Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Waives the Rules.

One of the very few aspects of my job in purchasing that brings me any joy whatsoever is the dabbling in the legal aspects. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but one has to have a better than average understanding to be able to form contracts on behalf of an employer.

Not that even this element is unconfined joy. The current raft of European Procurement Directives that affect all public bodies buying goods and services are a huge bureaucratic pain. I’ve often considered doing a couple of posts about how these abominations work. But when tempted I have always come to the realisation that there would be no enjoyment in writing them and probably even less for any brave soul who ventured to read them.

However going through the text books and seeing how the Law of Contract in England has developed is actually jolly good fun. And more than a handful of my peers in the wacky world of purchasing will agree.

Here’s a test for you. If you know a purchasing person ask them about ‘unilateral contracts’ and relevant case law. Their little eyes will light up like a child’s at Christmas having been given an opportunity to discuss the celebrated case of Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company (1893).

I don’t think it’s an understanding of the operation of the law in itself that’s fascinating but rather the accumulation of cases and legislation that over the course of time which has built to the current position.

And with that frame of mind I felt a slight sense of sadness when I read today of the latest Statute Law Repeals Bill currently under consideration in the House of Lords. These are Bill’s that go through Parliament every few years to remove old legislation from the Statute Books.

Included in the list for repeal this time;

There are six Acts to finance the building of workhouses in the London area, including an 1819 Act to build the workhouse in Wapping.

There are 50 obsolete turnpike Acts relating to the building and repair of roads in the home counties in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. They reflect a time when roads were maintained locally, with travellers having to pay a toll to cross a turnpike.

An Act of Parliament passed after the 1819 ‘Peterloo’ Massacre which (if my rudimentary research ii up to snuff) banned ‘Drilling exercises’.

There are also 12 Acts relating to the affairs of the East India Company, covering the period 1796 to 1832; the company actually ceased to trade in 1874.

The 1792 Servants' Characters Act which sought to prevent servants from organising "inside job" burglaries.

And probably the best, an 1839 law requiring street musicians in the City of London to leave the neighbourhood if ordered to do so by any householder irritated by their music, with a penalty of 40 shillings for failing to comply. Apparently the law was aimed at street organists and brass bands. It gave householders the right to demand that anyone playing under their window should go and do so in the next street instead.

And in a rather sad atavistic way I’d rather that laws like these were left on the statute books. No practical reason for it. Not a rational point of view I know. But I rather like the idea that people protesting about the Corn Laws still can’t march up to the top of the hill and back down again with any semblance of order.

Mind you with a little tweaking and a few amendments some of these aged pieces of legislation may be of use even now. I’m sure James Purnell would be fascinated by the workhouse provisions. And turnpikes might just provide the Road Pricing policy that Gordon is searching for.


Anonymous said...

Hey Grendel - so I had no idea you were in Procurement too - I am Head of Strategic Sourcing for a fashion retailer based in London! Sounds like you're as bored by it as I am!

Ah, the good old Carbolic soap ball case! I trained as a solicitor before moving into sourcing so that case and I go back a long way!

Anonymous said...

Smoke, not soap, of course. It's late. There's beer involved. What can I say.... ;-)

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

You're right - these anachronisms are the stuff of life.

Anonymous said...

I think the Peterloo ones also stopped the use of uniforms for political purposes and were partly used to stop fascist political movements in the UK attempting to emulate their continental counterparts...

Julie said...

I cannot believe you have caused me to bookmark a page called 'Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company'. I don't think I've yet managed to come away from this blog without having learned something new (even including that your taste in seventies/eighties music seems even worse than mine!)

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

The East India Company still exists.

It's assets were finally wound down in 1947, but the Britisg Government maintained it's technical existence, with one share left.

This share- and the title deeds to the style 'BRitish East India Company, together with the right to use the old company flag- the flag of the old Raj- were acquired two years ago, by a firm of oil consultants obn Merseyside.


Liz said...

And you never know when you will need a workhouse.