The justice secretary chose neither to rebut nor confirm speculation today that he is on the brink of abandoning a controversial new contracting regime for criminal legal aid.Answering justice questions in the House of Commons this morning, Michael Gove (pictured) was asked by Labour’s shadow minister for human rights Andy Slaughter to confirm press reports that he was about to abandon new contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations.Gove replied: ‘As far as criminal legal aid contracts go, it has been the case that we have had to reduce the spend on criminal legal aid in order to deal with the deficit that we inherited from the last government. But it is also the case that we maintain more generous legal aid in this country than any other comparable jurisdiction.’ Both the Law Society and shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer have called for a public statement to clarify the future of the new contracting system, currently bogged down in challenges to the procurement process.A judicial review, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, is set to open on 7 April and is expected to last seven days. A hearing into more than 100 individual procurement law challenges will begin on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May.
GEORGIA: President Mikheil Saakashvili outlined his vision for fast trains to cut the 360 km Tbilisi – Batumi journey from 8 h to less than 3 h on May 31. Opening a construction base in Batumi for the upgrading of GRZ’s main line, he said modern transport and communications were essential to reduce unemployment and raise the quality of life, making Batumi ‘the best city on the Black Sea coast’.GRZ Director-General Irakli Ezugbaia said ‘intensive works’ are underway with support from France. The bulk of the project covers realigning curves, which will require ‘complex engineering’ in difficult terrain. Completion is planned for the end of 2012. Contributing to the shorter journey times will be a new eight-car inter-city EMU which entered service between Batumi and Kutaisi on June 14, cutting the journey time by 1 h 20 min to 2 h 45 min. This is one of three EMUs ordered from CSR Nanjing Puzhen in August 2007 at a cost of €6m. Assembled locally by Tbilisi Electric Railway Car Repair Plant, it was hailed as the first new post-Soviet train for Georgia. The other pair are two-car EMUs destined to operate shuttle services to Tbilisi International Airport.
Ready and poised: Kevin Jackson has settled in well with the Obic Seagulls since arriving in 2005. | OBIC SEAGULLS RELATED PHOTOS Stardom often starts with a simple reason.University of Hawaii product Kevin Jackson began his new gridiron career in Japan five years ago, not really expecting anything. He just wanted to play football, and the country was “the fastest way to get back onto the field.” IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5 GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES Jackson was a prospect at UH and was called up for Green Bay Packers’ minicamp in 2003. But after failing to make the cut, he struggled to find a place to play for almost a year.Then, Jackson received a phone call from a Japanese friend, Kazuki Omura. Omura, who was then the offensive coordinator of the Obic Seagulls, was at UH to study coaching. Jackson met him during his senior season and they became roommates.Omura asked Jackson if he wanted to give it a shot in Japan.“Kaz (Omura) happened to give me a call and said, ‘You want to come to Japan to play?’ ” Jackson said of the call from Omura, who now serves as the assistant head coach for the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters. “So I figured that Japan was the fastest way to get back onto the field.”Jackson joined the Seagulls in 2005 and quickly came through. The defensive end was selected as the season MVP and helped Obic win the X League championship. He was the first foreigner to be named MVP.“I didn’t expect that,” Jackson said of his early success with the Seagulls, who will take on the Panasonic Electric Works Impulse for the 2010 X League championship in the Japan X Bowl on Monday at Tokyo Dome.“I came to Japan the year before and watched the Seagulls’ game. And they lost to a strong opponent, I think it was Onward (Skylarks; predecessor of the Sagamihara Rise).“I remember, talking to the guys and they were like, ‘We want you to come next year. And I was like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ So what I wanted to do was win. I figured if I can give everything I could do, we could win. I didn’t expect all that (MVP and championship), but I just tried hard to win.”Since then, Jackson has been one of the team’s main defensive weapons, and furthermore one of the best players in the league. The 29-year-old, who has been one of Obic’s vice-captains since 2009, has been on the all-X League team for six consecutive years.Seagulls head coach Makoto Ohashi refers to Jackson as a “reliable man.” He says the American player has brought something Japanese players don’t really possess.“(Jackson) has a mental instantaneousness,” Ohashi said. “Japanese players tend to need motivation to play hard, such as, ‘I’ll have to do my best because we’ve practiced a lot,’ or, ‘we need to win because we’ve lost to Panasonic in the last three games.’“But this guy doesn’t need that. When there’s an enemy standing in front of him, he’ll try to beat the guy with his maximum power.”Despite coming from the sport’s homeland, Jackson says it wasn’t necessarily easy to convert to the Japanese game. And at 193 cm, he believes it is more obvious for a defensive lineman like himself.“Back in the States, a lot of tackles I played against would be taller than me and weighed much more than me,” he said. “(But) a lot of times, the guy in front of me is shorter than me. So it’s kind of harder. In America, naturally I’m smaller than the guy, so it’s easy for me to get a good angle.”And while Jackson thought his speed was his big advantage in the States, he now tries to utilize his power against smaller Japanese players.“Especially, we run a 3-4 (defense) this year. I’m playing between a tackle and tight end,” said Jackson, a former quarterback in high school. “It’s more of me beating up a tackle to make a linebacker free. So I’ve kind of shifted from speed to power.”“But,” Jackson continued, “the next game, I’d have to focus more on speed because of the offense Panasonic runs. They spread the field and pass the ball a lot. So I’m going to get to the quarterback a little bit more.”Although Jackson already has one X League title from his first year here, it would have a different significance for him if Obic grabs another trophy come Monday.“My first year, I just wanted to play,” he said. “But now, I want to win for all the guys (on the Seagulls), because a lot of the guys on the team now weren’t there in 2005. They never won before.“So I feel more of a responsibility.”
We spent the better part of five seasons acknowledging the accomplishments of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens, but the focus would inevitably revert to what they hadn’t done in the John Harbaugh era.Flacco had never led the Ravens to a Super Bowl as many wondered even just a few short weeks ago whether the fifth-year quarterback really had the ability to do.Baltimore was the only team in the NFL to have advanced to the postseason and won at least one playoff game in each of the last five seasons, but the Ravens were always a bridesmaid but never the bride to represent the AFC on the biggest stage in professional sports.Despite coming within a Lee Evans catch of toppling Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in last year’s conference championship, Flacco didn’t take the quantum leap many thought he would during the regular season. His Week 15 interception returned for a touchdown in a blowout loss at home to the Denver Broncos appeared to be the lowest point of his career.Anyone who watched these Ravens play over the course of the 2012 season would agree that they weren’t the best team in the conference. They certainly weren’t the most talented as critics dismissed a 9-2 start while pointing out their many flaws and shortcomings due to a significant number of injuries. An inconsistent offense and a diminishing, aging defense didn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl contender” in the eyes of even the most optimistic Ravens fans.A three-game losing streak to start the month of December that included the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron appeared to be a death sentence. Instead, it was the precursor to three straight wins in the month of January as the Ravens flattened New England in the second half Sunday night to win 28-13 and advance to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.Even if they weren’t the AFC’s best from September through December, Flacco and the Ravens proved to be the superior quarterback and the superior team when it really mattered.As Harbaugh preached about the entire team’s effort following Sunday’s game, pointing to a second half when the Ravens outscored New England 21-0 to turn a 13-7 halftime deficit into a comfortable 15-point victory in Foxborough, the biggest story was once again Flacco. Arguably scrutinized more than any quarterback in the league, Flacco followed up an outstanding performance against Peyton Manning in the divisional round with a brilliant second half at Gillette Stadium while Tom Brady wilted against the Baltimore defense to lose the first home game of his career in which the Patriots led at the half.In the Ravens’ path to Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco has thrown for 853 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions for a 114.7 passer rating in three playoff wins. He hasn’t tossed an interception since that fateful day when he laid face-down on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium following Chris Harris’ 98-yard return for a touchdown on Dec. 16.The question really isn’t whether Flacco is an “elite” quarterback as so many like to ask. The University of Delaware product has been the best the AFC had to offer in the playoffs and is now 60 minutes away from an invitation to join a select group of Super Bowl winners that includes Manning, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Drew Brees.Instead of chastising him for what he’s not, it’s time to recognize Flacco for what he is — a great quarterback with an unwavering ability to remain cool under pressure. His demeanor over this last month never changed as he adjusted to Jim Caldwell’s new role as offensive coordinator and put the Ravens on his back to land them in the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years.This is far from Harbaugh’s most talented group of players, but the difference is the Ravens have a quarterback not only capable of leading them to the Super Bowl, but they have one who did it with an exclamation point on Sunday night.For years, the vaunted Ravens defense was always looking across the field at a Brady or a Manning or a Roethlisberger and could only wonder what might have been if the unit had a signal-caller like that on its side. Baltimore no longer has to do that as many teams around the league will now begin to look at Flacco with a similar kind of reverence.If we’ve learned anything about him over these last three weeks, it’s not only that he’s a great quarterback, but we now expect — not hope for — him to be great on the biggest stage. The Ravens will once again be underdogs against Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, but the confidence once enjoyed only in places like New England, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh is now bursting at the seams in Baltimore over its quarterback.They will have a great chance to win because they have a great quarterback. It’s that simple, even if it’s been a long time coming for the Ravens.It doesn’t matter that Flacco wasn’t the best quarterback and the Ravens weren’t the best team in the AFC in the regular season.They’re standing at the top and they earned it by toppling the best the conference had to offer in January.