Inside & Outside the Law - Lost in Translation

To begin with, here is the legal photo for this blogpost.

So where's the law bit?

Strange choice on the  face of it, although the architecture suggests that there is more to this building than its current use as a branch of the restaurant, Brown's.

Approaching the entrance, and looking up through the glass canopy, we get the answer.

Through the glass, obscurely

The building is the former Westminster County Court at the top of St Martin’s Lane in the West End, once used for civil claims in this area that would not be of sufficient value to go to the High Court.

After that London  trivia opening, let’s get down to some law and talk about Abu Qatada’s appeal. Did he appeal out of time on the decision of the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights that he could be deported by the UK government?

Within the next few days we should get the decision of a panel of five judges over whether AQ should be allowed to appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

The facts are:

  • The Chamber ruled on 17th January 2012
  • In broad terms AQ had three months in which to appeal
  • Believing that the deadline was midnight on 16th April, Home Secretary Theresa May had AQ arrested on 17th April ready for deportation
  • AQ’s lawyers appealed on 17th April, contending that the deadline was midnight on 17th April, not 16th April.

It is worth looking at the exact law concerned. Article 43.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights says:

“Within a period of three months from the date of the judgement of the Chamber, any party to the case may, in exceptional circumstances, request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.”

Leaving aside “exceptional circumstances”, what is the deadline? Well, it all depends on the meaning of “from”.

If it were only a matter of English law, Mrs May or her advisers could be worried. There is law (and this piece is not legal advice) that says that in calculating “from”, you start the period on the next day.

This would mean three months started at the first moment of  18th January and ended at midnight on 17th April. And so AQ’s appeal would have been in time.

But before we bash the UK lawyers, consider this. There is also a French version of the Convention. In the French, Article 43.1 reads:

« Dans un délai de trois mois à compter de la date de l'arrêt d'une chambre, toute partie à l'affaire peut, dans des cas exceptionnels, demander le renvoi de l'affaire devant la Grande Chambre »

Now my French is not brilliant, but even I can see that this language is more helpful to the Government, appearing to start the period on 17th January and end it on 16th April.

Anyway, what we mere mortals think doesn’t matter – we will have a definitive ruling hopefully soon.

Can we now find something lighter? Sadly it seems to be unhappiness all round.

Very unhappy about their alleged treatment by News International have been the lawyers
Harbottle & Lewis. It is generally considered unwise to complain about your treatment by clients, but Harbottle have done it here.

Essentially  Rupert Murdoch (in the Wall Street Journal) criticised Harbottle’s work on investigating whether emails sent by and to the News of the World’s then Royal Editor, provided evidence to News International executives of phone hacking by other journalists within the newspaper.

The inference appears to be of Murdoch claiming a broader remit than Harbottle thought they had. This is supported by a letter by the lawyers to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, containing the tart comment:

“There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes”.

Also unhappy will be four young City workers, including a trainee solicitor at Shearman & Sterling, whose “rules” for a forthcoming holiday to Dubai were leaked and went viral. If you understand that the repeatable  “rules” included “mentioning parents’ salaries once a day” and chanting “about your surrounding environment being oily and how rich we are”, you’ll get the general picture.

Shearman & Sterling made it very clear that the trainee’s behaviour was totally at odds with the values of the firm.

Finally we return to language, where a trial in the Snaresbrook Crown Court (on the edge of London) collapsed after it became clear that a court interpreter had made a grave interpreting error.

The error, made during a trial for burglary, involved a Romanian-speaking defendant being interpreted as saying that he had been “bitten” by the defendant. Only later during cross-examination did it apparently become clear that the word used was “beaten” and not “bitten”.

As a result the trial was suspended and the jury discharged. There are reports that the cost of a re-trial will be in the order of £25,000. What is extraordinary is that once the mistake was revealed, the interpreter reportedly admitted that they had realised the error but that they had not immediately disclosed it.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, and former law firm partner, who runs walks in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for details.