The justice secretary plays Scrooge in a distinctly modern version of Dickens’ tale.
Our beloved justice secretary, Chris Grayling, played Ebeneezer Scrooge this year in his village production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The director allocated him the part without audition.
This version had a modern twist. When the Ghost of Christmas Past came to visit Scrooge, he was spirited off to the main square in Kiev, Ukraine. He saw hundreds of thousands braving the winter cold to call for their country to move towards association with the European Union, and to be governed by European values. Scrooge addressed them: ‘Bah, humbug! You don’t know what you’re talking about! The EU knows no values, only interference and bureaucracy. Go home and be satisfied with what you have.’ The crowd gave an ear-splitting roar for freedom under European rule of law.
He was shown a copy of a report produced by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) about the establishment of the new Bar Association of Ukraine, including a section on recent disciplinary proceedings and decisions against advocates in the Ukraine. Are the core principles of self-regulation and independence guaranteed? Can advocates speak and gather freely? Are disciplinary proceedings held without the presence of the lawyer concerned? ‘European standards? What are they?’ asked Scrooge dismissively, throwing the report at the heads of the wailing advocates.
The Ghost of Christmas Present took him to the overflowing waiting room of a court back in the UK. Landlords and tenants, employers and employees, husbands and wives sat silent and dejected, their heads in their hands. There was no one to represent them after the 30% cut in legal aid had been introduced. Two little children called Ignorance and Want huddled pitifully in the corner. Huge crocodile tears dropped down Scrooge’s face. He cried louder than the litigants themselves. ‘I feel your pain!’ he emoted. ‘My hand was forced! Don’t blame me – it’s the economic crisis!’ Outside, home owners cheered as house prices continued to rise, and people in the booming south-east laughed.
It was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who took Scrooge to the Anglosphere, a loose federation of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which the UK had joined after leaving the EU. Just as the EU had started as a coal and steel agreement between the original six countries, so the Anglosphere had begun through a multilateral agreement for co-operation in intelligence between the five countries concerned, known as Five Eyes.
All the citizens of these five countries were spied on constantly by their governments (video cameras in the streets, programmes to gather mobile phone information, mass surveillance of emails and other web traffic), and the intelligence was shared between the five. The governments argued that their citizens’ common English language gave them privileged access to Anglophone-only concepts like freedom and fairness (unknown to foreign-language speakers, who just know words like ‘despotism’ and ‘tyranny’). But the citizens wanted their privacy back.
The lawyers begged Scrooge to respect legal professional privilege. ‘Don’t let Five Eyes spy on confidential communications with our clients!’ He kicked them contemptuously out of his office when they insisted that universal concepts of democracy and the rule of law were undermined by mass government surveillance.
In this version of A Christmas Carol, the most modern twist of all came at the end. There was no redemption for Scrooge in recognising the error of his ways. Scrooge was right, you see – and all because he spoke the English language!
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs