US Congresswoman Proposes Tight Viagra Restrictions

ViagraA congresswoman in the US has proposed tight restrictions on Viagra, which would make the drug available only to married men who have permission from their wives. However, Democrat representative Mary Lou Marzian has not proposed the tight restrictions with the intent of pushing them into law, but rather as a process to highlight “intrusive and ridiculous” attempts at reforming abortion law in the US.

If Marzian’s proposals were to become law, they would restrict prescriptions for erectile dysfunction to married men only. Men would also have to have a signed, dated letter from their spouse giving permission for them to use the drug, and would have to make at least two visits to their doctor before drugs could be prescribed. On top of this, before receiving their medicine a man would have to “make a sworn statement with his hand on the bible that he will only use [the medicine] when having sexual relations with his current spouse.”

These changes mirror various reforms that have been passed, proposed, or campaigned for in order to tighten abortion laws in the US and its various states. Marzian, who is also a registered nurse, explained: “My point is to illustrate how intrusive and ridiculous it is for elected officials to be inserting themselves into private and personal medical decisions.” Speaking to her local paper, she says that she does not think the bill is going to make much progress towards becoming law, but she feels that it is important to make a point. Her proposals would represent lawmakers telling men what they can and cannot do with their bodies, and she says that she aims to highlight how ridiculous it is that lawmakers are already doing the same thing to women.

Marzian plans to put a further bill forward which, if passed, would require people who wish to buy firearms meet with gun violence victims for counselling 24 hours before making their purchase. This bill, also intended to make a point, mirrors a law that was recently signed by Republican and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, which requires women to meet with a doctor for counselling 24 hours before having an abortion. Mr Bevin has also recently passed a law which prevents women from going ahead with an abortion until they have seen images of the foetus and listened to its heartbeat.

Regarding her upcoming proposal on firearms purchases, Marzian said: “I’m just making sure the government is taking care of your safety.”

Read More

Lawyers Express Concerns Over Post-Brexit ECHR Commitment

A group of legal experts have expressed concerns about the UK’s future commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although the ECHR is separate from the European Union, experts have voiced concerns that the UK’s vote in favour of leaving the European Union “seriously increases” the possibility that Britain may also choose to leave the ECHR.

According to De Montfort University Professor Neil Parpworth, who specialises in human rights law, the UK’s continued commitment to the ECHR depends in large part on the question of who will be the next Prime Minister. One of the favourites to succeed David Cameron as leader of the Conservatives and current government is Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who was a prominent figure in the Leave campaign during the run-up to the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. While Gove has previously spoken in support of the Convention, he has also said that the UK must strive to ensure the European Court of Human Rights is reformed and that, if this did not happen, then nothing should be ruled out.

Theresa May, the current Home Secretary, has also been named as one of the favourites to succeed David Cameron. May previously spoke out in favour of abandoning the UK’s commitment the ECHR, claiming that “the ECHR can bind the hands of parliament.”

Barrister Sir Paul Jenkins QC, of Matrix Chambers, believes that the vote in favour of Brexit leads to a higher possibility of the UK also abandoning its commitment to the ECHR even though this is not part of the European Union. Sir Paul said: “In law and in logic the two are not linked but I think the political reality is that if the public saw a vote to leave as a step towards reclaiming our independence as a British nation why wouldn’t they at the same time want to reclaim our independence on Strasbourg?”

Parpworth expressed similar sentiments. If the next Prime Minister does decide to pursue the possibility of exiting Britain’s current commitment to the ECHR, he suggested, they might frame this as a means of “taking back control” – a phrase which was one of the key mantras of the campaign to leave the European Union.

In response to Theresa May’s previous statements in favour of abandoning the ECHR, Bella Sankey of campaign group Liberty said “the convention doesn’t bind parliament and – despite Theresa May’s best efforts at mud-slinging and myth-spreading over the years – the case for remaining a signatory is unequivocal.”

Read More

Finland to Relax Tough Alcohol Laws

DrinkingThe government of Finland has confirmed that it will loosen up the country’s tight alcohol laws. The country is notoriously strict in its regulation of the advertising and sale of alcohol products.

The Finnish government, which is a coalition of three parties, has now said that it intends to reform the regulations surrounding alcohol, which are largely defined by the country’s Alcohol Act. According to the National Coalition Party, speaking to the Finnish press, the new approach will be “less patronising, more sense.”

The change that will perhaps make the biggest difference to individuals on a night out will be the removal of a restriction on the amount of alcohol that can be purchased in a single transaction. Currently, an individual is only allowed to buy one portion of alcohol at a time in a bar or restaurant. This has prevented any one member of a group from buying a round of drinks for their friends, but with the restriction removed this practice will become possible.

Other restrictions on the purchase of alcohol in bars and restaurants will also be lifted. This will allow people to do various things they cannot do under the current system such as buy drinks to take home and paying for alcohol with a credit card. The minimum drinking age will also be reduced from 18 to 16, provided that somebody is present to provide appropriate supervision, for example a parent.

Retailers will also gain additional freedoms in how and where they supply alcohol. Currently only the Alko off-licence chain, which is owned by the state, is able to sell drinks that contain more than 4.7% alcohol by volume, but this is due to change with corner shops being able to sell drinks with strengths up to 5.5%. Micro-breweries will gain the ability to sell drinks that contain more than 5.5% alcohol by volume on-site, and events such as music festivals will gain more freedom for the provision of beer tents.

Outi Makela, deputy chair of the National Coalition Party, published the full list of upcoming amendments to the Alcohol Act on her blog. The reaction from the Finnish people has been largely positive, with many pointing out that the reforms will bring the legal situation regarding alcohol in Finland much closer to that found in most other European countries. Some, however, have criticised the loss of restrictions which they see as safeguards against underage drinking, while others claim that the new laws do not go far enough in providing the freedoms available in many other nations.

Read More

Law Society Find Counter-Slavery Bill Lacking

human traffickingThe Law Society has criticised a new bill aimed at tackling the issues of slavery and people trafficking, believing it to be insufficient. In particular, the Society claims that the bill is lacking in “clarity, precision and simplicity” and that it does not “safeguard victims effectively.”

The Law Society, who will be discussing the issue of trafficking at their upcoming human rights conference, addressed these concerns to a parliamentary committee following the second reading of the Modern Slavery Bill. Specifically, these opinions were contained within evidence which the Society submitted to a public bill committee which has been convened to consider the bill by the House of Commons.

The bill would, if passed, be one of the world’s first targeted attempts to address the issue of slavery and people trafficking in its modern form. It would also be the first bill of this kind introduced by any country in Europe. While a number of current offences exist which are applicable to issues of slavery, this bill would consolidate them into a dedicated, targeted set of legislation for tackling modern slavery. The bill also aims to establish an anti-slavery commissioner to lead dedicated efforts at combating this type of crime.

The Society has stressed that it fully supports the aims of the bill, but has concerns about the sufficiency of the way it currently sets out to achieve those aims. The key concern of the Society was the absence of adequate safeguards for those who have survived trafficking and slavery. In particular, it was felt that the bill needs to do more to protect children who have fallen victim to traffickers.

The Society also raised a number of other concerns about the bill, including the fact that they felt that the given offences were neither precise nor clear enough in the way they were defined. Many clauses, the Society believed, were unnecessarily complex and poorly aligned with international definitions of forced labour and trafficking. Furthermore, they feared that the current form of the bill would allow some related offences to slip through the net, or at least hinder effective law enforcement.

On top of this, the Society feared that the anti-slavery commissioner would lack effectiveness on account of not being independent of the Home Secretary. The Society also worried that the bill could leave traffickers and slave masters with the opportunity to avoid prosecution through “double criminality.” This requires that the crime be an offince in both the requiring and receiving countries.

President of the Law Society Andrew Caplen said: “We applaud the government for taking seriously the ongoing problem of modern slavery, and also their plans to address the issue, but have reservations about the effectiveness of the proposals.”

Caplen added that “With the British government leading the way on modern slavery legislation, it is of paramount importance that the bill safeguards victims effectively and sets an example in this field.”

Read More

Senior Family Judge Calls for No-Fault Divorce

Divorce PetitionSir James Munby, England and Wales’ most senior family judge, has called for no-fault divorce to be introduced, and made available through a much faster, simpler process. He said that such divorces could be carried out without the need for a judge, and handled as a purely administrative matter by registrars.

The government has stated, however, that it does not have any plans to implement a change along these lines, and some have claimed that such a system could be easily abused.

Divorce by consent has, Sir James contends, essentially existed for thirty years. However, it is part of a requirement that couples prove their marriage has broken down irretrievably. Of the five criteria that can be used to achieve this, only one lacks an element of blame. This allows a divorce to be granted only when the couple have been separated with mutual consent for a period of two years. While it is therefore effectively possible to obtain a divorce because both partners are in agreement and without blame, it first requires two years of waiting. It is also necessary for both partners to agree that this is the reason for divorce.

The other forms of evidence that can be used to show a marriage has broken down and obtain a divorce are unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion after a period of two years, or five years separation without mutual consent. All of these hold one partner at fault.

By contrast, many other jurisdictions around the world offer no-fault divorce by mutual consent without the need to wait for a period of two years. Such no-fault divorces were originally going to be introduced in England and Wales by the Family Law Act 1996, but this part of the Act was scrapped by the Labour government following opposition to the concept.

Sir James is not the first to call for a more workable form of no-fault divorce in England and Wales, and this part of his suggestions will doubtless attract considerable support. However, the idea of treating such divorces as an administrative matter with no involvement from a judge will likely be more controversial.

Sir James contends that such divorces are already handled in this way in other countries, and that such a system “seems to work.” However, some legal professionals remain opposed to the idea. For example, Marilyn Stowe, a senior partner at Stowe Family Law, contends that divorce “should remain a legal process” because it is in essence “the dissolution of a legally binding contract of marriage.” Stowe also suggested that the system could be abused if “removed from judicial supervision.”

Read More

President of UK Supreme Court Enters European Law Debate

The most senior judge in Britain, Lord Neuberger, has given his opinions in the ongoing debate surrounding the role of European courts in the UK. In particular, he has described the concept of such courts overruling UK parliamentary decisions as “little short of offensive.”

The statements came in a speech regarding the way many Britons resent interference in UK affairs from European bodies. The speech particularly highlighted UK antagonism towards the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and its judges.

Lord Neuberger described court interference in parliamentary decisions of any kind as being “little short of offensive to our notions of constitutional propriety.” He said the fact that the courts in question were “not even British” made this even more true. He was referring to certain powers belonging to the Luxembourg Court and the Strasbourg Court.

While Lord Neuberger was willing to state some of his opinions categorically, he ultimately avoided choosing a side in the debate.

Lord Neuberger highlighted that the British seemed to be more resentful and suspicious of pan-European bodies and their role in national affairs than those in other EU countries. He suggested that this particular distrust and dislike could be at least partly rooted in historical grounds. Neuberger pointed out that the UK has not been occupied by a foreign power in the last 950 years. His belief is that this means that British people have less of a grasp than their European counterparts on “the need to lose a degree of autonomy for the sake of increasing the prospects of peace in Europe.”

He also suggested that the idea of courts interfering in national affairs was considered more offensive by British people than by those in other nations. The UK’s concepts of parliamentary sovereignty and the fact that Britain has no written constitution has prevented courts in the past from delivering judgements that contradict parliamentary affairs. The result, Lord Neuberger says, is a distinctly British concept that “it is unacceptable for ‘unelected judges to impose a diktat’ on a democratically elected parliament.” By contrast, Lord Neuberger states that most countries accept the idea of independent judges acting as a control on legislation sometimes, especially since they have no need to worry about being re-elected.

Ultimately, Lord Neuberger expressed little in the way of a definite position for or against the idea of courts playing a role in parliamentary affairs at times. However, he did seem to suggest that it should not be dismissed as something automatically to be avoided. Lord Neuberger said. “Our legal story is not one of splendid isolation but rather of splendid synthesis. The flow of legal ideas and concepts between Britain and mainland Europe has been and is a two-way process.”

Read More

New Justice Minister Calls for Diversity Among Barristers

BarristerSimon Hughes, the new Justice minister, as announced efforts to boost the number of women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds who become barristers. Hughes suggested that the profession is still very much dominated by white men, and that sections of the country may perceive it to be hostile as a result.

Hughes also encouraged younger people from low-income families to aspire towards a career in the law. He suggested they take inspiration from great lawyers such as Nelson Mandela, and said that there could soon be financial support for those from poorer backgrounds trying to establish themselves in a legal career.

England and Wales is currently home to 148 senior-level judges, but at present only five of these belong to an ethnic minority group. There are also 12 justices of the Supreme Court, of which only one is a woman.

Furthermore, a third of pupil barristers are Oxbridge graduates, according to the most up-to-date figures available. Perhaps surprisingly, this proportion is on the rise.

Summing up his point, Hughes said that “We still have a legal profession which is significantly dominated by white, middle-aged men.” He went on to add that “There are almost no women at the top end of the judicial system and very little ethnic diversity throughout the judicial system.”

He believes that this means the legal profession is a poor representation of modern Britain, lacking the diversity found in British society as a whole. He also said that greater diversity would show that the law in the UK is “equal for everybody and open to everybody and doesn’t institutionally discriminate.”

However, Mr Hughes – himself trained as a barrister – said that he could tell there was a “willingness to change” within the profession. “It would be overstating it to say the profession is in crisis,” he elaborated, “but I think they understand they do not command the public confidence they should.” Acknowledging that a complete transformation cannot be achieved instantly, Hughes said that he hopes to see some measurable level of change within two years.

Since taking up his post recently, Hughes has also issued statements of his intention to address several other issues facing the current UK legal system. For example, he expressed his determination to change the way family courts operate, making them less hostile and more open and transparent. He also intends to try and tackle high levels of imprisonment and reoffending among female lawbreakers.

Read More

Greater Openness in the Family Courts called for

It is important that people have a public confidence in the courts since a judge has the power to change someone’s whole life, according to Sir James Munby. The recent ‘ forced caesarian’ case of Alessandra Paccheri,  must bring greater transparency in family courts and the court of protection.  The decision that the 15-month-old daughter of Alessandra Pacchieri must not be identified, calls for a free and unrestricted public debate, This is the opinion of the senior family judge in England and Wales.

In December 2013, the baby girl was placed with prospective adopters after an order by a circuit judge made in October. Munby believes that the child has a right to claim privacy and anonymity. In the same way, the mother has a full right to tell her story to the world. Thus, courts have to be slow in expressing their views about what they perceive as failures by courts and judges.

Definitely in this case, that right should not be curtailed. The mother cannot be denied the right to speak out because this would be against any concept of human dignity and even humanity itself.

Munby has always been a judge who speaks frankly. He had clearly states that some reports of the case on a recent ruling that he delivered were tendentious and even inaccurate, even though he mentioned this was not entirely the fault of the media.

He specifically criticized a report in the Daily Mail from the early December where it was claimed that he had requested to know from social workers why the girl should not be reunited with his mother. He simply commented that this was not true and he has not directed any hearing.

Any further application was only directed to be heard from him. Any application that was made in the court of protection or the family court was all there is. Unfortunately, this has been repeated too much in the media. The justice system cannot blame the media for inaccurate information since for some reason none of the relevant information for released to the open public. Overall, the case has been for radical changes and transparency in family courts and the court of protection.

Read More

Age limit for Jury Service to be raised to 75

The opportunity for elderly people to a share their experience and priceless wisdom in the courtroom has been warmly welcomed by groups representing the aged community. The minister for criminal justice today revealed plans which will allow citizens up to 75 years old to be able to be part of a jury in courtrooms across England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice in a statement said that they aim to create a system which more accurately reflects today’s society and is more inclusive and representative. This aim will be achieved partly by increasing the age cap from 70 to 75 so that a larger percentage of the country’s population can sit as jurors in criminal cases.

1The criminal justice minister, Damian Green stated that a cornerstone of the justice system in Britain is for a person’s fate to be decided by the elderly, a rule which dates back some 800 years to the historic Magna Carta. He continued by saying that as society changes it is ever so important for the criminal trial process to evolve with the times the current state of the law does not recognise the improvement in peoples life expectancy which has increased over a period of 25 years. Mr Green pointed out that the judiciary can benefit from the elderly population and the knowledge which they can bring to a hearing.

In England and Wales on average there are close to 180,000 people who take part in jury service with the current age restriction for participants being 18-70. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 was the latest piece of legislation which brought changes to the age restrictions raising the cap from 65 to the current 70. Should the new proposals go through that would mean that further legislation would require implementation at the start of next year in order to establish the changes. The new law would require those in the 70 to 75 age group to also serve as jurors although the initial legislation would still provide a way out for people with a good excuse under the Juries Act 1974.

Paul Green who is the director of communications at Saga, a group representing elderly people, commented by stating that many of the elderly people are mentally agile and can be a valuable asset to any jury. He believes that such a change should be applauded and it is a matter of common sense.

Read More

Home Office’s controversial Data Communications Bill

With data protection laws in place, most information about individuals in the UK is kept strictly confidential. A new bill however which is to be introduced by the Home Office has been facing strong opposition from various groups. The Data Communications Bill could soon require companies to collect information about their customers, retain them and then provide the police with automated access to the system if such information is needed.

1

The Home Office have said that this step needs to be taken in order to ‘keep the public safe’. Currently when requested by police, information is passed on from businesses, in order to maintain a stable society through cooperation. The bill however has been criticised by privacy campaigners, all types of businesses, and cyber security experts.

The proposed changes to be made by the bill could cost around £1.8 billion, with which comes several other problems. The plan is to be carried out by an internet based company, chosen by the Home Office, who would need to set up a database system to carry out these functions. The system would need to be able to collect new data, and store it. Automated access would then need to be given to the police, however which information is passed on to the police would remain discreet in the eyes of the business that initially had collected the data.

For small businesses in particular, the bill could seem quite a challenge with the additional cost of setting up a way to collect the necessary information and then to retain it. Tech startups could also be affected on all scales, national and international. On the global level UK startups could be at a disadvantage where negotiations fail as a result of the new data rules. New businessmen and businesswomen could eventually move their business elsewhere due to the strict penalties for breaches of data laws imposed by the European Union. Digital businesses could be faced with a major barrier in growth. Whether or not the new data laws will be a success yet remains to be seen!

Read More