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Government Magna Carta law summit hit again — Lord Green bails as keynote speaker

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Perhaps the former HSBC chairman — who was meant to share stage with Justice Secretary — didn’t fancy a colonic cleansing. Now he scurries for exit amid growing concerns that tax payers and legal profession will pick up bill for white elephant gig

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Sometime last year Chris Grayling must have bounced puppy dog-style into his master’s office at Number 10 and barked: “Dave, I’ve got a jolly good idea.”

That brainwave from the Lord Chancellor/Secretary of State for Justice involved a savvy spot of calendar awareness and a moderate knowledge of history.

Why not celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta with a high-profile shindig involving loads of international great-and-good types. Being a former media man, Grayling will have been acutely aware of the PR possibilities of marking the Magna Carta, which is a bit like saying nice things about the dearly departed Queen Mother.

Dave chucked Chris a bone and the Global Law Summit was born. But the Justice Secretary might now wish he’d kept his trap shut.

Legal aid lawyers and others have pilloried the event for being more of a City law firm trade show than a celebration of a cornerstone of the common law. They find it especially hypocritical coming from a government that has slashed legal aid eligibility and seems hell bent on binning the Human Rights Act.

To be fair, ministers could probably take on the chin — or just ignore — criticisms from that side of the legal profession. But they probably wish they hadn’t scheduled former trade minister Lord Green of Hurstpiepoint for the keynote opening session.

Stephen Green — the son of a solicitor — has just stood down from his second gig in almost as many days. Life in the eye of the HSBC Switzerland tax scandal hasn’t been easy on him, with voices asking what he, as the former bank chairman, knew about advising clients in relation to tax avoidance and when he knew it.

First to go was Green’s high-level role with lobbying body CityUK; and at the beginning of this week, it was reported that he had dropped off the list of law summit keynote speakers. He was meant to share the stage with Grayling.

The departures will potentially leave “god’s banker” — Green is an ordained Anglican minister — with more time to attend church services. At the very least, he’ll avoid a raft of bottom jokes. Last week, the summit’s website server collapsed, leaving a holding page advertising colonic irrigation.

Nonetheless, summit delegates will surely be disappointed at Lord Green’s departure — having paid up to £1,750 to attend the event, they’ll be in the mood for as many speakers as they can hear to get their money’s worth. But they will still benefit from the wisdom of Cherie Blair QC.

The wife of former PM Tony Blair used to describe herself as an employment and public law specialist. But for jet-setting summit delegates the silk is promoting her position as “founder and chair of Omnia Strategy LLP, a pioneering international law firm that provides strategic counsel to governments, corporate and private clients”.

However, common or garden lawyers not attending the summit might be less than chuffed to hear that they, along with ordinary tax payers, might be subsidising the glitzy show.

Rumours are swirling around the corridors of the Law Society and Bar Council — which along with the MoJ are underwriting the cost of the gig — that summit finances are on course for a distinctly red hue, despite organiser claims that the event would break even.

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