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Jolyon Maugham QC suffers backlash on Twitter after calling High Court judge ‘pro-Government’

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Campaigning silk defends comments after criticism from fellow lawyers, including The Secret Barrister

High-profile QC Jolyon Maugham has caused a stir among fellow lawyers by labelling a High Court judge “pro-Government” ahead of a Brexit legal challenge.

Tweeting from the account of the Good Law Project, which Maugham founded in 2017 to pursue political cases, the crusading silk warned supporters that prospects for his latest case may be rocky due to the identity of the judge deciding it.

Maugham said that the judicial review challenge had already been rejected by Mr Justice Swift, who “has a reputation for being very Government minded”. Reviewing Swift’s decision will be Mr Justice Supperstone, described by Maugham as “the only Judge so far as we are aware whose reputation for being pro-Government rivals that of Judge Jonathan Swift”.

The calling out of Swift and Supperstone defied an “unwritten rule in the legal profession that lawyers do not say this stuff in public”. But Maugham pointed out that practitioners advise clients about the reputation of judges all the time, asking “why is it inappropriate to say publicly what is said privately?”.

He concluded by calling on Supperstone to “defy his reputation” and do the right thing in the case, signing off “JMQC”.

Other lawyers were horrified by the breach of etiquette. Greg Callus of 5RB Chambers responded: “This is corrosive and ill-judged and should be deleted”, while Sean Jones QC of 11KBW said: “Please don’t do this”. Others noted that judges do not have a right of reply to allegations about their impartiality.

The Secret Barrister added:

But Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers appeared to defend Maugham, agreeing that the political leanings of certain judges are well known to lawyers.

The criticism stirred Maugham into further Twitter action in defence of his position, saying “it is my belief that the rule of law is weakened rather than strengthened if we treat certain issues as not suitable for public discussion”. He also brushed off comparisons with the Daily Mail’s headline attacking judges as “Enemies of the People” as “facile and unworthy of any thoughtful and well-intentioned critic”, insisting that his observations were “fair observations with analytic value”.

Any critics are welcome to complain to the Bar Standards Board, he added. The thread begins here.

The Good Law Project has raised £33,000 in crowdfunded donations for a judicial review challenge to raise the political cost of a “no-deal” Brexit. It says that emergency powers given to pharmacists to vary prescriptions in case of medicine shortages are unlawful. Swift slapped the case down at the first hurdle on 15 March, but a further hearing took place before Supperstone earlier today. A decision is expected on Friday.

In December, the company struck a major blow against Brexit when it persuaded the EU Court of Justice to confirm that the UK has the unilateral right to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. It has more recently suffered a reverse in an attempt to force taxi firm Uber to pay more tax.

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95 Comments

Steve

I’m very thankful that we are ‘behind the US’ in this.
Their judges are either elected, or appointed by politicians. Of course everyone knows the judge’s political leanings – that’s why they got where they are! I much prefer our system, and would vigorously deprecate the adoption of the American system where judges and their rulings are routinely attacked for being too Republican or too Democrat.
Anybody who thinks otherwise should set aside a couple of days and go through all the footage of ‘Justice’ Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. If you enjoy politics-and-law as circus and tragedy, it’s the best entertainment going.

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Anonymous

In defence of JM, and to critcise your stance on this Steve,

The post of Registrar is paid the equivalent of a circuit judge, last time i looked. Around 150k.

If i am not mistaken senior civil servant grade , scs, starts at around 90k.

My belief is that a Registrar knows (i) the same facts about a judge’s personality as JM says he does from having mixed with them as silks and (ii) knows as much about the judges beyond (i) as the U S system knows anout their judges.

For this reason, with bonus observation on top of JM’s, the Registrar makes a highly skilled decision of identification and timetabling to put swift in and then supperstone. So, the uk has a more focussed and precise version of the us state of affairs, not less or not better. It is just hidden.

Proof ?

Lack of data due to secrecy thwarts, but JAG Griffiths “the politics of the judiciary” 1977 lse study showed that where establishment issues are at stake, judges will, to the professor’s observation, fudge the facts, fudge the law or fudge the role of the court (ie it is a matter for parliament not us) to bring the narrative of the judgement towards the establishment and away from the qc like jm’s submissions.

Secondly, the best qc of his generation, supposedly, george carmen qc, wished to become a hcj.

No, says the establishment.

I wondered if one ofthe reasons why was that he had trained as a priest. He managed, by beimg a defamation specialist, to make his living relatively honestly, for argument’s sake, but there was a risk, therefore, that he was not hcj material because he might plump for honesty when a jag griffith tactic was required of him. Cannot be risked, do not appoint under any circumstances.

Thirdly, look at the witch hunt to get rid of peter smith j, once it was realised that he was a loose canon.

Jm is an innovator , the only caveat i would have to that is , is he part of a comsortium – the centre forward of a rival think tank which is promting different masonry to the established think tank ? Too early to say, but there seems to be much more about his approach to the game than your regular elite qcs. You are looking at the rare player who can bring the game from midfield to a scoring chance, not your number 9 formula like balotelli is.

Is it all his own thinking, is my caveat.

Even if it isn’t, is anyone else bringing the play from midfield ?

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Anonymous

It’s like Liverpool when Xabi Alonso left.

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