Justice of the Beach

By | 10th August 2010

Holidays are a wonderful institution!!

Apart from enjoying unbroken sunshine, temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s, warm seas and gentle Mediterranean breezes, I found myself, between meals, while slowly roasting on a flat rock off the north coast of Menorca, thinking about Justice.

Nothing abstract here, but it is a quality which means different things to different people and I just happened to stumble across a few thoughts while experiencing the relaxation for which an empty beach is the perfect accompaniment.

Being in Menorca, it was, I suppose, inevitable that I would be reminded of Admiral John Byng (1704-1757). He famously failed to recapture Menorca from the French in 1756 at the start of the Seven Years’ War and paid for his failure with his life, not heroically like Nelson half a century later but by firing squad.

Despite his protestations that he did not have enough time to prepare, his ships were unseaworthy and he had insufficient men, he was despatched from Gibraltar by an over eager Admiralty in London and after some preliminary skirmishes his ships were beaten at the Battle of Menorca.

These things happen and even the greatest empires suffer defeat from time to time and you would have expected the poor fellow to retire to port and re equip his fleet before having another go!

With indecent haste, however, and in modern parlance, in an unworthy attempt to “pass the buck” the Admiralty sent a ship from England to relieve Byng of his command and he was returned to England to face public outrage. Despite a plea for clemency from none other than William Pitt the Elder, Byng was court martialled and shot aboard HMS Monarch in the Solent.

The principal character in Voltaire’s Candide uttered the immortal and highly satirical words: “Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres” (In this country, it is good to kill an admiral occasionally in order to encourage the others). Justice, in one form, was done, although the family and descendants of Byng are still to this day trying to obtain a posthumous pardon which has so far not been forthcoming even, most recently,  from Brown and Blair despite their fondness for apologising for virtually everything else ( apart from their own shortcomings of course!).

Justice also came to mind when I read about the recent appearance of Naomi Campbell at the war crimes trial of the former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. I am unsure how the interests of justice were served by asking the admittedly gorgeous supermodel to attend this trial particularly as she confessed she had never heard of Liberia and that she had never met Mr Taylor, although she made the extraordinary assumption that the dirty pebbles delivered to her hotel room in the middle of the night by two heavies were a present from Mr Taylor. Quite an assumption in the circumstances but maybe it was all a ruse to get her out of what she described as a big inconvenience as quickly as possible. I confess I am perplexed!

One of the first reports I read on my return to this country concerned another aspect of justice in this country. My newspaper informed me that the Ministry of Justice (now that is a name to conjure with!) had paid 280 former inmates an average of £3,500 each after they were kept in jail longer than they should have been. Fair enough, I thought. After all, who would want to spend more time in jail than necessary? But it seems that the MOJ, which regularly tells us that our prisons are too full, is incapable of counting. Over £1 million has been paid over the last three years. That may mean justice for the aggrieved former prisoners but it is not justice for the hard pressed taxpayer. As the Taxpayers’ Alliance said, the MOJ should “get its house in order”. At £110 per day it seems that each prisoner was on average kept in our overflowing prisons for a month longer than he/she should have been. I wonder if Justice would be better served by getting the prison term right and sticking to it and making the civil servants responsible for the fiasco pay the compensation personally.

Perhaps this new thinking will be taken up by the powers that be and if Anton Shelupanov has anything to do with it, I am sure it will. Mr Shelupanov, according to the Sunday Times of August 8th, is the leader of the Youth Foundation’s work on Innovation and Justice and its report, Turning the corner? Beyond Incarceration and Reoffending, was published at the weekend.

Under the heading “M’lud, try handing out iJustice” Mr Shelupanov urges that the criminal justice system should learn the lessons of other sectors and cites Google and Apple as examples of successful companies which became good at developing and scaling innovative solutions.

The article is too long to review here, but the point it makes is that unless the criminal justice system adopts an innovation based approach we will never halt the march towards hyper-incarceration with no discernible improvements in public safety and at an increasing cost.

Does this sound a familiar refrain to regular readers? As this blog approaches its first anniversary, I may be forgiven for repeating an old mantra. Civil litigation is generally acknowledged to have little to do with justice. Rather, the winner is often the party which is the best organised and which presents the best argument in a compelling fashion. Judges regularly decide between two or more conflicting positions and while they will strive to do justice as between the parties, they will rarely achieve Justice. (Lord Denning used to get into trouble with the House of Lords, as it then was, by trying to achieve Justice!)

So it is back to work!! Holidays are lovely but you can be sure that the same problems remain when you return. If parties want to enhance their chances of winning cases, they will have to turn increasingly to the range of technical innovations which are on the market and they will need assistance from experts who know what they are doing and who can deliver on their promises.

Which brings us to Smart E-Discovery! If it is Justice you are after, then it may help. If it is a well presented and easy to manage case you need, it certainly can!

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