The General Election, nuclear explosions, the Locrians and the value of plain speaking

By | 13th April 2010

In the run up to the General Election, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of policy initiatives aimed at various sections of the electorate. Not altogether surprising when you think that we are approaching the time when, once in each five year period, the people we elect to govern us have to consult us.

We will have to get used to any number of Gordons, Daves and Nicks telling us how they will make it better for us in the next 5 years if we will only mark our cross against their name or symbol. Some of you may also have seen or heard about the recent debate between Alastair, Vince and George and there will be more of those in the next few weeks as the battle hots up to a sterile debate about the economy, who was right about the response to the worst recession in living memory and who has the right (or indeed any) prescription for the country’s ills.

One thing we can be certain of is that whichever party emerges to form the next government, there will continue to be an ever increasing amount of legislation. I am not standing for Parliament and therefore there is little or nothing I can do about this! But I sometimes wish that the political movement that I have read about recently, but whose name I cannot now recall, would be the winner in the election stakes. The policy which attracted me most was the policy which said that for every new law introduced, another law had to be removed from the statute book.

What a refreshing change that would be after some 4000 new offences which have been created by our present government in the 13 years since 1997!! Did you know that one of the new offences created is an offence of causing a nuclear explosion? I am not sure where this appears but I accept that the commentator who alerted me to this startling new offence is correct and that it really does exist. A number of us might have guessed that the creation of such an offence was unnecessary, if only on the basis that most of us would know already that causing a nuclear explosion was not a particularly good idea and that to do so might just attract the attention and the wrath of the authorities. Still, you cannot be too careful!

Or can you? One correspondent to The Times recently reminded readers of the ancient Locrians.

I have to admit that I had forgotten about the Locrians. If I am really honest I am not sure I had ever known anything much about them, so I looked them up. They were a rather interesting tribe in Ancient Greece. Apart from certain unusual views on the difference between the sexes (the Locrian women held certain special religious rights to which men could only gain access by marrying them), I was intrigued to discover that one of their great heroes was Ajax the Locrian who led 40 Locrian ships in the Trojan War. He was so successful that even after his death the Locrians used to reserve a place for him in their phalanx, thus preserving the fiction that he would always fight with them.

Unfortunately, like many heroes, Ajax was flawed. This led to his death, according to Greek mythology, and resulted in the whole tribe incurring the anger of the Gods. Apparently, after the fall of Troy, Ajax raped Cassandra in the temple of Athena where she had taken refuge as a supplicant and Ajax was subsequently killed by one of Poseidon’s lightning bolts.

Back to my correspondent: He was referring to a letter which had been written to the paper previously, complaining of “too many laws”.

The letter continued:

The latest edition of Archbold, the practitioners’ handbook of criminal law and practice, complains of “far too much criminal legislation” and its already small typeface has had to be reduced to limit its physical expansion.

I have often heard judges and lawyers who do criminal work despairing at the multiplicity and the complexity of new and changed law in a field where constancy and certainty are generally thought to be desirable.

If, as appears, some restraint on the part of our legislators is needed, we might have something to learn from the Locrians of Ancient Greece. Their legislative procedures required that anyone who proposed the enactment of a new law must do so standing on a stool with his neck in a noose attached to a sacred oak tree above his head. If the assembly rejected his proposal the stool was kicked away.

That this was effective will not be a total surprise. According to Demosthenes, the Locrians had only two new laws in 200 years.

James Badenoch, QC
London EC4

While that solution may seem extreme, it would provide welcome respite from the plethora of legislation couched in increasingly impenetrable parliamentary and quasi-legal jargon which has not been subjected to any, or any proper, scrutiny before being rushed onto the statute book.

Which brings me to our new A-Z of the commonest terms used in the e-discovery arena. What we have tried to do, in response to numerous requests from bewildered clients, is to demystify the mystery. Too many terms are used in our industry which are impenetrable to the vast majority of the very people we want to entice to use our services. In this glossary, we have made a start with some of the most commonly used terms and have provided a plain English definition. It is a work in progress and new definitions will be added as time goes by and we will welcome any constructive suggestions or comments from our readers.

More information:  A-Z of e-Discovery Terms