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Liz Truss may not get as much stick if she were a man, suggests QC

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Constitutional law debate also includes discussion about Supreme Court justice’s bathing suit…

Panel L-R: Lord Phillips, Natalie Lieven QC, Dominic Grieve QC, Lord Falconer, Lord Clarke

A silk has told a panel of judges and politicians that Lord Chancellor Liz Truss may not be so unpopular if she was an old, white man.

Nathalie Lieven QC, a public law and human rights specialist at Landmark Chambers, made her comments at a recent panel event at King’s College London. The panel was made up of former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC, Supreme Court justice Lord Clarke, former Supreme Court justice Lord Phillips, former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer and hosted by Maajid Nawaz of LBC Radio, making Lieven the lone woman. She said:

I have to say, I’m obviously here as the token woman, I’m obviously here with the diversity hat on. I do very much wonder whether if Liz Truss had been an elderly, white male, he would have got quite the level of fury Liz Truss got.

Tension between the profession and the right-wing media hit fever pitch last year when the tabloids referred to the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Terence Etherton and Lord Justice Sales as “enemies of the people” for ruling against the government in the Article 50 Miller case. The Justice Secretary got a fair amount of stick for failing to defend High Court judges against these press attacks, with some going as far as to suggest she broke the law.

But was this fair? David Blunkett, Lieven recalls, used to routinely attack judges while he was Home Secretary, and there was not quite the same level of outrage.

Lieven’s remarks followed those made by Falconer, an unashamed Truss sceptic. Speaking at last week’s Europa Law debate — which raised money for the Stroke Association — he said that even though judicial independence is “very, very engrained” in society, judges will begin to become pressured if the state itself begins to support attacks on judges. He added:

[B]e under no illusions, if you can attack judges in the way the President of the United States of America attacked the judges that held, after a judicial hearing, that his executive immigration orders were flawed legally, if you end up being abused like that… the idea that this is not going to affect the body of judges over time is absolutely nonsense.

Lieven “completely disagreed” — judges are not going to be intimidated by comments they read in the Daily Mail (the newspaper famous for that ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’ headline). “They aren’t the judges I know,” she noted.

This wasn’t the last mention of the right-wing tabloid. Falconer — after stressing that it’s not the Daily Mail he’s concerned about, but the state for seemingly supporting these press attacks — quipped he reads articles about him that are, in his view, “absolutely libellous”, and will then turn the page to read about someone else and thinks “oh god, they sound awful.”

Moving away from the Truss versus judges fiasco, moderator Nawaz went on to ask the panel whether they believe Supreme Court judges are more transparent than their House of Lords predecessors. Perhaps an uncontroversial question, but it prompted this unusual response from current bencher Clarke:

I don’t quite understand what you mean by transparency, what have I got to be transparent about? The colour of my bathing costume?

Um, ok.

An audio recording of the Europa event can be accessed here. Legal Cheek has been informed a video recording will be available in due course.

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