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Criminal JuriSPUDence?

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Hopefully they will be acquitted.

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Constitutional Catharsis: “All the world’s a stage” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII)

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Edited by John Gynn, Friday, 9 Jun 2017, 21:41

Might there be some constitutional catharsis in the political rollercoaster that has manifested in this interesting General Election result?

If there is, which political actor(s) might it touch? The electorate, the politician, both?

In 1967 Sir Lawrence Olivier discussed the cathartic role of Greek tragedy:

“The point of Greek tragedy, which is the original, was to bring huge crowds of people into a house and purify their souls by a catharsis. And I suppose you could call catharsis a purge of the soul. And that was the point of it. And that made them better. It was rather like going through acts of contrition in more modern religion. A confession and penance and act of contrition and absolution. That, in a way, was the same idea. You suffered a tremendous sense of remorse. Now, what can improve on that situation is that if, for instance, in Othello, there can be a time, and there is a time in the play, when I'm perfectly sure that it's right that the audience should be on Iago's side and want him to hurt Othello. This stupid gentleman, this idiot, this brutal sort of savage, go on, thrash him. Thrash him, go on, thrash him. And then it wouldn't matter if you introduced a kind of absurdity into this character to increase the audience's relish at him being tormented. Now then, that's all right provided you're not too late to make them sorry. And then if you do make them very, very sorry, then that is the catharsis we're after.”

Aeschylus Oresteia

Olivier’s interview on catharsis and drama:

It is probably overly fanciful to equate Olivier’s account of Othello with that supranational constitutional actor recently at the heart of popular political drama.

Perhaps that supranational drama has contributed, however, to portrayals on our domestic stage?

“[B]ecause the multitude naturally is not one, but many; they cannot be understood for one; but many authors.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Chapter 16, para. 14).

If it were not for the Athenian practice of counting votes with pebbles (hence ‘psephology’ the study of voting patterns deriving from the Greek for pebble) it might be possible, with some imagination, to view the hundreds of thousands of Xs cast on ballot papers across the UK as comprising something akin to a great and dramatic script.

Curiously there appears to be some visual proximity between Labour’s 2017 manifesto ‘For the Many’ and (the frontispiece at least) of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (whether Hobbes presentation copy or the engraving). The ‘many’ are represented in a distinctly similar manner.


The 'many' pictured on both front covers (detail in lower image).

Might this image capture the many authors of a political drama offering constitutional catharsis?

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time on Thomas Hobbes:

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Hanging in the Balance

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If the exit poll prediction of a hung parliament (with no one party having an overall majority by reaching the 326 Westminster seats required for a bare working majority) is correct will there be time for an organised coalition government to be composed in time for the anticipated beginning of Brexit negotiations on 19th or 20th June?

Forecasts projecting early regional declarations to a national picture do suggest a working majority may yet be possible for the Conservative party but there are so many variables (not least fuelled by a seemingly high turnout) that the governance of the UK may yet be hanging in the balance.

If the Conservative party majority is not strengthened as anticipated will that impact on the UK's negotiating position with the EU? Probably not vis-à-vis the EU though the internal party dynamic will likely be of real relevance.

The 'others' - Independents, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist party, Green party and UKIP - may be able to wield significant leverage depending on their own presence in Westminster when the dust settles.

Might there be scope for a 'progressive alliance'/'coalition of chaos' (the appropriate label depending on your perspective)?

Curiously, the Green party vote is not reflecting the recent picture in some local authority voting patterns in early declarations in NE England and Swindon North.

A very interesting picture is developing.

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And prologue to the omen coming on? (Hamlet, Act I, Scene I, per Horatio)

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Edited by John Gynn, Saturday, 13 May 2017, 23:01

It seems that the Union Flag fell from the walls of the Eurovision Song Contest venue in a portent seeming to reflect political separation.

Some omens do have constitutional significance attributed to them.

During the funeral procession of King George V, on 28th January 1936, the Maltese Cross fell from the Imperial State Crown as the cortege passed New Palace Yard on its way to Windsor and rolled down the street into the gutter. This struck some as an ill-omen that subsequently manifested in the abdication of Edward VIII on 10th December 1936.

Equally, flags are synonymous with signals and Royal Navy vessels signal distress by turning the ensign upside down.

In 1863 HMS Orpheus, a sleek, three-masted though engined, warship of teak and mahogany foundered on a sand bank off the New Zealand coast after following an outdated chart.

With a defective telescope the coastal signal station was unable to discern the upturned ensign on HMS Orpheus signalling distress and the delay resulted, tragically, in the loss of many souls as heavy seas broke Orpheus asunder.

HMS Orphues brekas asunder off New Zealand coast

HMS Orpheus by Richard Brydges Beechey (1863) from

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A Perfect 6th & Siren 9th?

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Europe Day on May 6th marks the anniversary of the ‘Schuman Declaration’, given in Paris on that day in 1950, with the EU institutions opening their doors to the public.

Five years ago, to the day, next Friday, another spectacular facet of European musical culture was in evidence at the Placa de Sant Roc in Sabadell, Catalonia, (a contender for the location of the Sirenum scopuli?):

Odysseus hears the Siren call

Passing the Sirenum scopuli - 'Odysseus bound'.

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Lost in Translation?

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Edited by John Gynn, Saturday, 13 May 2017, 21:37

Giving his State of the Union address in Florence on May 5th, the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that the English language (no doubt measuring his comment in light of the UK's secession from the EU) was "losing its importance".

Not so, it seems, in the eyes of the trio of Ukranian presenters hosting tonight's Eurovision Song Contest.

Indeed it seems the early contestants are also performing in English.

It will be interesting to see if the Brexit decision will have any bearing on the position of the UK's entry in a competition where geo-political affinity and messages of solidarity and concern can be aired with some modest impact.

Twenty years, says narrator Graham Norton, since the UK last won.

"Together we'll dance through the storm" ended the lyrics to the UK's (rather good) entry - with quite a cheer throughout the crowd.

Might a vote of post-Brexit solidarity be on the cards to confound recent UK Eurovision results on this occasion?

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A Chip off the Old Block?

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Banksy has apparently been busy with a blue flag over a white wall in Dover:

Banksy mural shoes one start chipped off the EU flag

One of the stars being 'removed'.

Picture from The Guardian online:

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A Weather-Eye on a Historical Moment

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 2 May 2017, 00:17

Today (Monday) marks 310 years since the Acts of Union came into effect. That anniversary spotted, curiously, in  today's (1st May) The Times  'Weather Eye' by Paul Simons.

It seems that the weather in the 1690s was 'horrendously cold, and Scotland was hit particularly hard.'

There had been a 'disastrous downturn in the climate'.

'The Cairngorms were permanently covered in snow, the seas were so cold that cod couldn't survive, and Eskimos even reached Aberdeen in kayaks, one of which is now on display in the University of Aberdeen Museum.' (Obviously the Eskimos had not encountered anybody with flat feet before embarking - more on that in a related post later).

'The staple crop of oats failed and people were reduced to eating nettles and grass... small wonder that this period was marked by trials of witches, who were blamed for the atrocious weather.'

Paul Simons' very interesting article concludes:

In one final act of desperation, the Scots tried to set up a colony in the Darien jungle of Panama - it was a total disaster that bankrupted the Scottish economy, and the only salvation was the Act of Union with England.'

Conan Doyle's Lost World

I have sometimes wondered if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his 'Lost World' on the same Darien Isthmus partly to reflect his personal/political leanings. Having twice run for Parliament in the early 1900s (in Edinburgh and again in the Borders) Conan Doyle's Unionist Party sympathies may have led him to consider Scotland's failed Darien efforts to be illustrative of a position less successful than that which benefitted from Union with Scotland's southern neighbour whose  more successful East India Company venture the Darien scheme was never able to match.

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Prorogation of Parliament

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The ceremonial end of the 56th Parliament is currently just getting underway with the Prorogation being sparked by Commissioners  acting on behalf of Her Majesty and a spattering of Norman French (different phrases depending on the nature of the bills) to signal Royal Assent for the bills completed in the (unexpected) 'wash up' period that seeks hastily to complete the list of pressing legislative chores.

Chatter amongst the narrators has just turned (in humour only) to whether or not the Norman French might be replaced with an Anglo Saxon alternative in light of Brexit.

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General Election called for early June 2017

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 18 Apr 2017, 13:12

On the anniversary of the Treaty of Paris  a surprise announcement from PM Theresa May;

The decision does seem difficult to reconcile with earlier calls from the PM for focus to be on negotiations and constitutional calm a requisite for focus.

The post-Brexit dynamics might make for quite unprecedented shifts in parliamentary seats particularly amongst the parties situated on the 'Remain' side of the debate over the EU Referendum.

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'Fiddling while the Treaty of Rome burns'?

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 11 Apr 2017, 14:51

Not so these eminent commentators:

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The ‘Misrepresentation of the People Act’?

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 11 Apr 2017, 14:47

A number of commentators have queried whether the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ - which will seek to cover the modesty of domestic law as the tide of European Union law ebbs at the conclusion of the TEU Article 50 process – is an appropriate short title given that the immediate purpose is continuity rather than repeal.

Thames looking towards the Queen Elizabeth Tower with Big Ben

The Thames tide ebbs

In HP Bulmer ltd.& another v. J Bollinger SA & others [1974] 2 All ER 1226, Lord Denning said: “[W]hen we come to matters with a European element, the treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute. ”

Even beyond a similarity in short titles, the Great Repeal Bill has further echo of the Great Reform Act 1832 (properly styled the Representation of the People Act 1832) in the family ties between two formidable parliamentarians involved in each: John Bright MP and Bill Cash MP. Both would point to the promotion of democratic representation lying at the heart of their formidable respective lobbying.

But with concerns over the accuracy of information provided by both sides of the EU referendum debate perhaps the ‘Misrepresentation of the People Act’ might be a suitable short title.

The Great Repeal Bill considered:

The Reform Act 1832:

A much more artistic representation of the people in the ebb and flow of the tide:

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‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.’ (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

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Edited by John Gynn, Tuesday, 28 Mar 2017, 23:32

Having just recently (January 2017) been appointed the UK’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, Tim Barrow will possibly have the job of despatching the notice informing European Council President Donald Tusk (himself just re-elected in early March for a second term of office) on Wednesday 29th March 2017 of the UK’s formal intention to secede from the European Union.

In the era of Dickens’ works the Dover Mail would labour up Shooter’s Hill.

The Dover Mail

(Image from Project Guttenburg)

The ambassadorial envoy of today is unlikely to be halted by the muddied rider that pursued the coach in Dickens’ tale. (He will probably speed through the Channel Tunnel).

But might the ‘blazing strange message’ - ‘recalled to life’ - ever be uttered in the context of this crucial despatch from Downing Street?

Paragraph five of Article 50 provides: ‘5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.’

Perhaps Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities has the answer:

“Tom!” softly over the coach roof.

“Hallo, Joe.”

“Did you hear the message?”

“I did, Joe.”

“What did you make of it, Tom?”

“Nothing at all, Joe.”

“That’s a coincidence, too,” the guard mused, “for I made the same of it myself.”

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Soothsayer: “Beware the Ides of March”. (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2)

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Edited by John Gynn, Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017, 13:56

The EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has now completed its journey through the Houses of Parliament. Royal Assent is scheduled for tomorrow – 16th March.

Today - the 15th March – is the Ides of March – Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.

The private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, the scholar Suetonius, described the infamous events on the Ides of March as, “a test of civilisation”.

Fortunately, by the time the EU Notification of Withdrawal Bill receives the Royal Assent tomorrow, the Ides of March will have come and gone.

Marc Antony in Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2


Marc Antony: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 3, Scene 2)

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Great prophets of doom?

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Substitute ‘Guy Verhofstadt’ for ‘Italy’ and ‘the Prime Minister’ for ‘England’ in an extract from a recent, keenly-observed and well-researched, post-match report of the (infamous?) England v Italy rugby match - which saw Italy adopt an unanticipated and unsettling strategy - and you can almost discern the same jaw-dropping tactical shock in the EU MEP’s ‘left-field’ approach - proposing continued EU citizenship for UK nationals; almost offering a post-Brexit bridge across the Channel - as that which temporarily baffled England at Twickenham in their 2017 six-nations rugby contest against Italy at the end of February.

First here is Guy Verhofstadt’s unexpectedly conciliatory note today, from BBC online news pages reporting the Belgian politician’s remarks:

“Mr Verhofstadt, who leads the liberal group of MEPs in the European Parliament, told the BBC that the [EU citizenship] matter had to be prioritised and "cannot be part of the political games" that have taken place over the last few months… Mr Verhofstadt said the situation "is a crisis for the EU". "The fact that a large country like Britain is leaving the EU...? It's shown a crisis in the European Union - it's a disaster. That Britain goes out of the EU is a tragedy, a disaster, a catastrophe - you name it."”

Now the substituted match report: “[Verhofstadt] did much more than compete... [he] tried something different… there was no humiliation at the hands of [the Prime Minister] and there was nothing that [Verhofstadt] did that demeaned… in the slightest, no matter what anybody else might think. [Verhofstadt] held up a mirror to the modern-day game, the endless torrent of breakdowns, and… showed where it needs to improve… Above all, [Verhofstadt] showed that glorious uncertainty is such a joy in this mechanical era. Now that is not a bad afternoon's work.”

Associated Press noted that Italy’s rugby tactics had ‘angered’ England: “It was smart and innovative from Italy coach Conor O'Shea - and it bewildered England so much that some of its players asked the referee how they could combat it.”

Mr Verhofstadt’s conciliatory tone, that so seemed to baffle the prepared intransigence of the UK Government, was echoed by another EU notable, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has said today that he hopes that the UK will rejoin the European Union at some point in future.

Has the EU taken a leaf out of Conor O'Shea ‘book of tricks’?

Perhaps, but perhaps not. Perhaps it might be possible to look at the Italian’s rugby tactics not so much as a ‘trick’ but as an innovative approach. That is what Stephen Jones thought and I think he might well be right. Might these EU note worthies actually be genuine in their efforts to reconcile and compromise?

Not likely; according to Stephanie Flanders (J.P Morgan’s chief market strategist for Britain and Europe) speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions tonight. The former BBC economics editor is certain that there can be no likelihood that the EU will give something away for nothing.

And the game the EU is playing is just not rugby for Boris Johnson (again seeming to be Sir William Stanley reincarnate) who seems set against compromise and ever-determined to be on the ‘winning’ side: “I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter, and you will doubtless recall the 1984 Fontainebleau Summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back, and I think that is exactly what we will get," he [Sir William – sorry Boris] told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg in BBC Two's Brexit: Britain's Biggest Deal.”

It is interesting, therefore, to find an excellent Welsh source of Rugby comment use the same words as Guy Verhofstadt - ‘catastrophe’ and ‘disaster’ – in the context of England’s unexpected departure from the Rugby World Cup in October 2015 and consider... was that 2015 rugby exit a precursor of Brexit?

“When the word "catastrophe" starts being applied to the result of a game of rugby union a sense of proportion is clearly required. Yes, England are out of the World Cup but life goes on, clocks cannot be rewound and the competition proceeds without them. English rugby may be looking into a yawning sink hole of self-inflicted horror but this is still sport, not war, famine or death… As the former All Blacks forward Craig Newby tweeted in the early hours, England advanced further when they were jumping into harbours and drinking like fish… England's exit from the Rugby World Cup is a disaster for business - and could see a £3.5billion loss to the country's economy, experts have warned.”

If the UK can show the same subsequent form post-Brexit as the English rugby team - currently looking to equal New Zealand's All Black’s world record of 18 straight Test victories, then all will surely be well for the UK.

Yet can anybody emerge from a process of attrition a winner?

Look at what happened to Sir William Stanley.

To quote (albeit shamefully out of context) the unsurpassable and inestimable Scots rugby commentator Bill McLaren:

“The All Blacks that day looked like great prophets of doom.”

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  “Ha, glad am I that no one knew that Rumpelstiltskin I am styled”

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The Queen’s messenger came to a high mountain at the end of the forest, where the fox and the hare bid each other good night, there saw a little house, and before the house a fire was burning, and round about the fire quite a ridiculous little man was jumping, he hopped upon one leg, and shouted out his name: Rumpelstiltskin.

Where Schedule 1 to the Interpretation Act 1978 meets Section 3 and Part 2 of the Schedule to the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 a provision shouts out the name of the abbreviation EU:

3. Changes of terminology

This section has no associated Explanatory Notes

(1)In section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 (interpretation) before the definition of “the Communities” insert—

““the EU” means the European Union, being the Union established by the Treaty on European Union signed at Maastricht on 7th February 1992 (as amended by any later Treaty),”.

(2)A reference to the EU in an Act or an instrument made under an Act includes, if and in so far as the context permits or requires, a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.

(3)The Table in the Schedule to this Act sets out substitutions required to reflect terminology after the commencement of the Treaty of Lisbon.

(4)The Secretary of State or the Treasury may by order make other amendments of Acts or instruments made under Acts to reflect changes in terminology or numbering arising out of the Treaty of Lisbon.

(5)An order under subsection (4)—

(a)may include incidental provision,

(b)shall be made by statutory instrument, and

(c)shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(6)In an Act or instrument made under an Act a reference to all or any of the Communities shall, in the application of the enactment or instrument after the passing of this Act, be treated as being or including (as the context requires) a reference to the EU.


And in the Interpretation Act 1978:

s. 5 Definitions.

In any Act, unless the contrary intention appears, words and expressions listed in Schedule 1 to this Act are to be construed according to that Schedule.

Schedule 1 is amended by the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008

Provision of the Interpretation Act 1978 (c. 30)

Existing expression

Substituted expression

Schedule 1 (definitions)

“ “The Communities”, “the Treaties” or “the Community Treaties””

“ “ The EU ” or “ the EU Treaties ”” (to be substituted in the appropriate place in the Schedule)

 ""The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that," cried the little man, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two." (Rumpelstiltskin, the Brothers Grimm)

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“Out, out, brief candle”…? (Macbeth Act V, Scene ii)

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The MP for Wellingborough’s speech at Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in shorthand the ‘EU NoW’ Bill (a contradiction in contraction if ever there was one) - stood out as clearly as his tie which rather had the effect of glowing amidst the debate like an eerie sartorial wick.

Indeed Mr. Bone referred to his tie in his contribution from the floor, stating: “I apologise for wearing the hideous tie again”.

However his speech stood out for different reasons. His contribution had integrity through its consistency and struck a well-considered conciliatory note. For example he reiterated his view that the Government was wrong in seeking to invoke the Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50 unilaterally. Parliamentary scrutiny is a good thing, said Mr. Bone, and any Bill will benefit from parliamentary scrutiny. He struck, something of, a conciliatory note in seeking to distance himself from some of the more ill-advised matters arising amidst the EU Referendum debate.

Moreover Mr Bone also spoke against the Government’s continuing stance with regard to EU citizens in the UK which places significant undue worry on a particular sector of society. He said he, personally, would have preferred the Government to state, unilaterally, that EU citizens in the UK prior to the EU Referendum would have the right to stay.

The currency of that sentiment was devalued rather when Mr. Bone noted that the Government’s stance on the matter was understandable - as the Government wished to protect the position of UK nationals in other EU member states.

It is worth examining the proposition that there is some credible political leverage relating to the position of individuals (whether individuals from other EU member states sited in the UK or UK nationals sited in other EU member states) in forthcoming ‘Brexit’ negotiations.

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) is acknowledged as, “one of history’s most important military strategists… [On War] is filled with quotations familiar today, in particular his notion of war as a continuation of politics by other means.”[1]

With that in mind it is perhaps worth contemplating the great strategist’s views regarding the position of civilians in conflict.

David Pugh[2] provides insight into Clausewitz’s perspective on the matter:

“He was aware that civilian suffering was not simply an accidental by-product of war but also the result of deliberate strategic intent to compel an enemy to do one’s will. Clausewitz did not endorse such methods because he had a moral and theoretical preference for decisive battles between conventional armed forces. He tended to dismiss violence against civilian persons and property as morally wrong, militarily ineffective and politically counter-productive.”

If nothing else, setting aside the obvious moral observations, and at minimum, those last three words might usefully echo in the House of Commons as the Committee Stage, so brief it seems barely worth the candle, of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill begins.

Just before the Committee Stage debate began, Mr. Speaker was (in contravention to Parliamentary etiquette) applauded in the Chamber when he stated his position concerning a future visit by the current U.S. President – a position reinforced as a result of recent, controversial, Executive decisions.

Though commended in a Point of Order by the M.P. for Bolsover, Mr. Speaker’s remarks may not endear him to President Trump.

However Mr. Speaker may well have been applauded by a past U.S. President. On June 4th 1965, President Johnson gave a lecture, ‘To Fulfil these Rights’, at Howard University. Reflecting an aspect of the ‘Great Society’, President Johnson spoke of: “Equality as a fact and equality as a result”.

Closing his speech President Johnson said: The Scripture promises: “I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out.” Together, and with millions more, we can light that candle of understanding in the heart of all America. And, once lit, it will never again go out.”

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A Hair-raising Statement from Mr. Speaker

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Edited by John Gynn, Monday, 6 Feb 2017, 16:31

A hair-raising statement from Mr. Speaker today:

Related correspondence:

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“Still no one knows it just the same, that Rumpelstiltskin is my name.” (The Brothers Grimm)

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Edited by John Gynn, Friday, 27 Jan 2017, 22:15

A long walk off an abbreviated pier?

On 10th October 2016, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, said: “The [G]reat [R]epeal Bill is not what will take us out of the EU, but what will ensure the UK statute book is fit for purpose after we have left.”[1]

Ahead of this ‘Great Repeal Bill’, the Government has now published its ‘Article 50’ or ‘Brexit Bill’.

Properly styled, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17, it consists of just two clauses. As clause 2 provides only the short title, the ‘Article 50’ Bill is, essentially, comprised of just one substantive clause:



Confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1. Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.

2. Short title This Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017

Oddly, the Government’s short ‘Article 50’ Bill uses only the abbreviation ‘EU’ in the long title and its one substantive provision.

This is unlikely to cause any practical difficulty in reality. Everybody knows what the ‘EU’ is after all. But you never know. Think Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknowns’.[2] Equally, important issues can go unsaid, dropping unnoticed down gaps between the constitutional floorboards. Discussing the important HS2 case (judgment , January 22, 2014), Lord Reed says, “But the most remarkable feature of the case of all was that none of the parties proposed to address the Supreme Court on [the constitutional principles governing the relationship between Parliament and the courts].”[3]

The most authoritative text, Cross [on] Statutory Interpretation (1995 at p.126) notes that changes can be made to the long title of the Bill prior to enactment. But it’s interesting to consider whether any difficulty might arise were it not clear whether an abbreviated term affords sufficient clarity should the abbreviation not be expanded by amendment leaving scope for legal argument.

This use of an abbreviation in the Article 50 Bill is, perhaps, given a little additional colour because the terminology employed to label the current European Union has not always been consistent. Professor Jo Shaw (2003, p.325) notes that, comparatively recently, precise and/or uniform terminology, in the context of ‘European law’, was not common and was, indeed, rife with scope for conceptual overlap. Indeed in their commentaries, ‘many observers and scholars… conflate ‘Europe’ with ‘European Union’ (Shaw, 2003, p.326).

“Perhaps your name is Shortribs, or Sheepshanks, or Laceleg?” (Rumplestiltskin)

Edward & Lane (2013, pp.435-436) discuss the issue of terminology within the styling of labels relating to a most fundamental aspect of the European Union. The ‘Common Market’ was undefined in the EEC Treaty but can be understood, say Edward & Lane (2013, p.435) as “a customs union plus: a customs union is concerned with the free movement of goods, a common market is concerned traditionally with the free movement of goods and the free movement of the factors of their production, that is, capital and labour”. Lord Cockfield was the architect of the internal market in 1985 which manifested in the Single European Act.

We might pause, momentarily to note that, despite being labelled an ‘Act’, the Single European Act is a Treaty. So no scope for doubt or confusion there!

Edward & Lane continue (2013, p.436) regarding the position subsequent to Lord Cockfield’s important initiative: “Yet confusion abounded. The internal market was sometimes called the internal market, or sometimes the ‘single internal market’, and both were frequently used interchangeable for common market.”

Let’s return to our abbreviated term. It was only in 1993, as a result of the Maastricht Treaty, that the term ‘European Union’ was first used formally in EU law. The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1st December 2009, added some clarity and certainty to the terminology. But even it has its own niches of doubt. This is illustrated in text of the Lisbon Treaty where, for example, under Horizontal Amendments[4] is found:


 2)  Throughout the Treaty:

 (a)  the words "Community" and "European Community" shall be replaced by "Union" and any necessary grammatical changes shall be made, the words "European Communities" shall be replaced by "European Union", except in paragraph 6(c) of Article 299, renumbered paragraph 5(c) of Article 311a. In respect of Article 136, this amendment shall apply only to the mention of "The Community" at the beginning of the first paragraph.[5]

Anyway there seems no cause for concern. The miller’s daughter, who became Queen, was able to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name in just three days.

"Is your name Conrad?" "No." "Is your name Harry?"  "No."  "Perhaps your name is Rumpelstiltskin?"

The Westminster Parliament has five days.

Cross (1995, p.124-5) says: “If the sole cause of doubt is a disparity between the otherwise clear and unambiguous words and a title, preamble, heading or side-note, the judge must disregard his notes and apply the otherwise clear and unambiguous words.”[6] Cross therefore concludes (1995, p.128): “It is the unambiguous words of a section which will prevail over the long title”.

Article 50, itself is clear by comparison with the UK Government’s Article 50 Bill: “The third paragraph of Article 50 of the Treaty on European union (TEU) states: The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification… unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

However, in the one substantive provision, of the Article 50 Bill, section 1, only the abbreviation ‘EU’ is used again. So a court, seeking to interpret this abbreviation, would have little help through the one substantive provision of the Government’s future ‘Article 50’ Act.

One listed amendment for the Article 50 Bill - noting that “exit date” means the date on which the United Kingdom ceases to be a member of the European Union – seems superfluous. Debate related to the amendments will be interesting not least to understand why some have been tabled.

Oddly the Short title of the Article 50 Bill employs the unabbreviated term ‘European Union. Does that assist a court seeking to interpret the meaning? Cross (1995, pp.30-31) says not really. “As it is contained in the body of the Act and is, like the long title and preamble, subject to amendment during the Bill’s passage through Parliament, one might think that the short title should be treated in the same way as a guide to interpretation. However, its sole purpose being to serve as a brief identifying label, it is by no means as helpful as the long title or preamble.”

“Accuracy may be sacrificed to brevity”

However Cross does point to Scrutton LJ’s consideration, in Re Boaler [1915] 1 KB 21 (at 40-41), suggesting helpful use of the short title for interpretation in some circumstances. Scrutton LJ also noted: “[T]he short title being a label, accuracy may be sacrificed to brevity”.

What of abbreviations in long titles of other statutes in the same field?

The long title of the European Union Act 2011 did not employ any abbreviation:

“An Act to make provision about treaties relating to the European Union and decisions made under them, including provision implementing the Protocol signed at Brussels on 23 June 2010 amending the Protocol (No. 36) on transitional provisions annexed to the Treaty on European Union, to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and to the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community; and to make provision about the means by which directly applicable or directly effective European Union law has effect in the United Kingdom.”

The European Union Act 2011 Act contains a significant amount of detail. That detail accommodated amendments in debate. The Government’s tactic of minimising substantive content in the ‘Article 50’ Bill may be its ‘Achilles Heel’.

The battle for amendments may prove to be the Trojan Horse with consequences both legal and political. The political consequences, not least, as a result of the UK Supreme Court’s decision relating to legislative consent motions in devolved parliaments and talk of a future referendum on independence for Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell has, interestingly, indicated that a legislative consent motion will be appropriate in the subsequent Great Repeal Bill according to today’s ‘i’ newspaper.

 Section 18 of the European Union Act 2011 providing just one example of the detail required in a, not unrelated, Bill states:

“Status of EU law dependent on continuing statutory basis Directly applicable or directly effective EU law (that is, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures referred to in section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972) falls to be recognised and available in law in the United Kingdom only by virtue of that Act or where it is required to be recognised and available in law by virtue of any other Act.”

In an interesting journal article, Professor Feldman looks at Section 18 of the 2011 Act when discussing the increase in legislation that is promissory, declaratory, aspirational, and politically rhetorical. Such legislation, Feldman convincingly explains, can be considered distinct from a statute that is ‘law-bearing’:[7] Indeed the UK Supreme Court, in Miller & Dos Santos 2017, viewed s.28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998 as an example of a provision that was not 'law-bearing' but, instead, imported something of political rhetoric into the statute.

“Declaratory legislation generally attempts to encapsulate in legislative form what is said to be already the law or, sometimes, the constitution. The legislation may be directed towards a contested point of law, seeking to resolve it in a particular direction, as in the European Union Act 2011, section 18: 'Directly applicable or directly effective EU law (that is, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures referred to in section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972) falls to be recognised and available in law in the United Kingdom only by virtue of that Act or where it is required to be recognised and available in law by virtue of any other Act.' One may question whether an assertion of this kind can actually resolve the contest over the question, which ultimately depends as much on EU law as on UK law.”

If a detailed provision like section 18 of the European Union Act 2011 may not clarify the legal position, what chance for its concise cousin in section 1 of the ‘Article 50’ Bill?

Politics can certainly flavour even choice of short title. W. A. Wilson[8] (1984, p. 87) notes that the Housing (Scotland) Act , “was called for political reasons”, the Tenants’ Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980. Professor Wilson also notes that, “the interpretation section is vital” (1984, p.89). There is no interpretation clause in the Article 50 Bill.

The long title of the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was short but clear and, again, did not abbreviate:

“An Act to make provision for the holding of a referendum in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.”

As Cross says (1995, p.124): “If… [a judge] is to fulfil his [or her] duty of reading the whole Act, when it is necessary to do so in order to determine whether there is an ambiguity, he must look at the long title [amongst other parts of the Act which surround or introduce the Act]”.

The UK Supreme Court’s judgments provide some interesting insight.

To quote Lord Hope (at paras. 13-14) of Imperial Tobacco Limited (Appellant) v The Lord Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland) [2012] UKSC 61: “As Lord Atkin said in Gallagher v Lynn [1937] AC 863, 870, an Act may have a perfectly lawful object but may seek to achieve that object by invalid methods… The best way of ensuring that a coherent, stable and workable outcome is achieved is to adopt an approach to the meaning of a statute that is constant and predictable. This will be achieved if the legislation is construed according to the ordinary meaning of the words used.”

Might an abbreviation be an ‘invalid method’?

The long title of the Immigration Act 1971 was of value in R (on the application of Munir and another) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) [2012] UKSC 32 (at para. 25, per Lord Dyson).

Again in AXA General Insurance Limited and others (Appellants) v The Lord Advocate and others (Respondents) (Scotland) [2011] UKSC 46 the UK Supreme Court (at paras. 13 & 27) uses the long title of the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 and the long title of the Scotland Act 1998 (at para. 145).

Why such a rush?

The Explanatory Notes[9] for the Article 50 Bill state: “Why is fast‐tracking necessary? The judgment of 24 January 2017 required the Government to complete an additional (and unexpected) step before the formal process of leaving the European Union can commence.  Completing this step through the normal Bill timetable would cause considerable delay to commencing the formal exit process, making it impossible to do so before the end of March 2017. This would further generate uncertainty as to the timetable for our exit from the European Union.”

As the Bookmakers’ odds and even the most hopeful Brexit campaigner will testify, it was the result of the EU Referendum that was unexpected. To say that the UK Supreme Court judgment could not have been anticipated is stretching credulity.

Moreover the Article 50 process could have been expedited (thus avoiding the need for fast-tracking the Bill’s passage) had the Government not prevaricated in the first instance with its unnecessary move to trigger Article 50 using prerogative power.

Blaming the UK Supreme Court’s judgment for the delay is like an MP blaming traffic in the Westminster corridors should they miss an important vote having paused to finish their cup of tea long after hearing the Division Bell. It might not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the delay after the EU Referendum result was manufactured partly in order to curtail debate on Article 50.

This may all just be an exercise in wasteful pedantry. After all, Rumpelstiltskin aside, can there be any importance in a name?  When the cry went out on the Cyclops’  island: "Whose fault is it?" Polyphemus cried back: "Nobody's”.

[1] H.C. Deb. 10 October 2016 vol. 615 at col.41. From memory Bill Cash, MP for Stone and probably the foremost authority, at least within Westminster, in the field of EU law, has been involved in the drafting of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

[2] Recently given credence by none less than Lord Neuberger: Has the identity of the English Common Law been eroded by EU Laws and the European Convention On Human Rights?1 Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore Lord Neuberger 18 August 2016: at para. 14.

[3] Lord Reed gives The Sir Thomas More Lecture for 2014, EU Law and the Supreme Court, 14 November 2014:

[6] R v Bates [1952] All ER 842 per Lord Donovan at 844.

[7] Feldman, D. Legislation Which Bears No Law - Statute Law Rev (2016) 37 (3): 212

[8] W.A. Wilson, 1984, Introductory Essays on Scots Law, W.Green & son, Edinburgh.


Shaw, J. (2003) The European Union, in The Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies, OU Press, Oxford.

Permalink 4 comments (latest comment by John Gynn, Monday, 13 Mar 2017, 16:58)
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Barnhill, Jura. June 2015. (Thanks to the kindness of the Fletcher family).

"The more 'tis a truth, sir, the more 'tis a libel!”

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Edited by John Gynn, Wednesday, 25 Jan 2017, 19:44

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Scots poet Robert Burns.

Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)

Through cheery dinners across the world today, one of history’s most recognised literary figures will be acknowledged. Burns’ Address to a Haggis is a salute to characteristics that were not always evident amongst the powerful figures of Burns’ day.

Amusingly, warmly, but certainly not flippantly or rudely, Burns’ praise for the humble and honest soul is encapsulated in the medium of a food staple.

Further reflecting his personal view of social morality, Burns’ diamond pen was also turned to political satire with a devastating riposte etched on the window of a Stirling Inn.[1] The Libeller’s self-reproof juxtaposes the integrity of the great Scottish judge Lord Mansfield (whose contribution to the legal system of England & Wales marks him as something of a founding father) against the characters of those who would seek to silence criticism of King George IV – criticism which was not entirely without merit.[2]

Lord Mansfield (1705 – 1793)

The words etched (around 1787) on a window reflect Burns’ disappointment that fair and free speech could be so chilled by the powerful. 

“Rash mortal, and slanderous poet, thy name
Shall no longer appear in the records of Fame;
Dost not know that old Mansfield, who writes like the Bible,
Says, the more 'tis a truth, sir, the more 'tis a libel!”

In later years William Hone and George Cruickshank would cruelly lampoon King George IV.  

Cruickshank was persuaded to move from lampooning the King (the Prince of Whales cartoon being perhaps a final straw[3]) to illustrating Dickens’ work.

King George IV (1762 – 1830)

“By 1817 the government had had enough, and retaliated with three prosecutions for blasphemous libel. They were to be the high point of Hone's career. With scant regard for his own fortunes (or those of his wife and his dozen children), and with no formal legal training, Hone defended himself in three separate trials, conducted on consecutive days, before Lord Ellenborough -- the formidably intelligent and un-ashamedly reactionary Lord Chief Justice -- who made no attempt to hide his hostility towards the accused.

By regaling the jury with a seemingly endless (and mostly hilarious) flow of precedents, in which authors as respectable as Luther and Milton had used religious parody without any irreligious intent, Hone turned the prosecution into an object of ridicule, and even managed to leave the vain and pompous Lord Ellenborough -- the original Mr Justice Cocklecarrot -- apparently worsted on points of law.

Hone's acquittal in all three trials brought him renewed notoriety, with thousands taking to the streets in London to celebrate his victory for "Freedom of the Press", while government supporters blackguarded him as a dangerous rascal.” (Adamson, J., Sunday Sutelaph, April 17, 2005).

Just a few days before Burns’ anniversary the new Administration in the USA has sought to chill criticism of the incoming President.[4] As Burns’ said: “The more tis a truth sir, the more tis a libel”.

The freedom of the Press was, some decades earlier, recognised by Burns’ compatriot, philosopher David Hume as being an essential, perhaps perplexing, contrary counter-weight against extremes of government policy.

“If the administration resolve upon war, it is affirmed, that, either wilfully or ignorantly, they mistake the interests of the nation, and that peace, in the present situation of affairs, is preferable. If the passion of the ministers lie towards peace, our political writers breathe nothing but war and devastation, and represent the pacific conduct of the government as mean and pusillanimous.” (David Hume, Essays: Of the Liberty of the Press, first published 1742).

What Hume points to is the contrary-wise balance of the critical publications of the day, pamphleteers, no doubt foremost amongst them, that seemed to Hume to be inherent to cajoling British government towards a position that placed the government at a happy medium as between the extremes of tyranny possible under either totalitarianism or republicanism.

David Hume (1711 – 1776)

But can the contrariness of the Press be counter-productive where the perennial swings of perspective cement short-term public sentiment into real policy change through the, relatively new, medium of popular referendum? At least Press influence may not always, necessarily, be productive. That may have been what Lord Reed was hinting at in his Brexit judgment.

Hume again offers valuable insight. The flaws he identifies are readily discernible in both caricatures historical and contemporary. In a different essay he writes:

“Tis easy to observe, that comic writers exaggerate every character, and draw their fop, or coward with stronger features than are anywhere to be met with in nature… The figures seem monstrous and disproportionate… Thus we find in common life, that when a man once allows himself to depart from the truth in his narrations, he never can keep within the bounds of probability; but adds still some new circumstance to render his stories more marvellous, and to satisfy imagination.” (David Hume, Of Avarice, first published 1742).

Between them, poet and philosopher identified both solution and problem in Press freedom.

[1] Burns may have written the words, claimed them to spare the real author from blame - or neither.

[3] The Independent (London), January 9, 2015.

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