Conflict Of Interest? Leveson Silk Robert Jay QC Is Ed Miliband’s Wife’s Head Of Chambers

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As you may or may not know, Ed Miliband’s wife, Justine Thornton, is a barrister at 39 Essex Street Chambers – which is led by Leveson Inquiry heartthrob Robert Jay QC.

In case you missed it, Miliband spent yesterday afternoon at said inquiry being grilled by Jay.

The political blogger Guido Fawkes reckons this represents an “apparent conflict of interest” which “should see someone else interrogate the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.”

To reinforce his point, Fawkes – who, incidentally, was a surprise attendee at the April legal tweet-up at the Melton Mowbray pub in Holborn – added: “Imagine the fuss if Jay was Sam Cam’s boss…”

Following Fawkes’ bringing to attention of the matter, Jay made the following declaration – as reported in the Guardian:

“Jay reopens the inquiry by confirming he is head of chambers at the law firm where Miliband’s wife works. However, he says he has not met Miliband outside the circumstances of this inquiry.”

Commenters on Fawkes’ blog were split on the issue of whether Jay’s apparent authority over Thornton had affected the impartiality of the inquiry.

Geoffrey wrote: “There’s a ‘legal fiction’ that barristers in the same chambers are independent of one another.”

To which Giant Gonad responded: “Hard to call Jay her ‘boss’, when they are both self-employed.”

Fake Blood was with Geoffrey, though: “Cobblers. If he’s head of chambers then he controls what goes on there. Employees, sub-contractors and barristers all.”


Adam Wagner

No conflict of interest at all. Barristers are not employed by their heads of chambers. They are both self-employed. Barristers within the same chambers regularly act on different sides of the same case, and that isn’t a conflict of interest either, for the same reason.


Conrad Eoin

Surely it would only really be a problem if Ms Thornton was Mr Jay’s boss or otherwise had some authority/ control over him.


Simon Myerson

Adam is right. Moreover, the other core participants are legally represented and well able to raise an allegation of conflict of interest, or to ask Miliband about it.

My HofC isn’t my boss and he doesn’t tell me how to run my practice. I don’t owe him anything in terms of advancement. Although he is an automatic consultee if I apply for any post, I can replace him with someone else of my choice. The test of apparent conflict (taken from the recusal test for Judges who decide things, not barristers who ask questions) is expressly based on someone with reasonable knowledge of how things work. Any conflict of interest here is only “apparent” the someone who doesn’t understand the way barristers operate.


Charon QC

Guido is usually reasonably sharp on law matters. It would appear that some of his commenters are not aware of the way Chambers work – not surprising: The minutiae of the legal profession’s workings are not top of most people’s knowledge or interest list.

Barristers are – as stated above – self employed and independent of each other in Chambers. No conflict of interest at all.


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