Speaking at the Vatican

DSC_2591On Friday, I spoke at the two-day Judges’ Summit on Human Trafficking and Organised Crime held at the Vatican.  As readers will doubtless be aware, I am not a judge, nor am I an expert on human trafficking or organised crime.  I was invited to speak because of my expertise in the legislative process, especially post-legislative scrutiny.  I was the only political scientist to attend.

The UK has enacted the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the first of its kind in Europe.  Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeal, who was centrally involved in the work leading up to, and passage of, the measure, outlined the provisions of the Act.  Christopher Prince, a circuit judge and honorary judicial recorder of Durham, detailed work being done by the courts in dealing with victims.  I then addressed the importance of evaluating the effects of the Act.  As such, my role at the summit was unique as I was the only one to raise the importance of having in place a structured means of assessing whether law to combat slavery and human trafficking was having the effect intended.

Our presentations were on Friday afternoon.  At the end of the afternoon, the Pope spoke, emphasising the importance he attached to the need to combat modern slavery.  The event itself drew judges and lawyers from around the globe.  It was valuable in identifying the nature and scale of the problem and what was being done to tackle it.

The picture shows those who attended from the UK.  From the left: Alison Saunders (Director of Public Prosecutions), Gillian Rivers (Co-chair, UK Anti-Slavery Commission, attending as an observer), Kevin Hyland (the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner), Christopher Prince, me, and Baroness Butler-Sloss.  I will include other pictures in later posts.

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Getting there – eventually..

20160603_133724I was in Rome on Friday and Saturday attending the Judges’ Summit on Human Trafficking and Organised Crime, held at the Vatican.  The picture shows the venue, the Casina Pio IV, in the Vatican grounds.  I spoke on the Friday.  I will write  in more detail about my paper in a later post.  This post is about the little local difficulty I encountered in actually getting there.

As regular readers will know, I prefer trains to planes.  I have travelled to Rome before by train.  It is a fascinating, and certainly scenic, journey.  I had arranged to do the same on this occasion.  That was before the French rail strike last week.  Though I could get to Paris, there was no guarantee I could get my onward connection.  Without being able to catch a particular connection, I would not make it in time.  I therefore devised a cunning Plan B.  That was to go round France and travel via Germany.  I know the route to Frankfurt and it was then relatively straightforward, if time-consuming, travelling to Milan.  However, that was then scuppered by the Belgian rail strike.  Although I could get to Brussels, the relevant connection to Frankfurt via Cologne was not running.  There was the prospect of a bus to Cologne, but that was not certain (and in any event would be a long road journey).  I therefore gave up and decided to fly after all.  However, the story does not end there.

I booked an early BA flight from Gatwick on Thursday.  I had to get up very early to get to Gatwick by 7.00 a.m.  I had been there an hour or so when they announced that the flight was cancelled (‘technical problems’).   BA initially tried to re-route me via Madrid.  When I made clear that was not my preferred route, they explored alternatives.  They eventually managed to get me a seat on a direct flight – from Heathrow.  I had to transfer to Heathrow for a late afternoon departure.  That flight was then delayed!

Suffice to say that I got to my hotel by 10.00 p.m.  The summit began the following morning at 8.30…  Of which, more anon.

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And the winner of the May contest…

CggcbkwWIAEOSedThere was an excellent crop of entries for the caption competition.  Not for the first time, I was spoiled for choice.  A number of entries had an EU theme, generating some wry humour, some cleverly linking the theme to the background artwork.  Some were notably observant – seanjm72 was especially good with ‘and as you can see Lords get a bottle and a glass, MPs a glass and ex-MPs sod all!’  Some picked up on the typographical error in the text – Vince Cable being referred to as ‘Vice Cable’.  I did not correct it as it would render one or two entries meaningless.

At the end of the day, I narrowed it down to three, with several almost making the final cut.  The two runners-up are Pendragon with ‘Lord Norton takes gold once again..’  – for some reason, I found this especially amusing – and Dean B with ‘Is the guy on the right saying “If he calls me Vice again I will punch him”?’   Again, I laughed as soon as I read it.

However, by the tiniest of margins, the winning entry is Matthew Oliver with:

‘Lord Norton tries manfully to stay on topic while simultaneously praying Sir Vince will stop playing footsie with him!’

Given his entry in the previous competition, Matthew Oliver is clearly observant when it comes to feet.  If he would like to get in touch, his prize will be on its way.

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May caption competition

The picture for the May caption competition shows me chairing the debate on membership of the EU with Conservative MP Graham Brady (supporting leave) and Sir Vice Cable (supporting remain).  As ever, the winning entry will be the one that in my opinion is the most appropriate and witty.  Some entries are occasionally appropriate to the picture, but not very witty, and some are very funny without relating that clearly to the picture.  The winner as ever will receive one or more of my recent publications.


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Prisoner voting

Ci1kFwaWUAAc4HmI took part in a panel discussion last night at a conference in London on ‘Challenges to Implementing the Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: Dialogues on Prisoner Voting Rights’.  The panel comprised Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, former President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hamwee, and me.  Lord Phillips and I served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill and Baroness Hamwee serves on the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The panel addressed Parliament’s role in responding to the Strasbourg judgments on prisoner voting.  I opened by pointing out that Parliament as such had not expressed a view.  The House of Commons has debated the issue of prisoner voting rights – and voted by a large majority against enfranchising any prisoners – but the House of Lords has not expressed a view, although the recent report of the EU Committee did contrast the position of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgment with a recent judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) that may lead to the UK having to enfranchise some prisoners in elections to the European Parliament.

The only action taken so far by Parliament has been the appointment of the Joint Committee on the Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill.   The report of the Joint Committee was published in December 2013 and still has not received a substantive response from the Government.  It constitutes in my view the most useful summary of the history of the voting rights of prisoners as well as examining the issues of principle involved in responding the judgment of the ECHR in the Hirst case.  Some MPs, as was shown in the debate in the Commons in 2011, appear to think a blanket ban on prisoner voting is longstanding.  I quoted one who said it went back centuries.  It actually dates from 1969.  Between 1967 and 1969 there was no ban and prior to 1967 prisoners serving  twelve or fewer months were entitled to vote and some did so.

The Joint Committee offered a reasoned report recommending that we revert to the position that existed at the time we signed the ECHR, namely that those serving twelve months or fewer be entitled to vote.   However, as we discussed in the panel, the practical political obstacles in achieving that are substantial.  Successive governments have been keen to lob it into the long grass, MPs have opposed it, and the issue – which at the time of the earlier changes of the law was not notably contentious – is now politically toxic.  It creates a serious situation in terms of the UK’s standing in maintaining the rule of law.  The impasse may in due course be resolved not through the ECHR route but as a result of the CJEU ruling, subject of course to what happens on 23 June…

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Who holds referendums?

Ballot-Paper-300x150I was somewhat surprised that the Queen’s Speech contained the statement ‘My Government will hold a referendum on membership of the European Union’.   My concern is the terminology.  The Government may propose a referendum, but has no power of its own to hold a referendum.  It may propose one and can introduce a Bill, as it did, to provide that one is held.  Parliament legislates for a referendum and the administration is undertaken by others.

The terminology is worrying in the context of the Government’s approach to constitutional issues.  It reflects a somewhat sloppy approach that has characterised succeeding governments.  There has been no intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change and a view, personified by Tony Blair, that the constitution is the servant of the government rather than the other way round.  Schoolchildren benefit from citizenship education.  Perhaps it should be extended to the Cabinet Office.

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Legislative scrutiny in the House of Lords

41ft2xa+sQL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I have received my copy of Parliament: Legislation and Accountability, edited by Alexander Horne and Andrew Le Seuer.  Part I looks at different aspects of the legislative process and Part 2 at accountability, including the regulation of lobbyists and the implications for Parliament of automated decision-making.  I have a chapter, in Part 1, on the legislative process in the House of Lords.

How the House fulfils this task is determined by its relationship to the first chamber and its ability to fulfil it facilitated by its procedures and its membership.  The House sees its role as complementary to the elected chamber.  The Commons can determine the ends of legislation, so the Lords addresses the means.  Its procedures differ from those in the Commons and enable it to engage in detailed scrutiny and its membership (in terms of its political composition and individual members) enables that scrutiny to be effective.  The House of Commons, I contend, is characterised by the politics of assertion and the Lords by the politics of justification.

For more, feel free to get a copy of the book….

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