Thursday, 5 November 2009

Speaking to law students

Last night, Rehman Chishti, the PPC for Gillingham, and I were invited to speak to some law students at the University of Kent. Although I read law at University, I never went into practice despite my then-held ambition to become an international maritime lawyer! Instead I was more interested in the constitutional and philosophical side of law and so my political journey began. Reh on the other hand is a practicing barrister so whilst he was able to give them a lengthy insight into what it is like to stand up in front of a judge and what the law and Conservatism have in common, I focused my speech on the time, as Chief of Staff to the then Home Secretary David Davis, I watched a legal and constitutional nightmare unfold – i.e. the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill through Parliament. I spoke of how it felt to be sitting discussing legislation that could have stripped away centuries of civil liberties, enshrined in the Magna Carta, in order to detain suspected terrorists that under legislation would effectively be put under house arrest on the say of a politician not a judge.

Preparing for the speech reminded me of the all night sitting, the tension between the Commons and the Lords, the fear from all sides that we were about to ancient freedoms, that a draconian Bill would be introduced with no prospect of any future review – it was an extraordinary 3 weeks, dominated entirely by this piece of emergency legislation introduced not because of an act of terrorism, but by a Law Lords ruling on the incompatibility of previous legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights. By talking about the Bill I hoped to demonstrate the brilliance of our system of checks and balances – the Executive were held to account by a mutinous Parliament, and then the Act when passed was considered by an independent judiciary. In this case, the emergency legislation proved (as all rushed legislation tends to be) bad legislation and so the process began again with a new Bill…

Anyway I am sure the law students found it more interesting to hear about how to address a judge but I certainly enjoyed talking to them and hope that I bought the constitutional law that they are currently studying to life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said…

Do you mean Shadow Home Secretary?