Starmer appoints lawyer who opposed Gove’s anti-BDS bill as Attorney General

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Starmer appoints lawyer who opposed Gove’s anti-BDS bill as Attorney General

Richard Hermer KC, a member of Alyth Synagogue, has previously raised concerns about human rights abuses against Palestinians

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

New Attorney General Richard Hermer KC
New Attorney General Richard Hermer KC

Keir Starmer has appointed the influential lawyer who raised concerns about the previous Tory government’s anti-BDS legislation as the new attorney general.

In a surprise move the Prime Minister named Richard Hermer KC for the role in his new cabinet, bypassing previous  shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry.

Hermer, a former sabbatical officer for the Union of Jewish Students,  has  31 years of experience at the bar, specialising in human rights, as well as public and environmental law.

He has previously worked at Doughty Street Chambers, where Starmer also worked, before moving as a barrister to Matrix Chambers.

The 55 year-old, who is member of Alyth Synagogue in Temple Fortune is not a member of parliament and will instead be given a life peerage to sit in the House of Lords. 

His legal advice to Labour on former minister Michael Gove’s attempt to prevent local councils from implementing anti-Israel boycotts was that that  the bill would have a “profoundly detrimental” impact on the UK’s ability to promote human rights abroad, would “stifle free speech at home” and was “in certain respects inconsistent with our obligations under international law”.  

Hermer was immediately criticised by those who backed Gove’s bill, included in a much-criticised article in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper.18 top lawyers criticise Jewish Chronicle over ‘dangerous and foolish’ attack on colleague

But the article sparked a backlash, with 18 senior lawyers, including Anthony Julius and Lord David Pannick, accusing the newspaper of a “lazy” attack that ignored Hermer’s actual legal advice.

The anti-BDS bill was eventually criticised by MPs and peers from all political parties and did not reappear in the Kings Speech at the start of the last session of parliament.

Hermer has also previously signed a letter calling on the UK government to constructively participate in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israeli actions in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. 

He has also raised concerns about Israel’s military actions in Gaza, questioning whether they comply with international law.

In the face of criticism over his stance on Israel, Hermer has previously confirmed that he has “dear family members currently serving in the IDF.”

He also added:” I actively support a range of Jewish and Israeli organisations.  ”

One criticism of his advice over the Tory anti-BDS Bill he said:”As an international human rights lawyer I am frequently asked to give my objective assessment of the legality of the acts of numerous foreign governments and the meaning and effect of UK legislation. 

“The values of the independent Bar require that I do so without ‘fear or favour’ and without regard to my own personal views. ” 

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