Has anyone in the legal profession done any work this week? Most lawyers I know have taken at least a sneaky peek at the live feed from the Supreme Court. It wouldn’t surprise me if some called in sick and binge-watched the whole thing.
When Lord Pannick (pictured above) wrapped up his submissions on Thursday, with Lady Hale pledging to have a ruling of some kind early next week, it felt like the end of the Truman Show, when the main event stops and the nation collectively wonders what else it can watch.
The viewing figures are staggering: the Supreme Court tells me that over the course of one hour on Thursday morning, it received 2.8m stream requests (ie people clicking on the live stream). Some will be individuals opening and reopening the site, but it’s a fair guess that hundreds of thousands of people were watching at any one time - even if Homes Under the Hammer was on the other side.
It has been a tumultuous week in politics (when isn’t it?) but a brilliant one for the legal profession. From Lord Pannick’s forensic submissions to Michael Fordham QC’s encyclopedic knowledge of constitutional law, with an impassioned interlude from Scottish QC Aidan O’Neill, the level of discourse has been outstanding (even if the all-male line-up of advocates was admittedly a bad look).
Like her fellow Leodensian Alan Bennett, Lady Hale has become a national treasure. The Yorkshire Post was so impressed it claimed her as its own. And the cross-examination of her colleagues was forensic. Lawyers across the land must have watched from behind their sofas as Ronan Lavery QC was halted by Lord Wilson who told him: ‘Don’t abuse our politeness and don’t abuse Lady Hale’s patience’. It was drama to rival anything you’ll find on Netflix. Political sketch writers, notably the Guardian’s John Crace, have clearly had a ball having crossed Parliament Square to the Supreme Court.
The process has not always run smoothly: the bundles mess-up and issues with failing computers will be all too familiar to lawyers, and it’s good that the public has had a glimpse of the kind of pressures the court system comes under.
It’s easy to forget, but the chance to view such proceedings is a relatively recent privilege. Gradually, the courts are becoming open to the idea of allowing cameras inside, with the Court of Appeal beginning live-streaming last year in limited cases.
I’ve been wary of it in the past, but I’m a convert now. This week has been an educational glimpse of the profession for non-lawyers and a must-watch for those who are qualified. One imagines the experience has been invaluable for junior lawyers learning their craft.
Whatever the judges’ ruling next week, it’s been a brilliant to watch. I can’t wait for the film adaptation.
Image credit: Crown Copyright handout/Supreme Court/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock