Legal Cheek interviews the woman who made constitutional law sexy
Law to its students can be dry and faceless. But on 13 October 2016, “the law became alive.”
As polarising fund manager Gina Miller entered the High Court for round one of her so-called ‘Brexit case’ (“we were very, very careful that the case had to be about the black and white letter of the law — it was not about Brexit”), she’d already been subjected to every threat, racist slur and sexist jibe under the sun.
But in a spectacular example of picking through the weeds to find a flower, Miller tells me:
What was amazing was how much publicity we were getting. It’s a positive — people were talking about the law, the constitution, they were googling it, finding out more. A professor told me: ‘Gina, constitutional lawyers are usually sat in the corner, but you made them sexy.’
Miller — an EU supporter, Labour Party member, history geek and adrenaline junkie — knew that legally her case was watertight. A big fan of the Tudor period, Miller was “quite familiar” with the history of the “simple” prerogative powers on which she was relying. Her confidence was further cemented by the faith she had in her lawyer, Lord Pannick QC.
The Blackstone Chambers barrister and constitutional law guru is, she says, one of the two “greatest minds” in the British legal system. The other is controversial Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption, who, thankfully for fangirl Miller, ruled with the majority in her case. “Obviously Sumption is a judge so we couldn’t approach him [to act in the challenge], but Pannick we hoped we could and he was straight away interested in the case,” she recalls. “Whether that was luck or timing, it was a fantastic outcome.”
Like most the country Miller was enchanted by Pannick’s fierce advocacy skills and powers of persuasion.
Well if that's a tight rope walk over a constitutional trap, I'd say Pannick is tap dancing on it! Go Pannick go go go!
— Lucy Series (@TheSmallPlaces) December 6, 2016
But for her it was more than that. “Sitting in court with Lord Pannick, it was very emotional on so many levels,” she recalls. “But on a very personal level, it brought back memories of me sitting in court [in Guyana] watching my father.”
Miller is the daughter of a top QC and the former Attorney General of Guyana, Doodnauth Singh, with whom she credits for her lust for justice. She explains:
My father had a very strong view of justice and social justice in its widest form, and I’ve always been like that too. I’ve always had that as a very strong influence and personality trait as well. The two together has meant that I have always been very interested in the place that the law has in our society.
A combination of Pannick’s sharp wit and the case’s constitutional law grounding led to a roaring claimant victory in both the High Court and the Supreme Court, despite the febrile environment in which it was conducted. Now, in a strange twist of fate, University of East London law school dropout Miller will feature on law student syllabuses for years to come. She continues:
One university professor sent me a paper he’d written that has the case and my name in it. He said: ‘you might not have finished [your law studies], but your name is now set in stone in our legal system and will be taught.’ That really brought tears to my eyes — I felt so proud to have been able to have contributed something.
Cementing her law student fame further, Miller says: “I did a talk at the Cambridge Union, and one of the students printed out the case and asked me to sign it! It’s quite an extraordinary thing.”
Gina Miller and her legal team leaving the RCJ to applause, tells press 'this is about process, not politics' pic.twitter.com/0fcGXerTQY
— Legal Cheek (@legalcheek) November 3, 2016
Having scaled the rocky terrains of the legal history mountain, Miller is enjoying surveying the view. But the next peak is in sight. She explains:
If this government misuses Henry VIII powers [ancient prerogative powers that give the executive sweeping powers] to bypass parliament, I will go to the courts again and seek to uphold the judgment in my case against the government. I am keeping a very close eye on what happens throughout the exit process. If the government does overstep its legal boundaries, I will go back to court.
Sleeping for a crazy four hours a night, Miller is what I can only rightly describe as a workaholic. “Absolutely,” she agrees, “I’m very fortunate in that I’ve never needed a lot of sleep, which means I get a lot done.”
A lot indeed. Holding the government to account is perhaps a natural extension for marketing graduate Miller, who since the financial crash has been campaigning fiercely to end erroneous practice in the financial world and to encourage super-rich City success stories to give back.
“It’s only right in my view that corporations and individuals who are successful should give back to the society that has afforded their success,” Miller says. She’s particularly into pro bono, because: “We could have a government of any colour and they would not have enough money to pay for all our public services.”
But for all her love and appreciation for the legal system, Miller knows corporate law, like corporate financial services, isn’t perfect. Unconscious bias still operates in the City, and it can be a hostile environment for female lawyers.
Want to whinge about it? Don’t, a hard-headed Miller tells me:
I’ve never fought against that; I have accepted it as a reality. You have to work hard and you sometimes have to do more work than you think you have to do. I don’t see the point in complaining — you have to prove your worth and then you have to walk the path so other people can follow.
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