The law and culture of phone hacking

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, as the old maxim says.

Nonetheless, there is something troubling about the spate of phone “hacking” which allegedly occurred in the first decade of this century. (Yes, I know the alleged interceptions of voicemail were not hacking in a precise technological sense, but bear with me.)

 

Newspaper offices are notoriously risk averse when it comes to the law.  That is why, for example, “libel chill” had the impact it did: there were things which would not be published, whatever the public interest.  The possible legal exposure was too much.  And even if an experienced editor would want to take a “robust” view, the in-house lawyers are there to urge due caution.

 

So what happened?

Why did any alleged phone hacking take place in this environment of compliance and risk avoidance?

 

Part of the answer was perhaps that the areas of law which dealt with phone hacking – namely the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Computer Misuse Act – were simply not well known to newspaper editors and lawyers steeped in the old media laws of libel and copyright.  As technology changed, the applicable laws changed as well, but that was not realised until far too late.

But part of the answer may also be  that it did not occur to anyone involved that it could even be a breach of the criminal law.  So, with no apparent law to comply with, only culture and ethics would act as any restraint on accessing the voicemails of others, or instructing private detectives to do so.

In practice, culture and ethics provided no barrier at all.

 

Phone hacking was probably never, in essence, a problem of illegality but one of culture.

There was this great new way of getting stories, and there seemed no compelling reason not to exploit it.

And so people did.

Ignorance of the law may never be an excuse, but sometimes it can also explain certain things.

 

 

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What we know – and what we don’t know – about the death of Lucy Meadows

A week ago primary school teacher Lucy Meadows was found dead at her home.

Over the last week there has been a great deal of interest in the case.  There has been a vigil outside a national newspaper office; there are petitions calling for an individual journalist to be sacked; there is the prospect of a House of Commons debate; and various groups have claimed the tragedy supports their objectives.

In all this, there is little concrete information. This post sets out, as of today, what we know and – more importantly – what we don’t know about what happened to Lucy Meadows before she died.  This post deals with these points in broadly chronological order, and as this is not a “blame” piece, I have anonymised the names of all but Lucy Meadows.

The full sources and other links for what follows are here.

 

What happened with the school

We know Lucy Meadows was a primary teacher at a certain school and that she was transitioning from male to female.  We know she had the support of her headteacher and of the diocese.  It appears she was popular and highly regarded.

We know that the headteacher put thought into how to communicate this news to the school, and it appears the headteacher decided to do this by means of a low-key announcement in the “staff changes” part of the school newsletter.

 

The local press

We know that the local press covered the story before the national press were aware of it.  We know that the local press – one paper in particular – were able to get a quote (and a photograph) of a concerned parent.  We know that claims were made that other parents were concerned, but there is no explicit evidence of this.

We do not know what either Lucy Meadows or the School did about this local news coverage, other than to provide statements.  Lucy Meadows and her headteacher released statements asking for privacy to be respected.

(26/3/13 ADDED: See Dan Waddell’s two detailed posts http://dan-waddell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/here-there-be-monstering.html and http://dan-waddell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/here-there-be-monstering-follow-up.html on how the news story went from local to national level.)

 

The national press

The national press picked up the story soon after it was published in the local press.  We know that the national press sought “before” and “after” pics of Lucy but had to settle for unauthorised Facebook pics and a child’s drawing.  We know that the national press took the decision to publish a story in December 2012 based on the adverse reactions of the parents.  However, there were still no more named concerned parents.

Once the story was covered in at least two national tabloids as a news story, we know that a controversial columnist used the information acquired by others for a critical main piece in his weekly column.  We do not know what Lucy Meadows thought of this column, as it is not mentioned in any of the emails which have so far been published.

 

The complaints of harassment and press intrusion

We know that Lucy Meadows complained of the press intrusion in emails sent to another trans person.  These emails have not been published in full.  In these emails we are told that Lucy Meadows was concerned at the presence of photographers at her school and the attempts to obtain private information (and pictures).  We are also told that the press seemed uninterested in the parents who wanted to say positive things.

Lucy Meadows also wrote that she had to significantly change her routine to avoid the press attention, arriving at school early and leaving late.

We do not know whether this is correct (though there is no reason to doubt it). We also do not know whether the press which were present were freelance or were staff journalists/photographers.

We know that Lucy Meadows submitted a PCC complaint in January 2013 and it is understood that there were others.  We know that her complaint was “resolved” but we do not know on what basis.

We know that the columnist’s piece was edited on-line on or before 12 March 2013 and that it appears text and photos were removed.  We do not have a reason for that edit.

 

The death of Lucy Meadows

We do not know the cause of death, though very early reports said it was suicide.  We do not know the relevant circumstances if it was suicide, and the Samaritans caution that no suicide should attributable to one factor.

We know that the police do not believe there were suspicious circumstances and that the death was unexpected. We know that a file has been passed to the coroner and that the coroner is expected to have an inquest.

We do not know what, if any, relationship there was between the press coverage/conduct and her death.  And even if there was a relationship, we do not know what aspect of the press coverage/conduct is of most importance.  In particular, we do not have any evidence that the columnist’s piece was directly relevant.

 

The significance of the death

We do not know the significance, if any, of the death.  We do not know whether it supports “press reform” or is irrelevant to it.  We do not know whether it is linked to transphobia or to any other cultural point.  We do not know whether it justifies the sacking of any reporter, photographer, picture desk editor, or news editor.

We simply do not know.

 

But what we do know is that the press coverage/conduct in December was personally unpleasant to Lucy Meadows and that she complained of it both to a contact and the PCC, and that it appears that the press coverage/conduct was in breach of her own stated preference for privacy.

And we are also entitled to form a view as to whether the press coverage/conduct in December was humane and decent; and in my personal view, it plainly was not.  In particular, what one can only call a “monstering” was wrong on its own terms, regardless of what happened afterwards.

 

 

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The death of Lucy Meadows

Lucy Meadows is dead.

 

She was a popular teacher at a primary school. But on Tuesday, police and an ambulance were called to her home. She was found dead. Her death is not being treated as suspicious. Already various people have said she took her own life. Helen Belcher reports that friends said that Lucy Meadows had spoke of suicide. The police told me today a file will be passed to the coroner.

 

At the moment we do not know how she died and, if it was the case that she took her own life, what the relevant circumstances were.

 

But what we do know is that Lucy Meadows was monstered by tabloid newspapers when news emerged that she was transitioning from male to female.

 

Suddenly she became not only an unwilling figure in sensational news reporting, but someone ridiculed and criticised by a national newspaper columnist. There was, of course, no public interest in any of this.

 

Such “monster” pieces are easy for tabloids to produce (especially if they get “before” and “after” photos), and the powerless figures caught up – victims – are unlikely ever to fight back. In a way, the tabloids treat trans people the way they would treat anyone, if they could get away with it.

 

In December 2011, the group TransmediaWatch made a submission to the Leveson Inquiry (I helped with some of the drafting). It documents the monstering of trans people by tabloids. Anyone with an interest in media matters should read it. The stories are horrific.

 

A person in transition is likely to be going through intense psychological and emotional changes: the worst thing for them is the humiliation of a sudden tabloid monstering (see more on this here). They are also having the most personal surgery one can perhaps imagine; but no other comparable group of people having surgery – say women having a mastectomy or hysterectomy – would feature in such sensationalist news reporting. Instead such intimate matters are rightly regarded as nobody’s business but that of the person involved.

 

And this should be the case for trans people. It is a basic privacy matter. The fact that someone is in transtion does not create any automatic public interest in their national media exposure. In fact, their situation calls for a genuine respect for their privacy and autonomy. The monstering of Lucy Meadows and other trans people is wrong on its own terms, regardless of any consequences.

 

Such monstering pieces really must now come to an end.

 

 

You can follow TransMediaWatch on Twitter. The Samaritans can be contacted here.

 

Post script – I have created a resource page here.

I also did an interview for Radio 4 on the above – you can hear it here at 25:20.

 

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Human Rights Act and Bingham’s Question: which rights are we to discard?

So the Human Rights Act and the European Court of Human Rights are in the news.

One Tory Minister wants to repeal the Act, and another wants us to withdraw from the Court.  The extent to which either of these propositions make sense is expertly set out by Adam Wagner, perhaps the UK’s leading legal blogger.

The proposals are depressing on two levels.

First, it is clear that such calls are gesture politics.  The Tories have lost a by-election and feel the need to play to the audience.  There is no real chance that the Act will be repealed or the UK withdraw from Strasbourg.

Second, it represents a failure by those in favour of human rights law.  It is now over twelve years since the Act took effect, but still uninformed and misleading statements about human rights law are made by those who should know better and circulated by those who could not care less.

But since 2000, human rights have become part of the mainstream in litigation.  Even Associated Newspapers has sought to rely on its Article 10 right to free expression under the ECHR (see paragraphs 33 and 36 here).   But the frequent use of human rights law in the courts has not been matched by a more informed public debate.

Indeed, one of the shortest conversations one can have in British politics is when a critic of human rights is asked to be specific as to which rights under the ECHR and provisions of the Human Rights Act should be abandoned.  It is almost as “human rights” is a hobgoblin with no more substance than is necessary to scare us.

In fact, the Human Rights Act is an instrument which should be commended by those who want the UK courts to decide things instead of Strasbourg.  The Act’s existence has made it rare for applicants to go to the European Court of Human Rights, and the case law developed by UK judges in UK courts since 2000 means that Strasbourg jurisprudence has become less relevant.  The Human Rights Acts also provides that UK judges cannot disapply primary legislation on human rights grounds, and so the supremacy of parliament is maintained.

And as for the convention rights themselves, which ones should we not have as protections?  As the late Lord Bingham said in a lecture which should be read in full by anyone interested in the human rights debate:

The rights protected by the Convention and the Act deserve to be protected because they are, as I would suggest, the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being.

Let me briefly remind you of the protected rights, some of which I have already mentioned.

The right to life.
The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved.
The right to liberty and security of the person.
The right to a fair trial.
The right not to be retrospectively penalised.
The right to respect for private and family life.
Freedom of thought,conscience and religion.  Freedom of expression.
Freedom of assembly and association.
The right to marry.
The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights.
The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation.
The right of fair access to the country’s educational system.
The right to free elections.

 

Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British? 

There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.
Human rights are not, however, protected for the likes of people like me – or most of you. They are protected for the benefit above all of society’s outcasts, thosewho need legal protection because they have no other voice – the prisoners, the mentally ill, the gipsies, the homosexuals, the immigrants, the asylum-seekers, those who are at any time the subject of public obloquy.

Here Lord Bingham nails it: just which of these rights do we really wish to discard?

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The debate about juries which came from nowhere

 

And so it came to pass, that a debate about the role of juries came out of nowhere.

 

Whatever we were expecting from the Huhne and Pryce trial (he pleaded guilty, she faces a retrial), it was not a discussion about the composition and function of juries. Points about reporting restrictions (the case has had many and some are still in force) perhaps, or about the scope of the curious “marital coercion” defence. But not about juries; that was a shock.

 

However, the Pryce jury’s questions prompted many responses outside of the courtroom.

 

The most detailed and fascinating of these responses was by Richard Moorhead, which should be read in full. The legal blogger Obiter J has set out a number of other links. My own contribution (the chief merit of which was the punning title) was at the New Statesman (and I also debate juries with Joshua Rozenberg, who did a misconceived and illiberal piece on juries, in the Observer tomorrow).

 

I am actually no great fan of juries. But they are better than the alternative, and their questions – however daft – should always be encouraged and not ridiculed.

 

For me, what was most interesting about the Pryce jury questions was how a combination of in-court tweeting and outside-court blogging led to an immediate and interesting public debate about juries in general.

 

For, in a week when it emerged that the Guardian law page is to become a zombie, automated site without dedicated editorial staff, the speedy, varied and relatively informed response to the Pryce jury questions shows that legal tweeting and blogging is now, in effect, the standard form of legal commentary on developments in the news. This is just as well, as soon there will be no full-time legal or court correspondents on any national paper.

 

But is legal blogging and tweeting really any adequate replacement for full-time legal journalism? On that the jury is still out…

 

 

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The question of Calvin Candie.

(Spoilers below for Django Unchained.)

 

 

I remember the buzz about Reservoir Dogs going around college.

 

It would have been during the final year of my degree; and suddenly it seemed everyone was discussing it, forming an opinion on its merits and its violence, and just quoting and alluding to it whenever they could.  Then came Pulp Fiction, and we were all in awe.

 

 

So a generation was formed of Tarantino fans, and our fate became to look forward to each of his films hoping to re-capture that high of 1992 to 1994.

 

And so dutifully I went to see Django Unchained.  The generally positive advance publicity suggested it would not just be another Four Rooms or Death Proof, thank god.

 

Would it be a sequence of showy fight scenes, like Kill Bill?   Or an attempt at a story telling relying on great acting, like Jackie Brown?  Or would it simply make no sense at all, like Inglourious Basterds?  At least there would not be Mexican vampires.

 

Would the film get a supportive nod, or a wince at self-indulgence, before thinking back to the wonder of Tarantino’s first two major releases?

 

 

What I did not expect was what interesting me most about the film – the way Tarantino explored and represented legal issues.

 

Here the crucial question is that posed by the plantation owner Calvin Candie:

I’ve been surrounded my entire life by black faces. I only have one question: Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?

 

The film suggests that part of why there was no slave rebellion in the southern states was because of how the law was used.

 

At the film’s very start, Dr Schultz makes sure he gets a bill of sale for Django.  It seems like a theatrical affectation, but it becomes clear its importance is very practical.  Later on it appears Django rules out a simple snatch of Broomhilda as he would need a bill of sale for her, and at the end of the film he makes sure he has that bill of sale before riding off with her, and leaving the burning manor house behind.

 

Furthermore, the film sets this pedantic regard for legality into a wider context of the rule of law.  On two occasions  Dr Schultz gets away with what otherwise would be murder because of a piece of paper and the announcement he is an officer of the court.  And Candie himself boasts that his property rights are his to exercise as he wants.

 

How realistic is all this?

 

Well, one cannot help thinking that waving bills of sale and warrants for capturing dead or alive would not have got two protagonists like Schultz and Django very far in the Dixieland of 1858.  One suspects they would have both been shot the first time they tried it.

 

But Tarantino perhaps has a point: why do the repressed not rise up when they are many when those repressing them are few?  In terms of simple numbers, the “elite” would not have a chance.

 

One reason is that, absent a general revolution, the same legal system will always be there when the dust of revolt settles.  The rebels’ claims to the property of the overthrown will not be respected by the civil law; and the criminal law will protect from sanction those killing and arresting the rebels.  Being an outlaw may well be a nice pose; but the reality means that your rights to life and property no longer exist.

 

There are, of course, other reasons for a lack of revolt – the inequality of arms, the routine use of sheer force, the use of spies and informers, the rewards given for collaboration,  and the promotion of ideologies that promote deference.

 

But the question of Calvin Candie is a good one, and it is not easily answered.

 

I was just not expecting a Tarantino film to be so thought-provoking in this way.

 

 

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Why did George Orwell call his last novel Nineteen Eighty-Four?

 

 

 

Why did George Orwell call his last novel Nineteen Eighty-Four?

The usual explanation for the choice of title of Nineteen Eighty-Four is that it was a play on the last two digits of 1948, the year the manuscript was finished.

This has never convinced me. I think there may be a better explanation, which comes from George Orwell’s intellectual hostility to the Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton.

This post sets out this alternative explanation as to why Orwell did give his novel the title Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is culled from work I did some time ago when I was considering a higher degree. Although the coincidence on which it is based has been noticed before, I am not aware of any other attempt to assess the alternative explanation that I offer.

 

A choice of title

In autumn 1948, Orwell is uncertain as to the title of his new novel. He has two titles in mind, and he asks at least two people for their view. In a letter dated 22 October 1948, Orwell explains the dilemma to his literary agent:

“…I have not definitely decided on the title. I am inclined to call it either NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR or THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, but I might just possibly think of something else in the next week or two.”

On the same day he also writes to his new publisher and makes the same unsure admission:

“…I haven’t definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.”

However, within a month, the first of these two titles appears to have stuck. At least other people had taken it up. In December 1948, the publisher had compiled a report on the novel, calling it “1984”, as did one of the professional readers.

By 17 January 1949, Orwell himself has clearly made his choice of title and was now discussing whether it should be entitled “1984” or “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

The book was published later that year.

 

The conventional explanation

The conventional account is now almost an urban myth. Everybody knows it, so to speak.

This 1948 explanation, although widely adopted, is actually not that well attested. For example, I have not found it stated anywhere by Orwell or by anyone with whom he conversed.

So far, I have only been able to trace the 1948 explanation to an American publisher called Robert Giroux, who saw Nineteen Eighty-Four through the press for the US edition.

However, Orwell was not particularly close to Giroux, and there is no reason to believe that Giroux was privy to any special information about Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although there is some correspondence between Orwell and Giroux, I have not seen any mention in that correspondence of why the book had this title.

In passing, I note that Orwell complained that he did not like what Giroux was doing to the book in the US edition. Nor did he appreciate the unsolicited requests for writing blurbs.

 

An alternative explanation?

If the 1948 theory is possibly not correct, why did Orwell choose to set his dystopia in the year 1984? My alternative explanation brings us to G.K. Chesterton, an earlier and very different writer to Orwell.

 

Chesterton was, of course, the writer of the Father Brown stories, as well as a prolific poet and journalist. But it is one of his two famous novels (the other being The Man Who Was Thursday) with which I am concerned here: The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

 

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a fantasy set in a future London. (As a fantasy writer, Chesterton has the deserved admiration of modern fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman.) The hero is Auberon Quin, a well-meaning eccentric who suddenly becomes King. The political context for all this is set out when the story begins:

VERY few words are needed to explain why London, a hundred years hence, will be very like it is now, or rather, since I must slip into a prophetic past, why London, when my story opens, was very like it was in those enviable days when I was still alive.

The reason can be stated in one sentence. The people had absolutely lost faith in revolutions. All revolutions are doctrinal…such as the French one, or the one that introduced Christianity.

For it stands to common sense that you cannot upset all existing things, customs, and compromises, unless you believe in something outside them, something positive and divine. Now, England, during this century, lost all belief in this. It believed in a thing called Evolution. And it said, “All theoretic changes have ended in blood and ennui. If we change, we must change slowly and safely, as the animals do. Nature’s revolutions are the only successful ones. There has been no conservative reaction in favour of tails.”

And some things did change. Things that were not much thought of dropped out of sight. Things that had not often happened did not happen at all. Thus, for instance, the actual physical force ruling the country, the soldiers and police, grew smaller and smaller, and at last vanished almost to a point. The people combined could have swept the few policemen away in ten minutes: they did not,because they did not believe it would do them the least good. They had lost faith in revolutions.

Democracy was dead; for no one minded the governing class governing. England was now practically a despotism, but not an hereditary one. Some one in the official class was made King. No one cared how; no one cared who. He was merely an universal secretary.

In this manner it happened that everything in London was very quiet. That vague and somewhat depressed reliance upon things happening as they have always happened, which is with all Londoners a mood, had become an assumed condition. There was really no reason for any man doing anything but the thing he had done the day before.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is, however, now more famous for its preface, entitled Introductory Remarks on the Art of Prophecy. Only a few hundred words long, it is a much-quoted source of Chestertonian wit. (It begins wonderfully with “THE human race, to which so many of my readers belong…”.)

The preface is not used to introduce the story but to undermine both modernist pretensions and radical predictions. Chesterton ridicules in turn H. G. Wells, Edward Carpenter (the early environmentalist), Leo Tolstoy, Cecil Rhodes, Benjamin Kidd ( a sociologist), W. T. Stead (a campaigning journalist), and Sidney Webb. In each instance their views are stated and then juxtaposed with an absurdly exaggerated view of an invented eccentric.

For example:

There was Mr. Sidney Webb, also, who said that the future would see a continuously increasing order and neatness in the life of the people, and his poor friend Fipps, who went mad and ran about the country with an axe, hacking branches off the trees whenever there were not the same number on both sides.

And so on. Chesterton then concludes the preface with a provocative challenge to every other forecaster or prophet. They would err as every such pundit had erred:

All these clever men were prophesying with every variety of ingenuity what would happen soon, and they all did it in the same way, by taking something they saw ‘going strong’, as the saying is, and carrying it as far as ever their imagination could stretch.

So:

When the curtain goes up on this story, eighty years after the present date, London is almost exactly like what it is now.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill was published in 1904; the curtain therefore goes up in 1984.

 

Orwell and Chesterton

Orwell intellectually loathed GK Chesterton and other Catholic conservative writers.

If this aspect of Orwell’s thought is less appreciated today, it is perhaps because the debates changed. However, Orwell’s criticism of the intellectual and moral dishonesty of Catholic conservatives was a common theme in Orwell’s journalism and other published writing, and he often bracketed Catholic conservatism and his other bugbear, Stalinism.

Indeed, one can often swap his comments on Stalinism and Catholic conservatism. They are almost invariably interchangeable.

Orwell wrote only one major political essay in 1945 (the year he started Nineteen Eighty-Four. This was Notes on Nationalism. This influential essay sets out how certain ideologies (or “nationalisms”) can undermine clear political and moral thinking. And only one writer or politician is examined in this context: Chesterton.

In the essay, Orwell introduces both Chesterton and his long held attitudes towards him:

Ten or twenty years ago, the form of nationalism most corresponding to Communism today was political Catholicism. Its most outstanding exponent – though he was perhaps an extreme case rather than a typical one – was G. K. Chesterton.

Orwell characterises Chesterton:

Chesterton was a master of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda.

And Chesterton’s method:

Every book that he wrote, every paragraph, every sentence, every incident in every story, every scrap of dialogue, had to demonstrate beyond possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the Protestant or the Pagan.

In a Tribune column in February 1944, Orwell specifically attacked Chesterton’s assertions about change over time:

It is not very difficult to see that this idea is rooted in the fear of progress. If there is nothing new under the sun, if the past in some shape or another always returns, then the future when it comes will be something familiar.

Orwell continues by contrasting Chesterton’s Catholic conservatism with his own democratic socialism:

At any rate what will never come – since it has never come before – is that hated, dreaded thing, a world of free and equal human beings.

 

Orwell and Catholic conservatism

Orwell’s hostility to Chesterton has to be seen in the context of his disdain for other Catholic conservative writers. In a book review as early as 1932, Orwell is dissing Catholic writers:

Our English Catholic apologists are unrivalled masters of debate, but they are on their guard against saying anything genuinely informative.

Later, a central theme of Orwell’s hostility towards ‘political Catholicism’ was its close relationship with Fascism. In 1944, he notes almost in passing,

Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively.

And in a Tribune column of 1945,

The Catholics who said ‘Don’t offend Franco because it helps Hitler’ had more or less consciously helping Hitler for years beforehand.

Animosity towards ‘Catholic conservatism’ was perhaps most obvious in his weekly Tribune column. For example, two favourite straw-dollies were the right-wing, Roman Catholic journalists ‘Timothy Shy’ and ‘Beachcomber’. In 1944, Orwell warned readers that,

their general ‘line’ will be familiar to anyone who has read Chesterton and kindred writers. Its essential note is denigration of England and of Protestant countries generally.

And therefore,

It is a mistake to regard these two as comics pure and simple. Every word they write is intended as Catholic propaganda.

In a Tribune column in October 1944, Orwell discussed the writing and broadcasting of C.S. Lewis :

[I was] reading, a week or two ago, Mr C. S. Lewis’s recently-published book, Beyond Personality…The idea, of course, is to persuade the suspicious reader, or listener, that one can be a Christian and a ‘jolly good chap’ at the same time. I don’t imagine that the attempt would have much success…but Mr. Lewis’s vogue at this moment, the time allowed to him on the air and the exaggerated praise he has received, are bad symptoms and worth noticing…

A kind of book that has been endemic in England for quite sixty years is the silly-clever religious book, which goes on the principle not of threatening the unbeliever with Hell, but of showing him up as an illogical ass, incapable of clear thought and unaware that everything he says has been says has been refuted before. This school of literature started with W. H. Mallock’s New Republic, which must have been written about 1880, and it has a long line of practitioners – R. H. Benson, Chesterton, Father Knox, ‘Beachcomber’ and others, most of them Catholics, but some, like Dr Cyril Allington and (I suspect) Mr Lewis himself, Anglicans.

The line of attack is always the same. Every heresy has been uttered before (with the implication that it has been refuted before); and theology is only understood by theologians (with the implication that you should leave your thinking to the priests)…

One reason for the extravagant boosting that these people get in the press is that their political affiliations are invariably reactionary. Some of them were frank admirers of Fascism as long as it was safe to be so. That is why I draw attention to Mr C. S. Lewis and his chummy little wireless talks, of which no doubt there will be more. They are not really so unpolitical as they are meant to look

 

Most relevant for the purpose of connecting Orwell to The Napoleon of Notting Hill is his 1946 book review of The Democrat at the Supper Table, where Orwell forcefully attacks the author’s conservative politics and the sophistry of the novel’s central character:

Without actually imitating Chesterton, Mr. Brogan has obviously been influenced by him, and his central character has a Father Brown-like capacity for getting the better of an argument, and also for surrounding himself with fools and scoundrels whose function is to lead up to his wisecracks.

When a clergyman wrote to complain about the tone of Orwell’s review, the reply elaborated on the initial attack:

Ever since W. H. Mallock’s ‘New Republic’ there has been a continuous stream of what one might call ‘clever Conservative’ books, opposing the current trend without being able to offer any viable programme in its place.

Orwell continued, appearing to have in mind the Preface to The Napoleon of Notting Hilll

If you look back twenty years, you will find people like Ronald Knox, Cyril Alington, Chesterton himself and his many followers, talking as though such things as Socialism, Industrialism, the theory of evolution, psycho-therapy, universal compulsory education, radio, aeroplanes and what-not could be simply laughed out of existence.

 

So did Orwell take the year 1984 from The Napoleon of Notting Hill?

Taking the stories as a whole it is not too much of a strain to see Nineteen Eighty-Four as a riposte to The Napoleon of Notting Hill. There are many points of comparison. Both books show that a belief in revolution that appears to have gone wrong, and both focus on the frustrations of a sympathetic central character as he attempts to challenge the prevailing system. Both are utopian/dystopian visions, containing prophecies extrapolated from current trends.

There are also many telling contrasts. The Napoleon of Notting Hill is written from the point of view of a Catholic populist and Nineteen Eighty-Four is by an almost secular social democrat.

It is, in many ways, a plausible explanation.

However, this alternative explanation has gaps.

For example, even though Orwell has a clear disdain for Chesterton and is antipathetic to the prophetic pretensions of Chesterton and other religious conservative writers, there is actually no direct evidence that Orwell either had read or even possessed The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

One feels he “must have done” as it is one of Chesteron’s three best-known works and probably his most quoted, but one cannot invent convenient evidence. The best I can say is that it difficult to imagine Orwell committing his attacks in Notes on Nationalism without being aware of Chesterton’s clearest and best known statement against “progress”.

Subject to further research, the final position on the question must be inconclusive though fascinating.

However, the possibility that the title of Nineteen Eighty-Four was derived from The Napoleon of Notting Hill does allows us to explore an often overlooked part of Orwell’s political outlook: the deep hostility of a decent and progressive liberal to the intellectual and moral dishonesty of religious conservatives.

 

This post is republished from my old Jack of kent site.

 

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Introducing Ida Mabel Limouzin

November 2012

(Adapted and republished from my old Jack of Kent site, May 2010.)

 

Let me introduce you to Ida Mabel Limouzin.

You will like her.

 

She was born in 1875 and grew up in Burma in the port of Moulmein, where her French family had conducted business since the British annexation in 1826.

The Limouzins were a well-regarded family with wide commercial interests; they even had a street named after them. One family member remembered that the head of the family “lived like a prince”.

She had striking eyes and thick wavy hair – and highly independent.

According to one author, Ms. Limouzin was certainly a “more lively, unconventional, widely-read and in every way a more interesting person” than the dullard she ended up marrying.

She insisted on a separate bedroom to the dullard. When seen together she seemed to others to be faintly dismissive of him.  The evidence suggests she only married him on the rebound.

When she brought her young family to England – the dullard husband was sent off to work in India for years and so played no real part in his children’s upbringing – she mixed with Suffragettes and attended public meetings. She often took her children with her: she was remembered by her daughter as being a mother “for outings”.

The house was full of fanciful objects, and she had a passion for art and photography.

In essence, Ms. Limouzin was a bohemian at the turn of the twentieth century, and one devoted to her young children.

*

As such, she was one of many; but the reason we know so much about her is because her son happened to grow up to be famous.

You can see him as the baby in the photograph above.

Her son was called Eric, but he became better known as “George Orwell”.

And when one looks at George Orwell from his mother’s perspective, a great deal seems to make sense.

One is no longer trying to explain why the Eton schoolboy decided not to go to university but went to Burma and then Paris instead.

After all, from his mother’s side Orwell was Franco-Burmese in the first place.

One can also perhaps see where his independence of mind and unreadiness to conform came from.

(Indeed even at Eton he was distinctive. He was known as “the college atheist” and he read books which surprised his teachers and friends. Regarding Orwell just as a typical Etonian is  misconceived.)

 

 

But the British obsession with class, and the sexist assumption that the paternal side is more significant, tend to dominate Orwell scholarship and almost all his biographies.

For example, one biography of Orwell  spends six pages lovingly detailing the family and class background of Orwell’s father, including mentioning distant and titled relatives of whom Orwell was probably unaware.

The biography then deals with Orwell’s mother in a couple of sentences.

One rather thinks it should be the other way round.

 

 

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The law and magical thinking

As this blog is named after a medieval wizard, this post is a Hallowe’en Special…

 

You would think magic and the law had little in common.

 

After all, old men in elaborate robes adopting solemn tones as they read archaic words in special sequences from old books is, of course, something which would never happen in the modern world.

 

 

Ahem.

 

In fact, magic and the law do have something in common – at least that part of magic which is concerned with spells and sorcery.

 

Other than in extreme situations, the stuff of law consists of words: words in statutes or in contracts, words said in court or in witness statements, and words in judgments and court orders.

 

Ultimately these words have the “real world” effect  of being a prelude to, and justification for, the use of coercive power by one person on another. This can include the court attendant “taking you down” to the cells or the bailiff enforcing a court order at your door.

 

But such resorts to coercion happen at the margins: most people conduct their daily business on what they believe the law to say: “you can’t do that, there is a law against it” or “it is perfectly ok for me to do this, there’s no law against it”.

 

It is as if the words in the statute books and the case reports are so many spells, given the invisible power they are supposed to have over other people’s lives.

 

A Martian looking down on humans milling around would be quite unaware of the social power of law; the Martian may even be unlikely to infer all the rules by which we conduct ourselves by just seeing the prisoner being taken from the dock or the goods seized from some debtor’s house.

 

There are, of course, other sets of norms and principles which influence human behaviour; but what may be special about law is that it is believed that by “making a law against it” you somehow can change the reality of our daily lives.

 

It is like some Harry Potter gesture, as the earnest law-maker commands, “I prohibit you thus!”

 

(Indeed, it is possibly not a surprise that the Royal Courts of Justice is very similar to Hogwarts, both inside and out.)

 

 

But, as I have contended elsewhere, we perhaps should ban “banning things”.

 

To prohibit something with the law is not actually to extinguish it: the prohibited item or conduct does not suddenly disappear with some quick final sparkle.

 

Often to say, “there should be a law against it” is really no different from saying there should be a spell against it, and is just as effective.

 

Think of drugs, or sex work, or back street abortions.

 

For when something is “banned”, all that happens is that any further incidents of the prohibited activity may be attended with (intended and unintended) consequences which it otherwise would not have but for the “ban”.

 

And criminalising certain activities often does create unintended consequences.

 

Think again of drugs, or sex work, or back street abortions.

 

 

All this is bleedingly obvious to anyone who sees the law for what it is: just precisely chosen words in certain books which lead to particular processes with the occasional coercive outcome – socially important, yes, but that import  is limited.

 

Few people see the law in such restrained and practical terms; instead, they think uttering special words by means of law-making can somehow change the world.

 

This is not to say that law cannot have sensible effects – indeed, the imposition of civil and criminal liability, and the coercion which then can follow when that liability is determined, and the giving of legal powers to certain people, are an essential part of a modern liberal society.

 

However, law-making is not magic: to make something legal or illegal is never by itself going to work like a spell.

 

Few people in the United Kingdom of Hallowe’en 2012 any longer – supposedly – believe in spells and sorcery.

 

But it is time people stopped thinking about law in magical terms.

 

 

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The detail of the accusations against Assange

Because of the difficulty in finding out what exactly is alleged against Julian Assange, this post sets out the accusations in full.  Please note that these are accusations only and are denied by Assange.

 

There are four accusations against Assange in the European Arrest Warrant issued on 26 November 2010.

I set out each of these four accusations as stated in the EAW.

Then for each accusation I also set out the London High Court’s summary of the relevant complainant’s statement.  These statements are legally relevant as they were considered by the High Court in determining whether the alleged conduct was fairly described in the EAW.

In each of the four accusations, the High Court held that the alleged offences would constitute an offence under the criminal law of England and Wales.

(“H” refers to the Judgment of High Court, 2 November 2011 [2011] EWHC 2849 (Admin). Numbers refer to paragraph numbers.)

 

The first accusation is in respect of AA and is stated in the EAW as follows:

1. Unlawful coercion

On 13-14 August 2010, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm. Assange, by using violence. forced the injured party to endure his restricting her freedom of movement. The violence consisted in a firm hold of the injured party’s arms and a forceful spreading of her legs whilst lying on top of her and with his body weight preventing her from moving or shifting.

This was supplemented by AA’s statement, which the High Court summarised as follows (H74):

 AA said in her statement that she had offered the use of her apartment to Mr Assange from 11-14 August 2010 when she was away. She had returned on 13 August 2010 earlier than planned and then met him for the first time. They went out to dinner and returned to her apartment. As they drank tea, he started to fondle her leg which she welcomed. Everything happened fast. Mr Assange ripped off her clothes and at the same time broke her necklace. She tried to put her clothes on again, but Mr Assange had immediately removed them again. She had thought that she did not really want to continue, but it was too late to tell Mr Assange to stop as she had consented so far. Accordingly she let Mr Assange take off all her clothes. Thereafter they laid down on the bed naked with AA on her back and Mr Assange on top. Mr Assange wanted to insert his penis into her vagina, but she did not want him to do that as he was not using a condom. She therefore squeezed her legs together in order to avoid him penetrating her. She tried to reach several times for a condom which Mr Assange had stopped her from doing by holding her arms and bending her legs open and trying to penetrate her with his penis without a condom. Mr Assange must have known it was a condom AA was reaching for and he had held her arms to stop her. After a while Mr Assange had asked AA what she was doing and why she was squeezing her legs together; AA told him she wanted him to put on a condom before he entered her. Mr Assange let go of AA’s arms and put on a condom which AA found for him. AA felt a strong sense of unexpressed resistance on Mr Assange’ s part against using a condom.

 

The second accusation is again in respect of AA and is stated by the EAW as follows:

 2. Sexual molestation

 On 13-14 August 2010, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm, Assange deliberately molested the injured party by acting in a manner designed to violate her sexual integrity. Assange, who was aware that it was the expressed wish of the injured party and a prerequisite of sexual intercourse that a condom be used, consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with her without her knowledge.

This was supplemented by AA’s witness statement, which the High Court summarised as follows (H93):

 AA’s statement went on to describe what happened immediately after what we have set out in relation to offence 1. She made it quite clear, as we have set out at paragraph 74, that she wished him to put a condom on before he entered her. Indeed she was concerned he had not put a condom on. She felt his penis with her hand to check he had really put it on. She felt that the edge of the condom was in the right place on the root of his penis. They therefore continued to have sex, as she said that she thought that she just wanted to get it over with. After a while AA noticed that Mr Assange had pulled his penis out of her and started to arrange the condom. Judging by the sound AA thought he was removing the condom. He then penetrated her again and continued sexual intercourse. She felt again with her hand that the edge of the condom was, as previously, around the root of the penis. She therefore let him continue. AA stated that a while later he ejaculated inside her and then pulled out. When he removed the condom from his penis, AA saw it was empty of semen. When she started to move her body she noticed something was seeping out of her vagina and understood it must be his semen. AA told the police she was convinced that Mr Assange, when he pulled out of her, broke the condom by the glans and then continued the intercourse until he ejaculated.

 

The third accusation in respect of AA is set out as follows in the EAW:

 3. Sexual molestation

 On 18 August 2010 or on any of the days before or after that date, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm, Assange deliberately molested the injured party by acting in a manner designed to violate her sexual integrity i.e. lying next to her and pressing his naked, erect penis to her body.

AA’s statement on this, as summarised by the High Court, was as follows (H99-100):

In her statement describing offence 3, which is alleged to have occurred some days later on 18 August 2010 or (in the revised translation) on or about 18 August 2010, AA stated that after 12/13 August 2010 they did not have sexual intercourse again. AA said that Mr Assange tried to make sexual advances towards her every day thereafter. For example he had touched her breasts. She rejected him on all occasions. He accepted these rejections.

During this time, however, she continued to sleep in the same bed as Mr Assange. When they were in the same bed on 18 August 2010, he suddenly took all his clothes off from the lower part of his body and rubbed that part of his body and his erect penis against AA. She had felt this was very strange behaviour and awkward. After this, she no longer slept in the same bed as Mr Assange, but moved to a mattress on the floor.

 

The final accusation is from the other woman, SW.  This is stated in the EAW as follows:

4. Rape

On 17 August 2010, in the home of the injured party [SW] in Enkoping, Assange deliberately consummated sexual intercourse with her by improperly exploiting that she, due to sleep. was in a helpless state.

 It is an aggravating circumstance that Assange. who was aware that it was the expressed wish of the injured party and a prerequisite of sexual intercourse that a condom be used. still consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with her. The sexual act was designed to violate the injured party’s sexual integrity.”

The High Court summarised SW’s statement as follows:

120.         Offence 4 was based on the complaint of SW made at a hearing on 26 August 2010. The fairness and accuracy of Offence 4 related to SW’s account of what happened on 17 August 2010. It was submitted that, if that part of her statement relating to 17 August 2010 was read in its entirety, a fair and accurate description of the conduct would have made clear her consent to sexual intercourse or alternatively a reasonable belief on his part that she consented.

121.         In her statement SW said that she had been captivated by Mr Assange when she had seen him in a TV interview. She had attended a lunch with him and others on 14 August 2010. He had flirted with her over lunch and they had gone out together ending up in cinema where they kissed and fondled. She contacted him on 16 August 2010 and invited him to her house. In the bedroom he took her clothes off; they were naked together on the bed and engaged in sexual foreplay on the bed. He rubbed his penis against her. She closed her legs because she did not want to have intercourse with him unless he used a condom. After a period of some hours, he went to sleep. For a long time she had lain awake, but then she also fell asleep. They then had sexual intercourse with him using a condom. They fell asleep and woke and had sex again. They had breakfast. They had sex again with a condom only on the glans of his penis.

122.         Her statement then describes in some detail the conduct that forms the basis of Offence 4. She fell asleep, but was woken up by his penetration of her. She immediately asked if he was wearing anything. He answered to the effect that he was not. She felt it was too late and, as he was already inside her, she let him continue. She had never had unprotected sex. He then ejaculated inside her.

 

This post is for the convenience of those following the case only, and it is not intended to provide any information not already in the published judgment.

 

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