Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Death of Smiley Culture

For many who were growing up in the early 1980s, one or two songs of Smiley Culture (David Emmanuel) were part of the general soundtrack.

In his Police Officer (1984), Smiley Culture captured exactly the sneering arrogance of those who exercise the coercive power of the state without any practical accountability.

It is well worth watching.


The exchange at 1:58 to 2:20 of the video conveys the attitude of the police in being able to subject citizens to their power without the citizens being able to answer back.

The lyrics to that segment are:

"Well, Wha wha wha what's your name then son?"

"My name Smiley Culture."

"Yeah, Where do you think you're coming from lad?"

"From seeing me mother."

"What's the registration number of the car then?"

"I can't remember."

"What you got in the boot then son?"

"A cassette recorder.

Would you like to have a look?"

"Shut your bloody mouth.

We ask.

You answer.

Now take the keys out of the car and step out of the motor.

Me and my colleagues have got a few questions to ask ya.

You'll be on your way as soon as we get an answer."

Until the middle of this month, however, Smiley Culture was just another voice of the 1980s, though one which (for me) was playing in the back of my mind whenever I wrote about police brutality and misconduct.

I had no idea what had happened to him: whether he was still with us or not, whether he was now a businessman or - indeed - a police officer.

And then news came of his death.

But it was not a commonplace death.

In fact, he died during a police raid.

We are told that he died from a single stab wound during that police raid.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission are now investigating the circumstances of the death of Smiley Culture.

Of course, one should not prejudge the investigation.

However, I cannot help but think of the attitude expressed by "Shut your bloody mouth./ We ask./ You answer" whenever there is any investigation of any possible police conduct, especially of a suspicious death in police custody.

Rest in peace, Smiley Culture.


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Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Without Prejudice Podcasts

Some would say I have the perfect face and voice for blogging, and that I should really try to avoid podcasts, radio, and camera work. They may well be right, but every so often I give such things a go anyway.

And so I have now participated in two "Without Prejudice" podcasts.

The idea is simple. Every fortnight, two experienced law bloggers and I discuss current legal issues with a guest. The intention is that between us we explain and explore topical legal issues in a way accessible to both non-lawyers and lawyers. We will do this with regard to substantive and procedural law, and to the relevant political and media contexts.

The chair and producer of the discussions is Charon QC, the doyen of British legal blogging. Any listener to his many podcasts will enjoy his fine, even luxurious voice; but behind the voice is one of the sharpest and most erudite legal minds imaginable, drawing on the experience of observing and explaining complex legal matters for more than thirty years. He is indeed probably our leading legal communicator, though he uses blogs and podcasts rather than TV and radio as his chosen media.

The second regular is the superb legal blogger Carl Gardner, a former government barrister who has been involved in some of the most interesting and controversial legislation and public law cases of the last twenty years. He was also one of the very first legal bloggers to see the potential of the medium and his posts are usually fully-linked and comprehensive masterpieces.

Carl's technical brilliance and unmatched inside experience does not, however, prevent him from error. Indeed, he can be as executive-minded (or, at a push, legislature-minded) as I am judiciary-minded. In other words, Carl will tend to see judicial supervision as sometimes frustrating the clear intention of the crown-in-parliament, whilst I will tend to see such a role of the judiciary as essential in a democratic and liberal society subject to the rule of law. Accordingly, the listener to Without Prejudice can expect to hear genuine but good-natured clashes between me and Carl as we examine various public interest cases: each exchange expertly provoked and moderated by Charon QC.

The three of us also come from different legal backgrounds: Charon QC as a teacher of and writer about law and founder of BPP Law School; Carl as an in-house lawyer in the pleasant and leisurely world of the government legal service; and me as a jobbing commercial and media lawyer in private practice. Between the three of us we hope that current and controversial legal issues can be presented in a way to inform and engage the listener and to make each hour podcast worth the time listening to it.

And if the three of us are not quite to that, then we have a guest to offer an alternative and perhaps quirky perspective. It is envisaged that the guests will often be non-lawyers, such as campaigners, journalists, legislators, or even those just caught up in the news. Our first guest was media barrister and human rights campaigner Joanne Cash, and the second was the editor of The Lawyer, Catrin Griffiths.

The podcasts so far have been a joy to record. They take place in Charon QC's agreeable Thames-side penthouse suite on alternate Thursday evenings, where one literally can hear the ducks quack as they float by.

So please, do join us every two weeks. If there must be law podcasting, then surely this is how to do it.

Without Prejudice Podcast I - with guest Joanne Cash - Assange, European Arrest Warrants. the British Bill of Rights and the ECHR, the oversupply of lawyers, Garrow’s Law and Silk.

Without Prejudice Podcast II - with guest Catrin Griffiths, editor of The Lawyer - insurance and sexual equality, sexism in the City, libel, contempt of court, legal journalism.


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