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£1,750-a-head Magna Carta ‘summit’ hijacked by legal aid event that costs a tenner

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With stratospheric delegate fees, don’t expect to see too many young lawyers brushing shoulders with the PM and BoJo at next month’s official Magna Carta celebrations. But there is an alternative…

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The great and the good will be sending their evening wear to up-market dry cleaners in advance of next month’s Global Law Summit in London — but not everyone in the legal profession is looking forward to the star-studded bash, with one campaigning group calling on lawyers to boycott the event.

The Justice Alliance — a campaigning group making much of the running in the fight against the government’s legal aid cuts — has just announced the Not the Global Law Summit. The event will run as a spoiler to the Ministry of Justice-organised shindig, which officialdom views as the appropriate forum for celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Headliners at the alternative gig include a parade of contemporary comedians, including Stephen K Amos and Angela Barnes. That show — scheduled for Union Chapel in Islington — will coincide with the opening night of the official summit on 23 February. And the alliance has arranged series of events to run in parallel with the Ministry of Justice’s programme.

Indeed, the MoJ’s bash — otherwise known as Chris Grayling’s big night out — is billed by Prime Minister David Cameron as a forum where:

“Global leaders in both business and the law [will] discuss the issues that are shaping the agenda legally, commercially and socially over the next generation”.

According to Justice Secretary Grayling’s boss, the event provides:

“Yet more evidence that Britain continues to lead the way in promoting free enterprise, economic growth, and the rule of law around the world”.

But not everyone is quite so chuffed with the idea. Since its announcement last year, the summit has been dogged by critics claiming it represents an elitist and commercially-biased image of UK law. Rumours have also been rife that the organisers have struggled to drum up much interest in the gig, which is seen my some as an over-priced propaganda tool for the MoJ.

High on the list of complaints are delegate fees. Early bird rates are available until the end of this month, but even those are pegged at £1,350 for private practice lawyers (for some reason, the organisers are cutting some slack for those in-house, with that early bird rate set at a couple of hundred quid cheaper.)

But top-whack tickets during the conference will go for up to £1,750, more or less ensuring that lawyers from the dwindling legal aid sector will be giving the whole shooting match a miss.

Indeed, the Justice Alliance — founded by Binberg Peirce solicitor Matt Foot, the son of renowned campaigning journalist Paul and nephew of former Labour leader Michael — describes the summit as nothing more than “rank hypocrisy”.

According to the alliance:

“Delegates from all over the world have been summoned to celebrate Britain as a bastion of the rule of law, when in reality the government is denying justice to the poor by slashing legal aid and attempting to shield itself from scrutiny by restricting judicial review and pledging to repeal the Human Rights Act”.

The alliance points out that the summit delegate list bears a striking resemblance to the names attending a little gathering in Davos this week. Included are a Goldman Sachs managing partner, the vice-president of the Barrick Gold Corporation and a senior Rothschild banker.

Sponsors include a host of City law firms — Allen & Overy bagged platinum status — and commercial barristers’ chambers, along with the Law Society, the Bar Council, the City of London Law Society, and media sponsor, The Lawyer newspaper.

In addition to the obvious high-profile slot for Grayling, other speakers include London mayor Boris Johnson, and the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cherie.

Lashing out at the event, the Justice Alliance says:

“The government … is trumpeting our justice system while behind the scenes damaging the rule of law and causing irreparable harm to access to justice. We are calling on all principled lawyers to boycott the Global Law Summit and attend Justice Alliance’s alternative celebration of the Magna Carta.”