I caught a part of James Eadie QC’s submissions on behalf of the government in the Supreme Court this afternoon. I had never before watched the Supreme Court in action on the box or computer, though I am aware its deliberations are now always “streamed” to the world wide interweb. Today, of course, the proceedings were also shown live on the telly. Rather to my surprise, I thought they made rather good telly.
I have never had to face eleven judges at once. But, on more than one occasion, I have had to cope with five of them in the House of Lords (before this awful upstart Supreme Court was created). I was very impressed by Mr Eadie’s ability to cope with interventions from so many judges, all of them considerable intellects.
I remember my first appearance in the House of Lords (“alone and unled” in the immortal words of Rumpole of the Bailey). I was petrified. I was a whipper snapper of a junior barrister about to face five of the greatest legal minds in the country. But, somehow, once one gets going, things tend not to be quite as awful as one expected them to be. Even so, coping with constant questions from five law lords, each following a different line of thought, is a pretty exhausting experience.
I remember, in particular, a torrid hour or so, from about 12 o’clock on the first day. Several of their lordships had put telling points to me. I like to think I dealt with them reasonably competently. But then Lord Bridge of Harwich had a go at me. He suggested to me that my interpretation of a passage in a statutory instrument was wholly wrong. I was convinced I was right. I battled with him for that hour before we adjourned for lunch. But I was getting nowhere. He was adamant he was right and I was adamant I was right, but I knew, of course, that he would have the last say.
I spent lunch time buried in legal tomes. I had to come up with something to cope with Lord Bridge’s argument, otherwise all would be lost. We assembled again at two o’clock. I rose to my feet and said: “My Lords, I hope I will be forgiven for returning to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord of Bridge of Harwich before the short adjournment” (that’s how we had to talk in the House of Lords – much more fun than the dreary inclusive language of the Supreme Court). Anyway, before I could launch into my final attempt to persuade Lord Bridge of the merits of my case, he interrupted me: “No need, Mr Utley,” he said, “my noble and learned brethren explained to me over the short adjournment why you were right and I was wrong.” Never was a young barrister more relieved.
But I digress. James Eadie QC had much more to cope with than I did. He was presenting the government’s case in the most important constitutional case to come before the courts in living memory. He was facing eleven judges who are not known for their reluctance to interrupt. All he was saying was being broadcast live on television and computers throughout the world. The courtroom was packed. An overflow room was being used to allow some lawyers and journalists to follow proceedings. The slightest hesitation, any “um” or “er” would be jumped on by hundreds of thousands of spectators. But Eadie gave an apparently effortless performance. No one watching, however ignorant of the law and however committed to the other side, could have failed to be impressed. He must, surely, have become an instant TV celebrity, despite his having shown no ability at dancing or baking.
I am not so rash as to say that Mr Eadie will win his appeal. Lord Pannick QC will also perform very well and join his learned friend as a celebrity. And the winner will be chosen, not by a phone-in, but by those eleven judges.
If you haven’t been watching this gripping show yet, I do recommend it from tomorrow onwards.