Archive for May, 2015

William Godwin on Law

William Godwin
Godwin (1756-1836), was a political writer and novelist who was one of the earliest and most trenchant critics of law. He proposed a decentralised and simplified society based on voluntary associations of free and equal individuals. He lived with Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist, and was an influence on Shelley. Godwin’s views included the following:
• Man-made law is unnecessary because immutable reason is the true legislator. Men can do no more than declare and interpret the rules of universal justice as perceived by reason.
• The main weakness of law is its status as a general rule. No two actions are the same and yet the law absurdly tries to reduce the myriad of human actions to one common measure. As such it operates like Procrustes’ bed which cuts or stretches whoever lies on it.
• Law is inevitably made in the interest of the lawmakers and as such is a venal compact by which superior tyrants have purchased the countenance and alliance of the inferior.
• Like government, law fixes the human mind in a stagnant condition and prevents that unceasing progress which is its natural tendency.
• Punishment threatened or imposed by law is not an appropriate way to reform human conduct. Men are products of their environment. They cannot strictly speaking be held responsible for what they do. An assassin is no more guilty of the crime he commits than the dagger he holds. Because men are controlled by circumstance, they do not have free will. There can be no moral justification of punishment, whether it is aimed at retribution, example or reform.
• All punishment is a tacit confession of imbecility. It is worse than the original crime because it uses force instead of rational persuasion. Coercion cannot convince or create respect. It can only sour the mind and alienate the person against whom it is used.
• Law, like government, is not only harmful but unnecessary. Godwin’s answer to anti-social acts was to reduce the occasion for crime by eradicating its causes in government and accumulated property and by encouraging people, through education, to think in terms of the general good rather than private interest. Because human vice is mainly error, enlightenment would be enough to make people virtuous.

Death fall: health and safety prosecution: prison sentences

Fall death: suspended prison sentence
Health and Safety Executive v Tameem Shafi and Mohammed Shafi Karbhari (2015) Preston Crown Court, May 19
Tameem Shafi (TS) and Mohammed Shafi Karbhari (MSK) have been sentenced following the death of a worker in a fall.
Significant points of the case
• In January 2012 Ivars Bahmanis, a Lithuanian national, was carrying out refurbishment work, involving the installation of metal brackets for new roof joists at the former canal works in Blackburn.
• He fell eight metres from a wall and suffered fatal injuries. No safety measures were in place.
• The defendants had failed to plan the work at height or to employ competent contractors.
• They had deliberately chosen to save money and were well aware that work was being carried out in an unsafe manner using unskilled workers.
TS, who was in charge of the project, was sentenced to 45 weeks imprisonment for breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
MSK, the owner of the mill, was sentenced to 24 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years, for a breach of regulation 9, Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
An HSE inspector commented after the case that the defendants had tried to save money by asking unskilled works to carry out hazardous work activities around the building. As a result, the deceased had died needlessly in a horrifying incident which could and should have been prevented. There had been a previous incident on the site where a worker fell from height and broke his leg. This was never reported to the HSE.

Prisons: words of wisdom from Prince Peter Kropotkin

Kropotkin was a Russian geographer and revolutionary. His work included the following comments:
• Prisons do not moralise their inmates; they do not deter them from crime.
• Our penal institutions have been nothing but a compromise between the old ideas of revenge, of punishment of the “bad will” and “sin”, and the modern ideas of “deterring from crime”, both softened to a very slight extent by some notions of philanthropy.
• Most people who are kept now in jails, or put to death, are merely people in need of the most careful fraternal treatment.
• The higher instincts of human nature have been checked in their growth by the abominable conditions under which thousands and thousands of children grow up, and millions of adults are living, in what we call our centres of civilisation.
• If we analyse ourselves, we should see that all of us have had some feelings and thoughts such as constitute the motive of all acts considered as criminal. We have repudiated them at once; but if they had had the opportunity of recurring again and again; if they were nurtured by circumstances, or by a want of exercise of the best passions – love, compassion and all those which result from living in the joys and sufferings of those who surround us; then these passing influences, so brief that we hardly noticed them, would have degenerated into some morbid element in our character.

Class justice and the rule of law: John Wynne killed in the Royal Mint in 2000

The case of John Wynne and the Royal Mint
The case of John Wynne, employed by the Royal Mint at Llantrisant, South Wales, has highlighted the legal rules and procedures surrounding Crown immunity as a clear example of class justice. The facts, in summary, were that in 2001 Mr Wynne (W), suffered fatal crushing injuries when a six-tonne furnace fell from a crane. W, aged 50, had worked in the metal rolling department of the Mint for 21 years.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found itself unable to prosecute the Mint for breaches of health and safety legislation. Instead, it brought Crown Censure proceedings. At the hearing of these proceedings it was stated that the Mint had failed to follow safety procedures. The hearing was not open to the public. A report of the hearing was sent to the government, the Royal Mint and the HSE. W’s widow was not entitled to a copy of the report.
W’s widow is reported to have commented that she was shown pictures at the hearing which showed the furnace hanging from a crane, but not sitting on the hook properly. The furnace was balancing on the top and it fell. It had fallen once before, and no-one was hurt. The Mint’s management had not carried out safety checks. If they had done so, they would have realised that it was faulty and the accident could never have happened.
An HSE inspector is reported to have made the following points to the hearing:
• W’s death was an accident waiting to happen.
• There was sufficient evidence to bring a criminal prosecution against the Mint.
• Although Crown property, including the Mint, has to comply with health and safety regulations, it cannot be prosecuted because the Crown cannot prosecute itself.

Asbestos exposure in Newmarket school

Asbestos exposure: £22,400 fine
Health and Safety Executive v Labform Ltd (2015) Ipswich magistrates’ court, May 12
Labform Ltd, a specialist laboratory design and installation company, has been fined following the exposure to asbestos of workers, pupils and teachers.
Significant points of the case
• In July 2012 Labform was managing the refurbishment of parts of a science block at Newmarket College School. Sub contractors disturbed asbestos as they were removing a wall and channelling the floor.
• The company had not arranged for a detailed refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey to be undertaken.
The company was fined £22,400 plus £11.700 costs for four breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
An HSE inspector is reported to have commented after the case that exposure to asbestos was a serious and well-known health risk, so it was essential that duty-holders took suitable and sufficient measures to prevent the disturbance, spread and exposure to asbestos. Failing to take action to identify asbestos while planning work, and to ensure that any contractors who may disturb asbestos are aware of the location and type of asbestos present, and not taking appropriate measures to protect the health of others, is totally inexcusable.
Approximately 4500 people die each year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres. This makes it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Airborne fibres can become lodged in the lungs and digestive tract and can lead to lung cancer or other diseases. Symptoms may not appear for several decades.

Human rights and prisons: Napier v Scottish Ministers

• Cuban prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic and unhealthy. This can be compared with the position in the United Kingdom and the United States. For example, in Napier v Scottish Ministers (2005), N was a remand prisoner in Barlinnie Prison. He had to share a cell which was designed for one person. The cell had poor washing and toilet facilities and human waste had to be “slopped out”. He was confined to the cell for an average of 20 hours a day. The cell was described as small, overcrowded, gloomy and stuffy. N developed severe eczema and psychological problems. The Scottish court decided that he had suffered degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention. He had been exposed to conditions of detention which were such as to diminish his human dignity and to arouse in him feelings of anxiety, anguish, inferiority and humiliation.

Human rights in Cuba

Human Rights Watch acknowledged advances in education and healthcare for the general population but lamented that they were not matched by respect for civil and political rights. It concluded that Cuba had the worst human rights record in the region.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign responded to these allegations with the following:
• Cuba had 40,000 doctors providing healthcare in 80 developing countries.
• 1.5 million people had received sight-saving operations.
• Thousands of students from poor countries were in receipt of free medical scholarships.
• Cuban priorities were health, education and literacy.
In October 2009 the UN Development Program’s Human Development Report, which measures and compares development status in 182 countries, made the following points about Cuba:
• Cuba’s education index is the equal highest in the world, ranked with Australia, Finland, Denmark and New Zealand.
• Its adult literacy rate is 99.8%.
• School enrolments are 100%.
• Public expenditure on education is higher than that of Australia.
• Cuba has the highest ratio of female to male enrolment in education.
• Life expectancy is 78.5 years.
• 43% of seats in Parliament are held by women. This is the third highest level in the world.

Human rights: we need more not less

Bill Bowring’s discussion of human rights includes the following:
• There is a clear conflict between the Western conception of rights as liberal conceptions of human rights, and social justice.
• In the United States individual rights, especially freedom of expression and property rights, will always trump social policy considerations.
• Everyone is entitled, as a right of citizenship, to be able to meet their basic needs for income, shelter and other necessities.
• The Human Rights Act 1998 does not protect the full range of rights contained in the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
• There is nothing inherent in social and economic rights that prevent judicial determination of their content.
• There is a deep antipathy in the United Kingdom to collective or group rights.

Doncaster foundry death: health and safety prosecution

Foundry death: £150,000 fine
Health and Safety Executive v H.I. Quality Steel Castings Ltd (2015) Sheffield Crown Court, May 11
H.I. Quality Steel Castings has been fined following the death of a worker at a steel foundry.
Significant points of the case
• Stuart Stead, an employee of the company, was using a hand-held grinder to work on a casting at the company’s foundry in Doncaster.
• The disc fitted to the machine exploded and sent fragments across his workbay. A shard struck him in the mouth. He suffered fatal injuries.
• The disc was nine inches in diameter despite the fact that the grinder had a maximum tool diameter of two inches unless guarded. It was attached to the grinder by using a non-proprietary tool. The disk was rated for 6650 rpm but was running at 12,000 rpm.
• The grinder had no guard.
• The excessive speed of the grinder, coupled with the added load caused by the non-standard attachment, had put stresses on the disc beyond its capacity.
• The HSE’s investigation had discovered a number of previous incidents when discs had flown off grinders. None of these had been mentioned in monthly minutes of the company’s health and safety meetings.
• Despite some initial training in abrasive wheels, employees did not understand rotation speeds of machines versus discs and had free access to a number of grinders and discs. This contributed to the prevalence of unsafe combinations.
The company was fined £150,000 plus £24,000 costs for a breach of section 2, HSW Act, for failing to ensure the health and safety of employees.

Human rights: we need more,not less

It now seems certain that the government will abolish the Human Rights Act. This can be seen as a clear move towards totalitarianism: dictatorships normally get rid of human rights. I have repeatedly argued that European human rights are, essentially, bourgeois individual civil rights, and that human rights should include social and economic rights, for example the right to housing. There should be more human rights, not less. These arguments are now even less likely to prevail. We will be forced back to our common law rights – maybe Magna Carta is next on the list for repeal?