It is that time when one looks over the last 12 months to give an overview of the most significant legal stories of the year, those in particular that are likely to have significant ramifications in 2013.
Prime amongst them must surely be the irresistible rise and rise of Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty. Constantly seen on Question Time and Newsnight; bracketed (when it comes to Olympic flag-waving) with nobel prize winners, UN general secretaries and sporting deities such as Muhammad Ali; garlanded with symbols of monarchical approval (she got a CBE in 2007); and honoured by a place under the benign eye of the saintly Lord Justice Leveson.
And now she is to be fast-tracked into the upper levels of the judiciary. Well, that is perhaps an exaggeration, but she will take her place among other “distinguished jurists” who will lecture other judges on “Being a judge in the modern world”.
The programme organised by the Judicial College comprises four lectures over the coming months by Lord Carnwath of the Supreme Court, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, the aforementioned Lord Justice Leveson – and young Shami, a civil liberties campaigner and former Home Office barrister.
Now, one would not wish to hazard a guess as to which of these legal luminaries will be the biggest draw (tickets are limited, but don’t all rush at once – you have to be a judge to attend, even if not to speak). But one wonders whether the College ran out of starry judicial names to fill the modest halls they have hired up and down the country (Shami will be doing Manchester). In particular, perhaps the failings of the judicial appointments processes have left the upper levels of judicial posts so lacking in female holders (see Alrich blogposts passim) that none of the few there are was available for the gig.
But it is a singular honour for Shami, recognition commensurate with her burgeoning career as darling of the establishment. How soon can we expect the Baroness Chakrabarti of Kenton to grace the Mother of Parliaments?
It’s panto time and here’s a Cinderella story involving a handsome prince (the Skills Minister Matthew Hancock) and a hard-worked and overlooked serving girl who deserves better in life. Hancock has announced that a swath of high level professional careers, including law, will now be made available to post-A-level students on an apprenticeship basis.
He said there was no reason why aspiring lawyers cannot attain the qualifications without first getting a degree, “starting on-the-job training in an apprenticeship from day one”. And he has been having talks with BPP, the huge and hungry corporatist education “provider” owned by giant US conglomerate Apollo Global, to do the job.
There is no mention of his talking to the non-private university sector, doubtless perfectly willing to take on this work. Is this an example of the Government, wholly contrary to its political claims, picking winners in the private sector and shovelling more opportunities their way? It certainly looks like it, particularly given that the principle and practice of an apprenticeship pathway into the legal world is by no means new. People working in legal establishments have been able to do this for half a century through the CILEx route (formerly ILEX). This is overseen by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives which owns ITC, a distance learning legal training provider.
According to their blurb students include “aspiring solicitors and chartered legal executives, legal support staff, students from many local authorities, government departments and commercial organisations, as well as from ITC’s client organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service”.
The new regime will allow apprenticeship study to level 6 and 7 – graduate level (a service offered already by CILEx through a university partnership) and to postgraduate level. Hancock and the Department of Business press release make no mention of CILEx’s apprenticeship work nor any role it might have in “delivering” the new scheme.
But then, it’s not a huge and hungry corporatist education provider owned by a giant US conglomerate.
Be very afraid
Among foreign legal innovations in 2012 that could have interesting applications if introduced to Britain is the apparent willingness of authorities to prosecute experts for their failure to predict things. Thus seven Italian scientists were sentenced to jail for giving “false assurances” a week before the Abruzzo earthquake.
In France a psychiatrist was found guilty of involuntary homicide for failing to stop a patient going on a murderous rampage with an axe.
In more superstitious times magicians were required to produce predictions for their masters, preferably rather positive ones, and were duly punished if they got them wrong. Now our superstitious faith has been transferred to all manner of experts with academic qualifications despite science being, by its essence, the art of uncertainty.
So how would it affect Britain? For starters, those liable under the new law would include former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who may have “saved the world” from recession but unfortunately failed to predict the almighty cataclysm that plunged the world into the recession in the first place.
Next in the dock, of course, would be Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, who started in his role confidently but, as it turned out, gave false assurances about his own ability to get us out of Brown’s pickle. Or they would have constituted “false assurances” if anyone had believed him.
But surely there is one man who would sleep most uncomfortably if the foreign legal innovations were imported into Britain. Yes, weatherman Michael Fish, of course, who asserted 25 years ago that people should not worry about the coming of what turned out to be the Great Storm of ’87. Since then the Met Office has invested in better quality seaweed and pine cones, but it still can’t reliably predict more than three days ahead.
A significant, and dangerous, constitutional innovation occurred towards the back end of 2012: the Queen attended a Cabinet meeting. This smashes a royal gold-bedecked coach and horses through constitutional niceties regarding separation of powers and the effects are likely to reverberate through the coming year.
Her Majesty, of course, is not supposed to involve herself in politics, yet her appearance at the Cabinet table resulted in her wading knee deep into them. For one thing, she demanded less legislation from our legislators. If that is not a royal commandment fettering the parliamentary discretion of our democratic leaders, nothing is.
She attended a discussion on the accession to the throne, a matter that has caused war and revolution in the past. One cannot but think her stern regard would have somewhat stymied free debate on this important constitutional matter.
But worst of all, it seemed necessary to provide her with presents as a souvenir of her historic visit. So they gave her a chunk of the Antarctic.
Unfortunately in naming Queen Elizabeth Land the Government has trodden with leaden boots on international sensibilities. The land is claimed by Argentina, just as the Falklands was. The upshot of the Queen’s meddling in politics is that it is likely a state of war will soon exist between Great Britain and the Argentine. Happy New Year!
Note: Since publication of the above on the Matthew Hancock announcement, CILEx has issued its own views on the apprenticeship scheme. See The Lawyer and the Law Society Gazette: Legal Apprenticeships No Threat to CILEx.
In a further press release it has said: “The chief executive of CILEx, Diane Burleigh OBE, warns that any work towards a National Apprenticeship, leading to a full lawyer qualification, must not be carried out without comprehensive discussions with all current legal regulators and professional associations … ‘There need not be a costly ‘starting-from-scratch’ process here. CILEx has been providing high quality apprenticeship style legal training for 50 years. We offer qualifications that can see school leavers become fully qualified lawyers as Chartered Legal Executives and we enable law graduates to take a vocational route to becoming a solicitor. We also offer qualifications addressing the needs of paralegals and their employers’.”