Rock, paper, scissors …

Photo by Seán J Crossan

An interesting story from Canada caught my attention last week and got me reminiscing about the legal status of gambling agreements in Scotland. Sponsiones ludicrae they were otherwise referred to – ludicrous promises.

The Québec Court of Appeal had to consider whether a bet placed on the outcome of a game of rock, paper, scissors was legally enforceable under that Province’s laws. At stake lay a sum of $500,000 and the loser of the bet had taken out a mortgage to cover this. Luckily for him, the Court upheld the judgement of the trial judge who had determined that the bet was not legally enforceable because it was excessive. Strictly speaking, gambling agreements can be enforced in Québec, but under that Province’s laws the bet must not apply to a game of chance; it must require skill or bodily exertion. Admittedly, Justice Chatelain, the trial judge seemed to be split on whether rock, paper, scissors was strictly a game of chance or one which required some element of skill or bodily exertion, but she was eventually swayed by the fact that the size of the bet was excessive.

A link to the story on the Sky News website can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/500k-bet-on-rock-paper-scissors-written-off-by-appeal-court-in-canada-11978822

Gambling agreements are arrangements that people enter into usually by way of placing a bet on a variety of sporting events or other frivolous activities e.g. who will be the latest evictee from ITV1’s I’m a celebrity: get me out of here!

When I started my legal career, I could confidently say to people that gambling agreements had no legal status whatsoever. They were unenforceable.

The introduction of the Gambling Act 2005, however, fundamentally reformed this area of the law of contract (more about this later in the article).

The historical position in Scotland

As Professor Laura J MacGregor of the University of Edinburgh has pointed out the theoretical objections of the Scottish judiciary were often quite nebulous when it came to deciding the grounds on which gambling agreements were unenforceable (Pacta Illicita: A History of Private Law in Scotland; Volume II edited by Reid and Zimmerman (OUP: 2000)).

True, such agreements didn’t quite fall into into the category of pacta illicita or illegal contracts because, after all, gambling was, for the most part, a perfectly legal activity. This, of course, did not prevent certain members of the judiciary (from time to time) placing such agreements in the category of illegal contracts (see Lord Moncrieff’s conclusions in Calder v Stephens (1871) 9 M 1074) in this respect).

England, on the other hand, had taken a different approach from Scotland to gambling agreements. The Unlawful Games Act 1541, passed during the reign of King Henry VIII, had to all intents and purposes made nearly all gambling activities illegal. Although this legislation seems to have been enforced rarely (or never), its influence ensured that gambling contracts had the status of pacta illicita or illegal contracts: they were void and unenforceable in the English Courts. Over the centuries, the laws regulating gambling in England would become progressively liberalised, but the Act of 1541 cast a long shadow.

The end result in both Scotland and England was very much the same: gambling agreements were unenforceable, albeit this conclusion being arrived at on the basis of different philosophical principles (sponsiones ludicrae in Scottish decisions and illegality in English cases).

Historically, of course, successive UK Government were quite hypocritical in their attitude towards gambling activities. They were quite happy to tax the punters, yet the Scottish and English courts consistently refused to enforce such agreements. Typically, the courts regarded gambling agreements as below their dignity and not worthy of judicial scrutiny. In the past, unlucky punters who were slow or refused to settle outstanding gambling debts with a bookie may have found themselves having to do a runner from hired ‘muscle’, that had been engaged by the bookie, to persuade them to pay up.

It also cut the other way: a lucky punter might be outraged to learn that a bookie had no intention of paying out if a rank outsider had romped home in that year’s Grand National horse race.

I remember reading (with much amusement), the writer, John O’Farrell’s face off with a book maker in 1997*. O’Farrell, a life long Labour Party supporter, had placed a bet that Tony Blair would lead the Party to victory at the next British General Election. When the bet was originally put down, the odds against a Labour victory were high. Needless to say that, when Mr Blair won the General Election in 1997, O’Farrell was banking on a large payout. To O’Farrell’s initial consternation, the bookie was not willing to pay out and there was no legal avenue to force him to do so. O’Farrell, who made regular TV appearances on well known shows such as Have I Got News for You, cleverly used his media status to persuade (gently) the bookie to pay out his winnings. The bookie duly complied.

*Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979–1997 (1999, Black Swan).

Arguably, the unwillingness of Scottish (and English) courts to enforce gambling agreements over the centuries seems to stem from the time in which Christianity was a much more powerful influence in society. Although, there would appear to be limited scriptural objections to such activities, many Christian societies were disapproving because it was a means of obtaining a reward without putting in the effort of hard labour. If pushed to think of condemnation of gambling in the Bible, I can really only think of the example of lots being cast by the Roman soldiers for the clothing and possessions of Jesus Christ at the crucifixion on Good Friday (Matthew 27: 35; Mark 15: 24; Luke 23: 34; and John 19: 23-24 fulfilling Psalm 22: 18).

The words of the eighteenth century Scottish judge, Lord Kames come readily to mind when considering how gambling contracts were viewed:

“[Such a contract] ought not to be converted into a serious matter, by bringing the fruits of it into a Court of Justice … Neither doth this court profess to take under its protection every covenant and agreement. Many engagements of various sorts, the fruits of idleness, are too trifling, or too ludicrous, to merit the countenance of law; a court, whether of common law or of equity, cannot preserve its dignity if it descend to such matters.”

Two examples of the way in which gambling agreements were dealt with by the Scottish courts can be seen below:

Robertson v Balfour (1938) SC 207 Robertson had entered into gambling agreements with Balfour, a bookie, to place bets on two horses, ‘Swift and True’ and ‘Scotch Horse’. Both horses won their respective races, but Robertson received a mere £10 in winnings from Balfour. In fact, Balfour owed Robertson another £33 in winnings. Robertson had agreed that he would give Balfour additional time to pay him the balance of this debt.

Held: Robertson could not enforce the outstanding debt of £33 against Balfour. This was a gambling debt and the courts would not enforce it.

Ferguson v Littlewoods Pools Ltd (1996) GWD 21-1183 the members of a football pools syndicate had won several million pounds on a coupon – or so they thought. The syndicate members were completely unaware of the fact that the agent for Littlewoods Pools had not forwarded their stake money because he had stolen it. When the theft was uncovered, the syndicate members not unnaturally demanded that Littlewoods should honour the winning coupon. Littlewoods stated that it had never received the coupon. In response, the syndicate argued that Littlewoods should be held responsible for the dishonest actions of its agent.

Held: by Lord Coulsfield in the Outer House of the Court of Session that the contract between the syndicate and Littlewoods was a gambling agreement and it was, therefore, unenforceable. Lord Coulsfield refused to order to pay out the sum which the syndicate thought it had won.

Gambling syndicates

Despite the previous unwillingness of the Scottish courts to provide a remedy to a party seeking to enforce a gambling agreement, arrangements made between members of a gambling syndicate could be legally enforceable.

The Inner House of the Court of Session had reason to consider legal position as applicable to arrangements between syndicate members in Robertson v Anderson [2002] ScotCS 312 by focusing on an area of contract law known as collateral contracts.

In Robertson, two friends who regularly attended Bingo sessions together had an arrangement that they would share equally between them any prize money that they won. One night, Anderson won over £100,000 and Robertson, her friend, expected to receive her share. Unfortunately, Anderson backtracked on their agreement and Robertson took legal action to secure her share of the winnings. Evidence was led which established that both women had an agreement to divide their winnings equally. As this case occurred before the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005, the Inner House of the Court of Session accepted that, if Anderson had attempted to sue Mecca Bingo for the winnings, she would have been unsuccessful due to the doctrine of sponsiones ludicrae. The question before the Inner House, therefore, centred around whether the agreement between Anderson and Robertson was a collateral contract and, consequently, enforceable – albeit one which was slightly tainted by association with the main gambling agreement.

Held: the Inner House started that Robertson could enforce the collateral contract that she had with Anderson. Collateral contracts are linked to another contract or agreement and give rise to a completely different set of rights and duties. Their contract related to gaming, but was not of itself a gaming agreement. The issue before the court – whether Robertson was entitled to share in Anderson’s winnings – did not involve the enforcement of a gambling agreement. This was the crucial difference between this case and Ferguson v Littlewoods’ Pools (1996) which was discussed earlier in this article. In any event, the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005, to which we shall shortly turn, now means that this discussion is largely of historical interest only.

That said, the decision of the Inner House was hardly surprising given that, as far back as the 19th Century, Lord President Normand (in Knight & Co. v Stott (1892) 19 R 959) could state:

There is no legal taint in betting as to infect all the contracts which are in any way related to it.’

In this way, the Court of Session could find in favour of a betting commission agent being allowed to sue successfully for sums owed to him by his principal.

The Gambling Act 2005

Such cases as the two above and the musings of Lord Kames were consigned to the dustbin of history with the passage of the Gambling Act 2005.

This legislation came into force on 1 September 2007 and, as a result, of Section 335, the doctrine of sponsiones ludicrae or ludicrous promises in relation to gambling agreements was repealed.

Section 335(1) of the Act simply states:

The fact that a contract relates to gambling shall not prevent its enforcement.’

This important legal reform has meant that Scottish and English courts have jurisdiction to deal with disputes between parties to a gambling agreement and to provide them with a remedy.

Conclusion

Section 335 of the Gambling Act was a very significant development in the law of contract that swept away the doctrine of sponsiones ludicrae. This doctrine had long been an important and well-established part of the Scots law of contract and ensured that those individuals who were party to a gambling agreement had no effective legal remedy should a dispute arise. The Gambling Act 2005 now ensures that such agreements will be regarded as legally enforceable.

Such a reform would have been unthinkable in the past because no doubt the Christian Churches would have railed against it. Given the steep decline of the influence of Christianity in modern Britain, it is perhaps not a huge surprise that the UK Parliament introduced the Act. More generally, there was also greater toleration of gambling amongst the British public possibly as a result of the introduction of the UK National Lottery (introduced by the National Lottery etc Act 1993).

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 7 May 2020

Pay day?

Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

One of the most important common law duties that an employer has under the contract of employment is to pay wages to the employee.

This duty, of course, is contingent upon the employee carrying out his or her side of the bargain i.e. performing their contractual duties.

The right to be paid fully and on time is a basic right of any employee. Failure by employers to pay wages (wholly or partially) or to delay payment is a serious contractual breach.

Historically, employers could exploit employees by paying them in vouchers or other commodities. Often, these vouchers could be exchanged only in the factory shop. This led Parliament to pass the Truck Acts to prevent such abuses.

Sections 13-27 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (which replaced the Wages Act 1986) give employees some very important rights as regards the payment of wages.

The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (and the associated statutory instruments) and the Equality Act 2010 also contain important provisions about wages and other contractual benefits.

There are a number of key issues regarding the payment of wages:

  • All employees are entitled to an individual written pay statement (whether a hard or electronic copy)
  • The written pay statement must contain certain information
  • Pay slips/statements must be given on or before the pay date
  • Fixed pay deductions must be shown with detailed amounts and reasons for the deductions e.g. Tax, pensions and national insurance
  • Part time workers must get same rate as full time workers (on a pro rata basis)
  • Most workers entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage or the National Minimum Living Wage (if over age 25) (NMW)
  • Some workers under age 19 may be entitled to the apprentice rate

Most workers (please note not just employees) are entitled to receive the NMW i.e. over school leaving age. NMW rates are reviewed each year by the Low Pay Commission and changes are usually announced from 1 April each year.

It is a criminal offence not to pay workers the NMW and they can also take (civil) legal action before an Employment Tribunal (or Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland) in order to assert this important statutory right.

There are certain individuals who are not entitled to receive the NMW:

  • Members of the Armed Forces
  • Genuinely self-employed persons
  • Prisoners
  • Volunteers
  • Students doing work placements as part of their studies
  • Workers on certain training schemes
  • Members of religious communities
  • Share fishermen

Pay deductions?

Can be lawful when made by employers …

… but in certain, limited circumstances only.

When exactly are deductions from pay lawful?:

  • Required or authorised by legislation (e.g. income tax or national insurance deductions);
  • It is authorised by the worker’s contract – provided the worker has been given a written copy of the relevant terms or a written explanation of them before it is made;
  • The consent of the worker has been obtained in writing before deduction is made.

Extra protection exists for individuals working in the retail sector making it illegal for employers to deduct more than 10% from the gross amount of any payment of wages (except the final payment on termination of employment).

Employees can take a claim to an Employment Tribunal for unpaid wages or unauthorised deductions from wages. They must do so within 3 months (minus 1 day) from the date that wages should have been paid or, if the deduction is an ongoing one, the time limit runs from the date of the last relevant deduction.

An example of a claim for unpaid wages can be seen below:

Riyad Mahrez and wife ordered to pay former nanny

Equal Pay

Regular readers of the Blog will be aware of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to pay and contractual benefits. It will amount to unlawful sex discrimination if an employer pays a female worker less than her male comparator if they are doing:

  • Like work
  • Work of equal value
  • Work rated equivalent

Sick Pay

Some employees may be entitled to receive pay from the employer while absent from work due to ill health e.g. 6 months’ full pay & then 6 months’ half pay. An example of this can be seen below:

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

This is relevant in situations where employees are not entitled to receive contractual sick pay. Pre (and probably post Coronavirus crisis) it was payable from the 4th day of sickness absence only. Since the outbreak of the virus, statutory sick pay can paid from the first day of absence for those who either are infected with the virus or are self-isolating.

Contractual sick pay is often much more generous than SSP

2020: £95.85 per week from 6 April (compared to £94.25 SSP in 2019) which is payable for up to 28 weeks.

To be eligible for SSP, the claimant must be an employee earning at least £120 (before tax) per week.

Employees wishing to claim SSP submit a claim in writing (if requested) to their employer who may set a deadline for claims. If the employee doesn’t qualify for SSP, s/he may be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance.

Holiday Pay

As per the Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended), workers entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday entitlement (usually translates into 28 days) per year (Bank and public holidays can be included in this figure).

Some workers do far better in terms of holiday entitlement e.g. teachers and lecturers.

Part-time workers get holiday leave on a pro rata basis: a worker works 3 days a week will have their entitlement calculated by multiplying 3 by 5.6 which comes to 16.8 days of annual paid leave.

Employers usually nominate a date in the year when accrual of holiday pay/entitlement begins e.g. 1 September to 31st August each year. If employees leave during the holiday year, their accrued holiday pay will be part of any final payment they receive.

Holiday entitlement means that workers have the right to:

  • get paid for leave that they build up (‘accrue’) in respect of holiday entitlement during maternity, paternity and adoption leave
  • build up holiday entitlement while off work sick
  • choose to take holiday(s) instead of sick leave.

Guarantee payments

Lay-offs & short-time working

Employers can ask you to stay at home or take unpaid leave (lay-offs/short time working) if there’s not enough work for you as an alternative to making redundancies. There should be a clause in the contract of employment addressing such a contingency.

Employees are entitled to guarantee pay during lay-off or short-time working. The maximum which can be paid is £30 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period – so a maximum of £150 can be paid to the employee in question.

If the employee usually earn less than £30 a day, s/he will get their normal daily rate. Part-time employees will be paid on a pro rata basis.

How long can employees be laid-off/placed on short-time working?

There’s no limit for how long employees can be laid-off or put on short-time. They could apply for redundancy and claim redundancy pay if the lay-off/short-term working period has been:

  • 4 weeks in a row
  • 6 weeks in a 13-week period

Eligibility for statutory lay-off pay

To be eligible, employees must:

  • have been employed continuously for 1 month (includes part-time workers)
  • reasonably make sure you’re available for work
  • not refuse any reasonable alternative work (including work not in the contract)
  • Not have been laid-off because of industrial action
  • Employer may have their own guarantee pay scheme
  • It can’t be less than the statutory arrangements.
  • If you get employer’s payments, you don’t get statutory pay in addition to this
  • Failure to receive guarantee payments can give rise to Employment Tribunal claims.

This is an extremely relevant issue with Coronavirus, but many employers are choosing to take advantage of the UK Government’s Furlough Scheme whereby the State meets 80% of the cost of an employee’s wages because the business is prevented from trading.

Redundancy payments

If an employee is being made redundant, s/he may be entitled to receive a statutory redundancy payment. To be eligible for such a payment, employees must have been employed continuously for more than 2 years.

The current weekly pay used to calculate redundancy payments is £525.

Employees will receive:

  • half a week’s pay for each full year that they were employed under 22 years old
  • one week’s pay for each full year they were employed between 22 and 40 years old
  • one and half week’s pay for each full year they were employed from age 41 or older

Redundancy payments are capped at £525 a week (£508 if you were made redundant before 6 April 2019).

Please find below a link which helps employees facing redundancy to calculate their redundancy payment:

https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-redundancy-pay

Family friendly payments

Employers also have to be mindful of the following issues:

  • Paternity pay
  • Maternity Pay
  • Shared Parental Pay
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Adoption Pay
  • Bereavement Pay

Employers can easily keep up to date with the statutory rates for family friendly payments by using the link below on the UK Government’s website:

https://www.gov.uk/maternity-paternity-calculator

What happens if the employer becomes insolvent and goes into liquidation?

Ultimately, the State will pay employees their wages, redundancy pay, holiday pay and unpaid commission that they would have been owed. This why the UK Government maintains a social security fund supported by national insurance contributions.

An example of a UK business forced into liquidation can be seen below:

Patisserie Valerie: Redundant staff ‘not receiving final pay’

Up to 900 workers lost their jobs when administrators closed 70 of the cafe chain’s outlets. Disclaimer:

Conclusion

Payment of wages is one of the most important duties that an employer must fulfil. It is also an area which is highly regulated by law, for example:

  • The common law
  • The Employment Rights Act 1996
  • The Working Time Regulations 1998
  • The National Minimum Wage Act 1998
  • The Equality Act 2010
  • Family friendly legislation e.g. adoption, bereavement, maternity, paternity

Failure by an employer to pay an employee (and workers) their wages and other entitlements can lead to the possibility of claims being submitted to an Employment Tribunal. The basic advice to employers is make sure you stay on top of this important area of employment law because it changes on a regular basis and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/30/2020-same-old-sexism-yes-equal-pay-again/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/10/new-year-same-old-story/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/13/inequality-in-the-uk/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/31/the-gender-pay-gap/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/05/the-gender-pay-gap-part-2/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/26/ouch/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/20/sexism-in-the-uk/

Thttps://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/30/paternity-leave/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 5 April 2020

The Battle of Balaclava?

Photo by nick olson on Unsplash

Balaclavas can be very useful things to have to hand – when the weather is very cold or you’re discussing the Crimean War (1853-1856) from where the term for the garment originates in the United Kingdom (circa 1881, according to the historian and cleric, Richard Rutt). During the Crimean War, British soldiers wore the garment to cope with the sub-zero temperatures that they experienced during the winter months of the Campaign.

Today, the garments are still incredibly popular with cyclists and winter sports’ enthusiasts (I confess: I have two for cycling during the winter months and they’re great!).

Despite, the historical associations with the British Army’s involvement in the Crimean War, it’s not always advisable to use the Balaclava as a teaching aid for History classes – especially DIY History classes.

McClean, an Irish footballer playing for the English Championship side, Stoke City FC, has recently found this out to his cost.

In a bizarre social media post (on Instagram), McClean put a picture of himself wearing a Balaclava as he was talking to two children. What was the point of this strange exercise? McClean claims that he was teaching the children about history, but others have seen this as an endorsement of paramilitary groups – particularly the Provisional IRA.

Today’s history lesson by James McClean

There was a public backlash and McClean was fined by this Club. The player is something of a controversial figure to many as he routinely refuses to have a poppy printed on his football jersey in the run-up to Remembrance Day commemorations each November in the United Kingdom.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/poppy-james-mcclean-matic-guardiola-klopp-remembrance-sunday-armistice-day-a9194266.html

McClean hails from the City of Derry in the North of Ireland which will be forever associated with the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ on 30 January 1972. On that day, 13 innocent Civil Rights marchers were shot and killed without justification by members of the Parachute Regiment – as per the conclusions of Lord Saville’s Report (2010) which contradicted Lord Widgery’s findings published in April 1972. The Saville Inquiry took 12.5 years and cost the British taxpayer £191.5 million – the longest and most expensive inquiry ever in the United Kingdom (figures obtained from The Spectator).

The previous Widgery Report was seen by many in the Republican and Nationalist community as a cover-up and a whitewash in that it absolved the Parachute Regiment of any wrong-doing for the deaths. Inevitably, the Report fuelled a long lasting sense of grievance within this community. McClean grew up on Derry’s Creggan Estate – not far from St Mary’s Church where many of the funerals of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ victims took place.

We often forget that footballers can be employees i.e. have a contract of service with their Clubs as per Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. McClean is fortunate that he has retained his post; other, less famous employees might not have been so lucky.

Section 98(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 permits an employer to dismiss an employee (potentially) fairly by reason of his/her conduct (with the proviso, of course, that the employer follows proper procedures in line with current ACAS standards).

McClean might initially have protested that the social media post was done while he was outside working hours. Regular readers of this Blog will be well aware that this type of excuse is extremely naive at best. Yes, employees do have a right to privacy, in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, but this is never absolute – especially if an employer can argue that the behaviour of an individual employed by him or her has caused reputational damage to the organisation.

Employers do have a part to play here: they have a duty to have clear and consistent guidelines on employee social media use within and outwith the work-place. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the employer should make sure that employees are aware of the existence of such guidelines and have actually read them.

The misbehaviour or misconduct of employees which takes place outside working hours can have a really serious reputational impact on your employer. Individuals, like McClean, with high profiles in the community should be aware of this. It won’t be the last time that we read about someone who is deemed to be a role model – a teacher or a sporting personality – who misbehaves outside work and pays the price for this type of behaviour.

A link to the story on the Sky News website can be found below:

https://news.sky.com/story/james-mcclean-irish-footballer-fined-for-balaclava-childrens-history-lesson-post-11964664

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/02/youre-never-off-duty/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/08/different-standards/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/03/the-limits-of-privacy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/09/03/facebook-folly/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/05/im-a-political-activist-dont-sack-me/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/20/social-media-and-dismissal/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/11/social-media-misuse/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/09/drunk-and-disorderly/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/07/it-happened-outside-work-or-its-my-private-life/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 2 April 2020

Crazy days! Force majeure & frustration!

Photo by Adam Azim on Unsplash

I never thought that the subject of impossibility and frustration in relation to contract would become such a popular topic of everyday conversation; but it has.

The phrase “force majeure” has also been making more of an appearance than is commonly the case.

Why?

The continuing fallout from Coronavirus or COVID-19 has led to all sorts of sporting and cultural events being cancelled or postponed. We are also about to enter the holiday season with the Spring Break and Easter Weekend just over the horizon. Many people will have booked getaways to foreign climes and events have now completely overtaken such plans.

Critically, thousands of people will have paid something up front for football season tickets and holidays and they will be anxious to know where they stand legally.

Hearts owner Ann Budge says she would consider legal action should her club be relegated from the Scottish Premiership with eight games left:

Coronavirus: Hearts would seek legal advice if relegated

So where do they stand legally?

There are two ways of dealing with an unexpected situation which affects contractual performance: being reactive or being farsighted.

At the moment, the scale of COVID-19 has completely taken Governments, societies, business, cultural, sporting organisations and individuals completely by surprise. So, in a sense, we are being forced to react to changing circumstances and rely upon established legal contractual principles which govern the termination of agreements i.e. frustration, impossibility and illegality. More about these matters shortly.

As lawyers, could we have pre-empted or foreseen that events (I’m speaking in the general sense here) might render contractual performance highly unlikely or well nigh impossible? Well, yes the concept of Force Majeure clauses is recognised in contract law – although the linguists amongst us may recognise that it’s not a native species of English or Scots law.

words ‘force majeure’ are not words which we generally find in an English contract. They are taken from the Code Napoleon and they were inserted by this Romanian gentleman or by his advisers, who were no doubt familiar with their use on the Continent.”

In the English case of Matsoukis v Priestman [1915] 1 KB 681 Bailhace J in English High Court noted that the:

Bailhace J was of the view that force majeure clauses could cover events such as industrial action, but certainly not bad weather or football or funerals.

Yet in the later English High Court decision Lebeaupin v Richard Crispin [1920] 2 KB 714, force majeure was given a much broader meaning to include events such as war, bad weather, industrial action and, interestingly, epidemics. That said McCardie J was at pains to point out:

A force majeure clause should be construed in each case with a close attention to the words which precede or follow it, and with a due regard to the nature and general terms of the contract. The eect of the clause may vary with each instrument.

Essentially, such clauses are inserted into contracts to deal with the consequences of events outwith the control of the parties which may render performance of the contract impossible.

Ross Campbell of Brodies Solicitors who has pointed out that the rules of last year’s Rugby World Cup tournament in Japan contained a force majeure clause addressing the cancellation of matches due to extreme weather. The clause was not utilised and, therefore, not challenged, but it’s an interesting example of how parties to an agreement might attempt to address situations which can have serious consequences for contractual performance.

A link to Ross Campbell’s article can be found below:

https://brodies.com/blog/dispute-resolution/the-power-of-force-majeure-clauses/

The very phrase force majeure conjures up images of an unstoppable force that sweeps away the accepted rules or conventions – almost akin to the idea of damnum fatale or an act of God.

So whether, will the courts permit the application of a force majeure clause will turn on the wording of the clause.

Could anyone have predicted the situation that we are now in with COVID-19 and drafted an appropriate clause to address these unprecedented times? It’s extremely doubtful. I’m not pretending to be Nostradamus (or for our Scottish readers, the Brahan Seer or Thomas the Rhymer) when I predict that many lawyers and their clients will actively be looking at the usefulness of force majeure clauses.

Triggering a force majeure clause

For those parties wishing to rely upon force majeure clauses, drafting the term may be crucially important. It might be highly advisable to have a list of events or circumstances which trigger operation of the clause; and then have a catch-all provision or belt and braces term to cover things you might not have explicitly specified (as per McCardie J’s remarks in Lebeaupin v Richard Crispin [1920]. Be aware, however, that extremely wide catch-all provisions may be disallowed because they are not within the normal meaning of the term (see Tandrin Aviation Holdings Ltd v Aero Toy Store LLC [2010] EWHC 40 (Comm)).

Frustration, impossibility and illegality

Let’s now turn to situations where individuals have to react to unexpected events without having the benefit of a force majeure clause in the agreement.

Since the formation of a contract, circumstances affecting the agreement may have changed dramatically (i.e. the pandemic). The contract may now be impossible to perform or the contract may have been rendered illegal by changes in the law.

Physical destruction of the subject-matter of the contract can also frustrate contracts.

Perhaps one of the best known examples of frustration can be seen in the case below:

Taylor v Caldwell (1863) the Surrey Gardens and Music Hall was hired by the pursuers from the defenders for the purpose of holding four grand concerts and fêtes. Before the first concert on 17 June 1862 could took place, the hall was completely destroyed by fire. Neither party was responsible for this incident. The pursuers, however, brought an action for damages against the defenders for wasted advertising costs.

Held: By the English High Court that it was clearly impossible for the contract to be performed because it relied on the continuing existence of the venue. The pursuers claim for damages was dismissed on the grounds that the purpose of the contract had been frustrated.

In another case, Vitol SA v Esso Australia 1988 The Times 1 February 1988, a contract for the sale of petroleum was discharged on the grounds of frustration when both the ship and its cargo of petroleum were completely destroyed in a missile attack in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The sellers had attempted to sue the buyers for the price of the goods, but this claim was dismissed.

The ‘coronationcases

Two famous cases which are particularly instructive are the ‘Coronation Cases’ because they concern the consequences of changing circumstances. Both cases arose due to the illness of King Edward VII. The new King was unable to participate or attend a variety of events to celebrate his accession to the British throne following the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.

The English Court of Appeal took different approaches in each of the cases:

Krell v Henry [1903] 2 KB 740 the pursuer was the owner of a flat in the central London district of Pall Mall. The pursuer’s flat was on the route of the proposed coronation procession of the new King, Edward VII, which was scheduled to take place on 26 and 27 June 1902. The pursuer had advertised his flat for rent during the daytime on 26 and 27 June for the purpose of viewing the procession. The defender, who was anxious to view the procession, responded to the advertisement and entered into an agreement to hire the flat on the days specified. An announcement was made on 24 June stating that the procession was to be cancelled owing to the King’s illness. The defender refused to pay the balance of the rent for the flat by reason that events had frustrated performance of the contract. The pursuer brought an action against the defender for payment of the balance of the rent.

Held: by the English Court of Appeal that the cancellation of the event frustrated the contract and discharged the parties from their obligations under it. The clinching argument in the defender’s favour was that both parties clearly entered into the contract with the same intention.

The reason behind the hire of the flat was, therefore, a material term of the contract. Had the defender failed to communicate his motivation for hiring the flat, then the contract would have remained capable of enforcement by the pursuer.

Lord Justice Vaughn-Williams was of the opinion that frustration of contract was not limited to either the destruction or non-existence of the subject matter of the contract. It was also important to identify the substance or the purpose of the agreement. In other words, did the parties share the same intentions?

The illness of King Edward resulted in a second legal action. This time, however, the English Court of Appeal took a completely different approach to the issue of frustration of contract.

Herne Bay Steamboat Co v Hutton [1903] 2 KB 683 the pursuers had entered into a contract to hire a steamship to the defender for two days. The Royal Navy was assembling at Spithead to take part in a naval review to celebrate King Edward’s coronation.

The King was to review the fleet personally. The defender wished to transport paying guests from Herne Bay to Spithead to see the naval review. Due to the King’s illness, an official announcement was made cancelling the review. It would still have been perfectly possible for the defender to take his passengers on a cruise to see the assembled fleet. The defender, however, refused to use the vessel claiming that the contract had been frustrated. The pursuers brought an action against the defender for the balance of the fee of £250 (a considerable sum in those times) owed by the defender who was refusing to pay for the hire of the boat.

Held: the contract was not discharged by reason of frustration. The main purpose of the contract could still be achieved i.e. to take paying guests for a cruise around the fleet.

Why the difference in approach?

In Krell v Henry [1903], Lord Justice Vaughn-Williams was of the opinion that frustration of contract was not limited to either the destruction or non-existence of the subject matter of the contract.

The difference in Herne Bay Steamboat Co v Hutton [1903] was that the contract was the main purpose of the contract could still be achieved i.e. to take paying guests for a cruise around the fleet – despite the fact that King Edward VII would not be personally reviewing the fleet due to his unexpected illness.

This difference in approach taken by the Court of Appeal in both cases is sometimes difficult to understand. In Krell v Henry, both parties had clearly intended that the purpose of the contract was to view the coronation procession (which was postponed). Reinforcing this fact, was the fact that the defender was only entitled to use the flat during the daytime.

In Herne Bay Steamboat Co v Hutton, the purpose of the defender in hiring the steamship was to see the naval review, but this was not the purpose of the owners who were not the slightest bit interested why the vessel had been hired.

Lord Justice Vaughn-Williams compared the situation in Herne Bay Steamboat Co to someone who hires a carriage to go and see the Epsom Derby, but the outbreak of some unforeseen epidemic means that the races are cancelled. This makes no difference to the owner of the carriage who will still expect to be paid for the hire of his vehicle.

It will, however, be important to identify the substance or the purpose of the agreement. The cancellation of an event can frustrate the performance of a contract where that event is an absolutely material term of the agreement.

The limits of frustration …

Frustration can only be used to have the contract discharged in situations where neither party is to blame. When one party is to blame for the failure to perform his obligations under the agreement, this represents a breach of contract and the innocent party can raise the appropriate action.

Tsakiroglou v Noblee Thorl GmbH [1961] 2 ALL ER 179 the sellers had agreed to transport Sudanese ground nuts from Port Sudan in the Red Sea to Hamburg in Germany. The ship was to take the fastest route to Europe through the Suez Canal. This proved to be impossible because the Canal was closed as a result of military hostilities following the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt causing the Suez Crisis in late 1956. The sellers would have to ship the goods around the alternative route of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. This meant that the distance the ship had to travel from Port Sudan to Hamburg was greatly increased and this would also mean a dramatic increase in the costs of carriage in respect of the goods.

Held: by the House of Lords that a party will still have a duty to perform a contract even if this means that performance is more difficult or expensive than was originally intended by the parties. The closure of the Suez Canal did not mean that the sellers’ duties were discharged by reason of frustration of contract.

Contracts for personal services

Such a contract is discharged by the death of the person who was to perform it. The incapacity of a person who is to perform a contract may discharge it. However, temporary incapacity is not enough unless it affects the performance of the contract in a really serious way. If an employee is killed or permanently incapacitated, it will be very difficult to argue that the employment contract should be allowed to continue. Employees who have had a lengthy prison sentence imposed on them by a criminal court may find it very difficult to argue against the employer’s proposition that the contract of employment has been terminated by reason of frustration.

Some words of warning: the courts may be unwilling to use frustration as a means of terminating an employment contract if other ways of achieving this result are available. This could occur in situations where it is possible for the employer to dismiss the employee entirely fairly by reason of a lack of capability (e.g. on grounds of ill health) as per the Employment Relations Act 1996.

Notable cases on frustration in connection with employment contracts include the following:

  • Davis Contractors Ltd v Fareham UDC [1956] AC 696
  • Marshall v Harland & Wolff [1972] IRLR90
  • G F Sharp & Co Ltd v McMillan [1998] IRLR 632

The purpose of the contract becomes impossible to perform

As we have seen, a situation involving the physical destruction of the subject-matter of the contract will discharge the parties from performance of their duties by reason of frustration. However, frustration can also occur in situations where physical destruction of the subject-matter of the contract may not be the issue.

Jackson v Union Marine Insurance Co (1874) LR 10 CP 125 the pursuer owned a ship which had been chartered to go with all possible speed from Liverpool to Newport for the purpose of loading a cargo bound for San Francisco. The pursuer had insurance with the defenders to protect himself in the event that the charter might be prevented from being carried out. The vessel was stranded whilst on its way to Newport. It was not refloated for over a month and could not be properly repaired for some time. The charterers hired another ship and the pursuer turned to the insurers. They suggested that the pursuer should sue the charterer for breach.

Held: the fact that the ship was stranded effectively frustrated the agreement’s commercial purpose and, therefore, the charterers were free to go elsewhere. The pursuer had no remedy against the charterers and was in turn entitled to seek compensation under the insurance policy.

Illegality

We are seeing the introduction of emergency powers legislation across the World in response to COVID-19 and this will undoubtedly have a huge impact on a range of contractual obligations. Many European Union countries have reintroduced border controls and curbs on free movement of persons which would normally be a clear breach of European Treaties (e.g. the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; the Treaty on European Union; and the Schengen Agreement), but these are not normal times. These drastic measures can all be justified on grounds of public security and public health – legitimate derogations or grounds for withdrawal from key EU legal principles. Travel and tourism will obviously be disproportionately affected by these restrictions.

Contracts can become illegal because Parliament introduces legislation to this effect. After the murder of schoolchildren and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School in 1996 by Thomas Hamilton, the British government made it illegal to own particular models of firearms. Therefore, anyone who entered a contract to purchase firearms shortly before the legislation was introduced could not force the supplier to perform the contract. If the buyer insisted on performance of the contract by the seller, the seller would be complying with his contractual duty, but he would also be breaking the law as the contract would be illegal.

Events can also make further or future performance of contracts illegal e.g. the outbreak of war. Two House of Lords’ decisions are excellent authority for this proposition –

Stevenson & Sons Ltd v AG für Cartonnagen Industrie (1918) AC 239 an English company, Stevenson, was in partnership with a German company acting as a sole agent to sell the German company’s goods. By continuing to carry on business with an enemy during wartime (the First World War had broken out), Stevenson would be committing a criminal act and there was no alternative but to have the partnership dissolved (see also Cantiere San Rocco SA v Clyde Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd (1923) SC (HL) 105 where, again, the First World War had a similar effect on a contract between a Scottish company and an Austrian buyer of a ship).

Conclusion

The Coronavirus or COVID-19 is not merely a health issue – it has also become something of a legal minefield for society. This is where knowledge of the circumstances of termination of contractual obligations and performance is vital. The doctrine of frustration, impossibility and supervening illegality are highly relevant to this debate.

Doubtless, the use of force majeure clauses will become more common – especially, if as predicted, we are going to be experiencing further waves of disruption due to this pandemic.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/10/frustration-of-contract/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/25/locking-horns-frustration-of-contract-part-2/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/11/23/pay-up-or-frustration-of-contract-part-3/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/08/28/stormy-weather-im-at-the-end-of-my-tether/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/25/welcome-to-austria/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 18 March 2020

Sometimes you have to break the law to change it?

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

A question I have been pondering quite a lot recently amounts to the following:

Is it ever ok or acceptable to break the law in order to change it?’

All sorts of fanatics and the downright criminal will often portray their behaviour as serving a higher purpose when what they mean is that it is entirely self-serving on their part.

The question is extremely contentious (not to say highly subjective), but not as off the wall or leftfield as you might first think.

Why?

Current events that’s why. Pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion, with its programme of environmental activism, are sincerely committed in their beliefs and they have the weight of scientific evidence on their side regarding the threat of climate change. However, it is highly debatable to what extent the public will support their tactics which involve a range of public order offences e.g. blocking major roads and disrupting the transport system. The activists argue that climate change is such an existential threat that any and all means are necessary to give the wider public the necessary wake up call which will swing the pendulum firmly in favour of more sustainable and environmentally friendly approaches to the way in which society is organised.

Taking the law into your own hands?

We have been here before, in fairly recent times, with groups such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); animal rights activists; and campaigners against GM food taking direct (and often unlawful) action against the objects of their ire.

A case I remember very well where this sort of direct action occurred was Lord Advocate’s Reference Number 1 of 2000 [2001] Scot HC 15 (30th March, 2001).

In this case, three anti-nuclear weapons protesters (part of the Ploughshares movement) were accused of illegal entry to a ship (‘Maytime’) which was anchored on Loch Goil in June 1999. The ship had a support role in relation to Royal Navy submarines carrying Trident missiles.

The protesters faced criminal damage and theft charges in relation to equipment which was on the ship. In their defence, the protesters claimed that their actions were justified because they were attempting to draw attention to the British Government’s continued possession of nuclear weapons – a situation which the protesters argued was a crime under international law. Now, there is some merit to this argument as the American led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was based on the premise that the then Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (which were never found and doubtless never existed).

At the trial at Greenock Sheriff Court, Sheriff, Margaret Gimblet, directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict in relation to several of the charges. As for the remainder of the charges, the jury found the protesters not guilty. The Sheriff Gimblet was extensively criticised for the way in she had directed the jury to return not guilty verdicts. It was felt that this judgement would give the green light to other peace protesters to carry out similar acts as part of their ongoing nuclear disarmament campaign.

The Lord Advocate, therefore, felt it necessary to refer the case to the High Court for clarification where it was held that the protesters were not justified in their actions.

A link to the opinion of the Appeal Court can be found below:

http://tridentploughshares.org/lar-opinion-of-the-court/

The three Loch Goil anti-nuclear protesters had some recent inspiration for their actions from their colleagues. In January 1996, four protestors (part of the Ploughshares group) had broken into a British Aerospace facility and destroyed the controls of a Hawk Jet which was bound for Indonesia. The Indonesians, at this time, ruled East Timor (now an independent state) and were engaged in a bitter armed struggle with East Timor liberation groups.

The protestors claimed that the jet would almost certainly have been used by the Indonesian military as part of their operations in East Timor. By wrecking the jet’s controls with a sledgehammer, the protestors were committing an act of criminal damage (worth an estimated £1.5 million) undoubtedly, but they had done so in order to save lives. They argued that their actions were justified in terms of the UK Genocide Act 1969 (since repealed).

The four women had deliberately filmed the incident and waited at the scene of the crime to be apprehended. You would be forgiven for thinking open and shut case …

… The jury at Liverpool Crown Court acquitted the four protestors of all charges in July 1996 finding that their actions had been reasonable in terms of the Genocide Act.

A video made by the Ploughshares Group about the incident can be found below:

A link to an article The Independent’s website about the conclusion of the protestors’ trial on can be found below:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/pounds-15m-hawk-attack-women-freed-1331285.html

History almost repeating itself

Interestingly, almost 21 years later, Sam Walton, a Quaker pacifist was suspected of attempting to disarm a Typhoon fighter jet at a British Aerospace facility which he believed was for the Saudi Arabian Air Force. Walton’s argument was, again, very similar to previous examples of direct action: he was trying to save lives. He argued that there was a high probability that the jet would be used in Saudi military operations in the vicious conflict in the neighbouring country of Yemen.

A link to an article in The Independent about Sam Walton can be found below:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-quaker-activist-sam-walton-pacifist-disarm-saudi-arabia-fighter-jet-bae-uk-yemen-a7555246.html

Historical perspectives

Breaking the law to change it has a long pedigree and the current debate about the tactics of Extinction Rebellion inspired me to review historical situations where people had broken the prevailing law of the land only later to be held up as champions of freedom and progress.

In the last few days, I finally got around to viewing a German film called 13 Minutes (released a few years ago) which was about an attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich. No spoilers intended (or needed), but the plot failed.

Hitler left the Munich Beer Hall 13 minutes before a bomb, planted in the building by Georg Elser, detonated. People were killed, but not Hitler and the question has persisted as to what would have happened if the assassination had succeeded?

In my humble opinion, I don’t think it would really have mattered as there were plenty of fanatics within the Nazi regime (e.g. Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich) who were more than capable of replacing Hitler and furthering his goals.

I did know that the would be assassin, Elser, had been caught in the aftermath of his failed attempt. What I didn’t know was that Elser survived as a special prisoner in Dachau Concentration Camp until April 1945 when he was murdered (he had, in fact, never been tried by the Nazis). Ironically, he outlived one of his interrogators, SS Police General, Artur Nebe, who was executed in March 1945 for involvement in the Plot to assassinate Hitler in July of the previous year.

Clearly, by the prevailing laws of the Third Reich, Elser was a traitor as he had attempted to kill the then German Head of State. History, however, has been much kinder to Elser and he is now viewed as an anti-Nazi resistance fighter of great courage – not an opportunist as Artur Nebe clearly was.

Chartists and Suffragettes

This led me to think about other situations in the past where people fought for their beliefs by breaking the law e.g. the Chartists in the 19th Century who fought for greater democracy in the UK; and the Suffragettes in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries who campaigned for women to be given the right to vote. Nowadays, the Suffragettes particularly are held up as an example of a group of highly principled and determined people who wanted to overcome a glaring injustice.

It’s often forgotten that the Suffragettes moved quickly from peaceful protests to downright terrorist acts e.g. in 1913, the bombing of a house being built for Lloyd George MP, then Chancellor of the Exchequer (or UK Finance Minister). This was followed by bombs being planted at the Bank of England and in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

According to the historian Lucy Worsley, in 1913 alone, there were 168 arson attempts and bomb attacks carried out by Suffragettes across Britain and Ireland. Worsley estimates that the cost of this damage was £56 million in today’s prices. By February 1914, 1,241 prison sentences had been served by Suffragettes and 165 women who had been on hunger strike had been forcibly fed while in prison.

Did these acts of violence lead to votes for women? This is very contentious and historians, such as Worsley, point more to the transformative impact of World War I as the real catalyst for social (and legal) change. How so? Very simply, the need to recruit women into areas of the economy which previously had been the almost exclusive preserve of men (who, of course, were away at the Front fighting the War).

Conclusion

So, I suppose the answer to my original question is it ever acceptable to break the law to change it depends on which side of history you end up: whether you’re ultimately a winner or a loser.

It also depends on the methods used to achieve legal change. Figures such as Mahatma Gandhi who worked towards the end of British rule in India are held up as exemplars because they used peaceful methods. Other figures such as Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins of the IRA are still, to this day, regarded as extremely controversial in their pursuit of armed struggle against the British Empire in order to obtain independence for what would eventually become the Republic of Ireland.

In 2016, the centenary of the Easter Rising was marked by the Irish Government in Dublin. The Rising is regarded as one of the corner stones of the modern Irish Republic, but how do you mark or ‘celebrate’ what was undoubtedly a violent event? With great sensitivity is the answer and the Irish Government was widely praised for unveiling a memorial which listed everyone (including Irish Republicans and British Army personnel) who lost their lives as a result of the events of Easter Week 1916.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 161587273_1462271605.jpg

As for Extinction Rebellion? Well, history will be the judge …

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 11 March 2020

Go to jail?

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Young offenders?

Well, not if you’re under 25 according to recent proposals published by the Scottish Sentencing Council as part of a public consultation process. The main function of the Scottish Sentencing Council is to demystify sentencing decisions and, therefore, educate the public about these matters.

The current proposal might seem very provocative and is bound to divide public opinion. Crime, after all, is a very emotive issue and everyone has an opinion about it whether you have been the victim or the criminal. The purpose of criminal law is about the State punishing those individuals who have broken the rules of the community by engaging in dangerous and/or anti-social activities.

The rationale for the Scottish Sentencing Council’s proposal is that scientific research (carried out by the University of Edinburgh) seems to show that the brains of people aged under 25 years have not fully developed i.e. matured.

Now, it is by no means certain that such a proposal will be implemented and the Scottish Sentencing Council is urging members of the public to respond to its consultation with their opinions on the matter.

https://consultations.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/ssc/young-people/

It is certainly part of a wider strategy which fits in with attempts by the Scottish Government to reduce the numbers of people who are sent to prison each year. There is now perhaps a recognition that prison doesn’t always work. There has been a presumption operating for several years in Scotland, that people will not be sent to prison if the offence would normally be punished by a sentence of less than 6 months. Obviously, this presumption would be ignored if, for example, the offender was a person who persistently broke the rules.

Over the last year, this Blog has looked at a number of initiatives which have taken place which have been about taking different approaches to crime prevention or the rehabilitation of offenders.

In the Autumn (or Fall), I spoke to a group of students about an initiative called the “Call-In-Scheme” where Avon and Somerset Police in England were targeting first offenders aged between 16 and 21 who have been caught dealing drugs. The choice: go to court, be convicted with all the consequences this outcome will entail or go straight. Participants in the scheme were be selected by a panel. Predictably, such an approach sharply divided my audience.

Crime and kindness?

Last March, two American judges – Victoria Pratt and Ginger Lerner-Wren we’re invited to Scotland by Community Justice Scotland, a publicly funded body, where they were hoping to meet hundreds of people who deal with the Scottish criminal justice system.

The two judges were keen to emphasise that there should be more compassion in the criminal justice system when dealing with offenders. They pointed to impressive results in the United States – a New York court alone has seen a dramatic decrease of 20% in youth crime and a 10% reduction in crime overall by using radical methods to deal with offenders. One of the judges, Ginger Lerner-Wren established one of the first mental health courts anywhere in the world. The aim of this court (based in Florida) was to promote treatment of offenders as an alternative to traditional forms of punishment. Judge Pratt, on the other hand, specialises in “procedural justice” which works on the basis “that if people before the courts perceive they are being treated fairly and with dignity and respect, they’ll come to respect the courts, complete their sentences and be more likely to obey the law.”

The Glasgow Alcohol Court

This type of approach has already being piloted in Scotland: Sheriffs in Glasgow deal with cases where alcohol is a ‘contributory factor’ in crime. The Sheriff Alcohol Court has been operating since 2018 and its lifespan was extended in 2019. It now deals with domestic abuse cases involving alcohol. Punishments other than prison sentences are handed out by this court e.g. drug and alcohol treatment orders and community service orders. This approach recognises that criminals can turn their lives around and can become law abiding members of society. Being given a drug treatment order is not an easy option. Participants in schemes such as these are regularly tested and monitored. Break the rules and you will go to jail.

Age of criminal responsibility

In Scotland, in common with many penal systems around the world, we do use a person’s age to determine criminal responsibility. Currently, the age of criminal responsibility is 12 and there is a debate about whether this should be raised even higher. It is worth remembering that, for many years (until 2019 in fact), Scotland had one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility anywhere in the Western World i.e. 8 years of age.

Somewhat mitigating this feature of Scottish criminal law was the fact that children were not tried in adult courts. The Children’s Hearing or Panel system was primarily set up for this very purpose. It was considered a revolutionary approach because it recognised that by stigmatising (and criminalising) children at a very early age, society could set them on a path from which there was no means of redemption. If you effectively abandoned a child at an early age, you were condemning them to a very grim future where they could (potentially) be in and out of prison for the rest of their lives.

Conclusion

The Scottish Sentencing Council’s proposal is very interesting and it will certainly form part of a lively discussion on how we continue to deal with crime in this country. The public now has 12 weeks to get involved in the consultation by giving their opinions on the matter.

It is important to appreciate that, under the proposals, judges will still be able to send people under 25 to prison if they think this is an appropriate punishment. What the proposals are allowing judges to do is to look more closely at a young person’s background e.g. mental health issues before sentence is passed. It remains the case that, where certain crimes are concerned, the imposition of a prison sentence will be most the appropriate action to take because the issue of public safety will be paramount. Clearly, someone like the notorious child killer Aaron Campbell, will not benefit from the proposals merely because they are under the age of 25.

A link to an article on the BBC News app about theScottish Sentencing Council’s proposal can be found below:

Draft sentencing guidelines say younger offenders should be treated differently because their brains are still developing.

Scottish courts urged not to jail ‘immature’ under-25s

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/08/the-age-of-criminal-responsibility/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/27/criminal-responsibility/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/12/crime-and-kindness/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/19/dealing-with-alcohol-abuse/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/08/30/once-a-criminal/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/04/commit-the-crime-do-the-time/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/02/victims-voices/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/13/doing-time/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/22/life-should-mean-life/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2017/04/04/scottish-criminal-appeals/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/01/29/crime-and-punishment-in-scotland/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 28 February 2020

Making (period) poverty history?

Photo by The Female Company on Unsplash

On 23 April 2019, Monica Lennon, a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Labour Party introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (a draft law). There is nothing particularly unusual about this. After all, it is the job of our parliamentarians to make laws on behalf of the people of Scotland.

The purpose of this Bill captured the imagination of many and gained quite a bit of media attention due to its objective: the eradication of one of the sources of poverty endured by many women on low incomes in Scotland. In short, Ms Lennon’s Bill would ensure that women were given free access to period products.

Although the Bill’s objective was universally praised, the Scottish Government expressed doubts about its financial sustainability – and Ms Lennon, after all, is an opposition and backbench member of Parliament. Politics is politics after all.

Now, after some time in the equivalent of the parliamentary doldrums, the Bill has been given a new lease of life having been approved (the main principles of the proposal in any case) by a majority of Ms Lennon’s Holyrood colleagues.

That is not to say that the Bill will be passed as it was originally introduced to Parliament last April. It is more than likely that it will be subject to intense scrutiny by parliamentary committee and a range of amendments will be proposed.

What the shape of any eventual law will look like is anyone’s guess at this stage, but all credit to Ms Lennon who has persisted in pushing forward this important issue and keeping it firmly in the spotlight.

This is nothing new: most Bills will be subject to amendments as they undergo the scrutiny of the legislature. This is part and parcel of parliamentary life; compromises will have to be made in order that a Bill can be placed on the statute books i.e. can move beyond a mere proposal to something more concrete and lasting – an Act of Parliament.

An info graphic showing the current progress of the Bill (now at Stage 2) can be seen below:

Links to articles on the BBC website about the Bill can be found below:

Period poverty: Are Scots going to get period products for free?

MSPs have given their initial backing to plans to tackle period poverty by making sanitary products available to all free of charge.

Period poverty: MSPs back plans for free sanitary products

MSPs back the general principles of Monica Lennon’s bill but warn changes must be made before it becomes law.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/20/criminal-evidence-vulnerable-witnesses/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/11/29/from-8-to-12/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/smacking-banned/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/28/ban-smacking/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/04/more-bills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/29/private-members-bills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/13/stalkers-beware/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 February 2020