Free speech – get it here

The right to say what we want has come in for a battering this last week. The right to criticise, advise, expose. The right that goes to the core of a progressive, civilised society. The right that acts as a check on power and totalitarianism.

When the supporters of Charlie Hebdo read the magazine they queued up for today, they might not like all that they read. I would stand shoulder to shoulder with its brave journalists and cartoonists, but I expect I would be offended by some of their copy. After all, this is no cosy, friendly lifestyle publication. The whole point of the magazine is to stir up issues, provoke debate, and make people question and think. As with any satirical magazine, the way it does that can be acerbic and shocking. Offensive to many, that is true, and yet, it has to be allowed to publish what it wants. You don’t have to agree with it or even buy it, but it, and all its wonderfully contentious ideas, should be out there.

I applaud all the news agencies and television stations that showed the image of the front cover of Charlie Hebdo whilst reporting the news last night. There are many images that religions find offensive, there are many offensive people out there too. However, that does not logically lead to a decision to ban it or kill for it.

I don’t like much that comes from the mouths of the members of UKIP. Indeed I find a lot of it offensive, but I have no desire to ban them from speaking. Indeed it is when they do speak freely that it becomes patently clear to all who listen what a bag of nutters they really are. So, I hope the TV debate with both UKIP and the Greens goes ahead; let them be judged by what they say.

Images can harm, that is true. Violent or sexual images should never be seen by children; images that are psychologically disturbing or intended to incite violence or racism should be, and are, controlled. False words can harm careers, reputations, incite violence too, and our laws and legal precedents cover that. But an image offensive to a religion will not shake the beliefs of the faithful. Yes, they might insult, but they don’t cause lasting damage and therein lies the difference.

That any of this should lead to violence is, of course, abhorrent. Anyone who kills to frighten is a terrorist and deserves to rot. Their legacy is fear, but only if we succumb to it. By publishing the images the terrorists wanted to obliterate we emasculate their cause.

The right to speak and publish should never be fettered by fear. Religious faith can’t be undermined by a cartoon. The rights not to listen, to walk away and to ignore are equally important. Challenge the ideas behind it, by all means, but we must never limit the right to speak freely.


A Phenomenal Woman

Maya Angelou

I’ve no idea if anyone will read this, this is my first blog in a while, but some news I read this morning has moved me to write something and post it to the ether. I want to pay my respects to a great writer and a great woman.

Dr Maya Angelou died yesterday at her home in North Carolina, aged 86. She was, to pinch the title of one her poems, a phenomenal woman. I first read her work at the tender age of 15. My inspirational English teacher, Mr Honney, to whom I will always be indebted, had given me the first volume of her autobiography ‘I know why the caged bird sings’. I devoured it and went on to read the other four volumes and pretty much everything she wrote thereafter. Her writing had a lasting impact on my view of the world.

A first glance there doesn’t seem much to link a happy, well-loved, teenager in a comfortable middle class home in North London with a black woman who grew up during the Depression in the deep south of America, but her attitude to life affected me deeply. Maybe because, as a teenager, you are still at the stage of wondering what life you will live, what hurdles you will have to overcome, what people you will meet who will hurt you or inspire you. After reading her books I was determined, that whatever happened, I would strive to live my life to the full and never just coast along. I would take a proactive approach to my life and make the most of it.

Dr Maya Angelou was a woman to whom a lot of terrible awful things happened, and yet despite this, or maybe in part, because of this, she seized life with both hands, lived a multitude of lives in one lifetime and wrote with incredible compassion and insight.

When I read this morning that she had died, I cried. But, she was 86, and I know from reading her books and following interviews with her over the years, that her’s was a life well-lived. So I wiped my eyes and decided to celebrate her life and remember what she achieved. She had a varied and unique CV: from short-order cook and prostitute, to civil rights campaigner; ultimately becoming a professor of American Studies and writing an inaugural poem for President Clinton. Her friends included Martin Luther King, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. Her admirers were legion.

She believed in forgiveness, in the power to rise again and fought tirelessly for equality and tolerance.

So, no, I won’t shed any more tears for you, Maya. I will urge my daughters and their friends to read your works and be inspired by you to achieve everything that they can in life. Never to accept or be laid low by failure, always to strive to experience all that life can offer, and above all to try to be the best person they can; to be a phenomenal woman. Like you were. Rest in peace.


The first stanza of her poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman.


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


If you want to read the rest (and it is wonderful). Click here to go to the Waterstones’ page and buy her book.



To hear Maya Angelou reading her poem ‘And still I rise’ (which I read before my interview for university and still read from time to time when I need a bit of courage), click here.



Beach life

Thoughts from a Cornish beach

You know you are getting older when:

You choose your perfect spot on the beach so it’s not too far from the loos…

You need just a little extra cream than before for those upper arms and hips…

You can no longer hold your stomach in for the whole walk from the ice cream van back to your towel…

You love wearing a wetsuit. What’s not to like? It’s an all-body Spanx. Looking good…

You calculate the effort it takes to get the wetsuit off must burn off equivalent calories to an ice cream/cream tea/double gin…

Your eye is irresistibly drawn to those young tanned men in red and yellow and you find yourself contriving to have a Mrs Robinson near-drowning experience…

You take a closer look at the young tanned men in red and yellow and find yourself wondering how a boy fresh out of school could possibly rescue a full-grown woman.

Gin? Lovely, make mine a double…


Talking of gin, I must recommend this gin which my lovely friend Lucy told me about and I have recommended to several other gin drinkers since: Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Bathtub gin. Deeeliciuosss but currently only available to buy online.


Page 3

I want to write about something very close to my heart. Literally. I want to discuss breasts and how they continue to evoke such strong emotions in everyone.

If you turn to the inside sections of one of the UK’s best selling newspapers, you will see a young woman with her bare breasts. This was one of those things that, arriving back in the UK after eight years overseas, I was shocked still to see.

Since The Sun started to print pictures of bare boobs on page three in 1970, public views of what is acceptable behaviour has changed incredibly. It is no longer perfectly OK to pinch your secretary’s bottom, for example. Happily we now have the Sexual Discrimination Act. It’s no longer acceptable to call women “dear”, rape in marriage is finally a crime, and we’ve had a female Prime Minister.

It’s not just in relation to women that public mores have changed. With good reason, gollywogs are no longer pictured on jars of marmalade and The Black and White Minstrel Show has not been recommissioned. So, given we have moved on so far, should we really still have pictures of women in their knickers in a daily national newspaper?

There are so many reasons why Page 3 is outdated and demeaning to women that it’s hard to know where to start. How about, women being held out as sexual objects rather than real people? How about, this is a mainstream NEWSPAPER yet where is the news on tits? (Actually there is some, see later). Now, I’m not against images of naked bodies, just not in a newspaper that a child might pick up and flick through. If you want your kicks from seeing naked women, reach up to the top shelf.

What I really hate is this normalisation of women as sexual objects, that their sole reason for being is to gratify male lust. Children, or people with already skewed views of women, will think it is OK to ogle a woman’s breasts, I mean, they have them in a newspaper, don’t they? Can it really be right that we live in a society that apparently thinks it’s acceptable to have bare breasts in a newspaper, yet frowns on women breastfeeding their infants in public?

If you think that Page 3 is a sexist anachronism then sign the petition against it. Over 100,000 people already have. The petition, started by Lucy Holmes, has garnered much public support including from Frances Barber, Jennifer Saunders, Alistair Campbell and Juliet Lewis. Click here to add your voice.

Then there are women who, rather than sitting around grumbling about objectification of women (ahem), are using this fascination with bare breasts to bring greater awareness to their fight for female victims of oppression across the world.

Femen, a radical feminist group which started in 2008 in the Ukraine, state they are “transforming female sexual subordination into aggression” and they protest naked from the waist up. The cameras love it. It is insanely shocking to see them protest, these modern Amazons, with their bare breasts on show. But how powerful too, as Vladimir Putin can attest. They know this will increase media coverage and in itself makes a statement: “this is my body, I will do with it as I choose”.

Have I just undermined my argument against Page 3 models? No, I don’t think so. Femen’s overwhelming purpose is to fight for women’s rights using their sexuality to their own end. The Page 3 girls’ overwhelming purpose is to titillate. Yes, they get paid, and view it as a career, but they are a cog in a machine that does nothing to promote, and ends up prejudicing, the welfare and rights of women.

There is a strange fascination in society with breasts. These givers of initial sustenance and comfort, become a totem of the exquisite differences between the male and female form, and yes, sex. It’s a universally accepted truth that the naked human form can be a thing of great beauty. Or so I rather bizarrely found myself telling my nine year-old son in an art gallery recently, his face red with embarrassment at all the pictures of naked ladies. He didn’t get it. Yet.

There are several differences with him seeing naked images of women (and men) in an art gallery. First, I took him there with an explanation ready rather than him stumbling in the door to be greeted by a naked Venus. Secondly, the images are a celebration of the human form; they are there to please not to arouse. Finally, the actual nakedness depicted is secondary to the artistic intent and talent. Art galleries celebrate art, not nakedness per se.

This fascination with breasts makes the decision of Angelina Jolie all the more admirable for being slightly controversial. She uses her twin assets of acting talent and looks to forge her career, and her breasts are a key part of her physical image, as they are of all women, only hers appear on huge billboards and are seen around the world. Yet she took the brave decision to undergo a double mastectomy so that she would reduce her risks of contracting cancer, and was criticised for it. Had she had her ovaries removed for the same reason, I doubt there would have been such a kerfuffle.

So, boobs. Emotive, erotic, maternal and part of a woman’s body. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be seen, but just at the right time, place and for a purpose which doesn’t demean or objectify women. All of which mean Page 3 should go.


Back to AD

During the taxi ride from the airport last week I was reminded how it had felt that first time we drove down Abu Dhabi island, nearly ten years ago.

Then, there was only my husband and our toddler daughter with me in the taxi. Keeping an 18 month old occupied and happy during her first long-haul flight had been an endurance test. I survived thanks to a fistful of Neurofen and a bag bursting with individually wrapped tiny toys.

I was exhausted and not quite prepared for the culture shock of seeing men in white dish dashas and headdresses walking through the airport terminal. The pain at saying good-bye to my parents was still very raw, and I started to doubt whether we had really done the right thing uprooting ourselves from London to come here for two years.

The night-time air was heavy with heat and humidity as we walked out of the airport terminal. Driving along the old Corniche, palm trees and huge detached houses whizzed past the window and I questioned what on earth we were doing moving here, to this strange land.

Nearly ten years later we were back, as non-residents this time, coming to see our old friends and sit by a pool. Yet the sensations as we walked out of the airport terminal were no different, only this time I was wondering how our first trip back as a family would make me feel about having left.

As we drove to our hotel, surprisingly little had changed. The roadside was still dotted with those large detached villas, which I now know, are home to several generations of one family. If you look hard enough you can usually see, under the flourescent tube light fixed above the gate to the villa, a cheap white plastic garden chair. In the cooler times of the day this will be where the old man of the family sits and watches daily life in a city that has changed beyond measure in his lifetime.

There has been a great deal of development in Abu Dhabi over the last ten years. New hotels have gone up on reclaimed land and in the old mangroves, and the skyline now includes much taller, more ambitiously designed buildings. Roads have been widened and new bridges and tunnels built.

Yet, glancing around as the taxi sped down the island, in between the large villas and new hotels there are still the minarets of the mosques garishly lit by bright green strip lights, a reminder of Abu Dhabi’s less style-conscious past.

Abu Dhabi is a city of contrasts and contradictions: Maseratis parked next to pick-ups; an oil-producing nation with huge queues at every petrol station; high fashion and Islamic dress; ostentatious wealth and great poverty; a patriarchal culture where the majority of the graduates from university are women.

I learned a lot during my time in Abu Dhabi, not just in terms of growing eight years older and raising three children, but it also refined my perceptions of the Middle East and the politics of the region. It also made me understand that democracy was not necessarily the Holy Grail of politics; that a great deal can be achieved in a benevolent monarchic regime and that any move towards democracy must be done with patience and in tandem with a programme of education and support of a free press.

It was a great trip and wonderful to catch up with old friends, whilst others, sadly missed this time, will warrant another trip again soon. And did I feel we were wrong to have left? No, it was right for us, but I don’t regret the time we spent there one bit. The experiences we and the children have had, the benefits of living amidst another culture and learning about another way of life are unquantifiable and how fab is it to have a destination for winter sun complete with old muckers and a thorough knowledge of where to find the best dahl makhani?



I’ve just closed down all the comments sections on this site as I was being deluged by my hoards of highly enthusiastic fans who like to push their spammy websites… Enough already!

If anyone does want to make a genuine comment, please contact me direct and I’ll pop it on, provided it’s not obscene, offensive etc.


What’s in a word? A lot apparently. Even if you don’t mean it in that way, should it be taken that way, i.e. the wrong way, you’re in trouble. Just ask Suzanne Moore.

I posted a link to Moore’s New Statesman piece about feminism in my last blog because I thought, and still think, that her piece was a well-written and inspiring feminist critique.

However, she included in the article a sentence: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Cue a Twitter-storm, as some very offended transsexuals took Moore to task for her apparent denigration of them, and she tweeted several strongly-worded rebuttals.

I don’t believe that Moore intended to offend transsexuals with that line. In context she was saying that women become angry with themselves rather than with the external factors which affect them, such as a lack of opportunities, unfair perceptions and expectations of how they should love, or how they should look.

I assumed Moore meant transsexuals who have had sexual reassignment surgery. So why not reference a crafted appearance, and that really is the key word: “appearance”, of womanhood as sculpted from a male body? This is not to say that female transsexuals are any lesser in their hearts and minds, but that their bodies are not as they were born with. They are man-made.

Whilst I know that in reality post-operative transgender bodies are not simulacra of perfect male or female bodies, the image that came to mind fleetingly as I read Moore’s piece, and presumably what Moore intended, was of a perfected body. A body crafted with an ideal in mind which wouldn’t include vast swathes of cellulite or stretch marks from pregnancy, or boobs that have totally surrendered to gravity. A body seemingly expected of, but not representative of, the majority of women.

As if this debate couldn’t heat up any further, we moved from degrees centigrade to Kelvin as Julie Burchill, a friend of Moore’s, wrote a column for The Observer in defence of Moore which was incredibly offensive to transsexuals. The column attracted such a flurry of irate comments (some 2000 in all) that it was taken down from The Observer/Guardian website by the powers that be. As one Twitterer put it (and in so doing put the wit back into Twitter): “Julie Burchill poured oil to calm troubled waters. Then drowned some seabirds in the oil. Then set fire to the oil.” All this culminated in criticisms of Burchill by Lynne Featherstone MP and Moore resigning from Twitter. She’s back now, I’m happy to say.

Perhaps the real victim of this row was the debate that Moore had so forcefully tried to generate in the piece and which died under the weight of the offended and offensive tirades: that women should stop beating themselves up about not fitting ideals and not having opportunities and instead get angry about it and fix it.


Here’s a word I would like to take issue with: middle-aged. At the tender age of 31, having just given birth to my first child, a colleague called Robert tried to convince me that I was now middle-aged. I snorted derisively. Of course I wasn’t! I was still in that demographic box on questionnaires which bundled me up with 20-somethings.  But my colleague persisted: “How old do you think you’ll be when you die?” I mumbled something about “no idea but over 80 hopefully”. He replied, “And middle-age doesn’t just last a year you know, you’ve got to give it a good span of about 20 years.” I nodded, trying hard not to wrinkle my brow in concentration in case he had a point and the wrinkles remained. “So,” he continued, “half way to 80 is 40 and give it a ten year span either side of that point…. You’re middle-aged!”

I spat out my mouthful of Diet Coke (see I was so young then, I didn’t even care about the additives and potentially pernicious effects of phenylalanine) and declared that you were only as young as you feel and there was no way I was middle-aged yet.

Even today, some 10 years on, I think there is good reason to believe it will be a long time before I ever have to call myself middle-aged, even using Robert’s reasoning. Medical advances are astonishing these days, and I reckon, by a back-of-the-envelope, highly empirical, well-researched, finger-in-the-air guestimation that we are all going to live longer. I reckon over the next 60 to 70 years medical advances will have eradicated so many killer diseases that we’ll all be living at least till, well, let’s round it up, to 120?

By Robert’s reasoning, middle-age wouldn’t then start until around 50. Sounds more likely to me. Don’t you agree?


Words. 500 of them. Chris Evans this week launched the BBC Radio 2 500 Words competition. The competition is open to children aged up to 13 who have to write a short story of no more than 500 words. There are two categories: 9 years and under, and 10 to 13 year olds. Each category has a gold, silver and bronze prize. The judges include Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Richard Hammond, Charlie Higson, and Malorie Blackman.

Children have until 7pm on 22nd February 2013 to unleash their inner story teller and could win Chris Evan’s height in books (6’ 2”!) and 500 books for their school library. A fantastic way to get children writing.

Click the link here for more information.


Third Culture Kids

Two weeks before Christmas I packed up my ten year-old daughter’s bags and took her to Heathrow Airport to fly to the UAE. Unaccompanied. Seven hours on her own in a plane. No one to tell her to eat some veg or maybe to stop watching TV for a bit. All. On. Her. Own.

She wasn’t at all worried about travelling alone. As a child who, for most of her life, had been brought up overseas, air travel was more normal than taking a train.  She was going back to her old home, to see her old friends, visit her old school and go to her old haunts. If we had moved from London out to the Shires, we would be doing the same, probably more regularly, but still keeping in touch with an important period of her past. It’s just that to do that now involves a seven-hour flight and a four-hour time difference.

She was beyond excited. This beat, hands down, the thrill of her newfound independence walking unaccompanied to the local newsagents. I, however, suffered sleepless nights and frequent heartburn. But that’s what you have to do when you have a third culture kid.

“Third Culture Kid”, or TCK, is a term defined by David C. Pollock, co-author of the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Pollock describes a TCK as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” His book is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be a TCK and is available on Amazon (click the link here)

Bringing up a child in another country requires some effort and an awareness of the differences between their “normal” and your own; bringing them up in your home country once you return produces a whole other set of challenges: being aware of their differences, and in some cases, nurturing them.

I suppose I was quite naive when we first moved back to the UK. I assumed that that this would be easy: they had spent every summer here, they spoke the language, were familiar with the popular culture thanks to the TV. It’s not that I was ready to forget our time in Abu Dhabi, and I was committed to keeping in touch with the great friends we made there, but I was very forward-focussed. It was all about settling in here; making new friends; getting used to a new school. Our eight years in Abu Dhabi were an amazing experience, but that was it. It was over.

The truth is Abu Dhabi will always be part of our lives.For now, its significance is greater given the proportion of the children’s lives lived there. As they grow older, and friends leave Abu Dhabi, the pull will wane but there will always be a connection.

Whilst they are unlikely to suffer the classic TCK’s feeling of rootlessness given they are still young, Abu Dhabi will continue to be important as a place where key events in their childhood happened. They had all the normal experiences of growing up, they learned to swim and ride bikes, but just in a very different place in the midst of a very different culture.

Their experiences will mark them out as slightly different from their peers: they’ve camped in the desert, been accustomed to having a live-in maid and a gardener, picked mangos from the garden, and played with princes and princesses.

There are occasions in my daughter’s speech when her expat past will reveal itself. The influence of American culture in Abu Dhabi means she is more likely to call a shopping centre a “mall” and her little finger is a “pinky”. Remembering all the feral cats of Abu Dhabi, which they were warned on pain of death not to approach, she has an abiding wariness of any cat she sees here.

I’ve tried to fill any gaps in their UK knowledge since we came back: explaining voting, post men, house-to-house bin collections. The most unexpected though, was after a recent visit to the doctors when my daughter, slightly panicked, said, “Mummy! You forgot to pay!”: explaining the benefits of a universal healthcare system.

The additional demands of bringing up a TCK will doubtless rear their head from time to time as the children grow up. Solo international flights are probably just the start. I need to be on guard for lapses in their knowledge and lack of cultural reference points, whilst encouraging their more international outlook and acceptance of different cultures.

So this is why, at the start of the Christmas holidays, my daughter embarked on the first of what I expect will be many trips to her past and I started reading about TCKs, and planning a family trip back to Abu Dhabi very soon.


More great writing on the need to reawaken the feminist in us (see November blog “No Complacency”) : read Suzanne Moore’s piece in the New Statesman: (click here)



Enquiring minds

A terrible affliction seems to have blighted the youth of the UK. It affects all young people regardless of background, ethnicity or education. I will call it the “Antipodean Curse” (AC) because, despite my love of that part of the world, their ways and vocal inflections have no place here. AC is the intensely annoying habit of speaking as though every statement were a question.

To illustrate, here is a conversation I had just last night with my 10 year-old daughter: “I broke my water bottle. I had just put it on the desk? Then someone knocked my books? And it made the bottle fall on the floor?”.  At this point I tend to gaze at the floor exasperatedly, biting my tongue to avoid saying “WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME? I WASN’T THERE!”

AC seems to have wormed its way into modern popular culture. I challenge you to turn on the television or radio and not have spotted a speaker with AC within 15 minutes. DJs on the radio speak like this as a way of proving their connection with their young listeners.

Why do they speak like this? Does it evince some deep-rooted need for affirmation? Some national deficit in self-esteem that leads the speakers to seek to ensure their listeners are really listening and so every statement needs to be acknowledged?

Now, I understand that speech and accent are dynamic and reflect current society and forms of communication. I have no more desire for us all to speak like we’re still in the 1950s than I have to drink two fingers of whisky at 11 in the morning, which according to my historical reference works (Mad Men/The Hour) was apparently commonplace. But still, there are avenues we can accept language going down and others we should block off with every available obstacle. Australians and New Zealanders can speak questioningly as much as they like, but let’s not introduce it to the English English way of speaking.

I am a pedant, I admit. I think Lynne Truss did an immeasurable service to the English language with her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, in which, among other things, she drew attention to the plight of the apostrophe. Years of legal training mean I can spot a typo at 40 paces and have amused myself over the years by marking up numerous school newsletters in red pen. I know it’s slightly bonkers but it’s important. Not only is the English language being assailed in print (incidentally, why do newspapers now print acronyms all in lower case?) but in speech too. Too?

It’s driving me potty and I can’t fight this battle alone. I have managed to explain this scourge of speech to my children and now a mere raising of the eyebrows will remind them to lower their voices at the end of their sentences. The trouble is that I am forcing them to be freaks in their social groups. My daughter explains that she has to speak like that with her friends? Because they all speak like that? When she comes home after a party or playdate, the raising of her voice at the end of her speech has gone viral. I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of question marks. So, I need help tackling this. Can we have a national campaign to end raised voices at the end of sentences? Please?

As if to compound my aural misery I am haunted by the latest Bond theme tune. I love Adele, not quite as much as I love Daniel Craig, but now I’ve spotted this I can no longer listen to the theme song without grimacing. Those who want to continue their care-free enjoyment of Adele’s Skyfall please look away now, for what I am about to point out will diminish your listening pleasure forever.

Socio-linguistics experts long ago pointed out the existence of Estuary English which is the pronunciation of English widespread in the Southeast of England along the River Thames and its estuary. One of the elements of Estuary English is l-vocalisation or, to mere mortals, the dropping of the pronunciation of “L”. Hence, mortal becomes mortow.

Now, listen to Skyfall, or Skyfaw.: (click the link here) “when it crumbaws we will stand taw and face it aw together”. Lllllllllllllllllllllll. Or, as my daughter would say, “Llllllll?”





Law in the balance

As a former student of legal philosophy, I have an abiding admiration for our system of justice, so it pains me to see that as a nation we appear to be having a rather unhappy relationship with the Law at the moment.

Currently, it seems that the legal system is either being ignored or pilloried. For sure, there are improvements which could be made to it, but, by and large, I think it deserves another chance.

First though, I have a rather controversial suggestion. I can’t claim it as my idea but it is one I am increasingly in favour of. I think anyone accused of a sexual crime, should, like their accuser, be allowed instant anonymity. I say this because, despite my own fiercely protective instinct which wells up if anyone so much as looks at my children oddly, I trust the legal system to find out the guilty and then name, shame and punish them.

Precisely because sexual crimes are so abhorrent, individuals who are accused of them are instantly targets for the strongest vitriol that people can conjure up. But what if they are innocent? If they are named by the police, the media will name them, hold their own trial in the papers or on TV and before you can say, “here’s your summons”, those accused are cast in the eyes of the public as guilty, or at least tainted with great doubt of being a monster.

Just last week, a senior figure of a well-known property company was accused of rape. I have no idea whether the allegations are well-founded, but then that’s not my job, that’s the job of the courts. However, whether through conscience or a sense of duty, he resigned and his resignation and the reasons for it were widely reported in the business press.

Whether or not he is ultimately found guilty of this hateful crime is now largely irrelevant. Many people will only remember two things about him: “rape” and “resigned”. They won’t be interested in the detail of his actual culpability. Meanwhile, as he awaits being charged, and his wife and children struggle to understand what is going on, he is out of a job and will have an uphill struggle to find a new one. If he is ultimately found guilty I will have no sympathy with his predicament at all, but at the moment, all this has occurred and he hasn’t even been charged.

Whilst I completely acknowledge that false accusations of rape are rare, the ramifications of a false accusation are so far-reaching that surely the Legislature should act to protect the innocent until proven guilty?

Will the senior Tory figure ever fully recover from being falsely accused of child abuse? He can sue for libel and slander, but will his reputation ever be resurrected? Will he not always suffer from the misremembered musings of people: “Oh, yeah, him, wasn’t there something about him and child abuse?”. The damage has been done. He was tried and convicted by a the court of public opinion. Should such power to ruin lives really lie in the public domain?

Jimmy Saville is an interesting case in point. Yes, the sheer volume of evidence against him is staggering and compelling, but he will never be tried in a court. It will never be the conclusion of a legal trial that identifies him as an abuser. He will be forever remembered as such, but there is a slight tinge of unconventional rough justice to his condemnation so far before the police inquiry has been concluded.

Then when the full power of the English legal system is invoked, some decisions are not popular either, such as the repeatedly rebuffed attempts to deport Abu Qatada.

Just to recap, Qatada is due to face trial in Jordan for various bomb plot offences dating back to 1998. The Special Immigration Appeals Court decided last week that as there was a real risk that evidence obtained under torture would be used against him in a trial in Jordan, his trial would not be fair, so they refused to allow him to be deported.

Whilst it is deeply frustrating that someone embargoed by the UN Security Council for his terrorist links is walking the streets of suburban London, the Article of the Convention on Human Rights invoked by his lawyers exists to protect those falsely accused by despotic regimes. Criticism should not be leveled at the courts who historically have protected the individual against the power of the State, but rather at the Government’s handling of this. They knew where the problems against having Qatada deported lay and failed to address them sufficiently.

Often those who criticise the Convention on Human Rights as being unnecessary and incompatible with our legal system point at the common law safeguards of individual liberty enshrined in English law, but even these are now under attack. David Cameron’s announcement on Monday to the CBI that he wants to make it harder for people to apply for a judicial review is deeply concerning.

Judicial review has long been a cornerstone of our democracy. Under this procedure an individual can challenge the application of a rule or law by a public body. It ranks right up there with habeus corpus as an important check and balance against the powers of the Executive and other public bodies.

It remains to be seen exactly what Cameron has in mind. The judicial review process is supposed to weed out those who might abuse this procedure well before trial, whether they be land developers, other corporates or indeed, vexatious litigants. If the real problem is the time it takes to bring cases to trial, then the legal system needs streamlining, or dare I say it, investment, to speed things up. The solution lies not in denying or frustrating an individual’s right to be heard.