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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Blue Gardenia

I'm in SUCH good company over at the Blue Gardenia.  Denise is doing a series on sewing spaces.  She has already given us access to the sewing spaces of your favorite bloggers, and today, she's featuring my (rather messy and despite what she says, disorganized) sewing room.  Head on over there to have a peek at the chaos in which The Sewing Lawyer turns out her projects.

For fun, here's another picture:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Victorian Murder-Mystery: the strange case of Daniel M’Naghten

Published in the New Law Journal 3 December 2010, p 1688

To date the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated is the unfortunate Sir Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), and his place as a regular answer in pub quizzes across the land is thereby assured. No doubt there have been many other attempts, and indeed the total number of failed attempts can never be known.

One alleged attempt forms the background to one of the most famous cases in English legal history, that of Daniel M’Naghten, whose case has framed the legal test for insanity for over a century and a half. Every lawyer will have heard of the case and most will associate it with the legal test for insanity (see Jeremy Dein QC and Jo Sidhu, “Legal Insanity” in Cases that Changed Our Lives, LexisNexis 2010).

Not so many, however, would know that the factual background to the case involves a rather intriguing conspiracy theory.

For most of his life, in the early to mid-nineteenth century, M’Naghten lived largely anonymously as a wood-turner, although he had a few other interests as well. Among other things, he tried his hand at acting for three years, taught himself French, attended a debating society, travelled to France and attended anatomy classes at Glasgow University – all of which amount to fairly advanced pastimes for a Victorian artisan, one would have thought ... But inevitably much of the detail of his life is rather sketchy.

What we do know is that somewhere amongst those seemingly random activities he formed the view that the Tories had it in for him. He reported this concern to the police, and alleged that he was being tracked by “Tory spies”.

No one believed a word of it or otherwise paid him much attention at the time, but in January 1843 he took a step towards legal immortality when he shot and killed a civil servant, Edward Drummond. He made his one and only public statement on the affair in the Magistrates’ court the following day, in which he lumped the blame on the Tories for having “entirely destroyed my peace of mind” (a complaint which, fortunately, does not usually suffice to apportion blame for murder).

An improbably large sum of money for the day (£750) was found on him, and this was used to fund a formidable legal defence team, assembled with great speed. At trial the issue was the definition of legal insanity, and the ensuing holding still represents the single most important statement of that definition in English law.

M’Naghten’s name is accordingly still cited in the law reports more than a century and a half later. Yet it has left unresolved the question of the true purpose of his shooting Drummond that day. Why did he have such a large amount of money on him? Where did he get it from, given the generally modestly-lucrative nature of his legitimate occupation?

Most assume that M’Naghten had not intended to kill Drummond at all, but rather the Prime Minister of the day, Sir Robert Peel, and that the money was paid to him to carry out the hit. Perhaps, therefore, the conspiracy runs, M’Naghten wasn’t mad at all, but made up the vague ramblings about delusions in the hope of escaping the gallows (if so it wasn’t much mitigation, as he spent the rest of his life in a lunatic asylum).

As conspiracy theories go it seems plausible enough, at least on the basis that Drummond was hardly an obvious target for a political assassination. He had been a civil servant most of his life, and at the time was personal secretary to Peel. It was while en route from Peel’s house to Downing Street that he was shot by M’Naghten, so it is easy enough to believe M’Naghten thought he was killing Peel himself. After all, this was not the age of television and Peel’s appearance would therefore have been far less well known than that of any modern holder of the office.

Such is the conclusion of no less an authority than the Dictionary of National Biography. Even if one believes M’Naghten aimed at the wrong man, however, we are still left with some difficult and intriguing questions. First, who paid him the money? Someone or some people very wealthy, one assumes.

Secondly, what persuaded such wealthy benefactors to assume that M’Naghten was a suitable assassin? Did he have a proven record in the field that has been lost with time? If not, and indeed if he truly was insane, then he wasn’t much of a choice.

Thirdly, was the £750 paid in full and final settlement of M’Naghten’s services to be rendered? If so, then the backer(s) had to have been pretty confident that he was going to do as he agreed rather than scarper – and indeed that he would succeed in doing it.

Well, who knows. It is hardly the only famous Victorian murder mystery to remain unsolved, and indeed insoluble.

Henry Fool (1997) Directed by Hal Hartley

This is a genius film. It tells a very followable story about a family in Queens and how everything changes for them when one stranger enters their lives. Simplistic enough. But while I am watching the plot unfold, Henry Fool asks many important questions and takes a stand for creativity.

There is nothing wrong with being a garbage man, but if you are a garbage man with poetry inside then you can count yourself lucky that a certain Henry Fool straight from prison is going to get you writing.
And as happens in this movie, finding a creative outlet can be a question of life and death. It can change everything.

But once you have found your outlet, it does not mean that you are good at writing, or playing the piano for that matter. The question of quality, standards for art and the relationship one's creative product has with the existing cultural structure all become real and threatening to those who dare to try expressing themselves. It can be so dangerous and damaging to be criticized that we never recover from it, as the mother in Henry Fool shows.

Yet, there is something very powerful and all-conquering about finding creativity within oneself. What happens to Simon in this film is that through finding his creative outlet he also finds ways of being kind to others, and ways of communicating his true feelings in any given situation. It is as if people around him only really get to know him once he becomes a poet.

Finally, this movie is named after Henry Fool so it must matter who he turns out to be. People who have done bad things can also do good. That is the message.

I might give this as a Christmas present to all my friends.

Here's some questions for you to consider:
What is the value of creativity to us as a society?  Should artists earn revenue from other sources other than their art? Could rich patrons be a way for artists, filmmakers, writers and musicians to survive in increasingly frugal times? Or should we support the arts and put our money in our pockets? Do we expect people to write a novelistic masterpiece while holding down a day job in McDonald's? Can they, or should we ask ourselves will they be able to do that? Would artists believe more in the value of what they were doing if the public supported their art through financial means?  It's obvious the arts play an increasingly essential role in our lives, so why are we so unwilling to support this? Why do we want a free ride from our music and increasingly our movies and books? Would we support a director as great as Hal Hartley to keep making pictures? What value is there to artistic control? Let me know the answers please, I want to know.

Henry Fool touches on some of these issues as regards creativity. Where it comes from, what we need to do to harness that talent and so on. Henry Fool also looks at how magic and inspiration can come out of the mundane and that expression and honesty can always hit a raw nerve with all kinds of people. It's also a film about support and loyalty and doing the right thing by your friends. Henry Fool  deals in varying degrees with mental illness, pedophilia, literary frauds and poetic geniuses,  suicide, mass media communication through the internet, commerciality and domestic violence.  It's a movie about love. It's also sardonically and blackly funny.

I so miss the cinema of Hal Hartley. Amateur, Simple Men, Trust & The Unbelievable Truth were all startling and original films.  Henry Fool has a sequel in Fay Grim, I'd love to see it. Hartley's movies don't come to Europe anymore.

Henry Fool is a movie about ideas, from a master movie maker that we don't hear enough from nowadays. Hal Hartley come back.  Henry Fool is a very convoluted picture. Over the years it may have become Hartley's masterpiece.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Get Carter (1971) Directed by Mike Hodges


 "You know, I'd almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow"- Jack Carter.

Real life gangsters, I've seen a few.  They say there is something exciting about being in the same room as a gangster. Not true, it just breeds fear. Glamor will always seem attractive to those who don't have it or never see it. Michael Caine plays Carter, a stylish, Burberry wearing, pill popping gangster assassin out to revenge the murder of his brother. He kills with a nonchalance that is disturbing.

Throw in this mix a hyper sexy Britt Ekland, Roy Budd's ultra cool soundtrack, Hodges realist direction and you have an iconic film. Hodges also manages to capture the spirit of Northern Britain in the early 1970's. Newcastle looks barren, not a place you'd like to visit, this dead end seems like a big empty wasteland. 

Get Carter shows the sordid details, this ain't no Hollywood. Two fat ladies cat fight in a working men's club. Over-the-hill landladies flirting with the customers. Dodgy council men involved in porn and  extortion. It's grim up North! Get Carter has much in common with that other groundbreaking British gangster picture Performance. Both films share a seediness and sexual tension you don't normally associate with the gangster genre. Get Carter has the Northern grit as a bonus. This film is no nonsense.

It took me a while to be in the mood for Get Carter. I am bored by the idea of a gangster movie because they normally seem so far from my sense of reality. Then again, some days it is a best choice to opt for something far removed and emotionally outrageous. So the evening finally came when I was willing to see why Carter has to be found, had, and killed.

England looks great in the early 1970s, and this film describes the claustrophobic combination of the rural way of life with the grit of city living. It passes the subject of South versus North, poor against the rich, and shows how the new corrupts the old. The soundtrack is unbelievably modern and goes with the main characters' outfits (notice the impeccable black trench). In fact most of the gangsters in Get Carter look like indie rockers of today (although some of them are too old to rock).

What usually disappoints me with this genre of film is the lack of believable justification for action. Here again, Carter's motivation for a killing spree is not so much the murder of his brother, but the fact that his niece has appeared in a porn film made by the local gangsters. For the swinging London gangster, this is supposedly too much. Yet, in his own life he is happy to go to bed with any woman half willing and available...

I am interested to go and see The American, because from what I have read it belongs to this genre of film. And, yes, some revengeful gangsta action isn't that bad from time to time when mixed with style, slow tempo and European landscapes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Abu Hamza's passport: be careful what you wish for

This article is to be published in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly (vol 174, 27 November 2010, p 249)

The radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza has won his recent appeal against the attempt by British authorities to strip him of his passport. Having already lost his Egyptian nationality, he argued successfully that removing his British passport would render him stateless.

It seems rather incongruous that Hamza wanted a British passport at all, given his reported attitude towards the British state. He might remember the old adage about being careful what you wish for: the last person to engage in claiming a British passport then trying to bring about the downfall of the state was the rather colourful William Joyce, better known as the wartime traitor Lord Haw Haw.

Joyce was a member of several different British fascist political parties during the 1920s and 30s (they tended to splinter and reform in a manner similar to Monty Python’s Judean parties in Life of Brian). As war with Germany loomed, Joyce, fearing internment, applied successfully to renew his British passport in order to flee the country.

Upon arriving in Berlin he soon began broadcasting propaganda for Nazi radio. Throughout the war he taunted the British over the airways about the bombing of their cities and constantly urged them to surrender. In June 1945 he was captured and charged with three counts of High Treason.

There was one problem: Joyce was not actually British. He was born in America, of Irish descent. Two of the counts therefore fell away on the ground that as a foreign national he had not owed allegiance to the Crown.

Joyce was, however, convicted on the count relating to the period of his broadcasting in which he had held a valid British passport (which had lapsed in 1940). The courts reasoned that since he had enjoyed the protection that that document conferred, had used it to travel and could have used it in a neutral state, he owed reciprocal obligations to the Crown during the period of its validity, notwithstanding that he hadn’t strictly been entitled to it in the first place.

His conviction was not without controversy, but it is hard to see any moral objection. Joyce had deceived the British authorities into thinking he was a British citizen when it suited him. He should have realised that they might go along with that pretence when it suited them. He fully deserved to come unstuck on that one.

In the years since, Joyce’s apologists have suggested he was executed out of revenge, or prejudice against his Irish origins.

Revenge is a distasteful motive, although it is easy for those who did not live through the terror of the Blitz to say so. As to the second point, Joyce was an ardent unionist who claimed to have fled Ireland to escape assassination by the IRA, making him a curious candidate for martydom in the cause of Irish independence.

Once it had been established that Joyce owed allegiance to the Crown for a certain period, then it did not matter that his impugned acts had been committed outside the jurisdiction, in the light of a case from the previous war involving another famous traitor, Sir Roger Casement.

Casement’s history was if anything more colourful than Joyce’s. He had gained fame, and a knighthood, for exposing colonial depredations in Africa and South America. Upon returning to the UK, he aligned himself with the cause of Irish nationalism. During the Great War he attempted (without much success) to obtain material support from Germany for an Irish uprising. He was caught and charged with treason on his return to the UK.

Casement’s defence argued that all of his impugned acts had taken place on German soil. That was deemed irrelevant on the court’s interpretation of the Treason Act 1351, which defined treason as giving the King’s enemies “aid and comfort in the realm, or elsewhere”; “elsewhere” being defined as elsewhere than the jurisdiction.

That ruling was also not without controversy but, as with Joyce, the moral position seems clear, leaving aside the merits of Casement’s cause of Irish independence, the mitigation of his good work in Africa and the Americas, and the still unresolved “black diaries” controversy (wherein he was alleged to have been involved in what in modern terms would be called predatory sex tourism). Someone leaving the jurisdiction, plotting to overthrow the state and then returning should not expect the state to find itself powerless to respond.

Archbold 2010 notes that the law of treason seems to have fallen into disuse, with no prosecutions since Joyce’s time despite a number of apparently qualifying individuals. The authorities seem now to prefer other charges. The offence remains on the statute books, however, and if the likes of Hamza persist in their ways it might pay the CPS to reconsider its use. Nowadays inflammatory speech might find a defence based on Art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but other treasonous activities such as raising funds to support Britain’s enemies would not.

Change of name

For the second time I feel compelled to change the name of the blog.  The first time came about because the original name no longer reflected what the blog was about.  This time the change is required because Halsbury's Law Exchange, with which I am involved professionally, has decided to revamp itself and call its blog "The Legal Soapbox".  Rather than complain I will defer to the site in which I have a professional rather than personal interest.  Besides, there was already a blog by the name of Legal Soapbox, though it closed down a couple of years ago. 

Not that any of this matters, in so far as I have never tried to advertise or otherwise attract traffic to this blog; it simply exists to record things I publish elsewhere.  That said, Mrs Crumbs and Pegs has been kind enough to provide a link, for which I am of course grateful, and I've no objection to anyone reading or commenting on any of the posts, which a few friends have done from time to time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Heaven Can Wait (1978) Directed by Warren Beatty & Buck Henry

Ok, yes, there is a Warren Beatty fixation in our house. And a Julie Christie obsession too. Heaven Can Wait is a double-fix for desperate addicts. Compared to the true greatness which these actors are capable of creating, this film isn't strong, but it is heartfelt in a fluffy comforting way.

The 1980's was just around the corner when Heaven Can Wait was made. The hair, the training outfits, cars, and the ways of the nouveau riche all scream with terrible will to consume and celebrate the shades of brown. But I have no interest in American football (it looks like idiots bumping into each other for no reason and throwing a weird ball in frustrated desperation). I have no interest in rich men in polo outfits (they just look like idiots). In fact, I should not be interested in the characters of this film at all. But before the characters there is the thematic content: death.

Death is endlessly interesting in its obvious all-expanding and all-devouring crude manner. In Heaven Can Wait death is broken down into a journey of reason. There is a possibility of  angelic error, of being taken away too soon. Luckily, humans are essentially souls who can therefore be put into someone else's body after they have died. According to this view there is a master plan, there is an expiration date hovering above our heads and, yes, there is heavenly justice. For romantic purposes: the soul shines through the eyes; recognizable even in a different body.

I am not being sarcastic when I say that I want to believe that death really is fair like this. And that we all live for the duration of time that is celestially picked for us. I want to believe in faith because then I do not have to feel so insignificant and helpless. Then my view of the planet would not have to be a perspective on the biggest injustice ever.

Thank you Warren for the moments of simple hopefulness and lightness. I don't even mind it that your vanity compromises the viewer's chance to really experience what it feels like to suddenly be looking at a different person but imagine that it is your soul still inside. Wouldn't we all be rather looking at Warren than some no-name playing the rich guy in his polo suit?

Nick :
The idea that there are guardian angels looking over us has been used in cinema on various occasions. Most notably in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life and in Powell & Pressburger's A Matter Of Life & Death. Heaven Can Wait is already a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan from 1941. I've watched Heaven Can Wait quite a few times over the years, and I think it's an underrated picture. It always makes me wonder why the angels looking after us don't get involved in day to day life, why only when it's a matter of death? Maybe I need to start believing in god.

Guardian angels don't make our own luck, and whoever was designing costumes and the hairdresser for Julie Christie in Heaven Can Wait, certainly won't be going to heaven. They'll be going to the fashion crimes tribunal. Will there be a guardian angel saving them from extermination? You can also wager that Dyan Cannon & Charles Grodin won't be being saved anytime soon after their over the top, almost slapstick turns here. Is there any guardian angel out there that can deal with Beatty's ego?

As it turn's out Heaven Can Wait is still a top class comedy. There are fine performances from James Mason and Jack Warden,  and some moments of gravitas between the smart ass humor. It's the dying days of New Hollywood, but the aesthetics and attitude of that movement still shine through Heaven Can Wait. The final exchange between Beatty and Christie is full of suspense, mystery and chemistry. It's a wonderful cinema moment. The rest of the film doesn't live up to that feeling, but it's a fun ride getting there none the less.

A new trick - Spanish snap buttonholes

It's good to stretch your skills by trying something new, right?  The Sewing Lawyer challenged herself by trying the "Spanish snap" buttonhole technique today.  The instructions can be found in Roberta Carr's book Couture:  the art of fine sewing.  Or, read on...

First, here's what a Spanish snap buttonhole looks like (click on the photos for eye-popping close-up detail).

This technique came to mind for the project of re-lining my Auckie Sanft jacket.  One of this jacket's fantastic features is that it's lined to the front edge.  But... that meant that its buttonholes were originally sewn through both the fabulous Linton tweed, and the lining fabric behind it.  Removing the lining meant literally cutting the lining fabric out of the buttonhole stitches.  I needed a way to make buttonholes that would lie behind the original ones and look good from the inside.  The latter requirement meant that sewn buttonholes were instantly rejected.   (Sew buttonholes in one layer of lining fabric?  No thank you!)

Then I remembered reading that Chanel jackets sometimes had bound buttonholes made in the lining to back sewn buttonholes in the outer jacket.  And I dimly remembered the Carr technique.

Ms. Carr wrote:  "Frequently used by the designers, this buttonhole has very thin lips that can hardly be seen.  I like to call them 'invisible' bound buttonholes.  The advantage of a Spanish snap buttonhole is that it can be made very small - as one might use on a silk blouse.  On the other hand, Spanish snap buttonholes are equally effective used on a tweed or nubby fabric with the lips made from wool flannel or worsted."

What's not to like?  Here's how to make them.

First, mark your buttonhole placement on the fashion fabric.  Then cut little patches that are big enough so that ON THE BIAS (this is important!) they are as long as your marked buttonholes, plus about 2.5cm (1") on either end.  Mark the patch (wrong side) with a line that represents the centre line of your buttonhole, and the ends of the buttonhole.  Then draw (lightly) a pointy oval shape (like a flattened football) that is about 6mm (1/4") wide at its widest, centred on the marked line.  Carefully pin your patch to the markings for your buttonholes, right sides together.

Sew around the marked football, pivoting at the pointy ends, using teeny-tiny stitches (1mm on my machine).  Here's a close up of the stitched patch.  You can see I've trimmed my patch to an oval shape. Ms. Carr suggests starting with this shape but it really doesn't matter. 

Snip carefully along the marked centre line to (but not through) the stitches at the pointy tip.  Then pull your patch through to the wrong side.

Next comes the magic, ineptly illustrated here because I was holding my camera with one hand.  To quote Ms. Carr:  "Holding each end of the egg shaped patch with the thumb and forefinger, pull in a snapping motion.  One good 'snap' and the bias will wrap around the 1/8" (.3cm) seam allowances and automatically create tiny narrow lips."

This is the right side, even before pressing!  

Magic, I tell ya!

No additional sewing is required - Ms. Carr says you can use a tiny bit of fusible web at each end to keep the patch in place.  (I will however tack the patches to my jacket to keep the buttonholes in place.)

In other news, I had approximately 50 minutes while in Toronto to shop, and I wanted to do two things:  visit Perfect Leather at 555 King Street West; and look for waterproof (or water-resistant) fabric for the fur coat.  

Guess which one prevailed?  (This photo from Perfect Leather's website.)  All I can say is WOW!  I think you can find any kind of leather; any colour; any finish; any size; any combination.  Needless to say there is a very intoxicating and leathery perfume in the place.  I bought 4 sq.ft. of orange goat leather for a little project...  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Say goodbye to your BVI bearer shares on December 31, 2010

Many users of British Virgin Islands (BVI) International Business Companies are not aware that by December 31, 2010 they must have turned in their bearer shares to an authorized custodian. An additional tax of One Thousand Dollars (US$1,000) and a custodian fee must be paid every year. Alternatively, shareholders can amend the company charter to prohibit bearer shares and replace any bearer shares for shares made out to a nominee.

Resident Agent / Offices of British Virgin Islands (BVI) Companies are required to remind customers to comply with the BVI BC Act 2004 in relation to bearer shares and the possible consequences of not complying with the new regime which took effect from January 1, 2010.
The consequences for companies that did not comply with the new regime of bearer shares, as confirmed by the BVI regulator, include among others:
- the loss of all rights which a shareholder may have as such("disabled bearer shares") .
- The payment of the cumulative difference between the rate applicable to government companies without bearer shares and the new government rate for companies with bearer shares in custody.
- Fines by the BVI Financial Services Commission (BVI FSC) for breach of the law.
BVI Service providers and Resident Agents reserve themselves the right to provide services such as restoration, change of registered agent, amendments to the charter and articles of association of companies, or to sign documents for companies with disabled bearer shares.
As for companies which nominee director services are provided, information of the new shareholders must be provided, in order to prepare the necessary documentation and to comply with the requirements of the law. Nominee directors who do not receive said information on time, are likely to resign as directors of these companies.
For more information on BVI companies see :
BVI INternational Financial Center www.bviifc.gov.vg/

7 May 2004


The BVI is poised to take a major step in July towards immobilising bearer shares by starting the applications procedure for custodians of bearer shares.
New legislation will ultimately require all bearer shares in BVI International Business Companies (IBCs) to be held by a custodian and thus immobilised. Companies formed before 1 January 2005 will have until 31 December 2010 to comply.
Companies formed after 1 January 2005 must comply from their date of formation.
To enable custodians to be in place by 1 January 2005, the BVI Financial Services Commission will consider applications to act as custodians from 1 July 2004.
Those eligible to apply as an “authorised” custodian will be service providers licensed under any BVI financial services legislation, as well as bodies corporate incorporated or formed outside the BVI that are not resident in, and do not have a place of business in, the BVI.
Those eligible to apply as a “recognised” custodian will be investment exchanges or clearing organizations that operate securities clearance or settlement systems in a jurisdiction which is a member of the Financial Action Task Force.
All applicants to be “authorised” custodians will have to satisfy the Financial Services Commission that they meet certain “fit and proper” criteria and have the necessary systems in place for safe custody of their bearer shares.
For bodies corporate, the Commission will consider the prudential regulation and anti-money laundering regulations with which the bodies have to comply.
The Commission may attach conditions to its approval and vary or revoke these.
To assist potential applicants for custodian status, the Commission has issued a new Aide Memoire, entitled, Criteria for Approval of Authorised Custodians of Bearer Shares of BVI Incorporated Companies. Besides setting out the criteria the Commission will use when approving custodians, the Aide Memoire addresses, inter alia, the duty of custodians and the grounds on which the Commission may revoke approvals.
Commenting on the new bearer shares regime, Robert Mathavious, Managing Director and CEO of the Financial Services Commission, said, “These measures enable the BVI to comply with all international standards, including the 40 anti-money laundering recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force. They are the result of close cooperation between the BVI private sector, government and regulator. The Commission encourages all potential custodians to apply from 1 July.” NOTES TO EDITORS 1. The Aide Memoire is available on the Financial Services Commission’s website at www.bvifsc.vg 2. The International Business Companies (Amendment) Acts of 2003 and 2004 provide the legal framework for immobilising bearer shares. The Acts are due to come into force on 1 January 2005.
3. The Financial Services Commission (Amendment) Act of 2004 addresses the regulatory framework for immobilising bearer shares, in particular the rules governing custodians. It is due to come into force on 1 July 2004.
4. IBCs will be able to amend their Memoranda of Association to state that they are authorised to issue only registered shares and that these may not be exchanged for bearer shares. They will be required to file this statement with the BVI Registrar of Companies, along with a declaration that they have no bearer shares in issue.
5. The new rules are the result of extensive consultation with BVI service providers. They are based on the recommendations of a private sector panel that the Financial Services Commission convened to examine the issue.
6. Although the IBC (Amendment) Act of 1993 envisaged a deadline for immobilisation of bearer shares of 31 December 2004, the private sector panel recommended a seven-year transition period before the new legislation took effect. A further IBC (Amendment) Act of 2004 gave effect to this recommendation, setting a new deadline for immobilisation of 31 December 2010.
7. Most of the 500,000 IBCs registered in the BVI currently have the power to issue bearer shares. Whether they have in fact issued these and have bearer shares outstanding is not certain.
8. Bearer shares are not unique to BVI IBCs. They are widely used in Europe by non-listed companies and are also popular in Latin America, the Far East and some US states.


If you need a Resident Agent or Custodian for the bearer shares of your BVI company, contact us through our website, by email, Bitwine or Skype

My status

Monday, November 15, 2010

Magna Carta and the European Convention on Human Rights

In 2015 Magna Carta will be 800 years’ old. Moves to mark the occasion have already begun with a ceremony held on 12 November in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines.

The Guardian’s report of the ceremony calls the history of the Charter “bizarre”, refers to the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) as its “modern equivalent” and makes critical remarks about the present government’s commitment to the Convention, concluding “King John probably would have approved.” Some of the comments below the article also raise the chestnut of Britain’s lack of a written constitution.

In order properly to understand the place of the Convention and the British Constitution, it is necessary to understand something of the history of the Charter, which is not bizarre at all but rather goes to the very essence of the nation and is most assuredly something we need to preserve.

It is trite that the original purpose of the Charter was to divide power between King John and the barons in a manner more favourable to the latter. Equally obviously the Charter did not of itself create our modern constitutional arrangements: these evolved continuously from the Charter through (among many other things) de Montfort’s Parliament, Dr Bonham’s case, the Prohibitions del Roy, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and the various extensions of the franchise, as well as the rediscovery of classical authors who had been largely forgotten by the thirteenth century.

The concepts which evolved from all those events – including the separation of powers, the rule of law and the restraint of executive power – not only created the unwritten British Constitution, but also were the guiding hand behind many other national charters (the best known being that of the United States), and also the international documents drafted in the aftermath of the Second World War, of which the two most important were probably the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention itself.

Therein, however, lies the key point. It was that history, with which generations of English lawyers and politicians were infused, which created the idea and, more importantly, the practice of the rule of law and limitations on government power. It was not due to any single document, or a written constitution.

By the most acute contrast, many nations which do have beautifully written constitutions continue by and large to ignore them. Zimbabwe is a case in point. The recent reports of oppression of Christians in Pakistan sit in stark discomfort with the ringing declaration in Pakistan’s constitution which provides unambiguously for freedom of religion for all.

In recent times it seems to me that Britain has had a tendency to disdain its past and to downgrade and denigrate the teaching of history and public law accordingly. Doing so is not merely philistinism; it is undermining the very reason for the rights and freedoms we enjoy and so many other countries do not. To be sure, those rights are imperfect, and even precariously held; but to suggest that this country is anything less than one of the most free and most respectful of the rule of law by international and historic standards is ignorant at best and fatally damaging at worst.

In summary, it is our history, tradition and culture which is the best preservation of our liberties, and Magna Carta can properly be said to be an important event at the early stages of that history. The grand celebrations to mark its octocentenary are therefore appropriate.

The edges of sewing

By which The Sewing Lawyer means an activity that has something to do with sewing but doesn't involve the actual activity of putting cut pieces of fabric together with thread.  It includes choosing fabric (in a store or from the stash) and patterns, thinking about sewing, reading about sewing, and tracing patterns. More constructively, it may involve shoveling out the sewing room.   This is a (rarely-seen) variation of sewing around the edges because it tends to result in recently-acquired fabric being handled, thought about, and put away, and leads to unfinished projects being unearthed, thought about, and sometimes even advanced (without actual sewing).

Because I feel I have truly started to "sew" until the machine has been turned on and a bobbin wound, I also include cutting out projects in this category, if I'm pretty sure I'm not going to turn the machine on and wind a bobbin imminently after cutting out the last piece.

Right now, I am marking time while waiting for my teflon foot to arrive so I can get back to the leather jacket.  It's going to be a bit of a pain to translate the very precise settings I had been using (on Kathryn Brenne's Bernina) to the very imprecise settings available on the Featherweight, but I am determined.

So in recent days, quite a lot of stuff around the edges of sewing happened here.  This included:

  • taking the lining out of the mink coat pictured in a recent post, reading Kathryn Brenne's article in Vogue Pattern Magazine several times, studying the construction of the coat, identifying Vogue 1083 as the perfect pattern for its transformation, thinking about the kind of fabric that would best complement it, rejecting every piece of fabric in my stash as unsuitable; shopping several websites without success, and trying to figure out if I'll have enough time to seriously look for fabric on my work-related trip to downtown Toronto later this week;
  • making the lining pieces for my leather jacket (after all the adjustments it was easier to make the lining patterns from my altered pieces than to alter the included lining pieces);
  • (finally) finishing the lining pattern for my Auckie Sanft jacket which was enthusiastically disassembled for this very purpose more than a year ago; 
  • cutting Jalie 2795 out of cushy blue-grey Power Stretch; 
  • washing and drying recently-acquired fabric; and
  • putting fabric away (!) which is always a challenge chez The Sewing Lawyer due to an overabundance of fabric and an underabundance of storage locations.  

Today I feel like more, maybe to include tracing Jalie 3024, which I think I'll shorten for now to another top suitable for exercise wear.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

U.S.-Panama Business Group Gears Up For Washington FTA Lobbying Push

Inside U.S. Trade - 10/22/2010
Posted: October 21, 2010

U.S.-Panama Business Group Gears Up For Washington FTA Lobbying Push

A U.S.-Panama business group is planning a new push to lobby the Obama administration and Congress to secure the approval of the long-stalled U.S.-Panama free trade agreement, according to a Panamanian private-sector source.
The U.S.-Panama Business Council will hold meetings in Washington on Nov. 18-19 with U.S. lawmakers, State Department officials and members of the U.S. private sector, this source said. He did not provide further information on what the group planned to discuss during these meetings.
Panamanian sources said the primary obstacle to the passage of the U.S.-Panama FTA remains the demand by the U.S. that Panama sign a tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) with the U.S.
Panamanian Vice President Juan Carlos Varela and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk discussed the tax transparency issue during a Sept. 30 meeting in Washington, according to USTR spokeswoman Nkenge Harmon.
The two officials also discussed U.S. concerns with "certain aspects of Panama's labor regime," Harmon said in an e-mailed statement.
One Panamanian source said during this meeting the U.S. sought to entice Panama into signing a TIEA by saying that in exchange it would allow a tax deduction for U.S. business travelers who visit Panama for conventions, seminars or other meetings.
Such a deduction is currently available for domestic travel, as well as travel to Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guyana, Honduras and some Caribbean destinations, according to Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel for federal tax policy at Citizens for Tax Justice. However, this deduction is not available if such meetings are held on cruise ships, Wilkins said.
Such an agreement would require the Panamanian government to hand over information on Panamanian bank accounts used by U.S. persons upon request by the U.S. government, which goes against current bank secrecy laws in Panama, they said.
Panama is currently listed on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's "gray list" because of its status as a tax haven. In order to secure removal from the list, a country needs to implement 12 TIEAs or Double Taxation Treaties (DTTs) with full tax information exchange provisions (Inside U.S. Trade, June 11).
As of Oct. 20, Panama had signed nine such DTTs, according to a press release from the office of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Panamanian sources said three additional DTTs have already been negotiated and their signing is expected before the end of the year.
According to one Panamanian source who opposes the signing of a TIEA with the U.S., a recently passed U.S. law already would require some Panamanian banks to report information automatically on U.S. account holders.
The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, which President Obama signed on March 18 and is slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, includes provisions that will require foreign banks that do business with U.S. banks to report information on U.S. account holders in one of two ways, according to Wilkins.
The first option is for these banks to submit a Form 1099 to the Internal Revenue Service that would report the income earned on the U.S. account. The second option is for these banks to fulfill more stringent reporting requirements contained in the HIRE Act, under which the banks would not have to report the total income on the account but would have to provide information on the maximum amount in the account and the aggregate amount of transactions on the account.
In both cases, the banks would have to report the name, address and taxpayer identification number of the U.S. account holder.
Asked if these reporting requirements would make information exchange provisions in the TIEA redundant, Wilkins said this would not be the case. While the HIRE Act provisions would be helpful because they could aid the U.S. in identifying tax evaders by name, the TIEA provisions are also necessary because they allow U.S. authorities to request Panamanian authorities hand over any information about U.S. account holders upon request, Wilkins said.
One Panamanian source said the government had recently implemented a change to its law that would allow Panama's tax agency to gather information on account holders if such information is requested by a foreign government under the DTTs Panama is signing with other countries. He explained that this change was necessary in order to implement the tax information exchange provisions chapters of these DTTs.
TIEAs spell out in great detail the procedure for exchanging tax information between two governments. For example, the TIEA between the U.S. and the Cayman Islands consists of 13 detailed articles in information exchange.
By contrast, the OECD Model Tax Convention Article 26 Panama wants in a DTT with the U.S. is comprised only of five sections outlining basic commitments (Inside U.S. Trade, June 11).

See full text in

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Un Acuerdo con Pocos Beneficios

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Bribery Act 2010 - hoping against hope?

This article was published in the New Law Journal NLJ 2010 Vol 60, No 7441, p1572:

The Bribery Act 2010 received royal assent on 8 April. According to the Ministry of Justice, it will among other things “provide a more effective legal framework to combat bribery in the public or private sectors” and “help tackle the threat that bribery poses to economic progress and development around the world”.

It is fair to say that the old regime was a fractured state of affairs, and it is also fair to say that it didn't achieve very much. In 2007, for example, the US brought 69 cases relating to foreign bribery, Germany 43 and the UK none at all.

It can't be said, therefore, that there was no case for reform. If anything the surprise is the length of time reform has taken; it is not as if the previous government was reticent about altering the criminal law, in any other respect. The total number of pages in Halsbury's Statutes devoted to criminal law more than doubled between 1997 and 2010. That sort of increase is totally inconsistent with the rule of law, which requires, among other things, the law to be reasonably stable and knowable in advance.

Justified or not, it may be doubted whether the new Act will have the desired effect. The fact that the old law was in a slightly jaded state can scarcely be a complete explanation for the dearth of successful prosecutions. Perhaps the most famous, or rather infamous, case of a non-prosecution was the Al Yamamah investigation of the mid-2000s by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).


Readers may recall that the investigation concerned the sale of Eurofighter jets to Saudi Arabia. The director of the SFO formed the view that there had been fraud, and began an investigation accordingly. All proceeded as normal until BAE Systems plc (the Eurofighter's manufacturer) said that to comply with a notice for disclosure would impair relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia. That initially did not suffice to prevent the investigation, but in short order the Saudis upped the stakes. They made quite clear that unless the investigation was halted two things would follow: first, the Eurofighter deal (and presumably any future weapons purchase) would be called off; and secondly, cooperation in the “war on terror” would cease. In case anyone didn't get the hint, the implications of the second threat were spelt out—British lives on British streets would be put at risk. And just to make sure the right people heard, they made those threats directly to No. 10 Downing Street (not being convinced of the constitutional arrangement of the independence of the prosecution process in Britain).

By means of a “Shawcross exercise” the Attorney General (who superintends the Director as with every other prosecutorial authority) had solicited the views of the cabinet in relation to the implications for foreign relations and, given the unambiguous threat emanating from Riyadh, ultimately concluded that it was not in the public interest to continue with the investigation, much less prosecute anyone.

That decision was the subject of well-known judicial review proceedings (R (on the application of Corner House Research) v Director of the Serious Fraud Office [2008] 4 All ER 927), but despite the Divisional Court railing against what it saw as an abominable interference with the rule of law, on appeal the House of Lords gave the complaints short shrift. Distasteful as it all was, their lordships held, the decision of the Director was not unlawful by traditional judicial review criteria, and therefore could not be interfered with by the courts. He had been entitled to take into account the public interest, in particular the threat to British lives, and indeed could have reached no other decision in the circumstances of the case (see John Cooper QC, “The Day We Sold the Rule of Law”, in Cases that Changed Our Lives, LexisNexis 2010).


One can look at the Al Yamamah affair from several different angles: a supine capitulation in the face of a foreign threat (that would presumably have set Lord Palmerston spinning in his grave), or a correct utilitarian balancing of the public interest. Or an outrageous selling out of the rule of law versus a proper exercise of the discretion which the prosecuting authorities have always correctly possessed. One thing, however, seems clear beyond argument: no matter what the state of the bribery laws, the Attorney General (or his subordinates) will exercise the discretion not to prosecute when they conclude it is not in the UK's interest to do so. And when British lives are at stake they will inevitably follow that course.

It would therefore pay to bear in mind that although the bribery laws may have changed—the “war on terror” continues unabated; the state of the nation's finances has become worse; we are still committed to a costly and protracted armed struggle in Afghanistan; our planned weapons procurement programmes are in a shaky state; which means the defence industry is as well; and we are as dependent on foreign oil as ever. In those circumstances it seems most improbable that nothing resembling the Al Yamamah deal will happen again and, if it does, that it will be treated any differently.

Love Actually (2003) Directed by Richard Curtis

I will always have a deep love of the films of Jodorowsky, Godard, Leone, Penn, Hartley, Scorsese, Welles, Hitchcock and many other so called critics' favorites. I can revisit films like El Topo or Once Upon A Time In The West many times, and a rewarding feeling comes over me. New details open up with every new viewing and I feel culturally enlivened and inspired. But the need to re-watch Hitchcock's Vertigo or any other classic movie is often tempered by once's feeling of having to be able to concentrate fully. It's about timing when watching one's favorite films.  This opens up avenues for pictures that I can put on at any time and just enjoy whatever the situation.

So, in that respect Love Actually is in my consideration a masterpiece. Yes, it's episodic, sentimental, trashy, almost complete rubbish. But it makes me laugh out loud. I mean real laughing. Not some closet intellectual 'oh aren't they clever and subtle and witty' laughing. I mean belly laughing. So, put your snobbish cinema aesthetics aside. There is much wrong here, if you care to analyze. But I will instinctively reach for this off the shelf on more occasions than The Manchurian Candidate, which is such a favorite picture of mine.

Of course, The Manchurian Candidate does not have a middle-aged/class consideration on pop music, embarrassing story lines, infantile treatise on juvenile romance or many a "past their sell by date" British thespian on board. It's also lacking Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sister's Jump. A genius moment. Hugh Grant is comedy gold with the right script, and this is one of those great roles for him.

Love Actually is something you don't want to admit to liking. I won't admit that. I'll just report that I love this movie, for all the right reasons.

I found this article on a cool blog (You Are Not So Smart) the other day on procrastination. The way we choose what films to watch and why we go usually for the unintellectual, emotionally comforting is somewhat explained there through the concept of present-me versus future-me. Those two are usually locked in a conflict inside us. Read the blog.

Anyway, we watched Love Actually for the millionth time. Just like we have watched Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, You Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and countless other cinematically poor but emotionally comforting films many many times. They make me feel good.

Love Actually is made out of so many strands of stories that I forget how they relate to each other. It is attempting to cater a romantic, tear-jerking plot for everyone to identify with. Being eight years old now, the movie is beginning to glow with my nostalgia for the early Noughties, when I had the guts to wear red, pink and green in the same outfit. Even the then-hit-songs by Sugar Babes and Justin Timberlake (help!) are starting to sound classic to my ears...puke.

I cannot defend Love Actually. The more I think of it the more appalling it appears in hindsight.
But in the end it just comes down to needing unchallenging entertainment with the sloppiest most optimistic message: love is everywhere, humans are capable of love after all.

Come Christmas time, we can only hope that this year's Holiday pic is something as good as this once was.

Invisible zipper pockets - an illustrated guide

One of the features of the Material Things Fearless Jacket is its in-seam zippered pockets.  I figured the pattern is called "fearless" because you'd have to be to sew such a thing and expect it to look any good.  I've put in my share of invisible zips over the years but tend to approach the task with a bit of a quaver in my voice, if you know what I mean.  I learned how to do it back when the world was young and zippers came in packages with instructions.  They said to sew the zipper in first and sew the seam closed afterwards, and you used one of those special blue plastic feet that fit on any kind of sewing machine.  It's hard to manoeuvre your zipper foot close enough to the end of the zipper to make a really neat transition between zipper and seam.  Sometimes you had to fudge a few hand stitches at the seam below the zipper opening.  More often, you had to rip and re-sew.  Neither would be a good idea in leather.

By contrast, Kathryn Brenne's method worked perfectly, the first time (a practice zipper) and the second and third times too (the real thing)!  Here's how:

First, prepare your seam.  Interface the pocket opening if it isn't already.  In my jacket, the centre front panel is fully interfaced but not the side panel.  I cut a strip of fusible and applied it as shown to the left.  Mark the pocket opening.  Then sew the seam above and below it.  Press the seam open, including the seam allowances beside the pocket opening.

It turns out that things go a lot better when you have the right tricks up your sleeve.  The trick, in this case, is Wonder Tape.  Stick this stuff on the zipper tape, both sides, as shown to the right.
Next, peel off the Wonder Tape paper backing on one side.  Position the zipper so the top stop is a little bit above the end of the stitching at the top of the pocket opening (above).  The bottom stop should be a bigger bit below the end of the stitching at the bottom of the opening (right).  Stick the zipper down on the seam allowance so that the coil is just along the pressed-open seam allowance on that side.

Sew that side of the zipper down using your choice of special foot.  At left is the Bernina invisible zipper foot.  The first side is easy, I tell you.  The second is much harder because you have to somehow get the zipper coil in the opposite groove while the first side of the zipper is snugged right up against it.  When I complained about this, Kathryn said "It'll be fine.  That part of the stitching is in the seam allowance and you will never see it."  She said exactly the same thing when I complained that it was hard to sew right to the bottom of the zipper on the second side.
And just look at the mess I made of it!  Oh no!

Once both sides are sewn, you have to fish the zipper pull out of the little well you've sewn it into below the pocket opening so that it's accessible in the pocket opening.

Look!  Kathryn was right!  No sign of the ugly mess behind.

It'll be fine...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

R v Chaytor and others

The Supreme Court has just announced that the appeals in R v Chaytor and others (reported below at [2010] All ER (D) 335 (Jul)) have been dismissed, with reasons to follow.

The appeals concerned MPs facing criminal charges arising out the expenses scandal, who sought to argue that the courts had no jurisdiction to try them. 

One recalls Lord Denning's famous quotation of Thomas Fuller (Gouriet v Union of Postal Workers [1977] 1 All ER 696 at 718): 

Be you never so high, the law is above you

Leather Workshop - "It'll be fine"

This phrase was oft-repeated during the four days I spent working under Kathryn Brenne's supervision at her fantastic and well-equipped sewing studio in North Bay Ontario last week.  Kathryn has endless patience and seems unfazed by any mistake or imperfection her students turn out (and there were some).  And you know what?  I think she's right - my leather jacket (which I shall finish once my teflon foot arrives from Mr. eBay) will be fine.

I did in the end go with the Material Things Fearless Jacket pattern.  Kathryn mostly approved of the fitting changes I had made but on her recommendation I trimmed up the pieces even more.  The first day of the class was mostly taken up with finalizing the pattern changes, and then making brown paper pattern pieces (doubles so there's a right and a left of everything for single layout on the skins).  I had cut out some of it by the end of that  day.

The second day was occupied with cutting out all the jacket pieces and interfacing, and fusing the interfacing where it needed to be fused.  I had assembled the backs by the end of that day.

On day three I felt brave enough to tackle the invisible zipper pockets and assemble the jacket fronts.  Day four involved sewing the sleeves and setting one of them in, inserting the front separating zipper, and almost completing the facings.

It doesn't seem like I did a lot each day, when I write it out like that, but believe me these were full days of sewing and associated learning (9AM to 5:30PM, with breaks for delicious homemade snacks and lunch).  Of course if I had known what I was doing, I would have been more efficient...

Anyway, here are some photos of the sewing studio.  It's on two levels.

Upstairs are the latest Berninas.  Kathryn invited us to choose any one of them - I tried out the 640.

She also has two steam generator irons and a full kit of tools for every table.

Downstairs are the cutting tables, including one that was big enough for me to lay out five lamb skins at once.  Here, Kathryn is examining another student's skins and talking about leather quality.

Kathryn is extremely generous with her knowledge and brought out numerous things for us to ogle and examine, including the fannnnnntastic sheared mink lined coat which is featured in the latest issue of Vogue Pattern  magazine!

I was so inspired that when I spied an XL sized mink coat in good condition at the Value Village that night, I snapped it up.

That's it for now - stay tuned for pictures of my jacket in progress.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nov 17, 2010 'Panama Week' planned in Washington, D.C.

'Panama Week' planned in Washington, D.C.

The new version of "Panama Week" will take place starting Nov. 17 in Washington, D.C.

Félix Carles, president of the U.S.-Panama Business Council, said the motto of this year's event is "Panama, changing world trade."

One of the objectives of the event is to promote the ratification of the free trade agreement between the two countries that is still waiting to be discussed by the U.S. Senate.

It will also emphasize the role of the country as a maritime center, the progress of the Panama Canal expansion and the modernization of Tocumen International Airport.

The Panama Tourism Authority will also discuss its master plan at the event, which is aimed at increasing the number of visitors to the country.

Panama: Changing Global Commerce
Venue: Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C

For registrations and sponsorship opportunities contact UNITED STATES-PANAMA BUSINESS COUNCIL (USPA)
5353 Memorial Drive #2041, Houston, Texas 77007
Tel. (713) 426-0554 / Fax. (713) 426-0375 / E-mail: Panamerica @msn.con http://uspanama.webs.com/pwsponsorlevels.htm

November 1, 2010

Dear Friends of Panama and the United States

The U.S.-Panama Business Council (USPA) was created in 1994 with the mission of strengthening relations between the United States and Panama, and promoting business opportunities between the two countries. During its sixteen years of existence the Council has organized hundreds of programs and events which have greatly contributed to enhancing relations between the two countries.

Every year the Council organizes a comprehensive program in Washington D.C. entitled Panama Week. This year Panama Week will be held on November 18-19 in the Nation's Capital, coordinated by both the U.S. and Panama USPA associations. We anticipate a strong attendance this year, and several high profiled speakers that will address the numerous business opportunities offered by Panama.

Panama's excellent economic climate has produced positive news over the past five years with annual growth close to double digits. Even in 2009, when the world was impacted by a financial crisis, Panama still registered economic growth. The Panama Canal is undertaking an ambitious expansion, unemployment has decreased dramatically, the country attained investment grade and recently a $13 Billion investment plan was announced for the next five years.

An updated program is enclosed and periodic updates will be published in USPA USA website http://uspanama.webs.com/pwprogram.htmSeveral Ministers from Panama will be attending the program including Minister of Commerce and Industry H.E. Roberto Henriquez, Minister of Tourism H.E. Salomón Shamah, Minister of Energy H.E. Juan Urriola and Deputy Administrator of the Panama Canal Authority Jose Barrios Ng. The traditional black tie Gala Friendship Awards Dinner will be held on the evening of Thursday, November 18th and H.E. Jaime Alemán, Ambassador of Panama to the United States, will be the Keynote Speaker.

We avail of the opportunity to thank sponsors for their generous support. Please review the website for additional information. Should you have any questions you may contact Amb. Juan B. Sosa at (713) 426-0554. We look forward to see you in Panama Week 2010.

Best regards,

Amb. Juan B. Sosa President, USPA (USA)
Amb. Roberto Alfaro President, USPA (Panama)

Other Blogs and The Young Lions (1958)

Nick: We dug into a movie last night that had been sitting on the shelf for awhile.

Astrid: Yes, on the DVD sleeve The Young Lions looks like it's going to be a classic. Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, 1958 – usually this recipe is certified entertainment.

Nick: My reasons for getting a copy of The Young Lions was my mid-80's crush on Monty Clift. I had seen the movie at that time, and probably combined with copious amounts of marijuana, I had felt the picture was great.

Astrid: Already 36 minutes into the 3-hour film, I was yawning and giving Nick meaningful stares.

Nick: It must have been strong weed back in the day, because in the cold light of 2010 this was dreary and sleep inducing like cyanide.

Astrid: So in fact, at exactly 1 hour we agreed to give up watching the movie. For a war epic, there was a spectacular amount of time spent on developing one-on-one hetero relationships which appeared as stiff as wood. To digress into the one-on-one relationship between N&A: I never buy the DVDs that we review on this blog.

Nick: Yes, the holes are in my pockets! We didn't finish the film, but I will one day. Monty was really wired in this picture, which is good enough reason to revisit. We did discuss at some point last night other blogs we read.

Astrid: Yes, and although a sort of power position is constructed by my not committing to the purchasing of these DVDs I am seriously interested in interaction I imagine possible online through our blog.

Nick: I revealed to you that I read other Finnish blogs (Google Translate is a big help here!), mainly music ones such as 1000 Sparks, Slow Show, Ääniä, Katosblog, Echoes and one that covers music and movies No You Girls Never Know.

Astrid:  One of my favorites from the States is Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist, which manages to make business talk, farming and blogging advice personal and inspiring. It is the freedom to engage in serious and often boring topics with thriving subjective perspectives that makes blogging potentially radical.

Nick: I sometimes struggle to find a personal context to put my film reviews in. Being a film geek means I could tell you about many boring facts and related trivia of the pictures we review. For example, Hope Lange from The Young Lions also plays Laura Dern's mum in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.

Astrid: Can you tell me how this 'boring fact' becomes interesting to you?

Nick: In a scene from the movie, when Lange is chatting with Dern's character, a Monty Clift photo is hanging in the background. To me, this is Lynch giving credit to Hope Lange's appearance in a Monty Clift potboiler from 1958. It's David's little nod of respect to Hope. But maybe my personal input comes from movies I buy to review on this blog.

Astrid: Interestingly, I think that your insight is specifically that kind of random connection making, which David Lynch is a master at in cinema, and us bloggers should feel free to develop more and more.

NB: We will be shortly updating our blog roll call on the side of the page.

Religion and the law once more: response to the Guardian

A shortened version of this article has been published here.

The Guardian’s legal blogger Afua Hirsch has posted on the subject of religion and the law, something I have written about on two previous occasions for Halsbury’s Law Exchange. It is worth returning to the subject to set something against what I believe are inconsistencies and misunderstandings in Ms Hirsch’s post.

Ms Hirsch first considers the remarks of the sentencing judge in the case of Roshonara Choudry, who had been convicted of the attempted murder of Stephen Timms MP. Ms Hirsch is angered by the judge’s comments that Timms’ own faith involved very different values from those of the defendant, and the judge’s suggestion of a “cosy” relationship between Christianity and the common law.

One might note that it ought not to be controversial to contrast the values of an innocent victim with those of an attempted murderer, and that it is undeniable that Christianity played an important role in the development of the common law (though not always for good, if one considers historic religious discrimination).

That said, the judge should not have made any comparison between the respective religious values of the defendant and victim, for the simple reason that it is irrelevant to the exercise of criminal sentencing. All that is relevant, aside from the circumstances of the offence itself, is the previous conduct of the defendant. In a country with freedom of religion this does not include her conduct in spiritual matters per se (pace Cherie Booth QC, who when sitting as a deputy judge controversially cited the apparently devout religious beliefs of a defendant as a mitigating factor). Membership or association with a group agitating for murder (religious or otherwise), on the other hand, would be an aggravating factor, as any previous conviction would be.

Equally, the victim’s beliefs or any other aspect of the victim’s life is also irrelevant, except for his conduct in relation to the specific offence – that is to say the usual criminal law considerations such as provocation. Even if he was a career criminal, unless one is to support vigilantism, that cannot provide mitigation much less exculpation of the defendant.

Next Ms Hirsch attempts to link the case with “a series of incidents that have appeared to pitch religious communities against the courts”. She offers two examples: (i) that of Gary MacFarlane, a registrar dismissed for refusing on religious grounds to conduct same-sex civil ceremonies, and (ii) that of George Bathurst-Norman, a judge recently disciplined for making comments about Israeli actions in Gaza during the trial of activists alleged to have damaged an armaments factory which had supplied weapons to Israel, something she says will have offended “pro-Israeli Jewish people”.

I have already blogged on the MacFarlane case, and won’t repeat anything save to observe that the relationship with the Timms case is slim.

As to the Bathurst-Norman incident, Ms Hirsch is wrong to suggest it would only have been pro-Israeli Jewish people who objected to his comments. A free society is founded on the principle of freedom under law. The protestors had the right to demonstrate outside the factory. They had any number of options to exercise their freedom of speech to denounce the factory and the Israeli government. They could petition their MPs, and Parliament in general. They could agitate for a change in the law to ban weapons exports. They could openly denounce Judaism and urge its members to convert or abandon the faith. But their own view of the conflict in the Middle East could make – or rather should have made – no difference to their liability for criminal damage. It might be relevant as a mitigating factor in sentencing, in so far as they could be said to be idealistic campaigners rather than wanton vandals or career criminals (though not in so far as the judge happened to agree with their political stance), but it should have been irrelevant to the issue of liability.

Ms Hirsch’s grapeshot approach continues:

"But if religious communities are to have specialist courts, as Lord Carey would want, what about minority-ethnic communities – badly under-represented in the judiciary – women and other groups affected by the various strands of discrimination? Either the legal system is premised on the notion that the court system can function fairly for all, or it ceases to function at all."

“Various strands of discrimination” is a controversial way of putting the judiciary’s lack of diversity, although I agree with her second sentence. It is worth adding something in relation to Sharia courts, which Ms Hirsch mentions at the end of her article, and indeed the Beth Din as referred to by some of the comments below her article.

Separate religious law is something completely inconsistent with the separation of church and state equality before the law. The Beth Din, however – and any Sharia equivalent – is not an example of separate religious law, and this is a common and serious misunderstanding. The Beth Din is not set up or funded by the British state, and its rulings, to the extent they are inconsistent with British law, are of no legal effect. It is in fact an illustration of the English law principle of freedom of contract. Any contract – including one providing for arbitration or other form of alternative dispute resolution – will be enforced by the courts so long as it meets domestic law requirements for a valid contract, including public policy. Thus if two people conclude a contract providing for Jewish law, or some foreign law, or even a previously unheard of set of rules the parties had devised themselves, the courts will do their best to interpret and uphold that contract. To do so involves no importation of the foreign or religious laws; it is simply applying the domestic principle of freedom of contract. So too with the recognition of foreign marriages.

One important caveat remains, however: if a religious system involves principles which would be unlawful here, such as discrimination against women, then the courts will be careful before deciding that the party discriminated against would have freely agreed to subject their dispute to the religious court, and indeed whether to recognise the ruling either way, having regard to public policy. That might be viewed by some as unfair discrimination against the religious group. By others it might be seen as protecting the rights of those discriminated against by that religious group.

The boundaries of recognising controversial or even unlawful practices in the name of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of contract forms one of the central disputes in liberal philosophy. For rather different reasons, and with rather different solutions, I would agree with Ms Hirsch that this debate isn’t going to go away or become any less heated any time soon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adam's Rib (1949) & Whatever Works (2009)

We surprised ourselves in double-billing a genius 1940's romantic comedy and Woody Allen again. Are we becoming predictable yet? To defend the repetition, we just happened to watch these two close to each other without any intellectual choice. What film suits which evening is a question of comfort zones.

Choosing what we watch in this house is a balancing act. There is my mood and there is Nick's. When I am feeling unsafe and in need of comfort, I want to watch real-life-like drama or comedies or very romantic films. In fact, to watch anything else I need to feel either completely bored or so vivacious and daring that I can handle a bit of action, cinematic violence, being afraid or floating in space. Movies about cowboys are entering a new territory on my map – as you may have noticed – they are beginning to comfort me more and anger me less. I'll tell you about my relationship to epics some other time.

Adam's Rib and Whatever Works are both essentially great scripts where what the characters say actually makes one think and feel. Both films are also ambitions, they want to comment on the big life questions. We can be entertained while thinking about dying or pondering on women's rights. Woody Allen may be one of the only directors left these days who still trusts in this old-fashioned cinematic storytelling. In fact, I don't really understand how in 1949 a film could be so daring, full of content and still entertaining, while in 2010 cinema is mostly saying nothing daring, upsetting, questioning or new.

If I continue this way, I have to admit that Whatever Works is mostly good because of my personal nostalgia. I miss and continue to love the 1940's Hollywood comedy and I miss and love the 1970's Woody Allen films. Whatever Works is like a faded memory scratched to shine in color for a short while.

What has made us so culturally dummed-down and bored? Where is the next artistic platform where we dare to explore and be radical for the sake of change? Tell me someone. 

Romance? Laughter? Is life's eternal quest for satisfaction and gratification simply down to these two factors? Is there more? Death plays a big part in the narration of most Woody Allen films. Our ultimate destiny perhaps. Sharing deep friendship with someone is not to be confused with love or the thrill of the chase. Companionship for me comes from somewhere else.

Here are two films that share a focus on relationships and the needs those relationships demand. In Adam's Rib, it's a taking for granted of one partners intelligence. It is also expecting sympathy and understanding to ideals the other half possibly does not understand or agree with. In Adam's Rib, these ideals work both ways.

Whatever Works finds Woody Allen in sharp cynical form, a return to New York no less. Larry David is perfectly cast as the know-it-all grump who educates Southern bimbo Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) on the depressing nature of human existence. Although the picture ultimately deals with cliché and unfeasible plot twists, the presence of David insures that the laughs are subtle and the quality high. It's worth noting that Allen actually says something through David in this picture, philosophizing on various issues during his straight to camera addresses.

Adam's Rib is a lesson in onscreen chemistry, Hepburn and Tracy's very public battle of the sexes, given credence by the couple's genuine affection for each other. It's almost embarrassing to watch the intimacy on camera, but it convinces all the same.

I don't know if  I laughed much during either film, or felt pangs of romantic feeling overwhelm me (actually I  know I didn't). But both films left me thinking in different ways, at their core they carried different views on how this relationship business works. The ultimate message? Keep trying.