Tag Archives: James Doleman

Muirhead and McKenzie v HMA – Appeal Against Conviction for Sending Devices to Lennon, McBride and Godman Refused

On Thursday 14th March 2013 the Appeal Court in Edinburgh ruled against appeals by Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead.

The Appeal Court hearing the case consisted of Lord Menzies, Lady Clark of Calton and Lord Philip. Senior Counsel for the appellants were two of the most eminent and capable QCs in Scotland – Gordon Jackson and Donald Findlay.

(I should say, for the benefit of anyone reading this who feels that they should comment on Mr Findlay’s involvement in the case, that he operates, as does the whole Faculty of Advocates, on the “cab rank” principle, and therefore, if instructed, and available, Mr Findlay would have had no choice but to accept instructions. Bearing in mind his almost unmatched abilities, it would have been more surprising to see him not being involved in this case).

As with many legal matters which are reported in the press, the coverage of the trial seemed to some extent to miss the point. I have read various comments condemning the “vindictive” decision to prosecute these poor men, who were only “having a laugh” or wanting to “put a rise” up the recipients. After all, went the argument, how could someone be condemned as a bomber if the device was incapable of exploding. Continue reading

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Filed under Criminal Appeals, Criminal Law, General Scots Law Rambling, HMA v McKenzie and Muirhead, New Media, Press, Uncategorized

Open Justice? What Is the Problem With Tweeting From a Scottish Court?

On 31st October Lord Hodge dealt with the long awaited application for the liquidation of the former Rangers Football Club PLC. The hearing at the Court of Session took much of the day, as counsel for the administrators and for a creditor argued over whether the order should be granted; whether the fees charged by the administrators should be reduced; and whether or not there should be a continuing investigation into allegations of conflict of interest on the part of Duff & Phelps, the administrators.

Coverage of the hearing was sparse as it proceeded. There is a ban on “tweeting” from Scottish courts. Indeed, when it was brought to the judge’s attention that tweets from the @Huddleboard account seemed to be coming from the court, those in attendance, including members of the public, were asked to confirm that their phones were off and that they were not tweeting. It was made clear that anyone “live tweeting” the case faced being found in contempt of court.

Not surprisingly no one owned up to being the tweeter. It was left to bloggers like me to fill the gap by taking what information had leaked out of the courtroom and trying to explain what I thought was going on.

At the lunch break, and at the close of the hearing there was then a mad rush by journalists and spectators to tweet what had happened, and one in particular, @mdkster, was kind enough to let me reproduce on the blog his detailed tweets regarding the morning’s proceedings. Continue reading

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Filed under Contempt of Court, Courts

What Is Open Justice Week? #oj_uk

Open Justice Week is a campaign to shed some light on the “unreported” courts in the UK.

You can find the website here.

It is the brainchild of James Doleman who blogged Tommy Sheridan’s perjury trial. In doing so he showed what real court reporting should be, and which the media today, because of pressures on space and resources, cannot afford to take the time to do.

On the downside, James’ blog was one of the main motivations for me to start my own blog. Therefore James is to blame, indirectly, for each 7,500 word piece on Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act I inflict on my reader!

In a piece published in the Guardian last week, James explained what Open Justice Week is about.

“We want to create a snapshot of where British justice is in 2012, and we want as many people as possible to join us.”

He argues that social media and the Open Justice project could be an opportunity to “almost reinvigorate and recreate” court reporting. James describes in the piece his shock at visiting Glasgow sheriff court when it was dealing with evictions. “It’s like something out of Charles Dickens. They are throwing up to 70 people an hour out of their homes. It’s just like bang, bang, bang… one after the other. We want to open up the courts to public scrutiny.”

James is blogging on the Open Justice website about the HMA v McKenzie and Muirhead case (better known as the alleged letter bombs to Neil Lennon and others case). You will not read better coverage of the trial than on the Open Justice Blog.

Jon Robbins, who wrote the Guardian piece, says “It seems to me that ‘open justice’ can shine a light on the real experience of ordinary people in the courts.”

Read the Open Justice website and the links there. Why not see about popping to your local court to do some reporting?

It’s is my plan to post a couple of opieces connected with the Project. The first will be here in a short while.

You can follow the Project on Twitter at #oj_uk.

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Filed under Blogging, Courts, HMA v McKenzie and Muirhead, Open Justice Week

The Flawed Logic of the Scottish Media’s Stance on Rangers’ Troubles

As the prospect of Rangers FC ceasing to exist looms ever larger, and is now openly discussed in the mainstream media, it is interesting to see the line which is being taken.

 

Recently I have had the pleasure of attending a couple of meetings of the Scottish Press Club, where some of the machinations of the media are laid bare. Two recent speakers are, I think, relevant to this discussion.

First of all James Doleman wrote the terrific Sheridan Trial Blog. That had a large part to play in making me start my own, so he is the man to blame!

James sat in the Tommy Sheridan trial for its entire duration, reported thoroughly and correctly every day, and was able to observe the antics of the traditional media. He noticed that there was a “herd instinct” whereby there seemed a reluctance to be the person striking out in a different direction with the story. James had the feeling that there was a “safety in numbers” approach. If a reporter took a different tack from the rest, then he ran the risk of being wrong – if the general “spin” on the story was the same, them slight variation was in order, but no-one could be faulted for sticking to the “party line”.

It was also James’ view that this was not because of journalists trying to fit the story within their particular organisation’s viewpoint, but a recognition that there is “safety in numbers”.  (James – if you feel I have misinterpreted what you said, apologies, and I will correct it.)

 

Secondly, I was very impressed by Professor Greg Philo from the Glasgow University Media Group. His point (one amongst many) was that what the media failed to report was more important than what actually made it into the papers and on to the TV. He discussed various stories, dating back to the 1970’s, where the facts were simply not reported at all, leading to people forming views about, for example, Trades Union power or productivity of British workers, which (a) were factually incorrect and (b) have formed the general view of these matters in the UK now, almost 40 years on.

 

What does this have to do, you might ask, with the state of Scottish football and the media coverage thereof?

 

The story of the tax case facing Rangers was broken, I understand, on the Kerrydale Street website. It seems to have been picked up soon afterwards by Darrell King of the Evening Times. My knowledge of it came through the Rangers Tax Case Blog and via Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s website.

The mainstream reaction to the story seems, from my observations at the time, to have been to ignore it. Bearing in mind that, in a time of financial austerity, it was being alleged that “one of the two most important institutions in Scotland” (as I believe some refer to Rangers) had taken part in a scheme (a) illegally to reduce its tax liabilities by over £20 million and (b) which had the effect of giving them a massive financial advantage over even its closest rivals, it seems astonishing that the media were not poring over the story, and having comment from tax lawyers and accountants about what it meant. The fact that the tax appeal took place in private did not mean that the issues raised could not be discussed.

There were no issues of contempt of court, as long as the privacy of the hearing was respected. If, for example, RTC had detailed the evidence of a witness to the appeal, then I am sure that some form of action would have been taken. Governments and law enforcement agencies can easily penetrate the anonymity of the Internet, if so required.

If an anonymous blogger can provide huge amounts of analysis, and have contributors who are versed in the various areas chip in with their thoughts and input, why not the mainstream press?

I do not think that a message went out from the various editors saying “We are all Rangers supporters, so do not write about them.” However, there was probably a “nod and a wink” to the idea of sitting tight on the story, and for letting someone else take the flak. The reaction by some groups of Rangers fans to what they perceive as negative stories r actions about them, such as the threatened boycott of Lloyd TSB for trying to control the Rangers debt situation, probably made editors think that the risk of a drop in sales, even for telling the truth, was not worth it.

In addition, sports writers traditionally have not come from a business or legal background. Would the City Editor of the Herald be expected to pop over to Firhill and write a match report on a Thistle v Hamilton game? But the media has access to all sorts of experts (so-called) and this seems a story ripe for detailed exposition and analysis.

 

Against that background, what do we see now that the story is being talked about?

It seems to be the “party line” that Rangers must survive in the SPL in some form, whether as a newco or the existing team. This is not, of course, for the good of Rangers, but for the “good of Scottish football”.

As has been predicted on RTC by various contributors for some time now, this is the “herd instinct” kicking in. The accepted wisdom is that, of course, there must be a “Rangers” in the SPL. There has been little or no mainstream analysis of the issues behind the question.

I try, when writing, to start with a question, look at the evidence, and then reach a conclusion. That might seem old fashioned, but the media view of Rangers and their present predicament seems to have jumped straight to the answer without any analysis to get there.

We are told that Scottish football will wither and die without Rangers on the SPL.

It is funny, but I cannot seem to recall the floods of stories from Messrs Traynor, Keevins, English et alia warning that the desire of Celtic and/or Rangers to leave the SPL and play in England, or the Atlantic League, or the Inter-Galactic Footie Bowl would kill Scottish football stone dead.

I may well be wrong, and there are archives full of articles warning of this very fate, but my recollection is that the media saw this generally as (a) a good thing for the Old Firm as they would have better competition and more money and (b) a good thing for Scottish football.

Now, with the prospect of Rangers disappearing entirely, or else dropping all the way to Division 3 of the SFL, the absence of the Ibrox team (for what might only be three years) will be fatal for Scottish football.

I will leave the analysis of this to wiser people, but it seems to me that the following “logic” lies behind the present media view.

 

A If Rangers AND Celtic leave the SPL, this would be a good thing.

B If only Rangers leaves the SPL, that will be a bad thing.

C Therefore Celtic remaining on its own in the SPL is a bad thing.

 

Frankly that “logic“ can only be the result of (a) flawed thinking or (b) anti-Celtic bias. If the contention is that it would leave an uneven playing field and that Celtic would win all of the trophies all of the time, then, frankly, why does Scottish football not turn into a competition where Rangers and Celtic play only each other?

There were no clamours for the playing field to be levelled when Rangers were winning nine consecutive Championships, nor indeed when Celtic won their nine in a row. (In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the standard of Scottish football was very high, and there was a lot of European success).

At the end of the day, it appears that Rangers, through financial mismanagement, have brought about a situation, no matter what happens with the tax case, where it cannot live within its means. Motherwell, Dundee (twice), Gretna, Airdrieonians and, in the mists of time, Third Lanark all paid the price for similar failure.

Would the media be clamouring for the rules to be changed if, as a result of bad play and bad management, Celtic or Rangers faced relegation? Logic would suggest that the same arguments should be deployed. However, that shows the moral bankruptcy of the argument.

We still need, perhaps even more than ever, the likes if Phil and RTC to keep up their coverage of these issues, or else the facts will be drowned out by the pre-set media agenda.

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And talking of the pre-set media agenda, I note today that the Scotsman website has a story regarding some of Rangers “targets” including Jorge Claros, the midfielder from Honduras who had a trial with the team earlier this month.

Ally McCoist is quoted as saying “We are not just in a position to offer him a contract yet”. He then goes on to suggest that other areas of the team are a higher priority.

The article goes on to say:-

“Claros has returned to his Honduran club Motagua and their manager, Pepe Trevino, is unhappy at the player’s treatment. He said: “Jorge has a great future and will sign for a good club in Europe soon. Maybe it was not his time at Rangers – I don’t know why they didn’t sign him. Rangers took him for two weeks and now say they have money problems. They should have told him before that. He is a very good player and deserves to be treated better than this.” (Emphasis added)

Mr McCoist’s words ”We are not just in a position to offer him a contract yet” seems to corroborate what Senor Trevino has to say. It does not appear that he was asked why Rangers was not in position to offer a contract, rather than saying that they did not want, just now, to do so.

It might be seen as worthy of comment that Rangers cannot afford to sign Senor Claros. But no.

It is all business as usual – nothing to see here – move along please.

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I am sure that the tide will turn and that the media will give this story the attention is deserves. Probably though, it will not happen till the liquidator or receiver is installed in the fine offices at Ibrox.

 

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Filed under Blogging, Football, Press, Rangers