On Tuesday of last week, Report stage of the Recall of MPs Bill was taken in the Lords. The Bill has not proved universally popular. I was variously on my feet, contributing to debate on a number of amendments. The last amendment to be debated was mine, providing for the Act to be reviewed after 5-6 years. One peer, Lord Howarth of Newport, thought that I may be pursuing something that could be rabble-rousing. Obviously, my reputation goes before me.
Unfortunately, the Government were not proving accommodating, either on my amendment or those moved by other peers. I did not pursue the amendment. It was rather late in the evening. Even if I was in rabble rousing mode, there was not much rabble to be roused. I may, however, return to the issue at Third Reading.
I don’t normally engage in ‘what if?’ reflections, but one has variously struck me. Alan Turing (pictured) is credited with making a major contribution to shortening World War II by two years or more as a result of his work at Bletchley Park. Indeed, Baroness Trumpington, who worked at Bletchley, is convinced that without his work we would have lost the war, with the Germans succeeding in starving Britain into submission. Turing was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency. His security clearance was revoked. This point is generally overshadowed by the fact that he subsequently killed himself, but it is very relevant for reflecting on what might have been. Where would we now be if Turing had been arrested and convicted in 1939?
My first publication of 2015 has now appeared. It is a chapter on ‘Continuity and change in parliamentarianism in twenty-first century European politics’ in the massive (984pp) Routledge Handbook of European Politics, edited by Jose Magone. The chapter identifies the extent to which the latter half of the twentieth century saw a consolidation of democratic parliamentary systems in Europe and addresses the challenges faced by, and the opportunities afforded to, parliaments in the new century. The challenges are those of globalisation, supra-national decision-making, the development of a rights culture, and demands for greater engagement. The opportunities comprise engagement with electors and collaboration between legislatures.
My second publication is a short article in Politics Review, due out next month, on whether the UK constitution provides an effective check on executive power: I received an advance copy of the magazine today. I already have six other publications (five chapters and one journal article) in press for publication, five of which are scheduled to appear this year and the other may well appear before the end of the year. I am at work on two other publications: a chapter and a journal article.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that just before Christmas I realised I had not published a book in 2014 and did not have one scheduled for 2015. I think I had better start thinking about my next book. A successor to The Constitution in Flux is a runner – assuming I can come up with a catchy title!
I spent the first two weeks of the year on jury service at Southwark and Blackfriars Crown Court (pictured). It was a fairly time-consuming exercise, even though court sittings could be described at times as leisurely. Part of the time was spent waiting and part of the time was spent worrying one might be selected for a case expected to last for several weeks. I almost got selected for one expected to last ten weeks. In the event, I served on the jury on three short trials.
Knowing I was doing jury service, a colleague in the Lords, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a former member of the Supreme Court, sent me a copy of the High Sheriff’s Law Lecture he gave at Oxford University in 2010, entitled ‘Are Juries a good thing? The jury is out’. In the lecture, he raised some fundamental questions about the value of juries. He recognised the range of experience brought by those selected for jury service, and various other merits attached to trial by jury, but took the view that they were not necessarily especially good at convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent. He noted that the conviction rate was some 70% in magistrates’ courts and 60% in jury trials. He saw long and complex trials as particularly problematic. He also saw it as a defect that juries do not give reasons for their verdicts. It is now an offence, under the 1981 Contempt of Court Act, to disclose what went on in the jury room – which is why I am confining my comments to the principles of trial by jury and to the way the process operates.
I can appreciate Lord Brown’s doubts, not least in respect of long trials. My concern is more immediate and practical. It concerns the process of calling people for jury service. The selection is necessarily random, drawing names from the electoral register. The result is that some people are called for whom giving up two weeks is difficult. Some people who are keen to do jury service are never called at all. When I mentioned to one or two friends I was going on jury service, their response was ‘You lucky thing, I wish I was doing that’. I did not exactly share their enthusiasm. There are people who would not only be happy to serve on a jury, but also be willing to serve on one lasting several weeks. If their services could be tapped, it would save time when it comes to jury selection. Given the commitments that people have, selecting jurors for a long trial can be problematic.
I am now giving thought to how we can maintain the basic principle of drawing people at random for jury service, but at the same time drawing on the services of those who are keen to serve, especially in trials that may be lengthy. Watch this space.
I was spoilt for choice in selecting a winner for the first caption competition of 2015. There were some splendid entries. Some readers were very keen, submitting (not for the first time) more than one entry. However, I have now selected a winner and a very close runner up. The choice ultimately was between Andrew who offered:
Moderator: Psst, Lord Norton – as you’re presenting, where is the cake?
And a very late entry from Gerry McMahon with:
The Pet Shop Boys are still looking good in 2015.
Even I got that one. I think.
In the end, I decided that Andrew was the winner: I liked the mix of what happens in my seminars with the posture in the picture. Gerry McMahon gets the silver medal. I would also add a commendation for the entry by NNJ Palo, which also made me laugh (The man behind the desk is thinking: ‘My working day has ended an hour ago. When is he going to stop…?’) If Andrew would like to get in touch, a copy of The Voice of the Backbenchers will be on its way.
Given the popularity of the caption competition, I thought it appropriate to open the New Year with one. The picture is one I posted earlier of me speaking in October at the Wales Governance Centre in Cardiff. After I had posted it, a friend suggested it would make a good photograph for the caption competition. So here it is and over to you. As usual, the reader who provides what I consider the most apt and witty caption will win. In past competitions, some readers have been especially eagle-eyed in utilising points of detail and some highly inventive. The winner will receive one of my recent publications.
Happy New Year to all readers. I have received the WordPress stats for the blog for 2014. The five most read posts of the year were topped by one that I posted in April 2012 – The characteristics of being British. It continues to attract views on a regular basis. The post also contains the reasons why I believe we have reason to be proud to be British. The second most read was my April post on Why did the House of Lords vote for same-sex marriage? I am contemplating developing the analysis into an academic article. The fourth most visited was the recent post We live in an era of fixed-term Parliaments, which also attracted the highest number of views on one day. The third and fifth were the August and February caption competitions respectively. I suspect it comes as no surprise that the caption competitions are among the most viewed. Talking of which, the first of 2015 will be coming shortly.
In terms of readers commenting on posts, I think it will come as no surprise that the top two commentators were maude elwes and franksummers3ba, followed by tizres. They were joined by D F Rostron and Tony Sands. Readers were drawn from 124 countries, with the largest number coming, as one would expect, from the UK, but closely followed by the USA and Canada.
I hope readers have a successful 2015. My aim will be to maintain or better the number of posts of 2014…