Hanging in there?
How will the shock general election result affect justice policies, wonders John van der Luit-Drummond
‘Marvin, what do we do now?’ Many lawyers will have spent last Friday thinking just that. Over 100 solicitors and barristers stood for parliament at this week’s general election. Like Robert Redford’s Bill McKay in The Candidate, those that were successful are just realising that their lives are about to change. Some are now a part of a shock hung parliament; others, members of a minority government that must somehow take a divided country forward. For the rest, it is back to the day job.
As day broke on 9 June, eight new lawyers had been elected to Westminster and several others found themselves on the wrong side of the electorate. Notable results include Serjeant’s Inn’s James Berry, who lost his Conservative Kingston & Surbiton seat to former Liberal Democrat incumbent Ed Davey, while fellow Tory and ex-BHP Law solicitor James Wharton lost his Stockton South seat despite increasing his share of the vote.
Conservative and former Jacksons’ solicitor Simon Clarke had better luck, narrowly taking Middlesbrough & South East Cleveland, while ex-Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer associate Bim Afolami also won the safe seat of Hitchin & Harpenden for the Tories. In a surprise result for the blues, Pinsent Masons’ Paul Masterson took East Renfrewshire from the Scottish National Party.
For Labour, DC Law solicitor Fiona Onasanya took Peterborough as her party colleague, Darren Jones, legal counsel at BT and ex-technology solicitor at Bond Dickinson, won the marginal Bristol North West. Barrister Ellie Reeves, who works at Monaco Solicitors, won Lewisham West & Penge for the red team and Mellor & Jackson’s Afzal Khan also won Manchester Gorton for Labour.
Elsewhere, barrister Emma Little Pengelly took Belfast South for the Democratic Unionist Party, while SNP solicitor Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh lost her seat to the Tories in Ochil & South Perthshire.
Over at Labour headquarters, past and present shadow solicitors general Karl Turner and Catherine McKinnell were re-elected in Hull East and Newcastle North, respectively. As were ex-Herbert Smith’s Chuka Umunna in Streatham, barrister Emily Thornberry in Islington South, and solicitor Jonathan Reynolds in Stalybridge & Hyde. Former director of public prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer QC and shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon held Holborn & St Pancras and Leeds East on election night.
Despite early fears of a shock defeat, solicitor general Robert Buckland QC held his Swindon South constituency, as did his boss, attorney general Jeremy Wright QC in Kenilworth & Southam. But lawyers hoping the Lord Chancellor would not be returned to parliament were left disappointed after the safe seat of Norfolk South West was held by Liz Truss. Whether Truss returns as secretary of state for justice is another matter entirely, however, as the prime minister is likely to sweep the cabinet broom before too long.
Theresa May’s gamble has not reaped rewards. The loss of a parliamentary majority is a crippling blow and one she may not recover from. There are implications for both her foreign and domestic policies. Brexit will still dominate the political landscape, but there is now greater hope for a softer exit from the EU. The election result may, however, lead to delays in the negotiation process. Moreover, May’s deal with the DUP may not shore up her minority government for long.
As Nicholas Evans, head of public law at Bircham Dyson Bell, explains, any arrangement between the Tories and DUP allows the Lords to argue that policies not included in either parties’ manifestos would fall outside the Salisbury-Addison convention. The lack of a Commons majority, he adds, means the government may have to compromise on more issues, potentially requiring it to allow parliament a greater role in Brexit negotiations scheduled to begin on 19 June.
Notwithstanding the importance of Brexit, Nigel Teasdale, president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, says it is crucial the new government does not lose sight of domestic matters. The Prisons and Courts Bill and new provisions on the discount rate are chief among insurance lawyers worries, with some fearing both might head for the Westminster shredder.
Likewise, any plans to merge the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency now seem unlikely. And, if a progressive alliance can be formed on the opposition benches, plans to rip up the UK’s human rights laws also look doubtful. Such an alliance, together with sympathetic Tory backbenchers, must also hold the government’s feet to the fire over its promise to review LASPO during the next parliament.
The Conservatives warned the public that a coalition of chaos awaited it. Now that we have one, prime minister, what do we do now?
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal