March 13, 2006

Food for thought

'Having fewer choices and therefore fewer decisions to make is itself a freedom'

Hopefully this is a controversial statement, and someone will comment on it. Pretty please :-))


February 14, 2006

A Valentine's Ode to Kenilworth Castle: my significant other

Writing about web page http://www.celcat.com/kworth/walkmap.html

I imagine that a normal person would find it difficult to imagine just how over the moon I was to discover that the Warwick Boar online has dragged out from its archives and reproduced a piece about my steady teddy: Kenilworth, this week, even though it was preposterously short and dangling on like a loose thread at the tail end of the Opinion section. I did discover two tantalizing facts about the settlement, however. Firstly, that the land now that lies alongside the number 12 bus route was the site of the first English parliament formed by Simon De Montfort in 1266. Secondly, that Sir Walter Raleigh planted the first English potato crop in the Little Virginia area, nearby to the castle.

There's something mystical and numinous about Kenilworth Castle, particularly when approaching it from the west along Purlieu Lane from High House Farm. The lane undulates and when you reach the crest of the knoll after the farm suddenly the haunting castle ruins come into sight. Its particularly eerie on a drizzly or misty morning. I regularly go X country running along this route, which is why it is so intimately familiar to me. I always circumnavigate the castle along the muddy path that winds round the castle's perimeter, starting at the kissing gate across the road from the Queen and Castle pub and then embracing the red sandstone edifice as I run around it. Its a highly romantic experience! But also solitary. I might as well be Wordsworth wondering lonely as a cloud, surveying the daffodils. Old Kenilworth itself is equally sublime – the perfect biscuit tin English village of ancient thatched cottages and even more ancient buildings of red sandstone that, nevertheless seems to nestle symbiotically and serendipidously with a functioning modern town. Unlike Warwick Kenilworth is also relatively undiscovered and unspoilt by hoards of tourists.


February 10, 2006

Thatcher the Musical

Whether you love or loathe Thatcher it has to be admitted that the Foursight all women's theatre working in conjunction with Warwick Arts Centre has put on a tremedous premier. Not since Argentina cried for Evita Peron has a political leading lady trodden the boards like this. One has to admire the effort: representing Maggie's whole life and career in a two hour long production relying on a rather Spartan set consisting of the door to number 10 Downing street, a organ which, when turned around turns into a Falklands wartank and a giant handbag, which when opened up reveals the Iron Lady's living room in no.10.
But, omg, the hair. Those helmet like wax hairdos perfectly matched with the 'lady's not for turning' voices were something to be gawped at. Indeed several times, for there were several Thatchers. There was the omnipresent elderly Thatcher in her black coat and a slightly bent back, the young 'grocer's daughter penetrates the gentlemen's club of politics' Thatcher, the well-established Thatcher in her blue coat and the sad old maudlin Thatcher slightly doolally lamenting the death of Ronald Reagen and her husband Dennis.
In all there were 9 Thatchers and with them plenty of quotation – "helping society with Marxism is like curing leukaemia with leeches," and catchy tunes 'she was just a grocer's daughter' to the rather petrifying final "I am the iron in your bloodstream, I'm in your DNA."
From Denis Thatcher – a big grin and glasses – to stetson-wearing Ronnie Reagan and a quivering, ape-like Edward Heath, the men passing though Thatcher's life come across excellently, even though they are all played by women.

September 25, 2005

My final year begins

Dear blog,

Having abandoned you cruelly throughout the summer, I now return callously to update you on my perambulations and confirm that I am indeed alive and well. Please find it in you motorised cybic, lifeless heart to forgive me.

Yesterday I sped up the M40 eager to return to Warwick after having been absent for a year on my year out. I would be lying if I denied that it was an absolutely marvellous and remarkable experience. I am doubtlessly emotionally tied to Warwick now, which has witnessed many of my formative experiences – I have done much of my growing up here, much of it turbulent and painful – but equally Warwick is the backdrop of friendships and acquaintances, some of them fleeting while others long term. I am conscious, however, that I return as a maturer, more confident and stonger person in many ways. I feel a sense of belonging and it is with pride that I was able to give precise directions to newcomers yesterday ('yeah, to get to Costcutters just follow the road round to the right, you'll pass a large playing field on your left, then after you cross Medical Centre Road it'll be just where the Union buildings start, next along after Lazerlizard').

No longer am I hounded by the sense of fear and apprehension that overwhelmed me as a Fresher living away from home for the first time and my solitude in a seemingly boundless and impersonal campus. Once I arrived yesterday, driving my car right up to the grassy, sun drenched embankment outside Claycroft 2 to upack and arrange the masses of unecessary baggage I have accumulated I took a revitalising walk around campus. I bumped into half a dozen familiar faces just in the first two hours. In fact three of my co-residents of flat 22, Claycroft 2, including the person I will be sharing a bathroom with I knew already. At the kitchen table we talked and reminisced.

Such a far cry, I thought from the trials and tribulations that characterised my first year misery at Liberty Park, where I was dumped in a noisy cell with a view of a caprark alongside strangers miles from campus.

As I withdrew my curtains to find the sun rising over the dew covered verdure this morning I reflected positively about my dearest friend from Derbyshire who would be coming down later today to spend a couple of nights with me, and my future. I stepped into the kitchen and exchanged a cheerful 'good morning' with my flatmate and when the toast came out one side as black as a chimney sweep and the other as white as when I had sliced it from the loaf, I laughed.


June 17, 2005

Rant

Highflying Enterprises Ltd.,
1, Reject st.
Loserville
UR0 2ME

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Re. Pretended rejection of my application

Thank you for your recent letter claiming to reject my application for a vacation placement/ training contract/ internship with your firm.
Unfortunately I have received a high number of such rejections per number of applications dispatched and it is for this reason that, after careful consideration, I regret to inform you that your rejection has not been accepted on this occasion.

I nonetheless thank you for your interest in brushing the unslightly bacterium that is me off your pristine corporate silverware and wish you, wholeheartedly, the best of success with future rejections.

Yours sarcastically,

A Nieora


June 12, 2005

Why you should never, ever trust me with anything

Dear blog,

Remember when I posted that piece about spontanious post exam intellectual imposion syndrome? Well, I didn't mention that when my brain turned to mush that day after coming out of my last exam I must have had a series of mental blackouts for I cycled to my laundrette for no reason before leaving my debit card in an ATM after checking my bank balance. Then when I got home I forgot to chain my bike to the railing outside my residence. Of course, living as I do in a rather safe neighbourhood normally everything would probably have been fine, except it just so happened that early the next morning the rag-and-bone-man who comes round every once in a while collecting broken down washing machines and delapidated furniture and so forth did one of his rounds. Now I admit my bike was 7 years old and rather the worse for wear…

I would like you to think that I am only scatterbrained on very rare occasions. This is sadly very much not the case. Notable moranic examples from recent history include when I returned to Lille, France (where I've been studying this past year) in January after the Christmas break, walked from the train station to my residence carrying all my heavy luggage, stopped at my front door and fumbled around for my keys only to realise I had left them in England! I ended up kipping out on the floor of my colleague's house for three days while I waited for the keys to arrive by registered post. Luckily for me my colleague is an exceedingly good-tempered fellow, for we were both due to sit exams in four days' time.

That incident, I have to say is not quite as funny (or tragic, depending on how you look at it) as something that occured last summer. I was again on my way to Lille, France, though for the first time: to find accomodation for my year abroad. In any case, I had just boarded the coach at Pool Meadow coach station in Coventry, which had started to pull out out when it dawned on me that I'd forgotten to take my passport. I immediately ran down the aisle and asked the surprisingly understanding woman coach driver to stop, before explaining my predicament. God knows what everyone else thought… The new dilemma facing me was that I booked my Eurostar ticket to France for that afternoon and I had less than four hours to get down to London. So I shoved all my luggage into a locker at Pool Meadow, cycled as fast as I could back to Canley, where my student house was, picked up my passport, caught a bus back to town, picked up my luggage from Pool Meadow, sprinted uphill to the train station with my heavy rutsack and caught the first train to London. By some miracle managed to get there with some time to spare. [I suppose this is a good reason why I should support the introduction of ID cards in the UK.]

Then there was that time I muddled up two of my exam dates in my first year and only realised that I was going to be sitting my Property law exam instead of my Criminal law exam less than one hour beforehand…

Maybe I should have been on that show, you know the one with Hermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.


June 10, 2005

Blogger's questionnaire + bonus

Q What would have on your headstone?
A Beneath these sods lies another one
Q What's your dream car?
A Lexus 2054 (entirely electrically powered sports car)
Q Is pornography morally wrong?
A This depends on what it depicts and how it is used
Q Write the opening line of a wonderful novel
A Once upon a time there was this guy. His name was Jo.
Q What's the best music video ever?
A I have never ever watched a music video.
Q If you had a big win in the lottery, how long would you wait to tell people?
A I would tell people once I had donated all the money to a cause worthier than mine or theirs
Q Do you carry a donor card? Why (or why not)?
A Yes, I donate blood
Q Where would you like to retire?
A Cornwall
Q What is something you wish you were better at doing?
A Having the confidence to approach a potential paramour
Q What colour do you prefer your pens to write?
A The colour that they are supposed to write
Q Are babies cute?
A It depends on whether you are watching them sleeping or changing their nappy
Q Do you subscribe to a magazine? If so, what?
A Not at present (For the record 'not at present' is not the name of a magazine)
Q What's your favorite shape?
A Hmm… I have one in mind but I won’t say.
Q What was the last thing you used a microwave for?
A Heating up a ready meal of battered shrimps, (when I was revising for exams and had no time to cook)
Q What book are you reading?
A The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Q Do you like rollercoasters?
A Speaking from experience… no!
Q Which came first – the chicken or the egg?
A The egg, since dinasours laid eggs long before anything resembling a chicken walked the planet.
Q Cite a song lyric that means something to you
A Set me free
Q What's the best photo you've ever taken?
A Possibly Mont Blanc and surrounding peaks on a cloudless day perfectly reflected in a lake.
Q Write a new couch gag for the opening credits of The Simpsons
A Erm, Homer gets jammed in the door as everyone rushes into the living room, so the next shot is of an empty couch
Q Tell me a knock knock joke
A a. Knock knock. b. Passes out
Q Describe yourself in five words
A Tall; intellectual; anxious; honest; gay
Q Who should play James Bond now that the role is vacant?
A Jude Law
Q Write a haiku (3 lines, 5–7-5 syllables)
A In the stealth of night/ riding on his mighty steed/ Turpin was his name
Q What comic book (or cartoon) character would you be? Why?
A Bugs Bunny – I like carrots
Q What's the oldest thing you own?
A Until recently, probably my Alexander the Great tetradrachma coin. Now, I don't know.
Q What's your favourite word?
A Lucipotomy
Q What word(s) do you hate?
A Movie, amongst others

Two annecdotes:

1. Today as I was riding the metro out of town (Lille, France) a rather feeble old man clutching a newspaper got on. I stood up to let him sit down but before he could do so the three old ladies to my left shuffled along so that they now occupied my former seat, which was at the end of the row, and the two seats to the left of it. The old ladies then grinned at the old man, who was clearly quite flustered. It reminded me of one of those Olivio TV adverts – I'm not sure whether they are still being transmitted because I don't have a TV set at the moment and even if I did I wouldn't receive British televisual airwaves.

2. The last time I was in my gym, whereof I've been a member for the last 10 months I observed that above the slightly lower positioned shower head someone had stuck up a rather professional-looking acrylic sign with the words 'douche reservee pour Guillaume' ('shower reserved for William') on it. I wondered whether this had anything to do with the apparently private champagne party (to which everyone else seemed oblivious) that took place in the vicinity of the jacuzzi the previous time I was in the gym.


June 07, 2005

Spontanious post–exam intellectual implosion syndrome

Has anyone else felt this phenomenen? In the immediate aftermath of exams I find the cerebrum still functions at full capacity and one is able to discuss, well in my case, the ins and outs of the legal definition of public services in France with a course colleague. There then follows a period of lunacy in which one may spontaniously burst into laughter at one’s own thought, at which point the newsagent accepting the money one tenders for the paper surrepticously reaches for the phone all the while projecting a counterfeit smile in one's direction… Give it a few hours, however and one struggles to construct sentences. Then zombiism kicks in and one starts biting one’s housemate’s wrists to retrieve the blood. Or perhaps not… but what is certain my brain will soon return to what, in purely physical terms at least, it actually is – a massive jumble of coiled ganglia… or maybe if I keep it entertained with something intellectually demanding over the summer – like learning German – it’ll be less of a weight on my shoulders. [The brain nods in agreement].

June 04, 2005

THE OCTROI DE MER: BOUYANT IN THE WAKE OF THE FREE MOVEMENT OF GOODS [FRENCH AND EU LAW]

[N.B. – see 'Evidence, proof and English law through the ages, (part 1)' for an explantion as to why I am posting this]

_‘The work of the water-clerk consists in racing under sail, steam, or oars against other water-clerks for any ship about to anchor, greeting her captain cheerily… piloting him firmly but without ostentation to a vast, cavern-like shop… where you can get everything to make her seaworthy and beautiful, from a set of chain-hooks for her cable to a book of gold-leaf for the carvings of her stern; and where her commander is received like a brother by a ship-chandler he has never seen before. There is a cool parlour, easy-chairs, bottles, cigars, writing implements, a copy of harbour regulations, and a warmth of welcome that melts the salt of a three months' passage out of a seaman's heart.’_

I have taken this passage from Conrad in an attempt to contextualise the subject of my discourse: the octroi de mer, the name first given to a French customs duty levied on the cargo of ships when they docked at colonial ports. Had the harbour in our extract from fiction been flying the tricouleur, the duty would have undoubtedly proved a less welcome yet unavoidable salutation for the captain. Yet, ante-diluvian though it may sound the octroi de mer continues to be levied today. It survived the post-war decolonisation process and, more recently, has endured criticism by the European Commission, which is a point I shall examine in detail below. It is now a dock due or a landing charge imposed on imports at the ports of the four French overseas departments (which I will hereafter refer to by their French acronym – DOM – or department d’outre mer) which is then channelled back as a grant to fund their economic and social development. The DOMs are Guyana, an equatorial territory roughly 3/4 of the size of England, on the South American continent, 94% of which is covered by rainforest, and the islands of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean, and Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Carribean. Under the French Constitution of the Fifth Republic they form an integral part of the French Republic. The DOMs suffer from comparative economic hardship, much of which is attributable to force majeure events such as volcanic eruptions, seismic activity and adverse meteorological events such as hurricanes. Tourism, on which Guadeloupe is particularly dependent, fishing and agricultural activities are especially vunerable to such events, particularly as the produce of the DOMs, essentially bananas, rum and sugar, is highly specialised. Other factors debilitating economic growth, such as illiteracy: currently at more than 30% for the population over the age 46 in the DOMs and unemployment, which is roughly at 30%, are anthropically remediable .

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE OCTROI DE MER AND THE DOMS: FROM COLONIALISM TO FEDERAL INTEGRATION TO DEVOLUTION

The first reference to the octroi de mer is as a tax levied proportionally to the weight of merchandise imported into the French colony of Martinique in 1670 and in its etymology it is equally colonial: octroi derives from the old French for ‘conceding to the king, the sovereign authority,’ though it presently means ‘grant’ in French. Yet the tax always had a munificent objective: the terrestrial octroi was levied at the entrances to cities whose other revenues were not sufficient to cover their public needs. Colbert, who became controller-general of finances in 1661, followed the principle that if the octroi produced a surplus of revenue that surplus should be used to pay off public debts. Though the octroi de mer was not applied in the same way, since the French colonies were at the time governed by private companies who could spend the revenues they gained from the octroi de mer as they saw fit, the principle was the same.

Following a 30 year period in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789, during which the colonies and their commerce were declared independent, the octroi de mer was centrally reintroduced in 1819 by a colonial ordinance to Martinique, before being extended to Guadeloupe in 1825, and then to Réunion in 1850 and Guyana in 1878. In 1866 the senatus-consulte passed a law to transfer the power to alter the rate of the octroi de mer from the governor to the DOM council. However, the power to redistribute the revenue created by the octroi de mer remained in the hands of central government and by virtue of a law of 1892 the DOM council lost what little competence it had. Decisions made by DOM councils would thenceforth only become executive after a decree passed by central government.

On the 19th March 1946 the four colonies were departmentalised – i.e. they became DOMs – but perhaps more importantly for them the law passed on this date, in the spirit of protectionism, also brought to an end the levying of the octroi de mer on locally produced goods, a fact that had been leaving the DOM councils reluctant to enforce the charge. It was not until the law of 2nd March 1982 was passed, however, that the DOM councils gained executive powers and further devolution came in the form of another law on 2nd August 1984 which granted the DOM councils the power to modify the rate of the octroi de mer and even impose a DAOM (droit additionel à l’octroi de mer) of 1%.

Today the octroi de mer is levied based on the ‘Cost and Freight’ or CAF principle whereby, once it has been established in which of four categories the good belongs, the charge is imposed ad valorem – i.e. according to the cost price and the cost of transport of the good. The octroi de mer and the DAOM, which together brought in a revenue of 755m€ in 2003, otherwise 20–30% of the total revenue of the DOMs , have a duel purpose. They act both as a resource for the DOMs through their redistribution via funds created for the socio-economic development of the DOMs (which contribute on average to 9% of the market GDP of the DOMs) and protect local industry by the exclusion of its products from the charge. They also penalise certain targetted goods such as tobacco or alcohol, which may be taxed, respectively, up to as much as 30 and 50%.

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION’S CONCERNS: ART. 90 OF THE EC TREATY

The European Commission’s opposition has been levelled not so much to the octroi de mer itself but rather to the exclusion of its application to locally produced goods, which it sees as discriminatory against any imported goods that are not locally produced, particularly those originating from the EU. In response to complaints dispatched by exporters to the DOMs the European Council adopted decision 89/687/EEC – also known as the Poseidom decision – on the 22 December 1989 affirming that while in principle the exclusion of the octroi de mer from locally produced goods does contravene art. 90 (ex. 95) of the Treaty Establishing the E.C. (TEC) support measures for the DOMs could still be adopted under the banner of bilaterally agreed regional aid, in compliance with arts. 87 (92), 88 (93) and 89 (94) of the T.E.C. This ‘balancing act,’ which I put in quotation marks for to all intents and purposes the octroi de mer has come through largely unscathed from EU intervention, was achieved with the obligations found under art. 299(2) (ex. art. 227(2)) weighing down the on other side of the proportionality pivot. The third subparagraph of Article 227(2) requires the institutions of the Community, within the framework of the procedures provided for in the Treaty, in particular Article 226, to take care that the economic and social development of the DOMs is made possible. Art. 226 provides that a Member State may apply to the Commission for authorisation to take protective mesures, which may involve derrogations from the TEC, if grave economic difficulties in a particular area are liable to continue or deteriorate. In its decision Hansen v Hauptzollamt Flesburg the Court recalled that Article 227(2) made provision for the Treaty to be applied to the DOMs by stages, and in addition it made available the widest powers for the adoption of special provisions commensurate to the specific requirements of those parts of the French territories. Furthermore, the court in Hansen also acknowledged that it remained possible, after all the provisions of the Treaty had entered into force for the DOMs, subsequently to adopt specific measures in order to meet the needs of those territories.

Thus, with the need for socio-economic development in the DOMs in mind, art. 2(3) of the council decision provided for a locally produced goods exemption period from the octroi de mer of 10 years from the date of the coming into force of the new octroi de mer regime, provided that the exemption contributes to the promotion or maintenance of economic activity in the DOMs. This 10 year period began to run from 17th July 1992, when France adopted a law implementing the council decision a few months before the permission granted to France under the council decision to to continue the exclusions under her 1984 law ran out. A year before the expiration of the 10 year period the Commission would have to report on the the impact a wholesale imposition of the octroi de mer would have on the DOMs, taking into account their levels of unemployment, the balance of trade and the regional GDP.

A BREACH OF ART. 25 OF THE EC TREATY ?

In the case of Chevassus-Marche v Conseil Régional de la Réunion the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was asked to consider whether the octroi de mer exclusions are compatible with art. 25 (ex.12) TEC. This argument would appear to be barely tenable for two reasons. Firstly, as was held in the case of Co-Frutta v Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato , because the same levy cannot at the same time fall foul of the class of charges having an effect equivalent to a customs duty – under art. 25 – and within that of internal taxes that discriminate against imported products – under art. 90 of the Treaty. Secondly the ECJ had insisted in the case of Italy v Commission of 1969 that in order for a charge to have an equivalent effect to a customs duty the product in question would have to cross a frontier. This ruling was upheld in the case of Commission v France of 1979 Yet the DOMs form an integral part of the French Republic according to its Constitution and the TEC applies to France , despite the objections of M. Nicolo, who claimed unsuccessfully that the citizens of DOMs should not be eligible to participate in the European parliamentary elections since the TEC only applied to metropolitan France (i.e. France in Europe). In this light art. 25 would seem to be inapplicable in the absence of a frontier. However, the ECJ declared in the case of Administration des Douanes v Legros that a charge such as the octroi de mer (as it was pre 1992) imposed on vehicles coming from another part of France and originating from Germany and Sweden is a charge having an equivalent effect to a customs duty regardless of the fact that the frontier crossed is regional and not national. The court went further, maintaining that since it had held in the case of Fink-Frucht v Hauptzollamt Muenchen that where a pecuniary charge is imposed at the import stage it may be classified as internal taxation only if it is imposed on every kind of product, whatever its origin, the octroi de mer, which excluded locally produced goods, could not be caught by art. 90. Not least because it was the exclusions to the octroi de mer rather than the octroi de mer itself whose lawfulness was in question these rulings were perhaps a somewhat uneccessary and unhelpful circumnavigation of the frontier between art. 25, drafted to apply to customs duties duties on imports and exports (and charges having equivalent effect) and art. 90, which was clearly intended to outlaw discriminatory internal taxation imposed after the goods had been imported or exported and while they are circulating within a Member State. The ECJ, however, seems determined to blur the distictions between arts. 25 and 90, as was apparent in its 2001 decision, Charalampos Dounias when the court held ‘it is of no interest to determine whether the tax is considered to be contrary to art. 90 or arts. 23 and 25 of the Treaty.’

THE RESPONSE OF THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT

Unsurprisingly the French government, with obligations towards the wellbeing of its DOM electorate, argued in Legros that the octroi de mer does not constitute a charge having an effect equivalent to a customs duty pointing out that it is introduction into the DOMs that gives rise to the levying of the dock dues and that that the dock dues also affect in the same manner products coming from metropolitan France introduced into Réunion. Perhaps inevitably such protests were to little avail, though the ECJ did, to its credit, rule that its judgement would not take effect retroactively so that the French authorities would not be flooded with claims for restitution from those who had paid the octroi de mer before the date of the judgement. Hilariously, between 17 July 1992 – the date of the Legros decision and the 31st of December 1992 no less than 27 proceedings were brought before the ECJ by companies who had been charged the octroi de mer during that period. The ECJ was left with little option but to accept the French government’s subsissions that, since the octroi de mer operates so that the payment of the charge is in practice passed on from the trader to the purchaser based in the DOM, it would be unjust enrichment if the importer were restituted for the expense. The court further held that the actual passing on of such taxes, either in whole or in part, depends on various factors in each commercial transaction, which it held to be matters of fact to be determined by the national court. The ECJ thus effectively indicated that it would be for the French national court to decide whether or not France should restitute traders who had paid the octroi de mer! At the same time the ruling failed to give much consideration to the fact that the trader may have suffered damage as a result of the very fact that he had passed on the octroi de mer charge, since the increase in the price of the product brought about by passing on the octroi de mer would likely lead to an increase in the price of products originating from the ‘EU in Europe’ while the the price of local products, exempt from the octroi de mer, would remain the same, so that the trader would suffer financially from decreased sales and hence a decrease in demand for his products next time he exported to the DOM.

In any event, the octroi de mer and justified exclusions thereto were finally declared to be lawful in the Chevassus- Marche decision and reaffirmed in joined cases Société Beton Express et al. v Direction Générale des Douanes so that Legros can only be of academic interest now.

France has, to its advantage, exploited the Council’s successive renewals of the exemption period of DOM produced goods from the octroi de mer and has lately adopted, following the acceptance by the Council of its application to the Commission of April 2002, for the prolongation of the exclusion of DOM produced goods from the octroi de mer until 2014 – i.e. another 10 years. A law passed on the 2nd July 2004 instigating a new regime of partial or total exclusions, which came into effect on the 1st August provides, under arts. 4 and 5, that local products may be exonerated from between 10 to 30% of the octroi de mer when the charge is passed onto businesses with an annual turnover of less than 500 000€. Art. 27 of the law provides that otherwise the octroi de mer shall be applied equally to DOM and foreign products.

CONCLUSION

Despite their efforts the various institutions of the EU have failed to jettison either the tricentennial octroi de mer or its exclusion from products originating in the DOMs. As a result the DOMs have benefited from sustained economic growth. Despite the odds stacked against the DOMs, their GDP per capita rose from a mean of 41% to a mean of 47% as a percentage of the European average between 1986 and 1996). It remains to be seen whether the EU will tolerate the octroi de mer itself once the DOMs have achieved reasonable socio-economic parity with the EU as a whole and there is no longer a need for the exclusions, though as I have indicated this is unlikely ever to happen due to the force majeure nature of the DOMs’ economically disadvantageous geographical lot.

Throughout this article I have made my opinion regarding the utility of the octroi de mer transparent as the sea around some tropical island and I have resolved not to end my voyage without taking on board some wider observations. First of all it is difficult to overlook the evident lack of effective powers of enforcement on the part of the EU institutions against member state governments and the impact this has on the outcome of the decisions of those institutions. Second of all it is perhaps necessary to remark on the avantage géostratégique that France gains from her DOM possessions. The distance separating the DOMs from metropolitan France varies between 7 000 and 9 000 km, giving her 11m km2 of maritime territory and placing her third globally in terms of the area of her exclusive maritime economic zone. Indeed, on reflection, the DOMs are perhaps less conspicuous when lined up beside L’Acadamie français and France’s international veto owing to her being a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council. Here I might also make passing reference to France’s Napoleanic Civil Code, which celebrated its bicentenary in 2004, articles 14 and 15 of which permit any French citizen who has concluded a contract with a foreigner to bring that foreigner before any French court – even if that foreigner is not resident in France – for a court ruling ordering him to carry out his contractual obligation. And no doubt while French holidaymakers are guaranteed, concurrently, winter sun and a familiar police force that may take seriously reports of stolen wallets and cameras France will be able to justify keeping her overseas possessions on the grounds that she is raising the standard of living by encouraging the growth of economies of scale etc. Yet, though the octroi de mer may exclude products produced in the DOMs and thus protect the local industry the cost of the charge on the import, which might be a key product essential to economic growth in the DOMs, is still ultimately borne by the importer, who will likely be an significant turbine driving that economic growth. Though the DOMs are no longer colonies they still concede ultimately, and like the octroi de mer, to the sovereign authority.


EVIDENCE, PROOF AND ENGLISH LAW THROUGH THE AGES: PART TWO

[N.B. See Part One for an explanation as to why I am blogging this]

CONFESSIONS AND TORTURE

Unlike her continental neighbours, England has rarely employed torture to obtain confessions. The peine forte et dure or ‘pressing to death’ was created in 1275 was practised in England and reached the pinnacle of its use during the reign of Henry IV but this was not to obtain evidence but rather a pre-trial method used to oblige the accused to participate in the first stage of his trial: the pleadings stage . This might be contrasted with the practices of the now infamous Star Chamber , which was neither a court of common law nor of equity but an offshoot of the King’s Council that first emerged in the 13th C though it was not until 1487, that an Act passed by Henry VII made the Chamber a separate judicial body with a panel consisting of the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Keeper of the privy seal, a Lord temporal and a Lord spiritual and two other justices with a mandate to hear petitions of redress in instances of public disorder, disputes over property rights, public corruption, trade and government administration. The Romano-canonic procedures the chamber adopted were readily abused by the sanguine Tudor and Stuart dynasties who used it to ensure their opponents suffered cruel, ruthless and humiliating financial and corporeal sentences such as, respectively, ear-cropping and fines of thousands of pounds. By the time of Charles I the court had become a byword for abuse of power by the King and his circle who used it to examine cases of sedition – in practice, anyone who dared to oppose royal policies – this was undoubtedly a catalyst for the Civil War especially as the chamber was used as a substitute for Parliament, which the King refused to convoke between 1628 and 1640. The Chamber was abolished by an Act of Parliament of 1641. Though it is technically true, as modern authors such as Barnes and Elton have argued, that most incidences of torture being used to obtain confessions were in cases of treason, outside the Chamber’s jurisdiction but within that of the Privy Council, in practice the Privy Council, composed of Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Lord Privy seal…. was the same establishment . It would be perhaps unfair, though, to draw comparisons between a sinister dearth of inter-governmental department responsibility for statist acts of torture in unseperated juro-executive 17th C. with the recent dicta of Laws LJ, unfortunately siding with the majority of the court, in a Court of Appeal decision of 11th August 2004 who was ‘quite unable to see that any such principle (prohibiting courts from considering evidence obtained by torture in Britain) prohibits the (Home Secretary) from relying… on evidence coming into his hands which has been obtained through torture by agencies of other states… If he has neither procured the torture nor connived at it, he has not offended the constitutional principle.’ The appeal had been brought by lawyers representing ten foreign nationals interned indefinitely without charge or trial under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 in Belmarsh and other high-security prisons.

RULES OF ADMISSABILITY OF EVIDENCE

Having discussed institutions and practices having a bearing on proof, it would perhaps be helpful to deal directly with evidence henceforth. The number of rules governing the admission of evidence have steadily multiplied, particularly since the 16th C, though it has always been the case that evidence must be admitted separately and in respect of logic, being juxtapositioned together only thereafter, to determine the decision of the court. I shall approach this subject by dealing with oral and written evidence separately.
1. ORAL EVIDENCE

Oral evidence, historically decided on by juries, usually took the form of the testimonies of witnesses, though when the jury first emerged in the 11th and 12th Cs jurors were not permitted to hear the testimonies of witnesses. This was because at that time they were themselves witnesses, of character, whose subjectivity might be tainted by hearing other accounts of the accused and remained the case until the jury became a judge of fact. Though witnesses had minimal value in criminal cases since no one could be convicted on the sole grounds of a testimony the maxim testis unus testis nullus – i.e. at least two witnesses must testify – was not applied in England. The maxim was even overlooked with high treason until the case of Reniger v Fogossa (1551) in which it was held that the testimony of a sole person is insufficient in any law – i.e. including the divine law. In the 18th C. Montesquieu reproached laws that imposed the death penalty on the strength of a sole witness statement. But while Montesquieu distrusted witnesses and saw conflicts between the testimonies of witnesses and the defence submissions of the accused as a dilemma this incensed Blackstone who averred that the words of an accused are inferior to those of a witness. Such a conflict, between the words of the accused and that of a sole witness are exemplified by the case of Elizabeth Canning and Mary Squires, which was to become the subject of gossip and firewood for the tabloid press in 18th C London. On New Year’s Day 1753 Canning, an 18-year-old maidservant was abducted in the City by two ruffians. She was carried off in a carriage to a brothel in Enfield, eleven miles out of London. Here, `Mother Wells', the madam of the establishment, tried to force her to become a prostitute. Canning refused. A hideous gypsy staying in the house, Mary Squires, cut off the girl's stays, worth 10 shillings, and Elizabeth was imprisoned in an attic with only a few crusts of bread and a jug of water to live on. On January 29th, after almost a month in captivity, she escaped through a window and walked all the way back to her mother's house in the City. This was at least her story, and she kept to it. Mother Wells and the gypsy were arrested and hauled before an Enfield magistrate. In court the later to be novelist Henry Fielding, who was a then a Middlesex magistrate was asked to interrogate the unaptly named Virtue Hall, a girl from Wells' house who maintained she had never set eyes on Canning. Yet under Fielding's pressure she recanted and supported Elizabeth's story. Squires and Wells were tried at the Old Bailey in 1753. Wells was sentenced to be branded on the thumb for keeping a disorderly house – a punishment carried out forthwith amid a jeering, exultant crowd. Squires, the gypsy, was sentenced to be hanged for stealing Canning's stays. But Sir Crisp Gascoyne, who as Lord Mayor of London was ex officio chief magistrate and sat in on the trial, was apparently dissatisfied with the verdict on the grounds that Squires had an apparently watertight alibi – she was in Dorset at the time. Gascoyne appealed to George II, who granted, first a stay of execution, then a free pardon to the gypsy. Elizabeth Canning was indicted for perjury and imprisoned in Newgate-where Hogarth painted her portrait, and then sentenced to be transported to America for seven years . In 1754 the case was so well-known that it divided the nation . The two opposing factions were known as `Canaanites' (those who supported Canning) and `Egyptians' (the gypsy).

With regard to rules of exclusion, English law has long established that hearsay- the testimony of a third party who does not witness the event himself but hears a course of events narrated by a third person is inadmissible (by contrast it has historically been admissible on the Continent). Traditionally, there have nonetheless been exceptions. Hearsay was permitted in the exception of cases of murder where a statement had been made in articulo mortis and it was certain that the victim had no hope of survival and under the res gestae rule. This translates as "a transaction" and is used to describe a statement which relates to and is closely associated in time and place with a state of affairs or event so that it can be said that they form part of the same transaction. If a statement made by witness A, the victim of an attack, in the presence of witness B, made just after the attack, indicating the identity of the attacker. under the res gestae exception witness B may be able to give admissible evidence of what was said by witness A. The rationale is that there is thought to be less danger of concoction or fabrication of the evidence in circumstances where the events in question are likely to monopolise the thoughts of the witness . Another exclusion is that of legal parties testifying in sua causa – in their own case, established in civil law in 1589 in the Dymoke case, though it has been a principle taken for granted in criminal law since the 15th C. During the 19th C. advocacy as an artificial discipline flourished, and though barristers were precluded from asking leading questions that could be answered only by either a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ sometimes they were the authors of masterful psychoanalytical strokes of cross examination. In one notable case Frederick Smith, QC, Earl of Birkenhead (1872–1930), cross examining the complainant, a boy who claimed to have been paralysed in his upper limbs by the acts of the defendant, successfully kindled a discussion about sport with the lad and asking whether he enjoyed cricket tricked him into demonstrating to the court how he bowled over arm . Sir Patrick Hastings a celebrated QC and Labour MP listed among the qualities vital to a good barrister a special talent to determine the profitability of a witness, his intelligence or stupidity and the mode of attack to take.
2. WRITTEN EVIDENCE

As with oral evidence, until its domaine was restricted to less than 1% of criminal cases and a negligible number of civil cases, it would principally be for the jury to appraise and determine the validity of written evidence. Originally only what the French would term as actes authentiques were admissible – i.e. those that constituted a complete proof of the text contained therein – which usually meant those bearing a seal. Since the coming into force of the Evidence Act 1938, S.1, any statement made by a person in a document establishing a given fact is, on production of the original document, admissible as evidence, provided that oral evidence of the fact would also be admissible and that the maker of the statement had personal knowledge of the proceedings. Some forms of written evidence, however, could not be proven or disproven by a jury and these include most notably those protected by the doctrine of estoppel, a phenomenon that Coke once remarked is ‘excellent and curious.’ Estoppel, an ancient doctrine akin yet different from presumption insofar as it only binds those who are a party to an action and is entirely irrebuttable, is a conclusive admission which cannot be denied by the party it affects, irrebutable written evidence that no other evidence can act as proof to the contrary. Indeed the parties would be rendered silent as though their mouths had been stopped to prevent them from speaking .

Some forms of evidence must be written, conspicuous examples of which include contracts for the sale of land and the will and testament. From the early 13th century until the Court of Probate Act 1857 and the establishment of a specialised civil court, the Principal Probate Registry, which started functioning on 10 July 1858, jurisdiction over wills and testamentary matters was held by the church . Due to illiteracy and the comparative gravity of illness in the absence of modern healthcare, which rendered people too ill to write it was unusual for testators to write their own wills. Tellingly pregnant women, especially if recently widowed, would be likely to ensure they had made a will. It is for these reasons that prior to 1837, when the law was amended, up to a third of wills were spoken (non-cupative) wills. As long as the dying testator had been resident at the place of death for at least 10 days and spoke his last wishes in the presence of three witnesses, the written account of his words were deemed to be legal even though the will was not signed by him. Any land or property disputes were usually conducted in Chancery . In diametric opposition to mandatory written evidence, in some cases the doctrine of judicial notice applies, that is to say that a statutory device will allow a judge to accept as true, and direct the jury to do likewise, certain fundamental facts not subject to serious dispute, so that the parties need not offer proof of these facts. Well known historical examples of judicial notice, which resulted from the copulation of strict rules of evidence and principles of reason include the existence of the Gregorian calendar, which until 1456 had not been proved by evidence as well as the location of the county of Hereford – no one had ever proven that it lies on the border with Wales.

Since the second half of the 19th C medical and forensic evidence have become increasingly more reliable and accurate, and expert witnesses, whether psychiatrists, dentists or ballistics experts now frequently take the stand. For example, in 1903 the Alphonse Bertillon method – a system which had for a long time been used for the identification of suspects by recording the dimensions of certain skeletal body parts was replaced by fingerprinting. DNA can, of course, now provide proof that is practically certain. Moreover, even though the expert may make a mistake and the science may only be a probability these forms of evidence are infinitely surer and safer than their irrational predecessors. In light of Jeremy Bentham’s treatese on judicial proofs, in which he postulated that the object of proof is to determine the truth we can not but ask the question: is the law keeping pace?


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