If Russia was probably responsible for the attack on Skripal, England should not play in the World Cup

In just over 3 months the World Cup is due to kick off in Moscow with a match between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Like all big sporting competitions the World Cup will be designed to show the host country in as good a light as possible.

Meanwhile in a Salisbury hospital Sergei Skripal and his daughter are fighting for their lives, having been poisoned by a nerve agent; and a Wiltshire police officer who went to help them is also in intensive care.

If Russia is shown to have been responsible it would be grotesque for the England football team to play any part in what the Russian government no doubt hopes will be a propaganda coup. Boris Johnson at first seemed to suggest that the team should not go to Russia at all, but he then “clarified” his remarks to the absurd idea that an appropriate response might be merely for “UK officials and dignitaries” not to attend the competition. “Try to kill our people and we won’t let you have our referees” seemed to be the message.

Participating in a World Cup in Russia was always going to be a deeply uncomfortable affair.

It would mean, for example overlooking:

  • The corruption that very probably won the Russia the right to stage the competition in the first place;
  • Russia’s aggression towards its neighbours in Georgia and Ukraine and its threats towards the Baltic States;
  • Russia’s backing for President Assad in the Syrian civil war, including, as Amnesty put it in 2016, (and it is a tactic that has continued) the “deliberate and systematic targeting of hospitals,” and the use of chemical weapons on civilians in cynical breach of a fraudulent Russian devised agreement to get rid of them. More chemical weapons are being being rained down on Ghouta tonight, along with napalm and cluster bombs. War crime upon war crime, none of which will be punished.
  • The well-documented interference by Russia in the US Presidential elections and probably the Brexit Referendum and many European elections too;
  • The shameless lying and disinformation over the shooting down of the Malaysian flight MH17 by Russian, or at the very least Russian backed. forces in the Eastern Ukraine.
  • The almost routine murder inside Russia of President Putin’s opponents; people such as the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, her colleague Natalia Estemirova or her lawyer Stanislav Markelov, or the bravest and most credible of the opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov.
  • The meticulous conclusion of Mr Justice Robert Owen that Alexander Litvinenko had been murdered in London by the FSB, probably with the knowledge and approval of President Putin.

With that history, it is depressing that we should be playing football with Russia at all. Mr Putin’s crimes are not trivial peccadilloes. They illustrate the behaviour of an amoral government capable of pure evil. But (with the obvious exception of Litvinenko’s murder) most of these atrocities were not perpetrated on British soil. The attempted murders of Skripal and his daughter were.

This was the first use of chemical weapons on British soil (unless, of course, you count Litvinenko’s murder with radioactive polonium). It was – if carried out by Russia – an act of state terrorism. The closest precedent would be the 1984 shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher from the windows of the Libyan Embassy, which led to the severing of diplomatic relations with Libya for more than a decade, but even that incident, a reckless attack on anti-Gadaffi demonstrators, did not involve chemical weapons or the careful planning that the use of such weapons must require.

Of course there is no cast iron proof that Russia was responsible. Official Russian sources have denied it. Putin apologists have become adept over the last ten years or so at casting doubt and confusion whenever Putin is implicated in some new horror, and they will be at it again. Others, generously attributing to the President a sense of honour that he has done little to deserve, will find it hard to believe that he would have the desire to kill a traitor who had been pardoned and exchanged. Maybe. But we are not conducting an attempted murder trial, at any rate not yet, so we do not need to be sure beyond any doubt before deciding whether our participation in the World Cup is appropriate; we simply need to decide who is likely to have been responsible.

There are two possibilities. Either Russia is probably responsible, or it is probably not.

If, by the time the World Cup is due to start, we can honestly say that Russia probably had no responsibility then, distasteful though it may be to play in the competition, the Salisbury attack changes nothing.

But if we think Russia probably used deadly chemical weapons on the streets of Salisbury, are we really so spineless and feeble that even then we will carry on as though nothing has changed? How many Russian exiles to whom we have offered sanctuary need to be irradiated or poisoned before we say enough is enough? Is there any particular number of innocent policemen and bystanders who have to be injured or killed before we stop dancing to the tune of the organ-grinder in the Kremlin?

And although we should remain open to the possibility that Skripal was not targeted by the Russian government, at present all the evidence suggests that that is by far the most likely explanation.

First, you would have to be monumentally trusting of a proven liar, ignorant or just plain stupid to believe that the murders of so many of Putin’s opponents had nothing to do with him. He is plainly capable of ordering murder and using it without scruple as an instrument of policy.

Secondly, nerve agents, we are told by those who know about these things, cannot simply be manufactured in a gangster’s kitchen. Although the ingredients may be relatively easy to obtain, in practice they require sophisticated laboratories, suggesting the involvement of a government. Russia, obviously, has the capability to make, transport and use them. Moreover, Mr Putin’s formative years were with the KGB who notoriously used unusual poisons such as curare as murder weapons. At one time they even experimented with new poisons on prisoners in the Lubyanka. Poisoning, you might say, is in Mr Putin’s professional DNA.

Thirdly, there is an obvious motive for the murder of Skripal: he was regarded as a traitor. His death, the more lingering, painful and horrifying the better, would send out a stark message to any other agent tempted by idealism or money to reveal Putin’s secrets. The simultaneous attempt to murder his daughter serves only to emphasise such a message. Putin’s widely reported remarks yesterday, while visiting a cake factory of all places, that “those who serve us with poison will eventually swallow it and poison themselves,” may have been just a general warning, but they also make literal sense. Perhaps we should take them at face value. Occasionally even Putin may mean what he says.

Fourthly, state sanctioned murders overseas are explicitly permitted by Russian law (not that illegality would ever be much of an impediment). Under a 2006 law, the Russian President is permitted to order the killing of “terrorists and extremists,” a term which includes, for example, “those slandering the individual occupying the post of president of the Russian Federation.”

There will be many, and not just football fans, who will say that the English football team should play. They will say that we have played sport with nastier regimes. It is true that if we are over-choosy about whom we play with we would soon run out of opponents. But we have never yet played games with a hostile foreign power that has repeatedly sought to carry out murder with chemical weapons in our own streets. It is a precedent best avoided.

The Government itself can do no more than cajole and discourage. It cannot legally stop individuals from travelling to Russia if they want to do so. So it must be the footballers themselves, or the FA on their behalf, who stop the national team from participating.

Some will say it is unfair to expect footballers to make a gesture that will, in itself, achieve very little. It is certainly true that in itself a boycott by the England will not achieve very much, and of course there are other measures that ought be taken: sanctions could be extended, and consideration could, for example, be given to tightening aspects of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill currently going through Parliament, as suggested by Richard Benyon MP.

Yet the fact that a World Cup boycott would achieve little is beside the point: going to the World Cup is also a gesture, and, if we accept Russia’s probable guilt, it is a gesture that will achieve a great deal. It will demonstrate our pitiful weakness and cowardice. It will demonstrate to Mr Putin that there is virtually no behaviour of his, no crime, not even serial killing with chemicals on British soil, that we are not prepared to forgive and forget in the interests of one of our national football teams. It would be hard to come up with a more embarrassing act of national humiliation.

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Source: http://barristerblogger.com/2018/03/08/russia-probably-responsible-attack-skripal-england-not-play-world-cup/


Sergei Skripal: The Shadow Home Secretary speaks out.

Today’s Diane Abbott interview with Mishal Husain in full and unedited.

She could be the next Home Secretary.

Listen here at 2.41.15



What do you think of what we’ve heard so far about this case?


Well, we, it’s important not to speculate without knowing everything about it, but it does bear a striking similarity to the death of Lityenko (sic), who was poisoned by the Russian state, and before that Markov who was killed bizarrely by somebody stabbing him with an umbrella with poison on the tip and again that was put to the Russian state and the problem with these things is that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.


And the similarities to the Litvinyenko case [inaudible] is the identity of them in the fact that they’d both had been Russian agents & the fact that unknown substances have been involved. Now, if it is established, as was the case with Litvinyenko, that it goes back to the Russian state, what should our Government do?


Well first of all we have to have confidence that these cases are investigated very thoroughly, as you know there has been a major journalistic investigation which reveals that there’s fourteen deaths or suicides connected to the Russian state but all of those cases have been closed, so in the first instance we need to be assured that these cases are being investigated properly


Do you want them all reopened? You’re referring to the Buzzfeed investigation we heard about earlier.


No, I don’t want them reopened but the investigation took place over two years it shows a disturbing pattern and certainly I will be writing to Amber Rudd to say that if it does prove to be the case that the Russian state is involved in this latest death, what assurances can she give both about the rigour of the investigation and where we go from here. I don’t like defaulting to a Red menace analysis, but we can’t allow London and the Home Counties to become a kind of killing field for the Russian state and its enemies.


But I’m not clear about what you would be, you must have a view about if you were in her job what you would do in this scenario, so say the Sergei Skripal case is another Litvinyenko, and it is traced to the Russian state, what would you do?


What would I do? What would, what I would do is first of all find out the facts and I think it’s really dangerous to speculate.


But say the facts have been established what should the British government do? We heard from a former ambassador a few minutes ago who said that the cupboard’s bare in terms of the fact that we already have sanctions in place over Ukraine, we already have individual sanctions so what would you do?


I think the key thing is the guarantee of a really through investigation and the Buzzfeed investigation alleged that the Metropolitan Police did not investigate these things with sufficient thoroughness and apparently closed down the cases prematurely.


Which is why I asked you if you wanted all of them reopened.


I don’t, you can’t, it’s not realistic to say you can reopen the cases …


How can you establish the facts in the 14 cases other than Litvinyenko, if you don’t reopen them all?


It’s not realistic to say you can reopen the cases, it is realistic to say that if the facts show that this was another operation by the Russian state and knowing the context of the very disturbing deaths and suicides that the government must give assurances ‘cos people want to know we can’t have this, these tit-for-tat killings in London and the South-East.


But some of these other cases that you are referring to that Buzzfeed looked at, I mean they included people who jumped in front of trains for example, I mean two people where that happened, they include others where police looked into them and concluded that the deaths were of natural causes


But if you read the Buzzfeed investigation thoroughly you’ll find that what they say, and that that’s what they’re saying, is the state, the Russian state is very clever at making what are actual hit jobs look like suicide. But as I’m saying, I’m not saying reopen the cases but I am saying the circumstances of this particular case are disturbing and we need to know more and I’ll be writing to Amber Rudd for assurances.


Diane Abbott, thank you.

The post Sergei Skripal: The Shadow Home Secretary speaks out. appeared first on BarristerBlogger.

Source: http://barristerblogger.com/2018/03/06/sergei-skripal-shadow-home-secretary-speaks/

May Fox Davis: The McKenzie Friends of Negotiation

Good Morning! May Fox Davis, McKenzie Friends, David Davis speaking, how may I help you?”

Oh hello, my name’s Mr Britain and I want a divorce.”

Ho! Ho! Ho! That’s exactly what we specialise in. It should be very straightforward.”

Oh good, because I went to a solicitor and she got me a bit worried. She said it could be a rather messy business.”

Ho! Ho! Ho! Solicitors, eh? They love to make things complicated. Don’t worry it will be very simple. We should be able to take her to the cleaners. She needs you more than you need her. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Oh good. I don’t want to pay her a penny.”

Ha! Ha! Ha! Very good Mr Britain! We’ll make sure of that.”

Do I have grounds?”

Everyone has grounds.”

I suppose she can be a bit irritating at times.”

I’ll put down cruelty and desertion. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

But she hasn’t deserted me and I can’t really say she’s cruel. Won’t that upset her pointlessly?”

We are in this to win Mr Britain. We hold all the cards.”

Isn’t there another way?”

The only other way is for you to book into a cheap hotel in Brighton with another woman, or better still a man. It’s rather old fashioned; a trick from the 1950s, but you know what they say about the law? It never really changes.  Ho! Ho! Ho! I can put you in touch with Mr Johnson, a highly reputable professional gentleman who will happily play the part of a co-Respondent. That’s who we usually employ. For our lady clients anyway.”

OK, I’ll stick with cruelty and desertion.”

Very sensible. The matrimonial home is as good as ours in fee simple in perpetuity. She’ll be lucky to get an entailed copyhold interest. In escrow.”


It’s something lawyers say that I picked up. What it means doesn’t matter. I’m here to take the pressure off you.”

*** *** ***

6 Months Later

*** *** ***

Ho! Ho! Ho! Mr Britain? It’s David Davis of May Fox Davis, McKenzie Friends, here.”

What’s so funny?”

Ho! Ho! Ho!”


We need to talk about money.”

Yes. How much is she going to pay me?”

Ho1 Ho! Ho! This isn’t about her paying you, it’s about you paying me. £15,000 plus £20,000 on account if you want me to continue to be your friend.”

How much?!”

We’re excellent value because we’re not VAT registered. And I can tell you that the financial negotiations are going swimmingly.”

Oh good. Has she agreed to give me the house?”

Ho! Ho! Ho! No, but she will. She has no choice. I’ve sent the court our certificate of readiness.”

What does that mean?”

It means we’re ready to go to a hearing. We have to do that to put pressure on her.”

But I’m not ready! I haven’t even filled in this wretched Form E, and to be honest I could do with some help on it.”

Forms, forms forms. Don’t worry about those. The judge will understand.”

When’s the hearing?”

March 29th.”

But that’s in less than 4 weeks! Has she told us what she wants?”

Ho! Ho! Ho!”

You can’t just keep saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Ha! Ha! Ha! You don’t need to worry. Actually she’s asking for a lump sum from you but don’t you worry, she’ll cave in long before we get to court. It’s just a negotiating trick. She needs to stay on good terms with you because of the children.”

But she’s got the children anyway.”

Yes, but I’ve threatened that you won’t see them unless she gives you the house and pays you a lump sum. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Surely you shouldn’t use my kids as bargaining chips?”

It’s just reality I’m afraid, Mr Britain. She obviously wants to get aggressive, but it won’t work. She’ll see sense soon. It’s a great shame she’s turning so nasty. Very fortunate you’ve got me on your side.”

Does she want anything else?”

She wants you to pay her a lump sum of £1,000,000, she wants three-quarters of your pension and she wants you to pay her £50,000 per annum for the rest of her life.”

But you said she would have to pay me a lump sum?”

Did I? That was just a rough estimate. It wasn’t a prediction, just a possible scenario for consideration.”

What does the law say?”

Ho! Ho! Ho! Mr Britain. The law. Ha! Ha! Ha! Very good. Seriously, if you wanted to know the law you should have gone to a lawyer. I’m a McKenzie friend, my job is to help you negotiate a settlement. And to befriend you, obviously. You don’t need a lawyer you need a skilled and friendly negotiator. That’s me.”

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound rude. You’ve been a great help. I don’t know how I could have got here without you. What are you asking her for?”

Ho! Ho! Ho! I can see you’re not used to this negotiating game! The whole point is, you mustn’t reveal your hand too soon. Once she knows what we want we lose our trump card.”

Okaaay, I sort of see that, I suppose. But if I promise not to tell her, what do you think is likely to happen at the hearing?”

She’ll cave in, of course.”

Oh good.”

*** *** ***

2 Weeks Later

*** *** ***

I’ve agreed she can have the house.”

What! You said I would keep the house!”

Don’t worry, not have it for ever, just live in it. We had no option really. She has the kids. It’s just for a transitional period. Until they’re grown up.”

But where am I going to live?”

You can rent a bedsit somewhere. And the big plus for you in that is that she won’t be able to invite any friends into your bedsit. It will be yours. You decide who comes and who goes, you have the keys, she doesn’t. It’s a win win. Basically you’ll have everything you ever dreamt of.”

Do I even get a share in the house?”

Of course. That’s one of the technical details we need to negotiate still.”

I’d like it split 50:50. That seems fair.”

Her solicitor is asking for her to get 80%.”

That’s outrageous.”

It is indeed. But of course we mustn’t tell them what you want yet.”

Why not?”

Because she’s on the point of cracking. We have to keep our cards close to our chest.”


Mrs May, our senior McKenzie friend will write them a letter next week. She’s very good at that sort of thing.”

I’ll look forward to that.”

*** *** ***

One Week Later

*** *** ***

I’ve got a copy of Mrs May’s letter.”

Good. Does it say what we’re asking for.”

It couldn’t be clearer. 5 things.”

Namely …?”

I’ll read the relevant bits to you. They make everything crystal clear.

1. My client seeks an agreement that’s fair and workable.

  1. My client seeks an agreement that’s workable and fair.

  2. My client wants to pay no more than the correct amount, but no less either.

  3. My client wants to pay no less than the correct amount, but no more either.

  4. My client wants an agreement on the house that is fair to everybody.”

So what are we actually asking for?”

Ho! Ho! Ho! I don’t think you can spell it out more clearly than that.”

To be continued at the very reasonable rate of £250.00 per hour (no VAT & cheaper than many solicitors) until the penny drops and May Fox Davis are sacked.

The post May Fox Davis: The McKenzie Friends of Negotiation appeared first on BarristerBlogger.

Source: http://barristerblogger.com/2018/03/02/may-fox-davis-mckenzie-friends-negotiation/

The proposed ban on circumcision in Iceland raises some uncomfortable questions about our own law

News that the Icelandic Parliament is to consider a Bill to ban male circumcision has sparked outrage across Europe, amongst Jewish, Muslim and even Roman Catholic leaders. The English translation of the relevant part of the Bill reads:

[Anyone found] removing sexual organs [from any child or woman], in whole or in part, shall be jailed for six years.”

A spokesman for Milah UK, a Jewish group which campaigns to protect the right for parents to circumcise their children said:

Jewish male neonatal circumcision – known as brit milah – is a non-negotiable element of Jewish identity, common to Jews from all backgrounds and respected in liberal democratic countries. For a country such as Iceland, that considers itself a liberal democracy to ban it, thus making sustainable Jewish life in the country impossible, is extremely concerning.”

Although the number of Jews in Iceland is tiny – about 250 – there are serious campaigns to ban male circumcision in other parts of Europe, especially Scandinavia. The issues involved are far from straightforward.

If there is one thing that unites left and right and what the law regards as “right-thinking people” it is that female genital mutilation (“FGM”) is a cruel and abhorrent practice that needs to be stamped out by any means possible. There is no question that millions of girls, mainly in Africa, have been subjected to the practice which, as is now well known, often involves the ritual cutting of the clitoris or labia and sometimes the sewing up of a girl’s genital organs. Whatever the reason for treating them in this way, whether it is to control their sexual desire or to mark their coming of age, or for any other reason it is generally regarded as an indefensible practice.

No discussion of Islam in Britain is complete without a denunciation of the religion for encouraging FGM (even though it is also practised by people of other religions, it is not practised by most Muslims and has been denounced by the Muslim Council of Britain). The belief that British Muslims are secretly mutilating girls on a huge scale has crept into the national consciousness. In fact, as I wrote last year, there is no reliable evidence that in Britain girls are being mutilated on a large scale at all.

By contrast, male circumcision – for gender balance we might as well call it male genital mutilation (“MGM”) – is widely practised but much less criticised. There are no laws against it and if it is mentioned at all in discussions on the issue it is usually to draw a sharp distinction with FGM. Male circumcision, it is asserted, brings health benefits, FGM does not. The discussion is at an end.

Yet as the medical ethicist Brian Earp has been pointing out with great lucidity for years, there are very many parallels between FGM and MGM. What is more, although the worst types of FGM are far nastier than male circumcision, there are some types that are much less invasive than the removal of the male foreskin. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, from Re B & G [2015] EWFC 3:

Circumcision of the male (from the Latin circumcidere to cut round) is the removal of some, or all, of the prepuce (foreskin), the retractable fold of skin that surrounds and covers the glans of the penis, so as to expose the glans. Circumcision involves the removal of a significant amount of tissue, creates an obvious alteration to the appearance of the genitals and leaves a more or less prominent scar around the circumference of the penis. Apart from the removal of the foreskin, and sometimes of the frenulum, the ligament that connects the foreskin to the glans, the genitals are left intact.

It can readily be seen that although FGM of WHO Types I, II and III are all very much more invasive than male circumcision, at least some forms of Type IV, for example, pricking, piercing and incising, are on any view much less invasive than male circumcision.”

The type of “less invasive” type of “FGM” to which Munby P. was referring does not necessarily leave any visible damage or scar tissue, or create any long term physical interference with bodily or sexual function. It is described by the anti-FGM campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who herself underwent a considerably nastier form of genital cutting) thus:

The girl is held down, her legs pushed apart and a needle is used to prick her clitoris. The incision is similar to a finger prick test for diabetes, blood comes out and the girl is considered ‘cleansed’. Often there is a ritual with a little party to celebrate the procedure.”

It’s certainly not very pleasant, but even in the view of Hirsi Ali it is arguably not “mutilation,” although it is “done to symbolise mutilation.”

Although there is some doubt over whether such “symbolic mutilation” is in fact a crime in this country, the likelihood is that it is. Under S.1 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 the criminal offence is committed whenever someone

excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of a girl’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris.” (There are a number of exceptions that we do not need to go into here)

The doubt arises because there is some question over whether a small symbolic nick amounts to “mutilation,” as required by the Section. It has been doubted in Family Proceedings1, but an identically worded Australian statute was held to cover a cut which was undetectable by experts and left no scar tissue2. Even if it is not expressly covered by the 2003 Act, it would (at least in my view) probably amount to an assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

So we have an uneasy situation in which even the slightest symbolic cut to a girl is probably criminal, while a much more substantial cut to a boy is permitted.

When the equivalence between FGM and male circumcision is pointed out, the almost inevitable reply is:

“Ah, but FGM has no health benefits, male circumcision does.”

If the case for allowing the circumcision of young boys depended on its health benefits it really would be on the way out.

The supposed health benefits of male circumcision are very dubious. The main (and so far as I am aware the only) national paediatric organisation endorsing the practice for health reasons is the American Academy of Paediatrics which says:

“… the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and … the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.”

There is indeed some weak evidence that circumcised infants are less likely to develop urinary tract infections, but UTIs are not common in boys anyway and usually pretty easily treated when they occur. A theoretical reduction in the risk from a not particularly common, usually mild and easily treated condition is an almost laughably absurd justification for mutilating children. In any case, there is also some evidence that such infections are actually “strongly associated” with the circumcision itself. One Israeli study, for example, concluded that:

Ritual Jewish circumcision as practised in Israel may be a predisposing factor for UTI during the 12-day period following that procedure.”

As for the risk of penile cancer, it is a rare disease, and all but unheard of in children. With a rate of only 1 in 100,000 “person years” globally, it is less common than male breast cancer. Should adult men wish to have themselves circumcised in order to offer some degree of protection against a cancer that hardly any of them would get anyway that is of course up to them. Funnily enough hardly any adult does. It is certainly not a good reason for performing prophylactic surgery on healthy children.

The AAP’s view on the medical benefits of circumcision are not widely shared amongst doctors in other countries. The BMA describes the evidence of health benefits as equivocal, and advises doctors that

The evidence concerning health benefit from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification for doing it.”

The Dutch medical association KNMG has been even clearer:

There is no convincing evidence that circumcision is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene. Partly in the light of the complications which can arise during or after circumcision, circumcision is not justifiable except on medical/therapeutic grounds.”

But surely, male circumcision provides some protection against contracting HIV, doesn’t it? Yes, possibly. But we need to be very cautious. The studies supporting the hypothesis were conducted in Africa where HIV is largely spread through heterosexual sex, and it is impossible to extrapolate these findings from Africa to Western Europe or Britain where it is more often spread by gay sex. There is very little evidence that circumcision provides any protection to HIV transmission via anal sex, for example. And even if it did, it does not necessarily follow that it has any value as a public health measure. Men who are circumcised may have a slightly lower risk of acquiring HIV, but they may compensate for that by being more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour. The issues are beyond the scope of this blog, but interested readers could do worse than start with Brian Earp’s thoughts on the subject here.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that circumcision does provide some modest protection against acquiring the HIV virus. That still does not begin to justify the forced circumcision of children too young to consent and too young to be sexually active. Why should boys be prevented from deciding the matter for themselves when old enough to do so?

In any case, even if there were some health benefits, and even if they outweighed the risks, any cost/benefit analysis also has to take into account the loss of function of a normal foreskin. It is not simply a “flap of skin” that can be cut away with no consequences. It is “primary erogenous tissue necessary for normal sexual function.” Indeed, historically one of the main non-religious justifications for circumcision was precisely because it was believed to reduce the temptation to masturbate by making the practice less appealing. The somewhat lloopy but extraordinarily influential Corn Flakes inventor J.H. Kellog advocated a number of cures for the “solitary vice” (apart from the obvious one of eating Corn Fllakes), including “binding the parts” and a “cage to enclose the organs,” but if these failed:

A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, …. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anæsthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”

(As an aside he also suggested an even more extraordinary “male infibulation” for dealing with erections:

It consists in the application of one or more silver sutures in such a away as to prevent erection. The prepuce, or foreskin, is drawn forward over the glans, and the needle to which the wire is attached is passed through from one side to the other. After drawing the wire through, the ends are twisted together, and cut off close. It is now impossible for an erection to occur, and the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice.”)

Some men might be quite happy with circumcision, others less so. But it should no more be for others to decide to remove a boy’s erogenous tissue than it is for them to decide to remove that of a girl.

Supporting the practice of male circumcision on the grounds that it confers health benefits is in any case a dangerous argument. What if it turned out that female circumcision also protected against HIV? Would opponents of FGM then turn round and argue – as the WHO argues in the case of male circumcision – for a campaign to promote FGM across Africa, ir indeed for a campaign to promote it in Britain?

There have not been many investigations, but the opposite hypothesis that FGM may increase the risks of HIV has been tested. It sounds plausible but in fact it is unproven, and awkwardly, a study of Kenyan women by US statistician Rosemary Kinuthia found a significant statistical association between women who had had FGM and a reduced risk of HIV infection. As she put it (I am no statistician but there may be a hint of the correlation = causation fallacy here): “the results indicated that the practice of FGM turned out to reduce the risk of HIV.” A separate 2009 study (also on Kenyan women) found that “women who had had FGC and an older first-union partner have lower odds of being HIV positive than women with an older first-union partner but without FGC,” although it found that the opposite was the case with women who had a “younger first union partner.”

Let’s test the “infant circumcision is justified on health grounds” argument by a little thought experiment. Let’s apply it to FGM. If it could be demonstrated – and it is not totally unimaginable – that, say, removing the clitoral hood of young girls resulted in a somewhat lower risk of them developing HIV as adults, would that justify the procedure? Would it then be right to say of your daughter:

Let’s be on the safe side and give her the snip. Of course there may be some minor changes in her sexual sensitivity when she grows up, but I don’t suppose she’ll mind. After all we know what’s in her best interest. She’ll thank us for it when she’s old enough to understand.”

You only need to state the argument to see how ridiculous it is.

The case for allowing circumcision cannot depend on medicine. It depends on the argument that a tolerant and liberal society must allow its citizens a wide freedom to practise a fundamental part of their religion. The question is whether the argument for tolerance trumps that of the rights of the child.

This is uncomfortable territory for both sides of the argument. Disagreeing with a practice is not in itself a good reason to make it criminal. Criminalising a section of society for practising their religion is an extraordinarily dangerous road down which to travel. On the other hand, I can see no obvious reason why male circumcision should be legal when apparently less harmful types of female genital cutting, also done for religious reasons that seem obscure to non-believers, are criminal.


1Barnet LBC v. M (November 10th 2016), HHJ Meyer

2R v A2; R v KM; R v Vaziri (No. 2) [2015] NSWSC 1221

The post The proposed ban on circumcision in Iceland raises some uncomfortable questions about our own law appeared first on BarristerBlogger.

Source: http://barristerblogger.com/2018/02/19/proposed-ban-circumcision-iceland-raises-uncomfortable-questions-law/

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