Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More of the unending tyranny of petty bureaucracy in Britain

Lawyer wins thirty month battle against his borough council over the right to own a second garbage bin. In Australia, you just have to ask for one and pay a bit extra. I have had two for years

The policy of councils across Britain of limiting households to one wheelie bin each may have to change after an official complaint by a solicitor exasperated at having to make regular trips to his local rubbish tip. The local government ombudsman has ruled in favour of Roger Houlker, who has fought a 2« year battle against Congleton borough council to be given a second bin for his six-bedroom Cheshire home. The ombudsman, Anne Seex, found the council guilty of "maladministration with injustice" for failing to collect all his waste and ordered it to review its policy. She also said she had "reservations" about the authority's refusal to collect additional bags of waste left beside wheelie bins.

While waiting for his bin to be emptied, Houlker had to deal with vermin ripping open black bags used to hold extra waste in his garden and he made regular 12-mile trips to take them to a dump because dustmen would only take waste from his one 240-litre bin. Congleton council insisted the bin should have been enough for him, his wife Julie and their three children. [How nice to have bureaucrats deciding what you need!]

The ruling could lead to a flood of appeals against councils with similar one-bin-per-house rules. Houlker, who lives in the village of Swettenham, first complained to the council in February 2006. He said he was doing all he could to recycle and claimed the council had a legal duty to pick up the extra waste. In December 2007 Houlker complained to the ombudsman that he was being forced to take waste to the tip in his car.

In addition to telling the council to review its policy, Seex has said Houlker should be given $500 for his "time, trouble and costs" in taking his own bin bags to the tip. A spokesman for the environment department said: "As quoted in the ombudsman's report, it is hard to see how the authority can justify refusing to collect waste from a second bin especially where the resident is offering to pay for the additional receptacle." Congleton council confirmed it was reviewing its policies.


A hero of the French Left is revealed as the nasty thug he really was

Once a giant in the pantheon of French presidents, Francois Mitterrand is suffering a public battering that is destroying his carefully constructed domestic and international image as France's last truly great leader. From alleged links to genocide in Rwanda to arms deals in Angola, apologies for Soviet repression, shady financial deals, illegal phone-tapping and assorted corruption affairs, the ghost of the man who died in 1996 after 14 years at the Elysee Palace is suddenly once again omnipresent. The return to prominence spells difficulties for the posthumous reputation of a president who was until recently deemed by 60 per cent of voters to have had a "positive record".

Mitterrand returned to front-page news with a damning report released by Rwanda claiming the president and his government, including ministers, advisers, diplomats and soldiers, were directly implicated and complicit in the 1994 genocide. The report published last week was based on a two-year inquiry that drew on more than 600 witnesses including victims and those involved in the massacres. The Rwandan presidential commission of inquiry found France under Mitterrand deliberately armed, aided and trained the majority Hutus who went on to murder 800,000 Tutsis. It is even claimed French soldiers were directly involved in some of the massacres, during the UN-backed humanitarian "Operation Turquoise".

The accusations have been curtly denied by the Quai d'Orsay, the headquarters of French diplomacy. However, foreign policy analysts in Paris said France must answer the claims, which build on comprehensive reports already published by groups such as the French NGO Survie. Blanket media coverage of the report revealed that, thanks to Mitterrand's much-discredited African policies, he and his soldiers were clearly on the side of the genocidal killers rather than the victims in Rwanda. And although French troops were on the ground during the genocide, and France knew what was about to happen, they did not stop the killings.

In a shift away from their usual reverence for the late president, former media fans of Mitterrand at Le Monde and the left-wing newspaper Liberation demanded answers. Liberation said France's role under Mitterrand in the genocide was "not clear" and Le Monde declared France had a "duty to tell the truth" about Rwanda's genocide.

Before the massing of evidence over his role in the Rwandan bloodbath, Mitterrand's legacy was already heavily tainted. Throughout his political career he deliberately concealed his ties to the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime before he turned towards the resistance in World War II. In 2005 his former spy chief revealed Mitterrand had personally ordered the bombing of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.

Yet the enigmatic giant of the French Left is still revered by many on the Left in France. Despite his lies and secrecy he has until now been remembered as more "presidential" than his successors Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. This is changing with frequent commentary and criticism of Mitterrand's disturbing legacy as a constant defender of repressive regimes. As the world mourned the passing of Alexander Solzhenitsyn last week, the French press recalled Mitterrand's contemptuous dismissal of The Gulag Archipelago's damning testimony of the Soviet prison system.

When the book was published in France in 1974, Mitterrand was all too mindful of the alliance between the Socialist Party and the then-powerful French Communist Party, still a defender of the Soviet system. Instead of re-examining the Left's support for a discredited ideology he tried to look on the "bright side" of Solzhenitsyn's indictment of Soviet totalitarianism. "I am persuaded that what is most important is not what Solzhenitsyn says but that he could say it," Mitterrand said. Le Monde writer Yves Mamou was scathing towards Mitterrand and his contemptuous dismissal of the author's work. "(Mitterrand's assertion) was extravagant when one considers that the manuscript of Solzhenitsyn passed to the West by clandestine routes and that because of its content the author was risking his life or his liberty."

Elsewhere Mitterrand was remembered for his lionisation of Mao in the 1960s as a "humanist". An unrepentant Mitterrand in 1989 even resisted the fall of the Berlin Wall and the imminent reunification of Germany, preferring the stability of the Soviet-backed Eastern bloc to a post-communist world.

Mitterrand's reputation is also under fire as a series of scandals dating back to his presidency feature in prominent court cases. "Angolagate", a shameful affair involving corruption and support for dubious African regimes by Mitterrand's coterie, is also about to rear its head again. The arms dealing imbroglio involving Mitterrand's disgraced son, former diplomatic aide Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, will be the most high-profile court case when France returns from summer holidays.


New push for censorship in Australia

"Privacy" is a great smokescreen for protecting crooks. Publicity is almost the only weapon against many abuses by government and others

Australia's top news organisations are readying for a showdown if the Australian Law Reform Commission recommends tough new privacy laws today, as expected. The commission's report could have significant ramifications for news reporting, especially on the lives of well-known people. Justin Quill, a media and litigation lawyer and director of law firm Kelly Hazell, said a privacy law would most affect magazines that specialised in reporting celebrity news, followed by shows such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight and then other news services.

Gilbert + Tobin partner Peter Leonard expected the immediate effect of a privacy law would be "more cautious reporting around the personal life of celebrities". For example, he said much of the reporting of former AFL footballer Wayne Carey might be disallowed if a privacy law existed. "It could have a significant chilling effect on the reporting of the private lives of celebrities," Mr Leonard said.

In its newsletter last week, Gilbert + Tobin said the ALRC's report was expected to recommend "the most significant changes to the Privacy Act in the 20 years of its existence". "There is a strong expectation that Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner will commit the Government to act on the ALRC's recommendations, and that he will introduce relevant legislative amendments in the foreseeable future," it said.

The Right to Know Coalition, which represents Australia's top media groups, including News Limited, publisher of The Australian, on freedom of speech issues -- is against a privacy law. "Protection of privacy needs to be balanced against the public interest in allowing the free flow of information and upholding freedom of speech," a spokesperson said. "It has not been demonstrated that existing privacy protections fail to achieve this balance."

The Right to Know Coalition argued a statutory right to privacy would restrain the media's ability to keep the public informed. "The ALRC has failed to demonstrate a breach of privacy by the media is not already dealt with by existing laws, such as defamation and surveillance laws or self-regulation by the media," it said. "The law would be irrelevant to ordinary citizens in whom the media has no interest. It would be open to abuse by irresponsible claimants who would clog our already over-burdened courts. "Such a law would simply allow rich people to employ lawyers in a bid to avoid scrutiny of their wrongdoing."

Fairfax Media general counsel Gail Hambly said the evidence in Europe, where a privacy law existed, was that it was only used by high-profile people. "It allows the rich, powerful and celebrities to manipulate their images in the way they want them manipulated, rather than having some transparency," she said. Ms Hambly said she was recently at a conference on the issue in Britain where an attendee made a sound suggestion. "They said privacy laws would be OK on the whole if anyone with a PR agent was exempt from taking an action," she said.

Mr Leonard believed there could be some advantage to introducing a privacy law. "I think it may be a sensible development for the media as it would mean the defamation laws don't get stretched to be used as a substitute for proper protection against invasion of privacy." He said if there was a new privacy law it needed to feature restraints such as acknowledging legitimate public interest.


Balancing competing rights requires trade-offs

COMMENT from law Professor James Allan

How would you balance the rather vague, amorphous notions of a "right to respect for one's private life" and a "right to freedom of expression"? Both these concepts are nebulous enough, and they sound emotively attractive enough, that they finesse disagreement. Put differently, everyone would say that he or she is in favour of both rights. "Yep, I like the idea of a right to privacy and yep, I like the idea of a right to freedom of expression."

Of course, any ideas articulated in those sort of indeterminate terms will only finesse disagreement for as long as they remain moral abstractions. As soon as you ask more specific questions -- where should we draw the line when it comes to campaign finance rules or hate speech provisions -- all the feel-good agreement evaporates. You have smart, reasonable, nice people disagreeing. You have lots and lots of moral "dissensus".

The same goes for any right that is phrased as an indeterminate moral abstraction, which is to say all the rights in any bill of rights. But there's a different problem that sometimes gets overlooked. You see, any list of moral abstractions-cum-rights will give rise to real life situations where those rights conflict with each other. One right can be relied on to point one way and a different right to point the other way. Take the following scenario. (And who can resist making use of it?) Start with the president of the body that oversees Formula One car racing, one Max Mosley.

Make him someone who enjoys sado-masochistic orgies with hookers, lots of hookers, five to be precise. Let there be some question of whether the bondage clothes worn by the women looked like Nazi uniforms. Throw in one of the big British tabloids. And just to round it off, let that president be the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the politician and baronet who founded the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. Now what if one of the five hookers had been paid by the tabloid secretly to video this bondage session? And the tabloid then published it, along with a very racy headline I'll leave you to imagine.

Of course the above scenario has recently played out in fact in London. And the man at the centre of the bondage video (at least one supposes he was at the centre, though with six people involved, who knows?) decided to sue the tabloid. The regular law of defamation wouldn't work because Max Mosley admitted that the main parts of the story about his long-time involvement in these sort of S&M sex sessions were true. And truth is a defence to defamation proceedings. So instead he decides to sue by relying on the new statutory bill of rights, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into English law.

The case boils down at its simplest to how to balance two of the articles. Article 8 grandly guarantees the "right to respect for one's private life". Article 10 protects the "right to freedom of expression". Neither right is meant to be absolute. Reasonable limits apply, though of course talk of "reasonable limits" is itself just another vague, amorphous notion that masks disagreement. What counts as a reasonable limit and when is itself a massively contentious issue about which people disagree.

Anyway, I'm betting that readers will split pretty evenly on this. A lot of you will think this is just bedroom conduct (OK, a bedroom decorated as a dungeon conduct) that really isn't anyone's business save Mosley's and the five hookers. It's not as though the tabloids aren't a pretty distasteful lot themselves. And we know they're out to sell, sell, sell those papers. And talk of their acting in the public interest can reek of hypocrisy, let's be honest.

On the other hand, I'm betting there are also lots of free speech types out there who think this is in the public interest. The stuff caught on film was true. People are clearly interested because they buy millions of papers to read it. And if we start restricting the reporting of this sort of case, what about when Jeffrey Archer does roughly (sorry, no pun intended) the same sort of thing and lies? Or what about when newspapers want to reveal the goings-on of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards? Doesn't a privacy law start to look like it has the potential to squash stuff that suits an awful lot of people in important positions (jobwise I mean)?

Well, the judge sided with the right to privacy crowd and awarded Mosley $120,000, plus his legal costs (which may be another million or so pounds). That's a pretty hefty disincentive to publish in future.

I, personally, would have preferred it if the free speech side of the argument had prevailed. I'm a wannabe American [Prof. Allan is a peripatetic Canadian] in my attachment to wide open, vigorous free speech. I think good consequences for society follow from forcing people to have thick skins. And (as the Mark Steyn saga in Canada shows) a lot of well-intentioned limits on free speech collapse into elites telling the rest of us what we can and cannot say. If we're going to err, I'd err every time on the side of letting you say what you feel like and leaving it to others to rebut you.

Worse than that, though, far worse, is how this came to pass in Britain. Did they have a big debate about where to strike the balance between privacy and free speech concerns? Did they have select committee hearings around the country, or the kind of informed second-reading debate that preceded the liberalisation of abortion laws in Britain? Nope and nope.

In fact there isn't any privacy law in Britain. Or rather, the law that exists flows from the top English courts interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights. It flows from a bunch of unelected judges telling us how they, the judges, happen to think society ought to balance these two rights. The issue was never addressed by Westminster. It's yet another example of the far-reaching -- and if you like to make these decisions yourself as a voter, then the negative -- effects of a bill of rights.

When proponents of bills of rights are trying to sell these things they only ever deal in vague, feel-good generalities. They never tell you that you're signing over these sort of "how to balance privacy against free speech" decisions, and a myriad others, to the judges. And why is that remotely attractive? As Max Mosley might say, "Beats me". [Very good, James, very good]



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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