Prof Philippe Sands and Carl Gardner “counting time” – not an ‘omnishambles’

Philippe Sands is currently on sabbatical, but Professor of Law at UCL. His biography is here.

Philippe is a regular commentator on the BBC and CNN and writes frequently for leading newspapers. He is frequently invited to lecture around the world, and in recent years has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto (2005), the University of Melbourne (2005) and the Universite de Paris I (Sorbonne) (2006, 2007). He has previously held academic positions at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Kings College London and , University of Cambridge and was a Global Professor of Law at New York University from 1995-2003. He was co-founder of FIELD (Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development), and established the programmes on Climate Change and Sustainable Development. He is a member of the Advisory Boards of the European Journal of International Law and Review of European Community and International Environmental Law (Blackwell Press). In 2007 he served as a judge for the Guardian First Book Prize award.

So unsurprisingly when he returned recently from St Elsewhere he was bombarded with messages about this counting time problem. In fact, according to BBC Any Questions last time, it took Prof. Philippe Sands three minutes to work it out, and “there’s no two opinions about it”.

@carlgardner, a Barrister and former Government lawyer, explained recently that it was not easy to work out as first appears:

To be fair to government lawyers (of whom I’ve been one), these time issues can be tricky. It often amazes non-lawyers that there can be confusion about questions like this, but one of the surprising things you learn at law school is that it’s not obvious how you calculate time. Indeed, a whole section of the massive and brilliant law encyclopedia Halsbury’s Laws is devoted to the law of time.

In government you have the added difficulty that your ministerial clients seem obsessed with time, and the room it gives to delay decisions, in contexts where giving precise advice on time is difficult. I’ve advised on many EU law cases where the time-limit for a UK response depended in part on complex rules involving additional days allowed to government that varied according to how long the post was assumed to take between Luxembourg and the national capital. It frustrated me enormously that the only legal advice ministers seemed to be interested in was how I calculated the precise date, and that no one seemed anxious to listen to whether I thought we could win, or in getting on with deciding what if any arguments we’d make. A week or two would go by, then at the next meeting the only question would again be: “Till when do we have?”

Two lawyers who’ve not made an “omnishambles” out of it.

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