Stentorian – the word that will always be connected with Geoffrey Cox QC, and whenever he speaks, there speaks Stentor of old.
You must remember that speech which he gave at the party conference in October 2018, as newly appointed Attorney-General. He first began as if he had to apologise to the angry party members for accepting office under Mrs May, but he spoke as an unwavering Brexiteer and won the floor, which rose at his conclusion.
I have not met Geoffrey Cox, despite staying frequently in his constituency. If I ever meeting him, pounding the precipitous inclines of its streets, I will be sure to shake his hand warmly.
His departure from the government was something of a surprise, except apparently to those with inside knowledge. Maybe when you lose too many cases you will consider changing your barrister, which is essential what the Attorney-General is: the Cabinet’s own chief legal adviser and advocate in court. It seems harsh though at our Stentor, for his advice on the Cherry / Miller case (as far as we may discern what it was) could not be faulted by other lawyers, and the Supreme Court’s ruling was surprising to say the least.
Then again, maybe there was a gnawing resentment at his forcefulness in trying to press through the Commons Mrs May’s deal, rebuking the doubters “we are not children”.. and that insult stings when spoken with a commanding voice.
Or maybe it was the inevitable rise of another with a pointed agenda.
A new Attorney-General
Now we have a new, and no doubt talented Attorney-General, Suella Braverman. She may find it a thankless task if she is held responsible for every wild decision by a court, and the clock is ticking for the changes which she herself presaged and will be expected to carry though. She wrote, a fortnight before her elevation that she wanted Parliament to take back control, against “a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges”. This article may have won her the post.
At the same time though she must be the voice of moderation and advice as to the legal points now, not those after any future reform.
A legal adviser is in a poor position, as she must say what the client does not want to hear. Maybe this is why the tenure of an Attorney-General has been so short these last years. It used to be a long-term, non-political position but that seems untenable now.
What then is the job before our new Attorney-General? Possibly to be an activist to rein the wild decisions in, as she has expressed herself on this issue previously. That may be why indeed she has been called forth to be Attorney-General in place of Geoffrey Cox. He advises sagely and cautiously, as a barrister will do, when the order of the day may be active reform.
She has already been attacked cautiously by the heads of the legal profession: the President of the Law Society has rebuffed the idea of encroachment, saying that: ‘The role of the judges is to give effect to the will of parliament and the role of judicial review is to support parliament not to undermine it.’ The two are not incompatible opinions.
The Attorney is also nominally in charge of prosecutions, which has become a sore topic with change in the air.
The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission
The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission is coming and its member will have to be appointed. (Did I leave my card? You mean you don’t have it? Let me give you my details again…)
It was thought that Geoffrey Cox would be involved as Attorney-General but now it is unlikely that he will be appointed to chair it, and again it may be that the previous speeches by Suella Braverman lined her up to do the job. I wish her luck.
I have commented before on the care that is needed to run the Commission’s task properly. It should not just be a place for activism, in fact it must not even primarily be for activism. Active ideas are needed to push anything forward, but any changes to the constitution must be fair, even-handed and democratic but more than that, they be seen to be so without question.
Back to where we were
Tavistock still has a fine Member of Parliament and I trust will do so for many years, and a member too with a great deal to contribute, perhaps on the new Commission, which would benefit from his experience being entangled in the cases they are tasked with straightening out, or at least informing in the House.
The nation needs a steady adviser as it stretches its wings to look over the world. As it was once put:
Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.
- Blood on the carpet
- Some Foolish Opinions Of Lawyers Concerning The Making Of Lawes (Thomas Hobbes)
- Judicial review: the Manifesto
- The work begins: constitutional reform
- Challenging the challenges
- The rule of lawyers
- Supreme Tangle
- Judicial Review: a guide
- The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham (former senior Lord of Appeal)
- Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics by Jonathan Sumption (former Justice of the Supreme Court)
- The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken
- Constitutional & Administrative Law by Neil Parpworth
- Scots Law for Journalists by Rosalind McInnes
- The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
- Beyond Brexit: Towards a British Constitution by Vernon Bogdanor