Thinking about the Jeremy Thorpe trial

26th June 2018

Well, of course, Jeremy Thorpe was guilty.

That, at least, is the view of all reasonable and sensible people who have heard of Thorpe and of that 1979 trial, which has now been dramatised by the BBC.

(“A very English scandal” is wonderful television and was adapted from an excellent book.)

And it is certainly the view of anyone who has seen Peter Cook’s brutal take on the dreadful and biased summing up by the judge, a summing-up which is beyond doubt justified as being notorious.

A summing-up which brought the law and justice system into disrepute more than a thousand disciplinary cases before the Bar Council.

But here is a mental experiment.

Imagine a perfectly fair and objective judge, summing up the evidence as it was at the end of that trial.  Would the jury’s verdict necessarily have been different?

The evidence of Peter Bessell was crucial: but serious doubt had been cast on its (or his) reliability, and a financial interest in a conviction had been demonstrated.

And event the evidence of Norman Scott and Andrew Newton, even taken it their highest, were not enough by themselves to join the dots of the conspiracy charge.

And even if the evidence of Bessell had been accepted in respect of the conspiracy, there perhaps still needed to be evidence adduced from Thorpe and other defendants to join those same dots.

But only one defendant gave evidence, and that evidence did not go to conspiracy to murder, only to threaten violence.

For the charge to be made out, at least beyond reasonable doubt, there needed to be explanations and information from Thorpe and the other two defendants.

And, as is well known, they all elected not to give evidence.

Without that evidence, and given the problems with Bessell’s evidence, and even taking the evidence of Scott and Newton at their highest, was there enough for any jury to convict on the charges?

Perhaps the judge’s ludicrous and shameful summing-up has provided a cover for a more difficult notion: that the jury did not have enough evidence before them to convict for conspiracy to murder.

We now are aware that two jurors stated afterwards that there was agreement that there was a conspiracy to intimidate Scott (see here), but that charge was (for no reason, or for no good reason) not put to the jury.

We are now also aware from what was said afterwards by David Holmes, one of the other defendants, and also further statements by Bessell, that there was information which could have led to a guilty verdict on the incitement and/or conspiracy charge.  But that information was not evidence before the jury.

And we can never know what evidence Thorpe would himself would have given had he gone into the witness box (not “take the stand” as the TV show put it: we are not Americans).

It appears, perhaps with hindsight, that either the jury did not have the right charged before them or that a conspiracy charge was brought which made sense only if the defendants all gave evidence.

But the jury was left with a conspiracy to murder charge (and an incitement to murder charge) which at the end of the trial was not made out on the evidence before them, regardless of the summing-up.

For what it is worth, on all the information now available to a historian, and not to the jury, it is difficult to avoid concluding that there was a conspiracy to murder Scott, involving at least a majority of the defendants: there is no other plausible explanation for what happened on that evening when Rinka died and Scott did not.

And had Holmes given evidence, it is plain Thorpe would have been convicted on the incitement to murder charge.

So, it was clever (if that is the right word) for Thorpe to elect to not give evidence. had he done, it may well be that no judge’s summing-up would have saved him.

But by electing not to give evidence, Thorpe was not able to put forward his own version of events.  So he avoided a conviction, but at a political and public cost.  What worked in Court did not work out of Court.

There were many problems with the Thorpe trial, not just an idiotic judge and a woeful summing-up.  That was an extra, and when it is taken away, serious problems still remain.  Why was there no lesser charge of conspiracy?  Why did the Crown not foresee the problems with Bessell’s newspaper deal?  Why was the Crown not prepared for three of the defendants not give evidence?

And had Thorpe been acquitted with no judge for Cook and others (and us) to mock?

Well, imagine that scandal.


For email alerts for my posts at Jack of Kent – including for Brexit updates – please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box on this page.


Comments are pre-moderated and will not be published unless they are polite or interesting/informative (and preferably both).

The act of vandalism to take place at Inner Temple library: Part One


17th July 2017

This is first of three posts about an act of vandalism.  (The second post will be posted shortly.)

The act of vandalism has not happened yet, though it is expected to happen. Nothing, it seems, can stop it.

The target of the vandalism is a law library: the library of the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court.

You may not care about law libraries.  But whatever your view, please take a moment to read about this act of impending vandalism.  It has, as I set out below, wider significance.


A library is not just an accumulation of books and book-like things.  Books and bookshelves are crucial, of course.  But a library is more than a depository.

The library of the Inner Temple happens to be a purpose-built law library.

This means that regard was made not only to bookshelves and tables.

The lighting, the acoustics, the use of space are all perfect.

Just as a  great theatre is not just a stage in a room, a great library is not just some books in a bookcase.

The library of the Inner Temple is as good a law library as it is possible for a law library to be.

Here are some pictures.









It is an extraordinary and wonderful place for any lawyer, from a student to a QC, to work.

There is no better place in England to research a legal point.

In my next post I will set out what is going to happen to it, and why it is wrong.


I have an interest in this: I practice as a lawyer in Inner Temple (I work as a lawyer as well as a writer) though this post represents only my own personal view and not that of the firm where I am a consultant.

Parts of this post were previously at my post here on law libraries.

Was a “soft” Brexit ever possible for the UK government?

28th April 2017

Is the Brexit which is to take place the only one possible? Was there ever a real chance that there could have been a “soft” Brexit? Is it even still possible?

One implication of the three-part series of posts at my FT blog this week (here, here, and here) is that the “hard” Brexit in prospect was the only one which could take place.

This is perhaps because of three things.

First, the EU has maintained since before the referendum that the decision would be accepted.  Brexit would mean Brexit. There would be no re-negotaion of the terms of EU membership. This meant whatever the UK’s terms of exit, and whatever is contained in a future agreement, it would involve the UK as a “third country”. A “soft” Brexit giving the UK full access to (and membership of) the single market would have to be fashioned with the UK firmly outside the EU.

Second, the EU within days of the referendum result adopted the absolute insistence that there would be “no negotiation without notification” and that the EU27 would be united.  This position has been held. This meant that any exploratory talks between the UK and the EU institution and with member states could not take place (at least no officially).  The absence of such talks meant that options to a “hard” Brexit could not be easily canvassed or considered before Article 50 was triggered.  This meant a “soft” Brexit became unlikely.

And third, of course, the EU also asserted within days of the referendum result (as well as before) that the “four freedoms” (of movement, services, goods, and capital) were indivisible and that any access to (and membership of) the single market would require the UK’s acceptance of those four freedoms.  This meant that a “soft” Brexit was only an option as part of a wider package, on a “take it or leave it” basis.

These three elements were in place weeks before Theresa May became prime minister and “Brexit means Brexit” became a commonplace political slogan.

Taken together, these elements suggest that a “hard” Brexit was the only one which was ever possible, regardless of who May appointed as key ministers or what she said at a party conference.  There was nothing the UK could do to stop this.  It did not matter what “Brexit means Brexit” meant to Mrs May or anybody else.  The meaning of Brexit had already been, in effect, determined.

If this was so then Mr May and her government cannot be to blame for any Brexit being a “hard” Brexit: there was no other choice.


These three elements, however, are indicative but not conclusive.

A “soft” Brexit was always difficult but it was not (and still is not) impossible.

The EU has adopted a consistent, united, transparent and coherent position but it remains only a position.  Political will could rebut the presumption of a “hard” Brexit, if such will existed.

The reason why a “hard” Brexit became inevitable (if anything is ever inevitable) after Mrs May became prime minister was because of what happened next.


In the crucial months following the referendum it is plain that the EU was getting to work on preparing for Brexit in terms of substantial policy and process.

By December 2016 the EU was ready to receive the Article 50 notification.  As this week’s series of posts at the FT sought to set out in detail and with links to sources, the EU knew what they wanted and how they would achieve it.

The UK, on the other hand, wasted time.

The civil service was already unprepared because of the former prime minister’s decision to prevent  any contingency plans being made in the event of a “leave” victory.

Mrs May then decided to spend the crucial early months creating two new Whitehall departments from scratch.  Before she was appointed, the Cabinet Office under Oliver Letwin was starting the job of preparing for Brexit (as he explained to a parliamentary committee).  But with the new departments everything had again to begin from scratch: weeks would pass before the departments were functioning.

This tinkering meant that by the time the key EU negotiation team TF50 was in place , the departments of Exiting the European Union and International Trade were barely up and running.

There were unsurprising reports of Whitehall turf wars with the the Treasury and Foreign Office.  But these tensions were not just the usual bureaucratic infighting: there would be natural conflicts between the two new departments over the relationship with the EU, as the terms of exit and new UK-EU relationship would affect new trade deals elsewhere.

So by December Michel Barnier and his TF50 team were ready; and by way of contrast, in January the UK suddenly lost Sir Ivan Rogers, its person in Brussels. leaving nobody in charge.

One reason therefore for the UK having to accept Brexit on EU’s terms was because of how it lost precious time with setting up conflicting departments rather than letting the the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office get on with it.


But more important that this administrative shot-in-a-foot was the Birmingham speech of Mrs May to Conservative party conference.

By ruling out freedom of movement and any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, Mrs May closed down the possibility of a “soft” Brexit.

Had she chosen not to put these cards on the table, there was the possibility that full access to the single market could continue to be an option, if the four freedoms could somehow be accommodated.

The EU had only said that the quid-pro-quo of full access was acceptance of the four freedoms, not that it was inherently not on offer. (And, as far as I can tell, that is still the theoretical position.)

A more measured approach would not have made a “soft” Brexit any more likely – there was always a presumption against it – but the October speech meant that a “soft” Brexit became politically impossible.


A “soft” Brexit was once possible for the UK.

But now, unless something exceptional happens, Brexit will be on the terms prescribed by EU27, and this will mean a “hard” Brexit.


My book “Brexit What Everyone Needs to Know” is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Brexit is not a game of poker


29th November 2016

There are still those who nod-along with the “not showing your cards” defence of the government’s secrecy about what, if any, negotiating strategy it has for achieving Brexit.

They tweet things to those calling for transparency with comments such as “you should not play poker” or similar.

But Brexit is not poker.

The Brexit negotiation is not a game where randomised cards have been dealt, and an advantage lies with those who do not indicate how genuinely strong (or weak) their hand to other players also with a random selection of cards.

The EU players around the table know all about what cards we have.

As was said by @johnnypixels in one of the best tweets about Brexit:


Donald Trump and the Art of the Political Deal

9th November 2016

If you have a quick look at President-Elect Donald Trump’s approach – as a businessperson – to legal obligations, you may see something interesting about his approach to politics.

Trump sees himself as a master of the “art of the deal”.

And he certainly has an interesting and artful approach to contract law.

By way of background, classical contract law is about the sanctity of the agreement: the bargain.

All parties to a contract agree in advance what to do throughout the period of the contract regarding foreseeable risks.  This means that there is a lot of “front-end” thought put into a contract: more time working things out in advance, the fewer problems later.

The merit of this approach is that everybody knows where they stand, as and when any foreseeable problem occurs. All appropriate risks are allocated, and so on.

But this does not seem to be the approach of Trump, at least as far as his known business record can be discerned.
For Trump, the “art of the deal” – the sheer commercial excitement – is not striking the best original bargain, but the later haggling and manouvering once contract begins.

The original bargain is often just the starting point.

The original exchange of promises is a mere opening position: enough to get him over the threshold, nothing more.

The “real” deals – the “real” business – come later.

Sometimes this means “stiffing” the counterparty.  Sometimes it means being over-generous.

And sometimes, it may be said, such a cyncial approach is good business sense: you can often force a “better deal” – for yourself.

All is fair, some would say, in commercial law between businesses: after all, it is law for grown-ups.

The problem is that nobody, especially third parties, knows where they are. No reliance can be placed on the original promises.  The benefits of the artful approach are one-sided.

The extent to which this commercial approach is transferable to the fulfillment of election promises is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps there is nothing in this comparison.  
But it seems interesting: how a certain type of businessperson would do politics and get elected.

How you can support independent law and policy blogging at Jack of Kent

3rd July 2016

Some people have asked how they can support independent law and policy blogging here at Jack of Kent.

So I have set up a “Patreon” for anybody who is kind enough to contribute – it is at this page.

Detailed and reliable blogging requires a commitment of substantial time and effort in conducting research and investigations. This is in addition to the time composing clear and readable posts.

It would be wonderful if you can contribute.

Many thanks.

“Of course”

4th May 2016


Of course, Corbyn won’t win the Labour leadership.

Of course, Leicester won’t win the premiership.

Of course, Trump won’t win the Republican nomination.

Of course.

(But they did.)

And now:

Of course, Hillary will win against Trump.

Of course, UK voters will vote against Brexit.

(Of course they will.)


(Amended to remove flippant Aston Villa comment, 9th November 2016)

For email alerts for my posts at Jack of Kent, the FT and elsewhere, please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box on this page.

header banner image

Regular blogging at Jack of Kent is made possible by the kind sponsorship of Hammicks Legal Information Services.  

Please click on this link to Hammicks and have a browse.


David Bowie as a paralegal

11 January 2016
Before he was famous, the young David Bowie worked in the heart of legal London in what we would now call “litigation support”.
He did this at Legastat, which was (and still is) at 57 Carey Street, just by Lincoln’s Inn and behind the Royal Courts of Justice.
He was, in effect, a paralegal – bundling, copying, and so on.
One can imagine him looking at a future laid out of a thousand High Court bundles, saying: Sod this, I am off to be Ziggy.
Of course, a co-worker would have then dismissed Bowie’s dream with “there is no future in dressing funny”.
And outside, in their robes and wigs, a judge and barrister would walk past…


To get alerts for my new posts at Jack of Kent and the FT, and anywhere else, please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of this page.

George Osborne’s National Spider Plan

17th November 2015

And so inspired by Jennie Rigg’s brilliant tweet, here are extracts from George Osborne’s speech today, with “cyber” replaced with “spider”.  

And it makes just as much sense.


…And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning. For government has a duty to protect the country from spider attack, and to ensure that the UK can defend itself in spiderspace.

Today I want to set out how we are fulfilling that duty. I will explain how we have invested in Britain’s spider security in the past five years, and to set out our plan for the next five.

The national spider plan I am announcing means investing in defending Britain in a spider-age. It is a key part the Spending Review I will deliver next week.


It is one of the many spider threats we are working to defeat.

Getting spider security right requires new thinking. But certain principles remain true in spiderspace as they are true about security in the physical world.


But GCHQ has a unique role. It is the point of deep expertise for the UK government. It has an unmatched understanding of the internet and of how to keep information safe.

It is a centre of capability that we cannot duplicate, which must sit at the heart of our spider security.


I can tell you today that right now GCHQ is monitoring spider threats from high end adversaries against 450 companies across the aerospace, defence, energy, water, finance, transport and telecoms sectors.

In protecting the UK from spider attack, we are not starting from zero.

In 2010, at a time when we as a new government were taking the most difficult decisions on spending in other areas, we took a deliberate decision to increase spending on spider.

We set up the National Spider Security Programme and funded it with £860 million.

And for the past five years we have been creating and enhancing the structures and capabilities that Britain needs to defend itself in spiderspace.


We have ensured that our military systems are properly secured from spider attack.

We have built the National Spider Crime Unit so spider criminals are brought to justice.

We established the Computer Emergency Response Team for the UK, and the Spider Information Sharing Partnership so companies could share what they knew.

We developed clear guidance for businesses, including the Spider Essentials scheme, which already has over a thousand companies accredited.


We built spider security into every stage of the education process. We established Spider First and spider apprentices to make sure that we got the talent we needed coming into the field.

And we undertake exercises so we know what to do when there is a serious spider incident.


We have built a world-class range of tools and capabilities that Britain needs to stay safe from spider attack.

We are widely regarded as top or near top in the world.

But nice though it would be to sit on our laurels, the truth is that we are not where we need to be. We are not winning as often as we need to against those who would hurt us in spiderspace.

The truth is that we have to run simply to stand still.

The pace of innovation of spider attack is breathtakingly fast, and defending Britain means that we have to keep up.

At the heart of spider security is a painful asymmetry between attack and defence.


A few years ago mounting a sophisticated spider attack meant having all the skills that each stage of the attack required, from gaining access to the network to designing the payload that was to go into it.


Last summer GCHQ dealt with 100 spider national security incidents per month. This summer, the figure was 200 a month. Each of these attacks damages companies, their customers, and the public’s trust in our collective ability to keep their data and privacy safe.


We will be boosting the capabilities of the National Spider Crime Unit, so that – in partnership with their counterparts around the world – they attack the assumption among too many that spider crime is risk free, and comes with little risk of consequences.


And we will build in the National Spider Centre a series of teams, expert in the spider security of their own sectors, from banking to aviation, but able to draw on the deep expertise here, and advise companies, regulators, and government departments.

Building the National Spider Centre will be a hugely ambitious and important undertaking that reflects this government’s commitment to making the UK secure in spiderspace.


If we do not act decisively, the skills gap will grow, and limit everything we want to achieve in spiderspace. 

So we will launch an ambitious programme to build the spider skills our country needs, identifying young people with spider talent, training them, and giving them a diversity of routes into spider careers.


As all of you who work in the sector know, what is needed are specific spider security skills, building on particular talents.

And we need to tackle this problem on a number of fronts including in our universities. But we need to make sure there are other routes into the spider workforce.


Of course, we need not just great skills but great British companies as well.

If Britain is to be a world leader in spider, and stay at the cutting edge of spider technology, we need the innovation and vigour that only these companies can offer.

We need to create a commercial ecosystem in which spider start-ups proliferate, get the investment and support they need, and are helped to win business around the world.


I am glad that there is already so much happening in this space; I am happy we have the founders of Spider London with us today.

And I am delighted that Paladin Capital has just announced it is establishing a dedicated spider fund in the UK; we can be proud that they have chosen London as its base.

We will build on this energy. We will help commercialise the extraordinary innovation in our universities. We will provide training and mentoring for our spider entrepreneurs.

We will be establishing two spider innovation centres – places where spider start-ups can base themselves in their crucial early months, and which can become platforms for giving those start-ups the best possible support.

I have talked before about an arc of spider excellence – stretching from this building, through Bristol and Bath to Exeter – to make the South West a world leader in Spider Security.

Today I can announce that one of the two innovation centres will be here in the South West of England, in Cheltenham, reflecting the extraordinary talent in this place, and our aspiration that this talent should help drive our spider sector.

Government can itself provide a huge boost for British spider start-ups, if it can be smart enough to marshal its procurement in a coherent way.

This should be a win-win – our spider start-ups need endorsement, investment and first customers.

And government, from our military and GCHQ to the Government Digital Service and the NHS, need to be able to procure excellent spider security hardware and services.

So I can announce today that we will create a £165 million Defence and Spider Innovation Fund, to support innovative procurement across both defence and spider security.

It will mean that we support our spider sector at the same time as investing in solutions to the hardest spider problems that government faces.

Of course, our involvement with industry on spider goes well beyond the spider sector. We need to make sure that Britain has the regulatory framework it needs, particularly in the sectors we define as the Critical National Infrastructure.


Our vulnerability as a nation in spiderspace goes well beyond the critical national infrastructure.


We have a collective interest in the spider defences of individual companies across the British economy.


If we are to tackle the asymmetry between attack and defence, then we need to establish deterrence in spiderspace.


Part of establishing deterrence will be making ourselves a difficult target, so that doing us damage in spiderspace is neither cheap nor easy.


We need to destroy the idea that there is impunity in spiderspace.


We reserve the right to respond to a spider attack in any way that we choose.

And we are ensuring that we have at our disposal the tools and capabilities we need to respond as we need to protect this nation, in spiderspace just as in the physical realm.

We are building our own offensive spider capability – a dedicated ability to counter-attack in spiderspace.

We have built this capability through investing in a National Offensive Spider Programme.


The threats to our country in spider space come from a range of places – from individual hackers, criminal gangs, terrorist groups and hostile powers.


To those who believe that spider attack can be done with impunity I say this: that impunity no longer exists.


That means they need to be prepared for hybrid conflicts, played out in spiderspace as well as on the battlefield. A 21st Century military has to operate as effectively in spiderspace as it does on land and sea, in the air and space.

Our commitment to spending 2% GDP on defence means we can invest in a military that is spider trained, spider secure, and spider enabled, with the ability to fight in every domain of future conflicts.


We need to keep fighting to preserve a free, open, peaceful and secure spiderspace.

Agreement that international law applies in spiderspace has been an essential first step.

And we need international norms of behaviour in spiderspace, so that freedom is matched by responsibility.


We need our police forces to work together to ensure that less and less of the world is a hiding place for spider criminals.

And we need to help our partners develop their own spider-security – as we share a single spiderspace, we collectively become stronger when each country improves its own defences.

For the past five years we have been investing in the spider security of our partners as well as our own.

We have helped establish the outstanding Global Spider Security Capacity Centre in Oxford. In the coming years we will step up these efforts, mindful that we are bound together in spiderspace.

The national spider plan that I have announced today is bold, far-reaching and transformative in numerous ways.


But it will make Britain one of the best protected countries in the world; it will give our companies and citizens the tools they need to stay safe from spider attack; and it will create jobs and prosperity.

With the ability and dedication of GCHQ’s staff, our new National Spider Centre, and the ideas and skills across our country, our plan will make sure that Britain remains a world leader in spider, and give Britain an important edge in the global race.


To get alerts for my new posts at Jack of Kent and the FT, and anywhere else, please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of this page.

Farewell to BorisWatch

3rd November 2015

There is dreadful news today that Tom Barry – BorisWatch – has died.

“BorisWatch” – I never really knew him as Tom and only met him once in person though I knew him online – was one of a number of bloggers and tweeters who emerged a few years ago to make political points on social media that seemed not to be being made elsewhere.  This was at a time when few mainstream journalists had twitter accounts or even blogged.

At the time social media offered a way for new political voices to be heard, and BorisWatch was one of those new voices: informed, focused, critical, often witty, and always happy to engage.

He wasn’t always right – of course, nobody is – but he was always worth reading, and he was the first tweeter to ask about any new development in London politics.

BorisWatch will be missed.



To get alerts for my new posts at Jack of Kent and the FT, and anywhere else, please submit your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of this page.