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In politics and international relations, some matters can be long and on-going, and can rumble on for years. Former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell MP was initially quizzed over the plebgate scandal in 2012; the matter was still going through the courts in 2014. Sometimes, over time the matter can fade out of public and political sight; what of Julian Assange, Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden? Their revelations were explosive, creating tensions in international relations, and attracted criticism for the governments exposed. However- where are they now? Their names and deeds have largely faded out of public perception- but their legacy has not.

As regards their legacy, 2014 saw the three agencies of British Intelligence under public and governmental scrutiny as never before, as a result of the allegations of 2013. Indeed, the Chiefs of MI5, SIS and GCHQ were grilled relentlessly (and publicly) before the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee in November. The spymasters defended themselves robustly, stating clearly that their actions helped protect and safeguard the UK and democracy. A closed court, however, cleared and vindicated the intelligence agencies over the matters deriving from the whistleblowers of previous years in early December. As such, the matter of intrusive intelligence gathering and electronic interceptions can hopefully be laid to rest, and the intelligence services allowed to retreat again into the shadows where they operate so successfully.

That was before, allegations and court cases over British involvement in, or knowledge of, torture was brought up- and a US Senate report exposed CIA torture. The report also pointed to a degree of British involvement in the torture or apprehension of terror suspects. As such, 2015 will once again see the three British Intelligence agencies on the defensive, and before the spotlight they hate, and before the government oversight which is so vital. Given that 2015 sees and election in the UK, and the beginning of the US Presidential election cycle, doubtless many political hopefuls will be seeking to wring political capital out of the scandal.

However, some matters in politics and international relations have a nasty habit of not going away. Rather, some matters can escalate. Alternatively, as the matter develops, the initial matter can fade, as new twists emerge, or new elements become significant. As such, diplomats and commentators can still be dealing with the same matter several years later.

The writer well remembers writing about an uprising in Ukraine in December 2013. The people of Ukraine were peacefully protesting to their leaders about a decision whether a trade agreement should be signed with the EU, at the risk of angering their former Russian overlords and masters. As Christmas 2013 passed, instead of fading away, the matter became more serious. The embattled President was forced to step down and flee. 2014 saw matters develop to such an extent that Russia was able to annex the Crimea region of Ukraine. Although this attracted great international condemnation, and a chorus of indignation from commentators, diplomats and the UN, no decisive action was taken against Moscow for that act. This was in keeping with a similar lack of action in recent years against leaders such as President al Assad in Syria, and Kim Jong- un in North Korea.

As Russia looked ever westwards, with fighting flaring up in various eastern European regions next to Russia, and military over flights and increased naval activity across Europe and indeed Canada and the Arctic, the West, and the UN, resorted to diplomacy and sanctions. Although President Putin received the cold shoulder and was vilified (politely) at the G20 in Brisbane in November, little firm action was taken. However, it became apparent that some troubles in Russia’s economy are now emerging as 2014 draws to an end. Some put that down to sanctions finally having an effect; others are less sure that sanctions would actually do much to affect the seventh largest global economy, worth an estimated $2.113 trillion in 2013.

What was an internal uprising in December 2013 is now a matter of global security concern in December 2014. What will 2015 bring as regards Ukraine, Crimea, and the surrounding region? What twists and turns will be seen on the international stage?

Despite many educated guesses, it is hard to tell. Other international matters (such as IS in Syria and Iraq) will also need to be tackled head on in 2015, as those matters also escalate further, with no sign of ceasing. Lessons from previous aggressors, and lessons learnt from fighting similar extremists and insurgents need to be applied, not forgotten, if IS is to be successfully dealt with.

2014 was also a significant matter for internal British politics. After the historic independence referendum in Scotland, it is quite clear that great governmental and constitutional reform and change will be coming to the British Isles over the life of the next parliament (regardless of whatever party or parties is in power). Along with a reduction in public spending set to make the precious spending cuts look like a drop in the ocean, local government will become more powerful.

However, those matters of internal UK politics are also for 2015. Before the politicians and civil servants start planning and discussing such matters, let alone implementing the necessary changes, 2014 still has a few more weeks left to run.

During that time, the writer would like to wish everyone every joy and happiness over the Christmas season, and all peace and prosperity for 2015- whatever the New Year might bring.

Across the Atlantic, aside from the long drawn out ritual and circus that is the US Presidential election, throughout the US political calendar there are always elections- so it seems to the politically apathetic British. If not for state governor, then congressmen seem to have to face their electors on a regular basis. Even the Senate seems to be plagued with re-elections. As such, it is amazing that the US political machine ever gets anything done.

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Guy Fawkes Night over here in the UK was marked in the traditional way, with fireworks. Across the Atlantic, the only fireworks seen was at the ballot box as America voted in the mid- term elections. 2014’s mid- terms saw many (by but no means all) congressmen and senators up for re- election. Indeed, several state governors also were voted on – if anything, the most crucial one; the state governor is more relevant to the lives of ordinary Americans than the Presidency.

As the results filtered in, and were pounced upon by political analysts, media and commentators with the fervour usually displayed by predators pouncing on their prey, one thing was evident. For the US politicly scene, it was business as usual; there were no great changes, or surprises. By and large, the US voted according to predictable voter trends. It was also similar to the last midterms, in 2010, when the Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat, Again, that was predictable; usually, the party in power does lose support during the mid terms. The point of note, both in 2010 and now again in 2014, was the severity of the Democrat defeat.

As 2012 was revisited, Guy Fawkes Night saw the Democrats delivered an even greater electoral defeat. The Republicans took control of the Senate, with 52 senators to 45. In the House of Representatives, of 435 seats, the Republicans ended the night with 243 seats, to 179 for the Democrats. With such control of Congress, the Republicans can now make the last two tears of his term in office very painful for President Obama- even without the opinionated, uncompromising John A Boehmer.

As per usual in US politics, the mid terms have to be studied in the context of the upcoming race for the White House- which seemingly begins in mid 2015, so just around the corner. Once again, a voter trend was seen. The mid terms can potentially be seen as the American public rejecting Obama as they rejected Bush six years ago. After two presidents the opposite end of the political spectrum, what is next for the Executive branch? Ultimately, a middle of the road candidate would would be preferable. Someone who is both a realist, and an idealist- but definitely someone who can reach out across the aisle, and engage in bi-partisan politics.

The mid terms showed the American political way- an inherently complicated system which delivers true democracy via a series of perpetual elections for Governors, Senators, Congressmen, and President. Although delivering truly a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ such a system does give rise to little change in politics, policies, or procedures. Before policies and procedures can take any effect, it is time for the next round of elections. As such, leaders will rarely (but by no means never) back anything controversial, as they ultimately want re-election. This is especially so given the balance of power between Executive and Congress, and which party has control of the various institutions of state. By contrast, the British Houses of Parliament, Supreme Court, Crown and Executive (government of the day) form an intricate and careful separation of power between the various institutions of state. It is an intricate system of mutual checks and balances formed over a millennia.

For America, it is the same. Although not so developed and advanced, Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, and the state Governors keep a similar check on each other. At all times, it is the US Constitution that is firmly in the background, a guiding beacon for each aspect of US government.

Although cumbersome and election heavy, that is what the Americans have. By having to vote constantly, there is great voter engagement- more so than in the UK. It is that constant voting which allows for continuity and constancy, for things to keep on in the same way and manner. This is by contrast to the UK, where a newly elected government can (by and large) enact any policy, and carry in out for five years- only for the next government to alter or overturn such policy. The result of the latter is to cause governmental gridlock, as nothing gets gone- the result of the former is to ensure movement and continuity.

Both systems, however, are based around the people- the voters who put the politicians in office. As the UK celebrates Guy Fawkes night every November 5th, they celebrate victory over a plot to overthrow that very same principle of democratic representation.

 

America, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it

 (Abraham Lincoln)

“A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.”

Since Woodrow Wilson set out the 14 Points at the Paris Peace Conferences in 1919, self determination has been an ideal throughout the 20th century. The right and ability of a people or a nation to determine their own fate, and to decide their own identity, has been championed throughout the last turbulent century.

1Indeed, as the map of Europe was redrawn several times throughout the twentieth century, such a matter has become increasingly important. As the Austro Hungarian Empire collapsed, and the regions inside it forged their own national identity free from that of their former rulers, many hoped that their own nationalistic dreams would be realised and achieved. Two Worlds Wars, and the subsequent divisions throughout Europe proved those dreams to be wrong.

Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, such a hope returned to Europe. The previous centuries of (often despotic) foreign rule came to an end, to be replaced with strong nationalistic sentiments, and a sense of freedom and optimism. The last two decades have only served to strengthen and support such hopes and dreams- born out of fear and uncertainty all those years ago. Europe is now a thriving collective of individual nation states, all of them celebrating and championing their own unique culture, language and heritage. Whatever the political, economic and social impart of the European Union, Europe is united (although very disharmoniously in a troubled and often flawed political and economic union) in a through the disunity of all these disparate, and separate nation states.

The fall of the USSR led to the creation of the modern Europe, with a remarkable degree of success. As a fulfilment of his dream of national self determination, President Woodrow Wilson would be proud. He himself was from a nation that rejected their own imperial overlords, and over the centuries became their own distinctive nation, founded on an ideal of freedom and independence as opposed to a national identity.

It is not just in Europe; such an ideal is global. Just off the tip of South America lies a rocky, windswept chain of islands, known as Las Malvinas to Argentina, and the Falklands to the UK. For several centuries their ownership has been disputed. However, 2013 saw a landmark referendum held on the Islands (population 2932- and several thousand penguins and sheep), in which 99.8% voted to remain British. After centuries of disputed ownership, both London and Buenos Aires could not get a more clear signal than that as regards how the Islander self identify, and as to their nationalist sentiments. They have exercised their right to self determination. Of course, the matter of the Falklands is not as straightforward as that- and neither will it be resolved as easily.

As the USSR collapsed, several of its regions (such as Chechnya, Moldova, South Ossetia, and Donetsk) expressed such nationalistic sentiments. The intervening decades have seen great political posturing, military conflicts, and social upheaval as those and surrounding regions have attempted (with varying degrees of success) to achieve that dream of a nation state, backed with a distinct national identity.

The collapse of the British Empire similarly saw regions seeking their own independence and aspiring to self determination. In the Far East, the foundation of Malaysia following World War II had it roots in the amalgamation by the UN of the former British colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak- with their consent to unite and to form a nation together. It must be noted that this was arranged at a political level, without the people being consulted directly via a referendum, but with great popular support.

Self determination, though, can turn very ugly. The breakup of Yugoslavia, and the subsequent civil wars in the various regions along ethnic lines, goes to show just how far people will go to establish and defend their own culture and national identity. Self determination is a wonderful ideal- but the route to achieving it can be bloody and painful.

Aside from the human rights upheld by the European Convention on Human Rights, and similar legislation, the right to self determination is often the most missed or overlooked right. That right of citizens to choose their own national identity, to follow and uphold their own national traditions and heritage freely, openly and without fear is extremely important. As a collective right, it is crucial

In making that choice, many factors come into play. Some may be straightforward, others less so. Some factors might be cultural, or a matter of tradition. Language plays a part – as does economic matters. Some such matters will be linked to a neighbouring state, or to past colonisers- some factors unique to that region.

Although an issue that has very much been a part of international politics and relations for centuries until it is was clearly articulated by President Wilson, self determination has been a key theme throughout the 20th century, particularly in Europe. Indeed, the recent vote in Scotland, and nationalistic mutters in areas as diverse as Bavaria and Catalonia, shows that self determination is still as important today as it was when set out at Versailles in 1919.

Always an emotive issue, self determination does have the great advantage that it gives the people the right to have their say, and to make their own collective decision as regards their national identity. Admittedly, though, self determination can cause more problems than it solves- for example, the divisions in Northern Ireland. Rarely, will the result of such a collective decision result in everyone and all parties being happy with the outcome.

However (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln), to (mis)quote another United States President, “You can [please] all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot [please] all the people all the time.”

The law of equity, trusty and restitution (along with their companion land law) is every law student’s nightmare. It is complicated, archaic, and convoluted. It is heavy in pure legal theory, and has more rules and intricate legal principles than buying a house.

The cases are very technical (Vandervell v IRC, Grey v IRC, Mascall v Mascall, Cain v Moon, inter alia), and the judges never seem to make things easy in their judgments. Equity has long been the bane of every law student; excepting those who actually find equity interesting, and enjoy the mental challenge surrounding the details of presumed resulting trusts, Quistclose trusts, and Anton Pillar orders.

However, sometimes equity does have its moments. Sometimes, an equity case comes along that makes all legal minds (regardless of their opinions of the subject) smile, laugh or shake their heads. A current proceeding at the High Court in London is one of those cases.

In the High Court, the plaintiff (or claimant, in this post- Woolf Reform legal world) is one Mrs. Nora Al- Daher, a self-confessed gambling addict. She is suing the Ritz Hotel in London for allowing her gamble (and lose) £2 million in one evening at their casino. Her lawsuit is in response to the Ritz’s legal claims against her for £1m that she still owed the Ritz.

Her case, according to the press reports, is that she had already lost money gambling in other casinos that day in April 2012 before arriving at the Ritz. Upon arrival, she had informed the staff that she was a gambling addict, had lost money gambling earlier, and did not want to gamble further that evening. As the evening progressed, however, she reached her credit limit. Instead of stopping her credit, the staff apparently encouraged her, and increased her credit limit. Mrs Al- Daher further claims that the Ritz staff took advantage of her, and should have stopped her from playing.

Appearing for the Ritz, Clive Freedman QC has been ably rebutting those claims. In defence, Mr Freedman has stated that Mrs Al- Daher has been paying her debt for nine months after her losses without any complaint. Further, she still owes the Ritz £1m, as several of her cheques have not been honoured. Indeed, according to Ritz Hotel Chief Executive Roger Maris, it is usual for some high stakes gamblers to be granted extensions on thier credit limits. Additionally, Mrs Al- Daher’s track record of paying her gambling debts had been very good; consequently, the Ritz staff were happy to extend her credit limit. At this time, the case in the High Court is still on-going.

Keen students of equity will at once recall a similar case; that of Lipkin Gorman v Karpnale. In that leading and ground breaking case, the House of Lords heard how Mr Norman Barry Cass, a solicitor at Lipkin Gorman, drew £220,000 from the firm’s accounts, and gambled it at the Playboy Club. Owned at the time by Karpnale Ltd, the Playboy Club gained over £150,000 (which Mr Cass lost) indirectly from Lipkin Gorman. Mr Cass (after fleeing to Israel) was brought back and imprisoned. Lipkin Gorman subsequently sued the Playboy Club for the return of the stolen money. It must be noted that at that time gambling contracts (being contrary to public policy) were considered void under the Gaming Act (1845). The case was a headache for the equity lawyers involved- and for subsequent generations of law students.

Lipkin Gorman v Karpnale was a significant and leading judgment in the area of restitution and unjust enrichment. Quoting from a legal dictionary, restitution is essentially the legal principle that, if a person gains at the expense of someone else, and there are no legal grounds for them to do so, then that person has been unjustly enriched. Consequently, restitution must be made.

Legal academics and judges have been debating, altering and discussing theories of unjust enrichment for centuries, with various degrees of complication. It was Lord Robert Goff in Lipkin Gorman v Karpnale who boldly advanced the UK principles of restitution with his “change of position” theory. As much as the writer would like to (equity and unjust enrichment being of academic interest to the writer) comment on that leading case further, there is neither scope nor word limit to so.

The House of Lords ruled that the Playboy Club had to return the money to the solicitors- less the amount they had paid out to Mr Cass in winnings. Restitution (repaying the money) had to be made: but by paying out winnings to Mr Cass, the club’s position had been changed, reducing their liability.

As was stated at the beginning, equity is complicated and not every law student’s favourite subject. Some of the cases are very technical and dull- but some can be quite entertaining to read. What the judges actually thought of the parties involved in such cases luckily does not make it into the law reports.

Returning to the gambling Omani (Mrs Al- Daher is the wife of the Foreign Minister of Oman, to make the matter more embarrassing for her), a large part of her case will probably be determined by similar principles of unjust enrichment. The fact which will give the lawyers an equity related headache is that she already owes the Ritz money. As such, her case is not a straightforward case of unjust enrichment; not that there ever is a straightforward case of unjust enrichment.

At the centre of both cases, though, is a gambling addict. Both cases serve to highlight the fact that, to serve an addiction, ordinary people, or those with a great sense of morality, will commit all and every act to fuel and service their addiction. The addiction can be to alcohol, prescription medication, drugs, cigarettes- or, as here, gambling. Whatever the addiction, it is very difficult to overcome, and requires not only great strength of character, but a lot of support, from family, friends, and medical professionals. Without great care and treatment, an addiction can spiral out of control, and make people act in a way that they never would normally. Such out of character behaviour can often land them in great legal trouble, as in both cases cited. With the correct approach and treatment, such cases can be avoided. It is a great shame that such people are often more stigmatised and derided, rather than treated, sympathised with, and looked after.

Whatever the legal lessons learned from the cases of Mr Cass and Mrs Al- Daher, it is more the moral and human lessons that should be learned.

A crucial concept of law is that justice should be open, and seen to be open. That concept has been in existence for over a thousand years in the UK, and has been jealousy protected over the centuries. That is why the media can report on court cases, and there are public galleries. That is also partly why transcripts of court proceedings are made. In a democratic society, it is vital that justice is seen to be handed out, and that the court system is accessible, available and understandable to all.

There is, however, a counter argument. Many cases and episodes over the centuries have challenged that. Indeed, with the terrorist threat the last few decades, recent related court cases and legislation (Prevention of Terrorism Act [2005], for example) challenge that. Also, human rights issues, such as the right to privacy, and right to a home and family life amongst others, similarly challenge that concept. There are some occasions where a truly open hearing might be prejudicial to the parties concerned, or to national security Hearing those cases (or parts of those cases) in secret, while contrary to legal principle, is sadly necessary In the interests of national security, or personal privacy, or a whole variety of reasons, court proceedings can be closed, or (to use the Latin) heard sub rosa.

That principle is well established. The Bank Mellat case (2013) established the legal precedent that a CMP (closed material proceeding) can be heard by the Supreme Court. In the last decade, it is a well known secret that some terrorist trials have taken place in secret. Not only does this deny the suspects a public voice, and their day in a public court (which is often what they want), but it allows classified intelligence to be used as evidence, it allows covert sources to be identified or used in court (without putting them or other agents or sources in danger), and intelligence methods to be revealed in a confines of a secret court. Justice is done- and national security is well served.

Such legal and democratic theory is about to be put to the test by the Court of Appeal. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has claimed that an upcoming case, whilst a criminal proceeding, is actually a terrorist case. Arrested in “high profile circumstances” the defendants (under current reporting restrictions, they are only being identified as AB and CD) are accused of offences related to preparing terrorist acts, and possessing information relating to bomb making. As such, the CPS is citing national security, and has court orders banning the media from reporting the case, and banning access to the case.

The orders of Mr Justice Nicol were challenged by the media, and the matter submitted to the Court of Appeal (CA). The media were further banned from revealing the existence of the court orders until the CA proceedings. At time of writing, the court was reviewing Mr Justice Nicol’s orders, (sic) the media could report on the whole matter- although under restrictions, pending the outcome of the appeal.

The media response to the initial court order was predictable- and absolutely right and proper. In a democracy, a free and impartial press is necessary to bring to public attention such matters, and to hold to account and scrutiny the workings of the state- amidst reporting on Justin Beiber’s latest faux pas, the results of the World Cup, and the latest recipe for tarte tatin. In being outraged, and seeking a review of the court orders, the media is acting as any citizen would want them to in a democracy.

Of course, there are limits to that need to report the innermost workings of the state, and to expose everything, as the media learned the hard way in the Levenson Enquiry; with such a duty comes responsibility. That, however, is for another post.

The courts’ response was equally predictable. Although agreeing with the open justice concept, the judges admitted that there are times where secrecy can be best. The case of AB & CD, the CPS claims, is based on exceptional circumstances, and as such it is necessary for the case to be heard secretly.

Quoting from a BBC report, most strangely, the CA: “Heard that the head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s counter-terrorism team had claimed that if a decision was taken to hold the trial in open court, and to identify the defendants, it might have to abandon the prosecution.”

Without knowing the facts of the case, such a bizarre CPS statement by has to accepted at face value.

In reviewing Mr Justic Nicol’s existing order, the three judge panel on the CA has to debate the fine line between open justice, and national interest. To an extent, though, the matter has already been decided. There is legal precedent which allows for cases to be heard in secret if necessary. Such restrictions are only imposed when there is an urgent and pressing national security issue at stake- which the CPS claims there is here.

The case of R v AB & CD is not about the balancing open justice and national interest. The matter is not one of ‘secret courts’ and ‘a denial of open justice’ as the newspapers are stridently claiming. It is merely a case of whether the Court of Appeal has the strength to do the right thing legally, to apply the law as it stands, without emotion. Will they have the legal conviction to do what is legally the only decision to make? If they do not, and fail to apply the law as it stands, then they have failed the British people, and the criminal justice system.

Admittedly, though, if the three judges do the right thing by the law, they do the wrong thing morally and democratically- and vice versa. Law and morality are rarely one and the same thing, as the case of R v AB & CD shows.

The two faces of Democracy

May 6th, 2014 | Posted by admin in Law & Politics - (0 Comments)

It seems like only a few months ago that the writer was writing a Christmas themed post on the riots in Kiev. Since then, any opportunity for festive goodwill has long since evaporated for Ukraine.

Returning to Ukraine in response to the annexation of Crimea in a subsequent post, despite Russia asserting that it had no more territorial ambitions in the area (a throwback to 1939), recent events have shown that this might not be strictly true.

As the violence of pro-Russian forces (or Russian Army troops, as some claim) inflamed an already tense national mood over the last week, Acting President Olexander Turchynov was forced to act- and this writer forced to return to the scene of previous posts. President Turchynov announced very recently that the Ukrainian military and security forces would act rapidly and with equal force in the ten towns and cities that have been taken by the- rebels? Freedom fighters? Soldiers? Protesters?

Moscow denies any direct intervention-with Army regiments currently positioned along the Ukrainian border. Such an assertion carries about as much weight as Andy Coulsons’s recent assertions in the Old Bailey that he had no or limited knowledge of the phone hacking at the News of the World whilst he was Editor. Talks are on going between Russia and the US, and between the EU and relevant parties. Sanctions, already imposed, are being discussed with even more severity. However, Russia itself has the ultimate sanction, being Gazprom; the energy giant has the ability to turn off the lights all over Europe.

Diplomacy is normally conducted in quiet or in secret, with subtle nuances understood by both sides, and more left unsaid than said. The current situation in Ukraine is anything but; a more obvious act of conquest has not been seen since the Blitzkrieg in Europe. It is as if President Putin feels so secure and confident in his position (and, why would he have any reason not to feel so confident?) that he can so obviously slowly take over Ukraine (a former satellite state of the USSR, and long claimed by Russia) in plain sight of the West, knowing that the West and UN will not take any action against him.

Matters of international diplomacy or trade are seemingly not so bad if conducted out in the open. It appears that, for the British at least, it is the underhand nature of such activities that angers them the most. Of such is the hallmark of a stable democracy; government matters should be conducted with full openness and transparency, and nothing should be kept from the electorate.

As such, in being so open as regards the Ukraine, President Putin is acting in the best traditions of an open democracy. By hiding matters (such as suspected Met Police cover ups in some recent high profile cases, the UK Government is not upholding such democratic principles. One risks the wrath of the electorate- another risks no more than headlines and speeches.

If history teaches one thing, it is that we never learn from history.  What has happened in the past, happens again, with monotonous regularity. Even if the lessons from the past are abundantly clear, those lessons are rarely learned or applied.

Taking advantage of the crisis in Ukraine, and the instability following the collapse of President Yanukovich’s regime and his subsequent flight, Russia has reasserted its traditional territorial claims over the Crimean peninsula.  Just as many claimed that the Iraq War was ‘all about the oil’, so it can easily be said that Russia was probably not motivated by the voice of the pro- Russian movement, or by the apparent threat to Russian in Crimea. The reality is, as many commentators have pointed out, that for Russia it was probably ‘all about Sevastopol’. A regular navy base in Crimea, the key thing about this unassuming military establishment is its location- right on the Black Sea.

Any Naval forces or ships stationed there have unrivalled access to the Black Sea. From that, applying modern theories of naval power, the countries surrounding the Black Sea (many of them former satellite states of the old USSR…), can be controlled by the country whose naval forces have supremacy in the Black Sea. Indeed, if the warships are of a suitable size, they can sail by Istanbul, and from there into the Aegean Sea, before entering the Mediterranean Sea. For Russia, having control of the Black Sea ultimately enables their fleet to gain access to the West via the Mediterranean. As such, the Kremlin was always interested in taking control of the Sevastopol bases, and that small peninsula.

It is similar to the Falkland Islands. Although small and insignificant, their position is very strategic. Right in the middle of the South Atlantic, the islands sit around a wealth of offshore natural resources, and also at a key place geographically (located near the tip of South America, art the point where the Atlantic meets the Pacific, and a good staging point for Antarctica). Setting aside issues of politics, diplomacy, citizenship, international law, and territorial rights, essentially the location of the Islands is what makes them of interest to both London and Buenos Aires.

Recent events have shown that full control of Crimea, despite protests and sanctions from the EU, the UN and other august international bodies, now rests firmly with Moscow. In addition to such diplomatic hand wringing, noises of protest are coming from the rest of the Ukraine, probably worried about the very real prospect of being the next territory to be annexed by President Putin, and in returning to being under Russian control.

Admittedly, there is s strong Russian element, socially, culturally, linguistically, historically and politically in Crimea. However, many would agree that that Russian element of Crimea does not justify what is essentially an invasion. Of course, such a takeover did come after a referendum, a democratic vote which saw 97% of Crimeans choose to join the Russian Federation.

To put that into context- not everyone voted. Many ethnic Tatars refused to vote in protest, for example. Additionally, it would take a very brave person to defy the Russians when their troops are already very active in the region. Similar to when Austria voted for anschluss with Germany in 1938, when the Nazis had a strong presence in Austria, or on her borders.

That is but one of several similarities between the secession of Crimea and the 1930’s. The end result of that episode of international relations shows one thing conclusively; appeasement simply does not work. As more recent history shows, involving countries such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran, economic sanctions (the favourite tool of the UN in enforcing resolutions) and similar simply do not work. What is needed is for the West, and the EU to take a firm line, and to adopt a tough stance- even if it involves deploying NATO forces to the region.

However, that is never going to happen. The Western nations and the UN lack the political will to do so, and the international consensus to take such firm action. Indeed, political practicalities also prevent this; with several European countries going to the polls over the next few years, no politician wants to be seen endorsing a policy that would prevent their re-election, or a policy that would prove extremely unpopular domestically. The only nation powerful enough to take affirmative action against Russia is the United States. This would take both nations back to the dark days of the Cold War- and would be contrary to America’s traditional foreign policy basis in the Monroe Doctrine. Additionally, America is fully stretched and committed to conflicts in the Middle East, and domestically faces economic and social issues which are more pressing than tackling Crimea.

There is also another factor which prevents Western governments from going against Russia- gas.

Natural gas is a main source of energy for the West. In Europe, most natural gas (but by no means all) comes, ultimately, from one source- Gazprom, the Russian energy giant that has (or controls) pipelines across most of Europe, the Aegean region, and the Near East. If Gazprom, under the Kremlin’s orders, would turn off the supply of gas to a certain country- the consequences are better left imagined than stated. Taking a hard line against Russian annexation of Crimea potentially means turning off the lights at home. As such, politicians and diplomats exercise great discretion in criticising Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Ultimately, to avoid effectively being held to ransom by Gazprom and Russia, the countries dependant on Gazprom for gas must become energy self-sufficient, or find alternative sources of energy, or gas. That, however, leads to other issues. The public at large remains sceptical of nuclear power, and ultimately considers it dangerous (after Fukishima and Chernobyl, such an opinion is not wrong). Fracking is similarly controversial, and would take many years to fully develop and exploit. Turning to oil means depending heavily on the Middle East, with all the difficulties that entails. There is more natural gas in many places across the world- such as in several areas surrounding the North Pole (which involves dealing with the environmental lobby, and the northern nations who jealously guard the Polar region as their own back yard) , in the South Atlantic (mostly inaccessible) , and in the North Sea (already exploited), for example. The only alternative is- to depend on Gazprom.

As such, it can only be hoped that Russia will be content with annexing Crimea. As the world map changes again, with the flag of the Russian Federation now flying in Crimea in the aftermath of the recent Ukrainian protests, it can only be hoped that that will be the end. However, that question remains unanswered as of now, as the Russian military takes over the military bases in the peninsula, and Crimea is prepared to switch over to formally becoming a part of the Russian Federation in a month (the switch of Crimea from Ukrainian to Russian hands is being conducted with great efficiency and speed, almost as if it was planned). As the Trans Dneiper region of Moldova now looks likely to attempt to join Russia as well, many of the satellite states of the former USSR are now probably feeling slightly uneasy- especially as support and protection from the EU and NATO is unlikely to be forthcoming and diplomatic condemnation and speeches will only go so far.

The questions as regards President Vladimir Putin‘s future intentions and plans remain uncertain. The only certainty is that, by sheer force, he has backed the EU and the West into simply complying with his actions. Those same nations are now being reactive, and waiting for his next move. It is President Putin who is calling the shots, not the West, as the Russian bear slowly awakens. Indeed, given how things have occurred over the last few months since the beginning of the protests against President Yanukovich in Kiev last December, a suspicion does come to mind. Russia acted with commendable promptness in responding to the chaos, uncertainty, and political vacuum following the flight of President Yanukovich, and the installation of a caretaker government. Given how President Putin has taken the lead the last month or so, could he have taken the lead earlier, and been behind the Ukrainian protests that enabled him to take advantage of the chaos?

History shows that stranger, more sinister, matters have occurred, in conflicts and international crisis of the past. History also shows that no one applies the lessons of the past to current issues, preferring seemingly to give the same response each time, getting the same results. In this case, the consequences of letting the same old historical events happen again could be severe. Action needs to be taken- even if only doing what is necessary to become less dependent on a foreign power for essentials such as energy and natural resources.

History teaches that we never learn from history. That is a history lesson that should be forgotten, and itself consigned to history.

As the Winter Olympics in Sochi slowly draw to a close, it certainly had been quite a spectacle of sporting excellence.

Despite the issues surrounding the not quite completed co0mplex (and a malfunctioning snowflake in the opening ceremony), there have been some notable moments. In the ice hockey, for example, the hosts have been eliminated; as such, there will be no repeat of the infamous 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ match at Lake Placid. However, team USA will square off against old rivals Canada in the semi-finals, no doubt seeking a rematch after their defeat at Vancouver 2012.

Indeed, it has been a brilliant Winter Olympics for Canada- and Norway, who Canada beat at the ice hockey in the first few days. One of the outstanding Canadian athletes has, once again, proved to be formidable skater Charles Hamelin. Hamelin emerged victorious from Vancouver 2010, and once again from Sochi 2014, until a crash on the ice ended further Olympic aspirations (and raised questions as to the safety of the track itself).

Fresh from their success on home territory, Team GB has also ended up with several Olympic medals (skeleton and curling) – remarkable for a nation not famous for its winter sports, and whose people end up skiing once or twice a year in France or other snowy European destinations. Our European neighbours, more at ease on (and off) the piste, have unsurprisingly walked away with much silverware for skiing disciplines; alpine skiing gold going mostly to Austria and Switzerland. More free spirited Canada and America put on a good showing on the piste, though, winning freestyle skiing and snowboarding respectively.

One surprise of these winter Games was a rather more musical one. This is not a reference to the beatings the Cossacks gave to opposition band Pussy Riot- but rather to Vanessa Mae. Swapping the violin and her celebrated musical style, Vanessa Mae was a surprise competitor in the Sochi Games. Entering under her father’s name, she was skiing slalom for her father’s Thailand. Ranked 2,253rd in the world, she just about became eligible to compete at the Games. Finishing 27 seconds behind the leader, and amongst the last to finish, it is evident that her slalom skiing is not as good as her violin playing.

However, for Mae it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Immersed in classical music since a young girl, and multimillion record selling violinist, her dream was always to compete in the Winter Games. At the age of 35 (old for an Olympian) – she achieved that dream. Although one of the last to finish- for sheer spirit, courage, and determination, she deserves gold. But then again, so do all the athletes there, who exhibit sporting excellence in pursuit of that elusive gold medal. After pushing themselves so hard physically and mentally, after all the sacrifices, after all they endure, event to make it to the starting blocks of an Olympic race is an incredible achievement.

Training for those athletes is long and tough. Throughout, those set on competing at the Olympic Games (Winter or Summer) are inspired and motivated by the five rings, the Olympic flame- and the medals. After dreaming about it for so long- the reality of making it to an Olympic village, and preparing to compete in the Games itself, can be overwhelming. After the endless practicing and training, the theory, and in imagining what it will be like at the Games- the reality can bite hard. Many Olympians agree that the realities of actually competing at the Olympics are both amazing- and different from the endless practicing and rehearsing in their local clubs, or with national teams.

Law is similar. After studying the theory, the cases, the rules, legal principles, after dissecting and solving countless legal problems and scenarios in theory in the classroom, after examining mock up legal documents in law school, perhaps even taking part in mock trials or mock legal conferences, the reality of actually practicing law is (similarly) awe inspiring- and very different from the endless theory and practice.

To practice law, it is not necessary to be a qualified lawyer. Trainee solicitors, pupils, paralegals, even legal interns get exposed right from the outset to legal issues and cases. These are not paper exercises set be a tutor, or matters where you can look up the answer. These are real cases, with real people, with real consequences.  Although daunting to tackle at first, it is wonderful to put into practice what was studied for so long, and took for ever to master and understand. With practice- it gets easier.

Even being a humble legal intern, some very complicated but fascinating cases can pass you way, for you to get involved with. Although your work is checked, the opportunity to handle a real case is amazing. After studying the theory-putting that into practice is amazing.

The difference from theory in a textbook and a real case is very marked, though. As different as athletes practicing in the secure environment of their well-known training centre, to competing for real in the Olympics, with countless thousands cheering them on.

At time of writing, Sochi 2014 has a few days left to run. Most of the events have run their course, with only the all important finals left to come in the major events. The writer wishes all the remaining athletes all the very best these last few days; but, just to get that far, they are all winners.

Next month the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics will herald the start of two weeks of sporting excellence. For two weeks, athletes will push themselves to their limits in pursuit of that elusive Olympic gold, in disciplines as varied as modern biathalon to ice skating. Undoubtedly,  the USA is eagerly awaiting a rematch with Canada in ice hockey after their 3-4 defeat at Vancouver 2012. Team GB is hoping to repeat their success at London 2012- but full in the knowledge that winter sports is not an area the UK is famous for. Traditionally,  we do better at cricket (unless we’re facing Australia), football and rugby than sports such as snowboarding and curling and bobsleging.

In pursuit of sporting excellence, it is unfortunately likely that some of the competitors will get injured. After all, sports such as the luge and skiing lend themselves to injuries, some very serious. An example of just how serious is F1 champion driver Michael Schumacher is still in a medically induced coma in hospital as a result of skiing accident earlier this year. Regardless of the nature of severity of any sporting injuries received whilst taking part,  many are surprised to find that there is little remedy at law, or recompense for any injuries received. Under tort law, it is hard to make a claim over injuries received, or accidents directly resulting from,  participating in (legally perceived) dangerous activities such as some winter sports. Indeed, the legal concept of volentia non fit injuria legally prevent such claims from being made. Under that legal concept, agreement to participate in a dangerous activity or most sports implies that the participants accepts the risk of potentially serious injury. With that prior, voluntary and implied consent to potentially being injured, the sporting organisers are effectively absolved from liability  if any injuries do occur. Consequently, tort law ends up halting most such claims resulting from a sporting injury. When organisers say of a sport that you ‘take part at your own risk’- they really mean it.

1Serious sporting injuries, though, are relatively and comparatively  rare. Put this into the context of car accidents, for example. A very large number of injuries and fatalities occur as a result of traveling by car. According to Department of Transport figures for 2012, 170, 591 road accidents were logged by the police. These accidents resulted in 10, 711 serious injuries, and 1, 257 killed. It must be noted that the actual figures are often higher, as not all accidents are reported to the police.

Evidence suggests that speed is a very common cause or factor in car accidents, either misjudging speed- or driving at high speeds. Despite the obvious dangers of, and the legal restrictions on, driving at high speeds, certain drivers are allowed to drive at speed. Legally, several government agencies can speed. Police, fire, ambulance, bomb disposal and similar can all speed, and for very good reason. After all, they are in the pursuit of  saving lives and preserving the peace.

Those categories of drivers could potentially be expanded. Proposals under discussion following a Department of Transport consultation could see the categories   of speeding exemptions expanded to included those engaged in “the protection of life and limb or national security”. Under the proposals, even spies would be allowed to speed if it was vital for national security, and the had the relevant training.

It is a great irony that in the attempts to save lives, the police, ambulance services, and (potentially) spies can make conditions on the road dangerous for other drivers by speeding.

However, under tort law people can still sue for personal injuries resulting from car and road accidents. Indeed, many such cases are brought to court every year, using personal injury specialists such as the Accident Claim Co. In another legal irony, claims for personal injury cannot be made arising from sometimes dangerous sports- but personal injury claims can be made if injured on the roads by people creating a dangerous situation trying to save lives. James Bond had better take care in those Aston Martins- in case he be sued for personal injury.

As the Winter Olympics are about to descend on Sochi, it is to be hoped that there are no injuries amongst the athletes- only sporting excellence as they all strive to win Olympic gold in their chosen sports.