Thursday, 6 November 2014

EAW vote delay could be catastrophic for the UK

As expected by anyone who has been involved in the debate surrounding the European arrest warrant (EAW) and other crime and justice cooperation with the EU, the Conservatives have been trying hard to delay the final vote on staying in.

There seems to have been some kind of confusion in the Home Office and it emerged yesterday that the vote on the EAW and other measures will now happen after November 20, the date of the Rochester and Strood by-election.

If this vote is not held before the date the opt-out of all measures is enforced, December 1st, the consequences of their actions could be catastrophic. For example, if the Home Office has not put into place the transitional measures they promised to negotiate with the EU, to cover for any delay in opting back in to the EAW and other measures – they should kick in if we do not have a resolution before December 1st – already existing EAWs would be open to legal challenge.

Which, of course, means that, for example, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, currently taking asylum within the Ecuadorian Embassy, would be able to walk out without fear of being arrested and extradited. Assange and any other person with an EAW in their name, would most likely win any challenges against the issuer/executioner of an EAW in the UK, since the country would no longer have at their disposal the law instruments to back up the order. It could cost the UK millions to fight these challenges, fugitives could remain free and suspects of crimes could never face justice.

In spite of the approach of Eurosceptic MPs and the unnecessary delays caused by the Home Office on the vote, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, is very aware of the power of this cooperation with the EU. Only last year, she asked the director of Europol, a Brit, Rob Wainwright, for advice and support in the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, so she knows the importance of ensuring the opt in happens without major issues.

Two years ago, I was invited to set up a campaign to stop the Government from abandoning a number of measures of EU criminal law cooperation, including the EAW.

Justice Across Borders* was founded at the end of October 2012, with the intent of explaining to the Conservatives and Lib Dems the consequences of opting out of all of this cooperation.

We worked very hard with EU and UK politicians, laywers, academics, as well as EU and UK police chiefs to provide evidence that opting out of instruments such as the EAW and agencies such as Europol and Eurojust would not only leave us unprotected, it would also make our ‘judicial’ relationship with other European Union countries unnecessarily more complicated.

After almost a year of intense campaigning, negotiating, explaining, giving evidence to committees in both Houses and bringing the issue to the public eye, we did enough influencing to secure the package of 35 measures - it was then taken to the European Commission and Council for further negotiation and is now coming back for a vote in both Houses of Parliament.

It is important to note that the EAW is not the only measure at stake here. The package of 35 measures have returned from the EU as an unbreakable set – so any calls from Eurosceptic MPs to have a separate vote on the EAW will most likely be ignored.

As a consequence, their attitude towards the issue could delay the opt in to extremely important measures, such as (and I quote the official names) the Council Decision to Combat Child Pornography on the Internet, the Council decision on Joint Investigation Teams (allows our police to work efficiently with foreign forces in their territory or ours), and crucially, the Council Decision on the Establishment of the European Criminal Records Information System (allows the UK to collect information on previous convictions of people coming into the country and vice versa). The full list of measures can be found here.

Any delay in continuing to participate in these measures could mean a delay in investigations, joint actions and operations - a delay in catching criminals and keeping the UK safe.

*Justice Across Borders became a registered charity supporting victims of serious crime abroad and subsequently ended its activities in May 2014.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Campaigning on the ECHR and the Lobbying Act

The Conservatives' plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, replace it with a British Bill of Rights, and repeal the ECHR is scary and already ruffling the feathers of human rights campaigners.

Respected media and human rights lawyers have been writing about the Conservative plan, already questioning its legality and how they can think this is a good idea. 

But how will the Lobbying Act apply, if anyone wants to campaign against it?

The third sector has spent most of this year up in arms with the prospect of the regulated period set out by the Lobbying Act (Transparency, of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014) coming into force in September and hampering their campaigning activities up until General Election.

There was never any real need to be too concerned about charity activity during the regulated period. There are one or two grey areas in the Electoral Commission guidance, but they relate to a vague point of law (definition of reasonable person) and it remains unlikely that the Electoral Commission will investigate every complaint made against charities campaigning during the period, unless there is a case where said charity is also openly breaching charity law (which would warrant an investigation by the Charity Commission). The majority of UK registered charities is law-abiding and will sail through this period without any problems.

However, the Lobbying Act doesn't only relate to charities - anyone who is a "non-party campaigner" or "third party" may be subject to it. That includes an individual registered to vote/resident in the UK, a UK-registered company, UK-registered bank, UK-registered Limited Liability Partnership (law firms), trade union, body incorporated by Royal Charter, and the list goes on.

If you're not yet familiar with what happens during the regulated period, here's a flavour: there are spending limits for regulated activity nationally and per constituency, and even if you don't register as a campaigner, you may be subject to those limits if you carry out regulated activity. Confused?

For example, if an individual, group of individuals, registered company or law firm decides to campaign against the Conservatives' manifesto pledge of scraping the HRA, repealing the ECHR, which would inevitably lead to the UK exiting the European Union, they would be carrying out regulated activity, according to the EC's guidance to the Lobbying Act.

Ultimately, any campaigning against this policy would happen with the intention of making people vote anything other than Conservative - that objective coupled with public activity (production or publication of electoral material, press conferences and other media events, spending money on travel related to your campaign, canvassing and market research, public rallies and events), would meet both the public and purpose tests set out in the Act.

That means anyone wishing to campaign agains the Tory policy of scraping the HRA and repealing the ECHR, if a registered campaigner, would have to abide by the £9,750 spending limit per constituency, and inform the EC if intending to spend more than £20,000 nationally. The money you spend nationally counts towards your spending per constituency (divided by the total number of UK constituencies, 650). You have to keep records of all expenses above £200, and might not be allowed to receive individual donations higher than £500.

Arguably, these are not very tough rules to abide by. But for anyone willing to put their heads above the parapet to campaign against the controversial Conservative policy, here's a sobering thought: if you manage to raise £500,000 to campaign nationally (you would be a hero if you managed to raise that much money anyway), you will be close to meeting the target of spending per constituency, which means you wouldn't be able to target individual constituencies during your campaign.

If your intention was only to target constituencies, to be able to do any meaningful campaigning, you would have to raise nearly £650,000, to keep you close to the spending limit, but would not be allowed to campaign nationally on top of that. The Conservatives have a possible number of 75 target seats and it is likely they will spend £100,000+ (including money spent in the lead up to the regulated period) on each of those seats alone. If the anti-HRA/ECHR policy is the driving force of their manifesto, that is what you would be up against as a campaigner.

If you were to campaign on their target seats alone, you would need a lot of money. If you were to campaign nationally against the policy, without doing constituency work, it's unlikely you would achieve meaningful results in terms of election outcome - you would also be battling the vast reach of a large section of the media that seems to think these changes are a good idea.

In addition, if you're not a registered campaigner - that's likely to apply to individual campaigners or small companies - you cannot spend more than £20,000 in England and Wales, £10,000 in Scotland if you're carrying out regulated activity.

Individual lawyers, twitter crusaders and newspapers can still make noise against the Conservatives' dreadful plans. But one other consequence of the new rules imposed by the Lobbying Act is that anyone voicing their concerns by carrying out a "media campaign" will be constantly on their toes, wondering when the rules will start applying to their activities.

Of course, if you're not brave enough to face these constraints, you had better start hoping hard the Conservatives won't get a majority in May 2015*.

You can find the full guidance from the Electoral Commission on general election non-party campaigning during the regulated period here.

*Maybe not that hard - a Conservative majority looks unlikely. But you never know.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Brazilian football glossary - a *must-have* guide to futebol brasileiro

Going to Brazil? Planning to watch World Cup matches in Brazilian bars in the UK? Just interested in football? I have compiled a glossary of Brazilian football terms with English translations and pronunciation guide. Knock yourselves out!

*Update: Brazilian friends have added stuff to the list.

Chuveirinho (shoo-vay-ree-nio) - the way Brazilians say the English play. High passes straight onto the box. Potentially lethal for the short-arses in the Brazilian defence.

Onde a coruja dorme (ohn-day ah co-roo-jah door-may) - "where the owl sleeps". That corner spot of the goal where keepers can't reach - usually where Rooney's free kicks land.

Caneta (cah-nay-tah) - When you pass the ball between your opponent's legs.

Drible da Vaca (dree-bleh dah vah-cah) - the cow dribble or "half moon". When you knock the ball to one side of your opponent and run to the other side.

Lençol (len-sol) - when you kick the ball over your opponent's head and get it back on the other side.

Some terms and expressions:

Impedido (eem-peh-dee-dow) - off-side

- We would normally shout TÁ IMPEDIDO! (He's off-side!)

Falta (fahl-tah) - foul

Juiz (joo-eez) or árbitro (ah-bee-trow) - referee. Pictured is Brazil's  iconic late "Juiz Margarida". Because football and camp are one.

Bandeirinha (bahn-day-ree-nia) - assistant referee (literally "little flag")

Escanteio (es-cahn-tay-oo) - corner kick

Tiro de meta (tee-roo deh meh-tah) - goal kick

Pelada (peh-lah-dah) - this is a tough one. We usually shout it at the telly when it's a very low quality game. For instance, Milwall v Brighton would probably be considered a "pelada".

Bola (baw-lah) - football

Trave (trah-vay) - goal post

Travessão (trah-vay-saun) - bar

Gramado (grah-mah-doo) - pitch

Penalti - you know this one. Though also referred to in Brazil as PEEEENALIDADE MAAAAAXIMA (paaaaay-nah-lee-dah-dee maaaaaaah-see-mah). Depends on the commentator.

Tá no filó (tah know fee-loh) - our equivalent to "in the back of the onion bag" or, according to Alan Partridge, "back of the net". More likely to be heard TAAAAAAA NOOOO FILOOOOOO!

Pipoqueiro (pee-pow-kay-roo) - basically, Neymar. That thing he does when there's a manly challenge and he jumps then falls down, when he could have just carried on. Juninho (formerly of  Middlesborough) another famous Brazilian "pipoqueiro".

Teatro (tee-ah-trow) - ostensibly faking an injury. Rivaldo graduated magna cum laude on this subject.

Apito (ah-pee-too) - whistle

Apito final (ah-pee-too fee-nahl) - final whistle

Primeiro tempo (pree-may-roo tempo) - first half

Segundo tempo (say-goon-dow tempo) - second half

Intervalo (inter-vah-low) - break

Prorrogação (pro-ho-gah-saun) - extra time

Taça (tah-sah) - cup


Now the basics. Football positions:

Goleiro (Go-lay-roo) - goal keeper

Zagueiro (zah-gay-roo) - Defender

Lateral esquerdo (lah-teh-rahl ish-kerr-doo) - left winger. Remember Roberto Carlos?

Lateral direito (lah-teh-rahl djee-ray-too) - right winger, obvs. Cafu will forever be my favourite.

Volante (voh-lan-tee) - centre midfield

Meio-de-campo (Mayo-dee-com-pow) - midfielder

Ponta (pon-tah) - winger

Centroavante (cen-trow-ah-vahn-teh) or atacante (ah-tah-cahn-teh) - striker

If you have any suggestions or would like to see more stuff translated, please let me know below.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Scotland, in the words of KC & The Sunshine Band: PLEASE DON'T GO

I have no idea what the Better Together campaign are trying to do, but I do know I don't like Alex Salmond's and the SNP's stance.

Sadly, the message from the "no to independence" camp so far has been confusing and a tad bit patronising. You would think they would like to gain Scots' votes by showing them how important Scotland is to the Union - not the other way round - but what I've witnessed so far has been a barrage of ill-judged interferences by the UK Government, the latest being the Lego-Buzzfeed-wannabe-but-bloody-awful Cabinet Office listicle "press release".

Everyone has the right to think their country, after a long, troubled, not exactly joyous relationship, should take the opportunity to leave this Union. But allow me to try to change their minds.

I should open my argument by saying I'm not Scottish - heck, I'm not even British. However, I believe my foreign-ness allows for an interesting perspective on this issue.

Also, this post won't go into the nitty-gritty of politics. It's an emotional plea (because I love Scotland).

What I've learnt since moving to the UK, more than seven years ago, is that Scotland is a nation of proud, extremely proud, men and women. In a very good way. Their history is bloody and that pride has been stamped on by England many times throughout its course. Unhelpful? Don't worry, I'll get to the point.

Whatever the relationship has been between England and Scotland for donkey's years - I won't get into detail - the truth is, England doesn't have a monopoly on the Union. Without Scotland, the rest of us would be limping like a three-legged dog. Scotland has potential, a great people and an unrealised dream of more devolution. Now is the time to give the Scots what they want, but I sincerely hope that does not come in the form of independence.

I have many Scottish friends and acquaintances and, if they'll allow me, my message to all Scots is to hold their heads high and fight from within. Who cares how many holidays or hot dogs you can buy with UK Dividend? Seriously, forget about it. The most important thing is that you continue to tread a path of more devolution of powers - which is the right way to go - but also that you know that the United Kingdom would not be great and would not be strong without you. Highlanders and Lowlanders (I won't go into your internal disputes, promise), we love you. You are not the English (obviously), but neither are the Welsh and Northern Irish. You all add value to the English with your presence in the Union and vice-versa.

Do not let anyone tell you that being in an Union with the English diminishes you - it doesn't and you deserve that relationship to be equal and fulfilling for both sides. We are lucky to have you. Please think about all that when casting your vote in September.

So in the words of KC & The Sunshine Band, made even more famous by Double You:

Scotland,  PLEASE DON'T GO.

*Several versions of Please Don't Go were listened to during the making of this blog

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Brazil's civil society has become self-aware. We must make it last

For the first time in my 30 years as a born-and-bred Brazilian, with great satisfaction, I have seen my fellow countrymen and women avidly discuss bill proposals, angrily dispute excesses by money-grabbing politicians and openly challenge the vile military police on the streets without any fear.

The past couple of weeks were quite something to behold, especially for someone like me. I've left Brazil in January 2007 and have no intention of returning for good. I spent the worst years of my young adult life in Rio de Janeiro, battling depression, fear of dying and a sense of hopelessness beyond any of my peers' comprehension.

During my last couple of years in Rio, I worked as a cub reporter at Jornal O Dia. I saw more death, abuse, violence, corruption and disrespect for the people of my city and state than I care to put in writing ever again. It wasn't good for me. And then I left.

When I started working in the UK I realised there was something very important lacking in my home country.

Brazil has a long record of relying on the third sector to bridge the gap between the shortcomings of the state and its poorer, disenfranchised people. Several non-governmental organisations (ONGs in Portuguese) have been set up since the 70s to complement a poor educational system, poor public health system, to make up for societal inequalities and an absent state.

This same gap allowed for extremely politicised criminal factions to take on the role of the state in the 70s, establishing themselves as providers of services and security in poorer communities (remember City of God?). In the past decade or so, it also allowed for the creation of militias - which took on the role of the military police in expelling drug dealers from favelas. They ultimately act as a violent mafia, charging locals absurd fees for services and security, as well as carrying out killing of witnesses in criminal trials involving their bosses and general intimidation in the communities they control.

Even though we have several NGOs doing a fantastic job giving young people the opportunity get to where they want in life and many others operating in similar, charitable ways, we lack groups carrying out fundamental activities for the maintenance of democracy: the scrutiny of politicians, public finances, decision-making, and the holding of Brazilian municipal, state and federal authorities to account.

These protests have created a flurry of information into social media, blogs, tumblrs, and even instagram, designed to stir up the outrage and keep people on the streets. Several titbits of unknown information came to light:  how much our politicians cost us, the fact they are the most expensive politicians in the world, anecdotes of lower house representatives who have been on sick leave for the best part of a year, still raking in more than £300,000 a month in salary and expenses, the ins and outs of our legislative process and its flaws, and many other gobsmacking revelations.

In fact, it's not that all this information wasn't available to the general public in Brazil before. It's that only a handful of people contemplated looking for it and sharing it with others. Until now.

This is what these protests are all about. I don't like the use of catchy slogans to describe what could prove to be a fundamental change in the mindset and behaviour of 200 million people, but we have awaken. We have awaken to the fact that, if we don't protest against these abuses that have been taking place under our very noses for decades now, they will continue to happen.

My suggestion to those with a strong spirit, a focussed mind, and the patience of a saint in Brazil is, start filling this other huge gap in our civil society by creating not for profit organisations designed to monitor and challenge decisions that affect your community, city, state or even the whole country.

Work on research, take advantage of Brazil's new freedom of information laws, scrutinise the work of assembly members, representatives of both houses, senators, the police, public health authorities and as many other authorities as you can. This is the power you have, in a democracy, to make things better. And this is how the people can eventually expose to the rest of the world whether their country is a true democracy or not.

There is a lot of power concentrated in the hands of very few people in Brazil - a handful of people meant to represent, and work for the good of, nearly 200 million other people. But power without responsibility and accountability allows for the monstrous abuses that have been taking place there for a long time, and for too long. It's time to speak truth to power, Brazil.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Was Margaret Thatcher a role model for women?

I was invited by AD LIB magazine, the Lib Dems' publication*, to make the case for 'Yes, Margaret Thatcher was a role model for women'. Here's what I wrote

While today’s feminists jump at one another’s throats over the legacy that Margaret Thatcher left, I see very few reasons why feminism should be translated into sheer activism.

That is why I am a firm believer Thatcher was most definitely a role model for women. She certainly was, and still is, mine.

Growing up in Brazil, the manner in which she conducted herself, all the way to the top, set an example to me, all working women of her generation around the world, and the ones that followed.

We should be telling our daughters and granddaughters that we must work together to ensure better opportunities for women, but also that we live in a ruthless world, where you have to stand firm, believe in yourself and not be afraid of anything or anyone. Thatcher taught me these things, not with empty words, vacuous protests, or victimisation, but with very meaningful actions.

Thatcher believed in individual responsibility. She also believed in individual freedom. She believed in the freedom to achieve whatever it was she set out to do, regardless of her gender. She exercised that freedom by choosing to face difficult challenges and tackle them head on – she was unafraid.

Like her, I will never allow men to talk down to me. I will not accept disrespect or condescension. If more women had the guts to show the same fortitude as her when sneered at and doubted, we, as a collective, would be much better off.

I’ve learnt from Thatcher that, as a woman, I should not expect the goodwill of others. I’ve also learnt that no glass ceiling is unbreakable and that the biggest mistake a man already predisposed to doubt a woman can make, is to underestimate her ability and obstinacy.

She taught me that, no matter what others may say, I, and I alone, am the master of my fate.

*I'm not a Lib Dem, just probably the only non-partisan person they could find to write the 'Yes' view on this one

Friday, 19 October 2012

Good journalists choosing to ignore all facts: the press regulation debate

In this whole debate about the Leveson Inquiry and a new press regulator, it bothers me how a lot of journalists – and some very good ones – have chosen to ignore the facts and try to stamp on the argument like stubborn five-year-olds.

It annoys me to see the Guardian call “statutory regulation” proposals for a new independent regulator with statutory underpinning on headlines, only to briefly say in the story’s intro “a form of statutory regulation”. It’s wrong, confusing and doesn’t explain to the public what they are talking about at all.

It baffles me to see newspapers like The Times and The Sun calling the proposals “statutory regulation” full stop.

It bothers me to see them all calling it “greater controls”. I feel like offering a cookie for the first hack who can leave the rage behind and show me they know what statutory underpinning means.

I would like to explain what, in my mind, an independent regulator backed by statute would look like.

This body would be created – just its existence set up by statute. The only thing the law will do is say “this body now exists and its structure looks like this, and it has the power to investigate newspapers when appropriate”.

Following its creation, it would have a board of former editors, lay members of the public and perhaps members of other professions.

The way I imagine it, it would mostly not have any interaction with newspapers, although newspapers would be members of this regulator.

Each newspaper will still be required to have a complaints mechanism in place – who knows, the PCC could still exist as a complaints and mediation body. Alternatively, those papers that don’t want to be a part of the PCC can have their own complaints system.

Let me illustrate now, with a made-up example, how the new body would leap into action.

A mother-of-four, Asian, lives in a £2m, five-bedroom house in a wealthy neighbourhood, allocated to her by her local council. She is then deemed by one newspaper to be undeserving of the accommodation she did not choose to have, she was given. The newspaper names her, and attributes to her quotes that are not accurate and make it sound like she thinks she is entitled to what she’s been given.

The newspaper portrays her family as loutish, implies wrongly her children are unemployed out of choice, and publishes a series of articles, each time with a new accusation, in the hope the council will send her to a different, “more suitable”, home.

Despite several complaints from the family, several requests for a correction and an apology, they are ignored. They then go to the PCC (which has no powers to investigate stories, they only ask newspaper editors questions), and the PCC rules in favour of the newspaper, in spite of the majority of the story being untrue.

As it is now, if a similar case happens, those affected must live with the untrue allegations and inaccurate quotes, unless they can afford to go to court. Sadly, many people don’t have the means or the time to take on large news organisations, so they end up just having to accept the abuse.

With a new independent regulator, this family would be able to go to this independent body and explain their case. The body would subsequently decide whether there was merit in investigating it.

If they did, they would most likely come to the conclusion that the allegations were untrue and the quotes inaccurate. They could then fine the newspaper and order them to publish a clarification and an apology.

In many cases, currently, newspapers admit they are wrong. Local newspapers, in my experience, are fantastic when it comes to not only being on the right side of the law and the Editors’ Code of Practice, but on accepting PCC rulings as well.

However, there are several cases, mainly, if not only, involving national newspapers, where the men in the street who are targeted and unfairly vilified, defamed, and attacked, have no access to adequate redress.

Making newspapers accountable for their willing or unwilling mistakes is not censorship, and it’s not an affront to freedom of the press. It’s fair.

It is important to clarify that, in my opinion, proposals to introduce pre-notification or tougher privacy laws are just not what we should be looking for. Pre-notification would severely hurt serious investigations and worthwhile stories. In terms of privacy, the ECHR does the job.

Any journalist with an ounce of common sense and love for their trade will know that this is not unreasonable. Giving people the right to defend themselves, without having to resort to expensive and time-consuming legal action.

I don’t accept that the creation of this body amounts to out-of-control statutory, Zimbabwean, authoritarian regulation. These are the words those who know what their newspapers have been up to for a long time use to defend their right to stamp on the little man without the threat of being accountable for their actions.

As a journalist, I categorically do not want a punitive regulator that stops people from publishing their stories to protect the powerful or has the hands of politicians all over it.

This may sound naïve, but I would like reporters and editors, if the new independent regulator were to be created, to think twice before writing and publishing stories they know are untrue or cannot stand up. Not forgetting sometimes you have to be bold to get the truth out. I hope newspaper editors will recalibrate their judgment and realise some stories are more worthwhile than others when it comes to risky behaviour. Exposing Jimmy Savile was more important than jumping to conclusions ahead of the law on Christopher Jefferies' case, etc.

There are certain punishments devised to change the way in which the industry operates that are just impossible, and should not even be considered. For instance, one of the best things journalists have to their advantage is the surprise factor. You know you’re right to expose someone and you go for it. I would never like to see that advantage taken away from hacks with the introduction of any sort of pre-notification mechanism.

No pressure: Lord Justice Leveson
Even with a new regulator, chances are newspapers will deal with the fines and carry on as usual, because, let’s face it, there’s nothing else you can do to protect the public without hindering the work of brilliant, tenacious journalists all over the country.

My hope is that journalists will understand that taking away the control of the PCC from a few powerful editors will level the playing field and mean ordinary people can have a shot at redress, whenever their case calls for it.

In any case, nobody knows what Lord Justice Leveson will say. If it’s anything that will make journalists’ lives genuinely difficult, or will impose Draconian pre-notification, or silly things like asking for permission to photograph people in public places, I cannot personally support it. 

On the other hand, if it just means they will have to think twice before publishing a made-up story, without any consequences to the pursuit of true stories, I’m fully behind it.