Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Proportionality, theme of the day: Gaza, Iraq, and the Civil MCT.

The situation in Gaza is very sad. We will be entering the new year with the situation in the Middle East no closer to resolution. For every Israeli killed by a Hamas missile, 100 Palestinians have died. Many further are wounded, and have no access to humanitarian aid.

Indeed, because of the blockades around Gaza, no-one can get in and no fuel, food, medical supplies, trade, or indeed anything else can get in. People lie dying and destitute in a ghetto situation. We complain of the economic crisis over here, but any economic life has been at a standstill for a long time in the Gaza strip.

Discussions on the subject of the middle east are the sort of thing that is best avoided in polite conversation, fraught with sensitivity and difficulty as it is. But this should not mean that the plight of innocent people should be forgotten.

International opinion is split on what the eventual solution should be. There seems to be some sort of consensus that current Israeli strikes are out of proportion, and it is massively objectionable that one of their stated aims is to rebuilt the image of the Israeli army after its surprise defeat by Hezbollah.

Whatever your opinion on the rights and wrongs of the actions of each side, international law is of assistance on these points:

- the taking of land during time of war is contrary to the well established rules of war. All lands taken in the 1968 war were taken in contravention of international law, therefore and it follows that settlement on these lands is unlawful.

- By a 14 to 1 one decision, the ICJ ruled on the illegality of the Wall. Preventing access to food, fuel, and movement of people in Gaza is fundamentally objectionable.
(The ICJ also found that compensation needed to be paid for damage done by construction of the wall, but clearly long term damage such as the total destruction of the Palestinian economy is not likely to be compensated for).

- States are allowed to act in defense of their land, and people under International law. Thanks to the actions of the US, the UK, and Israel itself there is even a developing principle of 'pre-emptive self defence' in international law. However, proportionality is key. A death toll of 100 to 1, and firing directly into civilian properties and densely populated areas must be in contravention of the protective principles.

People often get caught up in saying, a two state solution must be found as if that is the end to a discussion on this matter. Surely that's obvious - no-one really considers that you can wipe Israel off the map, despite hyperbole from the likes of Iran. Similarly, those uber-Zionists who wish to return to Biblical borders and refer to the land of Judea instead of talking about Gaza, and Lebanon must be considered nuts. Obviously, a two-state solution must be found - but international law takes us pretty far in delimiting where we should go, if only people would pay it some attention. Clear the settled lands, stop blockades, compensate people for lands taken and damage done- and then maybe we will start to see fewer civilians dying.


Another sad mess in the Middle East is Iraq, and it is expected that 2009 will see the end of a British presence in Iraq. I heard a comment on the radio that by then the Iraq war will have lasted longer than WWII. And yet, have we felt like a country at war?

In one of my bouts of random Wiki-searching yesterday I came upon a page on Lynndie England , who was the female soldier seem in those pictures of torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. She ended up serving 521 days, and is now free.

This seems like a very short amount of time for the crimes she originally plead guilty to. She had pleaded guilty to several offences, and was looking at a sentence of more like 11-16 years, but this was 'tossed out' when it was found that she didn't realise that the "actions were wrong".

I have a couple of comments about this. Firstly, isn't it a basic principle of law that ignorance is no defence? Second, I seem to recall that there were a couple of deaths at Abu Ghraib, and several instances of what we would call GBH and ABH. In the states which carry the death penalty, torture or other felonies (such as Grevious Bodily Harm or rape) are aggravating factors which render murder death eligible. I'm not suggesting that she actually murdered any inmates, but it does seem that these soldiers were involved in at a minimum the negligent deaths of inmates. If memory serves me right, where someone dies as a result of intentional GBH that's murder as well, is it not?
In my usual round-about way, the point I'm trying to make is that had she committed these crimes in a civilian context and been sentenced in a civilian court it is hard to see how she would be in possession of her liberty today.

This contrasts well with the situation of the chap who threw his shoes at Bush - and is likely to be behind bars for a lot longer. The legal systems of both countries seem to have messed up monumentally.


Finally, having just about finished with the eating of various poultry, mounds of chocolate coins and shinily wrapped sweets, my mind must now turn to doing some actual work. The Civil MCT is in a week, and the manual must be memorised by then. Only 350 odd pages, easy peasy! Dull, mind you.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Hope and change in 2009

2009 will mean, at some point, the end of the BVC and all the joy that comes with. It will hopefully mean a fabulous new job for Boy, but more momentously for the rest of the world we will be saying buh-bye to Bush.

News story today about his farewell visit to Iraq covered the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at the outgoing President. The most amusing element for me was that the BBC felt the need to comment that in Arab countries, this was a sign of extreme contempt. I'm no anthropological expert, but I feel like this would be somewhat insulting in countries beyond the Gulf and the Maghreb!

Couldn't find a picture of the said throwing of shoes, terrible shame.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


I'm still taking every possible opportunity to rant and rave about how much the BVC is poor value for money, and I hate the way it's organised. I'm still by no means doing enough work- I think it's definitely a case of getting as much as you put in this year. With upcoming assessments, I'm not feeling too confident.

I am looking forward to taking on my first FRU case however, I've eventually managed to get all my training bits and bobs done - training day, check; passed the test, check; and visit to the Employment Tribunal, check! Now it's just a case of actually getting on with a case - which given the upcoming assessments may be tricky.

I may spend some of Christmas looking at training contract applications. I'm horribly intimidated by several of my more accomplished and more diligent colleagues on the BVC.

My advocacy seems to be improving however, to end on a positive note.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Top two things you shouldn't do

-- Ignore letters from credit card companies and banks.

-- Look up the CVs of people at your dream chambers.

In particular, when combined, you may be struck with the awful feeling that you've saddled yourself with a lot of debt because you were under the very mistaken impression that you, too, could ever make it in this job.

The kind of debt that will take a great many hours to work off at the minimum-wage job you will actually end up in.

Barristers, episode 4.

Leaving aside for a minute the fact that this programme annoys the hell out of me, I was watching the finale episode tonight.

'Tenancy decisions are subject to ratification'. Sorry, WTF?

Because there's not enough hurdles in this crazy profession.