Monthly Archives: June 2013

  • How the MoJ treats consultation submissions

    Courtesy of the Criminal Bar Association’s Twitter account, evidence has emerged of the Ministry of Justice’s attitude to submissions to its recently closed consultation on its proposed changes to legal aid, which masquerade under the misleading title of ‘Transforming Legal Aid’ (posts passim).


    The Criminal Bar Association isn’t the only organisation that has received such information: the Bar Council has too.

    image of Bar Council tweet of 28th June 2013

    Some cynics have already said that they knew the MoJ wouldn’t bother reading submissions. However, what the top screenshot shows is the deplorable lack of IT skills on show from the mandarins of Petty France: they are too thick to realise that their email system sends the originator a message if that email is deleted without actually being read!

    Update: Doughty Street Chambers has since tweeted that the MoJ are apparently saying the deletions are an “erroneous technical glitch” and nothing has been deleted, as well as that people have been emailing to ask for a copy of their response so the MoJ can prove they still have those consultation responses.

    Well, that second tweet from Doughty Street just shows how much confidence and trust in the MoJ has eroded.

  • Capita interpreter dispensed with in trial

    Reposted from RPSI Linguist Lounge.

    Marisa Allman writes:

    We started a 3 day hearing on 25th June with my client giving evidence via a Capita interpreter. To begin with she was unfamiliar with the process for taking the oath, simply reading it to the witness and asking for confirmation.

    It then quickly became apparent from the answers to questions posed that the witness was not being asked the question as it had been put in English. After about 40 minutes of questions the other party who was also Punjabi speaking indicated that the interpreter was not interpreting either the question or the response correctly. My own interpreter confirmed this. The witness also complained that the interpreter was confusing her. A decision was taken to dispense with that interpreter and put in a request for another, who arrived at 3:15. The first day of the hearing was therefore effectively lost.

    I can also tell you that in January or February this year I was involved in a case where the Turkish, unrepresented, father had travelled from Moldova for a final hearing. The interpreter called in sick on the morning of the hearing and Capita were unable to provide a replacement. My instructing solicitor was willing and able to find a replacement from another agency but this was not permissible because of the contract with Capita. No hearing took place, the hearing had to be adjourned to May.

  • Save Felix Road Adventure Playground

    Never having had children, my contact with local play facilities has been limited. However, I do remember having a lovely conversation about the history of Bristol’s Easton district with the late local historian Lionel Ellery a couple of decades ago at Felix Road Adventure Playground.

    The adventure playground itself is sited on what was once the north coalyard of Easton Colliery, which operated from 1824 until 1911. From 1913 to 1972 the adventure playground then site served as a stone yard for Bristol building firm Cowlin.

    Felix Road Adventure Playground was established in 1972 by a group of local parents concerned that their children should have a space to play.

    However, its future is now under threat due to funding cuts by Bristol City Council, meaning it can only open for 2 days a week.

    A petition has been organised to secure the playground’s future. You can sign it online here.

    Paper versions of the petition have been left at these places for signature:

    • Easton Business Centre;
    • EMAP (Action for Children);
    • Easton Community Centre;
    • The Plough;
    • The Jolly Roger;
    • The Queens Head;
    • The Olive Grove Cafe;
    • Cafe Joanna, Chelsea Road;
    • Totally Toys, Gloucester Road; and
    • Playful, Gloucester Road.
    image of Felix Rd Adventure Playground
    Felix Rd Adventure Playground

    The petition needs 3,500 signatures to trigger a debate of the matter in full council.

    What is particularly galling about this funding cut is that Felix Road is located in Bristol’s Lawrence Hill ward, reputedly the most deprived council ward in South West England.

    Meanwhile, play facilities in some more prosperous parts of the city are not having their funding cut to the same extent.

    It is believed that St Paul’s Adventure Playground in St Agnes – an area with similar deprivation to Felix Road – is also under the same threat due to funding cuts.

    Why are Bristol’s poorest districts always treated so badly?

    It’s almost as if the city’s great and good couldn’t care less about those not so fortunate as themselves.

  • Free software a priority in education says French parliament

    Marianne - symbol of the French RepublicThe Senate and the National Assembly, the two houses of the French parliament, have agreed to make free software a priority for education, according to Joinup, the EU’s public sector open source news website. This Wednesday last the National Assembly confirmed a proposal by the Senate urging higher education institutions to give preference to free and open source software. However, the plan still needs to be accepted by the government.

    France’s senators have been urging the government to make free and open source software a priority in education for the past 2 months. In response, the government has indicated that it is prepared to encourage schools and universities in the use of free software and open document formats. However, this is not enough for the Upper House, which wants free software to be mandatory.

    Last month senators unsuccessfully tried adding free software use to plans for reorganising state schools; this week the Senate included it in proposals for higher education and research.

    The first proposal was watered down by the government when it came up for discussion in the National Assembly. Senators are hoping to succeed this time as their plan has now been accepted by a joint committee of both houses. The proposal will be voted on next week.

    April, a French free software advocacy group, is following developments closely and has welcomed the Senate’s recognition of the importance of free software. “We hope that the government is not going to make any new attempt at reversing this encouragement.”

    Unfortunately, the French government is resisting the Senate’s push for free software, alleging that it breaks European procurement rules (really? That’s a strange interpretation of those rules. Ed.). April says such a requirement is perfectly legal. “It was validated by the Conseil d’État (French administrative supreme court) in its decision of 30th September 2011. We urge the French government to publish a detailed legal analysis.”

    Reposted from Bristol Wireless.

  • Inflation in North Somerset

    The phrase “to spend a penny”, meaning to use a public lavatory, has its origins in the use of coin-operated locks on public toilets in the UK. When these were first introduced, the fee for use was normally one penny (1d); and it stayed at that level for decades, well into the second half of the twentieth century.

    However, the cost of being caught short and having to use a public lavatory has undergone a massive inflationary rise if a report in today’s Bristol Post is to be believed.

    picture of 10 shilling note

    Pictured above is an old English bank note with a face value of 10 shillings; that’s equivalent to 240 pence.

    The Bristol Post report states that people could be charged up to 50p (that’s ten shillings in old money. Ed.) to spend a penny in a new block of town centre toilets in Portishead, which could cost up to £40,000 to build.

    The Post quotes Portishead Town Council Clerk Jo Duffy as follows on the likely cost of spending a penny:

    There would be a charge levied for using the toilets, which could be up to 50 pence per visit. However the town council is keen to keep the charge at a lower level of around 20 pence if possible.

    Even 20 pence for a pee is extortionate, in my opinion.

    This blog has covered the peculiarities of life in North Somerset before now (posts passim) and at least one person leaving a comment on the Post report feels relieved he’s not a resident:

    Every day I wake up and thank the Lord that I don’t live in North Somerset.

  • That’ll lean you!

    This blog has written before about politicians’ scrapes with technology and their apparent inability to cope with it (posts passim).

    Below is a screenshot of a tweet (since deleted) by Andrew Selous, the Tory MP for South West Bedfordshire commenting on Chancellor of the Exchequer Gideon Osborne’s comprehensive spending review in the House of Commons earlier today.

    Tweet by Andrew Selous MP
    Tweet by Andrew Selous MP

    Andrew should also know that the first rule about criticising others’ use of language is to make sure one’s own is impeccable (but they probably omitted to teach him that at Eton. Ed.).

    Hat tip: Phil Gibson.

  • Judge gets a relative to interpret as Capita cancels an interpreter

    Reposted from RPSI Linguist Lounge.

    Imran Majid writes:

    I’ve been stuck in court all day partly due to another cock-up by Capita. The District Judge was in a dilemma whether to carry on refusing to hear a bail application in the absence of an interpreter. This is the 2nd day, Capita cancelled an interpreter yesterday and then failed to send an Arabic interpreter today. The District Judge got an unqualified relative to interpret. So well done Grayling, you’ve saved the government some money there.

  • Genoa to use open source ‘wherever possible’

    Genoa coat of armsThe City of Genoa in Italy is now encouraging the use of free and open source software and is saving local taxpayers more than €100,000 per year, Lettera43 reports.

    The Municipality of Genoa has decided to promote the use of free software and open source to save more than €100,000 a year. The council has already begun to use free software for services such as email, civil registry (births, marriages and deaths) and its intranet.

    In addition, trials are underway in nursery schools with e-learning and the use of PCs with free software and new groupware tools.

    “Free software, basically free, is a software in which the source code is accessible to all, editable by all,” said councillor Isabella Lanzone. “It will help us to free ourselves from the monopolies of the big computer companies and limit local government costs.”

    Furthermore, Joinup, the EU’s public sector open source news site, writes that Genoa will use open source ‘wherever possible’. The council is to start using the image manipulation tool Gimp, document archive solutions 7Zip and PDFCreator, as well as testing the use of Quantum GIS, Kosmo, Postgres and PostGIS for its Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

    In addition, the council has announced it will be using Open Document Format as the standard format for its electronic documents.

    Finally, the city is to use Linux for a number of PCs meant to be used by council staff members that do not have access to a computer by default to enable them to access the council’s personnel resources.

  • The snoopers are already here – without a charter

    image of eye staring back from screenAs part of Bristol Wireless, I’ve been closely involved in campaigning against the UK government’s plans for mass communications surveillance under the Communications Data Bill, also known as the “Snooper’s Charter” by its opponents (posts passim).

    It now appears that all this work might have been in vain. Amongst the revelations that have come to light as a result of US whistleblower Edward Snowden‘s disclosures to The Guardian and The Washington Post was the news that for many years, GCHQ, the British state’s eavesdroppers, have been running a programme called Tempora, which has been hoovering up internet traffic and communications data from undersea cables before they make landfall in the UK.

    GCHQ has been sucking up this data from millions – if not billions – of internet and telecommunications users at the rate of 600 mn. phone calls and 39 mn. gigabytes of data a day.

    In spite of this damning evidence, Foreign Secretary William Hague has been trotting out the same old “if you’ve nothing to hide, nothing to fear” mantra. I have some advice for Mr Hague: try telling that to the family of Stephen Lawrence, who have just discovered 20 years after his killing that part of the British state called the Metropolitan Police tried to smear and discredit the family after they’d mishandled Stephen’s murder investigation.

    However, there is a bit of positive news that has emerged today: Liberty – the human rights organisation – has today announced that it has issued a claim against the British intelligence services over their suspected involvement in the PRISM and Project Tempora privacy scandal.

    Liberty believes that its electronic communications – and those of its staff – may have been unlawfully accessed by the likes of the Security Services and GCHQ.

    Liberty will be ask the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) whether the British intelligence services have used PRISM and/or Tempora to bypass the formal UK legal process which regulates the accessing of personal material. The human rights group has issued a claim in the IPT, contending that rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (the right to respect for a person’s private and family life, home and correspondence) have been breached.

    Furthermore, Liberty is also concerned that the British Intelligence Services have used PRISM and Tempora to evade legal checks and balances and monitor people in the UK and may be treating internet communications as international rather than domestic to evade closer scrutiny and receiving material from their US partners to evade scrutiny altogether.

    James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty, said: “Those demanding the Snooper’s Charter seem to have been indulging in out-of-control snooping even without it – exploiting legal loopholes and help from Uncle Sam.”

    Finally, all this Anglo-Saxon surveillance has not gone down too well with some on the European mainland. Earlier this week, German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger wrote the following in the international edition of Der Spiegel:

    The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is. In a democratic constitutional state, security is not an end in itself, but serves to secure freedom.


    Contrast that civilised view with the control freakery displayed by UK Home Secretary Theresa May.

    This is a revised version of a post originally written for Bristol Wireless.

  • LibreOffice 4.1 RC1 released

    ODF file iconThe first release candidate for LibreOffice 4.1, the free and open source office productivity suite, has been released, according to The H Online.

    LibreOffice’s developers have released the RC1 version with release notes listing 61 bugs that have been fixed since the version’s Beta 2 publication a fortnight ago.

    This is the first of 3 release candidates scheduled between now and 22 July when the final release of LibreOffice 4.1 should take place.

    Due to the integration of libmwaw, LibreOffice 4.1 will also be able to handle legacy Mac formats from pre-Mac OS X applications such as Microsoft Word for Mac 5.1, Write Now 4.0, MacWrite Pro 1.5 and AppleWorks 6.0.

    LibreOffice 4.1.0 RC1 is available from the LibreOffice pre-releases downloads page. As with all pre-release builds, the developers do not recommend LibreOffice 4.1.0 RC1 for “mission critical” tasks.

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