Last week, the Good Law Project, run by my good friend Jolyon Maugham QC, was in the news for claiming to have won a legal case challenging alleged cronyism on the part of government ministers when appointing Dido Harding and others, when in fact it had used £388,635 of crowdfunded donations to lose a legal case challenging alleged cronyism on the part of government ministers when appointing Dido Harding and others.
Well, I say ‘lose’, but Jolyon insists the Good Law Project only lost “at a deeply technical level”, despite the judges having ruled (see paragraph 126 of the judgment) that – while co-claimants the Runnymede Trust were entitled to a nice-to-have but in practical terms near-meaningless ‘declaration’ that the appointment process had not complied with the public sector equality duty – “the [cronyism] claim brought by the Good Law Project fails in its entirety”. Suffice to say, I plan to adopt Jolyon’s approach at my next annual performance review.
And I say ‘friend’, but in fact Jolyon and I have only ever met twice: once when we sat next to each other at a seminar on Universal Basic Income, and once – a few months later – when he mistook me for the then joint leader of the Green Party, so spent several minutes telling me, in breathless tones, how he’d just come from Downing Street, where he’d met with someone really, really important. Unable to get a word in, I nodded along until, my escort duties complete, I let Jolyon into the room where the then joint leader of the Green Party was waiting to meet him.
But if legal claims can be described as having been ‘won’ when, according to the actual judges who ruled on them, they failed in their entirety, then Jolyon and I can be described as good friends. Even if Jolyon blocked me on Twitter years ago. And the fox that Jolyon boasted about having clubbed with a baseball bat on Boxing Day in 2019 can be described as having died, but only at a deeply technical level. (As Maya Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.)
Whatever, you might think that £388,635 is a lot of money to spend on a legal claim that failed at a deeply technical level/in its entirety, but that is not even the largest amount that Jolyon and the Good Law Project have raised via no fewer than 18 separate Crowdjustice crowdfunders in recent years.
That distinction belongs to a claim challenging the legality of the Government’s high priority lane for the awarding of contracts (for the supply of PPE) early in the Covid19 pandemic. For this claim, the Good Law Project crowdfunded a staggering £427,399, but this expenditure has resulted only in the issuing, in January this year, of a similarly nice-to-have but in practical terms near-meaningless ‘declaration’ that the operation of the high priority lane was “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment”. The High Court ruled that the high priority lane itself was not unlawful, and that the contracts in question would most likely have been awarded in any event.
Interestingly, Jolyon and the Good Law Project are now seeking to appeal this outcome in the Court of Appeal. Because winning parties don’t usually appeal their own glorious victories. [Update: On 29 April, the Court of Appeal refused GLP’s application for permission to appeal.]
A third claim, for which the Good Law Project crowdfunded a relatively modest £204,900, also resulted, in February last year, in the High Court issuing a ‘declaration’ that the Government had not fully complied with transparency rules on the publishing of Covid19-related contracts, but declining to order any other relief. As I understand it, the Secretary of State’s explanation for this failure to get all the details exactly right was that he and his Department were very busy dealing with the first wave of Covid, and a huge amount of the burden was falling on him, more than he could realistically be across. Oh, hang on … no, that was Jolyon.
Whatever, that’s a total of £1,020,934 to obtain three High Court ‘declarations’ of extremely limited import. As you may have noticed, no minister has been forced to resign or even apologise, not a single allegedly dodgy contract or job offer has been cancelled, and not a penny of allegedly misspent taxpayers’ money has been recovered from alleged villains. So, if indeed these three cases – and the three nice-to-put-in-a-frame-on-the-wall but in practical terms near-meaningless ‘declarations’ – amount to legal victories for the Good Law Project, they are little more than symbolic victories of a somewhat pyrrhic nature. Just imagine what any half-decent legal advice charity – your local law centre, for example – might have achieved with that £1 million.
And then we come to the crowdfunded-claims that have not even secured such a ‘declaration’. First up is a claim challenging the legality of the award of Covid19-related contracts to associates of Dominic Cummings, for which the Good Law Project crowdfunded a stonking £403,931, but which has (so far) resulted only in the Good Law Project losing big in the Court of Appeal. For some reason, it took the Good Law Project a whole month to update the crowdfunder with this rather significant news. But at least that one has been updated, which is more than can be said of the crowdfunder for a claim seeking to challenge the Government’s Levelling Up fund, for which the Good Law Project raised £84,637 before quietly withdrawing the claim in January on account of its “low prospects of success”.
And then there’s the legal claim alleging impropriety in the appointment of a new Charity Commission chair – “Don’t let government muzzle charities!” – for which the Good Law Project crowdfunded £84,552, only to quietly withdraw the claim earlier this month without achieving anything much [an investigation of the appointment process by the Commissioner for Public Appointments has since concluded that the process was “consistent and fair”, and that there was “no impropriety”].
Then there’s the three claims – one seeking to challenge the outcome of the Electoral Commission’s investigation of Leave campaign funding, one seeking to challenge local authority placement of children in care, and one seeking to challenge the award of Covid19-related contracts to associates of (now former) Downing Street adviser Munira Mirza – for which the Good Law Project crowdfunded a total of £152,736, only for the court to refuse permission to bring the claim in each case.
In the last of these three cases, the High Court refused permission because the Good Law Project’s external lawyers (Bindmans LLP) had bungled the lodging of the application, and the Good Law Project is seeking to appeal that decision in the Court of Appeal: a hearing took place on 1 February (i.e. three weeks ago), and at the time of writing the outcome is awaited. [Update: on 24 March, the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, and the Good Law Project are now making a further appeal to the Supreme Court.]
So, that’s a total of £725,856 to obtain … nothing. No declarations. Zilch. Nada. Rien.
As for the one solid ‘win’ for Jolyon and the Good Law Project among the 18 crowdfunded legal claims – the famous Wightman case that concluded on 10 December 2018 with the European Court of Justice ruling that the UK’s Article 50 Brexit notification was unilaterally revocable, and which Jolyon has modestly described as “the most important case in modern legal history” – that case is surely the epitome of a hollow victory. For the Article 50 notification never came close to being revoked, and the UK left the EU in January 2020. So, apart from Jolyon himself, and the lawyers who received their share of the £190,650 raised through the Good Law Project’s crowdfunder, not one single citizen has benefitted from the bringing of the Wightman case, and none ever will.
Elsewhere, there is a still unresolved appeal against the charitable status of a lesbian and gay rights campaign group that Jolyon doesn’t like (£71,835 crowdfunded to date), which will be heard by the First-Tier Tribunal in May [now September]; an unresolved legal claim relating to the safety of PCR tests (£52,992 crowdfunded to date), which feels a tad passé; a potential legal challenge to Covid19 school attendance guidance, crowdfunded to the tune of £27,810, which appears to have been overtaken by events; and an attempt to force a review of the Airports National Policy Statement (£60,932 crowdfunded to date), which appears to be on hold.
There are also two related claims challenging ministers’ use of private emails and apps to conduct government business (£76,868 crowdfunded to date and £128,251 crowdfunded to date respectively), in which there is a court hearing scheduled for 22-24 March [Update: the first of these two claims was dismissed by the High Court on 29 April 2022, with GLP having crowdfunded a total of £118,211]; and an on/off legal challenge to alleged bullying of Tory MPs, for which £48,335 was crowdfunded before being diverted to the Good Law Project’s work on ‘partygate’).
And, of course, there’s the Legal Defence Fund for Transgender Lives (£181,835 crowdfunded to date), which is being used to launch legal proceedings against NHS England in relation to the healthcare needs of the trans community.
At the time of writing, you can still fling your dosh at many of these 18 crowdfunders, which between them have (so far) raised more than £2.5 million (£2,586,153, to be exact). It’s your money, so it’s your choice. But you might want to consider whether your money might achieve a tad more real world change elsewhere.