Debate, discord and denouement

LAWYERS ARE PLAYING a large part in the week’s two biggest debates: the presidential campaign in America and questions of Brexit and parliamentary sovereignty. Many commentators noted Hilary Clinton was every inch the well-prepared courtroom veteran in the first debate with republican nominee Donald Trump, a contest pollsters agreed she won comfortably. Quite how anyone, lawyer or non-lawyer, could prep for this week’s encounter, was open to question, following the leak of the “Trump tape” over the weekend, an 11 year old recording of the GOP candidate making lewd and obscene remarks about women. “Look up,” Daily Show presenter John Oliver urged his audience, “way up, way up there, no… higher… high beyond the clouds. Do you see that? That’s rock bottom. And we’re down here”. The second meeting between Trump and Clinton began without a handshake – still less a kiss – and quickly deteriorated from there as “The Donald” claimed he would put Clinton “in jail” once he was president. Tax lawyers might also want to reach out to Trump, since, after finally admitting he hasn’t paid federal income tax for years, he explained it was because, “I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world”. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated this financial manoeuvre made Trump “a genius” – an opinion Trump would undoubtedly agree with, as “Nineteen things Donald Trump knows better than anyone else, according to Donald Trump” in the Washington Post reveals. Sample: “I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth”). The report doesn’t even have space for his boldest claim, “I know words. I have the best words.” This week it emerged that Trump’s lawyers always met with him in pairs, so he couldn’t backtrack on what was said “because Donald says certain things and then has a lack of memory”, according to attorney Patrick McGann in a diplomatic deposition. It should be noted Trump has previously claimed he has “the world’s best memory”.

EQUALLY PERSONAL EXCHANGES in Westminster on Monday, where Sir Keir Starmer QC, the newly appointed Shadow Brexit Minister was dismissed by conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith as “a second rate lawyer”. Parliamentary sketch writer John Crace observed in The Guardian this was an example of Duncan Smith’s “customary diversionary tactic of proving he is one of the most unpleasant men in Westminster”. Appearing on Channel 4 News later the same day, Duncan Smith denied he had said it, perhaps having been reminded over the course of the afternoon that Starmer was DPP for five years and a former “QC of the Year”. 

YESTERDAY’S PLANNING LAW CONFERENCE at the Signet Library attracted a first rate, engaged audience of lawyers, planners, developers and others engaged in Scotland’s planning and environmental protection system. A new event in the WS Society’s highly rated CPD programme, this is set to become the authoritative annual industry event. Where better than the Signet Library, the neo-classical design of which was the subject of planning controversy in the late 18th century when plans for the redevelopment complex around Parliament Hall were first revealed? Planning is seldom far from the headlines. “The Donald” himself might claim to know more on the subject “in the history of the world” after his well-documented jousts with the planning authorities in Scotland. Reports this week suggest he’s losing millions on this golf development at the Menie Estate and Turnberry.

THURSDAY WAS the start of the legal challenge to Brexit in the High Court and, according to BBC News, “as constitutional battles go, it is box-office stuff”. Top QC’s Lord Pannick (“Superstar of the bar” leading the challenge) and James Eadie (for the government) will go head to head, with the government’s legal adviser Jeremy Wright QC also expected to play a prominent role. He has said: “We do not believe this case has legal merit”. Duncan Smith’s appraisal of the respective ratings of the lawyers involved has yet to be recorded.

THE PREMISE OF Billy Bob Thornton as disgraced alcoholic LA lawyer William McBride taking on the monolithic corporate law firm he helped create is the enticing pitch behind Amazon’s new drama Goliath (available to stream this week). Described in an early review by Variety as a “detailed and enthralling work… a combination of two stalwart TV forms-the law drama and the anti-hero serial” and produced by courtroom series veteran David E Kelley (“The Practice” and “Boston Legal”) the gritty drama boasts a stellar cast, including Oscar winner William Hurt and Tony winner Nina Arianda. Previewers commented Thornton “clearly conveys the doubts McBride has about using the full array of despicable tactics he has learned while building up his legal career”. As he warns one character: “Don’t make me stoop to what I’m capable of.” The biblical reference in the title suggests battles – and perhaps redemptive encounters – will ensue.

TUESDAY SAW the denouement of highly praised Channel 4 drama National Treasure as the trial of comedian Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) for historic sexual offences reached its verdict. Despite some doubts surrounding the accuracy of depictions of both police and legal procedure, thanks to superb performances by Coltrane, Julie Walters, and Andrea Riseborough (as respectively Finchley’s wife and daughter) National Treasure has retained an enigmatic unease over questions of guilt, memory, changing mores and public collusion in a post-Savile environment.

— “Writer”

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