Impressions of Parliament

traitors-gateLast week, IP Draughts (together with his colleagues Matthew Harris and Vicki Salmon) gave oral evidence to a House of Lords Public Bill Committee. Details of that event can be found in the previous posting on this blog.

There is more work to do, as the committee has asked us to provide written comments on all the drafting proposals on the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill that have been made by others, as well as deal with some further questions that members of the committee have raised. We need to get those comments in by Wednesday evening, to meet a formal closing date for submissions.

Rather than focus on the substance of the Bill, this posting will give IP Draughts’ impressions of appearing as a witness in Parliament.

The only other Parliament that IP Draughts has spent time in is the New Zealand one, which he had a guided tour of, last year. By comparison the UK one is much larger. We came in through the ancient Westminster Hall, in which Henry VIII held his coronation banquet, and in which Sir (later St) Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Charles I were (at different times) tried and sentenced to death.

corridorCommittee Room 2 of the UK Parliament is at the end of a long corridor of committee rooms, most of which seemed to be in use when we were there. There were crowds of people outside some of the rooms, and large TV screens listing the day’s events. Fortunately, we had an experienced guide in the form of Law Society public affairs representative (and KCL law graduate), Iana Vidal, so we didn’t need to worry about finding our way.

Waiting outside our committee room, IP Draughts was pleasantly surprised to meet some of the committee members. The chairman, Lord Saville, made a point of coming out and briefly chatting to the three of us who were due to give evidence. Iana told us this was rare, in her experience of Parliamentary committees. After the hearing, we again spoke to some of the committee members.

Some readers may have seen Parliamentary committees on television, and perhaps may have noticed that some hearings are held in plain rooms with modern furniture and abstract art on the walls, while others are in traditional Victorian rooms with wood panelling. Our committee room (and, IP Draughts assumes, all of the committee rooms nearby) was of the latter kind.

Committee room 4, rather than 2, but similar in style

Committee room 4, rather than 2, but they are similar in style

IP Draughts was struck by how intimate the space felt, compared with how it looks on TV. It was well lit, both by electric lights and by leaded windows that overlooked a grey River Thames. It felt well-designed for its purpose, and more conducive to discussion than many court rooms.

The members of the committee have a variety of backgrounds, but are all of mature years. As well as a patent attorney, in the form of Baroness Bowles, there was a current IP Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, and a former IP Minister, Baroness Wilcox. The chairman, Lord Saville, is a retired Supreme Court justice. Lord Plant, who spoke briefly, is a professor of jurisprudence and political philosophy, though his interests seem to lie more on the philosophy side than on law. Other members of the committee seemed to have had less direct involvement with IP or the law, though Lord Lucas clearly has some direct experience of IP threats and how they were dealt with by the regulatory authorities.

The hearing itself was, overall, interesting and stimulating. At first, IP Draughts found it difficult; later he started to enjoy it. Their lordships weren’t trying to catch us out, or belittle us, and seemed genuinely interested in our replies.

The tone of the proceedings was polite, conversational, and yet concise and focussed. Reading back through the transcript, IP Draughts felt that both grillers and grillees mostly kept  to the topic at hand. He has learnt a little about the skills of political debate, or at least the polite version that is conducted in the House of Lords.


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Filed under Intellectual Property, Legal policy

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