Jeremy Brier is a Commercial Barrister, World Debating Champion
Conservative Council Candidate in Harrow West.
At Law School we used to get given “problem
questions”, wildly implausible factual scenarios involving naughty people doing
stupid things, and we would then have to comment on what the legal issues were before
us that a barrister might like to raise. Well it’s good news for all those
case study for any undergraduate lawyer to get their teeth into for hours,
containing a seemingly unending variety of discrepancies, sleights of hands,
failures of due process and just plain old fashioned New Labour greed and
stupidity. What’s more, it isn’t too hard so there won’t be a need for too much
with the basics. Do you think that the following statement from the Prime
Minister might just raise a few questions of “due process” or what we sometimes
call “procedural fairness”?
"I accept Tessa’s assurance that she did not know
about it (the gift) until the issue was resolved with the Inland Revenue. In
these circumstances, she is not in breach of the ministerial code."
Or, in other
words, “she told me she didn’t know about it so she didn’t know about it and
because she didn’t know about it, she didn’t breach the ministerial code”.
Brilliant. Clearly a very complex
process of evidential scrutiny went into that decision. (You’re on full marks
And what about
the fact that the judgment comes from, er, her direct boss and key political
ally? So forget the old-fashioned principle of natural justice that ‘no man
should be a judge in his own cause’, it seems that Tony is sufficiently above
these legal niceties that he can pass unbiased judgment on his own friends and
colleagues. Whatever! You don’t need to have studied law for one day to realise
that this is plainly improper behaviour.
So let’s be
quite clear what is going on here. Tessa Jowell’s husband, David Mills, a
respected international lawyer and advisor to the Italian Prime Minister is
being investigated by prosecutors in Milan over allegations that in 1997 he was
given a bribe of about £350,000 in order to give helpful evidence in a
corruption probe. Simple so far: a potential cash-for-evidence claim to be
investigated by the (dubious) Italian judiciary.
This cash “gift”
was first claimed to have been used to pay off the joint mortgage on Mr.
Mills’s and Ms. Jowell’s home in 2000. However, it then emerges that the happy
couple never in fact had a mortgage on this house (they purchased it outright
in 1979, lucky things) and have since used it as collateral (legalese for a
‘security’) in a series of re-mortgages to fund off-shore investments, perhaps
in lucrative hedge funds.
defence is that he vigorously denies receiving the payment from Mr. Berlusconi.
(Query therefore why there is a letter from Mr Mills to his accountant in which
he says the money came to him "discreetly" from "the B
people" and then later that his court appearance "kept Mr B out of a
great deal of trouble"?). However, he does admit that he did receive the gift from Diego
Attansio, a shipping magnate (who denies this completely). This is odd and
casts doubt on Mr. Mills honesty. But it is particularly relevant – and here’s
the bonus mark – because it lands Tessa Jowell in boiling hot water.
Regardless of who gave Mr. Mills the money – Silvio, Diego
or John the Milkman – she evidently
derived substantial financial benefit from it as a result of the investments made
and she thus had a primary obligation to reveal the investments made with the
money obtained by Mr Mills from the remortgating in the 2000 register of
members’ interests (which expressly covers ministerial spouses).
The only way
she can get out of this (her only possible defence as far as I can tell) is the
completely implausible argument that
she was unaware of the cash injection. Ignorance is bliss, eh? In order for
this to be the case, she would have to be blithely, willfully, or perhaps even
clinically brain-dead (in which case she should resign in any case).
No. It is not
possible and, on the current evidence, no judge in the land would believe her
professions of ignorance. But then again, when you have your old mate Tony
judging you, why any need to tell the truth?