Tag: Luton


Murder in George Street

June 12, 2007

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The conclusions will come after all the facts are available, but here are some early thoughts:

First, quibble with the headlines. For the benefit of Times readers, half past seven is not rush hour in Luton town centre. The only people around are those few of us with early starts in London (I aim to reach Canary Wharf for 08:30), and preparation for the business day: cleaning windows, stocking shops, etc. The most coherent account of what happened was that a window cleaner who had been working at M&S was attacked while using the ATM at the Town Hall end of George Street.

The (premature) conclusion is that this was a freak. It’s extremely rare for a police officer to be fatally stabbed while dealing with day-to-day street crime. I wouldn’t like them to go into life-or-death mode every time there’s a fight in the high street. If firearms are around they go into full combat mode and that’s a different matter – it’s a whole lot more dangerous for them and they have to be extremely cautious, which is unpleasant but reasonable. But I would hate to see them acting more “militarily” and less humanly whenever someone has a knife. It would cut them off further from the population and perhaps in net even make them more at risk.

Of course, if I in my comfortable safe job say that the risk of this happening is so small that the police ought to continue to run it – that is, that there should be no reaction of a general kind (changes to procedures, etc.), I must – and do – accept that the specific reaction to this death can be large. After all, if it’s so rare, then we can afford it. I will make sure I remember the name of Jonathan Henry, and remember that he left a family who deserve special respect in Luton, for years to come. Attacks on the police are more serious crimes because they threaten to separate the police from the public in the way I discussed above.

I don’t know whether the large-scale investigation taking place of what seems a straightforward event is just overkill, or a routine response to the use of the baton round, or a routine investigation into how an officer came to be killed. In any case, it is OK. The figure I saw on the ground at 7:35 looked pretty comprehensively disabled, but having been under-cautious the police would have had to jump to being over-cautious.

If the figure on the ground was PC Henry, then there was a screw-up, because one ambulance was already leaving, and another waiting. But I’m over-speculating now. I’ll continue to follow the story as the facts come out.


HDTV and Freeview

November 29, 2006

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boingboing suggests that HDTV will flop and looks admiringly at the UK’s Freeview system.

Cory Doctorow overstates the case slightly:

1. Freeview is “standard definition”, but it is standard definition PAL, which is higher definition than the US and Canada’s NTSC. On paper the difference isn’t that huge, but subjectively to me it’s a very significant one – NTSC looks as much worse than normal as HDTV is better. Thus there is likely to be a bigger push for HDTV in NTSC countries than PAL ones.

2. Freeview exists by accident, as the original infrastructure was built as a subscription service by ITV Digital, which then went bust. Left with the infrastructure and proof that people weren’t willing to pay subscriptions for it, converting it to a free service made sense.

3. Freeview’s terrestrial broadcast signals don’t have 100% coverage – some remote areas are not covered. By British standards, probably 20% of the US population live in remote areas – the UK is smaller than Oregon.

Significant update: Further to point 3, I recently tried to pick up Freeview myself, as an alternative to my subscription-based cable service. What I found is that Luton is basically not covered. Luton is a town of 200,000 people, 35 miles or 30 minutes from central London, and I can’t pick up a signal. Asking around, quite a few people have tried, and given up and got cable or satellite. If I spend the equivalent of two years’ cable subscription on installing an antenna on a tall pole on top of the house, there is a chance I might be able to get a decent signal — but only a chance; there are two hills directly between the town and the nearest transmitter 22 miles away.


Lord Bingham's Judgement

March 23, 2006

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A year ago I wrote:

I’m less interested in whether religious traditions should override school uniform policies, than in the bizarreness of the legal argument that the Appeal Court used.

Their finding seems to be that the School erred by not considering whether their uniform policy breached the pupils’ human rights. If they had considered it, they could have decided, as the lower court did, that the uniform policy was fine, and they would have been OK. They lost because they didn’t have a piece of paper on file saying that they had taken human rights into account.

[…] This trend of legal and regulatory requirement is intensely stupid and irritating. It replaces restrictions on actions and policies with thought crimes. I mean that precisely; the fault of Denbigh School was not in its actions but in the way it decided its actions.

Yesterday Lord Bingham of Cornill ruled:

31. Thirdly, and as argued by Poole in his article cited above, pages 691-695, I consider that the Court of Appeal’s approach would introduce “a new formalism” and be “a recipe for judicialisation on an unprecedented scale”. The Court of Appeal’s decision-making prescription would be admirable guidance to a lower court or legal tribunal, but cannot be required of a head teacher and governors, even with a solicitor to help them. If, in such a case, it appears that such a body has conscientiously paid attention to all human rights considerations, no doubt a challenger’s task will be the harder. But what matters in any case is the practical outcome, not the quality of the decision-making process that led to it.

Lord Hoffman concurred:

68. […] In domestic judicial review, the court is usually concerned with whether the decision-maker reached his decision in the right way rather than whether he got what the court might think to be the right answer. But article 9 is concerned with substance, not procedure. It confers no right to have a decision made in any particular way. What matters is the result: was the right to manifest a religious belief restricted in a way which is not justified under article 9.2? The fact that the decision-maker is allowed an area of judgment in imposing requirements which may have the effect of restricting the right does not entitle a court to say that a justifiable and proportionate restriction should be struck down because the decision-maker did not approach the question in the structured way in which a judge might have done. Head teachers and governors cannot be expected to make such decisions with textbooks on human rights law at their elbows. The most that can be said is that the way in which the school approached the problem may help to persuade a judge that its answer fell within the area of judgment accorded to it by the law.

What more need I say?

Links:

High Court case
Court of Appeal case
Law Lords case
2005 statement by Luton council
Previous posts: 1 2 3 4


Court Details

March 23, 2006

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I’m stil reading through the documents in the Denbigh case, but I’m very impressed by the available resources.

The judgements in the original case, last year’s appeal, and the new appeal are easily findable on BAILII, which apparently is a charity devoted to presenting publicly available legal information. The Lords’ judgement from yesterday is on the House of Lords website.

Also notable is how clear and readable, without any special legal knowledge, the judgements are. The legal profession has a reputation for obscurantism, but in the case of judges giving judgements, at least, that seems to be entirely undeserved.

All this is as it should be, of course, but worth noting.

High Court case
Court of Appeal case
Law Lords case

BAILII


Denbigh wins in Lords

March 22, 2006

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The Guardian:

The law lords today overturned a court ruling that teenager Shabina Begum’s human rights were violated when she was banned from wearing full Islamic dress at school.

Shabina, 17, won a landmark victory last March that Denbigh high school in Luton, Bedfordshire, had infringed her human rights after teachers would not let her wear a traditional jilbab covering her body completely.

I covered this before – this looks like a good verdict, though it is not outside the realm of possibility that the July bombings changed the climate somewhat (which it shouldn’t have, really; the previous ruling was bad because it was based on the idea of thought crimes not because it was “pro-muslim”).

I’ll look at the ruling in detail as soon as I can.


Referrer logs

December 11, 2005

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It’s funny when you get your news from your blog’s referrer logs. I saw a cluster of hits from search engine results for “explosion in Luton”. Looks like there’s something I need to know about…
It seems that a fuel depot in Hemel has blown up – apparently by accident. (Power surge, perhaps?) The BBC have quotes from people here who were woken by the blast, but I slept through it.
Interestingly, the first hit I got from a search engine link was at 0611. The first explosion was at 0603. Someone must have heard the blast and immediately started web searches to find out about it – that shows a distinct lack of understanding of how search engines work.
Update: As you might gather, I have no information on this other than what’s been on television. The depot is 10 miles due south from here, but the smoke is not blowing this way. I was not woken, but many of my neighbours were (and possibly my 3-year-old, but he knows better than to disturb us on Sunday morning). The main effects look like beihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifng a big insurance claim (100-200 million, I would guess), and disrupted travel for a day or two.


More Activity in Luton?

July 13, 2005

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The BBC says they took the suspect cars away at 4:30 this morning.

Don’t know if there’s anything else going on here today, but there’s a helicopter buzzing over my house.

(after 4 hours getting home last night I’m working from home today).

Update: my housekeeper tells me that the helicopter has been going over at this time every morning — escort duty for someone or something going down the M1.


Controlled Explosion at Luton Station

July 12, 2005

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Looks like I’m going to be late home again…


More on Denbigh High School


I have found the actual Appeal Court judgement on the Denbigh School case:

http://www.courtservice.gov.uk/judgmentsfiles/j3114/sb-v-headteacher_denbighighschool.htm

Update: URL moved

It bears out, so far as I can see, my interpretation in my previous post:

75. The decision-making structure should therefore go along the following lines:
1)Has the claimant established that she has a relevant Convention right which qualifies for protection under Article 9(1)?
2)Subject to any justification that is established under Article 9(2), has that Convention right been violated?
3)Was the interference with her Convention right prescribed by law in the Convention sense of that expression?
4)Did the interference have a legitimate arm?
5)What are the considerations that need to be balanced against each other when determining whether the interference was necessary in a democratic society for the purpose of achieving that aim?
6)Was the interference justified under Article 9(2)?
[…]
81. Nothing in this judgment should be taken as meaning that it would be impossible for the School to justify its stance if it were to reconsider its uniform policy in the light of this judgment and were to determine not to alter it in any significant respect. Matters which it (and other schools facing a similar question) would no doubt need to consider include these:
Whether the members of any further religious groups (other than very strict Muslims) might wish to be free to manifest their religion or beliefs by wearing clothing not currently permitted by the school’s uniform policy, and the effect that a larger variety of different clothes being worn by students for religious reasons would have on the School’s policy of inclusiveness;
Whether it is appropriate to override the beliefs of very strict Muslims given that liberal Muslims have been permitted the dress code of their choice and the School’s uniform policy is not entirely secular;
Whether it is appropriate to take into account any, and if so which, of the concerns expressed by the School’s three witnesses as good reasons for depriving a student like the claimant of her right to manifest her beliefs by the clothing she wears at school, and the weight which should be accorded to each of these concerns;
Whether there is any way in which the School can do more to reconcile its wish to retain something resembling its current uniform policy with the beliefs of those like
the claimant who consider that it exposes more of their bodies than they are permitted by their beliefs to show.

In other words, the school didn’t write the correct arse-covering memos before deciding to apply its school uniform policy.


School Uniforms and Thought Crimes

March 4, 2005

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Update: Denbigh win appeal to House of Lords

As the blogosphere’s man in Luton, I suppose I should comment on the Shabina Begum case. The only “local colour” I can contribute is to confirm that one doesn’t see many jibabs around the streets of Luton.

The other point that was made when the case was originally decided in favour of the school, but not made in the press now that the appeal has gone the other way, is that Denbigh School is 80% Muslim. Various arguments I have seen do not take this into account.

That is by the way. I’m less interested in whether religious traditions should override school uniform policies, than in the bizareness of the legal argument that the Appeal Court used.

Their finding seems to be that the School erred by not considering whether their uniform policy breached the pupils’ human rights. If they had considered it, they could have decided, as the lower court did, that the uniform policy was fine, and they would have been OK. They lost because they didn’t have a piece of paper on file saying that they had taken human rights into account.

(I’m open to correction on my understanding here, as I’m working very much from secondary reports, including the Council’s own statement on the judgement.) UPDATE: I found the primary source; more details here.

This trend of legal and regulatory requirement is intensely stupid and irritating. It replaces restrictions on actions and policies with thought crimes. I mean that precisely; the fault of Denbigh School was not in its actions but in the way it decided its actions.

The result of this legal attitude is to drown all activity, in both the public and the private sectors, in a snowstorm of pointless arse-covering paperwork. Hypocrisy is made paramount, and the key managerial skill is, as Dogbert has it, “pretending to care”.

Thought crimes produce hypocrisy, because it is impossible to tell what someone is really thinking. You can act for one reason and claim to be acting for another reason, and if your reasons rather than your actions are regulated, you can get away with anything.

Time after time: employment law, money-laundering law, accounting law, human rights law, we are being required to take various principles into account, and document that we have done so, rather than being judged on results which can be objectively assessed.

This even links with yesterday’s post. I am a fanatical believer in honesty and openness. I like to tell the truth about what I’m doing and why, and prefer other people to do the same. Thought crimes mean that I am still free to act as I choose, provided that I’m prepared to lie about it. It leaves a culture of disinformation which harms everyone’s decision making.




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