From a European and a lawyer’s point of view, there were some surprises when reading the latest new year’s honours list. I have therefore decided to suggest alternative nominees.
I was pleasantly startled to see that some members of the European Parliament were awarded honours, one from each of the main parties. (I cannot go through all the old honours lists or all MEPs past and present to see how common this might be.) Two received the award ‘for public and political services’, which I believe is the term for long and faithful execution of duties: Fiona Hall (a plain-old OBE), who is leader of Liberal Democrat MEPs, and Michael Cashman (CBE), who is from Labour and co-founder of Stonewall (and former EastEnders actor). Neither of them is particularly high-flying in the parliament.
The third is Malcolm Harbour (CBE and a Conservative), who was a leading player in the legislative passage of one of the most important recent pieces of EU law – the Services Directive – and is also the only one of the three who is a chair of a parliamentary committee, and an important one at that: the internal market and consumer protection committee. Interestingly, his citation reads ‘For services to the UK economy’.
There are other prominent UK MEPs, who have not been given any award. The most obvious is Sharon Bowles, a patent attorney who is the Liberal Democrat chair of the economic and monetary affairs committee, which is playing a leading role in regulation of the European financial markets and generally coping with the aftermath of the economic crisis. She was on the recent shortlist for the vacancy for the governor of the Bank of England. But I suppose the government cannot give an award to someone who is trying to help resolve the EU crisis in a responsible way - since then the euro might be saved and we would no longer be able to say how lucky we were to stay out of it, and, worse, the City of London might actually have to face some serious new regulation. (There is also, by the way, Arlene McCarthy (Labour) who is a former chair of the internal market and consumer protection committee.)
One can overdo reading between the lines of honours lists, but my interpretation of the trio of awards given is that the government is signalling that what really matters to it in the EU is the single market, and it is happy to drop the rest – thank you, Malcolm Harbour for delivering what is important (‘services to the UK Economy’ and a CBE, not just ‘public and political services’ and an OBE). This is a small part of the campaign for renegotiation or withdrawal – who knows how it will turn out? – which hots up week by week. I see that the justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, intervened over the holiday season with an interview in the Daily Telegraph, in which she said, in lines I support: ‘You have to make up your mind, either you belong to it or you don’t belong. There is no cherry picking.’
That is the European part of the honours list. Then we come to the lawyers’ part. As the Gazette has mentioned, there was a thin line-up of solicitors. There was only one solicitor listed in what are called the higher awards, David Wootton, and his was for being Lord Mayor of London. Precisely one person received an honour – it was an OBE - for ‘services to the legal profession’ and that was Diane Burleigh, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. She is a solicitor, but was not honoured for her services to our profession. There was a scattering of other publicly-employed lawyers, many involved in the management of the Olympic Games. And that’s it.
Actors – yes. Sportsmen – of course, yes. Politicians – plenty. But lawyers? Usually only if they are notable for something else, as if being a lawyer were in itself a potential disqualification.
I have three lawyers to nominate for awards (in case it might be thought that there is a dearth of lawyers deserving an honour in 2012). About the biggest story last year was the revelation of the UK state-within-a-state run by parts of the Murdoch press, more or less strong-arming the government into whom to fire and which policies to adopt, even if sometimes carried out by a smiling face at a glamorous party or on horseback. It showed a profound corruption of our political life, among the worst cases in our democratic history.
The UK owes a debt of gratitude to those lawyers who helped uncover the plot, particularly since two faced problems in their roles from that same press. The two lawyers are, of course, Charlotte Harris and Mark Lewis. And, just to show that I am not biased in favour of solicitors, I nominate Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Leveson inquiry, as the third deserving lawyer. Surely their contribution to the UK is as great, or greater, than the droves of actors, sports people and politicians who received awards?
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents about one million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs