now generates even more poisonous toxic emissions than they normally would, as scientists keep saying, shortening everyone’s lives. You now have the worst of all worlds. Slower traffic, more pollution, some very narrow largely unused cycle lanes and now a few pedestrian walkways as well. The few cyclists there are do not usually use the cycle lanes.
Here opposite sides of the same part of the High Street. The top photograph shows a cycle lane recently converted into a short pedestrian walkway. The bottom photograph shows a cycle lane converted into a pedestrian walkway, and if you look closely you will see a cyclist directed with road markings into the traffic lane with its tailback, inhaling poisonous emissions.
You now have the worst of all possible worlds for absolutely everyone. And scientists say fumes shorten lives.
Compare and contrast these pictures with the drawings provided in the 2014 consultation, artistic licence there was truly imaginative.
Now let me return to a firm of human rights lawyers of some repute. They also see the world like a Hockney collage, but in their case the snapshots are selfies taken on their iPhone.
The story of their conduct that I tell here illustrates everything that I have said above only more so.
In 2014, I complained with others to the Council. We get nowhere. Then I complained to the Local Government Ombudsman. An assistant Local Government Ombudsman deals with my complaint. She has the authority to act in the name of the Ombudsman, who remains throughout hands clean and pockets lined.
She stated: “As I have seen no evidence to suggest Cabinet or the Overview and Scrutiny Committee received inaccurate information about cycling figures when making its decision to approve the scheme and there is no evidence cycling figures were the motivation for the traffic scheme, I have no grounds to criticise the Council.” She ignored the “overarching aim” of the Ambitions Bid. She ignored the professional survey conducted by a local estate agent showing that only about 70 cyclists a day use the High Street. She also ignored figures in National Cycling to Work Statistics 2001 -2011 and its implications for Newcastle.
I had specifically drawn attention to the Council’s Core Value 4’s commitment to “risk management.” She ignored the considerable anxiety being expressed by those who would know best whether the High Street is likely to suffer, namely those actually earning their living there, and accepted without question the assurance from the Council that the High Street will benefit. She ignored the health and safety risk of placing narrow cycle lanes alongside heavy traffic on a main arterial road with cyclists inhaling toxic, carcinogenic diesel fumes from the many buses, lorries and diesel-engine cars proximate to them. She also ignores the health and safety implications of allowing parking on that road in the evenings which the City Council contemplates. I could go on. She sent me a draft of her response. I replied with my criticisms. Her final response, the draft was unaltered. Toujours la politesse.
When the table manners are immaculate, you cannot complain about the meal. This is the idee fixe in the minds of all those who manage complaints.
I have now accumulated a dossier over 100 pages long. The assistant local government ombudsman tells me that if I wish to challenge her decision, I should ask a solicitor to write a pre-action protocol letter, the necessary precursor to judicial review. I take this dossier to human rights lawyers of some repute. Two lawyers send me a six-page draft of their Advice saying that professionally they are not allowed to write the letter. And as a non-practising barrister – I prefer to call myself now a former barrister – professionally I should not write it either.
In their view such a letter would start an action that would be “bound to fail”, in legal jargon TWM, totally without merit. Two lawyers put their name to their Advice. It adds weight to their cosh.
I question it. Guess what. Not one word changed in the final version. Again, toujours la politesse.
After all that I have written above, does that appear to make any sense at all? I am not going to self-indulge in legal argument here. I am alleging bias on the part of the assistant Local Government Ombudsman. If you are lawyer, I will give you a dictum you should find relevant. Porter v Magill. Lord Hope of Craighead: “The question is whether the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased.” I do not rely on legal argument. I, for my part, live in the real world. I regard myself as more than a fair-minded and informed observer. I was a witness. And I alleged bias.
When I went to the Bar in Manchester, I was fortunate indeed to have CN Glidewell as my pupil master. He was the highly respected head of planning chambers. For a year he drove me in his Bristol to planning enquiries where I saw him cross-examine planners. He could be quite deadly! And I knew the man. He stood as a Liberal ppc for Clitheroe in 1929. I have a letter from his son who was also in his chambers at the time, also sadly no longer alive, Sir Iain Glidewell L J saying “Once, when I had been a silk a few years, he cautioned me against being too establishment minded. I hope I took it to heart.” I believe that he would have relished the challenge those lawyers declined.
This and my visit with Cy Lewis, a trust-busting US attorney, to his office in Manhattan bearing the name of Judge Samuel Rosenman, was the high watermark of my experience of the legal profession. There were a number of low watermarks subsequently outside this narrative when the lawyers did not measure up to my expectation with the meter ticking.
But here another illustration of the two worlds. A lawyer writes to me “Your memories of Glidewell and your legal experience of the law half a century ago are of little relevance today.” In my real world, life has been a continuous learning experience – my year’s pupillage with CNG was a substantial one – and at least he does acknowledge: “Mr Share’s personal views in this regard, however, will determine his good faith and honest intentions in the matter.” I thank him for that.
Lawyers keep telling me that the lawyers whose advice I questioned were fully entitled to advise as they did. But that was no more than saying that doctors are entitled to prescribe pills when the pills are no more than a placebo.
If that entitlement was supposed to save the court’s time from frivolous matters without any rational argument, I will never understand why here the lawyers did not even wait until the Local Government Ombudsman replied to the pre-action letter before giving their client the benefit of their advice; and in all the circumstances I still do not understand why a judge should not have been left to make that decision. Could it simply be that in their world anyone questioning the singular right of the cyclist was bound to fail?
Too many people believe that we still live in a feudal society where we must accept without question what our lords and masters tell us. This is not healthy for them or for anyone.
I question the Advice. I try to get my money back, a four-figure sum. And I want to exercise my freedom of expression to write up the whole saga. None of that is possible because they say they are entitled to protect their reputation and they have provided their expert, honest advice.
I go to the Legal Ombudsman. An Investigator and one of the sixteen Legal Ombudsmen – it surprises me that they need so many and that they do not have to be legally qualified – after months of delay, decide everything in ten days over Christmas and Boxing day. Toujours la politesse. I was trying to contact the Chief Legal Ombudsman, as usual, impossible to reach.
I try the Small Claims Court. A solicitor, describing herself as “a file handler” in another firm of lawyers they recruit, tells me that even when I keep the issues short “The claim would be inappropriate for the small claims track and so, as is common in civil litigation, you will run the risk of paying your opponent’s costs by pursuing it.”
I write a book entitled Kafka’s Cycle – Slow Death of a Complaint. It chronicles what I write about here. I feel it would be an interesting case study for students of law, politics, and sociology. It has a publisher.
But when I send the solicitors the book, this is what they write: “I will not give the assurances you seek in your letter, nor will I read the book and catalogue points of disagreement. For the avoidance of any doubt, if you, or your publisher, publishes disparaging, libellous or defamatory statements of any kind about xxxxxxxx or the lawyers who work here, or those have formally worked on your case, you can be assured that we will avail ourselves of our legal remedies, bring legal action and seek injunctions or damages as appropriate along with the costs of doing so. I trust this at least makes our position clear. “
My publisher reluctantly declines to publish. I see their conduct as intimidatory and denying me and others our legitimate rights.
In the lawyers’ world, if you think you are telling the truth, publish. In the real world, I just dare not risk it, nor do my publishers; truly a hostage to fortune to do so.
So, I challenge it. The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority on the one hand says: “Where two or more Principles come into conflict the one which takes precedence is the one which best serves the public interest in the particular circumstances, especially the public interest in the proper administration of justice. Compliance with the Principles is also subject to any overriding legal obligations.” On the other hand, they say that the solicitors’ behaviour was “robust”. Their procedure, of course, as always toujours la politesse.
So much for my right to freedom of expression. So much for the rights of other road users whom I am championing. So much for the rights of those earning a living or just leading their lives on Gosforth High Street where all of this started.
There you see it very clearly. In the lawyers’ world, I am a pain in the butt, I will not take “No” for an answer. I am like that pesky little mosquito that keeps landing on their jam tart.
Meanwhile, in the real world I want to flag up some major concerns for the benefit of the next generation, in particular, a corporatist society where the people at the top misuse their power and authority and manipulate the handling of complaints to cover up mistakes, perpetuate error, and preserve jobs. In their view, they probably think that the ends justify means.
The Power Inquiryset up by the Joseph Rowntree Trust in 2004 saw this.
Its remit with Labour lawyer, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC chairing it, was to investigate why the decline in popular participation and involvement in formal politics has occurred, to provide concrete and innovative proposals to reverse the trend and to explore how public participation and involvement can be increased and deepened. Its work to be based on the primary belief that a healthy democracy requires the active participation of its citizens,
People like me.
In February 2005 its final report, Power to the People outlined 30 recommendations for change, but most importantly it argued that there was a need for a re-balancing of power between the Executive and Parliament, between Central and Local Government and between the Citizen and the State.
We are now in 2021. Yorkshire folk might well now ask whether the Joseph Rowntree Trust got “value for its money.”
I repeat what I have already written.
Lawyers, especially when they legislate, should allow for human fallibility and they should allow for their own as well. “Errare humanum est sed perseverare diabolicum.” Seneca.
Here we have two case studies where the full implications of plans were never properly addressed. This is not a novel idea. “Ante principium, ratio diligenter” <Before beginning, plan carefully.> Marcus Tullius Cicero. Benefit at last from Latin at school!
I have over 10,000 connections in Linkedin. There are 299 posts in my website. Nothing in this is new. A silent response.
I have been beating this tin drum for twenty years. The tune urgently needs orchestrating.
Some encourage the young to use their energies to topple old statues. Would it not be better if they were encouraged to topple some new ones? This country once had a name for excellence. Now it accepts mediocrity, and it defends it. It ignores its creaky Parliament. It thinks its crusty legal system is the envy of the world when equality before the law is another mirage; having barristers and solicitors puts up the price and delays justice. Other countries show that one set of lawyers is more than enough. Given the current backlog of cases and the cost of justice in coming years AI will have much to recommend it.
Today when, post Brexit, it should be otherwise, the country is afraid of real change, and it rides into the future on a bike!
I simply say – especially to the young – that your tomorrow should not be like my yesterday.
As I said at the outset many human rights are not equal. Sometimes they have to be ranked. Fair play not equality is the arbiter. Acknowledged priorities should count. In all the circumstances, shouldn’t my right to freedom of expression in the public interest outrank all others?
This question needs an answer.
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Do not Scrap GCSEs. Give pupils a choice of their exam! Let all children achieve. Respect diversity – Ignore inequality. Aspire to a degree or 5 Stars
When I was the chair of Governors of Barbara Priestman School – it was a great school for children with physical disabilities and learning difficulties at the time – I saw the joy of this at Annual Presentation evenings. Individual achievements were rewarded on the grand scale.
There could not be a better time than now to recognise a simple truth. While some children are academically inclined, others are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, maybe more practical, capable of street-wisdom more than book learning.
All are capable of achievement given the right education.
Yes, keep GCSEs as an academic qualification for those destined for University. Do not deny it to them because Covid-19 makes it even more difficult for others, more potentially damaging to their mental health. Equality of opportunity to go to Uni is of the essence for them.
That right, however, has absolutely no value to the other half in the system. Give them an exam of value to them. Give them the possibility of achievement.
Let them aspire to a 5 Star Rating, and no need for them to be ashamed of a 4 Star Rating or a 3 Star Rating. Better than a sense of failure with GCSEs. Something they can present with a job application.
Education is not about parity of esteem – a nonsensical notion! People should not be esteemed because they are lawyers. They should be esteemed only if – and I say if not when – they are good ones. Giving pupils self-esteem is what education should about. This is exemplified by Ashleigh Watts, nee Ritchie, Tracy in my play Death of a Nightingale.
Here is a challenge to the Teaching Profession. Size 7,8 and 9 shoes do not fit everyone. Introduce a holistic Alternative Curriculum for Life with EfL, Education for Life exam at the end of the journey for those wearing 5,6 and 7 shoes. All shoes with half sizes! And their choice.
Schools should be for pupils, not the other way around.
Here is my suggestion for the curriculum.
This would be by far the best way for a highly conservative educational establishment and their unions head off mental health problems especially among the disadvantaged with all their lives ahead of them.
Make a start now.
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