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Laurence Simons Newsletter November 2014

Posted by: Laurence Simons 05/11/14

Lawyer under fire: Indian advocate arrested for protest over politician's conviction

An Indian lawyer has been arrested for a fly-posting protest campaign against the conviction of a politician on corruption charges in Tamil Nadu state.

The arrested advocate was identified as 50-year-old T Thangakolanjinathan, a member of the AIADMK political party, who was apprehended by officers and charged with putting up posters in public places attacking the actions of Bangalore special court judge, John Michael Cunha, who found the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa guilty in a disproportionate asset case.

The arrested advocate was identified as 50-year-old T Thangakolanjinathan, a member of the AIADMK political party, who was apprehended by officers and charged with putting up posters in public places attacking the actions of Bangalore special court judge, John Michael Cunha, who found the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa guilty in a disproportionate asset case.

The arrested advocate was identified as 50-year-old T Thangakolanjinathan, a member of the AIADMK political party, who was apprehended by officers and charged with putting up posters in public places attacking the actions of Bangalore special court judge, John Michael Cunha, who found the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa guilty in a disproportionate asset case.

He was held under two clauses of Tamil Nadu Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement) Act 1959;  Section 3 (penalty for disfigurement by objectionable advertisements) and Section 4 (penalty for unauthorised disfigurement by advertisements). He was later granted station bail.

The posters read: "Justice failed, injustice prevailed. We condemn the foolish justice John Michael Cunha, a Kannada linguistic chauvinist, for punishing the goddess of justice (Jayalalithaa) in criminal conjunction with Karunanidhi (AIADMK president) and Subramania Swamy (BJP leader)."

Of course, as the world's largest democracy, India permits free speech to a substantial degree, albeit less than many other countries in areas like religious sensitivity. Nonetheless, given the defendant's position, it might be somewhat difficult for him to argue any kind of ignorance of the law.

UK Lord Chancellor 'should be a lawyer'

To most people in the legal profession, it seems obvious that lawyers should be involved where complex matters are concerned, in which their expertise is essential. True, some people choose to represent themselves in court, but, needless to say, the work of solicitors, barristers and advocates serves a vital function all around the world in helping people through legal minefields.

However, that does beg a question; are there any functions that do not require legal qualifications? Something, perhaps, like the man who is responsible for matters such as Britain's courts, prisons, probation and constitutional affairs?

All that comes under the remit of the Lord Chancellor, whose roles used to be even more extensive. So it is that Chris Grayling, who is also the justice secretary, is now the Lord Chancellor. Does all this matter, however? According to Mr Grayling, no. He told the Lord's this month that there were "no disadvantages" to him being a non-lawyer, pointing out that it is possible, for example, to be health secretary without being a doctor.

Of course, many a new minister has their credentials questioned when they take office, but this particular issue is a sore point for some - among them chairman of the bar council, Nicholas Lavender QC. Speaking to Legal Futures, he said the Lord Chancellor should be a "very senior lawyer".

He added: “He is entrusted with lead responsibility in government to maintain the delicate balance between, on the one hand, upholding the rule of law and protecting the independence of the judiciary and, on the other hand, respecting the interests of the executive.

“Legal expertise is essential to fulfil such a unique role. The Lord Chancellor should be a very senior lawyer.”

The QC added: "Justice is not a service that governments can choose to provide or not. It is a vital part of our constitutional arrangements. It needs to be defended and promoted to make the separation of powers a continuing reality and thereby to safeguard our democratic way of life for the future.”

Of course, Mr Grayling might argue that health is a service a government cannot "choose to provide or not" - unless it wants a one-way trip to the electoral graveyard - but Mr Lavender's view is not just his own.

Expressing a similar opinion, president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Frances Edwards, said the view that a lawyer should hold the Lord Chancellorship is held by the majority of the institute's members.

"The secretary of state for justice is a political minister in a government which has collective responsibility for its political views, while the Lord Chancellor, historically, had the different role within government of standing up for the interests of the justice system and the rule of law," she noted, arguing that this means a legal eagle would be better placed to uphold the principles of justice. 

Pistorious case raises worldwide question over disability

Just when you thought the Oscar Pistorious case might finally be over, think again. The conviction for culpable homicide merely set the stage for the next drama and, after a few weeks' hiatus, some very familiar faces and voices have been back in court for the pre-sentencing hearing.

At least one of the issues that has arisen will have echoes all around the world - that of how a disabled prisoner should be punished in the light of prevailing jail conditions.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux has been arguing that Pistorious is now "broke and broken", having unwittingly traded a life of fame and fortune for one in which he now has no money left and has lost the prospect of earning loads of money in the future, on top of his grief at the events of Valentine's Day last year. The defence has argued he will be an easy target in prison and that the experience will only damage him.

Naturally, prosecutor Gerrie Nel was having none of it, claiming that "society demands a prison sentence" for what he did and calling for the Paralympian to spend at least a decade behind bars.

Some of the debate may be regarded as being quite specific to South Africa, which has some notoriously bad prison conditions, although the prosecution noted Pretoria did have facilities in which a disabled prisoner could be kept securely in a single cell and have access to bathing facilities - this after one social worker claimed there were no baths in South African prisons, a claim Mr Nel dismantled.
However, it may be that in a wide range of countries all around the world, the issue of facilities for the disabled is a matter of concern and lawyers may place considerable weight on this in their own legal arguments ahead of sentencing.

For the prosecution, this should not offer Pistorious a way out, with Mr Nel arguing that it would be hypocritical for the convicted athlete to have spent years arguing that he should be allowed to compete alongside able-bodied athletes and then use his disability to avoid the sort of punishment an able-bodied convict would serve.

UK-Chinese infrastructure partnerships may create opportunities for law firms

A law firm's research has suggested infrastructure investment may be a key feature of UK-Chinese co-operation in the next few years.

The UK and China have spent much of the last few years looking to build economic bridges - and that may now involve them constructing some real ones too.

A new report co-authored by law firm Pinsent Masons has suggested that Chinese companies are planning a slew of investments in building across Britain, which will be worth £105 billion between now and 2025.

Among these will be £43.5 billion spent in the energy sector, £36 billion in real estate and £25.5 billion on transport.

The need for lots of money to be spent in these areas is evident enough: Chinese firms are already getting involved in the development of new nuclear power stations, while politicians of all parties are agreed that Britain needs new homes and has to improve its transport infrastructure.

Pinsent Masons partner Helen Chen said: “Infrastructure will prove to be one of the most attractive classes for Chinese investment into the UK, which follows a very open market approach.”

Law firms may have much to gain from those projects, particularly those with bases in both countries. A lot of co-ordination may be needed as they work through the various regulatory issues involved. The smoothing of legal issues will be something companies who are involved in both countries may be most adept at.

Above all, construction firms will hope they are not held up by red tape, something the current UK government has been making efforts to reduce while running the gauntlet of fearful nimbys and Daily Telegraph cartoonists, but having the right legal support may help get projects off the ground sooner.

The potential for law firms to be involved in UK-China transactions may extend much further than simply the stuff of bricks, mortar, tarmac and rail.

Last month, the government announced the UK will be the first western country to issue bonds in the Chinese currency, the renmibi. This will make it only the fifth overseas currency Britain issues such bonds in, alongside the euro, yen and US and Canadian dollars.

Politician’s wife advises female lawyers to 'find a good husband'

Developing a career as a female lawyer has never been easy, but improvements in childcare provision and more enlightened attitudes among some employers have at least helped to an extent.

Even so, it is very important to choose a good husband, according to one very notable Spanish lawyer, Miriam Gonzalez.

As it happens, Ms Gonzalez did not just pick anyone to be married to, although when she married a British Euro MP she could never have realised that he would one day lead the Liberal Democrats and be deputy prime minister.

Speaking at the launch of a female empowerment charity in Scotland called Inspiring Women in Scotland while Mr Clegg was busy at the party conference in Glasgow, she said: "If you want to have children... if in a family you have children there is an issue if you want to work, as to how you are going to organise childcare.

"I think it was [Facebook boss] Sheryl Sandberg that said the most important decision in your life is who you have children with, so of course that is crucial.

"I am being asked all the time do you want to have it all, and, I don't want to have it all - I want to have what men have.

"So if many men have children and a job, and that's what they choose, I do not know why I cannot have that, if that's what I choose."

For the last few years, of course, Mr Clegg has been in a position to try to do something about issues of childcare provision, but it is clear from his wife's words that there are other issues as well, in particular the willingness of each partner to share childcare duties.

Even so, there may be much more legal firms can do, not least by providing the sort of flexible working that can make it easier for couples to co-ordinate looking after their growing families.

The new Mrs Clooney tells Greece how to regain its marbles

It is not just in the area of running an economy where Greece has famously lost its marbles, although the Elgin variety have resided in Britain since 1801.

That, of course, is by definition not exactly what one might call breaking news. What is, however, is the revelation that a certain Mrs Clooney is on the case. Amal Alamuddin, already a famous international human rights lawyer, became even more so last month by marrying the world's most eligible bachelor (according to the average grandmother), George Clooney. Her listing on the Doughty Street Chambers website has revealed she is now Amal Clooney, suggesting that for some reason or another people will still know who she is.

Many of those will be the folk involved in the bid to return the famous sculptures to the Parthenon, which may seem only fair considering they have nothing to do with a small town in the Scottish Highlands anyway, except being seized by its earl.

Having spoken in London with her boss, Geoffrey Donaldson QC, she hopped on a flight to Athens to speak to Greek government officials about how to go about persuading Britain to hand them back.

Of course, the legal and diplomatic affair itself will be interesting and no doubt protracted, mainly focused on how real or legitimate the 7th Earl of Elgin's claims to have had permission from the Ottoman authorities to whisk the marbles away actually were. But the tabloids should have a field day nonetheless, not least as George has come out clearly in favour of returning them to Greece.

It is tempting to imagine that perhaps Mrs Clooney took the advice of Nick Clegg's wife in choosing a husband, but clearly the film star's new other half has already found herself in a  position where she might influence governments. Indeed, some might argue she is a lot more likely to be doing that beyond next May.