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When in a Panic, Call Lord Pannick

The name of Lord Pannick has cropped up twice recently. He is one of the leading QCs on public and commercial law. So it was not surprising perhaps that those who wished to challenge the Government’s move for Brexit following the Referendum outcome would employ him to make their case in the High Court.

For those who have been out of touch with political events, the legal challenge is about whether the Government can decide to activate Article 50 and hence activate Brexit without a vote in Parliament. The Government claims it has the “prerogative” to do so or not, which requires some analysis of historic constitutional law ultimately going back centuries. The claimants, led by fund manager Gina Miller who seems to like publicity as she has campaigned on other issues, and allegedly supported by many expatriates, claim that this is a major constitutional issue and that the Referendum result did not mandate the Government to act. But others see it as a way of possibly thwarting Brexit bearing in mind that many politicians supported the Remain side. It surely seems unlikely that the claimants would put up as much as £100,000 (the likely cost of the case, and more if lost) and pay one of the most expensive legal minds to work on it just to make a constitutional point.

Lord Pannick’s name has surprisingly also cropped up today in an article in the FT where it is reported that Sir Philip Green of BHS notoriety has commissioned him to write a report on Parliament’s investigation of the affairs of BHS. It includes some “withering criticisms” apparently. It suggests that Parliament Committee Chairman Frank Field had predetermined his conclusions before hearing the evidence. There may be a legal challenge from Philip Green in the offing on this matter, although Parliamentary privilege may make it difficult.

Now Lord Pannick has been in the public eye before because he was one of the lead QC’s in the appeal of Northern Rock shareholders against nationalisation. That was ultimately lost in the Supreme Court and in the European Courts. But he certainly gave a good performance with a well argued case as this writer followed that one in through the Courts. Let us hope he has better luck this time.

As any lawyer will say to you, the outcome of legal cases can be uncertain, and that particularly applies to judicial reviews where only points of law tend to count but where the judiciary can be reluctant to interfere in the political sphere or the will of Parliament. Did Parliament intend the Referendum vote to be binding on the Government? That may be one of the key issues.

Roger Lawson

  1. David Pannick is one of the best legal brains we have in the field of public law. Gina Miller, from what little I know of her, seems a splendid person who might yet save us from our folly. I take the view that Miller’s arguments are legally correct; we cannot have matters of foreign and trade policy dictated by referendum, and Parliament never intended that we should.

    It is clear that leaving the EU is not just a matter of “regaining control” or “restoring our sovereignty”. It is a complex matter involving a major shift in our personal rights and duties and the nation’s trading position, maybe even the UK’s coherence.

    A “soft” Brexit might take us back into EFTA, which we helped to found in 1960 and which we left in order to join the EEC. But that will not satisfy the Brexiteers, because EFTA too has rules, and a court to enforce them.

    A “hard” Brexit without the EU or EFTA will take us back to our pre 1960 trading position without the Empire.

    Robert Morfee

  2. sharesoc says:

    Postscript: The High Court decided today that the applicants had a good case and that the Government therefore required Parliament to decide to withdraw rights granted under previous Acts to UK citizens under EU related legislation. The Government is to appeal. And who was acting as solicitor for one of the applicants (hairdresser Mr Dos Santos who apparently voted for Brexit but was concerned about the constitutional issue)? Why none other than David Greene of Edwin Coe who also worked with Lord Pannick on the Northern Rock case and represented private shareholders.
    Roger Lawson

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