The Rule of Law

Through the wind and the rain and on the wrong bus I battled my way to the Ebsworth Memorial Lecture in the Great Hall of Middle Temple.  How long is it since I slipped along the cobbled pathway that is Middle Temple Lane?  How long since I actually went into the splendour of the Great Hall?  It is where I ate my dinners, where I was called to the Bar, and where I have perhaps twice had lunch since then.

The speaker was a judge from the American Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer, talking about Judicial Independence.  In fact his lecture was more about the Rule of Law. Even if you don’t agree with a particular part of it, he talked of the words that describe a society governed by the rule of law – humane, decent, civilised, and what the alternative is – random, incoherent, effectively chaos.  He did talk about the impossibility of reconciling an elected judiciary with the notion of judicial independence.  He talked about the major decisions which are taken by the Supreme Court, which are often quite technical, not to say apparently boring, but which can affect people’s daily lives and which are routinely ignored by the press, but the moment the word abortion, for example, is mentioned, the Supreme Court is all over the news.  He touched on the case of Bush v Gore, which decided the result of the 2000 presidential election, by majority of 5-4.  He mourned the cuts in public funding of schools which mean that Civics lessons, learning about government and the Consitution, are removed from the Curriculum so that people aren’t being taught what law is.

But what most interested me in what he said was when he talked about the 1958 Supreme Court case of Cooper v Aaron.   The issue was the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Although it had been decreed by the school district that the school would be desegregated, when the black children turned up to attend school in 1957, they were turned away.  The Supreme Court found that the problem lay with the view of the State government which opposed desegregation.  The decision of the Supreme Court was unusually unanimous and signed by all 9 members of the Court and was to the effect that states were bound by the Court’s decisions and had to enforce them even if the states disagreed with them.  And Justice Breyer touched on the human and public side of that debate, involving two young women at the time, one black, one white, Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan, and how the 4 September 1957 became a day that neither of them would ever forget.  He mentioned a book that has been written about their stories.  Here is the trailer.

Star crossed

Today I begin writing sensibly, with ear phones, so as not to disturb Joss who has come to deal with the drainpipes.  But let me tell you – if you are tempted to try this – that the first note of Any Time At All, by the Beatles, if not regulated, can cause severe ear damage.  It’s like a gun shot.  But such a good song.

So, Thursday, off to see Mark Steel.

A long chat with the very friendly guy at the ticket office of the Leicester Square theatre.  We agree that 2 hours is long for a show, and he warns darkly, ‘There is a projector.’   But this leads on to a discussion of film.

We compare a 2 hour stand up performance to a 3 hour film – I have just seen ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and he has been thinking of going.  Three hours, at first blush, not an attractive proposition.  But I urge him to see it because the time flew by.  Too many naked women of course – why why why? – but otherwise a fab film.  Leonardo di Caprio acts his socks off, literally and metaphorically.  So much better than American Hustle, I say.  Yes, he has seen that and we agree we can not see what all the fuss is about.  The first 10 minutes are good he says, and after you’ve got the idea there’s not much else.  Quite so.  After checking, he says, yes, Mark Steel starts on the dot of 7pm.

So a mercy dash to Pizza Express, two pizzas, Four Seasons and La Reine, plus the necessary red wine, ordered for me and C – currently stuck on a stationary train in darkest Surrey.  Will she get here in time?  Yes, no, yes, no.  Yes!  And he is good, very good.  Lovely to hear socialist humour.  So little of it about in the world of stand up – or at all.  And, as if he is the Wolf of Leicester Square, two hours fly by.  The projector is good too.  Audio visual aids are rarely a bad thing.  He is a very good impressionist – Ian Paisley, Tony Benn, others.  A bit of chat with the audience.  He makes it look so easy.

Romance is in the air, or on the air.  With a Daily Telegraph journalist asking stupidly rude questions of Francois Hollande – like a child.  You want to say – ‘that’s not clever or funny.’  But people who decide what news is broadcast on Radio4 obviously got a shiver of pleasure as he dared to speak.  Did they think, ‘Ooh, so brave’?  And the questions are played over again.  How is that good journalism?  My mum – who is not a journalist – could ask questions about people’s personal lives – except she wouldn’t.  There are wars going on and absurd amounts of money being paid to bankers, and issues about income tax (let’s just remember we need, we love, income tax – it’s what society’s all about).  But no, we have to ask the President of a very large country, adolescent questions on who you’re going out with.

But in the spirit of reconciliation, and remembering that the Beatles sang, ‘All You Need is Love’ (although I never really liked that track) onto the old British Legion Hall in Crouch End for an unlikely performance of Romeo and Juliet

It is a modern day production, set in a caravan park, reminding me that I once represented a man charged with a murder committed in a caravan park.  So I am a little anxious that I might know how the story ends.  And I am right!  Tragedy all round.  But a great evening.  A wonderfully enthusiastic young cast, no prompting.  The balcony scene translated into a discussion through a caravan window – so well done.  And for the audience, tables, candles, sofas, and an open bar.  We are at the holiday camp too.  Starts at 8, ends at 10.  Good parking.  And one more night to go – book your tickets now!  £7.  A bargain.

Romeo and Juliet 001

Romeo and Juliet 003