Hemmings, super injunctions and super lies?

Having resisted commenting on the whole super injunction ferrago so far, the latest twist is hard to ignore. It will be recalled that MP John Hemmings used his position in Parliament to publicise information about cases in which the media, the parties and anyone else had been gagged using so-called ‘super injunctons’ – that is, interim orders which. Not all of these cases were about the very rich seeking to keep their bedroom antics off of the front page. One involved serious claims of sexual abuse made by a 7 year old child and her mother against the child’s father. Moreover, if the mother’s claims were true the case involved not only sexual abuse but rank incompetence and mendacity by social services and the legal profession. No wonder Mr Hemmings considered it in the public interest to highlight the attempt by Doncaster social services to use injunctive relief to keep their own failings under wraps. Except that Vicky Haigh’s quite extraordinary claims about her daughter’s abuse have now been judged by the High Court, for the third time, to be a complete fabrication – Re X (A Child) (2011). The full judgment has yet to be released, but in a press release from the Judicial and Tribunals media office, the President of the Family Division has stated that:

“The first judge found that allegations of sexual abuse made against the father of a young child were not just untrue but manufactured by the child’s mother, who then caused her daughter to repeat them. Because the mother was wholly incapable of fostering a relationship between her daughter and the child’s father, refused to accept the judge’s findings and continued to assert that the father was a paedophile, a second judge found that her mother had caused the child significant harm. The child’s mother is wholly unable to accept the court’s verdict and, with the misguided assistance of Elizabeth Watson [a private investigator and campaigner working with Vicky Haigh, who was gaoled by the court for contempt] has unlawfully and in breach of court orders put into the public domain via e-mail and the internet a series of unwarranted and scandalous allegations about the father and others. She has repeated the untruth that the father is a paedophile and – without a scintilla of evidence – has attacked the good faith of all the professionals who had had any contact with the case”.

Exceptionally the President decided that it was also in the interests of justice to disclose the names of the parents, though the name of the child was not disclosed:

“I have come to the conclusion that … I should … give a public judgment in which I explain, having read all the papers in the case, that I have reached the same conclusion as the two previous judges. These proceedings have had a serious effect on the life of the father and have threatened the stability of the child. Her mother’s actions are wholly contrary to her interests. The father is entitled to tell the world, and the world is entitled to know, that he is not a paedophile, that he has not sexually abused his daughter and that the allegations made against him are false.”

The Haigh case was widely taken up across the print and online media. A large number of websites, including victims united supported the mother’s cause, with (with a few honourable exceptions) all the fervour of a Mississippi lynch mob. A number of those disclosed the name of the mother. Others deliberately disclosed the father’s name. The impact of this whole sorry episode on father and daughter is hard to imagine, and the whole process will have done little for Vicky Haigh’s credibility, let alone her long term relationship with her daughter.

It is important that injunctions are no wider than the merits of the case demand and widespread use of so-called super injunctions would be deplorable (though as a number of commentators have observed, their use has been both less extensive than often portrayed – as the Neuberger Committee noted in its May 2011 report, partly because of the media confusion between genuine super injunctions and more limited anonymised injunctions – and has declined as clearer guidelines have been developed as regards their use and duration. But it is important to remember that the whole point of an injunction may be, as in this case, to protect the interests of the vulnerable, and to ensure that no one is subjected to trial by media rather than by due process of law – values that one would hope our legislators might respect. (And indeed Parliament’s own sub judice rules exist to enable Parliament to limit the scope of debate to avoid the appearance of political interference with the administration of justice). The case is a sobering reminder of our capacity to lose objectivity in the face of highly emotive claims of child abuse, and, one hopes, an equally sobering reminder to Mr Hemmings that with power comes responsibility.

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Islamic Law SIG @ UKCLE

Hosted our last ever event today under the HEA-UKCLE banner, a rather poignant moment after 12 years of supporting learning and teaching law. I’m pleased to say it was a good event to share with our community, particularly on a topic of growing importance. The main event was a presentation by Professor Mashood Baderin of SOAS looking at the teaching and learning of Islamic Law in UK universities. It was an immensely engaging and quite provocative presentation that sought to deal with both conceptual and practical aspects of building an Islamic Law curriculum in the UK. Mashood’s core contention was the need to treat Islamic Law as ‘Law properly so-called’ rather than ‘a different kind of law’ or even as a marginalised or inferior subject of comparative analysis. This would require us to take, he suggested, in Western jurisprudential terms, a positivist and realist perspective on Islamic Law (and note, Islamic Law, not just Islamic jurisprudence). The presentation also emphasised the need for UK legal education to provide more than a general introduction to or education in Islamic Law, but to develop a cadre of ‘home-trained’ lawyers with a good knowledge and understanding of Islamic Law. This would require us to go beyond a kind of ‘hot topics’ approach to the subject – what Robert Gleave has criticised as a “service industry” approach to Islamic Studies moregenerally – to developing something more sustained and fundamental. To this end Mashood shared his thoughts on what a four-year combined honours degree in Common Law and Islamic Law could look like. Needless to say, a lively discussion followed which ranged across issues of pluralism and the secularisation of Islam (and whether we should perhaps be talking about Muslim rather than Islamic Law as a way of acknowledging the place and function of the state), of traditional and modern approaches to teaching Islamic Law and legal methods, and discussion of appropriate sources.

The issue of sources led us neatly into the second presentation of the day, by Jonathan Ercanbrack (also SOAS) explaining what was happening on the UKCLE-funded Law of Islamic Finance Bibliography Project. Jonathan’s presentation took us through some of the particular resource problems for Islamic Law studies and the limitations of conventional bibliographies and bibliographic tools. This project by contrast, is developing what will ultimately be a public resource, using the new multi-lingual functionality being built-in to the web-based (open source) Zotero bibliographic application. Speaking personally, Zotero has rapidly become my app of choice for building my own reference libraries, and it was great to see it’s functionality being used in this way.

Finally, we had a group discussion about the next steps for this Special Interest Group, post-UKCLE. It was encouraging to see the level of support from colleagues, and I feel confident that we have created something that will have an independent future. Plans for a steering group are being put in place, and hopefully a conference in 2012. Watch this space!

Careers: why ‘Big Law’ or any law?

For the students amongst you, or anyone thinking about a career in law, have a look at the excellent post by blawger Tim Bratton, General Counsel at the FT.

Westminster and Warwick – two universities I’ve worked in, are very different law schools, but their students have tended to share the same aspiration for corporate work at a magic circle firm – ‘Big Law’.
Why? Money and status are undoubtedly significant motivations for at least some, but we also know that those kinds of aspirations are not necessarily the ones that will keep you walking into the office with a spring in your step ten years down the line. The essence of Tim’s post is a plea to consider what is going to bring the gleam to your eye or a smile to your face – to put it more academically, (in American legal ethicist William Simon’s words) what will have you experience what you do as ‘meaningful work’. That’s not necessarily an easy question to answer when you’re in your late teens or early twenties, with limited experience of any working environment, and its not just a question to ask if you’re thinking about ‘Big Law’. it’s worth asking whatever you might consider doing.

I don’t think, even in these days of debt and under-employment, its romantic to want your work to be an extension of your self-expression. I’m clear it makes a difference. It’s certainly a big part of why I chose academia over practice, though I probably wouldn’t have phrased it that way when I was making those decisions at 22 or 23! While there are plenty of lawyers who are satisfied with what they do, research shows that there are also those, particularly 5-7 years PQE, who are pretty miserable, but feel trapped by the salary, or the narrow niche work they are doing.

Julian Summerhayes (a solicitor turned business consultant and coach) in his response to Tim’s post, strongly endorses that same view, as I think would many of the lawyers I know:

‘If I was starting out now in law, I would ask myself one basic question: “Why law [as opposed to any other career]?”

What is it that is so special about buying and selling a house, preparing a will or even the more juicy end of the market? If all I could rely on in answering the question was the money – I wish a few more people were honest enough to say that – then forget it.

Go do something that inspires you. But if you see yourself contributing in a much wider context – doing good if that is not too altruistic – then consider if the partnership model (as currently constituted) will allow for that. Don’t just focus on the brand name of the firm but think about the clients, sectors and pro bono work they do. What really does float your boat? Can you marry it up with a career in law?’

Changes to the legal services market being ushered in by the Legal Services Act are also changing the employment game. I suspect that opportunities to train as a solicitor or barrister in traditional private practice will, as a result, continue to decline gradually, whilst opportunities to work as a paralegal or employed lawyer in other business settings will expand. And remember, this is in a context where less than 50% of law graduates currently are progressing to work in the legal profession. Clearly there are opportunities and threats here. Be prepared to be creative and flexible; look outside the box of traditional practice. In short, think about what really matters to you, you’re core values if you like, and what kind of work would be alligned with those values.

Alan M. Lerner

Amongst the doom, gloom and pronostications around the Browne Report yesterday, I also learned of the passing of the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Alan Lerner. Alan was an enthusiastic and brilliant clinical law teacher, and a committed advocate for children’s and civil rights, a passion that dated back to his experiences as a law student and activist in the mid-60s when he spent a summer in Mississippi helping black residents register to vote – an activity that cost several other activists their lives at the hands of the ku klux klan.

I don’t think Alan was particularly widely known in the UK, which is our loss. I first met him about ten years ago, when I was working with colleagues on the Gage project, looking at the implications of the neurosciences for our understanding of learning and teaching law. At that time Alan was one of very few legal academics to have written in this area, so there was a shared spark of interest, which flowed through into our more recent involvement in the Edinburgh Beyond Text project, and the book on legal education and the affective domain, edited by Caroline Maughan and Paul Maharg. Sadly Alan’s contribution to the latter will now be a posthumous memorial to his engaging and deeply interdisciplinary style of scholarship, and his love of teaching. Alan, you will be sorely missed