From Braveheart to #Bundlegate: 5 OMG moments from the Supreme Court’s week in the spotlight

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By CJ McKinney on

The best of the action from Boris Johnson’s legal reckoning

Boris Johnson, James Eadie QC, Lady Hale, David Pannick QC and Gina Miller

So how was that for you? Yesterday the Supreme Court wrapped up a three-day hearing on the very meaning of the British constitution in what is already being billed as its most significant case since, well, the last Miller judgment. A decision is expected early next week. In this article, we will engage in a careful analysis of the competing submissions, with reference to the supporting documents where appropriate, in order to pronounce on the likely outcome.

Lol jk, you can get all that in 50-part threads on legal Twitter. Here’s a bunch of weird and wonderful things that went down during the hearing.

1. When Aidan O’Neill QC went full-on Braveheart

As the Guardian‘s John Crace described it. O’Neill, who was defending the Scottish Court of Session’s decision that the government’s recent suspension of parliament was unlawful, is a QC both north and south of the border. But there’s no doubt which team he supports during the Six Nations, as O’Neill opened by mentioning the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert Burns, the Church of Scotland and Walter Scott (“he invented Scottishness”, don’t you know).

His opponent, Sir James Eadie QC, was super impressed.

Sir James Eadie QC alongside Aidan O’Neill QC

O’Neill did stick in a few regular legal submissions, taking a moment to slate a previous judgment by Lord Carnwath (“how to win friends and influence people”, Hale commented). But he went all out for a big finish, warning the justices not to “let this case be your Dred Scott moment” — a reference to when the US Supreme Court decided that black people had no rights — before intoning that “what we’ve got here is the mother of parliaments shut down by the father of lies”.

Mic. Drop.

2. The justices tore Ronan Lavery QC a new one

Spare a thought for Belfast silk Ronan Lavery, who was pitched into the fray at short notice with a brief from Northern Ireland. He argued that the region would be particularly badly affected by the no deal Brexit that prorogation might enable, but the justices peppered him with questions about whether any of this was legally relevant.

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me as to the relevance of this”, one justice said. “The purpose of this hearing is not to rehearse the pros and cons of Brexit”, another pointed out. “Completely irrelevant”, harrumphed a third.

When Lavery failed to take the hint, Lord Wilson lost the head (in Supreme Court justice terms, anyway). “Don’t abuse our politeness and don’t abuse Lady Hale’s patience”, he told Lavery. Surely the most withering judicial putdown ever broadcast live on Sky News.

3. Will the real Lord Pannick please stand up?

David Pannick QC, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have bad days at the office. Enraptured lawyers compared him to Messi, Federer, Zidane, Michael Jordan.

Some people, though, were more taken by the Pannick look-a-like sitting behind the great man. Not a stunt double, as it turns out, but Mishcon de Reya partner James Libson.

And, yes, of course there are Lord Pannick memes.

4. Lady Hale’s technical woes

Just in case anyone was having too much fun, Lady Hale managed to subtly remind the viewing public of the abject state of court IT.

5. #Bundlegate

The hearing wasn’t the greatest advertisement for the efficiency of the courts in general, it must be said. Pannick was only getting into his stride on the opening morning when it emerged that his bundles of documents submitted to the court were a mess. As Hale & Co patiently tried to find the references, the junior solicitor responsible was frantically Googling flights to Outer Mongolia.

Lord Pannick clocked up half a dozen grovelling apologies in as many minutes before, eventually, Emily from Mishcons rode to the rescue with updated bundles.

Praise God for Emily!

Lawyers everywhere had the same reaction: there but for the grace of Lady Hale go I.

Never a dull moment!

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