Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 7 January 2016

The Spectator's Notes | 7 January 2016
Text settings

At the end of next week, a judge will decide whether the ‘trial of the facts’ can proceed now that its subject, Lord Janner, is dead. Janner was accused, on various occasions, of child abuse, though the Crown Prosecution Service, on three occasions, over more than 20 years, decided that there was no case to prosecute. The amazing Simon Danczuk, now himself accused of rape, used parliamentary privilege to accuse Janner of the same crime (plus torture). Last year, Janner was forced to appear in court, though senile. When his senility was upheld, his accusers resorted to a trial of the facts to get their day in court. They were pursuing this aim when Janner died last month. This procedure exists under the Insanity Act. Its use is when criminal proceedings are brought against a person who lacks mental capacity: it is an interim process designed to preserve the safety of the public unless and until the person accused recovers. The trial of the facts can only have one of three possible outcomes — a hospital order, a probation order, or absolute discharge. In other words, it has a purpose only when the accused person is alive. Yet such is the spirit of the times that the terrified CPS has equivocated on the issue. It must give a view, however, to the judge. If Mr Justice Openshaw decides that the trial of the facts can go ahead, we shall have reverted to a benighted situation, not known for a thousand years, in which the criminal law tries the dead. I can see that this will create exciting new work for lawyers — let’s try Jimmy Savile, the Emperor Tiberius, Adolf Hitler for bombing Coventry! — but it would also be mad and bad.

A dead person who has, in effect, been tried — though without any defence being provided — is George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who died in 1958. His former diocese announced last autumn that he had abused a child more than 60 years ago, though no evidence has been revealed. It has settled with Bell’s anonymous accuser, paying money. I wrote about this injustice in last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph. In Tuesday’s paper, the present bishop, Martin Warner, wrote a courteous letter in which he recognised the shock of the accusation against Bell (one of the most distinguished bishops in Anglican history), but complained that I gave ‘little space or acknowledgment’ to the ‘perspective’ of the ‘survivor’. The anguish of an abused person is indeed a terrible thing, but how can I, or anyone, acknowledge that perspective in this case when the point at issue is the facts? Why should we take it from the Diocese of Chichester that she/he is a survivor? It was wrong before in not pursuing real abusers: why will it automatically be right now when claiming to have identified one? The Church, of all institutions, should understand what the presumption of innocence means.

One of the things that worries me about a vote to leave the European Union (which I should like to cast) is that it might cause Scotland to vote to leave the United Kingdom. There’s not much point in ‘getting our country back’ if we then lose it, although I suppose English nationalists would not agree with my definition of ‘our country’. But the SNP threat needs thinking round carefully. First, a threat is not a fact. Second, it cannot be right to disaggregate the United Kingdom vote in a United Kingdom referendum. It will certainly be interesting to find out how Scots voted, but if they vote differently from England, this will not invalidate the overall result. The same applies the other way round: if Scottish ‘Stay’ voters swing the balance their way, English ‘Leave’ voters should not complain that the result is illegitimate. Third, what would Scotland’s fate actually be if it joined the EU after ‘rUK’ left? Scottish Nationalists presuppose that free movement of Scottish trade, money and people to England would be permitted in all circumstances. Would the Scots vote to leave the UK when confronted with the idea that this might not be so?

Our country neighbour, Edward Cazalet, is a retired judge and bold horseman. He is also the literary heir of P.G. Wodehouse because his grandmother was Wodehouse’s wife. He has produced a merry book of speeches, comic equine verse, and reflections (Seen From The Wings, Shaw Farm Editions). I love his interpolations about and quotations from ‘Plum’. He notes Wodehouse’s conservatism about art and informs us that his favourite painting, which hung over his desk, was a quite dull-looking oil of the Mansion House in the late 18th century. What he liked most in it were three cattle being herded by a dog as they make their way through the carriages in the thoroughfare. It reminded him of his brief time working in the City for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank about 100 years later. Edward also tells us about the difficulties of rendering Wodehouse in French. Where the original says: ‘He [Cyril Bassington-Bassington, calling on Bertie Wooster at 7.45 a.m.] was given the raspberry by Jeeves and told to try again about three hours later’, the French translation says: ‘Jeeves lui donna respectueusement un jus de framboise et lui dit de revenir à peu près trois heures plus tard.

Being a rider myself, I sometimes worry about breaking my neck or back. In November, a friend of friends, George Kershaw, suffered this fate in a crashing fall. He is now a quadraplegic, lying in hospital, and waiting to see if he will recover any sensation in his limbs (there are faint — but only faint — good signs). He is writing (or rather, dictating) a most inspiring blog from his hospital bed. One of his comforts is Siri, a voice-activated means of texting and googling on his iPhone. He asked Google ‘Can quadraplegics have sex?’, but Siri somehow misunderstood him and told him ‘I am putting you through to the Stevenage Escort Service’: ‘Unfortunately I did not know the voice command for Disconnect. Tricky conversation.’ Anyone wanting to follow George Kershaw’s struggle can follow the link The escort service sent him a charming Christmas card.