Frederick Wilmot-Smith


24 July 2018

Strong Reasons

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are said to have been part of the terrorist cell that beheaded numerous British and American citizens, including the journalist James Foley. The pair, currently detained in Syria by Kurdish forces, are likely to stand trial for these crimes in the United States. Part of the reason Guantánamo Bay remains open is that it can be extremely difficult to secure convictions in such cases; the US will want as much evidence as possible, and the UK, which has been gathering intelligence for years, will have a lot.


20 October 2017

Sovereignty or Power

On 29 March 2019, unless the European Council unanimously decides otherwise, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union and a new trading arrangement between the EU and the UK will come into effect. If no bespoke deal is approved, trading arrangements will be conducted on World Trade Organisation terms. The UK will also lose any arrangements to which it is a party through the EU: there are more than 750. This is one reason the UK’s negotiating position with the EU is asymmetrical: even if ‘no deal’ harms both sides’ trade, it will be much worse for the UK.


9 December 2016

Is there a plan?

The oral argument in Miller v. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union finished in the Supreme Court case yesterday. The question was whether or not the government has to consult Parliament before notifying the European Council, under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, that the UK intends to leave the EU. Last month the Divisional Court in London ruled that Parliament must be consulted; the government is appealing against that decision. Whatever the outcome of the case, the proceedings were remarkable. As with most hearings in the Supreme Court, the argument was streamed online. Unlike most, it attracted quite a few viewers. Transcripts were made available; commentators summarised the arguments. Lawyers took to Twitter to explain – or mock – the proceedings. When so little else seems to be going according to plan, this is some cause for celebration: the peaceful, public scrutiny of government actions by an open court is a rare thing.


26 September 2016

Lights, Camera, Justice!

The United States Supreme Court does not permit video recording. ‘The day you see a camera come into our courtroom,’ Justice David Souter said in 1996, ‘it’s going to roll over my dead body.’ The Supreme Court is not, he argued, ‘part of the entertainment industry’. In a recent paper called Transforming Our Justice System, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice says that the justice system ‘should be competing … with every modern consumer experience’ that citizens ‘have in their lives’.


28 June 2016

Law v. Politics

The legal problems arising from the EU referendum need to be distinguished from the political ones. One thing is clear: the referendum itself had no more legal effect – either within the United Kingdom or on the UK’s legal relations with the European Union – than a straw poll of your friends (or mine). The UK is still a member of the EU and has not, legally, indicated its desire to leave the Union. The political consequences are quite another matter, and may well lead to exit from the EU.


23 March 2016

Profiting from Divorce

‘We are on familiar ground,’ Lord Faulks said. Another increase to court fees, another futile motion of regret in the House of Lords. Fees for an uncontested divorce petition – which costs, on average, £270 to process – went up from £410 to £550. Government profits from divorce are set to increase.


15 October 2015

Unjust and Expensive

Ronald Dworkin once said that a judge faced with an unjust law ‘would have to consider whether he should actually enforce’ it ‘or whether he should lie and say that this was not the law after all, or whether he should resign’. Faced with the criminal courts charge, introduced in April, magistrates have taken all three options. The government’s policy is that ‘convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them’. Those who plead guilty pay £150; those who protest their innocence but are found guilty face a charge of up to £1200. There are obvious problems with this. First, courts have a financial incentive to find an accused person guilty. Second, the risk of the charge is a substantial inducement for the innocent to plead guilty. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is happening; it would be surprising if it were not. Third, the charge, which isn’t means-tested, is especially punitive on the poor. Louise Sewell, who had not eaten for two days, stole Mars bars worth 75p. After pleading guilty to theft, she was left with a bill of £150 for her use of the court.


29 April 2015

Death on Nusa Kambangan

In 2005, Australian officials learned of a plot to smuggle heroin from Indonesia to Australia. They passed the information onto the Indonesian authorities, saying they should ‘take what action they deem appropriate’. Nine people, now known as the Bali Nine, were arrested and convicted. The Australian ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were last night tied to a post and shot dead. They refused blindfolds. There were twelve marksmen for each prisoner, but to ease their consciences only three fired live rounds.