Monday, 14 April 2014

Nigel Evans

I hope that Nigel Evans will be thrown out by the voters of Ribble Valley in 2015. This is not because of his life-style (sadly, it seems to be all too common in Westminster); certainly not because he is gay - in at least one of his previous election contests, his opponents from each of the other main parties were also gay; but because he is an unreconstructed Thatcherite. It is noticeable that the two people who most prominently leapt to his defence after his acquittal were from that wing of the Conservative party: Edwina Currie and David TC Davies.

Nor do I agree with him that historic sex abuse should not be pursued. The case against Evans may not have held up, but that against Stuart Hall did and several victims will have drawn some satisfaction from that.

But he is surely right to demand that defendants who are cleared should not be out of pocket as a result of being put on trial. As Antony Hook, an experienced criminal barrister, writes on Liberal Democrat Voice:

It is an outrage that the state should prosecute you, you are found not guilty by the jury, but then be left with the costs of your defence.

But MPs have produced this unjust situation. Less than 10 years ago, Nigel Evans would not have had to pay for his defence. He could have been represented on a legal aid certificate that would pay for solicitor and counsel. Those costs would be capped on a fixed fee basis. Counsel’s fee for the three-week trial and preparation would be thousands, not hundreds of thousands, of pounds.

Labour brought in punitive means-testing for legal aid, which the Coalition has kept.

It used to be the case that acquitted defendants who had paid privately could ask for a Defence Costs Order. This meant the state would reimburse their defence costs. Judges had a (rarely used) discretion to disallow defence costs.

Labour’s problem was that having cut back legal aid, public money was going to pay for more Defence Costs Order for innocent defendants who had paid privately. So in the end the right of the innocent defendant to get their costs back was scrapped too.

That is how we have arrived at an Orwellian situation where Nigel Evans, and thousands of defendants every year, are caused huge financial harm even if they are not guilty. They should get their costs back. It is only fair.

But the rules that have been so unjust to Nigel Evans were voted for by Parliament: brought in by Labour and left in place by the Coalition. Some of Nigel Evans’s colleagues who decry their friend’s situation voted for the very provisions that penalise him.

Nigel Evans has friends who will make sure that he is not reduced to penury. He can also rely on one of the best pension schemes around when he leaves parliament. The ordinary man in the street who is mistakenly accused, or is slandered or otherwise suffers a civil wrong for which there is no longer legal aid, is not so lucky.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why don't people vote?

Thanks to Anthony Tuffin of STV News for the following reminder:

 Thursday 1 May is the last day for the UK’s House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee to receive evidence on why people don’t vote and what can be done to improve voter turnout.
If you have not given evidence yet, will you please do so?
Although there may be many reasons for not voting, the most common one seems to be that people feel that it makes no difference and, when the election result is a foregone conclusion in about 70% of constituencies, who can deny that feeling?  The best answer has to be to change to a voting system that would make votes effective, so voting could make a difference and more people would want to vote; i.e. change to STV.  To be realistic, changing the voting system may not improve turnout immediately, but it should do so in time as parties work harder in what are currently their electoral deserts and as people come to see that election results reflect voting.
Making it easier to vote (e.g. by Internet and mobile phone) might encourage some non-voters to vote, but it would raise new problems of voting security and cast doubt on the validity of results.  It might even deter some people from voting because of fears about voting security.
You can find more about this in STV News 14/01 of 31 March and there is a short reference on
Please do not be put off from giving evidence because of lack of time.  Although long and detailed evidence may have its place, you can, if you wish, just send a sentence or two.
Please send your personal evidence in your own words.  If you are also a member of a relevant organization, would you please also ask it to send evidence?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Dodecagonic equivalents

When the Royal Mint announced that the new one pound coin would resemble in its twelve-sidedness the much-loved threepenny bit which disappeared when the UK switched to decimal coinage, I thought it was entirely appropriate. My memory of the 1950s was that the two coins had equivalent purchasing power.  Thanks to the BBC (a primary school resource pack as pdf here) for almost confirming that.

A Shopping list from around 1950

The value of money:
• 240 pennies make up an old pound.
(pennies were written as d)
• 12 pennies equal 1 shilling shown as 1s
You have to decide what you would buy to help
your family eat a healthy diet.
You have 1 shilling to spend.
Work out what you could afford to buy.

Pint of Milk 2d
Loaf of bread 2d
1/2 dozen Eggs 3d
Bag of sugar 5d

I also recall that in 1954 2½d (tuppence-halfpenny) bought a standard postage stamp (there was a reduced rate of 1½d for mailing printed papers) or the Daily Mirror. My bus fare to school went up to 2d shortly afterwards.

What stands out in that list is the price of milk, which has not risen as fast as that of other foods and of services, no doubt to the detriment of dairy farmers.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Disabled people treated like packages

As an infrequent Liberal Democrat conference attender, one is struck by changes in ones fellow-members as those who are regulars are not. It was a shock for me to see Sal Brinton confined to a wheelchair at York federal conference. Losing mobility in adult life must have brought home to her even more forcefully what amounts to discrimination against the disabled on our so-called public transport.

Baroness Brinton has expressed those feelings and her experiences in a piece for Liberal Democrat Voice. Her story is all too familiar. I fear nothing is going to change unless there are more sanctions on Network Rail and the train operating companies. The time has passed when one could count on the public spirit of TOC employees, on their own initiative, to put the rights of disabled people first, though there are rare exceptions.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

European Parliament votes to improve company audits

In a busy session last Thursday, which also saw votes on greenhouse gas emission trading, credit card fees and reduction of customs duties on Ukrainian goods among many other matters, the European Parliament voted for improvements in the auditing of public bodies. The aim is to introduce competition for the big four audit firms, to provide more useful information to the public and shareholders, and to sharpen the grey area where auditors also act as financial advisers to companies. There is a more authoritative summary here.

The voting patterns were interesting. The Liberal Group (which includes Liberal Democrats) voted for, as one might have expected for a measure which improves company governance and transparency. UKIP, with its close ties to the City of London, voted against or abstained. The socialist group including Wales' Derek Vaughan, for reasons which I have yet to ascertain, also voted against. However, British Conservatives voted with the majority, which bodes well for the next steps.

The final say is with the European Council. Given Conservative support in the Parliament, it seems unlikely that Cameron or Osborne will block the measure on the EC or resist introducing the enabling legislation in Westminster.

Grim coincidence

I thought I knew all the key facts about the shots that started World War I, but Boyd Tonkin's article in the Indy yesterday contained the nugget that Gavrilo Princip, sentenced to 20 years for the murders of the Archduke and his consort, died in the prison at Theresienstadt (Terezin) which later in the century was to be the site of one the Nazis' most infamous camps.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Life is cheap

If the information that it costs no more than £3000 to "off" someone in the UK these days was not depressing enough, the matter of fact tone in which David Wilson announced the findings of his research into contract killers on "Thinking Allowed" last Wednesday plunged me into despair.