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Scottish Independence TV Debates – What I would have done

After watching both of the main tv debates on Scottish Independence between the leaders of the respective ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns, Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, I was left utterly bemused and disappointed at what I was watching.

Let us take the most recent of these two poorly produced and structured events:

  • A few minutes each to set out their introductory case
  • A few minutes each to cover important issues such as the economy and Scotland’s place in the world
  • About 12 minutes to ‘cross examine’ each other (this was the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy, unprofessionally managed piece of political nonsense I think I think I have ever seen with each just talking over the other and playing ‘tit-for-tat’ points scoring’.
  • A few minutes for each to sum up their entire case for independence.

A few minutes, A few minutes, A few minutes….

It seems that this is all that the life and future changing event is worth; a few minutes, on barely a handful of the dozens if not hundreds of major issues of relevance.

To make matters worse was the audience. The odd relevant and thought provoking question aside, the vast majority were simply loaded questions from one side of the divide (because it now clearly IS a divide with a gulf of polar opposite opinion between the two sides) or the other.

The whole thing was an absolute shambles that pandered to the worst aspects of modern society. In particular, feeding the ‘I want everything NOW, and in 140 characters or less’ aspect of society, where if it can’t be said in a matter of minutes then it can’t be worth it.

Well shame on you, the producers and broadcasters of this meaningless trash. You have had years to prepare for this, months to work out a reasonable format, whilst not bowing to the notion that everything must be covered ‘on the quick’. Because to cover the issues that needed to be covered properly, it is literally IMPOSSIBLE to do with the format that was utilised. Again – shame on you. You failed in what I personally believe was an absolute DUTY to get this right.

I belive that Scotland is worth more than this, and I believe that hundreds of thousand, if not millions of people living in Scotland (and indeed the rest of the UK and world) would have been interested in seeing the debates on crucial issues carried out in a competent and more balanced way – yes, even if this meant taking a bit more time to do so.

So having thoroughly criticised what WAS shown, if I was given the responsibility to plan the TV part of the referendum build-up, how WOULD I have done it? Well here is what I would have done, and what I think SHOULD have been done by any producer with an ounce of common sense:

  1. Realise that the necessary issues could not be covered in the course of two programmes alone, and demand more airtime. This should not have been even a slight problem given the magnitude of the issue – what controller or scheduler would want to go on record saying that such a massive political event should not be given maximum attention?
  2. Schedule a two hour slot once a week for the 8-10 week run-up to the election.
  3. For each event, here is what the format should have been:
    1. ONE area covered per debate (say, week one – the economy, week two – education, week three – NHS etc. etc.)
    2. Main panel consisting of EITHER Salmond and Darling, OR appropriate representative from each side such as cabinet member or shadow cabinet member responsible for the area in question currently.
    3. Alongside those indviduals, also having one academic expert on the area in question on each side such as a professor or author in that area who is willing to discuss their researched opinion.
    4. Moderator in the middle.
    5. PART ONE: Each side has 30 minutes to present their arguement on the area in question in the form of a lecture or presentation with any visual aids necessary – and here is the important part – ENTIRELY UNINTERRUPTED BY THE OTHER SIDE.
    6. PART TWO: 40 minute Audience Q&A. Another part of the televised debates that irritated me was that the audience was ONLY populated by random everyday people. I would have 50% of the audience  being workers FROM THE AREA RELEVANT TO THE DEBATE IN QUESTION at each debate. So for the debate on NHS, 50% of the audience should be Doctors, Nurses, Health board workers, researchers etc.. The first 20 minute Q&A would come solely from these people who would be best placed to ask specific questions relevant to the area in question. The final 20 minute Q&A would then come from the other 50% of the audience, who would be the equal share of everyday people asking general questions on the area in question.
    7. PART THREE: Back to the panel – each side has 10 minutes to sum up and conclude their argument. AGAIN UNINTERRUPTED!
  4. The final show, having in the weeks preceding covering important issues such as the economy, NHS, education, international issues, industry etc. would then be the full blown debate between the leaders. In this show, each side would have the opportunity (again, guess what – uninterrupted), to present for 30 minutes rebutting any perceived spin etc. seen over the preceding weeks from the opposing side. There would then be a final 30 minutes each to sum up the entire campaign of debates, positives for their side and reason why you should vote YES / NO. No Q&A for the final debate.

This is how I would have arranged the televised debates. Treating the electorate with respect, and providing them with a substantial amount of uninterrupted information from each side of the debate in a number of the most crucial areas relevant to the independence issue. Carrying out the programming in this way would have ensured that major issues were covered in detail (I think I heard circa 40 seconds on education in totality between both actual ‘debates’), and ensured that people who watched would then be able to make an informed decision.

It is such a shame that the reality of what we got was nothing short of a disgrace.

 

Please note, the above is my personal opinion as a qualified and experienced academic in various areas of domestic and international law including Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, EU Law, Criminal Law, and Employment Law and not the opinion of my employers.

 

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Posted by on August 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Government manipulation of European Union report

For those of you reading this that might not know too much about my background, I have taught various combinations of Constitutional Law, EU Law and Advanced EU Law at UWS since 2007. In addition to this, I am also currently an external examiner for Constitutional Law, EU Law and Advanced EU Law at another University in Scotland. In other words, I have been heavily involved in the area of EU law in both a research and teaching sense for a number of years as part of my day to day job.

The EU is a complex organisation that is not simple to explain in all of its intricacies to a lay person who doesn’t have hours upon hours, days upon days, or even weeks upon weeks to devote to learning all about it to gain a balanced and fair understanding and opinion. Sadly, the general lack of specific knowledge on matters EU naturally leads a lot of people to be sceptical and negative about the organisation. This is understandable – I mean, who wouldn’t be negative with often (incorrectly) cited terms such as ‘federalist’, ‘lack of democracy’, ‘sticking its nose in’, ‘benefit tourism’ etc. etc. Sadly though, this is a problem created by a combination of various individuals in Government and the media, who do not responsibly report on the European Union.

I have long tried very, very hard when teaching EU Law to inform, without giving my own opinion; to create a balanced perspective on matters such as the creation of EU Laws, Immigration, security and defence, and the rights and responsibilities associated with EU Citizenship. I ask students to leave their preconceptions at the door when entering my EU Law classes and keep an open mind, then at the end of the course to make an informed personal opinion as to if they truly do believe that the EU is a good or bad thing for the UK.

This is why when stories such as this one come out, they really annoy me:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28368567

In case the article is removed, I would like to share a couple of quotes from it to remain here for posterity:

A report on UK immigration has caused a row within government because Tory ministers believed it was too pro-European, sources have told Newsnight.

The leaked Home Office report draws together evidence from 67 businesses, think tanks, unions and experts.

It concludes the influx of EU migrants has had a largely positive effect, and cites evidence suggesting they are less likely to use benefits than Britons.

The report was re-written twice….

…..Whitehall sources have told Newsnight that the Home Office balked at the initial draft.

Home Secretary Theresa May sent it to the Home Office implementation unit, which rewrote it with more sceptical and negative comments.

The new text could not be agreed on within government and the report was eventually given to a Cabinet Office “star chamber” of civil servants to rule what stayed in and what was left out.

I have a hard enough job as it is trying to foster into large numbers of impressionable students the balanced perspective that I do, without this sort of trash going on. I personally consider it disgraceful that a report is commissioned, with the evidence that follows coming from a large number of relevant sources, which doesn’t ‘fit’ with the Government’s agenda, and so they simply refuse to publish it. Instead they want to deliberately manipulate the content of the report to put in negative rhetoric and spin.

Sadly this is not the first time this sort of nonsense has gone on, and it likely won’t be the last. What is even sadder is that few people will have noticed the news report, and even fewer will care or remember anything about it in months or years to come, yet a large proportion who may eventually see the headlines from the final ‘report’ in all of its manipulated glory, may take from it the negative ‘evidence’ and continue to hold their overwhelmingly negative viewpoints.

A very sad state of affairs, given how important (in my opinion) the UK retaining membership of the EU is in reality.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Private parking companies on NHS hospital grounds

This may be slightly amusing to some (or maybe not), however there is a serious message behind it. I have over the past few years heard many cases of people being charged ridiculous sums of money from private parking companies in Scotland in the form of a ‘debt’ (legally incorrect) or a ‘charge notice’ for overstaying an imposed time limit in a private car park (completely different from a local authority controlled area such as the general street or council car parks etc.). I would like to clarify that I ALWAYS pay for a ticket for an hour or two, however long I am going to be staying in a car park, however when the car park is one which you park in free of charge, obviously there is no real issue, as the company in question can only find themselves in a position of losing the precise sum of £0.00 should anybody overstay the prescribed time.

Following the recent birth of my son in November 2013, I found that I had (unsurprisingly) gone over the 4 hour maximum stay imposed by ‘CP Plus’, a private parking company, and shortly afterword began receiving threatening (I didn’t feel threatened as I know my rights, but they are written in a tone that many unwitting individuals may find themselves feeling threatened by) letters discussing this ‘debt’ (this is the word that was used in the letters) and the charge of £40 that would be pursued via court action if necessary, sent by their ‘sister’ company, rather amusingly enough named ‘Debt Recovery Plus’.

I would normally advise against even contacting these types of companies and let them waste their time chasing people for an unenforceable ‘debt’, however on this occasion I have been irritated enough due to the amount of people (such as from Accident and Emergency, Maternity units, or even more horribly when dealing with issues related to a deceased relative – I have seen tickets on cars outside the morgue) that will have unfairly been scared into paying these charges, that I have lodged an official complaint with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde about their entirely unsuitable and insensitive policy, and also sent those chasing the ‘debt’ the following email after phoning and having them agree to waive the debt on my producing evidence of the circumstances:

Dear Sir / Madam,

Your reference: 569783

Please find attached scan of original full birth certificate for my child, born on November 8th 2013. As discussed and agreed by your telephone agent during our recent conversation, I now expect this ‘charge notice’ (it is not legally a ‘debt’ as inaccurately worded by your letters sent to me previously) to be cancelled with immediate effect. I would like to make you aware that I have lodged a written complaint with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde regarding the disgraceful policy in employing a private parking company on hospital grounds – I hate to think of the number of unfortunate people who have unwittingly paid these charges.

I would of course like to profusely apologise that in the midst of losing half of the blood supply in her body and having further complications that my wife could not give birth in less than the four hours necessary to comply with the terms and conditions of the car park in question. This was extremely selfish of her and I will be having words to ensure that she is quicker with any future births she may have.

I expect full written confirmation either by letter or reply by way of this email address within 5 working days that this charge notice has been cancelled. If this is not forthcoming then as per my reasonably set terms and conditions for response, I will be charging your company for the time, effort and other resources necessary for my dealing with this matter further at a rate of £40 per email or letter sent, recoverable by court action if necessary.

Kind regards,

Allan Moore

I am assuming that they will now keep to their word (they have said that their calls are ALL recorded in case they renege on their agreement, which is a verbal contract), but if they do not, then I will stick true to my word and pursue them further. On the off chance that this is not the case, I will update the blog with any future antics of theirs.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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January 2014 Update

It has been a while since I’ve had a chance to update the blog. The main reason for this has been the little gent in the picture here. Dylan William Moore was born on the 8th November 2013, and as I am sure you can all imagine, things have been a bit hectic since!

Born 8th November 2013

Born 8th November 2013

So it is all change as today (6th January 2014) was my first day in my new post as a lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at UWS, having now made the jump to the Criminal Justice group within the School of Social Sciences. Obviously having just started, I will be busy for a few weeks, however of course I will continue to post here as frequently as possible. One thing of note is that I am taking over coordinator responsibilities for the Victimology module in the honours year of the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice programme. Additionally, I am still writing up the research stemming from the HEA project, and anticipate a couple of publications between now and summer 2014.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Moving Employment (sort of) in January 2014

This is just a short update with some major news. I will be leaving the law group at the University of the West of Scotland in January 2014. I will not, however, be leaving the University, rather I am taking a sideways move away from the Business School within the Faculty of Business and Creative Industries, and moving into the School of Social Sciences within the Faculty of Health, Education and Social Sciences. There, my post will be specifically as a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice within the Centre for Criminal Justice and Police Studies.

By 2014, I will have had a near sixteen year association with the Business School (and the same subject grouping prior to it being known as the Business School) of UWS (formerly University of Paisley), having initially been a student there as far back as 1998, then taking evening classes in the early – mid 2000s, full time postgraduate study after that, and then working within the School from 2007 to date. As such, it will of course be very sad and somewhat of a wrench to leave them. That said, I am immensely looking forward to taking on the fresh challenges that a move to another School and Faculty will bring. There are a number of exciting areas that the Criminal Justice and Police Studies group are involved in, which no doubt I will update within this blog as time goes on, and once settled into the new role after commencing it on Monday 6th January 2014.

Of course, any of you who have read my blog will know that Criminal Justice is not a new area for me to be involved in, having recently spent over a year working on an HEA project which involved familiarising two cohorts of students with the Scottish Criminal Justice process and observing a number of live court cases, albeit within the field of the laws of evidence. This is in addition to the fact that I have previously reviewed criminology and youth justice textbooks for the Scottish Legal Action Journal, and of course the area of my own PhD research is in common law contempt of court.

Although I will be finishing my current post and commencing my new one in eary January, I will still have a transition period, and will still have some responsibility and ties to my old group until the end of the 2013 / 2014 academic year as I will be setting and marking assessments for the current modules I am coordinator for, and will be continuing to supervise all of my dissertation students through to completion in summer 2014.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Elish Angiolini installed as new Chancellor of UWS

Yesterday, the Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini, the former Solicitor General and Lord Advocate for Scotland, was installed as Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland at an official ceremony held in the Thomas Coats Memorial Babtist Church in Paisley (the same church where graduation ceremonies are held), followed by a reception in the Brough Hall of the University’s main campus.

It was very pleasing and uplifting to see an excellent turnout of both staff and non-staff alike, as approximately a hundred academics (myself included) took part in the robed procession, with several hundred students, members of the public etc. seated in the church itself.

The ceremony itself kicked off with Elish being awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University, and there were addresses to the congregation by both the University’s new Principal, Professor Craig Mahoney and the Dean of Students, Professor Anne McGillivray.

Whilst the robing itself took place, there was a musical interlude from the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra, and speaking as an ex-Orchestra player myself I have to say that they were absolutely fantastic, especially so given the young age of the majority of their members. Special mention should go to their rendition of the Lament on the Death of his second Wife composed by Niel Gow, a very unusual and softly played work, which was handled beautifully.

Following an excellent and heartfelt closing speech by Dame Angiolini herself, the ceremony was closed. I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Elish after the ceremony in the robing room, and she certainly seemed every bit as thrilled to be appointed to the position as the University is to have her accept it. I have no doubt whatsoever that Dame Elish Angiolini will be an inspirational ambassador for the University of the West of Scotland. Hopefully too with an appointment from such a background, it will be a shot in the arm for the law department at UWS in what has been a very trying past couple of years.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Contempt of court – Thesis coming soon

Many of you may or may not be aware that the Law Commission in England and Wales has been carrying out a review of the laws of contempt of court, a project / theme for them that is currently ongoing. Of course I will be very interested to read their findings in the future, however for the time being I am more concerned with my own review of the law in this area, a review I have been carrying out for nearly six years. I am now in the home straight, completing the final drafts in the final chapters of my Phd thesis, and wanted to provide a Foreword to it here, a summary or an abstract if you like.

As a starting point there is the title of the offence itself: Contempt of court… what images does this conjure up in your mind? What does the offence make you think of? Common themes might be an unruly witness or member of the public being dragged from the courtroom after shouting abuse at some other individual in the court or the judge himself. They meet with the wrath of the judge, who being annoyed at their conduct holds them in his contempt. The problem here, is that this commonly dramatised scenario simply serves to perpetuate the myth, the misonception of what exactly contempt of court is.

This is not even a contemporary issue alone, the issues over the term ‘contempt of court’ itself, and the attached misconceptions were recognised exactly 90 years ago, in 1923 in the case of Johnson v Grant (1923 SLT 501) by Lord President James Avon Clyde when he stated;

“The currency of the phrase…” (the name itself)”… is particularly regrettable…. It is not the dignity of the court which is offended – a petty and misleading view of the issue involved – it is the fundamental supremacy of the law which is challenged”

Clyde in the same case then provided a working definition of the offence, and it is still this definition after looking at hundreds of texts and cases that I deem to be most appropriate. This definition reads:

“The offence consists in interfering with the administration of the law; in impeding and perverting the course of justice.”

So as can be seen, the dignity of the court or judge himself is not relevant in the offence, it is the process of law, the process of justice being seriously impeded in some way that is the fundamental issue that forms the foundation of the offence. And yet…. and yet….

As mentioned, I have reviewed hundreds of texts and cases over a number of years in preparing my thesis and conclusions, and it is clear to see that in spite of the clear, concise and logical dicta from Lord President Clyde 90 years ago, that a great many legal professionals are still getting it wrong. I have discovered textbooks giving incorrect definitions and inappropriate examples, Judges incorrectly applying the law, and in general a lack of coherence and consistency across the board within the legal sphere whether in academia or in practice. This is something that must stop.

I have witnessed first hand the criminal justice system in Scotland when visiting multiple courts and observing many cases ranging from simple custody cases, to pre-trial hearings, all the way to High Court cases. It seems from these observations that on the whole contempt of court is being used as a threat rather than an offence in its own right. So even when individuals engage in a course of action that would match the necessary criteria to be classed as contempt of court, the offence is mooted, yet not actually followed through. In the age of budgetary constrictions and resource issues, when cases are constantly being deserted due to not reaching court in time and extensions to the time bar being exhausted and subsequent applications for extension refused, surely contempt of court should be treated more seriously to nip offences of this nature in the bud? We are talking about offences such as witness prevarication, witnesses not appearing when cited, disrupting the court etc.

On the other hand, what about those individuals who do find themselves in the situation where they may be held in contempt? Have they fully understood the potential consequences of their actions? Did they have any awareness that what they did (whatever it was) might have constituted an offence? One of the reasons that children below the age of 12 are not prosecuted in Scotland is that they cannot have mens rea – i.e. they cannot have a guilty mind, for various reasons, one of which is the lack of ability to foresee consequences. Another is the lack of capacity to understand the proceedings before them. But does this just apply to children? What about individuals with low general intelligence? Can they truly be said to be understanding the full intricacies of courtroom procedure and the justice process? Even with explanation from their legal counsel this could be problematic.

Going a step further, foreign nationals in court is an issue that has recently been discussed in the media with the two young ladies accused of being drug mules in Peru. Of course Peru’s justice system and court procedure is different to our own, will the girls know what is going on? Will this be taken into account? Many will bring out the old phrase ‘ignorantia juris neminem excusat’ – ignorance of the law is no excuse. But is this phrase even appropriate any more? In an age where there are literally thousands of statutes, combined with common law, not to mention EU and other international obligations, how can any individual be truly certain that whatever they do in their daily life, whether civil or criminal might or might not constitute an offence? We already readily admit this within our courts, although coming from a different angle. Whereas our judges apply the law as they deem it appropriate, there are certain areas that our courts stray away from – foreign law when it is raised as an issue. Judicial knowledge held by the judge is deemed to include Scottish law, English law and EU law. Anything beyond that, it is deemed that our judges cannot apply as they cannot be expected to know every law from every jurisdiction. Taking this down a level, how can any ordinary individual be expected to know every law from our own land? It is an excellent ideal, but not a realistic one. So foreign nationals in our own courts, should there be any special dispensation? This is examined in detail.

And then there is general courtroom environment and behaviour. If the product of the court procedure is that an individual potentially finds themself in contempt, is this truly fair? To illustrate, Gerard O’Donovan summarised these issues in his article ‘Courtroom Appearance’ in 2005 where he stated:

“The courtroom environment is adversarial, and it is therefore highly charged…. It can be intimidating and potentially sabotaging.” O’Donovan goes on to say that “Courtroom behaviour… seeks to inflame emotions”.

So when the artificially created environment itself creates the atmosphere, and the professionals within it engage in behaviour that has the potential to lead to outbursts and the like, many of which could be regarded as contempt of court depending on the nature of the outburst, thus potentially making those legal professionals at least partly responsible and certainly morally culpable, is it tuly fair to then bring out the contempt ‘stick’ to beat the offender with?

I am not giving all of the answers here, merely posing the questions. The answers will be contained within my forthcoming thesis, along with many other linked isses not raised in this short introduction to my topic. Hopefully for anyone reading, this has been of some interest, and perhaps made you think about the offence in a different light.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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