Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

Hague channels Mugabe

The Foreign Office’s threat to lift the Ecuadorian Embassy’s diplomatic status over the Assange affair is a disgrace.  As Carl Gardner points out the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 permits the Secretary of State to withdraw diplomatic recognition from premises for various reasons but ONLY “if he is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law” – and, in this case, that means the Vienna Convention which requires the UK government to facilitate the acquisition of suitable premises.

It’s impossible to believe that the Government would indulge in such heavy-handed tactics if the affair was really about an incident originally described by the Swedish police as “not a serious enough crime for an arrest warrant.”    What it’s really about is perverting the rule of law for the convenience of an American administration which has been embarrassed by Assange’s activities, wants revenge and is leaning on everyone to get its hands on him.  It’s about a President who is determined to do away with due process and suspend Habeas Corpus all in the name of the War on Terror but really to suppress dissent.

One way and another the UK is heading down a legal and ethical rabbit hole if it persists with this course.

All in all, the UK government has set out on a foolish and ill-considered path.  If it continues it will put Britain in the same class as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe which flouted international norms by opening a British diplomatic bag a few years ago.  Does William Hague really wanted to be classed, along with Mugabe, as someone with no regard for the laws and norms of civilisation?


The Ministry of Justice courts trouble with translations

The military would describe the UK’s current governance as a ‘target-rich environment’ with screw-ups following each other at a positively dizzying rate.   A recent Channel 4 News report on the Court Translation Service was a doozy.  Seeking to save around £18 million per year the Ministry of Justice has given a £300 million contract to provide all translation services for England and Wales to the tiny £7 million company of a failed Dragon’s Den entrepreneur with no apparent evidence that the firm could handle the demand.  And, surprise, surprise, it turns out that they can’t – leaving cases delayed, courts in chaos and costs mounting rapidly.

The way this has traditionally worked is that when a court needs an interpreter they would find one through the National Register of Public Service interpreters which currently has around 2,300 properly qualified interpreters on its list.  And it’s a system that works very well.  As it happens a good friend of ours did regular stints of court work until she moved overseas a couple of years ago and she had told us that middlemen were attempting to move in, sign ‘exclusive’ deals and, in return, help themselves to a juicy cut of the fees for little effort on their part but at the expense of the translators who, naturally enough, are not thrilled.  Most are refusing to work with the new system and ALS, the company involved, is accused of providing unqualified interpreters.

There is nothing to like about the MOJ’s bright idea of creating a supplier monopoly making its money by screwing the talent.  How many would finish up on income support of some sort offsetting any savings?   And do the MoJ really imagine that if a monopoly got established it wouldn’t turn round in a few years and demand higher fees to further fatten its bottom line?

All credit to Gavin Wheeldon, the entrepreneur concerned for being an excellent salesman and, in fairness also to the Dragons who agreed that he would do very well but baulked at the high price he was asking.  He eventually got his price by selling out to Capita.

Which raises the question of what should be done to fix the mess.

Well, Capita is a big company with deep pockets that has got rich by feeding at the outsourcing trough and they should not be allowed to run away with the idea that contracting with government is a one way bet where profits are taken and costs are walked away from.  In other words they should be on the hook for ALL the losses, both the costs of delays and the loss of promised savings.  Does the contract say that is what will happen – and if not why not?  I don’t know but Capita depends for a very large part of its revenues on government.  In such circumstances the customer is ALWAYS right irrespective of whatever the contract might say.

I’m not holding my breath but I live in hope.


Grandmother trashes Inspectorate of Constabulary’s mad, bad plan

Thank heavens for people like Hackney resident and grandmother Pauline Pearce.   If you didn’t see her interviewed on Channel 4 News last night head over there and watch this three minute video clip of her demolishing the Inspectorate of Constabulary’s mad and bad proposal that rubber bullets, water cannon and even live rounds should be used on the streets of London in the event that there is another outbreak of riots.

As she says it was guns that caused the whole problem in the first place.  She asks, “What happens when they start shooting the wrong people?

Quite so.   Effective policing can only be done with the consent of the community; live rounds are not the way to win hearts and minds.







Florida’s Attorney General documents bank fraud

Fraud – blatant and wholesale fraud – on the part of some of the world’s biggest banks has clearly been a major cause of the global financial crisis.  Unfortunately, banking is so opaque and so difficult to understand that bad practice, even criminal practice, is invisible to the average citizen.

Now however, the (Republican) Attorney General of Florida has produced a slide presentation which details with admirable clarity some of what;s been going on in Florida (and in the rest of the USA).   This is a must read even if (perhaps especially if) you do not see yourself as particularly financially literate. 

There is no text to go with the slides but the message is pretty clear nevertheless.  It starts with a brief history of mortgages in America then goes on to explain how they are bundled up and securitized – a complex process that involves assigning them from one owner to another through several hands until they finish up in a ‘trust’, bits of which can be sold off to investors in bite-sized pieces.  (Re slide #7 and following it is helpful to know that in the USA a mortgage consists of two parts, a ‘note’ which is the IOU for the money advanced and the ‘mortgage’ that is the legal document securing the ‘note’ on the property.)

As the presentation wryly observes (illustrating the point with one of Escher’s wonderfully impossible staircase prints), “If the mortgage is not properly assigned …  the result is chaos.”

And, by and large, mortgages were not properly assigned.  The redoubtable Linda Green for instance “signed” hundred of thousands of assignments using multiple signatures while serving as an officer of dozens of banks and mortgage companies.  And in each and every case she was signing that she had personal knowledge of the facts of the case.

At times it descends almost into farce.  One assignment is to “Bogus assignee for intervening asmts” whose address is given as “XXXXXXXXXXXXX”.  In other cases the assignors are, like Indymac and Lehman, defunct but still magically managing to work from beyond the grave, mortgages that were fully paid off have nevertheless been assigned and documents were notarised under authorities that did not exist.

 Naturally, the banks are desperately trying to spin this as just a little paperwork difficulty… nothing to see here… please move on.   Not so.  It is unambiguously criminal.  Playing fast and loose (not to mention using forged and backdated documents which is the clear implication of the abuses strikes at the very heart of a property-owning democracy and indeed there have been cases where homeowners have been foreclosed on who never had a mortgage in the first place.  Also, although not covered in the Florida AG’s presentation, the whole of contract law is meaningless if it is permissible to retrospectively ‘create’ documents to support a desired outcome.

Fortunately, things aren’t so bad in the UK but there is no room for complacency.   Some of our big banks have undoubtedly been very foolish but how far did they go into dodgier territory?  My guess is quite a long way in some cases but we won’t know as long as the toothless and compromised FSA seeks mainly to cover up its own incompetence.

I am reminded that the Pecora Commission which did so much to expose banking malfeasance in the 1930s provided a powerful wave of support for FDR and the eventual implementation of the New Deal.  We should take note.

(H/T Firedoglake)

The Dark Arts of Sith Lord Cheney

Disturbing  and shocking revelations about the Iraq War just keep coming. 

The latest is a piece in the Washington Note by Col Lawrence B Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Bush’s Secretary of State.  A Republican, Wilkerson clearly detests Dick Cheney whose been touring the media extolling the virtues of torture in keeping America safe.

Summarising an MSNBC package he comments, “Let’s just say that five minutes of the Sith Lord was stunningly inaccurate”.

The real reason for torture was nothing to do with keeping America safe; as Wilkerson explains (with my emphasis):

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So now we see the real reason for torture.  In the absence of any evidence from the UN survey teams, the Iraq/al-Qa’ida link had to be manufactured wholesale – dodgy dossiers, torture – whatever it took with Bush and Blair playing off each other.