Category Archives: Legal issues

Mumbai and Sheffield: human health, well-being and climate suffer as trees are felled

The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.

As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”

Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.

Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.

Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.

Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.

‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:

‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’ 

 

Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.

 

 

 

k

Advertisements

A Bedford voter advises MPs to engage with the betting industry over a cup of coffee

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a review into the bookmaking industry, scrutinising gambling machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

The machines, which campaigners describe as highly addictive, allow gamblers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds. They made £1.82bn in the year to September 2016 and account for 56% of revenues at betting shops, according to figures released by the industry regulator the Gambling Commission,

Online Casino notes that in a research note in April, analysts at Barclays Capital forecast that if MPs restrict the size of the stake to £2, Ladbrokes Coral would lose £449m in revenues in 2018, and William Hill £284m. Betfair, another gambling company, would lose £55m.

The Financial Times reports that William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral, two of the UK’s biggest bookmakers, spent just £2,004 in 2015, £2,800 in 2014 and £3,300 in 2013. According to the parliamentary register they significantly increased the amount they spent on entertaining MPs – £18,018 on hospitality for 12 MPs – since the start of 2016.

Two Conservative MPs, Philip Davies (no stranger to controversy) and Laurence Robertson (right,  likewise) were the biggest beneficiaries.

A staunch defender of the gambling industry, Mr Davies chairs the Betting and Gaming All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and vice-chair of both the Bingo APPG and the Racing and Bloodstock APPG.

Labour wants to see the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2 because the addictive high-stakes machines have become a huge problem for communities that are often struggling to cope with underinvestment and high unemployment. 

Neil Austin comments that MP Philip Davies (left), chairman of the betting and gaming all party parliamentary group, is quite right to say it would be extraordinary of he did not engage with the betting industry. He adds:

“It is also extraordinary that he considers it perfectly acceptable to accept lavish hospitality from that same industry.

“The reputation of parliament and of MPs is languishing far below where it needs to be for a strong democracy. Mr Davies and the other MPs mentioned in your report seem to have learnt nothing from the expenses scandal.

“Many organisations have strict rules prohibiting employees from accepting almost any hospitality where a conflict of interest could be perceived. If we are to try to return parliament to a more trusted position in the country, one small step would be for MPs to abide by the same rules”.

 

 

 

 

hm

Broken Britain 7: prolonged, tragic sagas: infected blood transfusions, OP poisoning and Gulf War Syndrome, denial and delay, pending death

The Haemophilia Society has blown the whistle and called for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians. More here.

Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used – just as OP sheep dips were.

British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 7,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. Read more in The Journal.

Last week in The Times, Margarette Driscoll recalls that in 2015, following the Penrose report into contaminated blood products in Scotland (which many victims denounced as a whitewash), David Cameron apologised to those who were infected by HIV and hepatitis C.

Weasel words

References to “compensation” have been changed to “payments” – to avoid admitting the liability which is already common knowledge? The sums received by victims of the contaminated blood scandal are known as ex gratia payments.

In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has been campaigning on the issue since she met one of her constituents, a mild haemophiliac who was given factor VIII in 1983 to prevent excessive bleeding when he had a tooth removed in hospital. He discovered he was infected with hepatitis C in 1995, when it showed up on blood tests for an unrelated illness.

As Theresa May had set up the Hillsborough inquiry when she was home secretary, Johnson was hopeful she would do the same for contaminated blood.

May refused. Johnson requested an urgent Commons debate, which was due to be held on Tuesday. She then got the six leaders of the opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry, and this is to be set up.

Adding insult to injury? Payment to many victims of NHS blood contamination is to be cut

In March this year a scheme to pay the victims of NHS blood contamination is to be scaled back under government plans announced on Monday. Ministers believe the reforms are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.

The government has proposed measures that would cut predicted costs, including limiting the availability of the higher level of financial support under the scheme

Will an enquiry compensate the victims of this NHS for the cuts?

 

 

 

o

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.