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Blog Name: Isobel Williams's blog

Supreme Court: a shard of history
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05 October 2017

I wish I'd watched a recent episode of Coronation Street in which an artist breaches section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 by drawing live action inside one of the lower courts (i.e. not the Supreme Court, which doesn't sit in Weatherfield).

In real life, an artist has to draw such scenes from memory. This was not a plot line but a collective mistake. The subject of the picture is the alleged victim of sexual abuse so she would not be portrayed anyway, even from memory. It has led to complaints to Ofcom and apologies from Corrie chiefs.

This is Lady Hale's first session as President, joined by two of the three new Justices, Lady Black and Lord Lloyd-Jones. All is serene on the bench while courtroom nerves are about normal: just before the second half, a lawyer breaks a glass. Symbolists would say this represents a ceiling.

The usher emerges cheerfully from behind the scenes: 'Did someone make an impact in there? Everything OK? I've seen a lot worse.' He sorts everything out.

The appellant, who in 2010 was the first barrister to become a partner in a legal disciplinary practice, is here to observe. Daphne Evadne Portia O'Connor v Bar Standards Board asks whether, in a claim that a prosecution breaches human rights, the time limit for bringing proceedings under the Human Rights Act 1998 runs from the date of acquittal/conviction or the date on which any appeal is concluded. And was the High Court judge right to conclude, for the summary judgment application, that Portia O'Connor's claim of indirect discrimination under ECHR had a realistic prospect of success?



Counsel are softly-spoken. Lady Hale reminds them: 'The first duty of any advocate is to be heard,' adding that the microphones are mainly for recording and transmission, with only a small amount of amplification.













'I can't hear anything,' says the woman behind me. She adds, 'They are all beautiful,' referring to the row of students in front of us, and leaves.
















Outside, another bench, another beginning.

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Bench pressing: 'Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity'
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03 October 2017
Are you bench-fit? There's a handy 'Am I Ready?' guide on the Judicial Appointments Commission website.

I picked up this tip in Debating Judicial Appointments in an Age of Diversity (Routledge, £115) edited by Graham Gee and Erika Rackley. These essays by the great and good and their observers commemorate the tenth anniversary of the JAC. The writers spotlight key questions, such as the level to which judicial appointments should be political.

And what is merit? Sir Thomas Legg, former Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor, writes: 'We appear to owe the concept of merit for public appointments originally to the Chinese Civil Service in the Qin and Han dynasties.' I would like a whole chapter on this, with sample exam papers and ink drawings of Confucius, but it is not to be.

Legg expresses doubt about lay members of selection committees: 'For many reasons, lay members are often likely to defer to their judicial colleagues in these decisions.' This is countered by Jenny Rowe, the first Chief Executive of the Supreme Court: 'The judges were always very respectful of these levels of expertise and welcomed the perspective offered by lay members. Indeed, in a situation where inevitably many of the applicants were known to the judges, the lay members were well placed to identify and probe issues which may not have been so apparent to those more familiar with their day to day work. There was no shortage of lively discussion and debate, and no question at all of the lay members being supine.'

Sadly, proof-reading budgets are slashed nowadays. For example, page 34, with its three references to the 'Prime Minster' [sic], sounds the Proof-Reader Attention Deficit Alert (PRADA), pointing to that trippy state in which subconscious urges to be skimming Vogue over-ride what you see. But cost-cutting doesn't allow for a second proof-reading and sometimes not even a first.

Sketch of Christopher Allan at Judicial Images workshop
Uncritically, I would say that the best bit of the book is Appendix IV - included in Amazon's free preview - which is about how I came to draw the cover illustration. I'm indebted to Christopher Allan, Court and Ceremonial Manager at Ede & Ravenscroft, for giving me a close-up view of the robes in his care, groomed like champion race-horses.

If you think you're hard enough for the bench, then - even without issues of diversity - you'll be interested in the matters this book raises.

Coda: if you prefer the soft and fluffy, may I recommend The Supreme Court: A Guide for Bears.
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The Supreme Court: a guide for bears
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08 September 2017































The fundamental decency of teddy bears should encourage reflection. They know how you treat the weak. You can’t escape a bear’s benign but probing gaze - particularly in the UK Supreme Court café, where the souvenir bears wait to graft themselves onto a suitable buyer. Unless, as Lord Neuberger mentions in the foreword of this book, they get half-inched by a passing VIP. That’s OK, these bears are soft power wherever they go.

As someone who occasionally draws from the court’s public seats, I get asked questions. This picture book (a children’s book for adults and vice versa) is a tangential way of answering some of them. At the beginning, the bears’ quest for judicial diversity makes them the victims of a graffiti campaign by some unkind heraldic beasts. I wouldn’t take that too seriously though.































For more conventional information, please consult the court’s literature, most of it free and some of it in several languages, and its comprehensive website.

They said it

“A charming guide for adults and children alike” – Joshua Rozenberg

“Filled with adorable artwork” – Estates Gazette

“Clever, funny, informative” – Ann McAllister, Judge

“Quirky yet serious… You laugh out loud and you learn a lot.” – Elizabeth Taylor and Phillip Taylor, barristers

Available from the UK Supreme Court, Avizandum, Blackwell's (Oxford), Daunt Books (Chelsea, Holland Park, Marylebone), Heffers, Heywood Hill, John Sandoe, Wildy & Sons, Amazon and me http://www.isobelwilliams.org.uk at £6.95 + postage if charged.

Coda

Each night your childhood bear, whether or not it still exists, in the loft or landfill or as disassembled molecules, seeks a wan comfort in crooning an old pop ballad to itself while it thinks of you. It likes Ray Davies’s demo version best.

 I go to sleep

 Sleep

 And imagine that

 You’re there

 With me

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Supreme Court: one for the road
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30 July 2017

Whisky. Horrid. Had some once. Never again. Some people like it so much that it kills them.

Attempts to find political solutions are charged; the agenda can change. I'm reminded of an upset from 2009 - here's a quote from The Guardian: 'Professor David Nutt, the government's chief drug adviser, has been sacked a day after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.'

Over two days, starting on the anniversary of the forced abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, Scotch Whisky Association and others v The Lord Advocate and another asks whether the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 is incompatible with EU law and therefore unlawful under the Scotland Act 1998.

Over the road in the House of Commons, the merest mention of the ECJ can provoke boorish jeering and it's a relief to be in a more enlightened setting.

Should alcohol be subject to a minimum price of 50p per unit, which producers claim would make them less competitive? Or, as counsel asks at the beginning: 'Why not tax?' It's pointed out that Buckfast Tonic Wine, already more than 50p per unit, fuels a lot of crime.



There is passing mention of people who can afford 'a decent Burgundy from Waitrose' but the focus is on the one per cent of drinkers who are 'hazardous and harmful drinkers in poverty'.

You don't have to walk far from the court to meet street drinkers. Beyond the issue of price, tackling drunkenness involves looking at poverty, unemployment, deprivation, family breakdown, homelessness and mental illness. Once you've done volunteering stints somewhere like Crisis you don't just see a street-drinker shape: you look into a face and wonder if you've met that person.





William Hogarth's engraving from 1751, Gin Lane, depicts the plague of cheap spirits. The Gin Act of 1736, which raised taxes and attempted to impose licences on the legions of gin sellers, was widely flouted.



This is Lord Neuberger's last hearing as President but it's business as usual. There is no epoch-marking verbal posy presented to him by counsel - not while I'm in the courtroom, at least. Instead, there's a beginning: Philip Simpson QC finishes bang on lunchtime, saying: 'This has in fact been my first appearance before the Supreme Court or indeed the House of Lords and it's been a privilege to address you in this case.'

'Mr Simpson,' says Lord Neuberger, 'it may have been your first appearance here but you have timed your ending of your submissions extremely well.'





The President has set a swift pace and in the afternoon proceedings end with an hour in hand.

'The Court is now adjourned,' says Lord Neuberger.
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The Supreme Court: on tour in Edinburgh
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25 June 2017

'This fetch is looking good.'

'A bit of a zigzag here but they're on line most of the time.'

'I think that's one of the best drive turns we've seen.'

'If they do well over the rest of the course they should qualify for the Supreme‎…

‘Three hundred and thirty-eight points scored - he's through to the Supreme!’

Yes, I’ve been watching sheepdog trials on BBC Alba (in Gaelic with subtitles), reflecting that Lord Neuberger's 'Yup' could sound a bit like a Highland shepherd’s call.









The Supreme Court is playing to a full house in Edinburgh’s City Chambers, equipped with a sparkly new Instagram account and its travelling livery. The thistle in the court’s emblem seems more secure since the general election but the blue flax flower of Northern Ireland looks pale.






The home of Edinburgh City Council, City Chambers is an eighteenth century building with Victorian-Gothic/Celtic-twilight décor incorporating earnest cod-mediaeval scenes of Scottish history. The unavoidable Scott Monument looms outside.





There are a trio of local cases. Sadovska and another v Secretary of State for the Home Department considers where the burden of proof lies in an alleged marriage of convenience.



Aberdeen City and Shire Strategic Development Planning Authority v Elsick Development Company Limited is an intricate examination of planning obligations, compliance and jurisdiction.


Brown v The Scottish Ministers and others asks if recalled extended sentence prisoners should benefit from the duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to facilitate rehabilitation and release.



Counsel cites Lord Atkin’s question, "Who then, in law, is my neighbour?", a pillar of Donoghue v Stevenson known to all law students, even the drop-outs. We are close to the cradle of this litigation with its trail of known unknowns - e.g. what was the gender of May Donoghue’s friend? Was there actually a snail in the ginger beer bottle? The first hearing took place in the Court of Session just over the road in 1929.

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Supreme Court: something of the night
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17 May 2017

Today's case is about Soho sex shops but punters' eyes will glaze over: in R (on the application of Hemming (trading as Simply Pleasure Limited) and others) v Westminster City Council, is the council's scheme of charging fees for licensing sex shops permitted by Directive 2006/123/EC on Services in the Internal Market, as implemented by the Provision of Services Regulations 2009?

The source of strife is how the council makes licence-holders subsidise the cost of dealing with unlicensed sex shops.

This case has bounced back from the European Court of Justice. 'We weren't anxious to come here, my Lord,' says Philip Kolvin QC. He is Chair of London's Night Time Commission, working to keep the city open all hours.


The nine interveners include the Bar Standards Board, the Law Society and, for reasons I am unable to explain but which may have something to do with rogue blacksmiths, the Farriers Registration Council.




On the bench, Lord Neuberger is a stranger to repose.














Counsel are going at breakneck speed - there's a lot to get through. Even so, the bench is lenient: 'I wonder if you are conceding that too readily,' muses Lord Reed, offering an opening.

'There's an air of Alice in Wonderland about all this though, isn't there,' says Lord Clarke.
'My Lord, with respect...' says Victoria Wakefield.
'Alice Through the Looking-Glass,' says Lord Neuberger.

On the way up to the courtroom this morning I glimpsed Lord Carnwath in a looking-glass as he entered a mirrored lift with a tennis racket on his back. The optical and philosophical possibilities would have kept Velázquez happy for months but I did not pursue this image and the doors closed.

When I worked in an office in daytime Soho, the sex industry was just one of many lattices laid over the area: it was possible not to see it at all. The last time I went to Soho was for the launch of a periodical called The Amorist which despite the title is stocked in WHSmith - forgive the plug but I'm in the first issue. I found myself talking to a woman with exquisite manners carrying a feather duster like the plumes on Louis XIV's bed ('I'm here as Cynthia Payne') who turned out to be Koo Stark.


Waiting for reinforcements on Parliament Sq...

 

Going into the courtroom...

Sorting out the bundles...

Taking a note of proceedings...



Coda: you are welcome to a law and art salon in London on 23 May. I'll be joined by intellectual property lawyer/organist Hubert  Best, crime writer/former criminal lawyer Frances Fyfield and artist Jacqueline Nicholls - details here.

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Supreme Court: council policy goes out of the window
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16 February 2017
Blind cord, Court 2
First up, phobias. Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is about post traumatic stress disorder, not phobia, but I’m going to link them as they both enrage people who apply terms such as ‘reasonable’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘pull yourself together’.

My first memory is of being scared witless by some geezer with a fake white beard and red hood. Later, as a student, I was being paid to chop vegetables in a private house on Christmas day. The grandfather crept up behind me in costume and said, ‘Don’t peek, it’s Santa Claus.’ If I'd obeyed my terror-reflex and stabbed him, could I have run a defence based on my phobia?

This case also involves an asylum-seeker. The Royal Borough once asked me to draw at an event for looked-after children, some of whom had been asylum-seekers or refugees. Some were from Eritrea. Some had arrived in this country alone. They were a great bunch, and they will always be ambassadors. 

So, as a nation, let’s not turn our back on more kids like these, eh? While we allow rich people from overseas to buy properties and leave them empty?

Empty or full, the housing stock in Kensington and Chelsea is varied. Slapdash Victorian speculators, Peter Rachman and the Luftwaffe have all left their mark


Nowadays, casual violations of planning and conservation rules pop up like weeds. Together with legally permitted vanity projects. And don’t get me started on the basements. If there isn't enough room for you and your cigar storage around here, go to Bracknell.

Today’s case concerns Vida Poshteh who was tortured and imprisoned in Iran. She applied for asylum in the UK; she and her child were housed temporarily by RBKC. 

She was offered permanent accommodation in a housing association flat with a round living-room window but on viewing it she had a panic attack and turned the flat down. She suffers from PTSD and her prison cell had a round window. No one is suggesting that she is lying. The council says she should just live there anyway.

The bench proffers suggestions – that she should maybe put a curtain over the round window or never go into the living room. 

This is kindly meant, but to a PTSD-sufferer it is likely to have overtones of the bloody chamber.

For a couple of seconds we see a photo of the living room
The council says that the window is three feet in diameter, set in a wall five feet three inches wide. There is a rectangular window in the same room. It sounds like some unpardonable jeu d’esprit on the part of an architecture student.

Ms Poshteh’s undoing in the Court of Appeal seems to have been that she had initially agreed to live in that flat on a temporary basis. The council wished to construe this as permanent. But sometimes you might just say things to get authority figures off your back. Ms Poshteh has been served with an eviction notice. Happy Christmas.












Window fastenings in Court 2 look like handcuffs

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Supreme Court: Article 50
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24 January 2017

‘Today the Supreme Court will rule on whether the government needs military consent to begin the Brexit process.’

That kicked off the Radio 3 news bulletin at 6.30am today. I checked it on iPlayer. He really said military and not parliamentary. Valid until the end of February: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bblrh  

Well, it's a thought, isn't it. And anyone can make a mistake. Including an electorate. And an electoral college. Trump and Brexit have normalised waking up in a panic.

Each day I give oracular significance to whatever is playing on Radio 3 when I switch it on. Today it’s Allegri's Miserere for the service of shadows, the Tenebrae. One by one the candles go out. Music to echo through toxic particulates after the end of the world.


Facts are useful at times like these. And at all other times.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.

But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.

On with the motley. Sheep and goats - wool, cashmere, mohair (there’ll be a wait outside in the cold). Daily grief. Pencil sharpener.

A woman from the crowd-funded grassroots People's Challenge group, some of whom are in the queue, wishes she could go back to before 24 June when she wasn't interested in politics.

Because UK Supreme Court judges are blessedly not chosen for their political allegiance, we don’t know what the ruling will be. The sightlines in the packed courtroom are terrible for a short person, but for connoisseurs of tension the atmosphere is a collector’s item.

Lord Neuberger briskly reads out a summary of the judgment. No intake of breath, no gasp of surprise. The mischief-makers wanted the full Monty – a nod to the devolved powers and a court case in Europe – but the grown-ups are content with the outcome.

There’s an orderly press pack outside. ‘Have we got anyone bigger than Jeremy Wright?’ a television journalist asks his telephone, referring to the Attorney-General. The previous AG, Dominic Grieve QC MP, is strolling around in a nice beige coat looking pleased. Despite Radio 3 there are no tanks on Parliament Square and Big Ben has not yet struck 13 although it's shaping up that way across the pond.

As Laura Kuenssberg is being filmed, Gina Miller – poised and radiant but not triumphing – walks past with her entourage. Kuenssberg hastily finishes then sprints after her in clicky heels.


A ‎German journalist, polished and prosperous-looking, does a measured piece to camera out of my earshot, but I don't think my schoolgirl German would have been up to it. The British pack pay him no attention. 

Maybe they should.
Lincoln turns his back on it all

Coda: Nightmares collide on Friday when the member for Maidenhead meets Mr Trump. In preparation, here is the correct way to grab a pussy, demonstrated by American ballet students posing as the White Cat and Puss in Boots in Petipa's Sleeping Beauty.

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The UK Supreme Court Yearbook reviewed by an amateur
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11 January 2017
Amazon is offering a mint condition Jackie Annual 1976 for £2,912.91. I was not allowed to read Jackie but stolen glances suggested it was weak on coverage of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. Spotters will be relieved to hear that The UK Supreme Court Yearbook Volume 7 (2016) is just £90 with free worldwide shipping.

I am reviewing it not as a lawyer but as a tax-paying dilettante. So let’s start with a daft social media meme: ‘Grab your nearest book, and open it to page 117. What's the second sentence you see? What does it mean about your 2017?’

Here goes: ‘The door was opened by the colonel, and one of the other defendants immediately shot him dead.’ It means that 2017 is the same as all my other sentient years, a copy-editing exercise, so I’m going to say leave out the comma and the adverb.

Change gear – we’ve landed in a masterly analysis of joint enterprise following the Supreme Court judgments in Jogee and Ruddock written by Julian Knowles QC, who led for Ruddock and acknowledges the support he received from Associate Professor Matthew Dyson, Dr James Mehigan, Matthew Blower and Jessica Jones. Anyone interested in joint enterprise – student, academic, lawyer, journalist, politician, campaigner – would gain from studying this learned, humane and approachable text, especially as Knowles concludes by asking what is next. 
Jogee, 28 October 2015

Knowles’s essay is in the Commentaries and reflections section, which starts with Lord Neuberger on Judicial Innovation in the UK Supreme Court. The daily assaults of Brexit news and the unwelcome fragility of the Union (I’m a headbanging remoaner, get over it) provide a shudder-making backdrop to the quest for openness, accessibility and inclusivity in his article.

Lord Neuberger concludes with a gentle reminder to our elected masters: ‘…the Government is proposing to make available a large sum of money to overhaul both the physical and the electronic infrastructure of the courts. There will be fewer but larger and more modern court buildings throughout the UK, and the antiquated and fissiparous IT systems in the courts will be replaced by a modern system.’ Let’s hope. But fissiparous is the current word for the kingdom too.

What a shower. We're all doomed

The next section, The protection of human rights by the UK Supreme Court symposium, includes a fascinating discourse on opacity/transparency by Kirsty Brimelow QC, Into the dark: rights, security and the courtroom.

For ‘rare in camera cases and exceptional departures from open justice’ Brimelow suggests ‘allowing designated members of the press to inspect any secret material. Otherwise, they are arguing for an unknown. Undoubtedly, this leads to speculation which may be more damaging than the actual material sought to be withheld’.

But who would want to be in charge of designating members of the press, given the dwindling number of trained legal reporters, some inexcusable coverage of the Divisional Court Article 50 judgment, the once-great Daily Telegraph’s recent invention of the Supreme Court Justice ‘Lord Hudges’ [sic] and casual misreporting of facts in cases attended by yours truly? Not to mention the wholesale sacking of sub-editors who could have caught journalists’ growing inability to restrain predictive text. ‘Geniality’ instead of ‘genealogy’ (Telegraph again, misquoting counsel in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council case Pringle). Dear me, is anyone awake?

Starry QCs contribute to the following sections, Thematic analyses of the 2015-16 legal year and The 2015-16 legal year in overview, which range alphabetically from administrative law and judicial review to restitution and unjust enrichment. They provide an authoritative crib for anyone who needs to swot up on their specialism, which is everyone. 

Miller in the Supreme Court

At the time of going to press, Article 50 had not reached the Supreme Court. Lord Millett PC QC examines the Divisional Court’s decision in Miller, while Dominic Grieve QC MP elegantly disses Brexit. The Supreme Court’s case load, he writes, ‘could perhaps act as a salutary reminder for politicians of some of the complex issues with which we are going to have to grapple. One also starts to feel sorry for the Court, which spends its time trying to clarify existing law only to have it all turned upside down before its eyes.’  My sole contact with this great mind has been to warn him off the salt and vinegar crisps. I thought he’d prefer lightly salted, on no evidence at all.


The Yearbook ends with statistics for Wisden types. Whizzing back to the beginning, we have an introduction by Daniel Clarry and Christopher Sargeant, joint editors-in-chief of the Yearbook series, Judicial panel selection in the UK Supreme Court: bigger bench, more authority? This is followed by a foreword by Robert French, the just-retired Chief Justice of Australia: Australia and the United Kingdom: a bit like family, much in common but a lot of difference.

I know you can write a better review, because you have legal training and stuff. Please do.

The frontispiece, drawn by me, features Colin Edelman QC and his natty tailoring in Versloot Dredging BV v HDI Gerling Industrie Versicherung AG. I am very touched that instead of being reproduced on ordinary run-of-book stock it has been allowed some posh coated paper, and the colour reproduction is faithful to the original. This is a high quality number.

For details, please see https://www.ukscy.org.uk/

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Supreme Court: contract and carols
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19 December 2016

There was much chortling among the commentariat about Lord Sumption’s ties at the four-day Article 50 hearing. Today, Jeeves has clearly returned from his holiday but there are no fervid rune-readers here to report that Lord Sumption is wearing an EU-blue tie with what could from a distance be gold stars on it. They are probably polka dots.

Today’s case is about contract and trusts. It refers to planning permission. Meanwhile the court has a planning application notice outside, as it is seeking to replace an oak floor which has a romantic creak like a ship in full sail. I hope the sound gets archived before the timbers are shivered.

BPE Solicitors and another v Hughes-Holland (in substitution for Gabriel) is the latest in a strand of litigation stemming from a discussion in ‘the Red Hart public house’ in 2007 between two friends: Richard Gabriel is the godfather of one of Peter Little’s children. Mr Gabriel agreed to lend Mr Little’s company £200,000 towards developing a property at Kemble Airfield (Cotswold Airport), formerly the base of the Red Arrows.

I google Cotswold Airport. In its AV8 restaurant ‘you will be able to watch the world fly by in a classy atmosphere with a distinctly Mediterranean feel, something that you do not come across very often in the UK.' I guess that's why I voted Remain.

The property was not developed, the loan was not repaid. Mr Gabriel chose, as counsel puts it today, 'to roll the dice of litigation’. Can he recover from his solicitors the money he lost, and did they have a duty to protect him from the loss? Are Dickens and Kafka playing consequences?

At lunchtime, the Treasury Singers arrive for their annual charity carol concert, this year for Crisis. 

We are ushered into the lofty anarcho-gothic-pre-Raphaelite library (normally off-limits), which has been camped up with pine garlands and poinsettias. Justices pop in. The Supreme Court’s misdescribed Can’t Sing Choir join in with relish and don Santa hats for the finale, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. There is an earnest endeavour that touches the flinty heart.

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