The anti-lawyer backlash is growing, so why does the profession keep on meddling?
This week, leading judges Sir Brian Leveson and Mr Justice Cranston told a packed courtroom that the full hearing in what’s been termed the ‘Brexit legal challenge’ will be heard in October.
A number of claimants — including a hairdresser called Deir Dos Santos and a fund manager called Gina Miller — are expected to argue that the activation of Article 50 (which will trigger the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union) hinges on a free vote in parliament.
The judiciary is there to act as a legitimate check and balance on government power, but — as explained by Joshua Rozenberg QC in his exclusive interview with Legal Cheek Journal — hanging “like a ghost” over the court was the potential political enormity of its decision.
The court knew full well that pro-Brexiters, and some remainers too, were unhappy this claim was ever issued; imagine the backlash it would face if the ruling actually ends up blocking the UK’s departure from the EU.
So why even entertain the idea?
Mishcon de Reya has already suffered “very serious” abuse in response to its involvement in the government challenges, and you don’t need to look very far to find other examples of this ‘anti-lawyer backlash’.
Take a look at some examples from our comments sections.
Sour grapes at having lost.
Why can’t these people learn to live with the results of the referendum? They lost. For God’s sake — get over it!
Businesses and lawyers trying to block or impede the will of the people. It sums up why the country has become so crap.
Then we have examples from social media.
Snooty law firm Mishcon back legal challenge to Brexit. Their clients should abandon them for trying to overturn will of people
— Andrew Pierce (@toryboypierce) July 4, 2016
One thousand lawyers clearly need to grow up and accept BREXIT. The law might be politically correct and skewed, democracy isn't.
— England My England (@WantEnglandBack) July 11, 2016
And even some tweets made by lawyers.
For1st time in my life I'm ashamed 2 be a lawyer 2 be associated with your meddling with a democratic decision https://t.co/OLLCfA0RZd
— Caroline (@Carice21) July 4, 2016
— Tony Wyatt (@tonyw_writes) July 11, 2016
Growing resentment for lawyers and how they’ve acted post-24 June is palpable; so why keep prodding?
Legal Cheek got in touch with a number of key figures in the recent swathe of Brexit legal challenges, to give them a chance to defend themselves.
Unsurprisingly, the lawyers we spoke to resisted what Philip Kolvin QC — the lead signatory of an anti-Brexit letter signed by 1,054 barristers — terms “silly name-calling”.
He thinks the lawyer backlash is “unhelpful in the current circumstances”; a sentiment shared by Jolyon Maugham QC.
Speaking to Legal Cheek, he explained:
A Prime Minister not chosen by the public nor by her own party now has sole discretion over whether we should leave the EU. If you care about the rule of law, it’s desirable this proposition would be tested by the courts. It’s how a properly functioning democracy works; it’s what separates us from a dictatorship.
It’s very unfortunate that, from government down, a view is being taken that the rule of law is expendable.
Also appealing to the rule of law to justify these judicial review cases is No5 Chambers’ James Dixon — the lawyer helping Polish national Agata Dmoch with her crowdfunding campaign ‘Brexit – Give Europeans a voice!’. He told us:
The point of this challenge is… simply to ensure that all of our constitutional requirements are respected in this process, which include upholding parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law to ensure that all interests are taken into account, including those people who did not have a vote in the referendum.
A clear thumbs up for the rule of law, but what would lawyers say to spectators playing the ‘anti-democracy’ card? Carl Gardner — a staunch remain campaigner and former government lawyer — had this to say:
[I]t’s a free country, and people (even lawyers) are entitled to access the courts. And there’s nothing for leavers to fear unless these lawyers are right. It’s become common following the referendum for people who voted leave to expect and even demand that everyone else now agree with them. That’s an unattractive, undemocratic view. People unhappy with the referendum result are entitled to fight it however they like within reason and the law.
That’s not to say, however, that Gardner thinks these claims will be successful; nor does number one legal commentator Rozenberg.
A pinch of much-needed realism from Gardner and co, but if the past few weeks have taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. We’re sure Brexiteers and Bremainers alike will be watching with bated breath this October as Dos Santos and Miller have their long-awaited day in court.