We asked the chairman of the Justice Committee what he thinks about Liz Truss

Bob Neill MP also discusses challenges facing legal profession and shares views on Brexit

“Brexit does not need to be as bad as people think it’s going to be.”

These are the words of Bob Neill, who chairs one of the crucial stakeholders hoping to make sure this is the case: the Justice Committee.

A House of Commons Select Committee made up of eleven MPs from various parties, Neill and colleagues have been working hard running inquiries into the impact of Brexit on the profession and legal services.

The overall aim is to strengthen the government’s hand in negotiations and mitigate the potential harm our withdrawal could cause. The committee is poised to give recommendations on this in March when it’ll be pushing the government on mutual recognition of professional qualifications. If accepted, this will ensure EU lawyers can practice here and UK lawyers in the EU.

Despite his Brexit focus, Neill, like many other Conservatives, voted to remain in the EU on 23 June. He describes the referendum result as a “shame” and admits he felt “personally sad” when his side lost.

But that doesn’t mean he’s interested in second referendums. He accepts the result and is determined to make a success of it, partly through his Justice Committee work. “Now isn’t the time to fight yesterday’s battles,” he reflects.

Adopting a make-do attitude like this is pivotal to being successful in politics. MPs must accept that they will not win every vote, much in the same way as barristers must accept they will not win every case.

Neill has experience of both: now the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, he is a former criminal barrister at 2 Bedford Row. Though he has no plans to return to practice, he is a bencher in Middle Temple and takes an active interest in law and legal affairs. Being chairman of the Justice Committee is, in this sense, Neill’s “dream job”.

With his lawyer’s hat on, then, Neill talks to Legal Cheek about the recent Supreme Court Brexit litigation, Miller, favourably, even though it was the government that lost the case. He tells us:

I’m really not surprised by the result. On balance, I think the justices came to the right decision.

But perhaps more interesting than the Brexit legal challenge itself is the fall-out from it. In the hours following the High Court’s decision, the media launched a no holds barred assault on the judiciary, with one publication referring to the three judges who sat on the case as “enemies of the people”.

While the profession raged, Justice Secretary Liz Truss did very little, and subsequently came under fire for failing to defend the judiciary against these attacks. One of these vocal Truss critics was Neill himself. He recalls:

I’ve been openly critical of the fact she should’ve spoken more robustly following the media attacks after the case.

Truss has recently stepped up to defend herself against this backlash, telling Andrew Marr: “I will not criticise and say to the free press what they should write in their headlines”. On this, Neill says:

No-one was asking her to tell newspapers how and what to write. Newspapers are more than allowed to say they think the High Court or the Supreme Court made the wrong decision. The way in which you criticise is very important; it’s uncivilised for the newspapers to run ‘enemies of the people’ headlines. It’s very legitimate for her to point out that there are different, more fair ways to criticise.

Overall, however, Neill seems generally pleased with Truss and her performance as Justice Secretary so far. She was more assertive in her defence of the judiciary at the case’s Supreme Court stage, she seems genuinely interested in more diversity and is keeping the agenda set by her predecessor Michael Gove. “She’s quietly steering the ship,” he thinks.

While Neill appears confident in Truss and the work she’s doing, he knows not all is well with the legal profession as a whole at the moment, particularly at the publicly funded end of it.

He’s quick to lambast the ferocity of recent legal aid cuts and, interestingly, questions whether they have saved any money at all. This is because, he says, litigants-in-person make their way through the court system far slower than those aided by expert lawyers. This increases the cost of cases to the courts — and to the justice system. “Very counterproductive,” he notes.

Like many others, Neill is hopeful this direction of travel may change. He concludes:

The government gets the sense this just isn’t sustainable. We have taken out as much as we can, we cannot take out anymore.

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21 Comments

SingaporeSwing

Not true.

The word “referendum” is a Latin gerund which takes no plural. So when used in English as a noun, the plural has to be anglicised with an “s”. The plural is “referendums”, not “referenda”.)

(15)(0)
Amrit Lohia

You’re wrong. Gerunds in Latin can be pluralised by making them gerundives – indeed, you should recall that any gerund that takes a direct object will become a gerundive agreeing with that object in a process known as “gerundive attraction”. Consequently the correct plural is referenda, which literally means “things that are to be referred”.

(4)(0)
SingaporeSwing

There is no rule mandating gerundive attraction.

The correct plural is “referendums,” meaning “many referendums.”

It’s anglicised not Latinized.

The benefits of a classical education!!

(2)(0)
Anonymous

I once got into an Oxbridge bound sixth-former. She was good.

(0)(0)
Amrit Lohia

Kennedy section 379 (page 165 in my edition) says “If the Verb is Transitive, the Gerundive is more often used than the Gerund, agreeing with the Object as an Adjective. It takes the Gender and Number of the Object, but the Object is drawn into the Case of the Gerundive.”
Thus referenda (things to be referred, i.e. issues to be referred to the common people) is correct. Your point about Anglicisation is irrelevant, in the same way that if you want to appear decently-educated, you will say criteria, not “criterions”, and maxima, not “maximums”. You may claim to have had a Classical education, but so am I right now, here at Westminster, so don’t expect to win this one so easily.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

According to Fowlers Modern English Language (admittedly the second edition from 1972) the plural is “preferably -dums; -da is confusing as suggestive of the original sense – questions ot be reffered – for which we now use ‘terms of reference'”

(3)(0)
Pantman

Boys, boys, please. We don’t speak Latin, we speak English (mostly). It is a language well known for its inconsistencies and rapid adaptation. The correct plural is probably that which most people readily understand – not what your Latin grammar book says.

(3)(0)
Not Amused

Errr … Could he please not force through mutual recognition of qualifications?

I am very happy to recognise all lawyers trained in COMMON LAW jurisdictions as equally qualified in my COMMON LAW country (subject to quality control). I am not at all happy to recognise CIVIL LAW trained lawyers as equally qualified. We’ve never done it for Scotland – why would we do it for mainland Europe?

The distinction is important and fundamental. It’s why we never had freedom of movement of lawyers and why we aren’t losing it. It’s why English lawyers are not found in large numbers on the continent. I don’t need a bunch of ignorant virtue signallers harming my country because they can’t understand basic distinctions.

One of the many wrongs of cutting legal aid is that we now see ex-criminal hacks in a variety of roles for which they are patently ill equipped. I note the AG.

(10)(5)
Amrit Lohia

The reason most countries use a civil law system is that it quite simply is superior and makes much more sense – if you were designing a legal system from scratch, it would be quite obvious that all the laws should be written down, and if judges see fit to interpret the laws in new ways, these should be codified as amendments, rather than having a mass of laws that have the same status as actual legislation, but are scattered across numerous different cases and judgements.

(1)(6)
Anonymous

The whole of the French law of private law negligence is supposedly contained in art. 1382 of the Code Civil. That is then annotated with pages and pages of “jurisprudence” (case law). French law students learn about “grands arrets” in much the same way as we learn about leading cases. There are arguments in favour of civil law systems, but “it’s all in the Code” is not one of them.

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Pantman

Common law does not have te same force as legislation – legislation trumps common law, the reverse is not true.

(0)(0)
SingaporeSwing

There are some advantages to using civil law systems, but the irony about the EU is that EU law is pretty similar to common law!!

(0)(0)
Air Hair Lair

Hello!
Who’s talking out this debate ? Jacob Rees Mogg?
I came here to look at comment about Truss and her failure to support High Court judges, and the rule of Law!

You say referenda , I say who are you trying to impress?

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