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Danny Nightingale: Guest Post from Simon McKay

November 26th, 2012 by

Pat Johnson, a 38 Degrees member, has set up a petition on the new Campaigns by You area of the 38 Degrees website. The petition calls for the release of Sergeant Danny Nightingale who was jailed to 18 months’ detention for possessing a pistol given to him as a gift by soldiers he had trained in the Iraqi army.

Danny Nightingale’s solicitor is Simon McKay. In this guest blog, he discusses ‘the public interest’ and the importance of the Campaigns by You petition to Danny Nightingale’s appeal against his sentence.  

The newspapers have been filled with thousands of words about Sergeant Nightingale’s plight since he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months’ detention on 6th November. Earlier this week, The Times published a leader headed “Soldier’s Misfortune”. It argued that politicians are right to keep their distance from judges’ decisions but that this principle was “undermined when courts cannot be trusted to behave with sense”.

After the reaction to the detention of my client SAS Sergeant Danny Nightingale, I have been thinking about what we mean by ‘the public interest.’ It is important that lawyers and judges remember that they must serve and have the confidence of the people. If the people do not trust that criminal prosecutions are carried out with their security and happiness in mind, the criminal justice system risks becoming ineffective.

Danny Nightingale pleaded guilty because he believed that if he didn’t, he would face the risk of a five year jail term. It was unthinkable he would make his family suffer based on an outcome beyond his control.

The appeal against his sentence is next Thursday. Central to the case will be the issue of the public interest and the tens of thousands of signatures in his support on the Campaigns by You petition hosted by 38 Degrees. Every name on the petition counts as it strengthens the argument that the decision to imprison Sergeant Nightingale is not in the public interest.

If Sergeant Nightingale’s conviction is quashed on Thursday, the judges will need to decide whether there should be a re-trial and again, they will have to consider the public interest when they make that decision. The position then is as it was put in The Times: “if the proper channels cannot put this right, then the proper channels have a problem”.

Right now the consensus is that justice has miscarried. Our courts are not faultless but they have a great tradition of recognising when they have made a mistake. I hope the balance is restored next week. Your support will, I am sure, be recognised as a reflection of the majority of the people that the Court serves.

You can sign the petition here.

What do you think of Simon’s blog and the public interest? Please share your comments and thoughts below.

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Snooping: guest blog from Liberty’s Rachel Robinson

August 23rd, 2012 by

Rachel Robinson is Policy Officer for one of the UK’s leading civil liberties organisations Liberty. In this guest blog, she explains some of the major problems with the government’s plans for more snooping online – the Draft Comunications Data Bill. 

Imagine how you’d feel if the police popped round your house tomorrow and installed a CCTV camera in your bedroom – just in case they might one day suspect you of committing a crime. Chances are you’d probably have something to say about it. This might sound pretty far-fetched, but in an internet age the government’s plans to record huge amounts of information about our online habits are not so far removed. For those of us who use the internet as an important way of communicating with friends, relatives or business associates, the government’s Draft Communications Data Bill will act like a window to our souls.

The Coalition has dusted off and revived its predecessor’s plans for a Snoopers’ Charter that’ll result in the mass collection and storage of the entire population’s “communications data”. That’s records of everyone’s e-mails, texts and phonecalls – even the websites we visit – all gathered and retained by private firms. Rather than addressing already problematic powers which allow mass surveillance, ministers are now going even further.

Thankfully the government has at least established a Joint Committee, made up of MPs and peers, to scrutinise the Draft Bill. The Committee has asked for written evidence, the deadline for which is today. Liberty and our members are fighting hard against the plans via our No Snoopers’ Charter campaign and we’ve sent over our submission stating exactly why we oppose the proposals.

In the drive to defend the Snoopers’ Charter against rising public opposition, a number of myths have emerged. For example there’s the classic “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”. Why is it always about what we’ve got to hide? What about what we have to protect – personal privacy, perhaps? We’re also assured this isn’t about the actual “content” of communications. But you can still learn an awful lot about someone from their online habits – who they text and telephone, not to mention the websites they visit.

The government claims that nothing will really change, as some data is already stored. But these proposals are much graver. For the first time companies will be instructed to collect information on billions of communications – for no other reason than the authorities’ future demands for access. We’re also promised this is just about tackling criminals and thwarting terrorists. But the plans will allow data to be collected about everyone; not just suspects. With methods that evade the state’s reach readily available, it’s likely that serious criminals will avoid detection.

If the Draft Bill gets the green light, blunders and even abuse will surely follow – haven’t the privacy debacles of recent years taught us anything? It’s a truly chilling prospect, and flimsy crime prevention arguments can’t be allowed to usurp the privacy of innocent, law-abiding Britons. We’re a nation of citizens, not suspects – and that’s precisely how it should stay.

UPDATE: You can read Liberty’s submission to the consultation here.

What do you think of Rachel’s blog and the threat to our right to privacy? Please share your comments and thoughts below.

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Interview with Nicholas Shaxson: Part Two

March 18th, 2011 by

Nicholas Shaxson, tax expert and author of ‘Treasure Island: Tax Havens And The Men Who Stole The World’, a book described as the “most important of the year”, noticed 38 Degrees’ campaign against tax dodging. He asked if 38 Degrees would be interested in doing an interview with him. 38 Degrees members came up with the questions, this is the second all three instalments of his replies:

How does the UK relate to other countries in the world for tax dodging? if we are one of the “dodgiest” countries then is it relative to high corporation tax which other countries don’t have? (Ihmya Boydfriend)

Nicholas Shaxson: When we are talking about the UK, there are two things that are happening. The first is: the UK tax authorities are losing money as wealthy individuals and corporations stash their money in tax havens, evading or avoiding tax on their income. George Monbiot’s recent excellent article in The Guardian is about a shift that may be underway that would make matters worse.

George Osborne has the power to crack down on tax dodgers

Photograph by altogetherfool (Flickr)

The second is that the UK is a tax haven in its own right. And it is doing two main things. One the one hand, it’s creating all sorts of tax exemptions, offering secrecy and other attractions that suck money in from elsewhere, so that the residents of other countries can dodge taxes or whatever. On the other hand, and more importantly, it runs a network of tax havens around the world – this picture of the world’s tax havens, with the British ones in blue, gives an idea. About half the global offshore system is, in one way or another, British. These tax havens channel huge sums of money, and the business of handling that money, in to the City of London. It may be bank deposits in Jersey being sent up to HQ in London; it may be a crosss-border business deal being routed through UK havens and the business of setting it all up being outsourced to London; it may be a dictator’s assets being provided with a secrecy structure laddered through Gibraltar, Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Caymans or whatever – with the ultimate asset: the bank account, or the luxury house, or the painting – actually held in London.

So there’s money flowing in two directions. Money is being lost to tax havens elsewhere. Meanwhile, Britain’s tax haven network around the world is sucking money back in. But it’s crucial to understand – this is the key point – that the money coming back in does not make up for the money being lost. The money coming in is going to the City and it’s creating too-big-to-fail banks; a financial sector that has the government and taxpayers by the throat; property bubbles and real estate speculation. Are we really any better off than say the French, German, Swedes, as a result of these vast inflows? I’d say no – we have a far more unequal country, more very wealthy people, but more poor people too.It is in this sense that one can talk about Britain as the “dodgiest” country, I think. It’s not about our tax rates, really. It’s about our role running half the world’s tax havens.

I believe about 2 thirds of the worlds tax havens are British territories. Is this true? (Mike Dorey)

NS: As I mention above, the figure is about half. That’s the Tax Justice Network’s estimate. It’s not just them, though: Conservative MP Mark Field, one of the tax havens’ staunchest defenders, recently was quoted as having said:

“Half of the top 30 offshore financial centers are British dependencies or territories.”

One can quibble a bit with the share, but not much.

Can the government actually have any control over, for example, Jersey and any other “colonial” posessions that are operating tax havens? (Peter McCrone)

NS: Very good question. You have the three Crown Dependencies –Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – and then the 14 Overseas Territories – seven of which are tax havens: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, the Cayman islands, Gibraltar, Turks and Caicos, and Montserrat. Wikipedia calls the latter “remnants of the British Empire that have not acquired independence or have voted to remain British territories.” These places are partly controlled by Britian – the Queen appoints the governor, for example – but also partly separate: each has its own limited form of local politics and elections. Britain’s role is understated and it doesn’t like having to show its power: it prefers this slight distance that allows it to say “there’s nothing we can do” when something ugly breaks the surface. Every now and then Britain’s hand behind the scenes is revealed – such as when governance in the Turks & Caicos got so crooked that Britain had to impose direct rule.

This British underpinning is absolutely crucial. When the Bahamas became fully independent from Britain under premier Lynden Pindling in 1973, the money fled in droves to the Cayman Islands. “It wasn’t that Pindling did anything to damage the banks,” noted offshore lawyer Milton Grundy. “It was just that he was black.” If the jurisdiction is under the queen, the financiers are reassured. Britain could transform the offshore system overnight, if it chose to.

I’d like to know if the British government really would like to deal with the loopholes? (Lisa Howarth)

NS: I think that the answer is, generally, only up to a point. The Monbiot article I cite above is an example of which way this is going – this really is an effort to give corporations what they want, and let the ordinary British taxpayer pay the taxes they won’t pay. It’s not just the current government either. Gordon Brown promised in 1997 to crack down on tax havens before he came to power, and then did very little indeed. This is ultimately about the City protecting its interests, which means protecting the tax havens, to attract the inflows. Also, as regards the outflows, my book in the last chapter outlines how the British tax authorities steadily changed their culture away from a process of really trying to get corporations to pay their way, into one where corporations became “clients” and it was important to keep them happy.

You can follow Nicholas Shaxson on twitter at: http://twitter.com/nickshaxson

Nicholas Shaxson also recomends Richard Murphy’s Blog
and this Tax Justice Blog


You can read part one of the interview here.

You can read part three here.

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Interview with Nicholas Shaxson: Part One

March 3rd, 2011 by

Nicholas Shaxson, tax expert and author of ‘Treasure Island’, a book described as the “most important of the year”, noticed 38 Degrees’ campaign against tax dodging. He asked if 38 Degrees would be interested in doing an interview with him.  The office team then asked 38 Degrees members wanted they wanted to know about tax-below he has answered some of the questions members have asked him:

Nicholas Shaxson

Photograph by 38 Degrees

Gerry Smith: Could you please explain the difference between tax avoidance and tax dodging? If the only difference is one is legal and one is illegal how do we pressurise our MP’s into changing the tax laws so both are illegal?

Nicholas Shaxson: Technically, the main distinction that is made is between tax evasion – which is by definition illegal – and tax avoidance, which is by definition legal, but also by definition involves getting around the spirit of the law: what our democratic representatives intend when they set up tax laws. Between the poles of evasion and avoidance there is a huge grey area, a spectrum between the legal and the illegal. Multinational corporations that use tax havens tend to inhabit this grey area.

Tax dodging is a popular term which to me means the whole lot: evasion, avoidance and the grey area in between. I prefer an alternative term, which is tax cheating.  I think that effectively puts the finger on exactly what is going on here.

Lauren Young: How much could we save if they just paid their tax?

NS: The so-called UK tax gap – taxes that are recognised but go unpaid, outright tax evasion, and tax avoidance – is estimated at 40 billion pounds per year by HMRC; and at 120 billion per year by Richard Murphy,who has done a lot of pioneering work on this. It would never be possible to collect all this, but many billions, and possibly tens of billions, is a reasonable estimate of what might be possible. This could not go all the way towards making up for the huge cuts now being instigated – but it could go a long way. It is a genuine and big alternative to cuts.

Avril Wooster: If someone resides in U K, has a business in UK, how can they not pay their due taxes in UK?
Robin Rowles: Is there any reason why our taxation laws can’t say “If you live in the UK, work in the UK, do business in the UK, or as an individual or as a corporate entity take any income from the UK, you pay UK taxation”?

NS: Generally, companies can’t cut their tax bills to zero, because the government puts in defences against offshore tax avoidance. Company lawyers put in place new schemes to get around those defences, though, and the government creates new defences against those. And so on. This game of cat and mouse is one reason why tax systems get so complex.

Take a business that is resident in the UK and which has its headquarters here, and which has subsidiaries all over the world. In theory, should pay taxes on all its worldwide income, with allowances made for taxes already paid to other countries. But it’s not as simple as that.

Imagine the company has a subsidiary in a tax haven, which earns $100 million but pays no local tax (because it’s in a tax haven.) In theory, the UK resident company should pay UK taxes on its tax haven profits. But there is a big fly in this ointment: if it structures its tax affairs in certain ways, it may only pay those taxes in practice once it has repatriated those profits back to the UK. Meanwhile the money that it keeps out there in the tax haven will sit there, untaxed. This is known as deferred tax – tax that should in theory be paid one day, once the income is repatriated to the UK – but in practice it often never gets paid at all. It has been called a ‘tax-free loan from the government, with no repayment date.’ One third of the UK’s largest companies pay no tax.

With respect to individuals, the big gift that the UK makes to wealthy people is the so-called “non-dom” rules, under which certain classes of people who are resident in the UK but not “domiciled” in the UK (this is a rather vague test that depends on where your heart lies) get to pay tax on their UK income only, but pay no tax on their worldwide income. So of course, vastly wealthy people come to London, make sure all their income is realised overseas, and get all the benefits from living in our country while making sure that other people pay for all the services they rely on. The non-dom rule should be simply scrapped.

You can follow Nicholas Shaxson on twitter at: http://twitter.com/nickshaxson

Nicholas Shaxson also recomends Richard Murphy’s Blog
and this Tax Justice Blog

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Save Chopwell Woods Rally: A guest blog post

February 16th, 2011 by

Local people show their opposition to the government's plans

Photograph by Friends of Chopwell Woods

Liz Searle of Friends of Chopwell Woods helped organise a rally on Sunday. She has written a blog post for 38 Degrees to let everyone know how it went:

The Friends of Chopwell Wood and the Chopwell Wood Horse Riding Association organised a rally in Chopwell Woods on Sunday. Over 200 posters were put up more than a week before, facebook was used to spread the word, and 4000 leaflets were delivered to local villages. “Save Chopwell Wood” yellow lapel ribbons, and “I love Chopwell Wood” key rings were produced, to be given away to supporters at the rally.

The day came, the banner and gazebos went up, and the band arrived to play whilst supporters gathered. BBC and TyneTees TV crews and newspaper journalists began arriving. It was amazing to see 1200 people turn up!

The opening speech came from Paul Fountain of Friends of Chopwell Wood. He said,

“Managing a forest is a full time job not something for part-time volunteers to take on. We are already part of the Big Society, but working together and with the support of the Forestry Commission. Without FC everything we have achieved may be lost.”

Girl on a horse at the rally

Photograph by Friends of Chopwell Woods

He was followed by representatives of the Green Party, Horse Riding Association, Forestry Commission Trade Union, local Labour Councillor, Ramblers Association, and local MP David Anderson. Then the public were invited to the microphone to have their say, and some did. Everyone was against the forestry proposals included in the Public Bodies Bill and the Consultation. People queued to sign a paper version of the 38 Degrees petition that had been prepared. Eventually five points around the table were created and 700 people signed on the day, with many copies being taken away to be completed later.

Overall though we felt it was a very successful day, and we got a lot of media coverage – on both local TV news on Sunday night, and both local morning papers on Monday. Some of this may be included in the national press as there was a national photographer/jounalist attending.

Liz Searle – Friends of Chopwell Wood

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The future of England publicly owned forests

February 14th, 2011 by

David Sulman, Chief Executive of UKFPA

Photograph by 38 Degrees

The campaign to stop the sell off of England’s forests is going really well with over  half-a-million people have signed the petition . As well as members of the public, the campaign has also received support from some unlikely sources. David Sulman-the Chief Executive of the UK Forest Product Association, who look after the technical and commercial interest of British-grown timber processors- has writtedn a blog post about why he thinks England’s forests should remain in public ownershup.

England’s publicly owned woodlands and forests, which are sustainably managed to internationally recognised Standards, are a unique national natural resource, that provide valuable economic, social and environmental benefits for us all.

Not only do our forests and woodlands give us many leisure and recreation opportunities and enhance biodiversity, but they support thousands of jobs in the rural economy too. The commercial timber crops provide the raw material for Great Britain’s wood processing industry – sawmills and panelboard plants – which produce products for many markets and uses. Some people continue to be critical of conifers, such as Spruce and Pine; but they forget the benefits that they provide for us all. The face of forestry has changed over the years to reflect these concerns and we need to ensure that we have the right trees, in the right places, at the right time.

Our forests and the timber products sourced from them help to tackle climate change too: trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as they grow, locking it in the wood, where it remains for as long as the wood is used as a product. Climate change experts agree that we urgently need to be planting more trees and using more wood products, in place of energy intensive materials. Furthermore, wood sourced from our forests reduces our demand for imported wood.

The Forestry Commission consistently brings wood to the market on a sustainable basis and offers the opportunity for businesses to buy, in an open and transparent way, whereas wood supply from the many and diverse private sector growers can be less reliable and sporadic. Businesses need continuity of wood supply if they are to have confidence to continue to invest for the future. The Forestry Commission earns significant income from its commercial timber operations; typically about £25 million per year, which helps to offset the costs of providing the many other public benefits that we all appreciate.

We believe that the Government’s proposals are a ‘recipe for disaster’; there is no compelling case for these fundamentally flawed plans, which if implemented, will be regretted by generations to come. England’s publicly owned woodlands and forests must remain in public ownership, so that we can all continue to enjoy the many benefits they provide.

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Just launched: The Save the Lake District Forest group

January 18th, 2011 by

Forest in the snow

38 Degrees’ campaign against the proposed sell off of English forests is getting bigger and stronger. Together we are building a huge petition and coming up with other ideas to stop this proposal becoming reality.

There are now local campaigns springing up all around the county like Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF – a campaign to keep the Forest of Dean in public ownership),  the Save the Sherwood Forest campaign and the Save Haldon Forest group. We’ve invited the newest, the Save the Lake District forest group, to share why they think its so important to stop the sell off of English forests. Their blog is below:

Last week we launched a new campaign to Save the Lake District’s Forests from the threat of being sold off by the Government.

The campaign is being organised by Paul Townsend, a former parish councilor, who lives at Satterthwaite near Grizedale.  He says: “If the Government goes ahead with these plans we won’t have the same kind of access to these forests that we enjoy today. New owners wouldn’t have to allow entry to mountain bikers or horse riders and they’d be able to put up fences and close car parks to make it more difficult for walkers to gain access.

“The Forestry Commission does a lot of work to maintain and improve habitats for a wide range of different species – including ospreys, red squirrels and red kites.  A new owner wouldn’t  have an obligation to continue this valuable work.”

Lord Clark of Windermere, a former Chairman of the Forestry Commission who now chairs the All Party Group on Forestry, is backing the campaign.  He says: “I do not believe any Government has the right to sell off our public forests.  We hold these magnificent green spaces in trust for our children.  Once they’ve gone we will not get them back.”

To find out more and get involved go to: www.savelakelandsforests.org.uk

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