Francis FitzGibbon

Francis FitzGibbon is a QC.

Short Cuts: Raab’s British Rights

Francis FitzGibbon, 7 October 2021

DominicRaab is the eighth lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice since the Conservative Party entered government in 2010. The average tenure has been nineteen months, with a corresponding churn of junior ministers and special advisers. Kenneth Clarke, the first in the post, lasted 28 months, just pipped by Chris Grayling, whose disastrous term was the longest at 32 months....

From The Blog
3 August 2021

Common Sense: Conservative Thinking for a Post-Liberal Age was published in May by the self-styled Common Sense Group of around fifty Conservative MPs. Along with chapters on such themes as ‘What is Wokeism and How Can it be Defeated’, ‘The conservative case for Media Reform’ and ‘A Common Sense Model for Poverty’, are the reflections of two MPs on ‘The Judicial Activists Threatening Our Democracy’. The group has received favourable coverage from the Telegraph and the Express. Anyone who thinks that British courts have become a hotbed of anti-government ‘judicial activism’ should ponder two judgments given by the UK Supreme Court on 30 July.

From The Blog
16 March 2021

The 1819 Seditious Meetings Act fell into disuse but remained on the statute book until its repeal by the Public Order Act of 1986. Now it is being revived in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This monstrous piece of legislation is intended to make it a crime to do something in public that causes, or risks causing, ‘serious annoyance’ or ‘serious inconvenience’.

From The Blog
14 January 2021

The Covid-19 regulations are draconian, inconsistent, obscure and inconvenient, but they are not unconscionable. They do not require me to do things that the state should never make its citizens do. They are proportionate to the threat that the virus poses to health services, and necessary to slow the spread of the disease and protect those services: or at least, they are arguably so. The law and the reasons for it make sense. The regulations are contained within statutory instruments. They alone are the law. They are the ‘rules’. They can be enforced with criminal sanctions. Guidance and advice are not rules and cannot be legally enforced.

From The Blog
13 July 2020

‘A good jury turns into a little community,’ Baroness Hale has said, ‘working together in the interests of justice.’ As a jury advocate for over thirty years, I have always been impressed, and often humbled, by the care and dedication they give to their work. Academic research supports the experience of criminal lawyers that juries are fair, and do their utmost to bring in the right result. In every case, it isn’t just the defendant on trial: the state itself is on trial, too, in public, before its citizens. Can it prove its case to the high standard the law requires? Has it used its coercive powers wisely and lawfully? Have its operatives in the courtroom – the judge and the lawyers – conducted themselves properly?

From The Blog
26 March 2020

The criminal courts and the jails that feed and are fed by them are ideal incubators of Covid-19. It comes as no surprise that an elderly prisoner has died today, either from or with the virus, and he won’t be the last. Courts bring people together in small spaces for hours or days at a time, in the courtrooms, the cells, and the jury rooms, not to mention the offices where the staff work. In the basement cell area of a court I attended recently, a single air-conditioning unit blew the same air through all the cells and into the interview and staff rooms. My colleagues have been complaining for years about broken plumbing, absence of soap and towels, and frequently filthy conditions.

The Sovereign Weapon: The Old Bailey

Francis FitzGibbon, 5 March 2020

Thomas Grant’sCourt Number One tells the stories of 11 prominent trials heard in Court One of the Old Bailey between 1907, when it opened, and 2003. His aim is to use these stories as illustrations of ‘British sensibilities and preoccupations over the last hundred years … Through the criminal trials … there can be traced at least one version of the history of...

From The Blog
7 October 2019

Brenda Hale, the president of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, will retire in January 2020. She took an atypical route to the summit of the judiciary, having been appointed to the High Court from an academic career (she was a professor of law at Manchester University) rather than practice at the Bar. Her speciality was family law, considered by some in the profession as a poor relation, which it may be in terms of earnings, and intellectually soft, which it isn’t. Family cases throw up enormously complex and important legal issues, such as the rights of parents and children as against local authorities, cross-border disputes over children and property, and the ethics of medical treatment against parental wishes. Hale’s academic and judicial work has also focused on social welfare and mental health law, subjects far removed from the bloodless commercial work that fills the CVs of most senior judges.

Short Cuts: The Court of Appeal

Francis FitzGibbon, 11 October 2018

If you want​ to appeal against a guilty verdict given by a crown court jury you first have to seek permission from the Court of Appeal. For permission to be granted, a judge has to be satisfied there is an ‘arguable case’ that the conviction was ‘unsafe’. If so, the appeal is heard in full by a panel of three judges. The latest figures show that in 2016-17 the court...

Short Cuts: Criminal Justice after Brexit

Francis FitzGibbon, 18 May 2017

After Brexit​, the public face of criminal justice will look much the same as it does now. The UK has resisted many of the European Union’s moves towards harmonisation of substantive criminal law and procedure, and it is unlikely to use its new-found freedom from the restraints of EU law to decriminalise things like child pornography, cybercrime and people trafficking. The EU’s...

If We Leave

Francis FitzGibbon, 16 June 2016

If​ Britain votes to leave the EU it will take several years to disentangle what’s to be kept and what discarded from our EU-saturated legislation. The law of the European Union has left few areas of life in the UK wholly untouched even though the EU can only legislate in areas for which it derives what are known as ‘competences’ from the treaties member states have...

Joint Enterprise

Francis FitzGibbon, 3 March 2016

Until​ the Supreme Court gave its landmark judgment in R. v. Jogee on 18 February, it was possible for someone to be convicted of a crime which they did not personally commit or intend to commit, under the common law doctrine of joint enterprise. If they were involved with an accomplice in one offence, and they foresaw that the accomplice might go on intentionally to commit another, they...

Low-Hanging Fruit: An American Show Trial

Francis FitzGibbon, 22 January 2015

Zakat, the Quranic obligation on Muslims to give alms for the relief of poverty, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Holy Land Foundation, founded in 1988 by American citizens of Palestinian heritage, raised money for distribution by zakat charitable committees in Gaza and the West Bank. Most of it went to buy food, clothes and education for children. Between 1992 and 2001 the foundation raised at least $56 million. On 3 December 2001 the US Treasury Department decreed that the HLF was a ‘specially designated global terrorist’.

Short Cuts: Human Rights à la Carte

Francis FitzGibbon, 23 October 2014

Things​ aren’t going well for Chris Grayling, the secretary of state for justice. His ‘Spartan’ prisons policy and sacking of hundreds of warders coincided with a rise in violent disorder and suicides in jails. In September a High Court judge described his actions on legal aid as so unfair as to be illegal (he was found to have suppressed expert reports that showed his...

Short Cuts: The Lobbying Bill

Francis FitzGibbon, 19 December 2013

The Lobbying Bill – due to complete the Lords committee stage before Christmas – is intended ‘to ensure that people know whose interests are being represented by consultant lobbyists who make representations to government’. Part One provides that lobbyists must disclose the names of their clients four times a year in a public register; there will be a registrar to...

Short Cuts: Without Legal Aid

Francis FitzGibbon, 6 June 2013

A fundamental shift in the relationship between the government and the governed is taking place: by restricting access to the law, the state is handing itself an alarming immunity from legal scrutiny. There are several aspects to this: the partial or total withdrawal of state financial support for people who lack the means to pay for legal advice and representation; and for those who can pay,...

In March 1998 a 24-year-old woman entered the United Kingdom from Uganda. She used a false name and a false passport. She was extremely ill and within a couple of days was admitted to Guy’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with full-blown Aids and a cluster of Aids-related illnesses including Kaposi’s sarcoma. She had not known she had Aids and did not come here for medical...

From The Blog
14 December 2018

The Stansted 15 – non-violent protesters who stopped an aircraft taking off with deportees to Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone in March 2017 – have joined the ranks of highly motivated people willing to risk jail to stop a perceived injustice. The passengers on the flight included deportees who were subject to the Home Office’s then policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’, which the Supreme Court later ruled to be unlawful. The 15 got through the airport fence and blocked the path of the plane, causing the flight to be cancelled. Some of the deportees subsequently won the right to remain the UK. The 15 were found guilty under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 of ‘disrup[ting] the services of … an aerodrome, in such a way as to endanger or be likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome’. They are awaiting sentence. The maximum is life imprisonment, but the question for the court is likely to be whether to give them a prison sentence at all.

From The Blog
21 December 2017

In a death row appeal soon to come before the US Supreme Court, Robert McCoy will ask whether it is unconstitutional for defence counsel to tell a jury that his client is guilty, in defiance of the accused’s express instructions that he is innocent. McCoy’s lawyer did this in his 2011 murder trial in Louisiana, in a misguided attempt to get his client life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. The lawyer had rejected the opinions of psychiatrists who had found McCoy fit for trial, believing that he was insane and delusional, and that the only way to save his life was to tell the jury he had committed the three murders with which he was charged, in the hope of leniency. The jury promptly convicted McCoy of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to death.

From The Blog
21 July 2014

In 1765 Lord Camden, the chief justice of England, held that the King’s Messengers – the Special Branch of the day – had to pay damages for trespassing on the premises of a newspaper publisher. They were looking for copies of his newspaper, which the government regarded as seditious – or as we might say now, a threat to national security. They were acting on the orders of a government minister, but his orders didn't have the force of law and couldn't trump the publisher’s property rights – in effect, his right to privacy. ‘By the laws of England,' Lord Camden said, ‘every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass.’ The case, Entick v. Carrington, established that ministers must not issue general warrants and their agents must not enter private property without a lawful warrant. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP) became law last week after just three days of parliamentary debate. When David Cameron said of the bill, ‘I want to be very clear: we are not introducing new powers or capabilities,’ he was clear, but he wasn’t accurate.

From The Blog
6 September 2013

The ‘bedroom tax’ is a policy about the allocation of two kinds of limited public resources: council accommodation and housing benefits. Council tenants no longer receive full housing benefit if they occupy rooms that the regulations say they do not need. They must make up the rent shortfall if they can, or move out so their homes become available to larger families who need the space. Policies that shift the allocation of such resources are political, if not the very essence of politics in a modern democratic state. But so are the legal cases that they generate. The claimants in the recent judicial review of the tax were disabled and vulnerable children. They challenged the policy on the basis that it discriminated unlawfully against them by failing to recognise their special need for space that the regulations held to be surplus to their requirements.

From The Blog
18 June 2013

When Tony Blair announced radical changes to his mentor Lord Irvine’s job as Lord High Chancellor without warning in 2003, he provoked the wall-paper connoisseur and would-be Cardinal Wolsey into resigning. The horse-trading that followed gave us the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which stripped the Lord Chancellor of his judicial role, set up the Supreme Court as the final Court of Appeal for the UK, and a new Department of Constitutional Affairs, with an elected MP to be secretary of state instead of a peer. It changed its name to the Ministry of Justice in 2007, and has mushroomed.

A footnote to Frederick Wilmot-Smith’s excellent artice about legal aid (LRB, 6 November). It was Kenneth Clarke, as lord chancellor in 2012, who summed up the ideological basis for destroying legal aid when he told the International Bar Association: ‘What we mustn’t do is just leave untouched a system that has grown astonishingly, making the poor extremely litigious.’ Grayling...

Writers in Camps

1 April 1982

SIR: I was surprised to read the following remark in Mr Sillitoe’s article ‘Writing and Publishing’ (LRB, 1 April): ‘The only good writing emerging from that country [i.e. Russia] appears from the prison camps.’ It follows that all Soviet writers not in camps are not good writers. He must also have a low opinion of writers such as Pasternak or Bulgakov, who did not serve...

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences