ANYONE passing Parliament Square this week cannot have failed to notice a great deal of activity around the Signet Library, and the fact that Colonnades is closed for the week. Otherwise, normal WS service is being maintained amid the unusual commotion. Walter has taken refuge in the New Town due to the disruption. Rumours as to what might have been happening can be neither confirmed nor denied, meaning Writer’s Week is necessarily shorter as February begins. If events inside the Signet Library cannot be discussed (yet) – confidentiality clauses and all that – there’s plenty affecting the legal world attracting huge amounts of discussion. These included President Trump sacking his Attorney General, the second week of mass protests against the so-called “travel-ban”(resulting in many lawyers offering free legal advice to those stranded at US airports), the Brexit debate beginning in Westminster and the conviction of a number of former HBOS bankers after a long and complicated corruption trial. Oh, and the fact that MPs will now debate a State Visit by President Trump as a petition against that visit attracted close to 2 million signatures on the UK government’s website.
LAST THURSDAY was a reminder that swearing an oath (and when you do it) matters. Adding to the confusion of ‘Penelopegate’ (allegations that his expenses-paid wife’s job was ‘fake’), French presidential candidate François Fillon stated that his daughter, Marie, and son, Charles, “who were lawyers”, were hired as his parliamentary aides when he was a French senator in 2005-2007. They earned 57,084 euros over 15 months and 26,651 euros over 6 months, respectively. It now appears they were 23 years-old law students at the time, and due to swear their serment d’avocat (“Je jure, comme Avocat, d’exercer mes fonctions avec dignité, conscience, indépendance, probité et humanité”) just a few months later, for Marie, and 3 years later, for Charles. Oaths matter as Writers to the Signet, who take an oath de fideli before the Keeper of the Signet on admission, will tell you.
AMONG the week’s more surreal moments was SNP MP’s Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh’s complaint to the speaker about Conservative MP Nicholas Soames’ behaviour during the Article 50 debate. Soames admitted he had made “barking” noises at Ms Sheikh, a former lawyer, as she spoke, but only as “a friendly canine salute”. Nevertheless he apologised, “if she was offended”. What planet do some male MPs inhabit that this kind of behaviour still goes on at Westminster? Shame on Soames and his ilk.
WITH WORLD EVENTS moving at breakneck speed, the role of lawyers in both written and unwritten constitutions looks set to be more prominent than ever. A New Yorker cartoon this week featured two suited men contemplating the view from their office window, with one saying to the other: “Part of me is going to miss liberal democracy”.
Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.