Erlangen May 2016 by Rob Newman

Erlangen May 2016 by Rob Newman

It used to be “Don’t mention the War!” This time we assumed the watchword would be “don’t mention the Referendum!” And accordingly the DASLS team heading for the International Lawyers’ Meeting in Germany (Mark Roome, Claire Turner and Rob Newman) spent time and effort in scrutinising their presentation, with a view to removing all those inappropriate words or comments that might cause offence to our European friends and colleagues.


In the event of course we need not have worried. The Referendum was the very thing that everyone was keen to hear about. The general view was shocked disbelief at the possibility that any nation could possibly consider withdrawing from the club. And we for the most part were happy to reassure everyone that such an event could not conceivably happen; that we would naturally, when it came to it, draw back from the brink.


But let’s not dwell on that too much. Despite subsequent events back home, the-pan European lawyers group remains as united as it always was. And thoughts of Brexit were far from all our thoughts as we talked, ate and drank our way through a three day-long lawyers’ legal fiesta in Erlangen in mid-May.      


These annual meetings have, over the last 25 years, developed a standard format, and the first day is always devoted to a specific (normally topical) legal topic, selected by the host Law Society, and structured around a case study. Each group must talk entertainingly and informatively for around twenty minutes, giving the audience an insight into the way in which a particular legal problem would be dealt with in their own jurisdiction.


This time our German hosts had asked us to focus on the dangers and risks we all face as a result of the internet, and in particular, social media. We were invited to select one of three cases where the use of the internet had impacted on people’s private lives; namely in their private life, their business life, or finally by an incident of what is widely known as revenge porn.


Respect for private life is a well developed area of German law. German courts are more willing than ours to restrict news items or the publication of images, particularly those taken without the consent of the subject. Michael Metzner is an Erlangen lawyer who specialises in media law and the right to privacy. He spoke interestingly and with authorityabout a number of recent cases in Germany involving well known politicians, sports people and celebrities. A difficult area, not least bearing in mind the need to balance this against the needs of a free press.


The French team in their turn gave a well researched and useful outline of the relevant French law, notably the 1881 Freedom of the Press Act, and Article 1382 of the Civil Code. Members who attended the meeting of twinned Bars held in Rennes in 1991 will already be very familiar with this Article, which, as you know, provides


« Tout fait quelconque de l'homme, qui cause à autrui un dommage, oblige celui par la faute duquel il est arrivé, à le réparer »


In other words – you make a mess; you clean it up. So the role of Article 1382 in France seems to correspond closely, for English lawyers, to the snail in the bottle of ginger beer.


The Belgian presentation was similar to the French; not surprising, as they also have an Article 1382 in their Code. (It’s something to do with Napoleon) In their case however their speakers brought immediacy and interest by giving details of a recent case in Leuven in which the dissatisfied customers of a less than competent builder published on the internet details of all his alleged shortcomings. He then sued them and – surprisingly perhaps – obtained significant compensation.


For our part we decided to opt for the practical approach. From an early stage we decided to go for the revenge porn scenario, and to use the services of the Exeter Shakespeare Company, making a brief one-off return visit to northern Bavaria. Claire Turner was undaunted by the challenges involved in assuming the role of the unfortunate and much maligned Lola. She played the part with dignity and aplomb. Rob Newman appeared as Louis, her unscrupulous former boy friend. Mark Roome was happy to take on the identity of Dr Metzner, the well known north Devon media lawyer.

It is not clear whether the assembled company were significantly better informed by the end of our presentation, but it should be noted that not one of them fell asleep. Ours was also the only presentation to be concluded by a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to You. (Many happy returns Mark)


Overall the day gave an excellent insight into an area of law that impacts on us all. We saw that lawyers across Europe face similar problems and issues. The laws we use may differ from land to land, but the underlying theme is constant. How do we use the law to achieve the best result for our client?


The rest of the weekend took its now traditional course, with food and drink, tourism, speeches, much laughter and of course the obligatory evening at the famous Erlangen beer festival. An innovation this year involved a two hour session as galley slaves on a reconstructed Roman galley. Many of the visiting lawyers chose this on the assumption that it was likely to be a more entertaining afternoon than the other option (visit to a hat museum) but some were left somewhat deflated and exhausted by the end of the afternoon. Mark Roome claimed afterwards that his afternoon on the Danube was rewarding and instructive, though we shall no doubt to have to wait a while to learn whether the lessons he learned will result in major changes to staff working conditions at DASLS HQ.


So the (DASLS) European Union continues to thrive. DASLS was among the first Law Society to establish international links and it’s good to see them flourishing still. The contacts and networks are growing. Plans are already under way for the next gathering – in Bilbao in May 2017.   Make a note now!

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