Archives For justice

So your favourite ginger bearded polemicist has been away for three weeks – researching important things in Mexico, and writing about Comrade Bob. But I am back, and we’ve got a lot to cover so let’s check it out!

REGULARS

Liberty

In one of the most appallingly vicious acts of counter productive stupidity, a blanket ban on giving prisoners books has been introduced by professional arse face Chris Grayling.

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Image: johnnyvoid.wordpress.com

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Image: johnnyvoid.wordpress.com

And in Spain massive peaceful protests are met with blanket violence, though don’t kid yourself this is just something that happens in other countries…

Economics (not boring I promise!)

As ever, we are trying to make money real with this section, and what is more real than realising you would be £44k better off if we didn’t create a housing bubble that only benefits rich landlords!

Also let’s think seriously about the living wage, this is a basic concept that should be a right for all.

Maybe we should conceive of government differently:

Image: Anonymous ART of Revolution

Image: Anonymous ART of Revolution

or not conceive of government at all?!

Because let’s face it, whilst five families own more than 20% of us we are never going to have a government that represents us…

Oh and by the way – those new jobs (the shit zero hour ones that supposedly show that we are in recovery) 80% were created in London – SO FUCK YOU NORWICH!

Environment

In the wake of the floods nobody mentioned this in the mainstream news. In fact, this only made the comment is free section, but we essentially paid farmers to flood our homes.

Fracking is still centre of the agenda for this government and globally, so maybe we should take a moment to enjoy this fantastic video by Green Goyo, who proves that actually fracking is good for everyone!

I don’t want to go into it too much more, as next week we will be releasing our first RealFare video on the Barton moss protest camp, but suffice it to say that what people have had to go through to stop their water being polluted and their land forever damaged has been unnaturally brutal.

Debates coming up

Europe is going to inevitably dominate the news at some point, so it is worth mentioning that if you like UKIP because you are anti-Europe and yet at the same time believe in things like renationalising the railways, maybe you should have a look at someone else

And good news for the UK weapons industry is bad news for everyone else.

Image: Occupy London

Image: Occupy London

 

Good news!


Half the cases against anti-fracking protestors have been dropped  – because, of course, they are bullsh**T – one day I will be able to report people protested and didn’t get arrested at all…

And Bez brought anti Fracking protestors vegan beer!

Stewart Lee does one of the most left-field deconstructions of the Tory party I’ve come across…

Depression has been radicalised

The planet may be fucked – but shareholders had a brief honeymoon period!

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And according to NASA the only way to save humanity is Communism!

Thomas Barlow

 

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Access to Justice In The UK

kamsandhu —  February 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 20.50.04 Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 20.50.26 Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 20.51.48 Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 20.52.13 Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 20.52.30

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

On Monday 6 January, there was a half day protest outside the Old Bailey and across other criminal courts in the country, as barristers walked out for the first time in their history against £220m proposed cuts to legal aid. The media reacted accordingly, with the right wing press branding protesters ‘the most privileged picket line ever’, focusing on images of a ‘lady barrister clutching a £1,100 Mulberry bag’.

Image: The Daily Mail  Caption reads: Privileged: Barrister Charlotte Hole (front row, second left) clutches a £1,100 Mulberry bag during yesterday's action. She was among thousands of barristers across the UK to stage a protest against legal aid cuts

Image: The Daily Mail
Caption reads: Privileged: Barrister Charlotte Hole (front row, second left) clutches a £1,100 Mulberry bag during yesterday’s action. She was among thousands of barristers across the UK to stage a protest against legal aid cuts

But these cuts are dramatically changing the profession, resulting in the sea change of barristers walking out of courts for the first time ever to protest. So what are some of the reasons young barristers are starting to make a stand by taking direct action? Firstly, the cuts in legal aid will result in an already elitist profession becoming even more difficult to access for the less wealthy in society.

This is not helped the profession being traditionally ‘posh’ and privileged, making barristers a difficult group to feel compassionate for. But the effects of cuts will result in even more unequal access to the profession, as despite an increase in diversity in terms of inclusivity to ethnic minorities and females, there is still a large proportion of barristers from wealthy, privately educated backgrounds.

This is compounded by the increasing costs associated with going to law school, for example to study the law ‘conversion’ course to become a barrister (the BPTC – Bar Professional Training Course) costs £16,500 for a one year course. This is on top of a tripled student debt. Additionally, to become a barrister you have to join one of the 4 ‘Inns’ and sign up to 12 formal dinners, which as well as the need to build up your CV through lots of volunteer or ‘Pro bono’ work, can be extremely costly.

The process of becoming a barrister is hard to navigate without being well educated.  For example, following the completion of the BPTC (bar training course) you must apply for a two year Pupillage. But not only is the application stage time consuming, examples of interviews at barristers’ chambers include being asked to use the scenario of a newly formed country, arguing which are the top 15 laws which should be enacted first. Interviewees were then asked to rank these on the spot in importance, a tough process for any graduate.

Justice Alliance Logo - The Justice Alliance organised the protest on 6th January

Justice Alliance Logo – The Justice Alliance organised the protest on 6th January

The cuts in legal aid will affect clients being able to access barristers as less will take on legal aid cases because not only is it a costly, difficult profession to get into, but the end result is a profession with less pay and decreased benefits ultimately leading to less barristers and more potential miscarriages of justice.

This is due in part to the cuts in fees for barristers taking on legal aid (particularly criminal). Case fees face a 30% cut, hitting the criminal legal aid system particularly badly.

This leads to a problem for the profession, as less young people want to take on legal aid cases due to the lack of pay.

So what is the future of the profession looking like for young, aspiring barristers? A tough slog, no more Mulberrys on the picket line, instead an increasingly elitist profession, which can only be accessed by the most wealthy students, well-educated enough to navigate themselves around the pupillage system and wealthy enough to amass the voluntary work packed CV needed to gain a ‘pupillage’ place. Secondly, the cuts in legal aid will undoubtedly also have an impact on the profession, with less barristers being able to take on legal aid cases meaning more people representing themselves. This, in turn will not only change the profession, but also lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice.

But, Justice Alliance promises more protests to come, let’s hope barristers who for the first time ever rose up for justice and what legal aid started for, are inspired to fight on.

By @HorlickSFH

The government have been taking steps towards removing access to justice. New laws and policies mean that government and authorities cannot be held to account or even appealed against, unless you are very wealthy. The changes are not motivated by saving money.

“If these proposals go through they will stop people from disputing unfair evictions from their homes. They will stop babies from having their interests represented in family disputes. And they will stop the families of people killed in custody or detention from fighting for the truth.

“This isn’t a cut that we’re talking about. The changes to legal aid won’t save even one penny, in fact they will cost money by causing havoc to the legal system. They are not motivated by a need to save money – these are ideological changes aimed at ruining justice for poor people and handing more contract cash to G4S and Serco.”

UK Uncut have now called for a day of civil disobedience, blocking the roads outside courts across the country, to show that this assault on our rights, equality and justice will not go unchallenged.

Find out more here. 

Image: UK Uncut

Image: UK Uncut

The Crown Prosecution Service have announced that they will push for increased penalties for benefit fraud, with maximum sentences reaching ten years in jail. In a sudden move, Keir Starmer, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service apparently said that society was “hurting as a result of people taking advantage of the benefit system, and he would crack down on perpetrators.”

However, benefit fraud is NOT increasing which makes this move far more dubious and unnecessary. This story has once again inflamed a public slamming of benefit claimants, and the hard line will certainly have an effect on the voting public.

Image: Join Public Issues

Image: Joint Public IssuesTeam

Fraud currently accounts for 0.9% of benefits expenditure, equalling £1.2bn.

1.2% of benefit expenditure is paid out in overpayment error by the claimant or by the DWP. Thus, more money would be saved if the DWP ensured that all claims were simply paid correctly, but there seems to be no hard line taken against this.

The Joint Public Issues Team believe that a quarter of media coverage of welfare refers to fraud. Earlier this year, a TUC poll revealed that members of the public thought 27% of the welfare budget was lost to fraud, when it actually stands at 0.9%. The press bombardment of welfare ‘moral panic’ has implied that there is a real culture of fraud and criminality amongst benefit claimants – ultimately turning the public opinion against them. Taking a hard line against the faux-criminal persona put upon claimants, could provide a strong political move by government as we edge closer to the election period. And the press have relayed the message to the extent that the public believe in this charade.

The press, the government and Keir Starmer QC have failed to supply the facts above. They have failed to mention how rare benefit fraud is. They have failed to mention that the figure for benefit fraud is dwarfed by the figure for unclaimed benefits, which stands, according to the DWP, somewhere between £7.5bn – £12bn.

This figure is further dwarfed by the amount lost to tax avoidance and tax evasion. Yet, the CPS has taken no such ‘hard line’ here. HM Revenue and Customs estimate the amount lost to tax avoidance and evasion at £32bn. The European Union estimate £95bn.

In the below graph, the fraud figures from the DWP of £1.2bn have been added to the HMRC figures for Working Tax Credit and child benefit fraud (equalling £870m – rounding to a total of £2bn):

Image: Fact Check C4

Image: Fact Check Blog – Channel 4

The move to increase the penalty for those committing benefit fraud is a prejudiced attack on the poor. Because CEOs, bankers and companies walk free of penalties for money fraud worth millions and sometimes billions, but the government want us to see benefit claimants found guilty of committing fraud for tens, hundreds, thousands of pounds as dangerous and as criminally punishable as violent offenders, rapists and murderers, who are likely to receive similar or less severe jail terms.

Richard Murphy, author and manager of the blog Tax Research, commented on the new laws:

“Tax fraud is now subject to maybe 400 prosecutions a year. The penalties are small. But ten years is being threatened for benefit fraud. The publicity, the sentences and the messaging is all disproportionate and the allocation of resources is all wrong.

“Tax evasion is the cancer really causing a crisis in the UK, undermining fair competition, destroying trust, eroding professional standards, fuelling austerity, driving misery and denying our children a future. But it’s benefit fraud that is picked on. That’s warped logic if ever there was evidence of such thinking.”

There must be punishment for breaking the law – few would disagree. But when a law is changed to persecute and punish an entire section of society, whilst another group are immune from the same laws, it is a smear against our justice system. And when the PR of party politics runs over into the laws and punishment of society, we are reaching a very worrying stage indeed.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

“Happy birthday to legal aid, Happy Birthday to legal aid!” sang the collection of around 4-500 people who gathered outside the Old Bailey in Central London on Tuesday afternoon last week, to celebrate the 64th birthday of legal aid. The celebratory atmosphere did not just extend to cake being cut, but an impromptu sing a-long with the London Gospel Choir, amongst other musicians, coaxed people out of their offices and into the street.

But it wasn’t just a birthday party which led the Justice Alliance to call the rally. The grand presence of the Old Bailey behind the demonstrators with the epitaph ‘Defend the children of the poor’ was a reminder of the planned government cuts in legal aid which had brought everyone together.

Woman and Sign at Legal Aid Rally, 31st July 2013

Woman and Sign at Legal Aid Rally, 31st July 2013

The rally was organised by the ‘Justice Alliance’; a newly formed umbrella organisation for a collection of over 20 organisations which includes legal, trade unions and community groups. It boasts some weighty names; Amnesty International, Sadiq Khan (the Shadow Justice Minister) and Unite can be seen amongst the ‘signatories’ to the statement of the Alliance. The statement includes an acknowledgement that access to justice for all is a ‘vital part of the UK justice system’ and the cuts in legal aid are ‘part of the larger assault on essential parts of the welfare state.’

Sadiq Khan speaking at Legal Aid Rally July 31st, 2013

Sadiq Khan speaking at Legal Aid Rally July 31st, 2013

So what were the main messages to take away from the rally? The first was a unanimous condemnation amongst the speakers of the government’s proposed ‘selling off’ of legal services to private companies like Serco and G4S. This was highlighted well by Ian Lawrence, the Assistant General Secretary with the Probation and Family Court Union (NAPO). He stated the future of probation could be that you are arrested by a police officer paid by Serco, then dealt with by a Probation officer paid by Serco, then given a lawyer paid by Serco, then convicted with a judge paid by Serco. Given this context, the privatisation of legal services would spell the end for fair access to justice.

Secondly, one of the most effective parts of the rally was the number of people who had the courage to stand up and talk about the miscarriages of justice which would occur if the cuts to legal aid were implemented. One example is a man called Raphael Rowe who talked about his life sentence in 1990 for murder as part of the M25 Three. He served 12 years in solitary confinement. However, after gaining access to a criminal legal aid lawyer whilst in prison, he was able to uncover forensic evidence which led to his conviction being overturned in 2000. He is now a BBC investigative journalist. He talked about his life long debt to his criminal lawyers and the legal aid that funded them.

Thirdly, the rally was better organised than its predecessor outside parliament on the 22 May 2013. There was a large PA system and stand for the speakers, visual entertainment and a good choice of location outside the Old Bailey. All this under the banner of the Justice Alliance, which shows the strength of the voice of the opposition to the government’s attack on legal aid when different groups pull together.

Fourthly, there was a final note of action. The resounding applause following the closing speech of Matt Foot, a criminal defence solicitor at Birnberg Peirce and organiser at Justice Alliance stated the Alliance will support strike action, as well as the day of action called for by UK Uncut in the Autumn. Further, with Chris Grayling’s second round of ‘consultations’ in September, there will be a public meeting held and a response formed from the Justice Alliance.

So the message from the day? Rallies are good but they are not enough. It is time to take the next step, and The Justice Alliance supports both civil disobedience and strike action against the cuts in legal aid. Watch this space.

SH

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Join the campaign: http://www.yourrightsatwork.org.uk/

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Inside Legal Aid

kamsandhu —  July 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

In April this year an e-mail went around the office with the title ‘Consultation on changes in Legal Aid – Please Read.’ Wherever you place it, the word ‘consultation’ is not going to push you to open your e-mail. Even less so when the consultation turns out to be 161 pages.

But the changes that this consultation, entitled ‘Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system,’ would bring to the legal aid system (already described in detail in the interview with Mike Goold by RealFare), include cutting the legal aid budget by £220m a year and a restructuring of the system by encouraging large private corporations to bid for contracts leaving smaller firms struggling to stay afloat.

Not to mention the effect on already vulnerable clients; need help with your divorce case? Problems with welfare benefits? Want to bring a family member to the UK? No longer possible I’m afraid. Even though your income (for you and your partner) does not exceed £700 per month, you can now pay us privately for that application.

So why, despite all these proposed changes to legal aid, did very few people in my office respond to the consultation (myself included). Why has there not been more coverage in the media about the changes and their effects on clients? I thought it was a lawyer’s jobs to argue?

There are a lot of reasons why the inability of the legal profession fails to show how drastically these cuts will affect the most vulnerable in society and bring this to the attention of the media. I am going to look at just a few.

Firstly, legal aid (with the assistance of the ConDems) is turning into big business.  Every other week the big London legal aid law firms buy out smaller law firms across the country. Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, argues this leads to higher efficiency, reduced costs and ultimately a smaller legal aid bill.

However, despite the changes inadvertently increasing the cost of legal aid (imagine the costs of a London firm to travel to an Immigration Removal Centre in Portsmouth), there are also great effects on staff and clients. For example, the ratio of clients per solicitor has drastically increased, leading to increased stress in an already high stress occupation. This in turn leads to high staff turnover and it’s not uncommon for client’s cases to be passed between 4-5 successive caseworkers.

Secondly, the position of the legal aid lawyers themselves. Despite what the media may have you believe with reports of inflated barristers wages, legal aid lawyers are actually some of the lowest paid professionals. In fact, most people in the large legal aid law firms are not lawyers – they are caseworkers. People who do a 2/3 of the work of lawyers but are paid a 1/5 of the wage, as caseworkers in central London can expect to earn £14k.  Moreover, the larger legal aid firms expect a new caseworker to have a caseload of 50-70 clients within 6 months; each client vulnerable and with complex needs. In a further drive for savings, caseworkers get little training, with any costs of examinations coming out of their salaries.

So I understand now why, in April, people were not screaming outside my office with placards. Overburdened legal staff are feeling the effects of putting profit over people. This is only going to get worse, with the projected cuts meaning only big legal aid firms can win the regional contracts to deliver legal aid.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Lawyers took to the streets in a protest outside the Ministry of Justice against the cuts on the 4 June 2012. Letters of protest from NGOs and lawyers made Chris Grayling drop one of the most controversial elements of the April consultation – depriving defendants of the ability to choose their own solicitor in criminal cases.

However there is still more to be done, with the government announcing a second round of consultations in September. As legal aid staff, we need to share ideas and resources between law firms, make time to attend demonstrations and start collecting and sharing the stories of our clients who have successfully been given justice. Despite the daily stresses, we need to remember to keep the bigger in picture in mind. If a few letters can cause the government to U-turn, think of the effect of a sustained collective campaign which highlights the real deficit a reduction in legal aid would have on society.

Anonymous

Legal aid protesters

Demonstration against Legal Aid Cuts Image: The Times

Demonstration against Legal Aid Cuts Image: The Times

Tabloid press can’t shout enough about the fat cat lawyers and criminals making and taking money out of legal aid, with an aptly timed run of stories in support of cuts to the service. But this simplified version of events and the absence of column inches on the impact of the cuts for clients, fairness and justice is misleading.

The Sun recently published the earnings of the top ten legal aid lawyers, with Balbir Singh, a lawyer specialising in Human Rights, Terrorism and Immigration topping the bill with £493,022  “of public cash for defending criminals in 2011-12,” the Sun said.

The Daily Mail is following a similar route – finding the biggest figures from the biggest companies and presenting them in their usual sensationalist style. The paper also highlights cases such as Abu Qatada, where high-profile criminals are using legal aid – in a bid to convey that the service is there to defend and pump money into criminals alone.

The Daily Mail was also the paper to first reveal the costs of legal aid for two of Stephen Lawrence’s killers. Gary Dobson and David Norris, jailed for life in January last year, received a total of around £425,000 in legal aid. Other media also ran the story.

We should be allowed to access this information. There is no problem with this transparency. But, without some attention on how severe the cuts will be and what they will change, this media suggests money is only taken from the parts that can stand to lose it, by making the most of extreme cases and not providing the full picture.

They neglect to tell us about the impact on the client, how their trials will be treated or how fairness will be affected. And the tabloids carry a dangerous attitude towards those in the criminal system – they seem to ignore that anyone was ever found innocent.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack in 1993 Image: The Mirror

Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack in 1993 Image: The Mirror

The Stephen Lawrence case is the perfect example. The story stretches back over 20 years, is extremely high profile and is very complex. In fact, there are still huge parts of this case unfolding as we have seen in the last few days. Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, also used legal aid to fight the case for her murdered son. How would this case change if it happened after the legal aid cuts? According to the legal aid lawyer for Stephen Lawrence’s family, Imran Khan, the case wouldn’t be handled at all, particularly not by the kind of specialist needed:

Mr Khan said the changes would make it difficult to take on complex and costly cases, such as the Lawrence murder, which could produce changes that benefit all Londoners. He claimed the new system would lead to large law firms offering “bulk buying” prices that would force many ethnic minority solicitors out of business.”

Savings in legal aid from the current and proposed plans will come from price competitive tendering, whereby contracts to supply legal aid will be awarded to those bidding at a rate at least 17.5% lower than the current amount. These reductions are on top of a previous run of cuts introduced in April.

Further, the amount of contracts – and the amount of companies allowed to supply legal aid – will be lowered to around 25% of the current number – pushing some firms out of business.

To be able to supply work at this rate, the government is hoping to see bids from multinationals such as Tesco and Eddie Stobart – companies big enough to cope with the drastic cuts (which could see juniors paid £14 a day) because they are able to take contracts in a few geographical areas. Of course the motivation for these companies will be to make the most money, as quickly as possible. And it seems that is the aim of the government too, as they want to offer the work out to these huge companies with no legal background.

What this will change for something like the Stephen Lawrence case, is a freedom to seek specialist advice. There is no client choice under new proposals.

This removal of choice for specialist law, which in its entirety is a subject hugely complex and far-reaching, will surely drive down the quality of service.You could be allocated a lawyer from a multinational firm with no specialism and no interest except to turn your case over as quickly as possible.

The quickest way to do this is get your client to plead guilty. Many in the legal profession believe that there will be a huge increase in false ‘guilty’ pleas in order to move cases along quicker.

So while it may seem attractive in hindsight, to disallow Dobson and Norris the right to their own lawyer, Doreen Lawrence would be disallowed the same right.

Would the lawyer she would be allocated have become the ‘rock’ (as he is described) that Imran Khan did?

Doreen Lawrence and Imran Khan Image: The Telegraph

Doreen Lawrence and Imran Khan Image: The Telegraph

And while we can look unfavorably at Dobson and Norris now, they still required a fair trial before they were proven guilty.This is the most crucial aspect of the justice system. Yet, media such as The Sun and the Daily Mail often freely tarnish people as criminals before, during and after trials – based on how they look, what they do and most worryingly this opinion is projected onto the public.

In The Sun’s afore mentioned description of Babir Singh, he was said to have been ‘defending criminals.’ Just criminals. No mention of the people who he defended that may have been innocent? The people he saved from jail and punishment when they were wrongly accused?

Remember Christopher Jefferies? He was the landlord accused of the murder of 25 year old Joanna Yeates, and he received his unfortunate share of the media spotlight. Tabloids, including the Daily Mail – which ran the headline “Murder police quiz ‘nutty professor’,  seemed to make up their minds about him before his trial and a consensus of guilty for the ‘strange’ professor seeped from the pages into the public atmosphere.

Just one of the front tabloid pages devoted to Chris Jefferies when he was arrested

Just one of the front tabloid pages devoted to Chris Jefferies when he was arrested

After a few days of tabloid taunt, which Jefferies knew nothing about as he was held by the courts, another tenant of his was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Jefferies was interviewed at the Leveson inqury and has not yet received an apology from any media for the ordeal.  

This is a worrying effect of media on trials and the lives of individuals. Yet it seems no lessons have been learned, as the press continues to villainise and bandy around the word ‘criminal’ as a term for anyone who comes into contact with the legal system.

There are thousands of people that need legal aid to protest a false claim. And it acts as an important protection against powerful authorities.

This mother required legal aid to defend her two sons, after were arrested at the student demonstrations. They were eventually acquitted from the charge of violent disorder. Because their chosen law firm Bindmans, specialised in protest law they were able to take good care of the family’s case. The firm had connections to local support groups, and through one of these groups, they found someone who had video footage from the protest that would clear the boys’ name. Despite 11 witness statements from police – making the case difficult, the boys were rightly cleared of the crime.

As Imran Khan highlighted, legal aid goes much further than defending the guilty:

The future is bleak. Legal aid is not simply about defending so-called criminals, it is also about protecting people’s rights and improving society for everyone… But now it is getting to the stage where lawyers are going to be turning away cases that might be the next Lawrence, the next Zahid Mubarek or the next Climbié.”

Find out more about legal aid cuts in this report from Radio 4.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Recommended: We found this great blog where members of the criminal bar can air their views and write a post about their experiences, feelings and predictions regarding the proposed cuts to legal aid. We definitely suggest heading over for a read from some of the voices inside the profession.
Find them at criminalbarassociation.wordpress.com

criminalbarassociation


We received this yesterday, 11th June, before the Justice Select Committee hearing, and before Lord McNally’s “hysterical” outburst on Law in Action, in an admirable interview by @joshuarozenberg.

Then this morning, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail attacks the “ashtray” voice of Michael Turner QC, and the “Biker” Lucy Scott Moncrieff whilst railing about legal aid lawyers in sharp suits on £200 per hour.

Who knows how far into the public arena this blog reaches? This post is certainly not one likely to feature in the Mail, as they do not have the wit or the guts to publish anything that offends against their slavish toadying to the likes of Grayling and his ilk.

If you sense anger in this introduction you are right. Far too much of what appears below strikes personal chords with your editor, as indeed it will with the vast majority of those practitioners who…

View original post 1,843 more words