Justice, Jobsworth and the banning of Passion in Oxford

April 22, 2014

Months have passed since I last wrote anything here, mainly because I am usually either writing thousands of words a week elsewhere or am travelling. It has been a week of interest and oddities, in the press and in real life, and I thought I would capture some of it here. It is a kind of palate-cleanser for me, not an alternative to writing about eDiscovery / eDisclosure but a relief from the weekend spent largely doing just that.

The Ritz, the Tower and the Thames

RitzPhoneBox_250I gave a day-job talk on Tuesday for HP Autonomy at the Ritz. My subjects were twofold: the first was a reminder that the purpose of eDiscovery is to find evidence and improve one’s understanding of the case, not merely to find documents; the second was to suggest that whilst civil justice seemed to be going fast down the pan thanks to a combination of an ignorant Justice Secretary, a useless Ministry of Justice and some Court of Appeal judges whose idea of real-life bears no relation to real life, there were nevertheless opportunities for those ready and willing to take them.

My next meeting was close to the Tower of London, and I came out of it into the beginnings of a glorious evening with time on my hands before my train. It was an opportunity to merge two of my passions – walking city streets and photography – and I have some new camera kit to get used to. I entirely buy Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that you need hours of practice to be good at anything and I need to practice in the same way as soldiers learn to dismantle and reassemble their guns so that it became second nature. Equipment includes a tripod, the camera, a wi-fi trigger and an iPhone, all of which takes some assembly even before you get to the controls and settings. It is also slightly cumbersome to carry amidst the tourist throngs of Tower Hill

You don’t need all this kit to take decent photographs of the Tower and the Thames on a sunny evening. What I do find, and it is one of the reasons why I carry a camera, is that I become much more observant if I have a camera with me. I am not sure, for example, if I would have noticed this arrangement of two Wren churches and the Monument if I had not been equipped to photograph it. Read the rest of this entry »


Discipline for Bristol Jobsworths – not likely

August 9, 2010

Times columnist Matthew Parris was amongst those who commented on the story of the council jobsworths who made a family take down their windbreak whilst eating their picnic on Clifton Downs in Bristol (see Putting petty officials back in their box). Like the rest of us, Parris fears the unchecked power of small people with authority unsupported by thought or brain. He wonders if the council officials have been disciplined.

I think this is unlikely for various reasons. Employment law is weighted heavily in favour of employees and is unlikely to appreciate the distinction between being an official and being officious. Very few public servants are actually dismissed, for incompetence or anything else. Besides, unless Bristol city council is very different from other local authorities, it is probable that the senior staff share the general bureaucrats’ view that theirs is the earth and everything in it. They may call us “customers” and describe themselves as “public servants”, but the reality is the rather paradoxical one that they have come to think of themselves as our masters. The contradictions inherent in this reach their apogee with signs erected by highways officers telling us to “think”. They don’t see themselves as others see them, which is probably as well for their self-esteem.

I suspect that Bristol’s apology was inspired by a quick-witted PR person. Bristol did not apologise because anyone thought that the officers’ heavy-handed conduct was wrong, but because someone rather brighter than the general run of council officers spotted a PR disaster looming. Another of Matthew Parris’s long-time battles is with people who cannot say “sorry”; it does not matter what inspired Bristol’s apology, they did at least make one.

Their apology was not accompanied by the usual empty assertions that “lessons have been learnt”. Perhaps the PR person was clever enough to realise that this phrase has been discredited with over-use by officials whose capacity to learn anything is pretty slim.