Join the Justice Secretary, some arms dealers and Cherie Blair to toast the Magna Carta
Magna Carta, which celebrates its 800 year anniversary on 15 June this year, was the brainchild of a group of landed 13th century aristocrats desperate to cling to their inherited privileges, so it’s hardly surprising that the Tory party is so keen on it.
And, of course, despite its grubby origins, it is undeniably a symbol of the protection of individual freedom and the rule of law against an overweening state.
But only the most optimistic commentator could have predicted that the Global Law Summit, a commemorative event taking place 22–25 February this year, would offer such a rich vein of irony.
The event was launched by Legal Cheek favourite Chris Grayling, with a portentous website claiming that it would:
“Celebrate judicial traditions and the fundamental importance of impartiality, integrity and fairness, [and] champion the Rule of Law as the cornerstone of a fair and just society”.
That is, of course, the same Chris Grayling that has slashed legal aid to the extent that judges openly condemn the public funding system as “inhumane”, resulting in separated parents not being able to see their children. The same C. Grayling who was forced to admit to misleading parliament over his own legislation aimed at making it more difficult to hold the executive to account through judicial review. The same Master Grayling whose ministry recently submitted a bid to provide training on, of all things, how to run a prison in Saudi Arabia, a country where a blogger critical of the regime is currently facing a sentence of 1,000 publicly-administered lashes.
Can one imagine a better champion of the rule of law? Pleasingly, on the board of the Global Law Summit is Dominic Grieve, the former Tory Attorney-General, who refused to vote for Grayling’s judicial review reforms last week and described Tory plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights as “deficient in reasoning”. That’ll make for some awkward chit-chat over the posh biscuits.
The summit’s first full day offers a plenary session on ‘Business and the rule of law’, with an august panel featuring Sir Roger Carr, the chairman of arms manufacturer BAE Systems, a company whose customer list includes Bahrain, Indonesia (spoiler alert — neither come off well in a Human Rights Watch report) and old favourites Saudi Arabia.
Since he’s speaking about the role of business in upholding the rule of law, it seems almost churlish to remind readers that in 2010 BAE was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the US government and had to pay a $400 million fine, the judge describing its conduct as involving “deception, duplicity and knowing violations of law, I think it’s fair to say, on an enormous scale”.
Apologies to Sir Roger if I’ve spoiled the punchline of his speech.
A panel session on 25 February on ‘Business and human rights’ may also raise eyebrows. Cherie Blair will be speaking in her capacity as chairwoman of Omnia Strategy, an “international law firm” which recently attracted attention for its lucrative work advising the Kazakh Ministry of Justice on its investment treaties.
Kazakhstan is yet another country with an appalling human rights record, although it may be that Mrs Blair’s husband, reported to be advising the President of Kazakhstan, could offer some advice on how to deal with criticism by human rights groups. (Oh, look. He already did. As the song goes, ‘Accentuate the positive’)
Still, no doubt the news that Omnia is billing the best part of £1,000 an hour will reassure those concerned by reports that the Blairs’ fortune is a mere £20 million, not the £100m previously suggested. Toto, I don’t think we’re at Matrix anymore.
Any Legal Cheek readers keen to see these paragons in action will be reassured to learn that this event commemorating the rights of the common man is, like the Ritz, open to all, with top-whack tickets for attendance at the full event costing £1,750.
Alternatively, if you’d rather listen to people who are being intentionally funny, the Justice Alliance is running a comedy night on 23 February as part of it’s Not the Global Law Summit event — tickets available here.
WaitroseLaw is a lawyer with luscious organic selection, impeccable ethics and dinner party skills. She is in no way connected to the irritating supermarket and sponsors of the England cricket team.
£1,750-a-head Magna Carta ‘summit’ hijacked by legal aid event that costs a tenner [Legal Cheek]