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Lord Rennard: Women should beware of slapping Old Goats

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Following the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour against the Liberal Democrats’ former chief executive Lord Rennard, some dangerous advice has been going the rounds. Basically women are told: if your chief executive touches you and you don’t like it – just slap him. Or throw drink in his face. Or give him a Chinese burn. This is the advice from Sarah Vine, Daily Mail columnist – and it is wrong. Slapping a chief executive is both a criminal and a sacking offence.

Now we must be careful. Lord Rennard has insisted no inappropriate conduct has taken place on his part. So for illustrative purposes we are going to assume that at some time, somewhere some chief executive or another has inappropriately touched a woman’s knee, rubbed another woman’s leg or put his hands down another couple of women’s backs “and places where they had absolutely no business being. We shall call our fictional chief executive “the Old Goat”.

The idea of slapping such a man seems to be based on a fanciful 1950s notion of morality. Our male lead (rather handsome with jutting jaw – so different from our own oleaginous, balding fifty-something fictional chief executive) gets a little fresh with our rather prim heroine. She delivers the slap; it knocks sense into him; he admires her feisty qualities; lust turns to love. There are flowers, a dinner date, a proposal of marriage.

None of those outcomes in reality is likely to occur – nor are they likely to be desired by the victim of our Old Goat’s attentions. The danger of resorting to violence is that it prompts only violence, and Sarah Vine is asking women who have been wronged in this way (touching people without consent and a sexual motive is a sexual assault: see Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) to expose themselves to increased violence.

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Lib Dems could – and should – have put Rennard through disciplinary procedure

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Note: Since this post the Liberal Democrats have gone through all manner of wrangling to ultimately drop the minor disciplinary case against Lord Rennard of bringing the party into disrepute. Tim Farron, party president, has said lessons have been learned and the party had worked hard to “fundamentally change the way our party treats these matters” (Guardian 20 August 2014)

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has apologised and said his party “did not respond in the right way” to the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour against the party’s former chief executive Chris Rennard. Nick Clegg might be well advised to say nothing more. It is possible that the Lib Dems could be on the hook for this debacle – with the matter being bloodily and expensively fought out in court.

If the Lib Dems want to feel a particular chill running down their spine they might look at the recent Supreme Court De La Salle case (The Catholic Child Welfare Society and others [2012] UKSC 56 Judgment (PDF) ) where vicarious liability for sex abuse was extended to a Catholic organisation, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who supplied the head and other teachers to an approved school.

The organisation was deemed liable even though it did not employ those teachers – they were members, not employees, of the Brothers. The principle established was that liability for members’ actions may extend to an unincorporated society. Rennard is a member (not employee) of the Lib Dems and a political party is an unincorporated society, arguably with “corporate features, including a hierarchy of authority” as described in the De La Salle case. The position is further explained below, but some legal background is useful first.

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Vicky Pryce is innocent, OK

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If we had had a rather more robust jury in the second Vicky Pryce trial, some pertinent questions might have been put to the judge.

For example: “Why do we have to sit and watch a chap in a funny wig constantly slagging off that poor woman over there?”

Or: “Why did he tell us that we weren’t going to hear evidence from a lady we’ve never heard of, was never mentioned in the first trial and who anyway doesn’t seem to have had any role in Ms Pryce taking driving penalty points for her husband, Chris Huhne?”

Or: “Given the offence took place 10 years ago and the issue was what happened on the fatal day when Pryce was persuaded to take the speeding points,  why did we have to listen to all that scuttlebutt from years later about Huhne’s affair, his relationship with his kids, Pryce’s relationship with journalists, her abortion – all of which is properly the province of the Sun and the Mail, which we can read in our leisure time?”

Or: “Given Chris Huhne has admitted the offence, was the beneficiary of the offence, and was clearly the mastermind behind the offence, why are we wasting vast thousands of public money (and our time as jurors) trying to pin it on his wife as well?”

Some of the answers are clear enough. Take the first and third questions. The denigration of Vicky Pryce by the prosecuting barrister and the consequent examination of how a “woman scorned” sought revenge for the break-up of her marriage years later arose out of the nature of her defence. She pleaded marital coercion – that she was forced or obliged to take the then MEP and rising Liberal Democrat star’s penalty points for him. Read the rest of this entry

Parliamentary boundary changes: Liberal Democrats fight for the moral low ground

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On the face of it, the Liberal Democrats, in seeking to veto boundary changes in revenge for lost House of Lords democratisation, have deserted their preferred moral high ground for low politics. The legislation to equalise voters in each constituency and reduce Commons constituencies from 650 to 600 was duly passed by Parliament and the Boundary Commission is doing the work to produce the new set-up by the next election in 2015. (Note: since publication we have actually had two elections under the old system – and who knows, could have another shortly …)

Liberal Democrat opposition to the outcome will involve standing against the will of Parliament as expressed in that legislation, countering the crucial independence of the Boundary Commission and, paradoxically, Lib Dem ministers undermining what is in effect their own legislation.

Given their illiberal and undemocratic stance in their opposition to equalisation of constituencies and reduction in parliamentary seats, do they have any strong moral argument to justify it?

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