The Afro Caribbean people who came to the UK in the 1940s to the 1970s-known as the Windrush generation after the first ship MV Empire Windrush that brought them from Jamaica, Trinidad and other West Indies islands- have suffered a lot in the last few years at the hands of successive Tory governments.
They were victims of the ” hostile environment” policy to immigrants set up by home secretary Theresa May in 2012 and continued to this day by Priti Patel ( herself from a family of Ugandan Asian refugees) they wrongly faced deportation, loss of jobs and homes after living in this country for more than 50 years because they were never issued with documents. Many were wrongly deported.
So it was rather good that an inventive Afro-Caribbean artist Everton Wright (Evewright) decided to launch an amazing art and sound installation as a tribute to that generation. He also based the exhibition at the port of Tilbury in Essex – the very place where MV Empire Windrush docked in 1948 and used the original walkway – still there – where what are known as the elders of Windrush made landfall in the United Kingdom.
It is an immersive visual art experience, installed on 432 panes of glass collaged with photographs, documents, original boat passenger tickets and memorabilia. The artwork is installed in an original passenger walkway 55 metres long. As you walk through, you can listen to audio stories about the lives of some of the elders whose images are featured in the installation. See http://www.evewrightarts.org
Sadly vandals this month broke into the exhibition and smashed many of the exhibits and damaged the walkway where it has held. This is some of the damage:
The artist himself is keeping the exhibition open leaving the damage for all those to see.
Everton Wright said: “This artwork is made as a celebration of the lives and endeavours of Caribbean elders, from the Windrush Generation. It has been created through the need to preserve their stories and first-hand accounts so future generations can understand the importance of the contributions they made to Britain. This work has received an overwhelming positive response from the public and those who contributed their stories and images. The feedback from the public is heartfelt knowing these stories where being told. Yet there are a few who choose to damage this beautiful work. ” This is a targeted hate crime targeted towards the Windrush Generation. Who themselves had to show resilience in the face of the racism and barriers many of them experienced. I intend to keep the damage windows in place on the installation as a visible reminder of the hate and bigotry towards those that are seen as “other and foreigner” that still unfortunately still exists in our society today.
Essex Police have launched a criminal investigation: “
Essex Police has urged anyone with information to contact them and said it would “not stand by while people commit crimes in our communities”.
Supt Naomi Edwards, of the force, said: “Myself and colleagues at Essex Police were extremely saddened to hear that such a culturally and historically significant art exhibition has been subject to damage – this is unacceptable on every level.”These offences had not been reported to Essex Police, rather they had been reported to our colleagues at the Port of London Authority Police.
“However, such is our concern at these incidents, that we are working alongside our policing colleagues to support their investigation and are undertaking enquiries to establish who may be responsible in order that we can arrest them and bring them to justice.”
So far nobody has been arrested but the organisation say the police are treating it as a hate crime.
Contrast this coverage with the toppling of the Edward Colston statute
I cannot but contrast the coverage of this event in the media with the national coverage given to the toppling of the statute of Edward Colston, the Bristol slave trader, in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. This was given saturation coverage in the nationals and on TV and was linked to the debate on ” woke” and ” culture wars”.
This incident was only covered on local BBC TV, The Voice and as far as I can see, the Independent. I don’t need to make any further comment.
When I first set up this blog some 11 years ago after leaving the Guardian it had a small readership and was both an opportunity to express myself and publish stories that might be missed by my old employers, the mainstream media.
Since that time the blog has expanded beyond my expectations – taking up campaigns such as the women born in the 1950s who were badly treated when the pension age went up from 60 to 66 and more recently the campaign to implement the UN Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women.
This took the blog at one time from being viewed by a few thousand people to over a million. More recently I have started taking up cases of injustice whether it is doctors fighting for patient safety in the NHS, people treated badly by commercial organisations like Marks and Spencer, whistleblowers or the scandalous treatment of staff (ironically) at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
I also take an interest in holding politicians, civil servants, regulators and ombudsmen (particularly the Parliamentary Ombudsman) to account. Sometimes I do this on a wider basis by writing regularly for Byline Times but other times I use this blog to take up individual cases or expose stories that are buried in Whitehall reports. No injustice is too small not to matter.
Up to now much of this has been a labour of love. I don’t charge to access the blog, I don’t take any advertising. Sometimes what I write here has a spin off which does produce an income. I also do paid freelance work and have a reasonable pension.
However I am finding that I am getting a backlog of stories to investigate which is taking more time. So I have decided to seek some donations for this blog.
The details are on the buttons below. Anyone who wishes to donate will be much appreciated by me. But there is no pressure to do so. Thank you anyway for the thousands following me on Twitter and Facebook and for the 2000 plus people who subscribe to every blog I produce.
Following my storyon this blog on August 5 on the outrageous life time shopping ban given to a 85 year old Covid shielding woman by Marks and Spencer I decided it deserved wider publicity.
So I contacted the Sunday Mirror and I am delighted to say today’s paper includes a report of the incident and the ban.
Marks and Spencer did adopt an incredibly arrogant attitude in refusing to comment to me on why they justified the ban by ignoring my request as a journalist to the press office. I noticed when the Mirror rang they had to give a one line statement saying ” They cannot discuss individual cases. Excluding a customer is only done in rare circumstances.”
As I said in my previous blog Patricia Stewart was obviously confused going round their Bexleyheath store and left her shopping there. The manager and his colleague who followed her out of the store and searched her shopping bag then seized on a pair of Brazilian knickers without a receipt and ” presumed” it was stolen. This evidently is enough for M&S to ban her for life shopping with M&S ever again. Her explanation is that she intended to get them exchanged as they were a gift from a friend but she had forgotten to bring the receipt.
I also notice they won’t tell the Mirror how they enforce the ban. From a trial run by her relatives where she ordered stuff directly on line and visited three other M&S stores away from Bexleyheath, it looks like to me as meaningless outside Bexleyheath. There is an interesting threadhere on the Legal Beagles website -which describes someone else being banned at M&S in Harrow, north London. The ban covered ” unusual behaviour”.
You can see from it the person got really worried. M&S seem to take a rather overbearing attitude to some of their customers. Either they should prosecute if it is shoplifting or offer to help if someone is confused
If ever there was a case of one rule for the well connected and another for ordinary plebs, the exposure of this ruling out today by the House of Commons Standards Committee is a great example.
It centres round the conviction of Charles Elphicke, the former Tory MP for Dover, of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in last September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.
The MPs had given glowing character references for Mr Elphicke in the hope of mitigating his sentence and became alarmed when newspapers wanted the judge involved in the case to release the names of everybody who had given character references for him.
So instead of publicly objecting the MPs decided to write on Commons notepaper to Dame Kathryn Thirwall, Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, copied to Mrs Justice Whipple. Mrs Justice Whipple had heard the trial of a former Member, Charlie Elphicke, and was to hear and decide on an application to release the pre-sentencing character references.
The five Tory MPs were Mrs Natalie Elphicke, the former MP’s wife; Sir Roger Gale, former Cabinet minister, Theresa Villiers, Adam Holloway and Colonel Bob Stewart. Natalie Elphicke organised the letter.
The MPs said to disclose the references would be a “radical change to judicial practice” which “could have the [sic] chilling effect and harm the criminal justice system”.
They got a stiff reply from the Private Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales November to the letter stating that “It is improper to seek to influence the decision of a judge in a matter of which he or she is seized in this way. [ … ] It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”.
Their names- along with life peer Lord Freud- became public when Mrs Justice Whipple released them in a court ruling.
The Standards Committee ruled today that what the MPs” by acting as they did risked giving the impression that elected politicians can bring influence to bear on the judiciary, out of public view and in a way not open to others. Such egregious behaviour is corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”
The committee recommends that three of the MPs Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, and Theresa Villiers be suspended from the House for one sitting day, and should apologise to the House by means of a letter to the Committee.
The other two MPs, Bob Stewart and Adam Holloway – who decided to sign the letter after glancing at it for 20 seconds- should apologise to the House of Commons in a personal statement.
The committee recommends all five Members should also apologise to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales by letter copied to the Committee. The terms of all the apologies (both by letter and by personal statement) should be agreed in advance by Mr Speaker and the Chair of the Committee.
Four of the five MPs have been contrite about bringing Parliament into disrepute after being summoned by the committee – but Sir Roger Gale has refused to apologise and said he would do it again. He told the committee: “I would find a different way of doing it, but would I do it again—would I seek to achieve the same effect? Yes, I would”.
The report points out that Theresa Villiers is an experienced Member of the House, a trained barrister, and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “We would have expected a Member of her seniority and experience, with legal expertise, to have been particularly aware that her actions in this case were an attempt improperly to interfere in judicial proceedings.”
Earlier this year Lord Freud was ordered by the Lords Commissioner for Standards to apologise and make a statement. A report was published on my blog here.
Migration has always been a controversial issue – even though today’s United Kingdom along with the United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Next Wednesday the Ethical Journalist Network – which aims to improve standards in journalism -is hosting a free top level webinar with outstanding speakers on how the journalists themselves report this issue.
Since most people form their views on migration from newspapers, TV, radio and increasingly from social media, how issues are reported and reflected across the media have never been more important.
If you are interested in the issue or just curious about how the make up of the country is changing post Brexit this webinar is where you can find out what you are being told or what is not being told about today’s migration issues.
It will cover the issue of the arrival of new people to the UK from Hong Kong -probably one of the largest groups of people to come here since the Ugandan Asians were driven out of their country and Afro-Caribbean people were invited to work in Britain from the West Indies.
It will contrast this with the treatment of people who flee across the Channel to the UK- and are now to be housed in substandard conditions and face being exiled to camps abroad under a new Nationality Bill put forward by Priti Patel, the home secretary.
It will also look at the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal which could be repeated when European Union people who did not get settled status here are forcibly deported, denied work and health care.
Amelia Gentleman is a multi-award-winning journalist who spent six months working on the Windrush scandal for The Guardian which had led to the illegal deportation of Afro Caribbean people who had settled here for decades. She is the author of The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment which details the scandal and the effects it had on people’s lives.
Jamal Osman is a Somali-born award-winning journalist, broadcaster and filmmaker. He is the Africa Correspondent for Channel Four News and has written articles for The Guardian and reported for Al-Jazeera English. His scoops include interviews with Somali pirates, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, Al-Shabab, and an exposure of the illegal trade in UN food aid.
Marzia Rango is the data innovation and capacity building co-ordinator at the International Organisation for Migration in Berlin and is currently managing a project focusing on migration across the Mediterranean to Central Europe. She will be able to give an overall picture of the scale of migration.
Benedict Rogers is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch and co-founder and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission. He is a human rights activist and a journalist who has written extensively on the plight of people in Hong Kong where democracy is being suppressed by the Chinese authorities.
Chantal da Silva is a freelance journalist who helped expose the appalling conditions asylum seekers face in Napier Barracks despite attempts by the Home Office to hide what was happening. She works for numerous publications including the Independent, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Channel 4 and many other TV channels. She focuses on immigration rights.
You can register here at the EJN website or directly at Eventbrite here.
Successive governments’ decision to cut drastically the legal aid budget has caused enormous damage to diverse women and girls groups according to witnesses who gave evidence today to the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.
They cover the plight of Muslim women who are forced to seek divorces at Sharia Courts because they cannot afford to go to a civil court, migrants denied access to legal aid and married women fleeing domestic violence going to family courts over the custody of children and divorce settlements. The tribunal is looking at how the Un Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination can be put into UK law.
Legal aid ban putting Muslim women at the mercy of patriarchal fundamentalism
A damning indictment of the drastic effect of legal aid cuts which had created formidable barriers for all women – but especially black and ethnic minority women – was made by Pragna Patel.
She was particularly critical of the plight of Muslim women fleeing a marriage and unable to access the civil courts because of the lack of legal aid. Instead decisions were taken by unofficial religious courts dominated by conservative patriarchal fundamentalists. ” The woman has no status there, no right to keep her children, no property rights and no inheritance rights. This completely contravenes human rights.”
She cited a case of one woman who has only had a religious marriage – which had never been followed by a civil marriage. As a result when she went to a civil court to get her rights – the court could not rule on the marriage as it has never been legally recognised. The case has gone to the Law Commission but it has so far not ruled on it.
She also attacked the funding system – having won a judicial review against Ealing Council – when it withdrew funding. She said most of the money was now given to ” generic services ” based on getting results set by targets rather than specialist services offering long term support to people.
“Domestic abuse perpetrator given custody of children at his former wife’s expense”
Dr Proudman highlighted the lack of legal aid holding back women to defend their rights in family courts after quitting their marriage over domestic abuse. She said there was an inequality of arms when they had to appear as a litigant-in-person because they could not afford to pay a barrister. She also said the courts had the discretion on who should pay and where the children should reside in cases – leaving in one instance a woman who had left her husband because of domestic abuse having to pay for her children to be looked after by her abuser – her husband.
She was highly critical of the lack of training for barristers and judges on handling domestic abuse cases – and the failure of the government after the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act to specify what training will be given. She also said that many of the lawyers eyes glazed over when they the issues of women’s rights and certainly CEDAW were mentioned.
She also thought that judiciary was dominated by elite men -” male, pale and stale” – educated at private schools and Oxbridge. She said most of the women were also from the same elite -privately educated and with Oxbridge degrees – meaning neither knew much about the life of the people who came before their courts. She came from a working class background and had gone to a state comprehensive school.
Equality Act has left people working in silos
Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, from Anona Development Consultancy on International Developments on Human Rights. Esuantsiwa was one of the first black VSO volunteers, serving as a teacher in Tanzania 1977-79. Esua was a leading figure in the UN process for women, attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, as a member of the UK Government Delegation representing Development INGOs. She was founder and Chair of the Beijing Forum which co-ordinated the input of UK development NGOs. She was the first black woman Chair of theFawcett Society, Chair and Co-founder of the Gender and Development Network
Esua has highly critical and disappointed by the failure of the 2010 Equality Act. She had great hopes that the Equality and Human Rights Commission by putting all the equality issues together would be a big improvement. But instead she said it was still working in silos and relying on individual litigation.
She thought putting CEDAW into domestic law would create a much more holistic approach bringing together business, politicians, civil society, ngos and the women’s sector together by breaking down barriers.
She was scathing about the lack of progress of BAME women in Parliament – 35 out of 650 MPs. She also attacked the way white males trolled and pursued prominent black women like Diane Abbot, just because they were powerful people.
Dramatic rise in on line sexual abuse during the pandemic
Dr Kelly’s areas of research/expertise include domestic and sexual violence, policing, and more broadly violence against women and girls; including Rape Crisis. She has particular research experience in the policing of domestic abuse, image-based sexual abuse (including ‘cyberflashing’, so-called ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’) and feminist theory.
An alarming picture of the rise in ” revenge porn” during the pandemic leading to sexual violence against was women during the pandemic left the police unable to have the resources to act to control it, Dr Kelly told the tribunal. She said this caused “significant and devastating harm for women”. Black and ethnic minority men were disproportionately involved and many of the attacks were misogynistic with a sense of male entitlement that they could do what they wanted.
When sexual violence followed this the police were not always able to cope – with basic resources like police cars in short supply – so they couldn’t get out to see people. Perpetrators were getting away scot free and were also using on line dating sites.
She called for long lasting cultural changes including much better education of young boys, teaching them the need for consent.
Media stereotyping of women puts pressure on women politicians at national and local level
Sofia is Co Investigator in the ESCR-funded Representative Audit of Britain project, part of Parliamentary Candidates UK and principal investigator in the Survey of Local Candidates in England. Fields of expertise: Gender equality, Participation, Policy design and delivery
The media were criticised for stereotyping women politicians and putting extra strain on women in public life. Some times they were the victims of a campaign of disinformation or not given the opportunity to reply. She called on journalists to be more accurate and carefujl in their reporting of women ;politicians and local councillors.
She said that though there were more women MPs -originally from a low base – an analysis of candidates standing for Parliament showed they were often given unwinnable seats so never got elected. She praised three countries -Sweden, New Zealand and Mexico – for giving women politicians a pro active role. Mexico was particularly praised for having a gender equal role which saw a massive increase in the number of women politicians.
She thought Parliamentary candidates should have compulsory training in equal rights before they stood for Parliament – as part of an initiative to bring CEDAW into domestic law.
The secret UK world of polygamous marriages
Yasmin has worked for more than 30 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. She has acted as an expert witness in legal cases providing expert reports on faith based abuse and Muslim marriage practices including polygamy and temporary marriage. Yasmin is chief Executive Officer at JUNO WOMEN’S AID (formerly Women’s Aid Integrated Services).
An extraordinary picture of the unknown scale of polygamous marriages in the UK was given to the tribunal by Yasmin Rehman.
She said nobody knows the scale of the marriages and the government is blind to the problem. It is hidden because Imans often give secret ceremonies for Muslim men who have one civil marriage to marry other women. There is also a ban on sex outside marriage for Moslems, she said, – which is why there are some additional marriages. Other polygamous marriages avoid bigamy laws – as UK men with a wife and family at home, marry another woman in countries where polygamous marriages are allowed.
She said the religious practice was harmful to women who are given a subordinate role – but the real problem was the clash between the freedom of practices allowed by religion with gender and equality issues. Worse there was some evidence that women were trafficked into the UK for forced polygamous marriages.
” The issue is seen to be in the too difficult box which is why there is not a single politician who is prepared to take the issue up.”
She said only one politician – the former Tory Chancellor, Sajid Javid – had raised part of the issue – but only over children being forced to marry an older man.
Baljit Banga, executive director of Imkaam, a UK based black feminist umbrella organisation, gave a detailed run down on what was wrong with the Domestic Abuse Act and why there is a need for a much better alternative and Dr Annette Lawson, chair of the national Women’s Commission, abolished in 2010 on why there is a need for some successor funded body to pull all women’s groups together to implement CEDAW.
The hearings are now over and the next stage is to draw up a report.
In the latest move in a long running saga over the reporting of child sex abuse allegations made by Esther Baker to journalists, former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming lost a case for a summary judgement giving him aggravated damages against journalist, Sonia Poulton. The case will now go to a full trial.
Hemming was also unable to strike out most of her defence and the judge ruled that a counterclaim by her for damages for harassment and injunctive relief, pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could go ahead. The latter counter claim was also against Sam Collingwood Smith and Darren Laverty, whom the judge said with the MP ” have been in some communication with one another, and have to some extent supported and assisted one another in various activities, not least litigation.”
The judge also allowed Sonia Poulton to amend her defence when the case goes to a full trial. There is a separate case for damages being pursued by Darren Laverty.
The full judgement can be read here. It includes the history of a previous case between John Hemming and Esther Baker and the circumstances that surrounded a film interview Sonia Poulton gave which went on YouTube.
The Cabinet Office under Michael Gove is getting an appalling reputation for its handling of Freedom of Information requests. It is already facing court action from Open Democracy after being accused of blacklisting journalists making requests and setting up – totally against the spirit of the legislation – a clearing house to handle requests from journalists and advise other departments how to handle them. Under the FOI Act you don’t even have to disclose your own identity to get information – it is a public right.
But now it has plumbed new depths in trying to censor important historic documents years after the death of Lord Mountbatten, one of the country’s most interesting and controversial figures. And it is hoping to make it impossible for the author of his biography, Andrew Lownie, to challenge the Cabinet Office by making it too expensive for him.
The diaries of Lord Mountbatten were purchased by Southampton University for £2.8 million – with £2 million from the taxpayer – as part of a huge archive covering both Lord Mountbatten and Lord Palmerston. The archives is known as the Broadlands archive, named after his famous home.
Andrew Lownie has written an excellent biography, The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves, published two years ago. It explores the lives of both Mountbatten and his wife Edwina. It was his research for this book that led him to the Broadlands archives, and he has been attempting to gain access to the diaries and documents from 1935 onwards.
So far using the Freedom of Information Act he has spent four years successfully fighting the Cabinet Office and Southampton University to get the censored part of the diaries released. He has won every step of the way and the Information Commissioner has ordered them to be released.
Cabinet Office employing two QCs at vast expense to fight the disclosure
But now the Cabinet Office and Southampton University are going to a tribunal to stop the release of the diaries and have employed, at vast taxpayer’s expense two QC’s to argue why these documents should not see the public light of day.
Andrew Lownie has launched a crowdfunder appeal to raise £50,000 to defend himself against these two QCs.
The Guardian took up the issue and suddenly the Cabinet Office decided to release the diaries up to 1934 but no further. This means that some of the most interesting episodes that also included Lord Mountbatten’s controversial war record in the Navy and the extraordinary coup attempt against Harold Wilson, and possibly his version of the advice he gave to Prince Charles, our future king, when he was a young man, remain secret.
Andrew Lownie deserves enormous support to take on the Cabinet Office which must, rather than Southampton University, be behind this censorship of these documents. They belong to the nation, not Michael Gove or the Royal Family.
Support Andrew Lownie’s appeal
I suggest you get on to his crowdfunder page here and donate if you can. I have also written an earlier review of his book on this blog.
Journalists fiercely debated the power and influence of Facebook following a controversial decision – now revoked – to remove news coverage from Australia on its site in a bitter dispute with the Australian government. The webinar was organised by the Ethical Journalist Network. For those interested in their work which support journalists striving to provide ethical coverage of issues and create more trust in journalism you can go to the website to see other issues. Here is a report from a member of the committee. Above is a video of the event.
By Matt Walsh the head of the School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University and a UK Committee member of the Ethical Journalism Network.
“I’m probably prepared to cut Facebook and the other companies more slack because I think that there are valuable things that they’re doing. I don’t see them as evil incarnate.”
That was the view of one of the members of the Facebook Oversight Board, Alan Rusbridger, during last week’s Ethical Journalism Network debate on social media, journalism and regulation.
The former Guardian newspaper editor-in-chief was responding to the investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who accused Facebook of being a bad actor who is exploiting the good intentions of people who are sat on the board.
Facebook tried everything to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny- Carole Cadwalladr
“Facebook has tried everything to avoid Parliamentary accountability,” she warns.
“That slipperiness, that evasiveness and refusal to answer to lawmakers puts it into a special case. It’s not acting in good faith.”
The Facebook Oversight board was set-up to review controversial decisions made by the company about content on its platform. To date, it has published reviews of seven cases.
The debate, which took place on Zoom, was chaired by the deputy director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Meera Selva.
Also on the panel was Jillian York, author of ‘Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism’ and director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
York warned that many of the solutions to digital regulation are overly focussed on the United States and Europe.
Westerners making up rules for the rest of the world- Jillian York
“Westerners are making up rules for the rest of world and doing so quite badly,” she said. “A lot of these tendencies are nationalistic and will have negative impacts on people in other countries.”
“It’s mob behaviour,” she said “They’ve stopped carrying evidence-based journalism to an entire country during a global pandemic that is marked by toxic mis- and disinformation.”
Cadwalladr also accused Rusbridger of being silenced on the issue.
Rusbridger denied the accusation and warned that there are huge problems of trust for traditional news publishers.
Somebody has to protect freedom of information- Alan Rusbridger
He said of the oversight board’s work: “Somebody has to come in and work out how to protect freedom of information globally, to the highest possible standards, and to try and enforce the highest standards of human rights. And I think that’s an honourable thing to be trying to do.”
York said that while she welcomed some of the early decisions of the board, “there’s isn’t really case law around these issues. The Oversight Board has made some really good decisions. But those decisions are not going to trickle down.”
Responding to claims that self-regulation of social media is ineffective Rusbridger said: “I’m not sure the Facebook board will look like self-regulation in five years’ time because it will have completely de-anchored itself from Facebook. It will have more of a feeling of independent regulation rather than self-regulation. It may not work but I think you just have to give it time.”
This week a peer and former Tory government minister Lord Freud was ordered to apologise to the House of Lords for breaching the code of conduct by “failing to act on his personal honour.”
The peer was among the signatories to two letters sent to two senior judges, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp and to Lady Justice Whipple, seeking to persuade her not to publish his name giving a good character reference to the ex MP who is now a convicted sex offender.
The MP was Charlie Elphicke, Tory and later Independent MP for Dover until 2019. He was convicted of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.
In November last year three newspapers, The Guardian, the Times and the Daily Mail, sought permission from Lady Justice Whipple to publish the character references from prominent people who were supporting him.
This led four other Tory MPs and the peer to write to two senior judges to persuade them to intervene in the case. The Lords Commissioner for Standards,Lucy Scott-Moncrieff , ruled this week in Lord Freud’s case was “was intended to persuade Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp to intervene.”
She added: “Similarly, the letter to Mrs Justice Whipple was written in terms intended to influence her thinking.”
MPs say intervention ” a point of principle”
The MPs action became public when Col Stewart asked for a ruling from Jacob Rees Mogg, leader of the House, – but he kept away from committing himself to intervene. The MPs claimed their action was on a point of principle to stop all character references being released but were shot down by the Lord Chief Justice’s office saying it was “improper” to seek to influence the decision of a judge who would ultimately rule on the basis of evidence and argument in court.
Now the Lords Commissioner for Standards has described the letters as ” emotive” and ruled: “I believe doing so in private correspondence to senior judges in terms designed to influence the trial judge must also be considered outside the standards of conduct expected of individual members.”
Existence of inquiry into MPs a secret
This leaves the question of the conduct of the MPs. They come under the Commons Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone. Under the rules of the House of Commons since 2018 it has been decided that no information on whether a complaint has been laid against an MP will be published until a final report is made. So officially it remains a secret whether there is any investigation. However the Guardian has reported that Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington, North until the last election when the Tories won the seat, has put in a complaint.
It would be egregious if Lord Freud , who appears from the Lords report to have been encouraged by the MPs to write and complain, took the entire blame for this. It also, in my view, would encourage MPs to try and influence the judiciary without facing any penalty. And it smacks of the new chumocracy – one rule to protect the powerful and influential and another for Joe Bloggs.
The MPs of course say they are acting for the public who will be frightened to give character witnesses for convicted criminals if they are to be published.
Mrs Justice Whipple’s deft ruling
But this was shot down by Mrs Justice Whipple in a very deftly worded judgement. She distinguished between the ordinary Joe and public figures in releasing the names and references. Only those who had a public role in society were revealed – keeping to the right to know principle of public interest. As a result we also now know that Jonathan Aitken, a prominent former MP once jailed for perjury and now a vicar provided one . As did prominent local Roman Catholic priest, Father Jeff Cridland; Neil Wiggins, a community non executive director of the Port of Dover; and David Foley, chief executive of the Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce. But we don’t know about 21 private individuals who are not prominent in public life.
Let’s see if anything comes from the sphinx like Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on this one.