Monday, June 25, 2007

House-searching suddenly made easy

Got to give this one a mention as I think it's set to revolutionise search for flats and houses in London. Finally, someone has come up with a very simply google type search engine which allows you to look for the property you're after and doesn't bombard you with a hundred irrelevant ones. It's called Zoomf and is at Can't understand why this hasn't been done before.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Stealth Dictator

What on earth is Gordon Brown up to as he prepares for government? After all those years of waiting around for the top job, he’s certainly had enough time to come up with a few good ideas. Maybe, sorting out the mess which is the NHS? Or perhaps more reforms on education? But no. Ten years of waiting impatiently for the keys to number ten and one of the first reforms which is mooted is an increase in the period that terror suspects can be held without charge.

He’s got to be joking. One of his greatest weaknesses is his own personal democratic deficit and you’d have thought that at the very least he’d be sensitive to it. First, he spent years sulking about how our democratically elected prime minister failed to hand over to him the reins of power as agreed over a spot of pasta in the mid-nineties. That should have served as a warning. Like a spoilt schoolboy he believed he had the right to the prize without any reference to the electorate. Eventually, last September, a year and a half into a new parliament, he led his forces into a coup d’etat which would eventually topple the man with the electorate’s mandate more than two years before he needed to go. Then, just as there was the faintest whiff of democratic debate over his succession, his forces bullied any potential contenders out of the race. The clear message was “you’re either in Gordon’s gang or you’re not in at all.”

This is worse, even, than the traditional velvet revolutions where there is a peaceful handover of power to the victor, often a military dictator. At least they are honest enough to call a coup a coup. Not so with Gordon and his stealth coup. Suddenly we wake up to find he is prime minister and wonder how on earth he got there without standing for any election in his life other than for the presidency of his student union and that for his safe Scottish constituency. Which by the way reminds us that he’ll be running the affairs of Britain whilst most of the electorate have no say over the affairs of the people who actually did have a say in electing him. Oh, and just in case he excuses this by blaming the system, let’s not forget that it’s a system he helped introduce.

Yet with all this in mind, he chooses to attack one of the most basic and important of our democratic freedoms and attempt once more to extend the period that a person can be held without trial to ninety days. This is despite the fact that the period is already, at twenty-eight days, one of the longest in the free world and that parliament only recently rejected an attempt to increase it. Perhaps even worse than this is that the proposal wasn’t even made in parliament. It was whispered by his bullies down the corridors of power, allowing him ample room for retreat. Let’s hope, for democracy’s sake, this is not a sign of things to come.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Meaning of Genocide

This article appeared on the Bar Council blog dated 5 June 2007.
Last month Judge Higgins, the President of the International Court of Justice, gave a lecture to the Human Rights Lawyers Association on the work of the International Court of Justice. She spoke authoritatively on the development of human rights law and international criminal law and on the relationship between the different layers of international courts.
Among the thought provoking issues raised, was that the concept of genocide is increasingly being misunderstood in the media. Genocide is a crime against international law. The definition of genocide is laid down in The Genocide Convention 1948. Article 2 defines genocide as the commission of prohibited acts (such as killing members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group) with intent to destroy that group in whole or in part. It is this specific intention to destroy a group of people that separates genocide from crimes against humanity and war crimes. This distinction was recently emphasised by the International Court of Justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro.

In recent times, genocide has come to be regarded in some quarters as the king of international crimes. As a result the media frequently reports that atrocities are examples of genocide, seemingly without pausing to consider if the requisite intention is there. The focus on labelling atrocities as genocide, seems to draw attention away from crimes against humanity and war crimes which are themselves both enormously serious crimes and integral to the structure of international criminal law. The Defendants at Nuremburg for instance were not charged with genocide, because the Genocide Convention did not exist at the time.

This is in no way to undermine the extreme seriousness of crimes against humanity or genocide. It is simply a plea to get the terminology right. Lawyers and journalists are both used to being precise with language. When addressing matters as profoundly serious as genocide, it becomes all the more important not to be loose with language.