The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: press

Ian Tomlinson – unlawfully killed

I’m currently working very hard for final exams so I’m just making a short update.

Yesterday an inquest jury unanimously found Constable Simon Harwood’s actions surrounding Ian Tomlinson’s death to be unlawful, reported in the Scotsman as “saying he ‘deliberately and intentionally’ shoved the newspaper seller to the ground. He was found to have acted illegally, recklessly and dangerously, and used ‘excessive and unreasonable’ force in hitting the man with a baton.”

They also request a thorough review of the CPS decision not to prosecute, which makes sense given that an entire lay jury agreed the actions were wrong.

In background news the Press Gazette published a report from Paul Lewis, the journalist who tracked down the eyewitness accounts and video of Ian Tomlinson being shoved to the ground, headlined “Met told us to ‘lay off’ Tomlinson story” which just doesn’t cover them in glory as an organisation.

I hope this judgment goes some way to getting the police out of this mess and that some lessons are learned for the future. There’s no need to lean on journalists to lay off stories and throw away evidence.

H/T: The Scotsman

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Running out of words

In the beginning there was the injunction but first, some patriotism.

The writ of the High Court is fairly powerful even in the place where we call them “interdicts” but it is an English court. However we also have the principle of there being some things you can’t say because a judge told you not to and because a lot of our news is effectively cross border anyway High Court injunctions do have an effect in Scotland. Your Glasgow office can’t really ignore your London head office very often.

Injunctions are not all bad and there are times that information is usefully concealed from public view (look at all the complaints about Wikileaks and apparently putting lives at risk), however they get a bad press because it doesn’t always work out like that. An injunction is good to have because other people can’t say what the bad thing is, so the privacy is preserved, but it lets people tap their nose and hint heavily that this injunction you got is because you’re up to no good, so you still suffer a loss of reputation because you spent time and money hiding something, even if we can’t say what that something is.

The loophole in an injunction is that you can paint around the edges of what the injunction covers to show that a person is a) deliberately hiding something and b) here is (roughly) what we can’t tell you.

So we got the super-injunction, which is where the fact of the injunction is also covered. These are controversial

The loophole in superinjunction seems to be taking advantage of Parliamentary privilege — you get an MP to raise the matter as Parliamentary business and the MP can’t be sued for breaking the court order and the matter is distinctly public record so you can report on it. This is fine as long as you have a friendly MP hanging around who knows about the superinjunction.

So, enter the hyper-injunction. This is a major step up again where a fact is prohibited from publication, the fact of the injunction is prohibited from publication and you, as an embargoed party, are prohibited from telling an MP about the injunction. An MP who doesn’t know can’t raise it as an issue.

There will be a work-around of some sort to this, I can’t think of one off hand but I’m only little, worked out in the future but it seems like an incredibly thorough way of blocking issues from public view.

H/T: CharonQC

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I’m bad at French horn

Ben Goldacre – best selling author of Bad Science (a good book which I do heartily recommend as a grim, anger inducing read about the venal and selfish side of human nature) – has given an interview for Intelligence Squared. The interview covers the ‘problem’ of media coverage of science.

Goldacre has a really appealing comparator for the way that science is needlessly dumbed down in the media: no one dumbs down snooker for TV. You either know the rules of snooker already or you just don’t understand what’s going on. Science really gets a terrible time of it in the media; it’s morphed into a game where one person says something that he seems awfully sure of for 30 seconds and another person says something that they are equally (if not more) sure of for 30 seconds that makes it sound a lot like the first guy was completely wrong in every way. There’s not really enough time to get beyond the very basics (like “X does/n’t kill you so you are/n’t fine”) so you don’t get to look into possible warning signs with either person’s research (if they have actually done any work on the subject to begin with) or even the reason why either person thinks what they do — that’s called the science bit and that’s a bit complicated.

He makes a good point during the interview about the portrayal of things as science issues to hide your underlying motive, for instance racism has many examples of “scientific fact” being used to justify the prejudices the speaker wanted to hold in the first place. That’s not science being a bad thing, that’s science being misused.

What about the…

All the above is important stuff and I do feel strongly about it, but the thing that really caught my ear is where the interviewer asks the “what about the people who say ‘I don’t know where to go to find the evidence’?” question. Obviously people being unable to integrate with the scientific process because they don’t have access to the source material is a bad thing so that’s a no brainer, bad thing is bad.

Goldacre’s answer is interesting – for the example of climate change evidence he points people towards the IPCC advice to governmental policy makers and calls it a good piece of popular science writing. He talks about the controversy over the melting glacier issue and explains why it doesn’t affect this document. I think that’s a good example.

However, the interviewer then says words to the effect that he doesn’t even know what the letters mean and I think this might be linked to Goldacre going on to give a bright line distinction between people who genuinely don’t know where to find information (people aren’t born knowing this stuff and that is a problem) and those who say it because it sounds better than “I don’t care enough to look it up”. I think the access to information thing has to go both ways, especially if the other party has access to Google. If we’re talking about snooker and I mention a “cue” that’s not necessarily because I’m trying to exclude you with jargon, it just might be that I assumed you knew a wee bit about the basics before entering the conversation.

I’m no good at French horn but that’s because I’ve never even attempted to do it.

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Turns out that police guard might not be needed after all.

There was a police guard posted outside of the home of the twins that were allegedly attacked by a fox. I commented at the time that this was utterly ridiculous and who possibly thought that was necessary or a good idea. It just proved to me that people were taking the whole extremely rare fox attack issue too seriously for its own good.

Foxes get a hard time. There isn’t a big movement out there that seems to actually like them and it’s a hard, short life for the average fox no matter where it lives. It got a whole lot harder for the urban fox a little earlier in the week when the Urban Fox Hunters posted a video of themselves pretty much lynching a fox on YouTube, Blogger and Facebook.

It was a grainy, horrible video on YouTube. The video was extremely brutal – it showed a fox eating dog food, laced with Xanex to stop it running away, and then clubbed to death by four masked men using cricket bats. It was so bad that it was later removed, from Facebook (home of the Raoul Moat is a Legend group) and YouTube (without Viacom being involved).

It was a very social media aware act of ultraviolent animal cruelty but isn’t everything on Facebook these days? The group, particularly a ringleader called “Lone Horseman” then defended their actions with comments like:

“I haven’t laughed so much since my brother fell off that roof,”

“So we cornered Mr Fox in a dark alley and we pummelled the s*** out of him. And boy do these vermin stink. It was f***ing awesome to get a kill – one down, several hundred to go!”

“This is NOT about inflicting pain or torture to an animal, but about ridding our neighbourhood of a pest.”

It was picked up by the Mail, the Mirror, the Guardian, the BBC, the Evening Standard, the Times, and was generally reported quite widely. The problem is that it was an elaborate hoax which was specifically supposed to show that the media would report anything with a fox in it no matter how ridiculous or untrue. Basically the moral of the story is that they indeed would. They made a video for the Guardian which makes good watching, particularly when you see just how scrappy the hoax really was – it turns out they were chasing a “fox” that was actually someone’s dog with a bushy tail taped a tail on it and the reason they used dog food was because a fox had managed to steal all the other bait they had with them.

The makers of both the hoax video and the making of the hoax video video did it to show the reality of fox hunting in light of the Government planning to give MPs a “free vote” – one where the whips don’t tell them what to vote – on the Hunting Act. I agree with their stance and the amount of horror that showing what killing a fox looks like generates shows the strength of opinion that exists on the other side of the issue. It seems clear that, no matter what you’ve been the paper for, we don’t want anything killed in that manner and no matter what class you are.

The film makers suggest that you should write to your MP to show your feelings on the possible repeal of the hunting act. I agree and I urge you to do this too.

Some good commentary (of course meaning it reflects what I think about the issue) is at the artoftheprank.

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Happy Inauguration Barack Obama

Normally I would say that American politics is out with the remit of this blog but I have been watching the ceremony on BBC News 24 (hurrying home to get to see it happen) and it is nothing short of awe inspiring to see the crowds who travelled from as far afield as Africa and Europe to see him sworn in. He’s an amazing speaker and whether you agree or disagree with his words they demand to be heard. This day will change the world in a way that does not usually happen with these, strictly speaking, procedural ceremonies.

However, as a comment on the press, I find the media coverage to be faintly one sided – from Obama’s message of diversity and equality the press have turned to commenting nearly exclusively on the African American community. I personally dislike the concept of racial communities being collectively described in anything, I’m technically a member of the “white community” along with the Neds who throw used chewing gum on the bus and members of the BNP but it would be a cold day in hell before I feel kinship with either of those groups. I suspect it’s the same for people of other races and the oft repeated comments that the “black community” is happy that Obama is president don’t ring true to me; groups of completely different people can’t be spoken for like that. For example, the prayer given by the black civil rights leader that he hopes there comes a time when “white can do right” is probably a fairly heartfelt statement for that particular man who undeniably suffered but cannot possibly cover every single white person in the world.

Russell Howard tells an anecdote in his act about his mother joining a “5 foot club” and discovering that the only thing the members had in common was their height and this did not mean that they had common ground or even got on as people. The same point stands for people grouped together by age or religion or nationality or race – the members might share this characteristic but they are still individuals and no one should ever forget that and pigeonhole anyone.

I would much rather consider Barack Obama as an exceptionally talented, intelligent and sensitive man, human being even, than a half black, half white Hawaii-born American. To say any less is to diminish him as a person.