The Sketch: A first-class manner but Falconer's defence is well below beta

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The Independent Online

Wasn't Charlie Falconer supposed to have a first-class mind? He certainly has a first-class manner, or more accurately, a first-class voice. Bosky, for an Edinburgh lawyer, but brisk as well; it's altogether charming.

Wasn't Charlie Falconer supposed to have a first-class mind? He certainly has a first-class manner, or more accurately, a first-class voice. Bosky, for an Edinburgh lawyer, but brisk as well; it's altogether charming.

Mind you, Neil Kinnock has a very good voice too. "I speak so well it means I've never had to think," he once said. That is a danger, it's true.

Has the Lord Chancellor thought about this Bill? His defence of it is well below beta. The Lords gave him five deltas yesterday. Is that his fault or the fault of the Bill?

"Urgency" is a word in ordinary use; we don't have to define it," he said. No, no, no. Under New Labour it's not enough to define every particle of speech, you have to list the atomic constituents of the paper the words are printed on. Look at Charlie saying: "We don't want to curtail debate." It's the single most curtailed debate of recent memory!

What else? "Reasonable suspicion" is the better test in the case of lower control orders. Why? "Because," the Lord Chancellor said, "it is bringing together evidence from a wide range of sources."

I have a degree in Perry Mason so I know legally this is piffle. The Lord Chancellor has just made circumstantial evidence admissible in British law. Habeas corpus is out, the presumption of innocence has gone, and now gossip is justiciable.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Thomas of Gresford both made this following point. They are proposing the level of proof to be "on the balance of probabilities" for the house arrest orders, but the lighter controls can be imposed on the legally inferior "reasonable suspicion".

In other words, the more serious the risk someone poses, the more difficult it is to prove it. "On legal and practical grounds," Lord Forsyth said, "I don't understand it."

The Lord Chancellor also told us "the balance of probability" was "not the way to assess risk". I'm not a lawyer, as people say, but you only find this grade of bollocks on a three-time Derby winner. The balance of probability is the essence of risk assessment.

At the time of writing, the Commons has adjourned. When they resume they'll face a Labour peer's sunset clause. Goodness knows on what grounds the Government will reject it.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said yesterday that al-Q'aida was more likely to attack us if there was a sunset clause in the Bill. You didn't think the terror situation was so finely poised, perhaps?

You didn't think Osama Bin Laden would read the Bill, note the presence of sunset clause requiring the re-introduction of the legislation in a year's time and seize his chance? "A sunset clause! It is the sign! Attack! Attack! Attack! The end of the world is at hand!"

It's the end of something. That we do know.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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