Tension between lawyers and tabloids reaches fever pitch
The ever-increasing hostility between lawyers and the tabloid media reached unprecedented levels today in the fallout from the Miller decision.
Yesterday, the High Court gave its much-awaited judgment in the Brexit judicial review, ruling that the lawful invocation of Article 50 is conditional on a free vote in parliament.
Key extract from Article 50 Brexit challenge judgment, which was handed down by the Lord Chief Justice in the High Court this morning pic.twitter.com/RJV7a77wxY
— Legal Cheek (@legalcheek) November 3, 2016
Lawyers largely met the decision with open arms — there was certainly a buzz of excitement and pride in the Royal Courts of Justice at yesterday’s judgment hand-down.
This emotion quickly permeated the courtroom, with the likes of Durham Law School head Thom Brooks, Devereux Chambers’ Jolyon Maugham QC and Cloisters’ Schona Jolly quick to give the High Court and its Article 50 judgment a solid thumbs up.
I have now read the #Art50 judgment in full. It is a comprehensive victory for the claimants. I cannot see the Supreme Court undoing this.
— Schona Jolly (@WomaninHavana) November 3, 2016
Though the government has confirmed it will be appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, this news didn’t quell the tabloids’ sense of resentment.
The Mail Online, whose readership is notably pro-Brexit, in its early coverage of the judicial review outcome seemingly sought to discredit the three judges who handed down the judgment.
This provocative headline, which has since been changed, caused absolute outrage among lawyers, who took particular issue with the newspaper mentioning Sir Terence Etherton’s sexuality.
Quick to share their dismay were One Essex Court’s Andrew Lomas and University of East Anglia law lecturer Paul Bernal.
"OPENLY GAY" – where to start with this one… low even by DM's standards. https://t.co/8sayBvlB65
— Andrew Lomas (@andrewlomas) November 3, 2016
'Openly gay'? Is it still 1950? https://t.co/RNrF1Dx8Lg
— Paul Bernal (@PaulbernalUK) November 3, 2016
Other lawyers unimpressed were Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a Doughty Street barrister, who said the headline was “ridiculous” and “offensive”; Philip Marshall QC went for “utterly outrageous” and “journalism at its absolute worst”; while criminal lawyer Nicholas Diable said it shows the newspaper “hasn’t moved much since its days in the fascist supporters club“.
On the Daily Mail’s front page today was a similar — but “openly gay ex-Olympic fencer”-less — headline describing the Lord Chief Justice and friends as the “enemies of the people”.
And, guess what, lawyers are really pissed off about it.
For one, Gerard McDermott QC pointed out a headline of this extremity could compromise the personal safety of Lord Thomas, Etherton and Lord Justice Sales. This is of particular concern given that the claimants who brought the legal challenge have reportedly suffered “abuse”.
Disgraceful headline. Did they consider the personal safety of these judges before writing this ? Or the rule of law ? https://t.co/PpVjN2LwZB
— Gerard McDermott (@McDermottQC) November 3, 2016
Tracking other reactions, public law professor Mark Elliott said the headline was “deplorable”, Marshall thought it was “irresponsible” while Adam Wagner — human rights barrister and vocal legal tweeter — said he stood in “solidarity” with the judges, describing them as “the A50 Three”.
Proud to be a lawyer today. In solidarity with the A50 Three! 👊🏼The most unlikely rebel posse ever https://t.co/ixOreBtdda
— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) November 3, 2016
Also keen to have his voice heard was Joshua Rozenberg QC, who discussed the Brexit legal challenge and its implications with Legal Cheek at its case management stage. On his Facebook page this morning, the number one legal commentator — in a post titled ‘THE REAL ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’ — said:
It does these papers no credit that they are attacking the judges rather than their judgment. And it certainly does nothing for the government’s prospects of successful appeal.
Importantly, Rozenberg also said he does not believe the judgment will be overturned in the Supreme Court, so expect the tension between lawyers and newspapers to continue.