18 top lawyers criticise Jewish Chronicle over ‘dangerous and foolish’ attack on colleague

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18 top lawyers criticise Jewish Chronicle over ‘dangerous and foolish’ attack on colleague

The distinguished group signed a letter accusing the newspaper of 'lazy' criticism of Richard Hermer KC, who advised Labour on the government's anti-BDS bill.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Anthony Julius. (Screen capture: YouTube via Times of Israel)
Anthony Julius. (Screen capture: YouTube via Times of Israel)

Eighteen of Britain’s most senior lawyers, including chairman of the bar council Nick Vineall KC and former Jewish Chronicle chairman Anthony Julius, have accused the newspaper of mounting a “dangerous and foolish” attack on a member of their profession after he gave advice to Labour on the government’s anti-BDS bill.

In an unprecedented letter, seen by Jewish News, the group accuses the newspaper of pursuing a “well-trodden but lazy path” by condemning advice given to Labour by “distinguished KC” Richard Hermer on Michael Gove’s economic activity of public bodies bill.

In a stinging attack on an article published in last week’s newspaper, the group of legal experts state that the paper’s claim that Hermer gave “partial and politically influenced legal advice to the Labour Party in relation to the anti-boycott legislation is both dangerous and foolish.”

Other signatories to the letter are James Libson, managing partner of the firm Mishcon De Reya, along with partner Adam Rose, Anthony Metzer KC, Sir Jeffrey Jowell KC, Danny Friedman KC, Dinah Rose KC, Lawrence Radley, partner Reed Smith LLP, Neil Kitchener KC Rachel Crasnow KC, Richard Wald KC, Ronit Kreisberger KC,Sam Grodzinski KC, Sam Leek KC, Sue Prevezer KC and Tamara Oppenheimer KC.

How the JC reported story

The letter, which is published this week by the JC, states that its signatories themselves have “different opinions” on the merits of the legislation, which is aimed at preventing local authorities from engaging in boycotts of Israeli goods.

It says the JC is “entitled to take a view on the legislation”, but then adds that “on one thing” the 18 signatories “are clear” –  “attempting to discredit Richard Hermer by impugning his motives rather than addressing the contents of his advice is wrong.”

The JC article was headlined “Revealed, the pro-Palestinian activist past of lawyer advising Labour Party on boycott bill” It attempted to suggest  Hermer’s involvement with a publication that had been critical of Israel in the past tarnished legal advice given to Labour on the boycott bill.

During last week’s Commons debate on the bill, Communities Secretary Gove also attempted to cast doubt on Hermer’s suitability to provide Labour with legal advice.

He told MPs:”There are some lawyers who take a different view and one of those lawyers was commissioned by the Labour Party in order to produce a legal opinion.

“But the gentlemen concerned, a distinguished KC, has a record in this area and a record of political commitments which everyone can see clearly predisposes him towards a political and particular view on this question.

“I’m merely pointing out what is in the public domain.”

Richard Hermer KC

In his advice to Labour,Top lawyer warns Gove’s BDS bill has ‘profoundly detrimental impact’ on UK human rights stance Hermer expressed concerns in his advice that the much criticised bill had a “profoundly detrimental impact on the United Kingdom’s ability to protect and promote human rights overseas”.

He warned that Gove’s bill proposals were “in certain respects inconsistent with our obligations under international law” and  “will stifle free speech at home.”

But in their letter, the 18 lawyers say;”Our system of law, indeed the rule of law in this country, is strengthened by the bedrock principle that lawyers are able to give independent advice to clients, irrespective of whether they agree with their cause or not.

“Attacking the lawyer is a well-trodden but lazy path, typically a ploy to avoid meeting the argument on its merits. We would like to state our public support for Richard Hermer KC.”

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021.

High-profile human rights lawyer Hermer, of Matrix Chambers, had previously been a sabbatical officer with the Union of Jewish Students, and revealed he was a member of Golders Green’s  Alyth synagogue.

His advice to Labour’s shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy had helped shape the party’s response to the government’s bill, which stressed their opposition to BDS, but the serious concerns they held about the scope of the bill.

Similar concerns were shared by at least 50 Conservative MPs, including the influential chair of the foreign affairs select committee Alicia Kearns.

Communal organisations such as Yachad and the Union of Jewish Students raised serious concerns over the legislation, which has been backed by the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies.

The KC Simon Myerson also said last week he believed that they KC Hermer was correct in his legal advice on the bill.

After passing its second reading, the bill will now proceed to committee stage in September.

The Jewish Chronicle has been approached for comment.

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