On Wednesday 26 February the Legal Professional Network met at Sackers for our third meeting for a topical discussion on the thorny issue of the relationship between the courts and the constitution. A subject that has increasingly come to the fore in recent years with clashes between the Government and the Supreme Court, Parliament and the Executive, the media and the so-called elite.
On hand to help us unpack this difficult topic was Philip Lord Norton of Louth, the University of Hull’s Professor of Government and Director of the University’s Centre for Legislative Studies. Once described as the UK’s “greatest living expert on Parliament” and a “world authority on constitutional issues”, Lord Norton brilliantly introduced the topic, briefly outlining the history of the issue, and contextualising the UK’s system of governance by contrasting our system of “rule of law” with other governmental systems that operate through “rule by law”.
Joining Lord Norton were two of his former students. Ben Stevenson, formerly a Liberal Democrat advisor on Foreign Affairs, and currently a Policy Advisor at the Law Society, took a more forensic approach, directly engaging with the events of the last ten years, and looking at the potential meaning and significance of current events. He did not limit his approach to the Prorogation of Parliament episode, though, but spoke about why our legal system, and our ‘rule of law’ tradition was valuable in terms of promoting economic development.
Dehenna Davison, newly elected Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland gave a practical demonstration of the demands of governance, arriving late having been held up in Parliament for a vote that was, in the end, delayed. An engaging speaker with the advantage of having a fresh look at parliamentary procedure, Dehenna gave the audience a different insight onto the subject, that of a newly elected MP coming to terms with parliamentary procedure and the way that government operates.
Our enthusiastic audience challenged the panel with a series of questions that, as you may expect from an audience of legal professionals, probed and cut to the heart of the issue. Of particular concern was legal infrastructure – not only access to justice, but literal access to the courts and representation through a cut back legal aid system that means many do not have recourse to challenge injustice. There were, of course, questions on the subject of Brexit, judicial review, and new rules around the age of retirement for Supreme Court Judges.
Further networking followed the panel discussion, and the conversation continued over refreshments. A great evening and a great discussion with thanks to Lord Norton, Ben, Dehenna and our host and Chair for the evening Ian Pittaway, without whom the evening would not have been possible. A Hull alumnus and Partner at Sackers, Ian gifted us the use of this fantastic venue for the second time.