The best of the action from Boris Johnson’s legal reckoning
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.
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”.
WATCH: Aidan O’Neill sums up case against proroguing Parliament at the Supreme Court.
“The mother of parliaments been shut down by the father of lies. Rather than allowing lies to triumph, listen to the angels of your better nature, and rule that this prorogation was unlawful.” pic.twitter.com/tBX7DdVAFa
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) September 18, 2019
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.
Lavery having an absolute nightmare at the Supreme Court.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) September 19, 2019
“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.
“Don’t abuse our politeness and don’t abuse Lady Hale’s patience.”
Lawyer Ronan Lavery is reminded again to keep to the subject of parliament’s suspension.
— Sky News Politics (@SkyNewsPolitics) September 19, 2019
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.
Pannick now in full flow.
No complex references.
Simple, short sentences going straight to the point. Anyone- lawyer or not- can understand what he is talking about.
(The Justices will know they are watching a rare talent and enjoying every minute).
— Matthew Ryder (@mryderqc) September 19, 2019
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.
He’s so well prepared, he even keeps a spare copy of himself on hand in case anything breaks. pic.twitter.com/8RGptVEaUt
— John Louth (@CJLouth) September 19, 2019
And, yes, of course there are Lord Pannick memes.
Pannick on the streets of London,
Pannick on the streets of Birmingham pic.twitter.com/ubYhoaVxHz
— . (@twlldun) September 17, 2019
You versus the guy she told you not to worry about pic.twitter.com/wq8kebHYZr
— Legal Cheek (@legalcheek) September 19, 2019
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.
NEW: Lady Hale’s computer isn’t working.
“If and when you refer me to any of the documents I’m going to be in trouble”
— Daniel Kraemer (@dcakraemer) September 18, 2019
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.
a moment of silent remembrance, please, for the junior lawyers working on the Miller case, who expired of fright during Lord Pannick’s exchange with Lady Hale about the erroneous bundling of the documents
— Jamie Susskind (@jamiesusskind) September 17, 2019
If I was a lawyer I think all my anxiety dreams would be about supplemental authorities bundles.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) September 17, 2019
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.
Lawyers everywhere had the same reaction: there but for the grace of Lady Hale go I.
— Liz McG (@LizMcG_emplaw) September 17, 2019
#SupremeCourt #Miller2 #Cherrycase – barely an hour in and already we have #bundlegate So pleased that it happens in the highest court in the land in one of the most important cases in modern history and not just me when I’m playing my trade in Bradford County Court!
— Justice Bradford (@deputybradlaw) September 17, 2019
— Zoey White (@WhiteZoey) September 17, 2019
Never a dull moment!