Anything but silence in court

Lord Norton

The Constitution Committee took evidence yesterday as part of its current inquiry into referendums.  We heard from Peter Facey, of Unlock Democracy, and Peter Kellner, of YouGov, and then from Stuart Weir, of the Democratic Audit, and Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, who is undertaking a study of deliberative democracy.  What was interesting, and unexpected, was the degree of scepticism about referendums.  Only Peter Facey offered uncritical support.

Baroness Kennedy explained what she was doing, at some length and with some enthusiasm.  There was little or no opportunity to interrupt.  She is, among other things, a distinguished QC.  After the session, I asked a senior lawyer whether, when Baroness Kennedy was in court, the opposing counsel ever got a chance to get a word in edgeways.  ‘Oh no’, he said, ‘and neither does the judge!’

17 comments for “Anything but silence in court

  1. Twm O'r Nant
    14/01/2010 at 8:02 pm

    Peter Kellenr must know a thing or two about getting elected, since his noble wife is the hard working Euro High rep for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashcroft.

  2. 15/01/2010 at 9:00 am

    Hmms.. what’s the point then? Why should the baroness be treated different than anyone else?

  3. Gareth Howell
    15/01/2010 at 10:43 am

    I am not sure that B.Kennedy’s enthusiasm is
    particularly cogent according to one newspaper report, but there must be a good deal of (DD) in our existing methods of looking for opinion
    with regard to possible legislation.

    The Select committees are designed to do quite a bit of it and then Human Rights Watch, FoE, and thousands of pressure groups do the same, with paid staff and campaign strategies.

    For the sake of contrast, one of my forefathers, James Howell (historio royal 1660) was thrilled to bits when he received a document from Naples describing the Revolution in gruesome detail in about 1659.
    They were hacking each other to bits in the streets.

    That is a good example of the opposite of
    Deliberative democracy.

  4. Carl.H
    15/01/2010 at 10:56 am

    It would be interesting to put the boot on the other foot regards referendums and find out how parliamentarians feel about the voters. Do they feel the public is educated enough to make judgement or do they follow the media line ?

    The truth I believe is that most in both Houses would not trust the public to make an educated decision in most cases. Whether that is correct is not for me to judge but I do have an opinion.

    Regards Baroness Kennedy being uninterruptable, does debate need to be interrupted at all ?

    • lordnorton
      19/01/2010 at 8:10 pm

      Carl H: I once took part in a radio debate on ‘do politicians get the voters they deserve?’!

      • Carl.H
        19/01/2010 at 8:57 pm

        In your Noble opinion, should the electorate at a general election vote for their local candidate to represent them or the party they deem best to run the Country ?

        I perhaps should put the spotlight fully on you and ask if you think the electorate educated enough to make decisions via referedums, but I won`t. The easy answer that springs to mind is it depends on the outcome ! 😉

  5. Bedd Gelert
    15/01/2010 at 12:51 pm

    I think he means ‘laminar airflow’ and he is a bit cheeky on the bus pass point, but we’ll let that ‘pass’ so to speak.

    I cannot believe anyone would want to interrupt the mellifluous tones of Baroness Kennedy, to be honest..

  6. Gareth Howell
    15/01/2010 at 8:59 pm

    “most in both Houses would not trust the public to make an educated decision in most cases…….

    And John Prescott who got going with referendUMS for regional government received a hammering for his efforts.

    During the Iraq war Mr Blair refered several times to “Democracy” as parliament itself, regardless of the voters outside it.

    ……”Regards Baroness Kennedy being uninterruptable, does debate need to be interrupted at all”…….

    No, but be quiet while I am doing it!

  7. 15/01/2010 at 11:14 pm

    Has this site been overrun by the alumni of Jesus College, Oxford?

  8. Nick
    17/01/2010 at 1:09 pm

    What was interesting, and unexpected, was the degree of scepticism about referendums.


    1. Since the Lords would be redundant, its the turkey voting for Christmas scenario.

    2. What form of referenda are you discussing? No doubt the most expensive.

    3. What about politicians going against the democratic will of the people. How do you deal with the democratic deficit of politicians acting as dictators? [Enabling acts all round]

    • lordnorton
      19/01/2010 at 8:11 pm

      Nick: Referendums are expensive. The estimated cost of holding a national referendum in the UK is now £120 million.

  9. 17/01/2010 at 10:37 pm

    I’m a Baroness Kennedy fan since reading her book, Just Law. She made some very serious warnings/predictions that, sadly, seem to be coming true.

    “In many ways laws are the autobiography of a nation and in Britain we have many proud stories to tell but we also have shameful chapters. This book is meant to be an alarm call about the way our liberties are being eroded. A serious abandonment of principle is in train; all of us have to say it’s time to stop.” (Baroness Helena Kennedy from her book Just Law 2005.)

    • Twm o'r Nant
      18/01/2010 at 6:22 pm

      “The way our civil liberties are being eroded”

      and yet our human rights extended?

      • Carl.H
        18/01/2010 at 9:43 pm

        1) British Government

        2) European Parliament

  10. Twm O'r Nant
    18/01/2010 at 4:34 pm

    Has this site been overrun by the alumni of Jesus College, Oxford?

    No Lady Tizzy, but we are interested in privy council powers.

    Bedd Gelert is a fictitious Welsh man at the best of times. I’m a real man, and a fine Welsh poet.

  11. Jana
    19/01/2010 at 8:55 am

    Who will watch the writers?

    One of the problems I have with referenda is that they can hand too much power to the people who word them.

    I offer as an example a recent referendum in NZ on the “smacking law” – a little while back (within the last few years) the legislature removed the defence of reasonable chastisement for the purposes of correction etc from the various forms of assault against a child, just as it had removed the same defence a lot longer ago for wife beating.

    This caused much wailing amongst certain powerful and populous lobby groups, and a giant petition was produced, and a referendum duly conducted.

    The question asked was this:

    “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

    Unsurprisingly, the response was overwhelmingly (well over 80%) “No”.

    It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with wording that would have produced quite a different result.

    The same kind of dishonesty is about to be perpetrated in a referendum on the electoral system to be taken at the next general election in NZ.

    Happily, I can report that the “smacking law” has not been changed, though the sound of gnashing teeth has not nearly died away. I wonder what the government’s view will be come the next election …

    • lordnorton
      19/01/2010 at 8:13 pm

      Jana: I agree. The problems with referendums are enormous, not only in terms of how you phrase the question but, most importantly of all, what is left out. There is no room for considering alternatives and one’s priorities in relation to those alternatives.

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