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Reading the will

 

Of all of the various duties that one might imagine the President of the Family Division to have, being in charge of whether the late Princess Margaret’s will should be unsealed and opened to find out whether an individual is her illegitimate child (said individual having ABSOLUTELY NO evidence) is not one I had in mind.

Yet we learn today that it has happened not once, but twice.

 

Re Benmusa 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/494.html

 

This new judgment is short enough to set out in full

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division :

 

  • I have before me, as President of the Family Division, an application by Malika Benmusa dated 6 March 2017 and received by the court on 9 March 2017.
  • The application was made on a Form N244. In answer to question 3 on the Form, What order are you asking the court to make and why? the applicant has said “To apply to unseal the will of the late Princess Margaret.” In answer to question 5, How do you want this application dealt with? she has placed a v against the words “without a hearing.” In answer to question 10, What information will you be relying on, in support of your application she has placed a v against the words “the evidence set out in the box below.” That reads as follows (I set out the manuscript exactly):

 

“My name was changed as a child as my date of birth, I belive around the age between 3 to 4 years old. My mother did not consent to this, but later on found out. I belive that both names are in the will. And it is explained. My father was in charge of my mother will, but failed to give me what is rightfully mine. So I belive this has been taken out of his hands and put back to the president of the Family Division (Sir James Munby.)”

Below that the applicant has signed the usual statement of truth.

 

  • The practice in relation to the sealing of royal wills, and the actual events surrounding the sealing of the will of HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, who died on 9 February 2002, were explained by the then President, Sir Mark Potter P, in Brown v HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and others [2007] EWHC 1607 (Fam), [2007] WTLR 1129, paras 6-10, and, on appeal, by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers CJ, giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal, in Brown v Executors of the Estate of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and others [2008] EWCA Civ 56, [2008] 1 WLR 2327, paras 4-8. The circumstances in which a royal will might be unsealed, and the process by which and the persons by whom such an application might be made, were considered by the Court of Appeal in Brown, paras 35-48.
  • The will of HRH Princess Margaret is contained in a sealed envelope which bears the following inscription:

 

“HRH PRINCESS MARGARET

(ORIGINAL WILL)

SEALED PURSUANT TO THE ORDER DATED 19th JUNE 2002

NOT TO BE OPENED WITHOUT LEAVE OF THE PRESIDENT”

I have personally examined the envelope, but I have not opened it. I have not read the will of HRH Princess Margaret nor do I have any idea as to its contents.

 

  • I have no hesitation in concluding that I should strike out the applicant’s claim. My reasons for doing so are shortly stated. The applicant has not articulated any intelligible basis for her claim. The facts alleged by the applicant neither assert nor identify in any intelligible way either any link with HRH Princess Margaret or any link with her will. The applicant has not identified the grounds or the source or sources of the various beliefs upon which she relies. In short, her application is hopelessly defective.
  • The application is, accordingly, struck out.

 

 

 

The linked cases are more detailed, and set out the last time that this happened.

 

In that case, Mr Robert Brown alleged that he was the illegitimate son of Princess Margaret and that her will would prove it.  It was perhaps unfortunate that the only material evidence he had in this regard was his birth certificate, showing that the two people who brought him up were registered as his parents. If that proves it, then I myself am now ninth in line to the throne, I fancy.

 

  • In his affidavit of some 26 pages the Plaintiff states at the outset (at paras 1.1 and 1.2) that the purpose of his application is to identify whether the Royal wills make any provision for or concerning an illegitimate child, he having an interest in the matter because he claims that he is the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret.
  • As part of the matters relied on in support of that claim, he produces a Kenyan birth certificate signed by Cynthia Joan Brown (nee Lyall) in which she names herself as his mother and states that he was born in Nairobi in Kenya on 5 January 1955, his father being Douglas Richard Brown, a builder by occupation. The relevant Kenyan Ordinance (No 2 of 1928 dated 9 June 1928), exhibited to the affidavit of the executors’ solicitor, Mr Bridges, states its purpose as being “to Provide for the Notification and Registration of Births and Deaths and Other Matters Incidental Thereto”. It makes clear that the registration of the birth of a child in Kenya was compulsory (section 8(1)) and that the provision of false information or particulars was a criminal offence (section 20).
  • In law a birth certificate is prima facie evidence of all matters required by statute to be entered in the certificate: see re: Stollery [1926] Ch. 284 at 310 and Jackson v Jackson & Pavan [1964] P. 25 at 30. The birth certificate is thus prima facie evidence that the Plaintiff’s mother was Cynthia Brown. Furthermore, it is clear from the rest of his affidavit, that the Plaintiff accepts that Cynthia Brown, now deceased, recognised and brought him up as her own child. Curiously, he makes no reference to Douglas Richard Brown, named as his father in the birth certificate save, in passing, as follows. He states that he does not accept for the purposes of his application that his birth certificate is an accurate record on the grounds that such date is inconsistent with an entry in the ‘Births’ section of the Times of 7 January 1955 which gave his birthday as the 6 (not the 5) of January which, he adds, is also that recorded in the hand of “D R Brown” in his tax return for the year 1955. Nonetheless, in exhibited correspondence with the Treasury Solicitor, he refers to Douglas Brown as ‘the name of the gentleman that ‘raised’ me’; and in a letter addressed to Buckingham Palace in 2002 (see para 33 below) he makes reference to aspects of his upbringing by Douglas Brown. Thus it does appear that the Plaintiff was brought up by Cynthia and Douglas Brown (both now deceased) as their own child.
  • At paragraph 42 of his affidavit the Plaintiff states:

 

“I have not been told that I am the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret, or even that I was adopted. It is a conclusion I have arrived at be [sic] deduction.”

At paragraph 2, he explains that process of deduction as follows:

“[M]y conclusion that I am the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret is based upon a jigsaw of personal recollections, events, circumstantial evidence, conversations, reactions and extensive research.”

 

  • None of the matters subsequently set out at length remotely constitutes evidence supportive of the Plaintiff’s claim.
  • At paragraph 2.3 the Plaintiff asserts in respect of Princess Margaret that “there could have been a hidden pregnancy.” In support, he states that Princess Margaret was reported as ill with a “rattling cough” during the “early days of 1955” and that “photographs suggest a growing waistline compared with the elfin waist of 1954”. He also refers to the record of a Privy Council meeting held on 5 January 1955, ostensibly to discuss measures to be adopted in the face of a threatened rail strike, and states that “Examination of the reports and subsequent events of the rail strike left me unconvinced that the reason for the Council meeting was the strike.”
  • At paragraphs 4.1 to 4.4 of his affidavit he relies on his ‘Personal Outlook’ or ‘Instinct’ as being ‘the key element and driver’ of his claim, citing a sense of not belonging to the family environment in which he was brought up and refers to instances of members of his family in England having appeared reticent in responding to his enquiries about his origins. At paragraph 4.5 he describes the relationship of his ‘mother’ with his siblings as having been closer than with himself

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal (I think very kindly) had this to say about the foundation of his claim.

 

This belief is without any foundation and is irrational. It is, however, held in good faith

 

If you listen closely, you can hear a thousand conspiracy theories fermenting about this sealing of the will.

I think best left sealed up, in case the will establishes that James Delaney has no legitimate claim on Nootka Sound. You don’t want to upset James Delaney…

 

“I have a use for you”

No comment

 

This rather leapt out at me in a Kent County Court case. No great legal significance. But. Well, no comment

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2017/B5.html

 

Kent County Council v B, W & S (Combined Judgment : Delay : Refusal to Split Siblings) [2017] EWFC B5

12.For completeness, I recall that matters were somewhat delayed by the revelation that the woman Solicitor representing Mr. S, the father of the youngest child, was having some sort of relationship with the mother’s brother, Mr. B, a witness and Intervener in the case which might have produced some sort of confusion and conflict. That Solicitor, perhaps unwisely, has attended both this Court Hearing and been seen in the public foyer, and also attended at the Crown Court, presumably to support Mr. B. It was necessary therefore for Mr Kenny, Mr. S’s Counsel, having properly notified the Court of this, to receive his professional instructions from a newly appointed Solicitor in order to ensure a scrupulously fair Article 6 complaint Hearing.

 

 

13.This matter was reported to the Designated Family Judge for Kent and also to this Court’s High Court Family Liaison Judge. I gather that some sort of complaint has now been made by the Local Authority about that Solicitor’s conduct.

 

 

14.Regrettably this is the third occasion to my own direct knowledge when an issue of conflict has arisen through this particular Solicitor’s potentially conflictual behaviour in becoming personally close to parties or witnesses. I do not need to spend any more time on that issue beyond reflecting that it causes delay by having to have a new Solicitor representing a client and also, no doubt, causes extra costs to the Legal Aid Fund.

 

 

Happy birthday to me

 

 

The blog is five years old today.  My goodness

 

 

During those five years, you’ve been exposed to more 80s pop culture references than Stuart Maconie’s diary, we’ve had adoption explained via passive aggressive notes on a student fridge, learned about how difficult it is to get contact with your child if you are Edward Scissorhands, watched me lose and win an award (winning feels better, no matter what all my hippy teachers tried to tell me), compared our child protection system to nuclear warheads, considered a man who sold bleach as a cancer cure  (also the case where the parents sought advice from a man whose website claims he “Turned Hawaii into a verb”),  watched and winced as policemen, social workers, guardians, lawyers and even Judges got told off for doing things it is hard to believe, attempted to replace the phase “inherent jurisdiction” with “magical sparkle powers” to better reflect its use, had His Honour Judge Wildblood QC favourably compared to Rowdy Roddy Piper, inspected the threshold criteria in Harry Potter and a written agreement from Romeo and Juliet, conducted a retrospective on Tolkein’s short-lived career as a court reporter,  translated Pride and Prejudice into teenager speak, toldyou all how NOT to write a letter of instruction,  examined a Nigerian fertility clinic that managed to deliver babies to people who weren’t actually pregnant,  pondered abut what would happen if we used Truth Serum in Court, found out why it’s best to have your case on just after lunch rather than just before AND deep breath

 

written a bloody book!

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/ive-written-a-book-find-out-more/

 

If you haven’t already ordered the book, please do. I really want as many people as possible to read it.

 

I’ve written 906 blog posts, and the above is a tiny sample of them (I forgot Kate Bush’s non-molestation order, just for one)

I doubt very much that there’s anyone who agrees with every word I’ve said over the last five years (I don’t think that I actually agree with all of it), but I hope that over those five years I’ve made some of you smile, some of you take heart, some of you reflect, some of you frantically copy and paste into a case summary and some of you feel slightly less miserable on a Monday morning.

I should say that I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, but I know that you haven’t, because I’ve had an absolute blast.

 

Not retiring, just reflecting.  If you missed any of the highlights (my description, not necessarily that of others) then there’s a link to them below

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/12/10/adoption-law-illustrated-by-way-of-passive-aggressive-post-it-notes-on-a-student-fridge/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/04/12/scissorhands-versus-scissorhands/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/10/08/the-award-losing-family-law-blog/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/10/10/a-big-thank-you-to-lots-of-people/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/09/29/alwaysnever/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/07/26/woo-woo-woo-you-know-it/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/09/15/and-im-all-outta-bubblegum/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/06/19/the-boy-under-the-stairs-an-imaginary-judgment/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/02/05/a-pair-of-star-crossd-lovers/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/29/why-tolkien-never-made-it-as-a-court-reporter/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/10/12/so-he-was-all-like-pride-and-i-was-all-like-nuh-uh-prejudice/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/09/10/317/

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/10/29/one-of-these-nights-youre-gonna-get-caught-itll-give-you-a-pregnant-pause-for-thought/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/01/29/would-we-want-the-truth-to-be-out-there/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/09/30/your-honour-may-i-hand-up-my-case-summary-and-a-pastrami-on-rye/

 

 

Your very best friend

 

No, not this guy

 

I also hate that duck, and he is not my very best friend, despite what he claims in song form

I also hate that duck, and he is not my very best friend, despite what he claims in song form

 

I want to do a little thought experiment with you.

Step 1. Imagine your very best friend. Try to get them in your mind. For shorthand purposes, as I don’t know the name of the best friend of each and every one of you, I’m going to call this notional best friend Janice.  Imagine that friend, get them firmly in your head. I’m also going to assume that out of 100, you’re going to score this friend 80 or above – so it’s someone you like a lot, and someone you can count on.   (On this friendship scale, Bert and Ernie, or Joey and Chandler are 100, Ant and Dec high nineties.)

 

Step 2. Imagine that you feel like you might have put a little bit of weight on. Not a lot, just a bit. Christmas, orange matchmakers, a bit too cold for running. So you say this to Janice, and you also say “I want you to help me lose weight. I know I’ve got no willpower, but with your help, I can do it.”  Janice kindly agrees.

Step 3.  Janice suggests that you give up some of the things that you like. It’s not ideal, but you know it is for your own good, so you agree. Janice says “I know you’re weak-willed, so I think maybe I should pop in on a Tuesday, make sure you’re not eating that bad stuff, and sticking to salads and quinoa and whatnot.” You agree.

Step 4. Janice pops round every Tuesday. She watches what you eat, asks you about what you ate yesterday, maybe what you’re going to eat tomorrow. She says “Maybe I should just check in your cupboards, while I’m here. Make sure there’s no jaffa cakes in there.”

Step 5. You get home on a Thursday. There’s a note from Janice pushed through your letter-box. “Called round – disappointed you weren’t in. Decided it would be best if you didn’t always know which day I was going to come check up on you.”

 

How much, out of 100 are you scoring Janice on the friendship stakes now? Remember, this is your best friend, and you did ASK her to help you lose weight. And you do WANT to lose weight.  Still, though…

 

Maybe your friendship is becoming a bit more like this...

Maybe your friendship is becoming a bit more like this…

 

Let’s continue.

Step 6. Janice calls round on a Monday. She has some weighing scales and a measuring tape.

Step 7. Janice says that really, to find out why you’re fat, she wants to talk about what you used to eat when you were young, find out what the patterns were then.

Step 8. Janice wants to check your phone, make sure you haven’t been dialling for pizza or takeaways. She asks if you’ve got an itemised bill she can look at.

Step 9. Janice suggests that you join a group, weightwatchers to help you with your problem.

 

How are you feeling about Janice now?  Are you contemplating making a voodoo doll of her out of macaroni and pesto?

Step 10. You ask her to stop. You don’t want this any more. You regret ever involving her. You’re happy as you are. Janice says “I’m not going to stop, not until you’re slim enough”.  You ask her what “slim enough” means, and she says “I’ll tell you when you’re slim enough”

 

If you’re not hating Janice with a burning passion now, then hello Dalai Lama, it is a real honour to have you read my blog. Thank you. And “Free Tibet!”

 

I’m sure you’ve clocked what this piece is really about. But let’s see it through.

Now imagine that Janice ISN’T your best friend, who you scored 80 out of 100. She’s a complete stranger.

Now imagine that you DIDN’T ASK her for help, she came along uninvited.

Now imagine that you don’t even want to lose weight, you were already pretty happy with how you were.

Finally, imagine that we’re not talking about weight at all, we’re talking about how you parent your children.

 

How do you feel about Janice now? Worse, or better?

 

This one? Or THIS one?

This one? Or THIS one?

 

 

It is pretty hard to imagine, unless you’ve been on the receiving end of it, what it must be like to have a social worker come into your home. It hasn’t happened to me, so I can’t really capture it. I suspect it hasn’t happened to 75% of social workers.  So this heavy-handed metaphor is a way of capturing it.

All of us disliked Janice really early on in that chain of events, even though she started as our best friend and she was doing us a favour. We all wished her bodily harm by about step 8.  (Not you, obviously Mr Lama)

I’m not saying that social workers shouldn’t visit homes – sometimes it is necessary, and important to safeguard children. But we should always try to think about what it is like being on the other side of that doorstep, how it must feel, and to respect that. Because even when it is your best friend doing this sort of stuff, at your request, and when you wanted them there, it makes you bristle and get irritated.

 

What we ask of parents, even when it’s necessary, is no small thing.  It sometimes helps to pull back perspective and remember that.

Structural edit

I received the structural edit over the weekend. That’s the big important phase of the book. This is where it goes into the arms of an editor who doesn’t know me, doesn’t have to sugar-coat anything, doesn’t have to look me in the eye and lie to me to save years of friendship. They just read the book cold, as a reader, and as an editor with a critical eye, and they then tell you what’s wrong with it.

It is a bit like a cross between getting a survey on a house that you’ve fallen crazily in love with, and singing on an X-Factor audition (only after you’ve finished singing, the Judge tells you in great detail about every note that you got right, and every note where you were a bit off key)

So it is important, because to make a book really work, you need someone who gives it to you straight. And if you don’t believe that an editor is hugely important, go and read some of the amazing Raymond Carver short stories (What we talk about when we talk about love would be a good start, or Cathedral – or Gazebo, or Menudo… damn, nearly all of it) and then go online and find the draft that Raymond Carver wrote before his editor helped him find the heart of the story. That draft is ugly. Painfully ugly. It took a collaborative effort to make the story so taut and elegant and spare that you can feel the words twang on the page like tweaking piano wire.

Or (and I’m not in any sense comparing my book to this sort of thing),  Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”, which you will have heard thousands of times, including on X-Factor.   Cohen told Bob Dylan he’d spent two full years working on the song (he was deliberately underestimating, perhaps because Dylan told him that it usually took him 15 minutes to write a song)

Cohen wrote 80 verses for that song. 80 verses. And he kept working on it, working on it, and it didn’t come off. He recorded a version, but it wasn’t right. And then he kept playing it live and kept fiddling with it, and then one day John Cale of the Velvet Underground came to a concert where Cohen played it, and Cale liked the song and he reworked it – more piano, restored some of the original biblical imagery, made it less dark and bitter and more sorrowfully uplifting.  And that song got onto an album of Cohen covers, which nobody really bought. But one person who bought it happened to be visiting a guy called Jeff Buckley, and Buckley happened to play the CD and liked it, and did a magnificant cover of Cale’s cover of Cohen’s song, and put it on an album. And nobody bought that either. Until Buckley died in tragic circumstances, and his work got re-evaluated, and in that process, Hallelujah became one of the most loved and well regarded songs around.  It just had to go through a hell of a process to find the song.

(I’ll cheerfully admit here that I stole that info about Hallelujah from Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful podcast Revisionist History, which I highly recommend.  http://revisionisthistory.com/   I only just learned that Hallelujah wasn’t a song that the world loved straight away but one that had to be found out of the raw materials, and it is such a great metaphor for the creative process generally, that I’m using it and giving Gladwell full credit for coming up with it. )

I feel like the structural edit is helping me find the book, to bring it to where I want it to be. I can see the fixes and changes that are needed, and the good news is that the editor liked it – she hasn’t put red pen through loads of dialogue or told me that she hates the characters or that my world is flat.  I need to make some bits clearer to readers, I need to switch some stuff around with the ending, some things that I was keeping as mysteries are going to be more dramatic and tense if the reader knows what one particular character knows and is waiting to see when and if and how it all explodes, and I basically need to have more stuff happen in the first half of the book. I also need to rein back on the comic asides during moments of terror and drama…

So I’ve already reworked the first two chapters, for the better, I hope, and this rewriting phase will take about four weeks. I’ll keep you posted. Go and read some Raymond Carver while you’re waiting – he’s the best (or at least, with the help of a damn fine editor he became the best)

 

 

If you haven’t already checked out the book, please visit the site and have a look – ideally to pre-order yourself a copy, and if nothing else, to watch a video of a mouthy sarky lawyer get pelted with water bombs whilst trying to pitch what the book is about.

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

Lions, bees and sundry peculiarities

 

Not law at all this one – there doesn’t seem to be much new good law at the moment, it is a dry January.  So I thought I’d share with you this little bit of weirdness, which I went from never having heard of at all to hearing from three separate sources in six weeks (Dave Gorman, No Such Thing as a Fish and a book called Forgotten Science)

Each of them had a slightly different take on it, and as I was taken by the story, I thought I’d like to share it with you.

As you’ll know, lots of products use illustrations of animals to sell their products – from glossy-coated labradors on pet food to comedic chickens on pengest wings to inappropriately friendly tigers selling you over-sugared breakfast cereals originally devised to stop people masturbating.  But here is a question (which will be a bit marred if the image that you see is the product in question, so I’ll put a filler image in)

 

What food product decided to advertise its wares with a picture of a dead lion – and not just any dead lion, but a dead lion surrounded by bees?  (and more importantly WHY?)

 

I don't know about you, but I've never trusted Tony the Tiger - he always had that 70s DJ vibe to him. Operation Yewtree for sure

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never trusted Tony the Tiger – he always had that 70s DJ vibe to him. Operation Yewtree for sure

 

 

Okay, enough padding.  Anyone seen a food product that uses on its packaging a corpse of a lion surrounded by bees? You probably think that you haven’t, but I bet you have and just never noticed it. I bet there’s a tin of it in your house now. Here it is

Lyle's Golden Syrup. Now with more bees than you knew about, and 100% more lion corpse

Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Now with more bees than you knew about, and 100% more lion corpse

 

 

What the actual flipping heck, Tate and Lyle? Who puts a dead lion on their product?  And Golden Syrup has no connection to bees.  Golden Syrup  (insert your own Donald Trump joke here) is just made out of sugar, not honey.

You may have spotted the wording too (not just ‘partially inverted refiners syrup’ which is less appetising than something you want on the front of your tin) but  “out of the strong came forth sweetness”

That’s a Biblical reference, and the explanation as to the tin is just that like most well-known products, it was invented a long time ago, and like most extremely successful businessmen in olden times – paying nuff respect to God for the privilege and wealth you had gotten is just something that went down at that time.

This was a riddle told by Samson (yep, the guy with the hair and the strength and the murderous rages) at a wedding – he told the riddle and said that if anyone guessed it he would give them lots of linen, but if anyone didn’t, they would have to give him linen. They all tried to solve the riddle, which was this

 

“Out of the eater, came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness – what is it?”

(Now, even though you already KNOW that the answer is a dead lion and bees related, you still can’t get it, so it is no surprise that Samson soon stood with a smile and said “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen”  – thus predating Hudson out of Aliens by thousands of years)

Samson had come across the corpse of a lion on his way to the wedding  (when I say ‘come across’ I mean, having earlier killed the lion on a previous walk, he saw the body, because Samson) , and seeing bees around it, had observed honeycomb within the lion and eaten it and he saw that it was sweet. This is not a fair riddle, because it involves not so much solving something with logic, lateral thinking and knowledge of the world and the facts given, but just having to have been within Samson’s mind. This is the sort of solution that Mark Gattis and Stephen Moffat would have rejected as being too unfair and stupid for the finale of Sherlock.  Oh also by ‘meat’ he meant ‘food’, so that’s also cheating along the lines of having had character centred flashbacks where the character somehow confuses a red setter with a ginger schoolboy…

The wedding guests don’t react well to the riddle, what with it not being a riddle, and this leads to an awful lot of murdering and revenge murdering and revenge revenge murdering. It’s not a heartwarming tale, to be honest.

 

Then this is the bit I got from Forgotten Science, which added a whole new layer to things, frankly.  People in the past did genuinely believe that bees spontaneously emerged from dead creatures, and lions were as good as any.

Here’s the poet Virgil

A portent they espy: through the oxen’s flesh,
Waxed soft in dissolution, hark! there hum
Bees from the belly; the rent ribs overboil
In endless clouds they spread them, till at last
On yon tree-top together fused they cling,
And drop their cluster from the bending boughs

 

And here’s Shakespeare

 

“‘Tis seldom when the bee doth leave her comb/In the dead carrion.” (2 Henry IV; iv. 4. 79-80.)

 

So by past, I don’t mean just Biblical times, but for ages and ages after that – in fact, the bees creation story of them emerging spontaneously out of dead animals wasn’t debunked until 1894

 

(1894 to find out that bees are made by bees having sex with other bees is a bit shocking, but elsewhere in the book I learned that it wasn’t until the mid 1600s that anyone proved that women don’t have testicles. It is somewhat weird that the expression we use to simplify sex education to young people is to ‘tell them about the birds and bees’ when the sex life of bees was so totally mysterious)

In essence, nobody ever saw bees having sex, so they must have magically appeared (the same sort of thing happened with geese – nobody ever saw geese mating, or baby geese or goose eggs, so they assumed that geese were hatched at sea, and from that deduction obviously that they hatched from barnacles on the side of ships, hence barnacle geese.

http://sercblog.si.edu/?p=3069

If you were watching early 19th century Sherlock the plots would have been even weirder than today’s outlandish stupidity)

Added to that, people had seen bees come out of corpses of animals, hence proof.  In 1894 a Russian entemologist named Osten-Sacken posited that what people thought were bees were actually a simila-looking insect called drone flies and yes, flies do come out of the corpses of animals, but not by magic, but by flies laying their eggs in rotting meat.  Weirdly, even after people dissected male bees and found their penis, they still persisted with the emerging spontaneously out of lions account. We had to rely on a blind beekeeper named Francois Huber to find the body of a Queen bee with many many snapped off male bee penises inside her (yes, the male bee dies after it is snapped off, which may be a mercy) to solve this mystery.

 

I also learned from Forgotten Science that one of the first clamours for a film to be banned in Britain was for a 1930s film called “The Cheese Mites” which involved nothing more racy than a man examining a lump of cheese with a powerful magnifying glass – which sounds ridiculous, but I never want to watch that film and am happy to consume cheddar in blind ignorance.

 

So not only was Samson’s riddle unfair, but it wasn’t even accurate. He might have seen some insects emerge from a lion corpse and mistaken them for bees, but there would have been no honey.

Who would have thought that that tin with the rather sticky lid in your larder held so many digressing stories?

 

(I’m also reminded that one of the first bits of blogging I did, many years ago (elsewhere)  was about the belief that Vipers made treacle, so there’s a strong correlation between sweet sticky stuff that comes in tins and rampant oddness – see also the Boston Molasses Disaster)

Fire-eating pilot

 

Thank you for coming everyone. As you may know, we have recently been trialling a fire-eating pilot in the Family Courts.  It is very simple – before an advocate addresses the Court on any issue, they must take a stick dipped in oil, set it a light, and plunge it into their throat, extinguishing the fire.  Once that is done, they simply address the Court in the usual way.

 

Q  –  we have some reservations about this scheme

 

That’s disappointing to hear. Have you been to see one of the fire-eating Courts? I’m sure you’d think very differently, if you had.

 

Q – we’re rather puzzled that this scheme seems to have come out of nowhere, with no discussion beforehand or attempts to engage with people who use the Courts to see what they thought

That’s disappointing to hear. Have you been to see one of the fire-eating Courts? I’m sure you’d think very differently, if you had.

 

Q – could you perhaps tell us a little about the safety precautions? For example, what training will we receive in relation to fire-eating?

 

Training is of course essential. I observed some Canadian circus performers undertake fire-eating and it all seems very straightforward. I’m sure you’ll all be able to pick it up

 

Q – did you talk to the Canadians about the safety precautions they used?

 

Oh I didn’t speak to them. I watched a video.  Dip the stick, light it, put flaming stick into mouth. Simple.  None of those circus performers have been injured. That must reassure you all

 

Q – that’s rather dispiriting.  What about fire-extinguishers, for example? First-aid kits in case of burns?  What if the fire catches someone else alight?

 

That’s disappointing to hear. Have you been to see one of the fire-eating Courts? I’m sure you’d think very differently, if you had.

 

Q – could you perhaps tell us the thinking behind the fire-eating Courts? Only, it sort of seems, from the outside, like the intention is to discourage lawyers from doing their job?

 

The pilot has a 70% success rate

 

Q – Could you tell us how you are defining success ?

 

70 per cent. That’s obviously successful, isn’t it? Any number higher than 50 is clearly good, and this is 70. Way above 50.  Wonderful.

 

Q  –  but success as in achieving better outcomes for children? Or running through batteries in Court smoke alarms faster? Or reducing the amount of times lawyers get to their feet? Or thae number of lawyers suffering third degree burns – which I accept many in the wider public would consider a success?

 

70 per cent

 

Listen, all of you seem to just be very negative about this new fire-eating pilot, which is currently being evaluated, but is being rolled out in other Courts whilst we wait for the tedious job of someone sexing up the evaluation to achieve the outcome of it being rolled out nationally.  If you had been to see one of the fire-eating Courts yourselves, you’d feel much more positive. Why, it is almost exactly the same as FDAC, and you all love FDAC, don’t you? Everyone loves FDAC, which is why we’ve designed this to be exactly the same, only with fire.

 

Cue retired District Judge Crichton…

 

 

Brave counsel, asking the Judge on behalf of others whether written submissions might be acceptable in the circumstances

Brave counsel, asking the Judge on behalf of others whether written submissions might be acceptable in the circumstances

 

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/fjc-transcript-of-10th-annual-debate-1-dec-2016-updated.pdf

 

 

It’s coming, it is happening and we almost certainly can’t stop it.  But we must do all we can to make it as safe and fair as possible. Genuine consent – no adverse inferences being drawn from failure to attend one or to reach agreement. No pressure – apparent or unspoken.  Proper adherence to article 6.  Proper judicial reading time.  Clear and easily understood principles about what is confidential and what isn’t  (if we have Judges speaking directly to parents, we need to all know whether the parent can reply in complete confidence or whether their answers are potentially evidence).  We must all speak up when this isn’t happening.   (From my reading into the Canadian model, there are a lot of positive things about it and I think that if it had been introduced here in a careful way with genuine safeguards and protections it could have a lot to offer – but the way this has been imposed without any genuine dialogue about addressing the very real concerns raised by Liz Isaacs QC and Martha Cover and the ALC has to be worrying – as is the obvious underlying motivation that this is a cost-saving device first, foremost and only)