Nob off

The Court of Session in its best wigs

The nobile officium, popularly referred to as “the nob off”, is a uniquely Scottish principle of law which, so far as I can tell, means that the courts can do whatever they want. There’s a bit more to it than that, but as a rough summary, that more or less covers it.

So it is to the Scottish courts that anti-Brexit campaigners have turned, seeking protection against Boris Johnson’s oft-repeated threats to refuse to seek an extension from the EU.

Let’s get The Nobile Officium Song out of the way (it has a bit of a Mary Poppins theme), then we can get down to some nitty gritty…


Phew. Now that that’s over…

On my honour…

Boris Johnson’s lawyer told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that the government would comply with the Benn Act and seek an extension. Then Boris Johnson’s secretary of state for Brexit told the press in London that the government would not seek an extension. Then Boris Johnson’s lawyer said, no, the government definitely would. Then Boris Johnson’s secretary of state for Brexit said, no, the government definitely wouldn’t.

The Scottish judge, Lord Pentland (pictured right), was clearly getting somewhat tired with this and asked if the government would guarantee, in a sworn affidavit that’s legally binding, that it would comply. The answer was no: “There’s no need. It wouldn’t make any difference.”

“I think it would,” observed Lord Pentland.

Ultimately, proceedings ended with the government offering to make a pinky promise not to be naughty. The judge made avizandum (on which more below).

About Gina Miller

The last major case against Boris Johnson was brought by Gina Miller. It seems that some sections of the public are quite confused about her as well. Here are some confused people and the correct way to respond to them:

CP: She’s foreign!
CR: No, she was born in the British Empire… where, incidentally, we were foreign but for some reason still in charge.

CP: Nobody voted for her!
CR: People don’t need a democratic mandate to initiate legal proceedings. That would be stupid.

CP: She only did it because she’s annoyed Johnson shut down Parliament and she wanted to get her way!
CR: Well, quite. The question of ‘was Johnson allowed to shut down Parliament’ naturally only arose when Johnson, er, shut down Parliament.

CP: This judgment changes nothing: we’re still going to leave, suckers.
CR: Then stop whinging.

CP: She’s committed treason!
CR: Her case has been addressed by fourteen highly experienced judges. If she was committing treason don’t you think at least one of them would have spotted it and called the police?

CP: She’s just a wealthy hedge fund manager!
CR: Lucky there aren’t any wealthy hedge fund managers involved in the Brexit campaign then.

CP: It’s terrible how all these Remain campaigners are gloating about their win.
CR: Gosh, let me cast my mind back into the mists of time, because that reminds me of something…

CP: The money the government spent on lawyers could have gone towards hospitals or children’s homes.
CR: That’s a slightly simplistic view of public expenditure, but also: yes. It could. If the government hadn’t broken the law and then tried to wriggle off the hook, it could have saved a lot of public funds.

CP: The Supreme Court isn’t democratic.
CR: It was created by an Act of Parliament. If things created by Acts of Parliament aren’t democratic then that includes the referendum.

CP: This wasn’t just about legal process: she never wanted us to leave in the first place.
CR: OMG off with her head!

CP: How can she complain that she attracted attention when she deliberately sought media coverage?
CR: Perhaps she wanted people to engage with her arguments about the nature of democracy and the British constitution, not to abuse her, threaten her and call for her deportation? You have to admit that’s a possibility.

CP: Her speech after winning was all about her, her, her.
CR: So were your last ten tweets all about her.

CP: She just took a dump on the Magna Carta!
CR: Literally no section of the Magna Carta, in force or repealed, is remotely relevant to this case.

CP: Someone must be bankrolling this!
CR: So? The judges ruled on the law, not on how much they like the look of the claimant.

CP: Her lawyers are making a pretty packet out of this.
CR: Actually many of them were giving their time for free, but also, so what? The government’s lawyers (and the judges) also ‘made a pretty packet’ out of this, ie. got paid for doing their jobs.

CP: She’s just motivated by her business interests.
CR: Possibly. That’s entirely acceptable. Lots of people and companies advocated this way and that in the referendum based on their commercial interests..

CP: Why do people like her never ask the authorities to clamp down on illegal immigration?
CR: Because not everyone focuses on every single political issue. Did you contribute to the recent Department for Transport consultation on reforms to the railway penalty fare system? No? ‘Why do people like you never comment on that?’

CP: Every single person supporting her works for a global corporation
CR: Er hi there!

CP: Oliver Cromwell would have had her head on a spike.
CR: Oliver Cromwell went to all the trouble of abolishing the monarchy, then he appointed his son to succeed him. Pardon me if I don’t take lessons in liberal democracy from Oliver Cromwell.


The Benn Act: frequently asked questions

Parliament has passed a law requiring the Prime Minister to seek an extension from the EU so as to avoid a no-deal Brexit. It was introduced into the House of Commons by Hilary Benn MP and is therefore known as the Benn Act. Here are some useful facts about it.

Q: Is the Benn Act illegal?
A: No.

Q: Is it unconstitutional for Parliament to pass laws that the government doesn’t like?
A: No.

Q: Is it unconstitutional for Parliament to pass laws that go against the referendum result?
A: No.

Q: Can we challenge John Bercow’s decision to allow MPs to debate such a stupid law?
A: No.

Q: Is the Prime Minister allowed to put the will of the people above the Benn Act and refuse to get an extension?
A: No.

Q: But he can request an extension with his fingers crossed, right, so it doesn’t count and we still leave on 31 October?
A: No.

Q: How about if he requests an extension but only a 12-hour extension?
A: Just no.

Q: EU law takes priority over British law though so the Benn Act is invalid, yes?
A: No.

Q: Well… you’ll see. Dominic Cummings has a way round it. You don’t know his plan because it’s way above your pay grade. But the Benn Act is going to be found invalid.
A: No.

Hope this helps.

Expectum avidandum!

Scottish legal vocabulary is particularly joyful. Apart from nobile officium and the Outer House (both of which could well follow the phrase Harry Potter and the…) we had the submission, “The Prime Minister’s arguments must be repelled.” Damn right they must!

And then there is the amazing word avizandum, as in, “to make avizandum”. This technically means, to go away and consider something in more detail. But frankly it must be a spell of some sort, perhaps the magic word that will keep Britain in the EU when uttered alongside the requisite potion.

Nobile acknowledgementium

So, as the extension letter of time is dispatched by the Scots judge of destiny, and as the Prime Minister of fate is dispatched to the prison cell of eternity, it appears to be the end of the blog post.
In this week’s episode, the Scottish judiciary was led by Lord Pentland, with Gina Miller representing the overprivileged elite and Jacob Rees-Mogg representing the downtrodden underdog. Additional material was produced by Hilary Benn. This was an Gabrielquotes production.

Golders Green is changing

…and not necessarily for the better.

The good old days

Imagine that you gave a small child a piece of paper and said, “Here’s a fun idea! Why don’t you design your perfect town?”

Well, that’s basically what Barnet Council did, except it gave the piece of paper to a no doubt horrendously expensive planning consultancy called Fluid (motto: “Architecture, urbanism, participation”). They nevertheless produced a proposal that would shame a small child.

So, what did they come up with in the Golders Green Town Centre Strategy? A mix of the indecipherable, the none-of-their-business and the overly imaginative.

The indecipherable

Fluid believes that “High Street lighting is functional and there is a lack of intimacy” (because why else do you pop out to the pharmacy late on a Sunday evening if not to experience the sense of intimacy created for you in the street?) But what is the solution? “Atmospheric lighting to enhance heritage” – obvious when you think about it. The amount of unenhanced heritage lying around Golders Green is a crying shame, just waiting to be atmospherically lit.

They also criticise “inconsistent shop frontages”, which is surely just a function of there being, er, a range of different shops. Shop frontages in central London are very consistent but that’s because they’re all either Starbucks or Itsu.

Particularly important, stresses the plan, is to “celebrate diagonals”. I belive that anyone who pluralises an adjective (see also: botanicals, medicinals…) should be put on a watchlist and detained at airports, but that’s just my personal opinion.

The next service to have a sense of arrival will be on platform 3.

Other vital elements of the scheme include “activating the ground floor” and ensuring that those leaving the station are greeted by a “sense of arrival”.

One of my favourite of the 36 pages, however, was that which specified what sort of people use different areas of the town centre. The area around the war memorial roundabout (a heavily polluted concrete wasteland) is, apparently, frequented by “nature lovers” no doubt anxious to see local wildlife such as the Lesser Spotted Bus Driver and the Great Nesting Uber.

The “five parades” – or, in English, five scrubby little side streets running parallel to Golders Green Road – are allegedly the domain of “design lovers, collectors, experience- and quality-seekers”. The only experience I’ve previously had on Broadwalk Lane is the experience of standing on a discarded nappy… and frankly that nappy should have been taken away by a Council-employed “collector” weeks before.

The scrubbiest side street of all, St Alban’s Lane, is pervaded by a smell of rotten fish, but according to Fluid, its main drawback is that “interesting facilities such as the Jewish Chronicle and a language school are hidden by commercial bins”. The word “interesting” is doing quite a lot of work there… as is the phrase Jewish Chronicle which is no longer based in Golders Green at all, perhaps explaining why it’s so “hidden”.

But that’s all about the now. What is coming in the future?

None of their business

It’s easy to forget, when you’re a small child or an urban planning consultancy, that you don’t actually own the world. Some of the proposals in the Town Centre Strategy would require co-operation from businesses who are, erm, unlikely to co-operate.

This forecourt though. The absolute state of its public realm.

For instance, the large Sainsburys in which most of the locals do our weekly shop (which has “poor forecourt public realm”: not ‘a poor forecourt public realm’, just “poor forecourt public realm”) presents an “opportunity to replace with community use/ light industrial/ affordable workspace”. Well… no, it doesn’t present that opportunity unless J Sainsburys Plc agrees that its duty to sound urban design and acceptable “public realm” demands closure of the branch.

Fluid are also keen to “remove fences around the Greek cathedral to open its garden for wider community use and benefit”. Erm… what if the Greek cathedral doesn’t want the wider community sitting and boozing in its garden late at night?

Best yet is the planners’ desire to abolish the historic Big Red Building gentleman’s outfitters. And why? Because the site offers “an opportunity to create a 21st century food hall”. It’s not immediately apparent why this arbitrary food hall couldn’t be created in one of the many vacant, boarded up shops opposite the Big Red Building. But no, it has to be there. Gentleman can get their outfits elsewhere. Food hall. Now. Please.

The overly imaginative

The general solution to any urban ill, it seems, is to replace it with grass. But Fluid takes this idea one step further by proposing to revolutionise the railway bridge by “creating a green feature on it to build a strong local identity”. (This strong local identity will presumably consist of neighbours bonding over their shared bafflement over the sudden presence of a rhododendron on the Northern line.)

Almost every page of the proposal booklet contains photos of “inspirational examples” of other urban landscapes (English: towns). Some of these are approximately comparable to Golders Green, such as a high street in Hammersmith. Others seem to have been selected totally at random, for example:

Beirut?? How did Beirut enter into it? Another instance is where a new miniature park (sorry, “linear park”) is proposed, plus “active frontage: a Greek delicatessen for example”. Why a Greek delicatessen?? Why not a Turkish delight maker or a picture framer or a fancy dress shop? This cherrypicking of frivolous architectural ideas from arbitrary places is one of the most childlike parts of the entire scheme. ‘And then I’ll put a tower on top of Superdrug and it will lean to the side a little bit. And then I’ll knock down the bank and put the Taj Mahal there…’

There are also plans for a rooftop café on top of HSBC “with a special view of the Hippodrome” – which is of course one of the most sought-after sights in the south of England. For some reason there’s no proposal for a rooftop café on top of the Hippodrome with a special view of HSBC…

Another particularly wacky idea is to replace the surface of Hoop Lane (a fairly busy street linking up to the Finchley Road) with “historic cobbles”, the purpose being to “mark arrival space”. Perhaps they could also replace the pavement with treacle and put velcro on all the walls while they’re at it.

Perhaps my favourite proposal is that the Council should “consider planting olive trees as a link to the Greek community”. Because let’s be honest, whenever I tell anyone that I’m a rabbinic student living in Golders Green and I’m just popping out to get a bagel and some salt beef, without fail they always reply, ‘Ah yes, a very Greek area isn’t it!’

A closing song

One thing I genuinely learned from the strategy document is that Golders Green’s HSBC building was designed by well-known architect Ernő Goldfinger. So now there really has to be a closing song, doesn’t there. Here it is:



If you actually want to give Barnet Council your feedback on the proposal, see the consultation page here.