A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: Law

A Pleb by Any Other Name

A German-British dual national changed her name by deed poll to give herself the name Silia Valentina Mariella Gräfin von Fürstenstein. Armed with a passport and presumably enough ancillary documentation to cosh an elephant (or at least a German bureaucrat), the woman attempted to have her decision acknowledged back in Germany. She was rebuffed, however, on the grounds that the surname contained an aristocratic moniker, and this decision has now been upheld by the German Federal Court.

In Germany, even marginally unusual names can be a difficult prospect at times, decisions by the European courts occasionally drag the country into the past. Double-barrelled surnames are of particular contention, although some ten years ago the European Court of Justice indicated that Germany cannot reject the names of fellow Europeans as accepted in their country of birth.

Interestingly then, it seems the same doesn’t hold true for persons attempting to game the system by changing their names abroad. The court’s refusal to acknowledge Frau Gräfin von Fürstenstein’s name draws on a law dating from the Weimar Republic which, in the name of equality, abolished noble titles, at once turning them into regular surnames and preventing their being awarded in future.

So quite why it should be a problem for such surnames to be invented, rather than awarded, defies all logic. Surely acting in such a way is entirely counter to the whole purpose of the law. If your precious countess is no longer a countess, but no one else can call themselves countess, then that title becomes special again. If you really want to wipe out the nobility, then there’s no better weapon than the disdain of ubiquity. Florian König is no more a king than a flower, and I’m sure the courts wouldn’t have raised any objections had the fair lady changed her name to Silia König. But to call herself a countess? The cheek!

Although Silia would have recourse to defer the matter to the European Court, it would unlikely provide any succour in this instance, as Peter Mark Emanuel Graf von Wolffersdorff Freiherr von Bogendorff previously discovered. The German state’s sworn aim to provide equality for all German citizens before the law would apparently be endangered by allowing a pleb to change their name to look like it were an aristocratic title. This honourable goal, enshrined in Article 109 of the Weimar constitution, is fast approaching its hundredth anniversary. Using that as an excuse to prevent little people changing their names screams of hypocrisy writ large. If the alleged goal is to burn down the palace of prestige, couldn’t we find some more effective methods than matches? A compromise that lasts a century isn’t conciliatory, it’s a full-blown concession. In comparison, just over the border in Austria, the same noble goal was managed at a stroke by having all noble titles expunged. That decision has seen support at the level of the European Courts even today when trying to ‘import’ noble titles from Germany.

More than a century on and Germany is still ostensibly waiting for its noble titles to go extinct, while the courts effectively defend their right to be worn and not to be diluted. If we’re really to put an end to the stigma of nobility, Germany needs to progress beyond the compromises of a century ago and offer something recognisably approaching equality before the law. The law claims to be blind, but behind closed doors it seems it still wears a monocle.

[Photo by Cederic X on Unsplash]

At least, so you could be forgiven for believing. Taking photos of buses can get you in some trouble these days. Perhaps now the British government would think twice about stepping in to prevent their own tourists from suffering judicial heavy-handedness. Even snapping a bobby in London could land you up to 10 years, under Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. You can see how important that “Counter” part in the title was felt to be; if they’d left it out you’d never be quite sure which way to interpret the act. Fortunately there are still some people willing to stand up for common sense. Nevertheless, the UK government policy seems clear. Whilst UK citizens have to accept being the people most spied upon by their government, the latter is taking every advantage to make sure the cameras only point one way. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The Future of File-Sharing

Moses and the Eleventh Commandment

The war against file-sharing that currently rages primarily over the Internet will ultimately be lost. That’s my prediction. I can’t support this argument with any authority, being no expert in the fields of law, politics or technology, but instead make my statement on the basis of many years’ observation from the wilderness. But the trends all point to this being the case. File-sharing has become a mainstay of this new generation, a fact which has forced most corporations and organisations to rethink their strategies and come up with ways to stem the tide. We have already seen many changes in this direction, such as the explosion of digital content that is now available online from legitimate sources. But in addition to this carrot, the war is also being waged with a stick, as organisations set out to have legislation passed to clamp down on file-sharing activities, and new technologies are created to lock down digital content and prevent its spread. So what will the future bring?

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Quiet Moments

It’s been a full month since I last posted anything, which is a little too infrequent even for my liking. A combination of holidays, downtime and general idleness is to blame, but there are a few posts in the draft box which never quite got finished, and maybe one or two new things will crop up in the coming days. Also going to give the WPPA plugin a bigger trial and add a few more photos from around and abouts.

In the meantime, here’s something that’s been bugging me for a while. According to the UK’s highway code, and possibly many others, a vehicle overtaking a cyclist should allow the same distance as when overtaking a car, given the possibility that the cyclist might fall over, estimated at 2.0m or some such. But doesn’t that leave many cycle paths in the country technically in breach of this convention?

Sarah’s Law is no Megan’s Law

As part of the British government’s scheme to tackle sex offenders, Home Secretary John Reid is introducing a raft of new measures for the further protection of children from known paedophiles. Dubbed “Sarah’s Law”, after Sarah Payne who was murdered in 2000 by a repeat offender. Fears that the law would provide powers akin to those in the United States guaranteed by “Megan’s Law”, which had the potential to drive sex offenders underground, have been assuaged by the limited scope of its provisions. The new measures include a voluntary drug treatment, often cited as ‘chemical sterilisation’ in the media, as well as allowing parents to register their concern with the police should anyone be in a position to have unsupervised access to their children.

Yet these measures principally concern the prospect of repeat offences. The cases which sparked such legislation being called for in the first place so incensed the public on account of their being committed by known paedophiles. These measures, however, do not offer much in the way of dealing with the prevention of first time sex offences relating to children. Indeed, as others have said, these measures would also have done nothing to prevent Sarah Payne’s murder by a stranger, the very case which provoked calls for a change in the law.

Any attempt to the tackle the issue of paedophilia must of course require some heavy and uncomfortable acknowledgements on society’s part. Paedophilia is contrary to the social and cultural mores of the country, yet in a population of millions it must be accepted that there is a statistical probability for some individuals to have tendencies deemed unacceptable in their community. If this fact is not accepted, the problem can never be dealt with. ‘Voluntary sterilisation’ goes some way to offering a solution for those affected, to get their own issues under control. It was not a million years ago that homosexuality was deemed anti-social and indeed illegal; its suppression did not lead to its eradication, however. Whilst there is no intention for ethical comparison here, the fact is that paedophilia must firstly be given due acknowledgement if it is to be properly understood and neutralised. That is not to suggest there can be a cureall solution. But the focus can be shifted, from preventing reoffenders striking again, to suppressing potential offenders in the first instance.

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