Hanged on a comma: drafting can be a matter of life and death

Some tweets today about the US definition of treason brought this old blog post to mind. It seems that the US legislative drafters followed the English definition but avoided the problem that arose in the Casement case.

IP Draughts

Sir Richard Sir Richard

The news that Britain’s fourth-richest man, Sir Richard Branson, is a tax exile and has been for 7 years (which presumably means that he claims to be domiciled abroad as well as resident abroad, for tax purposes) prompts a line of enquiry that leads indirectly to Sir Roger Casement, who was hanged as a traitor to Britain in 1916, and on to a question of interpretation that depended on a comma. [Heraldry alert: several knights of the realm feature in this story.]

Sir Richard’s public persona is not to everyone’s taste.  He left school at 16 and consorted with rock stars.  He has promoted himself and his businesses in a very un-British way.

Sir George Sir George

And yet his family background is far from bohemian. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all barristers.  His grandfather, Sir George Branson, eventually became a High Court judge and a Privy…

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