The Chewbacca Defence

Readers outside Manchester may not have heard of Nick Freeman. He’s a defence lawyer known as ‘Mr Loophole’ for his ability to get people acquitted of motoring offences on obscure legal technicalities. He’s something of a celebrity up here and has defended footballers and supermodels. Wikipedia includes highlights of his career:

  • A motorcyclist was acquitted of a 132 mph speeding charge when Freeman quoted case law from 1922.
  • Freeman ‘defended a businessman who had crashed his car and was taken to hospital seriously injured’, and who was over the drunk-drive limit, and was acquitted as ‘the relevant legislation says that the blood must be taken by someone who is not associated with the driver’s care. In this case, it was taken by a surgeon directly involved, and so the man was acquitted.’
  • Caprice Bourret – Freeman claimed the model had a urinary tract infection, and that she was affected by the drugs she was taking. Banned for 12 months.
  • Jimmy Carr – cleared of using a mobile phone while driving at Harrow Magistrates Court after Freeman argued that Carr had used the dictation setting of his iPhone to record a joke as he drove and that using the phone for such a purpose was not illegal under current law.
  • Steve McFadden – who ‘had a remarkable capacity for drink’ and was examined by a police surgeon, who had drunk the equivalent of nine double vodkas, and was found ‘for all intents and purposes to be quite sober.’ McFadden was banned for 18 months, which is a fairly lenient sentence for the amount of alcohol in his blood.

He appears to have stepped out of a Carl Hiaasen novel. In fact one of Hiaasen’s books features a corrupt lawyer who is trying to rationalise his decision to blackmail a congressman. ‘One of Mordecai’s former classmates had become famous touting himself as ‘Doctor D.U.I.’… what was worse: shaking down a sleazy politician, or putting drunk drivers back on the road?’

Now Nick ‘Loophole’ Freeman – he has actually trademarked the nickname – has migrated from the MEN‘s news coverage to its op-ed page. In line with the paper’s dog-whistle ethos, Freeman’s inaugural column takes on incapacity fraudsters. Everyone knows that some people fake IB claims and recently there’s been a policy announced in which all Manchester’s sickness claimants will be tested by GPs to prove they are not fit for work.

It sounds like an idea with potential – plenty of people on IB want to do some kind of work. It’s being marketed more as a threat than the opportunity it could be, but that’s another argument. Freeman has a different objection. To him, the proposals are no more than ‘a pitifully small sticking plaster to cover a much bigger wound.’ This is his alternative:

What we need is a panel of appointed experts whose principal role is to assess the health of a would-be claimant with a battery of exhaustive tests. It may cost more in the short term, but will separate the truly needy from those who are trying it on simply because they can. Those who are found to be making a false claim should face the full weight of the law, and pay their debt back to society with unpaid community work.

Freeman adds: ‘I’d even go so far as to insist they wear uniform that identifies their role.’ I wonder if he has a design in mind.

The lawyer also argues that child killer Ian Huntley should be compensated by the authorities for the recent attacks on him in prison. This prompts a question in the comments as to whether Nick will be handling his claim.

I wonder what the Manchester Evening News thinks it’s doing with this? Still, Freeman fits in well in a roster of op-ed columnists with silliness problems. This is Angela Epstein on the Manchester ID pilot:

I’m so proud I could almost burst. I haven’t felt this good about cradling something small and pink since my daughter Sophie was born.

All right, so I’m exaggerating a bit. But honestly, when you’re the first member of the public to be issued with a brand spanking new national identity card, it’s a seminal moment.

‘This does not make sense!’

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