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Q&A: Jolyon Maugham QC on the first victory for Brexit’s legal challenge

Devereaux Chambers Jolyon Maugham QC – who organised a crowdfunded movement to challenge the government’s triggering of article 50 without an act of parliament – speaks to Legal Business in the wake of last week’s High Court victory for remain supporters.

What did you make of the High Court’s judgment?

Many lawyers looked at the arguments and were concerned whether the court would withstand the enormous media pressure that would be brought to bear upon it, but it was apparent during the hearing that our judiciary remains independent, and the judgment seems to reflect the balance of the legal arguments placed before the court.

Fundamentally, the court accepted the age-old and important domestic constitutional law which is that rights that have been granted to Her Majesty’s subjects by acts of parliament cannot be removed by executive fiat, they can only be removed by an act of parliament.

How did you view the government’s argument?

I was surprised by the narrow basis that the government was advancing its case on, but at no point did I feel as though that case was being advanced with anything other than great skill by Jeremy Wright QC, James Eadie QC and Jason Coppel QC. If there was any defect it was in the government’s very narrow legal instruction to the barristers.

Does the government have much chance in an appeal?

If it advances the same argument before the Supreme Court as before the High Court it is not easy to see how the Supreme Court could develop a different view. If you are the government you are either pursuing the appeal without a high hope of success or it will have to change the instruction to the counsel team.

How successful has your crowdfunding campaign been?

It’s still ongoing. I set up the CrowdJustice campaign that launched ‘The People’s Challenge’. I did not want it to be said that the funding was lacking transparency or funds were drawn from large donations from a small group of individuals, so donations were capped at £100 each. We raised the money from very many thousands of small donations and that is very important, because we have seen today those opposed to parliament having a say on the terms are anxious to portray this litigation as being the preserve of a small number of wealthy elites.

Will any other parties join your legal challenge?

I suspect the devolved administrations may want to join. I expect the Scottish Government will be represented in the Supreme Court. There are some very able members of the Scottish Bar and I would very much like to see Scottish advocates appear before the court.

What do you make of the reaction to the judges’ decision?

There has been a furious if predictable backlash against the claimants which has been unfortunate. There has also been a sustained attack on the integrity of our judiciary. We must ask ourselves what that reaction to the rule of law shows of the direction Brexiteers would like to take our country in.

How has this affected your own work?

Life as a member of the Bar is never secure, but my practice has been very resilient for the last few years despite my engagement in this and with the Labour Party, and I hope it will remain so.