Monthly Archives: January 2011

Pistols at dawn

In 1807 England was at war with Napoleon.

In the graveyard of St Laurence’s Parish Church in Stroud, Gloucestershire a plain stone carries the inscription:

Here lie the remains of Lieutenant Joseph Francis Delmont, of His Majesty’s 82nd Regiment, born November 25, 1785, died August 18, 1807.

On August 14th 1807 Delmont and Lieutenant Benjamin Heazle fought the last recorded pistol duel in England. A (relatively) recent article in Stroud’s local paper by Dave King describes the duel and the events leading up to it: Stroud – the venue for England’s last pistol duel, [Stroud News & Journal, 21 Nov, 2009]

The article makes for fascinating reading about events more than 200 years ago. Whether or not it was in fact the last pistol duel in England, duelling of any sort eventually died out and the last duel fought on English soil is believed to have been in 1852.

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Courage mon brave!

What makes a human being brave? There are clearly a variety of possible answers to the question. Frequently, what seems incredibly brave to some is perceived by others to be extremely foolhardy.

Many of us will remember the bravery of Colonel H, awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously in the Falklands War but fewer will know that a second VC was awarded in that conflict for an act of “outstanding selflessness, perseverance and courage” according to the citation in October 1982 when the award of the highest military honour to Sergeant Ian McKay was announced.

And, not altogether surprisingly, there has been only one occasion when siblings have been awarded the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. The Reverend Charles Seagrim had five sons and two of whom won the VC and the GC during the course of the Second World War. Derek was the elder of the two and earned his VC in North Africa and his younger brother Hugh was awarded a posthumous GC for his activities in Burma fighting the Japanese with the Karen people. Their achievements are described in Stephen Stratford’s website British 20th Century Military & Criminal History. They are of particular interest to me as their father was Rector of Whissonsett in Norfolk and the family lived in what is now my house, the former rectory in the village.

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Judge, please be my friend

Social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace are increasingly in the news. I wrote recently about such sites and some of their less well known brethren in a piece entitled A duck’s a duck” [28th Oct, 2010]. My concern at the time was to point out that the courts may take the view that a party should disclose details of log-ins and passwords to such sites in certain circumstance (and in the particular instance in Pennsylvania actually so ordered).

If it can happen there (see the case of McMillan v Hummingbird Speedway Inc. then why not here?

Now I see that the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee of the Florida Supreme Court has published a formal opinion to the effect that judges may not be Facebook “friends” with attorneys who may appear before them on the grounds that it may give rise to the appearance of bias and suggest that such attorneys are in a position to influence the judges in question.

The full judgment can be seen here and you will see that a minority of the committee disagreed while noting that the use of the word “friend” on such sites may merely describe acquaintances.

While it is always said that you cannot choose your relations but you can choose your friends, the Florida Supreme Court Ethics Committee disagrees.

Personally I have yet to ask a judge to be my “friend” and will probably now refrain from doing so for fear that I am disappointed! For all my readers, you have been warned that use of networking sites may lead not only to social minefields but may also have more serious repercussions.

I am indebted to the vigilance of Nicola Haye, Practice Support Lawyer at Withers for pointing me to this veritable nugget of internet etiquette.

Tips and tweets and wikileaks

In two recent blog posts at the tail end of last year Vox Stellarum and Waking the Dead and in case notes in our resources section I highlighted the US case of McMillen v Hummingbird Speedway Inc.

To refresh your memory the case decided that log ins and passwords to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace were discoverable in appropriate circumstances and the claimant in that case was ordered to disclose the information to the defendants within 14 days and had to undertake not to alter or delete material on the site(s) for a defined period.

The world of litigation and e-disclosure has not taken long to follow this up at least in the United States. I see from recent press reports that the US Government is suing the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and as part of its case has applied for an order that he and others disclose their Twitter passwords and log ins. I do not know the result of the application but I suspect it may well be successful.

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A tsunami of tsunamis

Had I been alive in the era of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt I might be better able to view recent disasters with equanimity.

The biblical account tells us that the Exodus began only after a horrific series of plagues was unleashed by Yahweh on Egypt. The implacable Pharaoh held out until the tenth plague before setting the captive Israelites free. After a taster, involving the turning of staffs into serpents, a succession of calamities was unleashed on Egypt with typical Old Testament ferocity. In turn there were plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and, finally, the death of the firstborn, which the Israelites (who were forewarned to paint their doorposts with lambs’ blood) were spared.  This last plague was the hardest blow upon Egypt and Pharaoh was convinced to let the Israelites go.

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The wrath of grapes

Is there such a thing as a cure for hangovers? Or is the idea that a remedy exists merely a cruel joke perpetrated on the vast majority of us who occasionally drink too much? I am not talking about the obscene binge drinkers who are so incapable after the intake of alcohol that only intervention by the authorities or kind hearted volunteers prevents them from being bullied, beaten up, raped, robbed or even murdered on our streets because they are completely unable to look out for themselves.

No, I am talking about the rest of us who enjoy a drink from time to time and sometimes (and only sometimes!) wake up feeling a little under the weather after a night of unsatisfactory sleep.

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Keep calm and carry on

What is it about snowmen that turns entirely rational people (I assume they are or were rational but I suppose I could be wrong) into idiots? I mentioned recently the woman who had dialled 999 after discovering that someone had nicked her snowman [Snowman theft armless, say police, 7th December, 2010]. At the time, I thought I was the only one who wondered how you nicked a snowman as the story unfolded and  the woman got short shrift from the police for the emergency call despite insisting that the snowman had pound coins for eyes and teaspoons (teaspoons?) for arms.

And now I see there is another snowman story which almost defies belief. Apparently a bus driver lost his job after knocking down a snowman. Honestly I think all this cold weather is making us madder than normal. The snowman had been built by students on a university campus in Illinois when a bus driver veered into the wrong lane and hit the snowman. There was no suggestion that he had done it on purpose but the incident was filmed and has been posted on YouTube under the extraordinary title: Insane Bus Driver Brutally Murders Snowman.

Watch it if you dare!

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A precedent embalms a principle

“A precedent embalms a principle.” Benjamin Disraeli’s quip should appeal to all free thinking people. After all, as the American philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller once said: “People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.”

Most people have a fondness for tradition. It is what gives us a warm glow of familiarity. There are few more “traditional” times than Christmas and New Year, despite the attempts by many sections of the media and even at times the Church to persuade us to the contrary.

We like the feel of things which are familiar. This past year I have enjoyed the differing seasons from the cold of December 2009 through to a warm and sunny spring, followed by a typical English summer, quite wet but reasonably warm, and now the cold of winter again. The weather has also played its part in producing spectacular autumn foliage on the trees, a flourishing of some of our endangered species from butterflies to puffins and a bumper fruit and berry crop. I confess to a feeling of smugness when I consider this against the never ending pronouncements of the global warming doomsayers!

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Should auld aquaintance..

Writing this with the warm glow of the safely retained Ashes firmly in mind, my thoughts turn to the King James Bible whose 400th anniversary falls in 2011.

Sometimes known as the Authorised Version, the King James Bible is an English translation of the Bible started at the instigation of King James VI of Scotland and 1st of England in 1604 and completed in 1611. It was not the first translation from the Latin (Wycliffe and Tyndale preceded this version) but it is the version which has come down to us today and which provides many of the great verses and phrases which are familiar to all whether religious or not.

In other words it has survived the test of time. I suspect that this is largely because James wanted the text to resemble language which was in common use and which was familiar to the population at large. IP lawyers will be interested to know that unlike most other works which have long since passed from copyright into the public domain, copyright in the Authorised Version remains vested in the Crown in perpetuity and the right to production of the text has to be granted under letters patent to this day.

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