Saturday, 21 April 2012

How long is a piece of time?

When I tell you that I’ll be celebrating my seventieth birthday within two months, three weeks and two days from the date of this post, you will I’m sure be able to work out exactly what I mean.  You might think I could have expressed myself less abstrusely.

You might also, on reflection, ponder on the word ‘within’, as strictly speaking it means ‘up to and including’ rather than ‘on’, but that’s fine: there is nothing that says I can’t start celebrating right now, and continue to do so right up to the deadline.  Similarly, nothing prevented Abu’s lawyers from lodging their appeal days or weeks, rather than ten seconds, before the deadline laid down by the ECHR – but leave that to one side.  The issue, once you hack away the usual media obfuscation, seems to be exactly what the phrase ‘within three months’ meant, or was meant to mean, and hence when that deadline actually was.  Nobody seems to have answered that.

I know the answer.  ‘Within three months’ of 17 January 2012 means ‘by 16 April 2012’.  I can prove this in several ways, but let me offer just one.  If a three month period commences on the 17th of the month, then a subsequent three month period must also commence on the 17th of the month.  I rest my case.

The obvious question, of course, is: why didn’t they just say that the appeal must be lodged ‘before midnight on Monday 16th April?’

I know the answer to that as well.  If precision of language were to become the watchword, what would lawyers be for?


  1. Well, I'm glad you'll be celebrating your seventieth birthday, at any rate. Chris kept apologising for his.

    And yes, I appreciate precision of language. I'd never make it in the legal profession.

  2. "If precision of language were to become the watchword, what would lawyers be for?"

    Or diplomats?

  3. I still like to use the old Peter Cook phrase from his Jeremy Thorpe sketch - "The man is a proven lawyer!".

    Sorry not very cutting edge....

  4. Why don't you claim to be 80? People would say 'He's a marvel for his age, that Tim, you've got to grant him that - 80 years old and he still runs for the bus/open oysters with his teeth/jumps out of ladies' first-floor windows'. Then when you're 90 you can spring a real surprise.