Politics, Random, Young People

An unfailing, positive belief in Young People

A certain tabloid ‘newspaper’ ran an article bemoaning the lack of young people who are working.  The article cited a number of reasons: lack of jobs, exam-pressure and of course, laziness.  Some of the readership of that certain newspaper, of course, lapped it up and posted some rather depressing comments about young people.  Only a few weeks ago we had the A Level results and prior to that the GCSE results.  Yes, the newspaper reported the success of young people; however, that was, as ever, accompanied by comments from certain quarters determined to undermine the results wittering on about how exams are “too easy” and such like.  With ever story on education, whether it be education in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, comes those who do nothing but downplay the hard work and achievements of young people. All of this seem to fit a rhetoric that can clearly be seen: young people are good for nothing, lazy louts.

I struggle to recall a positive newspaper article about young people in the last few years.  Even on the rare occasion that there is one celebrating the success of a young person, people will jump on it and run down young people.  Up and down the country young people are dedicating their free time to their communities (more often than not for free), going abroad to help those less fortunate than themselves and working hard to achieve good exam results.  That is rarely seen or heard about in the news.  When a small number of teenagers cause a problem in a local community they get an extraordinary amount of press coverage at the expense of those young people who are not causing any problems.  A group of teenagers on the street is something to be feared apparently.

While the tabloids are lambasting young people for being outside causing a ‘nuisance’ by being noisy and congregating in the streets, they are also lambasting young people for being lazy sitting on the sofa watching TV and playing video games instead of being outside doing stuff.  Add to that the chronic underfunding of youth services in communities and you get something that you really couldn’t make up!

Yes, some young people cause problems.  Yes, some young people damage property and shout abuse at passers-by.  Yes, some young people engage in criminal activity.  However, so do some adults.  We don’t judge the entire adult population by the actions of a minority.

The chronic underfunding of youth services isn’t helping with any of it.  Many youth clubs and groups have closed and many more will.  These services are vital to young people.  They give them somewhere to meet their mates and have a laugh (they can’t congregate in the pub like adults can).  Youth clubs and centres get them out of the house and give them somewhere to go which means they’re not mucking around outside people’s houses (which might be annoying, but for the most part is utterly harmless).  With these youth centres can come help and support for young people who are in trouble: whether that be young people having a tough time at home or those who are going down the wrong path in life.  These youth service shouldn’t just be targeted towards those young people who are considered to be ‘problems’, but they should be available to all young people. 

We have to remember that young people are still developing; they’re still working out who they are and how they fit into the world around them.  Their bodies are going through drastic changes as they go through their secondary school careers.  Alongside that they’re undergoing what is, despite what some think, a stressful curriculum with constant testing.  The results of those and tests determine whether they can take the next step in life.  As they progress through school their attention has to turn to life beyond school (whilst still being on getting through school).  Career choices begin to be made: which subjects do I take? Do I go onto college or university or just get a job?  Being a teenager is stressful and the older we get the less able we are to remember just how stressful those teenage years were for us.

Yes, when they go out into the real world they’ll have to cope with many big decisions at a time; they’ll have to take personal responsibility and won’t have someone to walk then through each stage.  However, as I’ve already said young people are still learning: they’re not adults and they shouldn’t be expected to be able to function as adults.  They need support because it’s all alien to them.  We’re training them to be decent human beings.

I believe that as a society we need to have an unfailing, positive belief in our young people.  We need to believe that they have potential and that they can reach that potential.  We need to help them reach that potential and we need to be willing to invest in them: they are the future of this country after all.  Constantly running them down in the national and local press isn’t going to help them one bit.  We need to be building them up.  We need to celebrate with them when they succeed and comfort them through their failures.

Environmental Information, FOIA, Freedom of Information, Random

Costs in the FTT: Snee v Information Commissioner & Leeds City Council

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 a decision by the Information Commissioner is capable of being appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) by either the public authority involved or the Complainant.  There is no cost in brining an appeal and parties are generally responsible for paying any legal costs that they incur (public authorities will often be represented as will the Commissioner; sometimes by Counsel).  Under The Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009 the Tribunal has, on the application of a party, the power to award costs.  It can do so where the appellant has acted unreasonably in brining or pursuing the appeal.

Earlier this month the First Tier Tribunal issued a decision, Mark Snee v the Information Commissioner and Leeds City Council, in respect of an application for costs against an Appellant by Leeds City Council.  The Council were seeking their £20,000 costs in full, having  applied to be joined to the appeal and having been represented by Queens Counsel.  The Appellant in the case, Mr Snee, was represented by Counsel.  The Tribunal’s decision contains some useful information with regards to heir approach to such applications.

Mr Snee’s requests had been refused by the Council on the grounds that they were vexatious (section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000).  The Commissioner and the Tribunal agreed that they were vexatious, and it was at that stage the City Council applied under Rule 10(1)(b) of the Tribunal Rules for costs.

One of the Council’s arguments, which was not accepted by the Tribunal, would have had a fundamental effect upon an individual’s right to appeal to the Tribunal.  It was argued that, because Mr Snee’s requests were vexatious he had acted unreasonably in bringing the case to the Tribunal.  The Tribunal did not agree.  It pointed out that the Commissioner had the opportunity to refuse to issue a decision notice where he found the complaint to be frivolous or vexatious, and the Tribunal had the power to Strike out an appeal upon the application of a party where it has no hope of succeeding.  The Tribunal stated that it was right to remember these protections against vexatious or hopeless appeals.  Automatically making appeals against a decision that requests are vexatious subject to the costs provisions where the appeal fails would have a significant impact upon the appeal rights of an individual.  The Tribunal considered that “it must be possible, depending on the circumstances, for the maker of a request regarded by everyone else as vexatious, to defend his or her position on that point without automatically being treated under the costs Rules as behaving unreasonably.”  In other words, it must be possible for an individual who makes a request which is considered to be vexatious to defend their position in the Tribunal.

In the Tribunal individuals who are appealing against the Commissioner’s decision in respect of their FOI request will often not have the benefit of legal advice.  Thus, what might appear to a fully trained lawyer to be “futile or wrongheaded”, the Tribunal considered that “it would be wrong to assume that the challenge is inevitably an unreasonable one for the citizen to bring.”  The comments had a much more general application than that and equally well apply to a range of other Tribunals within the First Tier Tribunal structure where Legal Aid is not available, or is available only in very limited circumstances.

It seems, from this decision, that the chances of an appellant facing a costs order for an Appeal against a decision of the Information Commissioner are unlikely; although it remains a possibility that costs will be awarded in exceptional circumstances; quite what those circumstances will be remains to be seen.  It seems more likely that an unreasonable appeal will be struck out during the early case management stages than for it to progress to a full hearing, thus preventing the generation of significant costs for all involved.


Happy New Year

It’s now the 1st of January in the UK and I would like to wish you a very Happy New Year!

Those who have visited this site will notice the new look for 2014.  Later this month I will have been putting out my thoughts and opinions onto the internet via this blog (in its various guises) for six years.  I’m sure that 2014 will bring with it interesting and topical issues around Law, FOI and Data Protection which will continue to vex or interest me sufficiently to put together some thoughts and opinions for publication here; I hope that you will come back and read them!

All the best to you and your family for 2014.


Prout de Jure in 2013

As 2013 draws to a close; here are the top ten blog posts published on this blog during 2013:

1. ECHR, International Law and Abu Qatada (published: 10 March 2013)
2. Police Scotland and Freedom of Information (published: 25 March 2013)
3. Changes to FOI in Scotland from 31 May 2013 (published: 23 May 2013)
4. Changes to FOI in Scotland approved (published: 17 January 2013)
5. Prison, prisoners and Prison Conditions (published: 3 February 2013)
6. Is it the case that the Complainer clearly lied? (published: 11 September 2013)
7. ‘Thinking time’ and Freedom of Information (published: 25 January 2013)
8. Abolition of corroboration: where is the case? (published: 14 November 2013)
9. Transparency in the Reporting of FOI requests (published: 19 August 2013)
10. FOI and requests for documents (published: 13 April 2013)

A mixed bunch of articles there.  In early 2014 (January 13th to be precise) this blog will enter into its seventh year (!) and I look forward to putting out onto the internet more of my thoughts and opinions on whatever takes my fancy.  Thanks to all who come and read this blog (although I don’t know why), and have done over the years.

Wishing you all the very best for 2014!


Some tweeters to follow in 2013

I have had the great pleasure of following so many amazing and interesting people on Twitter and below are some of my recommendations of who you should follow in 2013 if you don’t already follow them:

The Prison Lawyer (@theprisonlawyer) – a regular tweeter who more often than not has interesting things to say.  He tweets about a wide range of things and is passionate about justice.  He has taken to the internet this year and been to ‘Twitter Jail’ over his support for #protestforjustice.  His tweets are informative.  He took a few small steps into the world of blogging in 2012 and I hope we’ll see more blogs from him in 2013!

Adam Wagner (@Adamwagner1) – a tweeting and blogging Barrister with a focus on Human Rights.  Tweets are always interesting and informative.  He’s very good ate challenging the human rights myths told by the mainstream media.  If you want a true understanding of Human Rights in the UK then Adam’s definitely a good person to follow.

Paul Gibbons (@FOIManUK) – Paul works for a University dealing with Freedom of Information.  His blogs and tweets from the practitioner’s point of view are interesting and informative.  He has done a lot to help try

Claire Mitchell (@madisonmitchel1) – tweeting Scottish Advocate who specialises in Criminal law.  Interesting and insightful tweets

The Firm (@TheFirmOnline) – Account operated by Steven Raeburn, Editor of the Firm Magazine and Social Media trainer.  An excellent sources for news about what is happening in the world of law.  The Firm is always the first place I check for the latest legal news

The Custody Sergeant (@TheCustodySgt) – An anonymous custody sergeant working somewhere in England who tweets and blogs about policing.  His tweets and blogs often present an interesting and informative alternative to what is presented in the news.  It’s clear from his tweets and blogs that he is passionate about policing and has a great deal of compassion.

Love and Garbage (@loveandgarbage) – interesting and often amusing tweets and blogs.  He is also an expert on the pronunciation of scone.

Tina McGreevy (@tinamcgreevy) – always interesting tweets.  Passionate about justice and very vocal on twitter about #Protestforjustice

Waqqas Ashraf (@DefenceAgentWA) – first year trainee solicitor in Scotland.  Passionate about justice and another active and vocal person in the #protestforjustice.  Great guy to tweet.

Jon Baines (@bainesy1969) – Another FOI and Data Protection tweeter.  He writes great blogs on information rights and vocal about the protection of FOI rights.

Prison Chaplain (@hmp_chaplain) – Interesting tweets about life on the inside from the point of view of a prison chaplain.  They’re important people inside our prisons and the Prison Chaplain’s tweets often get me thinking about things that I might not otherwise have considered.

Ollie (@dietjustice) – blogs and tweets about law, policing and politics.  His tweets and blogs are interesting and informative and can get a good discussion going.

Brian Inkster (@BrianInkster) – another Scottish legal tweeter.  He was the first Scottish solicitor to use twitter.  Tweets and blogs about interesting things and is a decent guy.  Uses twitter and social media in innovative ways.  Can’t wait to see what he and his firm @Inksters will come up with in 2013!

Tim Turner (@tim2040) – another FOI and DPA tweeter who is worth following if you have an interest in FOI or Data Protection.  He knows his stuff!

Deborah Dillon (@infogovgeek) – A Scottish information governance tweeter.  I’ve enjoyed tweeting her this year.

There are many more tweeters who I have enjoyed tweeting and/or reading their tweets during 2012.  If I listed them all here it would be far too long so these are just some of my favourites!  Watch out for my first #ff of 2013 where even more of my favourite tweeters will get a mention.

That’s all from me on this blog for 2012 and I’ll see you all in 2013 with more blogs on law and politics in the UK!

Legal System, Random

Nonsensical codswallop

There is undoubtedly a growing reliance by some on what can only be described as codswallop in the defence of civil and criminal proceedings as well as in their pursuance of such proceedings against individuals and the state.  I am, of course, referring to the growing Freemen-on-the-Land (FOTL) movement and other similar movements.  Their dangerous pseudolegal arguments are resulting in serious harm to people who are quite often vulnerable.

A lot has been written about the movement on blogs, particularly after the Guardian published one of their incredibly dangerous theories in its “Comment is free” section.  The reaction from lawyers who commented was, unsurprisingly, unanimous in its conclusions that it was dangerous and legally inaccurate information.  It’s not unsurprising because, as a Freeman would suggest, they are part of the fraud that is the system; but rather it is unsurprising because the simple fact is that the arguments deployed by these people are nonsense.

I have been aware of this movement for a couple of years now and have had a great deal of enjoyment listening to the rubbish that their “experts” expel as fact.  I, and others, may laugh at this nonsense, but the truth is that many people up and down the country are being taken in by this fiction and it is having a considerable negative effect on their life.  When one remembers this the laughter soon dries up and it is replaced with a sense of anger that these “experts” are causing so much damage to vulnerable people in our society.

There are many different groups which adhere to the principles of the FOTL movement which go by various different names.  However, in essence all the groups have one major shared characteristic: they all argue that he state (and its instruments) have no authority over them.  The most common things that I have observed about these movements is that they will often adopt a split personality which argues that they (a human-being) are an agent or representative of a legal fiction (a corporation) which shares the same name as they do.  They place arbitrary distinctions between their name written in lower-case and their name written in upper-case.  Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rooke (Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Canada) has issued lengthy judgment dealing with the freeman nonsense that he sees in his court on a fairly regular basis.  The Respondent in the case in question deployed some of the FOTL arguments (or OPCA arguments as Associate Chief Justice Rooke styles them).

The judgment referred to above is lengthy, but is sets out in great detail the various types of arguments deployed by FOTL types and refutes them (using Canadian law, naturally).  However, his excellent explanations of the various types of arguments deployed are an excellent resource for lawyers and judges the world over who are increasingly coming up against this codswallop.  From there it doesn’t take too much to apply the law of England and Wales, Scotland, Australia or wherever necessary to refute the arguments being advanced.

There is, however, a much more serious issue and that is the effect that these things have on people’s lives.  The “experts” from these movements will tell you that it works.  However, it is clear that it does not.  There are examples of where people have deployed these arguments and their desired outcome has been the result.  However, that is not as a result of their arguments (as much as their “experts” might suggest that it is).  Debt recovery is an area where these arguments are frequently deployed and are where a number of “success” stories come from.  However, the more logical (and more likely) explanation for these apparent successes is that the company in question looks at the case and decides that to try and recover the debt through the courts is going to be too costly and it’s probably better just to take the “hit”.  FOTL types have argued in the past that the creditor knows that what they are doing is illegal and they back down because the debtor knows and understands “the truth”.

I have yet to come across a single reported case which shows a court accepting a FOTL argument.  Equally, I cannot find any reported cases in Scotland or England where the arguments have been rejected (although I am sure there are plenty in reality).  However, Associate Chief justice Rooke provides a considerable number of reported cases in Canada where the arguments of the FOTL types have been rejected by the Courts.

The circular nature of the FOTL type arguments is such that even if there was an abundance of reported authority rejected their arguments it would do little to stop the courts facing such arguments.  The FOTL types will simply put this down to part of the big fraud that they think they’ve uncovered and are fighting against.

The real sadness of all this is that vulnerable people in a desperate situation who are willing to try anything to get out of the situation they find themselves in are being duped and are suffering as a result of this nonsense.

The law is not the enemy of protest but an essential tool of impartiality, Carl Gardner
We are the change: welfare, education and law at the Occupy camp, Comment is Free
The freeman-on-the-land strategy is no magic bullet for debt problems, LegalBizzle
Occupy Woo Street, LegalBizzle
Comment is free, but woo is sacred, LegalBizzle
Further adventures in woo, LegalBizzle
Meads v Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (Associate Cheif Justice Rooke’s judgment)