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LLB Law students get unique insight of ‘Brexit’ Supreme Court judgments

Jessica Simor QC and James Libson

Goldsmiths Law and the Britain in Europe thinktank were delighted to welcome to the College one of the UK’s leading specialists in Public, EU and human rights law, Matrix Chambers’ Jessica Simor QC, who was counsel in the first Miller case, representing the second Claimant, Dos Santos, and the Executive Partner of leading law firm Mishcon de Reya (and Head of Private there), James Libson, who had also been involved in the first Miller case and led the Mishcon legal team on the second Miller case, where the UK Supreme Court found that the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament was ‘unlawful’ and its ‘effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme’.

James and Jessica provided expert analysis on the legal work that went into and made possible the historic Miller cases, before reflecting on next steps in the fluid Brexit process.

Jessica Simor started by noting that she didn’t think either the first or second Miller cases would actually happen. It had not occurred to her that the Government would do anything else than go to Parliament, she said, in relation to the first Miller case. It ‘seemed like a crazy idea’ that the Prime Minister would close Parliament, she observed on the second Miller case.

‘There should have been consultation, reflection, risk assessment of different options’, she insisted, ‘but instead there was public hysteria in the UK’. Debate was dominated by a ‘betrayal, honour, respect’ rhetoric, making the whole process become emotion led. So private individuals, like Gina Miller, had to step in.

On Miller (2), Jessica stressed that the government offered no justification for a 5 week prorogation (when prorogation usually lasted 4 days), adding that, had Boris Johnson provided a justification, the Court would have probably found it much more difficult to decide the case in the way that it did.

James Libson offered his reflection on how ‘our Constitution is being tested in these times’, but the upside of the otherwise convoluted Brexit process was that certain aspects of our constitutional system were working.

Giving an intriguing insight on Miller (2), James observed that in the summer of 2019 the focus initially was not on prorogation, until Boris Johnson started speaking openly about it. To Gina Miller and others, prorogation certainly looked a potentially serious case of executive overreach. It was their view that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen was challengeable.

Mishcon wrote to Boris Johnson to ask what position he would take on prorogation, seeking assurances on behalf of Gina Miller. His response did not provide the categoric assurances required, according to Gina Miller. This was the first step in the process that eventually led to the historic prorogation judgment.

James added that he was confident Ginna Miller would win the first Miller case, expressing the view that the Supreme Court Justices did not feel they were entering the political arena with that case. But with the prorogation case, he was ‘not nearly as confident’. Then the Government made significant mistakes such as the Prime Minister not giving evidence.

On the effect of the two cases on Gina Miller, James explained that the litigants involved in these cases had ‘brought upon themselves a whole set of risks’ that litigants shouldn’t be facing, and that the abuse that Gina Miller was subjected to was ‘absolutely abhorrent’ and she had been ‘extraordinarily brave’.

On the way forward with Brexit, Jessica Simor insisted that a confirmatory Referendum could be held in 9 weeks, if the need for a campaign and testing of the question were removed. She also predicted that it would be impossible to pass the legislation needed to give legal effect to a potential deal until the end of October. We have now seen that the lack of time to fully debate the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in Parliament is what stopped the legislation in its tracks.

Referring to the prospect of a second referendum, James Libson explained that it seemed ‘a realistic outcome now, a sign of the impossibility to predict what’s going to happen next’.

Goldsmiths’ Britain in Europe (BiE) thinktank, that sponsored the event, forms an integral part of Goldsmiths Law’s research and educational provision on Brexit, Europe and human rights. This independent thinktank, which was founded in October 2015 by our Head of Law, Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, offers students in the LLB (Law) programme unique opportunities to engage with UK and European Union policy makers, eminent legal scholars and legal professionals, third sector experts and other key parties in the debate on the relationship – past, present and future – between Britain and Europe.

 

Goldsmiths LLB Law students put on a mock murder trial at the Royal Courts of Justice

Goldsmiths LLB Law students at the Royal Courts of Justice, holding written guidance about their role as defence and prosecution counsel, judge, member of the jury, defendant and other parties in the criminal trial.

Goldsmiths LLB Law students at the Royal Courts of Justice, holding written guidance about their role as defence and prosecution counsel, judge, member of the jury, defendant and other parties in the criminal trial.

As part of the English Legal System in a Global Context module, LLB students recently got a chance to participate in a professional activity by acting out a criminal trial for ‘murder’, in a real court room at the Royal Courts of Justice.

As part of this constructive and fun day, the students, with their lecturer, Dr Dagmar Myslinska, got a glimpse of the history and function of the impressive RCJ building, which houses the High Court and the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Opened by Queen Victoria in 1882, it is one of the largest court buildings in Europe. On their way into the building, students were also fortunate to unexpectedly witness a procession of newly-appointed judges and court officials, in their finest regalia.

Students learned first-hand about observing protocol in a court house, which unfortunately includes a no-pictures policy. They were introduced to court room decorum and to the intricacies of the English court system by a representative of the National Justice Museum, the award-winning museum and education provider on law and justice topics.

LLB Law student Alex

Students then took on various roles in a mock criminal trial, which was inspired by real events. In their roles as a judge, jurors, barristers, solicitors, witnesses, and an usher, students were faced with the task of deciphering complex facts and challenging legal issues and to ultimately decide a defendant’s fate. Depending on their roles, students practiced public speaking, deliberation, organisational, and analytical skills. Having prepared their strategies beforehand with the support of their solicitors, defence and prosecution barristers debated with confidence, drawing on evidence to highlight weaknesses in their opponents’ arguments. As witnesses, students presented relevant facts objectively and were also tasked with improvising on the spot as needed. The judge impartially presided over the proceedings and kept order, with the usher’s assistance. All of this hard work paid off as the mock trial was conducted professionally and smoothly, and the jurors reached a verdict.

Conducting the mock trial in a real court room at the RCJ inspired the students’ enthusiasm and confidence, and made textbook learning of criminal law come to life. As part of our pioneering module design, more professional activities are to follow throughout the year, aimed at immersing the students in the practice of law.

Welcome week: new LLB cohort settles in and immediately gets to work

Last week saw the arrival of our LLB Law cohort 2019-20. A wonderful group of very dynamic, highly enthusiastic, students joined us for a range of ‘welcome week’ activities, including induction lectures from our academic and administrative team.

Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, on the values central to studying Law at Goldsmiths

The Head of Department, Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, warmly welcomed the students, congratulating them for entering Goldsmiths Law, giving them an overview of the programme and speaking to them about the Goldsmiths values intrinsic in our pioneering LLB Law degree.

Students were introduced to all their Year 1 modules – Contract Law, Public law and the Human Rights Act, Criminal Law, English System in a Global Legal Context and 21st Century Legal Skills – by our academics teaching in Year 1, Dr Virginie

Dr Dagmar Myslinska introducing Contract

Barral, Dr Alex Dymock and Dr Dagmar Myslinska, our law librarian Greg Bennett and Lecturer in English for academic purposes Sara Ewing.

Our senior administrator in law, Jean-Michel Villot, then spoke to students about all the key administrative processes and student support systems, in relation to learning, teaching and assessment, and the day-to-day life as a law student at Goldsmiths. The students learnt about our personal tutoring systems from the senior tutor, Dr Dagmar Myslinska, before being welcomed to Goldsmiths by the president of the Student Union and members of the Student Union team, representatives of the ‘student ambassador’ scheme and members of the careers service.

Dr Alex Dymock introducing Criminal Law: Theory and Practice

But ‘welcome week’ was not simply about introductions; students have immediately got down to work, taking part in a debating exercise, where they were confronted with a host of challenging questions: whether there exists a democratic or constitutional justification for a second referendum, whether the UK could follow the example of European countries where tuition at public Universities is free (or where there exist low tuition fees) and whether the use of torture to prevent an imminent terrorist attack is incompatible with fundamental human rights. They debated with confidence, paying attention to drawing on evidence and highlighting weaknesses in their ‘opponents’ arguments.

LLB Law students - Debating

LLB Law students ‘debating’. Dr Virginie Barral in the background, offering advice.

Lectures started this week, with students working effectively their way through a very comprehensive set of VLE/online materials and engaging with the academics during lectures.

In a briefing session with the Head of School, students were also presented with an exciting placement/Pro Bono opportunity, which gives them access to legal advice work in Law Centres, Advice Agencies, CABs or charities, for a period between 3 to 6 months, on a 1-day per week basis, with a focus on ‘social welfare’ law (we’ll be publishing more information about this opportunity here; watch this space!).

The ‘Justice Syndicate’ immersive (jury trial) experience

Students are now preparing for their first encounter next week with two of the ‘professional activities’ incorporated in our pioneering ’21st Century Legal Skills’ module: an immersive ‘jury trial’ experience, with theatre company fanShen, and a visit to the Royal Courts of Justice, for a mock criminal law trial for ‘murder’, coordinated by the National Justice Museum.

 

4 October 2019