By LLB Editorial, 29-Sep-2012 19:40:00
There comes a point when the furore around Andrew Mitchell’s foul mouthed outburst at the gates of Downing Street must provoke a wider debate about the role of s.5 of the Public Order Act.
The Act, which says that a person is guilty of an offence if he:
"(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby."
Though extremely wide in theory, in practice this Section is applied with common sense in most situations. For example, as a police officer has written anonymously in the wake of the Mitchell affair (via Guadian)
“If I had been the Custody Officer and he had been brought in to me on those grounds I would have bailed him pronto and handed out bollockings all round. No doubt he has committed an offence, but there is more than one way to skin a cat and arrest was not the way to deal with this set of circumstances.
Just because someone is a pompous shit (which the Honourable Member clearly is), that doesn't automatically give the Police the right to deprive him of his liberty.”
And in the order of abuse that police officers are subjected to in the course of their duties, the abuse aimed at them by Mitchell is not at the top.
But the affair involving the newly promoted Chief Whip should open up the debate about the operation of the Act, which many have criticised for being too easy to use against legitimate protest, and as a limitation of the right to free speech, for example in protests.
In the middle of Party Conference season, the focus around Mitchell has been his position and the perception that those at the Cabinet Table are out of touch.
But at LLB we think that it is a potential prompt for a full debate about the scope and application of s.5 of the Public Order Act.
By LLB Editorial, 17-Sep-2012 11:51:00
Vince Cable announced last week his intention to implement a watered down version of Adrian Beecroft’s incendiary report about rights at work.
While it is welcome that the Business Secretary has rowed back from some of the more egregious of the reforms, the reforms are still watering down rights at work. Targeting payouts for unfair dismissal and making it harder to make the claims will dissuade genuine claimants who have been dismissed unfairly from pursuing their claims.
What’s more, Cable has been boxed in as part of the reshuffle by junior Conservative ministers Matt Hancock and Michael Fallon, who immediately re-announced a plan to target ‘red tape’.
As Cable tries to text his way out of the blockade, there is little doubt that his department will be under pressure to pursue an agenda that is committed to freeing businesses from the dastardly clutches of red tape, at the expense of workplace rights.
The Coalition Government seems to have a distrust of the legal system to resolve workplace problems, implementing caps, reforms and rules which prioritise results over due process.
The release of the Hillsborough documents should show the absolute importance of due process. It is vital that this isn’t undermined at the workplace or anywhere else.
By LLB Editorial, 21-Aug-2012 11:23:00
The legacy of the Olympics is at the forefront of minds across the country, and on Whitehall in particular. Capitalising on the success of the games, making sure that the medals are turned into long-term success stories, and building on the Olympic spirit are important aims.
The fortnight of Olympic competition brought together much of the country, and can be judged a success on and off the field. But as the Government wrangle with questions about the status of school sports pitches, another big question looms: Sunday trading.
Labour agreed to relax Sunday trading laws for the Olympics on the proviso that it wasn't a slippery slope. With the Government facing calls to take action to stimulate growth, there are murmurings that large shops may permanently be allowed to trade for longer. Labour have promised to challenge any permanent relaxation which would render the temporary measures for the Olympics a 'trojan horse', and a Parliamentary battle may well ensue in the autumn.
If implemented, longer working hours for shopworkers on a Sunday would be a legacy of the Olympics that will give the government serious headaches, and threaten valued time off for hundreds of thousands of shopworkers. It is not clear that this is the tonic that the economy needs, and not clear that any benefits it will bring would outweigh the scale of the change to employment laws and working patterns it would entail.
By LLB Editorial, 23-Jul-2012 11:25:00
As is tradition, the House of Commons and House of Lords will take a break for the summer, alongside the High Court and Court of Appeal. The summer allows time for reflection of events past and plans for what's next, and there should be a great deal on the minds of MPs, Lords and judges, and not just the Olympic games.
In Westminster, top of the agenda must be the recent economic scandals around LIBOR rate fixing (read the excellent article about city regulation here, and the rumours swirling around HSBC as well. But that comes in amongst the ongoing Eurozone crisis, disappointing economic figures and the tumult on Government benches about House of Lords Reform. When MPs return after their recess, they will start with new working hours: sittings earlier on Tuesdays and Thursdays are a long overdue reform that will make the place more family friendly. I'm not sure people make the best decisions at 11pm on a Tuesday night, and this reform is a step in the right direction.
For judges, thoughts must turn to the plans for swifter justice being mooted by the government.
Our writers this week tackle some of these issues, but also look at wider questions, of Sharia law, Egypt and two tiered internships. We won't be stopping over the summer, so stay tuned for more legal and political debate throughout the recess season!
By LLB Editorial, 08-Jul-2012 09:53:00
The political hot potato of House of Lords reform will hit the floor of the Commons on Monday and Tuesday this week, to be debated by MPs. The Draft Bill has already gone through a number of changes after scrutiny from Lords, and will be debated by MPs for two days.
As Lord Tyler argues on these pages, ‘the matter has been considered perpetually for a century at least’, with ‘four white papers, three Joint Committees and one Royal Commission’ who have considered it in the last twelve years.
It is unlikely that the Bill will cause a debate as heated as the clash between Ed Balls and George Osborne over the LIBOR banking scandal, and there will be a sizeable number of MPs saying that there are more pressing concerns for the government to get right, including a potential rebel group of Tories, which is particularly apt after another hectic week in the Commons.
Looking at over 100 years of a settled relationship between the two Chambers is a hugely important issue, and Lord Tyler rightly points out that after the First World War we legislated for votes for women. After the Second World War the Labour Government founded the NHS and Legal Aid while rebuilding the country. The overbearing importance and rolling revelations of the aftermath of the credit crunch should not in and of themselves bar important constitutional progress.
But it is important that eyes aren’t taken off the constitutional ball elsewhere. The Church of England has been debating women bishops, and Alistair Darling has launched the ‘better together’ campaign ahead of a vote on Scottish devolution.
As LLB editors have argued elsewhere, the importance of this reform should not be underestimated, particularly because of the impressive work the Lords does going through legislation with a much finer toothcomb than the Commons does. As Conservative peer Lord Dobbs put it, ‘The Lords often acts as a great composting machine – rubbish in, rather more fertile and fragrant stuff out. We peers are the worms of the Westminster Field. Ah, but elect me, and I would become a very different beast.’
Keep your eyes on the Commons Chamber this week.
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