Wintour, political editor
- Thursday May 22 2008
- Article history
Lord Falconer, the previous lord chancellor,
yesterday launched a scathing attack on Gordon Brown's plans to reform
the constitution, describing his reform bill as "trivial", "containing
nothing of significance" and "sometimes designed to meet problems that
do not exist".
He said the legislation was pointless, adding "it
is better to describe it as the constitutional retreat bill, rather
than a constitutional renewal bill".
"I believe there is next to nothing of significance of this bill. It
is like filling in time," he said.
wounding assessment of one of Brown's flagship pieces of legislation
from a senior Blairite is likely to disturb the current lord
chancellor, Jack Straw, and comes after Falconer's declaration of
opposition to the extension of pre-charge detention to 42 days.
Falconer was giving evidence yesterday to the joint committee
scrutinising the draft constitutional renewal bill. Brown's commitment
to constitutional reform was one of his first, and most radical,
pledges on becoming prime minister, as he promised to strengthen the
role of parliament and address some of the perceived abuses of the
Blair era, including claims that the attorney general had acted
politically in advising the cabinet that the invasion of Iraq was
The bill covers civil service reform, judicial
appointments, parliament's war making powers and the role of the
Lord Falconer described the proposals on
judicial reform, including the removal of the lord chancellor from the
appointment of lower-level judiciary as "genuinely disturbing," arguing
that it removed parliamentary accountability and left the lord
chancellor "blowing in the wind".
All power would lie in the
hands of the judiciary, he said, adding that it would be better to let
reforms introduced in 2005 bed down "rather than blunder in with more
He described the proposed reforms to the office
of the attorney general in the draft bill as "a missed opportunity"
since they changed virtually nothing.
Offering more radical
proposals than those contained in the draft bill, he said he favoured
the attorney general no longer being drawn from a political party and
no longer regularly attending cabinet or being a cabinet member.
suggested that the attorney general might be appointed by the prime
minister, but only after an independent process on merit and should be
installed for a fixed term. "What started off as an optimistic proposal
to reform the office of the attorney general has sunk into a number of
slightly pointless provisions," Lord Falconer said.
He added it
was "inconceivable" that the attorney general's advice on the use of
force should remain secret. The attorney general's advice on public
interest issues should be accountable to parliament so no political
pressure can be seen to be applied on individual prosecutions.
Falconer said the reform was necessary because of public perceptions
and his knowledge of the atmosphere in which an attorney general has
had to operate. "The idea that the general public do not think 'you are
part of the gang' must have an impact on public perception," he said.
He insisted that he held the current attorney general, Baroness
Scotland, in high regard, but said if matters are left to rest as
proposed in the draft bill, he doubted whether the attorney general
view would carry sufficient public weight in future if asked to give a
view on a questionable use of military force.
"The current arrangements are very severely wounded," he said.
also attacked the draft bill's plans for a draft war powers resolution,
saying it would add a dangerous layer of legality that is "unnecessary
and problematic". He predicted it would lead to "people constantly
going to court to judicially review the prime minister".
comment on the proposed reforms in the draft bill to the sweeping
changes of judicial appointments passed only in 2005, Falconer said: "I
can see no rationale behind any of those proposals. It is a complete
rag bag of things that appears to have no point. It is either genuinely
disturbing or pointless".
He singled out the decision to remove
the lord chancellor from the appointment of judges below the high
court, saying the lord chancellor would have been entirely removed last
year from 430 selections.
MAY 29th 2008
There is now much discussion on
whether decisions on major planning
matters as the siting of nuclear power stations, major wind-farms,
reservoirs and water-power facilities should be delegated to
independent bodies of experts or remain the responsiblity of the
democratically elected and responsible political executive. The answer
is of course both. There must be a structured dialogue
government should decide the national strategy and policy after taking
expert advice and democratic soundings. The various options can be
discussed openly (with only possible restrictions where national
security of significance might render complete transparency
inappropriate) and debated in Parliament and Select Committes as
required. An expert body can then be given the task of deciding on the
choices within the terms of reference that have been set out by the
Government. A minister in Cabinet would then be responsible for
accepting the recommendations of the expert body or, in exceptional
circumstances, putting the matter up for further debate due to what
might be considered new evidence or financial constraints.
is certain is that the decisions must be arrived at in the national
interest, without undue delay or endless legal challenges. As pointed
out at the start of this file, the rule of law does not mean the rule
by judges, but neither do we want rule by scientists. All decisions of
this kind are in the end political. Parliament and the executive branch
of government is the sovereign power, tasked with deciding which choice
to make in the light of science and following legal constitutional
procedures. We have quite enough lawyers in Parliament already, we
could do wth a few more scientists but it seems they are busy elswhere.
On the whole the government listens carefully to both, but there is
perhaps a lack of polymaths to appreciate the big picture and that is
why it took 25 years to get the signficance of climate change onto the
agenda in the UK.
JUNE 9th 2008
In a case relevant to the discussion here, superbore Stewart Wheeler is
trying to claim that as a matter of law the government has to put the
ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty to a public referendum. If there
was ever a matter of pure politics this is it. I am glad to see
Jonathan Sumption has fastened on this fact as the basis of his
argument to have Wheeler's case thrown out. There are plenty of other
reasons why it should lose but why should we be even asked to go there?
The role of the law will be significant in deciding whether or not the
lights stay on.
'Lights will go out' by 2015 if Lords rejects Planning Bill
By Nick Clark
The Independent - Monday,
14 July 2008
lights will go out across the UK in seven years if the Planning Bill
coming up for review this week is rejected in the House of Lords,
according to a leading business trade body. It estimates the country
needs £100bn of investment in major energy plants by 2020.
The CBI has urged the House of Lords to pass the Planning Bill,
consideration tomorrow, to help secure the nation's energy and
It also accused the Conservatives of
playing politics in opposing the Bill, with potentially damaging
ramifications for the UK's future.
John Cridland, deputy director
general of the CBI, said: "To keep the lights on, heat our homes and
meet climate change targets, approximately £100bn needs to be
in major energy infrastructure projects by 2020."
To avoid the
power outages that have dogged South Africa and California in the past
few years, the UK needs dozens of individual infrastructure projects
from gas and coal-fired plants to wind and nuclear. The CBI said that
with current complicated planning, legislation was "not fit for
purpose", adding the Government's Planning Bill was crucial to speed up
the process of approving these projects.
"The current planning
system has always struggled with such projects and there is no way the
number of projects necessary would come through the current system in
time. The reforms ... in the Planning Bill are essential if business is
to commit to the necessary investment," Mr Cridland said.
UK needs seven new gas and coal-fired stations, 12 new nuclear stations
and 40 wind farms, as well as 12 major gas storage plants, according to
The second reading of the Bill is in the Lords
tomorrow, before it goes to committee. It should be voted on before the
end of the year.
The Bill was first proposed in a White Paper in
May last year and is based around the creation of an independent body
to oversee the planning applications for major energy infrastructure
projects. The CBI supports the move, pointing to major infrastructure
planning permission, such as Sizewell B, taking five years. It hopes a
streamlined process would take as little as nine months.
the final decision sits with ministers and politicians fear that by
handing the power to an independent body they are stripping democratic
accountability out of the planning process, and taking power away from
The CBI disagreed. It said the Independent
Planning Commission, which would comprise up to 30 experts, would act
in a similar way to the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of
England, with the final decision taken by a body of experts rather than
MAY 20th 2011
Now we come to the point, a moment for which this file was opened 3
years ago, a moment inevitable since the day we were building the web
in the 1990s. It concerns the paradox at the heart of democratic
passes the responsibilty like an explosive parcel to those who either
claim to be able to defuse it or to rightfully use it on behalf of
society. Rather than launch into a lot of verbiage, and because I am
extremely busy, I invite readers to read and listen to all the news
about the debates on PRIVACY and INJUNCTIONS and PARLIAMENTARY
PRIVILEGE and TWITTER and BLOGS, and contemplate how these matters
reach out, and back, and
sideways into the fabric of our mutual existence. I will write here in
due course. For the moment all I will say is that today some judges
have spoken very wisely and carefully, and some politicians very
foolishly and carelessly. In view of all the preceding paragraphs my
opinion may surprise you. I refer you to Spiderman. Or was it his
I think I will cut to the chase here. The issue is not so much about
freedom of speech or information, as it is about anonymous access to
with world-wide readership. It will be established in due course that
any given country in which responsibility for law enforcement is
established as relevant must abide by domestic and agreed international
procedures in identifying those accused of libel or of breeching court
orders that are mutually recognised between the countries concerned.
The business of privacy and injunctions may vary, as they do now, from
one country to another; but the anonymity of anyone ignoring the law
such as a reporter under legitimate restraint of a court judgement to
protect the innocent, even if the report is true, cannot be defended in
affairs of democratic countries who work together in the modern world.
It is not any current case that is the serious issue here, it is that
it gives us the chance to prepare a proper defence against really
serious abuse which we can expect, not from smart-arse reporters but
from people who wish serious harm to any society attempting to emerge
successfully into this new, very testing, millennium.
Here is a very thoughtful article in the Sunday Herald, a Scottish
paper that I am told has published the name of the footballer whose
identity has been revealed on Twitter. I have to say I have no idea who
this footballer is, nor do I need to know, and I very much doubt I will
ever Twit or read anything on Twitter. But the article is worth
Time now to move the argument on. Twitter is now the classic case on
which we can proceed. Are all those who re-Twit a (currently)
actionable tweet to be liable? If prosecution becomes 'futile', do only
primary Twits take the heat? Or does the apparent futility mean the
abandonment of privacy and hence due to Twitterability the end of libel
law. The answer to the last is no, so we have to work backwards to see
where the line has to be held.
I actually have confidence in the legal brains that will be brought to
bear, so I am not going to lay down the law here - they will reach it
by the proper process. Parliament may be called on to make some
legislative adjustments on the considered advice of the
judiciary. The current Attorney General is no fool.
There are those who think the law cannot deal with the new media. That
may be true for a while.
forward over a year, it is again being made clear that in parts of the
Muslim world, traditions and customs can conflict with the appication
of the rule of law. The law of hospitality appears once again to
override the consideration of the sheltering of criminals as a crime.
This was the reason the sheltering of al Qaida by the Taliban leaders
in Afghanistan brought the weight of an enraged US on their heads.
Today, in Lybia, the new provisional government is being delayed by the
hospitality (ha ha) being offered to Gaddafi's sons in Bani Walid, a
city of some 50,000 inhabitants 150km (95 miles) south-east of Tripoli.
Col Gaddafi is reputed to have a lots of support there, though the city
is mixed in its make-up. It is a stronghold for the Warfalla tribe. In
his defiant audio message on 1 September, the fugitive leader referred
to it as "an armed fortress".
The enforcement of
the 'law of hospitality' is of course just a form of terrorism, like
any mafia boss uses. As soon as they can get rid of the key Gaddafi
loyalists the inhabitants will accept the new interim government.