Lawyers Uber-alles

TODAY THE HIGH COURT delivered a shattering blow to the UK government by ruling that Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50 to begin the process of the UK leaving the European Union. The ruling that the Crown's prerogative powers do extend to giving the notice is a devastating blow to Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to give the notice by March. The court has come down firmly on the side of the UK's fundamental constitutional principle of the supremacy of Parliament. The government says it will appeal to the Supreme Court. Game on.

TUESDAY EVENING at the Signet Library saw 28 new members in all categories join the WS Society, including 11 lawyers from leading firms taking the oath de fideli as Writers to the Signet before the Keeper of HM Signet Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT. The new Writers to the Signet were invited up to sign the "current" Register dating from 1772 and taken out of the safe at the Signet Library for the occasion. Deputy Keeper of the Signet Caroline Docherty WS gave a welcome address on the values and meaning of being a “WS” and of the power of those two initials as a legal brand like no other for hundreds of years. One of those admitted, employment lawyer Jennifer Skeoch WS of Burness Paull, tweeted after the formalities: “Awe inspiring design everywhere you look at the WS Society. A real privilege to be part of such an historic and special society”. Among the new jointers were 12 law student members from the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Napier, and Aberdeen. 

EMPLOYMENT JUDGE Antony Snelson was also looking to history last Friday, quoting Shakespeare in the Uber Technologies Inc. lawsuit in London. Uber lost a case over pay and holidays for UK drivers with the three tribunal judges turning to Hamlet as they criticized the San Francisco-based company for the “ridiculous” argument that it is an application provider rather than a taxi service: “We cannot help but be reminded of Queen Gertrude’s most celebrated line: ‘The lady doth protest too much’”, Judge Snelson said in the ruling in reference to one executive’s evidence. Uber plan to appeal the London decision which could have a wide-ranging impact for the group of technology companies that connect freelancers with customers in the so-called “gig economy”. Uber faces a wave of litigation around the world centring on the status of its drivers. Meanwhile, US comedian Conan O’Brien quipped: “Uber has announced a new service where you car share with strangers. It’s a cutting-edge new technology called “taking the bus”.

ONE AMERICAN who is no stranger to lawsuits is GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, with USA Today discovering earlier this year that “the Donald” and his businesses have been involved in over 3,500 state and federal actions over the decades. The paper reported “Donald Trump is a fighter, famous for legal skirmishes over everything from his golf courses to his tax bills to Trump University”. One such golf courses is the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, and with Trump taking a narrow lead in the polls for the first time this week, it is unlikely he will be spending much time thinking about legal problems this side of the Atlantic. These include an accusation of breach of privacy and a claim for damages by rambler Rohan Beyts. Her lawyer, Mike Dailly has accused Trump’s staff of illegally filming and retaining footage of her after the resort had previously admitted breaching the UK’s strict data protection and privacy laws. Where all this might end under a Trump presidency is anyone’s guess.

AS WELL AS KEEPING LAWYERS busy, commentators, pundits and comedians have not been short changed by Trump throughout this campaign. The British broadcaster John Oliver has won five Emmy awards for his US show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Oliver’s commentary has been credited with helping influence US legislation, regulations and court rulings, an influence dubbed “The John Oliver Effect”. A segment on net neutrality was watched over 12 million times on YouTube and generally acknowledged to have changed the debate; a ninth circuit court judge cited a Last Week Tonight segment in a ruling. Oliver has founded and legally incorporated a church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption”, to demonstrate how easy it is to qualify as a church and receive tax exempt status in the US. Oliver also proved that if every Trump lawsuit was an episode of a US legal drama, his legal actions could have sustained – and here he took a deep breath – all 456 episodes of Law and Order, all 389 of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, all 195 of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, all 22 of Law and Order: Los Angeles, as well as every episode of The Practice (168), Ally McBeal (112), LA Law (171), Boston Legal (101), Night Court (193), The Good Wife (156), Matlock (195), J.A.G. (227), Perry Mason (271), Judging Amy (138), The Guardian (67), The Public Defender (69), Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (69), Harry’s Law (34), Courthouse (9), Suits (76),  Family Law (68), Sweet Justice (22), 1971’s The DA (15), 2004’s The DA (4), Reasonable Doubts (44), Damages (59), Shark (38), The Defenders (18), The Paper Chase (58), Head Cases (2), Judd for the Defence (50), all three episodes of First Years and “you’re still missing one lawsuit”. As Oliver put it: “Meaning Trump’s lawsuits exhaust the whole ****ing genre”. Proof that the legal drama is an (almost) inexhaustible genre, if nothing else.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.