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Inquiry into police raid must be free of actual and apparent bias

Some four months after a dramatic police raid on a respected family Doctor’s surgery in Alderney, more questions remain than have been answered.

At the end of last month the police announced that their investigation has cleared Dr Lyons of any suspicion of any criminal offence.

On July 31st, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal lifted their interim suspension of Dr Lyons’ registration as a doctor.

So all is now back to normal, right? Not quite.

The right to privacy and personal property are key principles of the Bailiwick’s justice system, as well as that of the British Isles and most of Europe.

The Bailiff (the Islands’ most senior judge) or other appropriate judicial officer may issue a search warrant granting powers of entry, search and seizure. This can only be granted for the purpose of searching for stolen property, illegal drugs, firearms and evidence of serious offences.

It is clear from the media that the warrant upon Dr Lyons’  surgery and his home fell into the latter category, suspicion of
serious offences. It is also clear to me that, at least on the day of the ‘SWAT’ style raid, the police suspected Dr Lyons having committed the most serious offence that any defendant can ever be called to account for in front of a Court.  And not once, but on up to four occasions.

Since the Police have subsequently stated they have found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, one has to ask, on what evidence did the learned Bailiff (or other judicial authority) grant the police the authority to enter and search?  Our laws are supposed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures by the authorities;  furthermore, the Channel Islands are only part of the British Isles to have had direct experience of such things within living memory, so you would expect the judiciary to require the executive to show cause that the evidence being sought was likely to be found before rubber-stamping search warrants.

When the police have information that appears to justify an application to conduct a search, the officer concerned must take  reasonable steps to check the information is accurate, recent and not provided maliciously or irresponsibly.  Under the Police Powers and Criminal Evidence Law, this is the responsibility of an officer of the rank of Inspector or above.

Amongst other things, the officer must the specify the  object of the search, including, when the purpose of the proposed search is to find evidence of an alleged offence, an indication of how the evidence relates to the investigation. Information supporting a search warrant application should be  as specific as possible, particularly in relation to the articles being sought.

Again from newspaper reports: the object of the search was to seize medical records of particular interest.

Yet it was also reported that the police seized entire computer disks, containing medical and/or medical related records on all the surgery’s patients, including myself and my relatives who are also Dr Lyons’ patients.

This is disproportionate and, it appears, a clear breach of my own (and that of all other patients of the Eagle Medical Practice) legal right to private and family life;  this infringement is even more egregious when you consider that PPACE gives officers powers to require information stored in electronic form to be produced in a form which can be taken away and in which it is visible and legible:  so they could just required, and taken away only the records they were interested in.

Searches must be made at a reasonable hour, unless this might frustrate the purpose of the search. And searches must be conducted with due consideration, and with no more disturbance than necessary:  you might take the view that this means not only during daylight hours, but also without barging in causing unnecessary distress and inconvenience to uninvolved third parties such as patients.

Dr Lyons has not only now been cleared by the police investigation of involvement in any criminality, but the complaints from the States of Guernsey to the General Medical Council have also been fully considered and rejected by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal service, who, on July 31st restored him to the register with no conditions whatsoever, thereby exonerating him of any suggestion of professional incapacity.

Despite this, the senior official in charge of the States of Guernsey Health and Social Security department (HSSD) recently made a vigorous defence of the States’ heavy-handed actions, saying that they would do the same again, because “all allegations have to be referred on”.

With all appropriate respect to the professional expertise of the official concerned , that is just not so, in a democratic society. Both the executive and the judiciary have a responsibility to consider allegations carefully and seriously.

For the States irresponsibly to report someone to the police, and to make complaint to their professional licensing body, making allegations of serious offences on what (it now appears from the conclusions of the police and the GMC tribunal) was little or no evidence, is in my mind, equally as culpable as ignoring concerns would be.

The States of Alderney and Neil Harvey MSA are to be unreservedly and wholly commended for their strong stance in calling for a public inquiry.

The response of Guernsey’s Chief Minister, Deputy Le Tocq to this call is, initially, encouraging.

But such an inquiry has to be a fully independent, judge led inquiry

Any inquiry that is carried out under the authority of the States of Guernsey itself, or appointed by them will fail the test of apparent bias, since it was the Guernsey Government itself (i.e the Health and Social Security Department) that was the instigator of the whole sorry mess.

That any tribunal must now ensure the absence of apparent bias is an extremely important constitutional principle on the right to fair hearing that  developed in Guernsey at the beginning of the century in McGonnell’s Case, and is now widely accepted throughout the rest of Europe.

Fortunately, there are  legal and legislative mechanisms that can deal with this, even if they are not often required to be used.

I am sure that the States of Alderney, and the Chief Minister will agree with me that the only way to prevent further damage to the reputation of Guernsey is to grasp the nettle and make sure this is dealt with in a fair, open and transparent matter in order to avoid any such potential criticisms, or allegations of ‘cover up’. And that can only be done by an independent, judge-led inquiry.

I very much look forward to learning whether the proposed inquiry will meet this standard.


Victims of terrorism versus ICANN (round 2)

In an earlier article I wrote about the court case of Ben Haim (& others) -v- Iran (& others) where the successful Claimants (Plaintiffs) were attempting to attach the Iranian, Syrian and (just for good measure) North Korean country code domain names (.IR, .SY and .KP) and wanted ICANN to hand them over, and took it to court to force it.

A DC court rebuffed the attempt stating that while top-level domains might be property (like any other domain name) they weren’t the sort of property that could be garnished.

Well, as I write this in the aftermath of the Sony hack, and what seem to be countermeasures taking North Korean off the Internet entirely, details are slowly emerging that (not entirely unexpectedly, given their historic persistence) the Claimants, or at least one of them, has launched an appeal.

What is mildly interesting is that it’s just one of the Claimants (lead Plaintiff Seth Ben Haim, and just one of the Defendants (Iran). All the Court filing says is, in essence “I appeal”.

You don’t have to be legally qualified to work out that this is a placeholder, designed to ‘stop the clock’. It also allows the Plaintiffs a breathing space so they can work out whether Washington, DC is the best forum to haul ICANN into court.

Even if, as Judge Landreth clearly foreshadows, (cc)TLDs are property, if .COM names can’t be attached in DC, then the Claimant’s may still have some difficulty with attaching TLDs (which after all, are just dotless domain names).

It always puzzled me anyway that this lawsuit was in DC. After all, ICANN is a California corporation, and the California district courts saw the first lawsuit over TLDs back in November of 1999.

Still, no doubt the Federal Appeal Court in DC is as good a place as any.




Aurigny! Time for us to reclaim our name?

It’s actually quite sad.

Ask most people in the Channel Islands who, or what ‘Aurigny‘ is, and they will tell you it is an airline.

And if they happen to live on, or have regular connections with, Alderney, mentioning the name ‘Aurigny’ will often provoke a heated discussion about the state of the lifeline inter-island and UK air services, which appear to have been let wither on the vine, while the Guernsey-government-owned company expands jet services between St Peter Port and London.

There’s a feeling in Alderney that the needs of Guernsey finance moguls for connections to the City) are always taking precedence over the basic needs of ordinary Alderney citizens including the company’s recent experimenting with services to City Airport.

But ‘Aurigny’ is not an airline. The airline’s name is actually ‘Aurigny Air Services’.

‘Aurigny’ is our island’s name, in the original language of its inhabitants (which was called ‘Aurignaise’ ).

‘Aurigny’ and ‘Alderney’ are just two words for the same thing. (“Riduna” is the same thing, in Latin).

Aurigny Air Services was named after the Island when it was founded in the 1960s, because originally it provided inter-island and UK service to and from Alderney, for the benefit of the people of Alderney.

It later merged with Guernsey Airlines, then subsequently moved its HQ to Guernsey, following “nationalisation” — takeover in the early part of the century by the Guernsey Government.

The rise of corporate branding, and the decline of  Island French in the day-to-day lives of the Bailiwick’s inhabitants mean that a lot of people don’t even seem to know that ‘Aurigny’ means ‘Alderney’ For example: a couple of years ago someone sent a letter to me addressed, from France, addressed in French to : ‘M. ROBERTS Nigel, Boîte Postale 65,  Aurigny,  GY9 3JZ’,  Isles Anglo-Normandes.

It was severely delayed.

But not because it was addressed in French. After all, French is the official language of the international postal service).

But because someone in the sorting office thought it should be delivered to the offices of the airline, and not to the P O Box it was addressed to. Referring to the airline company as ‘Aurigny’ is a bit like referring to ‘BA’ simply as ‘British’.

Aurigny (Air Services) does seem to have lost its way where Alderney is concerned.

The current CEO in Guernsey, Mark Darby, is a good guy, who seems genuinely to want the best for all his customers, including Alderney.

But Mr Darby has a major uphill struggle: not only against aging tech (that is, our  beloved Trislanders who, despite the affection we all hold for them should have been replaced by Dorniers or similar 15 years ago) but also a studied indifference from the average man on the Forêt omnibus to the well-being of our Island, which some in Guernsey have liked to refer to in the past as the ‘Cinderella of the Islands’. (In the spirit of inter-island amity I shan’t repeat the well known rejoinder of Alderney’s first elected President, Toby Herivel here).

It’s time we followed the example of other minorities. We should reclaim our  name. Whenever the Guernsey press refer simply to ‘Aurigny’ we should correct them: it’s ‘Aurigny Air Services’

Even more, given the shocking state of the current service provided to Alderney by the Guernsey government airline, we should now demand it remove our name from its brand.

Tell the truth.

It’s no longer ‘Alderney Air Services’ and hasn’t been for over a decade It’s become Guernsey’s air service..

It’s about time the company’s Board and the Chief Minister owned up to this, and re-branded it.

Why not name it .. oh let me think . .   ‘Air Guernesey’ ?


Court judgment: ccTLDs might be property

At the beginning of August I wrote about the long-running saga of terrorists’ victims who are pursuing ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ (specifically, Iran, Syria, and North Korea) through the US courts for damages for the injuries they have suffered.

Several years along that path they managed to obtain Writs of Attachment in the Federal court district in Washington (D.C.) courts ordering that the ccTLDs of those respective countries be seized in part-payment of the damages they are owed.

ICANN, fairly predictably, became involved at this point. It went to Court in DC asking that the Writs be quashed. It appeared to based its argument on a number of points, starting with the theory that TLDs are different from other domain names, and are not property. See my earlier article..

Federal courts apply the law of the State in which they sit, on matters such as asset seizure.

The Court ruled on the 10th November and the full judgment has just become available.

ICANN has been successful in quashing the Writs attaching the TLDs.

However, as any legal observer will tell you, the actual outcome of a case is not that important (except to the winners and losers!). What is important is the legal reasoning; the rationale and the dicta.

In other words, on what legal principles is a judgment made. Does it create new law, for example, which can bind the decisions of future courts (‘binding precedent’). And are there any other legal principles discussed: these can form what are called ‘persuasive precedent’ and/or obiter dicta).

Well, in this case, the outcome seems to turn on fact, rather than any estoteric legal principle.

The Court appears to have found as fact that the domain names that had prospectively been seized by the Plaintiffs (Claimants) had the nature of a contractual right.

What this means for the Plaintiffs is that under the statute law of DC, rights arising under a contract cannot be seized as part of a judgment. This technicality means that the Court did not have to rule whether ccTLDs are property or not: it just had to be satisfied that, if it were property, it was not the sort of property that the relevant law (statute) allows to be seized by a creditor (in D.C.) , which ICANN has fairly easily been able to show.

Other commentators (e.g. the DomainPulse people) have written the court has ruled that ccTLDs are not property. This turns out to be incorrect.

[DomainPulse updated and revised their coverage since this was written and they have now corrected this.]


Interestingly, the Court chose explicitly to say in the judgment that it has not decided that ccTLDs were not property.

On page 8 of the judgment, in footnote 2, the Court says: “The Court notes that judicial decisions have found domain names to be a form of intangible property. See e.g. Kremen v Cohen 337 F.3d 102,1030 (9th Cir 2002). But the conclusion that ccTLDs may not be attached in satisfaction of a judgement under DC law does not mean that they cannot be property.”

This appears to give us a clue that the Court might have considered that ccTLDs are no different to gTLDs and no different to domain names such as SEX.COM (which was the property at issue in Kremen v Cohen).

It simply found that ccTLDs were, like other domain names, in the nature of a contractual right, which under DC law cannot be seized by creditors.

As this was sufficient to dispose of the current application, no binding ruling has been issued, so another court could decide either way. But from the above quote, it’s fairly clear that the court clearly seems to think that Kremen v Cohen would have been relevant if it had had to decide whether TLDs are property.



ICANN: Domain names aren’t property

ICANN is embroiled in an ongoing civil court case between victims of terrorism and the government’s of three countries, in the case of Rubin & ors v Iran and other actionswhich are in federal court in the District of Columbia. (Michele Neylon reporting).

Essentially the form of the current Claim is that ICANN are seeking to quash a court order that requires them to transfer the management of three Top Level Domain names to the successful Claimants in a number of separate actions against the Governments of Iran, Syria and North Korea.

ICANN’s full Application to Quash has been published here.

When analysis ICANN’s argument it appears to be that

(a) domain names, at the top level which consist of two letters only (i.e country-code domain names, or “ccTLDs) cannot be regarded as property;

(b) that even they are property they aren’t the sort of property that can be seized in law;

(c) that even if they are seizable property, they aren’t owned by the countries concerned;

(d) even if they are owned by the countries concerned, they aren’t inside the court’s jurisdiction;

(e) even if they are in the jurisdiction, a US Federal law giving immunity to foreign governments prohibits the seizure;

(f) even if that law doesn’t prohibit seizure, ICANN acting along cannot transfer ownership

(g) forced transfer would destroy the inherent value in the property.

The property question is particularly interesting and relevant, since many ccTLDs have invested major resources in developing their registries, and at least at first blush, ICANN appears to be saying they have no rights whatsoever to the delegation.

Even to raise such an argument appears that it might destabilise the smooth functioning of the Internet’s unique naming system . . .




An Open Letter to the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Justice

Dear Messrs Hague and Grayling

The recent developments in Brunei where the Sultan is introducing a harsh Islamic judicial code have been widely reported, by the BBC among others, and have produced protests world-wide.

It is little known by the general public that the highest Court in the Brunei court system actually sits in London, and is part of the UK judiciary.

It is noteworthy that, originating in Britain’s Imperial past, the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to hear appeals from Brunei has been continuous since then. Brunei-originating cases, once addressed to Her Majesty-in-Council, are now heard by the Privy Council in the name of the Sultan of Brunei.

I feel that the UK must respect European international norms regarding fundamental rights.

The death penalty is inappropriate in all circumstances. To prescribe a penalty of death simply for being gay or for adultery is, in my opinion, (and, I am sure, in the minds of the overwhelming majority of British people) disproportionate in the ultimate extreme.

It  seem very strange for the Privy Council to continue to hear cases from a country that has now developed in a manner that is so far removed from our own 21st Century standards of fair treatment.

I think this needs to change. I therefore call upon the British Government to take action, and to abrogate the agreement whereby a British Court continues its role the highest court in the land of Brunei.


Nigel Roberts LLB, FBCS, 6th May 2014

For further information: telephone Nigel Roberts on 020 7100 4319


Can Data Subject Access rights ever apply to spies?

Data privacy and data protection is something that — on paper — European countries take seriously.

Google has found itself in hot water from time to time. There’s a widely publicised complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner about Facebook.

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, it seems everyone is talking about who knows what about whom!

European Data Protection law also provides for something called Data Subject Access. This may differ slightly from country to country. But it essentially means that you can write to someone who is storing and/or processing personal data about you, and they must send you everything they hold on you in a form that is easily understandable.

In the UK it is implemented by Section 7 of the Data Protection Act.

A small fee is allowed to be charged. It is currently £10 in the UK

The controller must

  • tell you whether any personal data is being processed;
  • given a description of the personal data, the reasons it is being processed, and whether it will be given to any other organisations or people;
  • given a copy of the information comprising the data; and
  • given details of the source of the data (where this is available).

This right is not absolute, of course. There are a number of exceptions (known as exemptions).

It’s very obvious that some data should not be disclosed, particularly where it is about several people, and disclosing it to you will disclose information about someone else.
Medical confidentiality has an impact. So does national security.

Specifically data held for the purposes o the prevention or detection of crime; the capture or prosecution of offenders; and the assessment or collection of tax or duty is exempt from Subject Access.

Data is also exempt from Subject Access for reasons that involve national security or the armed forces.

So on the face of it, GCHQ, MI5, MI6 and “the port office” would appear to be able to do what they like, and store information about you, whether it was obtained by them directly, or was given to them by the NSA.

However, I submit that the true construction carries with it an important implied qualifier: the word “lawfully”.

The right to private and family life guarantee by the constitutions of most European states (with the exception of the UK) and throughout Europe by the EU Charter and the Convention on Rights and Fundamental Freedoms permits privacy to be infringed by the State in certain circumstances.

They are that the infringement is

  • necessary in a democratic society
  • in accordance with law
  • proportionate to the aim to be achieved.

The joint test of necessity, lawfulness and proportionality.

Even if something is necessary, it has to be lawful.

Even if necessary and lawful, it has to be proportionate. (No sledghammers for cracking nuts.)

So, if, theoretically, the State collected all sorts of data about you unlawfully, but that data was sitting there in Government owned computers, I would suggest the national security exemption would not apply, and therefore that data is susceptible to s.7 Subject Access.

Wouldn’t it be something if the courts agreed?






Reflections on ICANN turning 46 in China

I’ve just returned from Beijing, China where ICANN held its 46th International Meeting.

As many of you know, ICANN is a strange and interesting organisation. Part United Nations of the Internet, part International Olympic Committee, part knockabout yah-boo-sucks debating chamber (like the British House of Commons, perhaps with Marilyn Cade in the part of the late Margaret Thatcher), part charitable good cause, part travel club, and a few other things I’ve no doubt overlooked.

But I’m getting the feeling that somehow, in all of this, something fundamental is starting to be overlooked.

When ICANN was founded (and I was — as one of the participants in the US Government’s International Forum on the White Paper — one of ICANN’s founding “members”¹), it was designed, by Ira Magaziner and the rest of us to be a multi-stakeholder, agile, organisation that “co-ordinated” internet naming matters.

That sort of organisation was needed because “internet time” moves at a much quicker pace than normal intergovernmental regulation could hope to keep up with technological development.

But — it seems — ICANN is beginning to do what it should not, and stray into matters of content.  Although some of the more authoritarian governments are attempting to use ICANN as a lever to control content (such objections to .GAY and .HIV), it’s not only from such quarters that the challenges to fundmental rights are coming.

ICANN will have to find a path through this thicket.

It appears to me that new CEO Fadi Chehadé may (and at this point I only say ‘may’) be the right person to do it.

Certainly, it seems to me the celebrity Hollywood style of his predecessor, although highly entertaining would — if allowed to continue — have probably sunk the boat.

Now back from China, I am reminded of an ancient chinese curse:

‘May you live in interesting times’



(¹ I put ‘members’ in quotes becuase, peculiarly, for a non-profit org, it HAS no members).


Stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill

In England, a number of journalists and media industry figures broke the law.

They hacked cellphones and computers. They bribed police officers for stories.

Their behaviour was so egregious that a number of people have already been convicted and jailed, and there are charges still pending against others.

That was wrong. But that conduct was always illegal.

The British Government asked Lord Leveson for a solution to the excesses of journalists.

He said he wanted to regulate print media.He proposed that judges  be allowed to award exemplary damages and full costs against unregulated publishers.

Regulation of the press takes us some way back towards the Star Chamber. What is are proposed are stringent and controversial measures, but even their architecht only envisaged them applying to large and powerful publishers. Not websites (unless they belonged to print publishers).

Last weekend, the proposals were agreed in a rush, without public consultation, and with scant attention to detail.

The result is that they apply to any size of publication.

If there’s more than one author, the content is edited and there’s a business involved, then you must join up to be regulated. Even trade commentators such as DOMAININCITE.COM, for example, would appear to fall under this.

Most blogs aren’t powerful publishing houses. But the would need to be regulated, or face punitive measures if it ended up in court.

The threat of websites being regulated like this was never the purpose of Lord Leveson’s recommendations.

Websites weren’t involved in phone hacking.

There is no evidence that they need to be forced into self-regulation like this.

It is a serious infringement of the right of free-expression that fails the test of necessity and proportionality to make it legal.

If this is not corrected now, some English or Scottish blogger will find him or herself in the middle of an expensive and messy court proceeding that has the likelihood of going all the way to Strasbourg.

Take a few minutes and email Nick Clegg, Harriet Harman, and David Cameron to ask them to back off and leave the Internet out of Leveson.



Why do developers use outdated country lists?

Something’s puzzling me.

The ISO-3166-1 country code list is not a static thing. New countries and territories appear on the list. Others disappear.

In the 20 or so years I’ve been dealing with these things professionally there are many examples. The Aaland Islands (AX) for example, and South Sudan (SS) have appeared. Yugoslavia (YU) and the German Democratic Republic (DD) have disappeared. Guernsey and Jersey (GG and JE) were added to the list in 2006.

Yet many e-commerce websites I see have drop-down lists for “Country” in their address entry fields are missing many of the recent additions to the list.

Leaving aside the fact, that in some circumstances the list is just the wrong thing to use (for example airlines using the list to classify passport details — the ISO list is NOT the same as a list of nationalities), why would any website developer intentionally choose to use a seriously outdated list, when the current list, and announcements as to changes is easily accessible these days from ISO itself who even publish a change-tracking page.

This has real serious economic effects on individuals. Guernsey and Jersey residents often end up paying a surcharge of 20% on goods ordered over the web as a direct result of this

Now, maybe I’m being picky, but I think if you advertise yourselves as specialists in search engineering you ought to know what the correct ISO list contains.

After all, a website’s location and target audience does form part of the myriad inputs to Google’s magical PageRank algorithm, don’t they?

I was on the point of ordering a particular SEO firms service (I won’t mention them to spare their blushes, but I can see their name as I write this).

But when I got to the address form, guess what — the drop down list didn’t include an option for the particular country/territory the organisation I was planning to order the service for. So guess what — that particular SEO firm lost a sale.

Is YOUR site up-t0-date?


PS: By the way, although I just checked that everything that should be there on our own webforms, is,  to prove it,  here’s a little challenge, which will help us in our own quality control.

Now there’ve been some fairly recent changes to the ISO list — and the first person who identifies an instance of a missing country code in any of the webforms on WWW.CHANNELISLES.NET will win a CHANNELISLES.NET USB key (Note: this is a great little device — it’s got masses of storage, it’s in the shape of a real key, and fits on your keyring with your house keys so you always have it with you).

We’ll also offer another USB key for the person who submits the website (any website, anywhere in the world) that has the a drop-down list with the most missing entries.

In both cases we’ll use the latest version of ISO-3166-1 to compare.


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