Monthly Archives: January 2013

Liberian president Found Guilty of War Crimes

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was found guilty of financially aiding rebels that carried out atrocities in his neighboring country of Sierra Leone. He was found guilty and was sentenced to 50 years in prison by The Hague, making him the first former head of state to be convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II. Taylor’s lawyers have put forward 45 grounds of appeal.

With defense lawyers claiming that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice, they are calling for Taylor to be acquitted of his charges on the basis that he was motivated by his greed for diamonds and not blood and that this greed led him to sponsor rebels in Sierra Leone; while stating that his actions may have indirectly lead to the deaths of more than 50 000 people and left many more maimed in a ten year civil war that end in 2002.

Taylor was said to have an arrangement with Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. He would provide them with arms and logistical support and in return he would be paid in ‘conflict’ diamonds.  Prosecutors in the meanwhile are urging for Taylor’s 50 year sentence to be upgraded, although practically a life sentence, to be upgraded to an 80 year sentence, to make more of an example of the 62 year old.  Judges last year found Taylor guilty of more than 10 war crimes, including the use of child soldiers, rape murder and torture.

Taylor’s lawyers are due to speak later this week, where they will argue that some evidence used against the former president is ‘uncorroborated hearsay’. Taylor was present in court but remained silent.  His situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better with presiding Judge Richard Lussick commenting “The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a result of his actions.”

Drive to Increase Senior Female Lawyer Numbers

The Law Society has backed an initiative intended to lead to an increase in the numbers of female lawyers in senior positions. The law is still a male-dominated environment, and traditionally has always been so. The latest initiative intends to set targets for women to graduate to senior jobs, with a recent investigation recognising that ‘things must change’. It was recently reported that over three quarters of judges in the UK are male, and a similar situation is prevalent in the rest o the legal industry.

Diversity is the name of the game, with the report suggesting gender support and encouragement should be put into place. The proposals were revealed at a recent summit of Women in Law, at the headquarters in the City of London. It remains to be seen how widespread the changes may be, or how they can be initiated.

Men Dominate Board-Rooms

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President of the Law Society, was forthright in her assessment:

“In some firms, where the opportunities for those wanting to strike a balance between high-flying work and family life are still scarce, men dominate the boardrooms. Unwittingly, these firms may be losing talented women and promoting mediocre men. If career progression was based on pure merit, some male business leaders and law firm senior partners would never even have seen the paintings on the boardroom wall.”

At the event some of the more prevalent female lawyers had opinions to voice, among them Ann Minogue, a partner at Ashurst construction:

“Targets would be the right thing to introduce as opposed to quotas, which might meet resistance and create tension if perceived as special treatment – feeding in turn into the unconscious bias issue. One aspect I thought could have been addressed more is the tendency to approach partnerships in a linear way. Senior female lawyers should still be seen as potential partners at, say, 10 years’ PQE, rather than being passed over at six or seven years’ PQE and then dismissed as partner prospects.”

French Government in Twitter Concerns

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Social networking phenomenon Twitter is making waves in France as the government joins in a debate about the use of offensive hashtags and tweets. Hashtags, for the uninitiated, are labels attached to a tweet, which is the message itself. Twitter operates by allowing people to post short messages that can be viewed by ‘followers’ and has been a massive hit across the world. The concerns in Frances are over homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic remarks and implications that are becoming more commonplace among Twitter users.

The French government has had talks with officials from the US-based Twitter organisation, and has declared that the company should be actively seeking offensive tweets and barring them from publication. Twitter is well known as a guardian of free speech, and will be more than reluctant to allow any censorship. However, the French are insistent that some of the more offensive material may be illegal under French law.

Offensive and Illegal

In recent weeks a number of hashtags featuring offensive messages have ‘trended’ – that is become hot topics – on French Twitter; one – #SiMaFilleRameneUnNoir (If my daughter brings home a black man) – speculated on what parents would do in that situation, with particularly unpleasant results, and another – #SiMonFilsEstGay (If my son was gay) – invited the same in a different situation. Others have included #UnBonJuif (a good Jew) and #SiJetaisNazi (If I were a Nazi).

There have been court cases brought by anti-racism groups in France asking for the identity of those who post inflammatory and offensive tweets to be made public. However, Twitter has agreed to remove offensive tags, but as the information is stored in the USA, insists that French law does not apply. A spokeswoman for Twitter explained:

“We’re not fleeing our responsibility. Our concern is not to violate American law in cooperating with the French justice system. Our data is stored in the US, so we must obey the rule of law in that country.”

The row looks set to continue as it is difficult to see how anything other than blanket censorship could bring an end to the unsavoury use of Twitter and other social networking media.

Experts Baffled by Fall in Crime

There is a traditional view that, in times of austerity, crime is likely to rise. This applies to all aspects of criminal activity, and in particular to crimes against property such as theft. However, recent figures have revealed that crime rates have fallen, somewhat surprisingly, in the UK over the last year, a statistic that goes firmly against the expected. Overall, crimes appear to number some eight percent less than in the previous year.

The murder rate in England and Wales also fell by some ten percent, with 549 murders recorded across the year, and this is the lowest level since as long ago as 1978. The figures are baffling criminologists, who believe that trends in the past show precisely the opposite, with crime rising across the board when times are hard. It would appear that both the official annual crime survey and statistics from the police point to a change.

1Professor Mike Hough, an expert criminologist with many years experience in analysing trends, said:
“This fall is striking and unexpected, especially in view of the fiscal crisis, whose impact is bearing down sharpest on the poorest and most marginal social groups. There is no single explanation. Better policing may be part of the explanation, but for property crimes like burglary and car theft changes in opportunities are more important.”

He went on to elaborate as to some possible reasons for the decline in crime:
“Cars are getting more and more secure, and the value of goods that burglars used to target is falling fast. These factors may spill over to other property crime, because there are fewer opportunities for ‘low-level crimes’ or ‘debut crimes’ on which young offenders can cut their teeth. But expressive crimes like violence and vandalism are also falling. Possibly the fall in alcohol consumption among the 16-25 age group may be a factor here.”