Category Archives: Legal issues

Admirable politician 10: Andrew Gwynne competently addresses aggressive Today presenter 

Despite constant interruptions or simultaneous talking which have become a recent feature of John Humphrys’ technique when interviewing Corbynieres, Andrew Gwynne met all criticisms and challenges perfectly today and this moved the writer to learn more about this politician

In February 2017, Gwynne was promoted to Elections and Campaign Chair whilst retaining some of his Cabinet Office duties and spokesperson role. Two admirable features of his work noted here are the campaign for the victims and families of the Tainted Blood Scandal and his introduction of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act.

He became one of the leading voices in the campaign for justice for the victims and families of the Tainted Blood Scandal, reaffirming his commitment to the cause on World AIDS Day 2016. He said in 2016 “This scandal saw thousands of people die, and thousands of families destroyed through the negligence of public bodies”.

In 2010, Gwynne introduced the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act to restrict the activities of vulture funds which buy the debts of poor countries, usually at a significant discount, and sue for the full debt – plus costs and interest – in courts around the world. The UK government estimates the Act will save £145 million over six years. Similar legislation has now been passed in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Comments on BBC Radio 4 Today‏ Verified account @BBCr4today added:

  • On rail nationalisation, Andrew Gwynne says the way the East Coast line was publicly-run for a time in recent years shows it can be done.
  • .@GwynneMP says manifesto “is not about government knows best, it’s about actually empowering people”.
  • Labour manifesto leak is “not ideal” but at least people are talking about the party’s vision, says elections chair @GwynneMP

An admirable politician.

 

Numbers 1-9:

Admirable politicians 8 & 9:  Barry Gardiner and Angela Rayner

An admirable MEP (Molly Scott Cato)

An admirable MP (John Hemming)

MP Margaret Hodge – admirable politician

Admirable politician’s work recognised at the Westminster meeting of the Family Farmers’ Association (Andrew George)

In Ireland’s Parliament: Senator David Norris, incandescent on Israeli government action

Another admirable politician – Tony Benn

An admirable politician – Salma Yaqoob

One superb politician inadvertently omitted – perhaps because universally recognised as such –  Caroline Lucas, No 11?

 

 

 

 

 

British politicians: stop shouting adjectives, banging drums and dropping bombs (Jenkins) and exert unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement (Corbyn)

Paul Ingram, executive director of BASIC*, commented on Simon Jenkins’ statement quoted in today’s article on another website:

“It is a war crime to disable, maim or poison a victim by chemical or biological means, yet it is permissible to blow them to bits. Dropping chlorine evokes howls of horror. Dropping bunker busters does not. Cluster munitions, the most horrible of delayed action weapons, remain in the arsenals of NATO armies”.

Paul (left) wrote: “Fair enough, and of course I agree that the war mongering these last two days, particularly by the BBC, is shocking indeed. But to equate CW with other munitions is to miss the point that they are expressly illegal, and we have to be building up stronger humanitarian law piece by piece and defending strongly those pieces already in place”.

The editor replied: “Yes, I think Jenkins could have made a valid point just by referring to conventional bombs”. After checking on the illegality of cluster bombs she asked Paul, “Did US ever sign this?”

He replied, “No, I don’t think the US is a signatory. It certainly hasn’t ratified” and continued:

“I was on Russia Today yesterday saying that the best response for the Russians now would be to strengthen their call for a UN Security Council meeting and present all the evidence they have that the chemical weapons attack was not a Syrian air force one … or to come up with further evidence for their current explanation.

“The worst aspect of the cruise missile attack was the way it by-passed the UN Security Council and was illegal and is a major step in the direction of unilateralism and flagrant use of force.

“There are plenty of conspiracy theories going around, but the consequences are that Russia will no longer tolerate US aircraft over Syria and will strengthen the S300-400 systems that appear to have shot a majority of the 59 cruise missiles out of the sky.

“… and I see that Russia is sending its own missile destroyer into the Med today”.

 

 

Will parliament stand firm again?

*The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) works to address security challenges by building confidence in a shared, sustainable security agenda. We work in both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, with a specific expert focus on the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East.

 

 

 

Is the HS2 project the most blatant example of UK/USA’s revolving door/vested interest ridden politics?

hs2-viaductvisual

“A gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials” – and industry?

Many are shocked by the hugely damaging environmental and social impacts of demolition of properties in London and homes, farms and businesses and along the proposed HS” route.

Added to this reaction is horror at news of the emerging and all-too familiar reports of conflicts of interest – a polite expression for what is a form of apparently legal corruption.

A skeletal chronological summary of news about the nominated leadership of the HS2 project and some contract awards follows, based on reports in the Financial Times, 2015-2017.

Background 2015

The Institute of Directors suggested that it would be cheaper to knock down Birmingham and build a new city 20 minutes closer to the capital, while the Institute of Economic Affairs cast doubt on HS2’s regeneration benefits, pointing out that HS1 failed to regenerate Kent, with the average employment rate in the south east of Britain 5% lower than before the high speed service was introduced.

Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have all cancelled planned or existing high-speed rail projects and some argue that Britain should follow suit. Martin Blaiklock, a consultant on infrastructure and energy project finance, said that extra capacity could be built more cheaply by adding to existing railways. “[HS2] is very high-risk,” he says. “It is a gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials.”

Conflict of interest emerges in 2015-16 in favour of an American multinational 

revolving-door-peopleIt was reported that Roy Hill, managing director of the US-headquartered engineering company CH2M, has been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis from November, after Simon Kirby, the former chief executive, elected to leave for Rolls-Royce. Mr Hill worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work, in a contract worth about £70m.

CH2M entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article yesterday, readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill.  He will take over in March.

David Higgins, HS2’s chairman, said he recognised the need to avoid any conflict of interest and that Mr Thurston would consequently cut all links with his previous employer. “They will be treated in the same way as any other supplier – no more or less favourably than that,” Mr Higgins said of CH2M.

CH2M has already been paid around £500m for working on the line as development partner and then the delivery partner on Phase 1 of the high-speed railway project, from London to Birmingham. Phase 2 covers Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Mace, a large consultancy and construction company, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and plans for Hinkley Point C, has written to HS2 Ltd, set up by government in 2009, announcing that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

 gravy-train

Ms Plimmer states that Mace is threatening to sue the state-owned company behind Britain’s planned £56bn high-speed railway line over alleged conflicts of interest..

She quotes a source close to the legal process who said it was “extremely likely” that Mace would file a claim in the High Court this week. “Mace is concerned over conflicts of interest. It is looking for an injustice to be corrected,” the source said. “CH2M has been awarded half a billion pounds worth of contracts even though nothing has been built yet.” CH2M declined to comment.

Legal action could delay the project, which is expected to get Royal Assent this week, paving the way for construction to start this year. Final amendments to the HS2 bill are being debated on Monday in the House of Commons.

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”

 

 

 

 

Report: Dubai lawyer to sue Blair over war crimes in Iraq – and why not Bush, the leading partner?

Investigative journalist Felicity Arbuthnot today sent a link to an article in the Gulf News, reporting that a Dubai-Cairo-London based law firm, headed by advocate Nasser Hashem, intends to take legal action against former British prime minister Tony Blair, seeking his prosecution for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Read an earlier statement of intention on their website.

blair-iraqThis decision was made following the publication of Chilcot’s report on the Iraq war in July in which it was found that Saddam Hussain did not pose an urgent threat to British interests and that the intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty.

Also, the report said UK and the US had undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council. Hashem explained:

“We are taking this legal procedure against Blair since he took the decision [in his capacity as the British prime minister then] to participate with the United States in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without the permission of the UK’s House of Commons.

statue-liberty-covers-eyes“He produced unreasonable, bogus and wrong information to the House of Commons, according to the Chilcot report, and based on that information, the UK participated in that war.”

Hashem said Blair also falsely told the House of Commons that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons before the war was launched against Iraq. 

He added: “Thousands of Iraqis were killed, injured, displaced and/or shattered. Blair committed war crimes against the people of Iraq and violated human rights. He should be taken to court for the crimes he committed”.

This is a dreadful ordeal for the former British Prime Minister to face, but it pales into insignificance when compared with the sufferings of thousands of Iraqi people. And if it can make political leaders realise that military interventions are always both barbaric and futile Blair’s suffering will have served the world well.

 

 

 

 

Secret State 17: will the unjustly exiled return to Diego Garcia?

A reader sends this link for the latest news of the islanders’ claim to be allowed to return to their homes.

chagos Deep Space Surveillance facility

Over forty years ago the Chagos islanders were removed to make way for a military base by the United States in 1971 (above). Under a secret deal with the British government, the US agreed to contribute to the costs of establishing a base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia and to provide support for the UK’s nuclear missile programme.

In 2000, the high court ruled that the Chagossians could return to 65 of the islands, but not to the main island of Diego Garcia, a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean,

The government won an appeal in the House of Lords, which ruled, in 2008, that the exiles could not return. Lawyers acting for the islanders claim that the law lords’decision relied heavily on a flawed 2002 feasibility study into resettlement. Read more here.

We learn that the supreme court will deliver a decision on Wednesday as to whether an earlier ruling by the House of Lords banning the Chagossians from living in their homeland was legal. If the decision is overturned it will pave the way for their return.

Will the British decision at last be consistent with natural law and public opinion or will the political-military alliance once again sideline morality with impunity?

 

 

Will the EU referendum lead to a British exit from the EU?

 The referendum is non-binding.

eu referendum

The FT’s leader today expanded on this:

“A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification.

“The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.

What matters in law is when and whether the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty

“This is the significant “red button”. Once the Article 50 process is commenced then Brexit does become a matter of law, and quite an urgent one. It would appear this process is (and is intended to be) irreversible and irrevocable once it starts. But invoking Article 50 is a legally distinct step from the referendum result — it is not an obligation”.

The UK would have two years to negotiate a deal after triggering the exit clause of the EU treaties; extending talks beyond that would require unanimous agreement of the EU’s member states.

A Telegraph article adds that issues would include what financial regulations would still apply to the City of London, trade tariffs and movement rights of EU citizens and UK nationals. The agreement would have to be ratified both by the European council and the parliament in Strasbourg. During that time Britain would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws – however it would not take part in any decision making.

And could the United Kingdom legally disregard a vote for Brexit?

The legal analysis and mechanics were outlined earlier in an FT blog by lawyer and writer David Allen Green, who confirms that the referendum is advisory rather than mandatory:

“What happens next in the event of a vote to leave is therefore a matter of politics not law. It will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable.

  • The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect . . .
  • Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote.
  • Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum.

He adds: “There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way”.

Green shows that there are ‘ways and means’ to avoid Brexit.

.

.

Now thrive the armourers: unrepentant ‘special friends’, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United States

Cluster-Bombs-3418-2

Though cluster bombs were banned under international law in 2008, Amnesty International has found a UK-manufactured cluster bomb in Yemen and, according to Defense News, the United States has sold Riyadh cluster bombs and millions of dollars’ worth of training, information gathering, weapons and aerial refuelling support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The International Business Times reports that for over a year, Human Rights Watch has recorded attacks on Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, killing civilians and destroying homes, schools and hospitals. They have used cluster bombs, which scatter explosive ‘bomblets’ across a wide area and eject a stream of molten metal designed to pierce metal armour as they detonate. After this, they explode into thousands of fragments killing and maiming all in the vicinity. If they don’t explode on impact, they become a danger to civilians on the ground. More on the technology here.

Amnesty International calls on the British government, which has rejected claims that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has violated the laws of war during its conflict in Yemen:

  • to stop the UK selling arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that could be used in the Yemen conflict;
  • to launch an immediate inquiry into how UK cluster bombs ended up in Yemen and
  • to ensure the Saudi Arabia-led coalition destroys all remaining stocks of UK cluster munitions.

Has the Obama administration blocked sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia?

A few days later, Defense News and many other media outlets reported that the Obama administration has moved to block sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, amid reports of mounting civilian casualties there. However no link was given and a search for the report in the named journal Foreign Policy found no reference on its site.

(Update, reader Felicity Arbuthnot found a link in another sticle: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/27/exclusive-white-house-blocks-transfer-of-cluster-bombs-to-saudi-arabia – subscription only).

This move is said to follow rising criticism by U.S. lawmakers of America’s support for Saudi Arabia’s role in the year-long Yemeni conflict – not because of concern about the civilian casualties and infrastructure damage inflicted, but, it is alleged, due to increasing disappointment at the Saudis’ failure to do more to fight the militants of the Islamic State group in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

 

 

 

Prem Sikka: the power of elites to hijack companies

Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at Essex Business School’s Centre for Global Accountability, opened a recent article by reflecting that corporations are being run entirely in the interests of executives and shareholders, with little concern for anyone else.

Professor Sikka points out that the possible demise of retailer BHS draws attention to the need to change the way major corporations are governed:

“Currently, corporations are run as private fiefdoms for the benefit of directors and shareholders. The wealth is generated by the collective energies of all stakeholders, but is being appropriated by a few executives and shareholders to the detriment of employees, pension scheme members, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.”

Some reports suggest that around £580 million has been taken out in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans. As Sikka writes, the company was surrounded by highly paid accountants, auditors, lawyers, bankers and non-executive directors, but none ever objected to the extraction of cash or drew public attention to the perilous state of BHS’s finances.

He argues that companies are not private entities, because they affect the lives of many people, adding, “The BHS debacle once again shows that companies that produce short term gains for present shareholders do not necessarily produce wealth for employees, other stakeholders or society. The obsession with enriching shareholders persuades management to pursue cavalier strategies. They do not bear the cost of their excesses because they are shielded by limited liability”.

The UK Companies Act 2006 (Section 172) is cited by Sikka. Though it requires company directors to promote the success of the company by having regard to the interest of employees, suppliers, customers, community and the environment, all this has to be for the ultimate benefit of shareholders. He continues:

“UK corporate legislation sees directors as agents of shareholders rather than as trustees for stakeholders. As trustees, their responsibility should be to ensure that the wealth of the company is allocated fairly to all stakeholders and not just appropriated by a few executives and shareholders”.

Companies frequently claim that employees are their biggest assets, but deny them any say in the way companies are governed. Employees have a vital interest in the long-term success of the company but have no right to elect directors or shape corporate policies.

Company directors can be prosecuted for making false statements to shareholders, but there is no equivalent duty to be truthful to employees and other stakeholders.

A major lesson from the BHS scandal is the need to change the way large companies are governed. Professor Sikka points out that some countries already have employees on company boards and since the Second World War, major German companies have been obliged to have a system of two-tier boards. The Executive Board manages the business. The second-tier known as the Supervisory Board consists of other stakeholders, such as employees, and is responsible for oversight of the executive board. The two boards co-operate for the long-term success of the company.

If companies like BHS had Supervisory Boards and employees and pension scheme members were represented on it, they would have considered the impact of the cash extraction on BHS’s ability to invest, compete or fund the deficit in pension schemes.

Sikka ends by noting that the national minimum wage, health and safety, gender equality and other reforms had to be imposed in the teeth of opposition and that there would be resistance to reforms of governance structures that “dilute the power of elites to hijack companies”. Nevertheless they must be made, because “we can’t afford more BHS’s”.

 

 

Read his article here: http://leftfootforward.org/2016/05/the-bhs-scandal-shows-that-we-need-workers-on-boards/

See a post on employee ownership, prompted by this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fracking (etc): is Britain a democracy or a dictatorship?

 

The FT reports that a majority of North Yorkshire county councillors, elected to serve the people, followed the advice of unelected officers to vote against the wishes of those who put them in post; only 36 of the more than 4,800 responses to the council’s consultation were in favour of fracking.

The government promised to go “all out” for shale. Energy secretary, Amber Rudd, announced ‘she was determined to push forward with shale and even allow extraction under national parks’ and Chancellor George Osborne has promised that local areas will receive £100,000 per well and 1% of future royalties. He also said that he would also set up a sovereign wealth fund for the north of England to invest the proceeds.

fracking ryedale test prompts fears

However public opposition has prevented any fracking since 2011 when it caused two minor earthquakes near Blackpool. Brian Baptie, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey, said that the analysis showed that the epi­centre was within 500m of the well site and the timing of these earthquakes and that of the fluid injection [during fracking] indicated that there might be some connection between the two.

Nicky Mason, a local resident, said Third Energy had failed to disclose a gas leak at a nearby well until forced to by a freedom of information request.

The decision relates to a test, not full-scale mining activity

After changing its name four times (readers will wonder why), Third Energy will frack for shale gas at an existing well outside the village of Kirby Misperton – near the North York Moors National Park – to test if the rock below is suitable for large-scale exploitation and this will involve:

  • use of a 37-metre high rig for eight weeks
  • erection of a noise barrier of shipping containers
  • transporting of gas by pipeline
  • flowback water taken away by trucks.

As Ineos and Cuadrilla are given encouragement to reapply it is feared that further permission will eventually be given to produce on a large scale, which could lead to several hundred wells across the hills of North Yorkshire.

The FT quotes experts who foresee that the UK’s shale industry is threatened by simple economics: the tumbling price of gas.

fracking uk2 us gas prices graph

“There could not be a worse time to be embarking on challenging gas projects,” said Howard Rogers, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. An oil and gas analyst at Jefferies, said: “There is a global glut of gas and we continue to see gas supply everywhere. That is why prices have come down so much. It means there is a big economic challenge for shale producers in the UK.” He pointed out that US prices have come down so much it could soon be cheaper to import gas from there rather than buy domestically produced supplies.

.
The only hope for these threatened areas appears to be a check to the paramount political-corporate desire for profit.
 

 

Times reader: “Forget about all this Gerrymandering. Wake up. We are still voting as though we were living in Walpole’s era

In the Times today, an article by its political editor Francis Elliott was headed: “ Labour faces the loss of 24 seats after redrawing of electoral map”.

It stated that of the 50 Commons seats to be cut Labour loses almost half — 24 — while the Tories suffer only 14 losses. New rules which allow for seats that straddle county boundaries are set to benefit the Tories in a series of marginals: Harlow, Stevenage, Great Yarmouth and Carlisle will become far more ‘blue’.

The first draft of the new map, based on electoral registers released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, will be produced by the Boundary Commission in September and finalised two years later, but the Telegraph produced its own estimate in May 2015:

How the map would look under the new boundaries:

5

2

One reader pointed out that making all votes equal is the requirement of democracy only in a first past the post voting system. Even if all constituencies had exactly the same number of voters a democratic outcome would not be achieved.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Electoral Reform, said: “The constituencies which saw the biggest drop (in seats) are largely student seats and deprived areas — groups which are already under-represented. The areas with the biggest rise are largely wealthier areas. This patchy picture means electoral registration, and the number of parliamentary seats representing each area, is getting more unequal by the year.”

Last word from a Times reader: “Forget about all this Gerrymandering. Wake up. We are still voting as though we were living in Walpole’s era. Politics has changed and so must voting behaviour” – and systems.