Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Tory Lib-Dem Coalition

The last few days have been an extended lesson in what passes for a constitution in this country. Rolling news channels have been explaining the protocol to the masses, and the masses still don't care. I am relieved that the country now has functioning government.

In case you were under a rock, the Tories have struck a deal with the Lib Dems to govern. No sooner have they begun than they have gerrymandered parliament to protect their weakened mandate -- the 55% rule. 50% + 1 MP used to be required to force a vote of no confidence. Now it's 55%. Why? Because the Tories and the Lib-Dems can muster 46%, or thereabouts, thus ensuring that they are safe as long as the coalition holds.

And how long will that be?

William Hague, if my memory serves me, campaigned under the slogan "24 hours to save the pound" in 2001. He's now the Foreign Secretary of a coalition with the Lib Dems. Clegg speaks five languages, has a Spanish wife, a Russian grandparent, and has worked in Brussels. It's time the Tories faced up the reality -- we signed our sovereignty over ages ago, beginning as far back as the Treaty of Rome. It's far better to seek a strong position in Europe than deny the truth.

New government:


No more ID cards. The ID card database was a data protection catastrophe waiting to happen, not to mention a totalitarian wet dream.

Some sort of posturing in the direction of civil liberties / rolling back the surveillance society.

Dominic Grieve QC is the new Attorney-General. Well-regarded within the profession, a 'lawyers' lawyer' as the papers are saying.

ELECTORAL REFORM -- the big one! Hurrah, our votes will be worth the same, and the in-built advantage for Labour is gone. I don't have anything against Labour, but getting 4% more of the popular vote, but five TIMES more seats than the Lib Dems is just crap. Although I note that the Tories will whip through the vote on the referendum, but leave MPs free to campaign against electoral reform. Sneaky buggers.

No more pre-charge advice for summary offences, as per Tory manifesto. Hopefully, the sergeants in the local nick will continue to do what they've always done -- apply common sense, rather than the niceties of the latest diktat from Whitehall. If a complicated harassment comes in (summary), they'll be on the phone / lurking near my desk. If a big punch up comes in and they can see the CCTV, then hopefully they'll just get on and charge it, maybe a quick phone call to check that a black eye is summary only, or an opinion on mode of trial for a broken nose.


Erm, where to start? The usual crap in the manifestos of both sides.

The Tories bleat about building prison capacity, but there isn't the cash for that. They say that they are going to 'let criminals know that they can expect a prison sentence for carrying a knife'. Except that that's what we already have. Sentencing guidelines saying something worthy, and courts giving the sentence that they feel appropriate. If parties really wanted to get tough, it'd be a mandatory five year sentence for knife carrying, just like guns. The truth is, nobody's that bothered.

Lib Dems -- probably going to be disappointed on everything except electoral reform, and that too if Murdoch throws his not inconsiderable weight behind the Tories in a campaign to keep first past the post.

Hopefully, they'll begin with the bonfire of laws they've been promising. I hope we can trust the Lib Dems to keep the Human Rights Act 1998 away from the lighter fluid.


  1. Media reporting of the 55% issue has been inaccurate.

    Confidence votes remain at 50% + 1. The 55% is to force a dissolution of Parliament --- a different thing. This is part of bringing in fixed-term Parliaments, a long-standing Lib Dem policy to end the gerrymandering of election dates.

    If the government loses a confidence vote, then the government will fall but Parliament will remain. If MPs in Parliament cannot agree on a new government then they will agree to an early election. But they should attempt to form a new government first.

    Personally I think 55% is too LOW --- the Scottish Parliament, for example, requires two-thirds vote to force an early election (while still retaining 50% + 1 for issues of confidence).

    Re the Human Rights Act: my understanding is that it's omission from the coalition agreement signifies that nothing will change here.

  2. Hullo, as a reader of this blog alongside Jack of Kent, I'd be very interested to hear your view on the twitter bomb hoax, cheers.

  3. Re: the Lib Dems and the Human Rights Act, an amendment was passed at conference yesterday as follows:

    "Conference also calls on Liberal Democrat ministers and MPs, in line with the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to protect the Human Rights Act 1998, to oppose moves by any party or individual towards repeal of this act."

  4. Don't expect any fall-off in knee jerk legislation with this coalition. When "something must be done" there is nobody less liberal than a Liberal Democrat.

  5. Will of the peopleMay 18, 2010 at 3:31 AM

    Dominic Grieve is a canny guy but if anyone thinks he'll be a soft touch for the professions think again. Legal Aid is on its knees and I'm sure will be kneecapped further.( was nice to see New Labour slip in a hefty cut just before the election- bastards!)
    Like everywhere else cuts a plenty are on the horizon and will be coming to a court near you soon.

    Maybe given the state of affairs someone will do something to rejig the courts so more of the work that should really be done in the mags , is done there, rather at 10 x the cost in the crown court. Do away with committals- save a ton of time and money and up the porridge that can be dished out in the mags to 2 years( no one could object to that given the youth court can dish out two years at the minute) oh, but obviously the bar will.........shame

  6. I agree with Dave, the 55% is for the dissolution of Parliament not a vote of no confidence in the Government. A vote of no confidence traditionally triggers and election because the PM disolves Parliamant. Also, I hardly think it's fair to say that the Con-Lib Coalition (whoever thought we'd hear that?) is stitching things up to support their weak position. As somebody pointed out, the Labour Government introduced a requirement that 65% of MSPs vote to dissolve Parliament. Also, I believe I am right in saying that together the Conservatives and Liberals can just muster 55% not 46%.

    I don't agree with Will of the People about doing away with committal hearings while simultenouesly reducing the number of cases at the Crown Court. To be blunt, proper committal proceedings prevent some of the rubbish getting to the Crown Court and can substantially reduce delays once there. Without them it's best to have a preliminary hearing and, of course, the number of hearings and thus the cost of the Crown Court proceedings increases!

    On the point in the original blog about increasing the sentence for knife offences... as a defence solicitor I think this is a bloody good idea. Although the guidelines give a starting point of 12-weeks this is a total fiction in my experience. I don't do a huge amount of mags court work, but I have done a few knife cases and have NEVER had a client go to prison!! Even one lad (albeit before the new guidelines) who was carrying a lock-knife on the same street on which a murder by stabbing had occurred for which he was at that time on police bail.

    Had a knife case sentenced at Thames Mags the other day where the bench gave 100 hours unpaid work and a few weeks tagged curfew for having a knife found down his pants along with a smallish bag of cannabis.

  7. I cannot remeber when was the last time anyone ever contested anything in a s6(1) committal and in the majority of cases huge amounts of paper are prepared for no good reason at all, save that it gives a lawyer something to carry. given that most defendants are clearly guilty either by overwhelming evidence of have made a full and frank admission it seems sensible to reduce the bureacracy of the paperwork to a minimum.
    Also, the point of doing away with the committal process, especially if the jurisdiction in the lower court was raised would be that the CC could concentratee on serious matters and contested cases rather than the volume dross that curently occupies it.

    And, I can tell you that is someone appears before me an a genuine knife case they almost always go down- following the LCJ's guidance!

  8. I scraped a bare pass in Public and Constitutional Law, and it shows. The 55% rule is indeed for dissolution, not a vote of no confidence. Thanks to all who pointed that out.

    Knife crime sentencing -- when the stats come out we will see some serious fiddling, I reckon. My experience is that few are being sentenced to chokey, and the guidelines are being derogated from where possible. If you really want to get tough, make it mandatory.

  9. Regarding "knife crime" and the way the simple act of carrying a knife has been criminalised as a knee jerk reaction, am I the only person who believes that the knife problem is not the main issue, but a symptom of a deeper problem within society?
    When one considers that when there used to be a range of youth organisations, scouts and guides for example, where knives were almost part of the uniform, serious misuse of knives was very rare.



  12. Ed (not Bystander)July 4, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    On behalf of everyone who can read and write properly: yawn.