‘A splendour all of its own’


WITH ANOTHER WEEK dominated by tragic news events, this time the horrific fire in a London tower block in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, around Parliament Square, discussions concerning the shock general election result at the end of last week came to an abrupt end. Even as the ruined building still smouldered, all the talk was of the unavoidable legal and regulatory repercussions of the disaster that unfolded in the early hours of Wednesday morning. More than one expert commented to the media on the difference between building regulations in Scotland and the rest of the UK, as multiple eye-witness accounts claimed major health and safety failings led to a fire in a single flat engulfing an entire multi-storey block in less than an hour. An independent inquiry will surely follow, and there may yet be political implications for the new minority government.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK at the Signet Library was Monday’s lecture by Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The highest court in the country sat outside London for the first time in its eight year history, temporarily moving to the City Chambers in Edinburgh. The WS Society and Property Litigation Association in Scotland held the event in the Upper Library, which was attended by over 120 Writers to the Signet and other legal professionals. Lord Neuberger remarked at the start of his address what a pleasure it was to see “so many Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, a title that has a splendour all of its own”. 

LORD NEUBERGER began by acknowledging the presence in the audience of the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the holder of high legal and judicial office in Scotland and England. Lord Neuberger described Lord Mackay as a towering legal figure to whom the legal systems of both Scotland and England owed a great deal. Lord Neuberger then spoke on a number of major themes, employing the acute forensic skills for which he is justifiably renowned. He gave a trenchant defence of the role of an independent and unelected judiciary as a guard against the potential for oppression of individual rights and liberties by the democratically elected legislature and executive. The rule of law, he said, is of fundamental importance, not least in the absence of a written constitution. He went on to discuss human rights and the reminded the audience that the courts in the UK only have the power to declare a statutory provision a breach of human rights and it is a matter for parliament alone whether to change the law. Lord Neuberger said that in every case save one parliament had changed the law but they are not obliged to do so and had not done so in the case of the right of prisoners to vote.

AFTER LORD NEUBERGER the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, gave the vote of thanks, recalling his pride in having had the privilege of appointing Lord Neuberger to the bench (as a High Court judge) in 1996. Picking up on Lord Neuberger closing remarks, Lord Mackay pointed out what he considered to be the importance of a supra-national court in enforcing human rights.  

PERHAPS THE MOST powerful lawyer in the world is the United States Attorney General, who provided a welcome distraction for many this week, with his testimony to the Senate intelligence committee. Attorney General Jeff Session’s testimony was a marked contrast to that of former FBI director James Comey, a contrast rather sharply summed up by late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert: “Jeff Sessions can’t recall what he forgot to remember”. Investigating the Trump team’s alleged ties to Russia, the committee found some of Session’s answers slightly, well, puzzling, such as his response when asked what his reasons were for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, “Well, uh, why don’t you tell me?”

ON THURSDAY the WS Society held its highly regarded Corporate Law Conference. This year the event, held in association with Dickson Minto WS and chaired by Roddy Bruce, the Society’s treasurer, featured a case-study of one of the year’s highest profile deals, the £1.4 billion acquisition of Skyscanner by Ctrip. This was presented by Skyscanner’s Chief Legal Officer, Carolyn Jameson. Other speakers included Michael Howlin QC, Deloitte’s Head of restructuring Michael Magnay and Director, Corporate Finance, Michelle Elliot. The event has become one of the flagships of the WS conference calendar, and was as well attended as ever. 

— “Writer”

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