Law: Briefs

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The Independent Culture
THE ART of mitigation is best taught by those who practise it for a living. Last week, a text-book demonstration of this was given by West Sussex solicitor Alastair Harper, as background following allegations that he had improperly kept Legal Aid Board cash in his firm's accounts.

His own solicitor, David Morgan, was instructed to tell the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that Mr Harper's behaviour was linked to traumatic events from 1994 and 1995. Mr Harper went on to recount a bizarre series of events in which he was freed by the "elite special forces" after being taken hostage in a court. Intriguingly, no more reference was made at the tribunal to the abduction.

Further investigation confirmed that Mr Harper had indeed been held captive at Lancaster Magistrates Court. For a whole day he had been kept at the point of a "sharpened windscreen wiper" by a murderer described by a judge as one of the most "disturbed" killers he had ever sentenced. But the suggestion that his rescue had been affected by an SAS-style unit was not supported by witnesses. A spokesman for Lancashire Constabulary said that Mr Harper's liberation had been the result of good old-fashioned police muscle, which had been used to barge down a door. Mr Harper was fined pounds 500 plus pounds 2,147 costs, but was found not to be dishonest.


THE OLD system for appointing barristers to Treasury Counsel panels was not a good one, but it was not bad enough to justify any claims for discrimination. That seemed to be the gist of the first full public explanation by the Attorney General, John Morris QC, as to why he was defending a sex discrimination case brought by barrister Josephine Hayes. Speaking at the Women Lawyer Conference, Mr Morris said: "I do recognise that the system by which appointments were made at that time was far from perfect." Mr Morris said he had now instigated a review, and did not want to dwell on the past. "I am entirely confident that the new system I have implemented will produce the best advocates available." In an example of more double-speak, the Attorney General went on to say that he was keen "not to disadvantage women" who have taken time out for family reasons. But in his next breath he said he would disregard the number of years "call" achieved by a barrister, and rely solely on years of experience. Presumably, women barristers who have had children will have their maternity leave deducted from their years of "experience" to be considered for Treasury Counsel jobs.


IT'S NOT all community charge fines at Highgate Magistrates Court. Last week the resident stipendiary magistrate heard an application for a private prosecution against Tony Blair, Robin Cook and George Robertson. Their alleged crime? Waging unlawful war in Yugoslavia.

The information, laid out by Christians Against Nato Aggression, accused the three ministers of executing an aggressive war, as well as being accessories to murder. The magistrate took just a few minutes to rule the evidence inadmissible. Retired teacher William Spring, the man behind the action, said: "He just didn't seem to want to know." Mr Spring will pursue his action in the international courts.