Respite, recreation and revolution

SUMMER BRINGS RELIEF from the anguish and political upheaval of the Brexit referendum. Well, except for the Labour party, of course, for whom anguish and upheaval have become the norm. To these are added litigation with Labour’s national executive committee spending £250,000 on legal costs to appeal a High Court ruling overturning the committee's decision to exclude new members from voting in the current leadership contest between incumbent Jeremy Corbyn and challenger Owen Smith. The appeal hearing concluded yesterday before three Appeal Court judges. Their decision, although specific to the Labour party’s rule book, may have wider implications for contract law, particularly as it applies to the rules and processes of membership bodies. The judgement is expected by 3 pm today.

WALTER’S COMPANY ON HOLIDAY in Scotland made it inevitable that golf would impinge – or infringe – on an otherwise relaxing break. Rather like a rain cloud appearing in a Scottish summer sky. Walter has history with golf. This undoubtedly stems from an unfortunate incident several years ago during a summer’s day stroll on the fringes of a Fife coastal town popular with holidaying Edinburgh lawyers. An unfortunate misunderstanding, for that is all it was, arose when Walter “retrieved” a golf ball from what turned out to be a fairway, although to Walter the topography would be indistinguishable from a public park. Had Walter’s exuberance, albeit misplaced, been received with the good humour that might be reasonably be expected in the case of such an inadvertent error, the incident might have been forgotten. But this was a golf course. Walter has never got over the unforgiving, splenetic outburst to which he was subjected on that day. He tenses in the vicinity of golf course paraphernalia. A tee box or fluttering flag is enough to make him wary. His carefree behaviour on a walk along a Highland beach darkens in an instant when landscaping and distant figures in bright clothing signal the menace of a golf course. And so to the aptly named crofter Kenneth Hassell who is claiming £2m from Royal Dornoch links to give up his common grazing rights under 19th century crofting legislation over 93 acres, taking in five holes of the championship course. With the golf club valuing Mr Hassell’s rights at a mere £33,000, the gulf between the parties is described as “unbridgeable”. Ransom strip or par for the course? As local councillor Graham Phillips put it: “The law is the law and you have to abide it, but often an extremely expensive hobby can lead to unintended consequences”.

GOLF IS EVEN IN THE BUSINESS NEWS this week with global brand Nike’s surprise announcement that it is to stop producing golf clubs, bags and balls. In other words, everything that is essential to playing the game as opposed merely to looking the part in expensive apparel. Why so? Sales at Nike’s golf division have fallen 8%, the third successive year of falling sales. Nike is known for its mega-sponsorship deals, first with Tiger Woods and most recently with Rory McIlroy. The problem is that the sponsorship appeals to a dwindling market. Official figures indicate that participation in British golf had fallen from just over 1 million in 2008 to below 750,000 in 2015. Meantime, running, cycling, gym and fitness classes and swimming are attracting increasing numbers. Golf needs to attract more younger players. Nike will continue to sell golf clothing and shoes so leading players like Rory McIlroy will still be subjected to the indignity of pioneering new fashions like the “bullet proof vest-look” he sported at this year’s Open. This year’s unexpected headgear innovation is the lawyer’s favourite, the bulldog clip, as sported by American Phil Michelson to secure his cap at a windy Royal Troon this year. 

JUDGES HAVE BEEN IN THE NEWS with the resignation of Lady Goddard, the New Zealand judge appointed on a size able remuneration package to chair the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. This followed the earlier resignations of English judges Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf on the grounds of potential conflict of interest due to their “establishment” links. Lady Goddard’s resignation came shortly after a report in the Times newspaper that she had spent three months out of the preceding year of her appointment out of the country in Australia and New Zealand. Lady Goddard’s resignation letter was a remarkably terse two liner. Stories have since surfaced in the press of alleged tensions within IICSA over Lady Goddard’s alleged manner towards team members and alleged limited knowledge of English law. It is not clear whether these are well-founded or simply motivated by hostility to a non-English outsider. The new chair is Professor Alexis Jay, an Edinburgh-born former social worker who has more than 30 years experience in child protection. Professor Jay has been on the IICSA since the start. House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Chair Keith Vaz welcomed the appointment: “Professor Jay is first chair of the inquiry without legal or judicial qualifications. I hope it will be fourth time lucky”.

THE BREXIT VOTE was one of those usually rare, but in recent times more frequent, examples of a public news story inducing the cycle of existential emotion normally reserved for personal, private life experiences: panic, resignation, assimilation. The horrific attacks on innocent people in Nice and elsewhere; the civil and proxy wars in the Middle East; the migrant crisis; the conflict in Ukraine; the prospect of the UK breaking up; global warming; the speed of technological change: these too individually and collectively have had a similar effect. There is a sense of the world moving into uncontrollable, unchartered territory. “T’was ever thus”, as the saying goes. The best prescription for this anxiety condition is to read some history such as Peter McPhee’s new study of the French Revolution, Liberty or Death (Yale University Press, 2016). This was a ferociously violent upheaval that shook the world, releasing frightening new ideas that today we take for granted. A lawyer was centre stage: Maximilien Robespierre.

— “Writer”

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