An argument cloaked in flannel and a political agenda: your letters to the editor

Argument cloaked in flannel


Your ‘guest column on 8 November by Sir Stephen Laws was so bad, I am guessing it was printed under pressure to show political ‘balance’. [Editor’s note: it wasn’t].


Laws gave himself an easy task: attacking not the substance of the Supreme Court’s 2019 prorogation judgment, but the paper tiger of a remark made by Lord Neuberger, at a conference, in which he speculated about how things would have sat with a two-year prorogation. All the same, the result was: Paper Tiger 1, Laws 0.  


Laws produced three reasons ‘why this hypothesis is an implausible fantasy and cannot be relied on to support the conclusion that the Supreme Court acted rightly’.


First, a two-year prorogation was not practical because parliament was needed to vote tax revenues. As if an autocratic government would not expect to unmuzzle a pliant parliament, once a year, to vote taxes through.


Second, no need for the courts to have jurisdiction because the Queen could ‘use her influence’ instead. As if the Queen has either mandate, or inclination, to place herself as ‘enemy of the people’. Last time an ancestor of hers tried that, he was put to death.


Third, ‘the government was seeking to put itself on the side of the electorate against a body of parliamentary opinion that, it was suggesting, was intent on thwarting the electorate’s wishes’. In other words, it is no business of the courts if the government seeks to subvert parliamentary democracy so long as does so in the name of populism.  Wow!


This is ghastly stuff. Perhaps he had an inkling of that. A lawyer confident in their argument does not cloak their argument in this kind of adjectival flannel.


Or perhaps he cannot see it. We know this strain of opinion all too well. The courts claim a jurisdiction to stop you trampling on constitutional norms? Abolish that jurisdiction! Parliamentary process penalises our good friend Owen Paterson?  Abolish that process! And if a fine judge such as Lord Neuberger has the temerity to agree with a unanimous Supreme Court, he is guilty of ‘mythmaking’ and promulgating ‘fantastical misconceptions’.


Dick Jennings

R.D.Y. Jennings & Co, Solicitors

Malton, North Yorks


A political agenda?


I read Sir Stephen Laws’ opinion piece with interest but noted that there is very little law in the article to support his views. Quite significant reliance is placed on assumptions that effectively this government, in the simplest terms, just would not dare to do x or to do y, when the opposite has often been the case in recent times. I hope someone goes to the trouble of responding to this disappointing effort but with a more rigorous explanation of the law.


Finally, what exactly is the Policy Exchange and does it have any political remit? This needs explaining since Stephen Laws mentions it and quotes approvingly from an earlier Policy Exchange report on the prorogation case, yet does not make clear what the Policy Exchange is.


Kathleen Lee

Solicitor (retired), Folkestone


Gravy and the grave


Ebenezer Scrooge is the central character in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which, for many, sums up a true message of Christmas. It has repeatedly been staged, filmed and televised. Dickens describes Scrooge as, ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!’ So could he have been a lawyer?


Like many of us he is very busy in the period leading up to the festive season. ‘Christmas is a very busy time for us, Mr Cratchit. People preparing feasts, giving parties, spending the mortgage money on frivolities. One might say that December is the foreclosure season. Harvest time for the money-lenders.’ This quotation is actually from the Muppet Christmas Carol which is one of the best versions. He is usually portrayed as a general dealer, merchant or other businessman of some sort who lends money. He has a counting-house, with a team of clerks, including Bob Cratchit, which, in most adaptations looks like a Dickensian law firm.


In the 19th century, lawyers were often money lenders and private bankers too. Lawyers would be able to draw up the legal documentation to set terms for lending money, especially on security for debt such as a mortgage. I imagine the SRA might have some concerns about using a solicitor account for banking purposes, to say nothing of taking financial advantage of clients. Using the name of a deceased partner would be permitted. Scrooge had been in partnership with Jacob Marley and his name was still over the door.


If Scrooge was around now he would have to have an office manual and training plans, staff appraisals, indemnity insurance and possibly a risk management plan to protect against ghosts. His employees would now have rights to paid holidays, and even an extra piece of coal for the fire, but it is still not illegal for some people to have to work on Christmas Day. It probably would breach the professional rules for Marley to haunt his former partner, as that might bring the profession into disrepute. Although being a spirit would satisfy the rules on transparency!


Christmas is still a busy time for lawyers, with family disputes, more crime and accidents. Harvest time!


David Pickup

Pickup & Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury


Time for me to go


Your article on the SRA rebuke of a solicitor for ‘posting several inappropriate messages’ on a private WhatsApp group, deemed by the SRA to be ‘offensive and derogatory about certain groups of individuals’ has finally made me decide to come off the roll of solicitors – and I submitted my application to do so today.


As I retired from practice five years ago, I have the luxury of choice and will no longer put my professional and private reputation in the hands of a body of regulators who rebuke for undisclosed alleged offensiveness. The world seems to be full of people waiting to be offended at the drop of a hat and the SRA’s failure to report what they perceive as offensive enough to warrant a rebuke gives me no confidence in their ability to regulate me.


David Chapman

Chelmsford, Essex