Good Law Project: Not lookin’ like a true survivor

Last month, I noted on this blog how November had been a big, bad month for Jolyon Maugham and his (Not Very) Good Law Project. And how – thanks to the Court of Appeal and the Charity Commission (or “pretend charity regulator” and “right-wing attack dog”, as the perfectly sane Jolyon calls it) – December hadn’t got off to a great start either.

The rest of December passed relatively quietly, with just one more embarrassing legal defeat for the GLP: on 19 December, the Supreme Court refused the GLP permission to appeal the January 2022 ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case of Public First (see below). But it was also a quiet month on the GLP’s open crowdfunders, with new donations totalling just £27,207, down from £98,200 in November and £91,389 in October, and little more than half the monthly average of £45,300 over the first eight months of 2022/23.

Indeed, while there are still four weeks to go until the end of the GLP’s 2022/23 reporting period (which runs from 1 February to 31 January), total income from Crowdjustice crowdfunders has slumped from £1.144 million in 2020/21 and £1.863 million in 2021/22, to just £580K in 2022/23 to date. And £263K (45%) of that £580K came through crowdfunders launched in previous years.

For example, £103,385 (18%) of the £580K came through a crowdfunder launched back in July 2021, to fund the GLP’s ‘ministerial emails’ case. At the start of 2022/23 the crowdfunder had already raised £76,818, and by the time the GLP’s judicial review claim was dismissed by the High Court in April 2022, the total had grown to £118,211. Then, thanks to some heavy promotion on social media by the GLP, in just five days in early November – when the GLP’s appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal – the crowdfunder raked in another £45,423 from some 2,250 new donors. So that, by the time the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 1 December, the total had reached £180,203.

No wonder then, that throughout December the GLP repeatedly emailed its supporters, begging them to become a regular donor. “Our work is getting more and more challenging. We have seen eye-watering costs from Government designed to scare us off, a steady drumbeat of attacks on us by Ministers, and threats targeted at judges to curb judicial review. We will keep going, but this is no easy fight. Despite everything that’s been thrown at us this year, we’re still here. We’re still standing.” All that was missing was a soundtrack of Elton John singing his 1983 hit.

The reasons for this dramatic slump in crowdfunded income are not complicated. The GLP was made by one unique set of circumstances: Brexit and Boris Johnson. And then, with Brexit a done deal, it was saved by another: Covid and Boris Johnson. As in the ‘ministerial emails’ case for which the GLP raked in more than £180,000, for two years a new GLP crowdfunder simply had to include the magic words ‘Matt Hancock’, ‘PPE’, ‘Dominic Cummings’, ‘cronyism’ or ‘Boris Johnson’, and the money would flood in, regardless of the legal merits of the proposed judicial review claim. But over the course of 2022 this business model was destroyed by the departure of Cummings, Hancock and Johnson, and – more significantly – a series of crushing legal defeats in court.

Things started to go badly wrong for the GLP in January 2022, when the High Court issued a declaration that the Government’s VIP lane for the awarding of Covid-related contracts was technically “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment” under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, but ruled that all of the contracts in question would most likely have been awarded in any event, and ordered the GLP to pay £250,000 of the Government’s legal costs. This was such a glorious victory for Jolyon and the GLP that they immediately sought permission to appeal in the Court of Appeal.

A few days later, the Court of Appeal allowed the Government’s appeal against the GLP’s earlier High Court win in the case of Public First, a market research agency run by former associates of Dominic Cummings. And the following month the High Court not only dismissed “in its entirety” the GLP’s judicial review claim alleging cronyism on the part of government ministers when appointing Dido Harding and others, but questioned whether the GLP has standing to even bring such claims, and ordered the GLP to pay 80% of the Government’s legal costs (provisionally estimated at £360,000).

In late April, the Court of Appeal refused the GLP permission to appeal in the VIP lane case. And, as noted above, the very next day the High Court brutally dismissed the GLP’s attempt to challenge ministers’ use of personal emails to conduct government business, and ordered the GLP to pay £125,000 of the Government’s legal costs.

In October, the High Court dismissed the GLP’s attempt to challenge the award of contracts for Covid antibody tests to the specialist rapid test manufacturer Abingdon Health; once again, the Court not only dismissed the GLP’s judicial review claim in its entirety, but went on to rule that the GLP lacks standing to bring such claims. And, in December, the Court of Appeal dismissed the GLP’s appeal in the ‘ministerial emails’ case, and then the Supreme Court refused the GLP permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s January 2022 ruling in the Public First case.

(In addition, in March the Court of Appeal refused the GLP permission to bring a judicial review claim in the Pharmaceuticals Direct case, and in October the High Court refused permission to apply for Planning Statutory Review in the Surrey Hills case. On the other hand, in July the High Court allowed the judicial review claim brought by the GLP and others in the Net Zero case.)

Unlike the inconsequential declaratory relief obtained by the GLP in its few court ‘wins’ since 2020 (such as the Transparency case in February 2021), these eight key legal defeats – and in particular the rulings on standing – are existential for the GLP. Because, without the standing to bring such judicial review claims, the GLP has lost both its principal campaign tool and its USP.

No longer able to sprinkle the magic words ‘Hancock’, ‘Cummings’ or ‘Johnson’ in new crowdfunders and begging emails, and unable to bring judicial reviews aimed at key government bad guys, the GLP’s current, largely performative activism simply lacks the kind of appeal needed to sustain a bloated payroll (with an annual salary bill in the region of £1.5 million). The 18 Covid-related crowdfunders launched between April 2020 and January 2022 raked in a total of £2.437 million – an average of £135K each. Eight of them pulled in more than £100K, and two (including the above-mentioned Public First case) amassed more than £400K.

But the eight crowdfunders launched in 2022/23 have so far drummed up just £317,308 in total – an average of £39,664. The two most lucrative to date (Sewage dumping and E2BN & Place Group) garnered just £56,492 (to date) and 56,142 respectively, while one (Racism in schools) failed to raise a penny. And allocating crowdfunded income by the year of the crowdfunder’s launch changes the income chart above to look like this:

Furthermore, while there are more legal defeats and damp squibs in the pipeline (LGB Alliance, Bunzl, trans healthcare, Immensa testing), there are no great legal wins. [Update: as anticipated, on 16 January the High Court dismissed the GLP’s claim in the trans healthcare case.]

In short, the GLP is a busted flush, and it’s all downhill from now on. Jolyon will of course continue to use other people’s money to pursue his many grievances against the “vast swathes of civil society comprised of Potemkin ‘regulatory’ infrastructure whose true purpose is to tell a false tale of a functioning modern state”. And there will be more legal challenges of local planning decisions and the website cookies of right-wing campaign groups. But no newspaper will ever splash (as the Evening Standard did in April 2021) on why the Sunak (or Starmer) Government “should fear Jolyon Maugham KC’s Good Law Project”.

On 16 December, the GLP tried to squeeze a few more pounds out of Covid and Boris Johnson by announcing there will be a High Court permission hearing in February to decide whether or not the GLP can bring a second judicial review of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the Partygate investigation, the first having fizzled out in March after raking in a stonking £100K for the GLP.

But what the GLP have failed to make clear to those they are begging to become a regular donor on the back of this development is that, in his Order granting an oral permission hearing, issued in October, the judge made it clear he was ‘troubled’ both by the weakness of the GLP’s claim, and by their (to his mind) lack of standing to bring such a claim, given that they have “no greater interest than any member of the public”.

In other words, there is a reasonable chance that Jolyon and the GLP are set to get their arses kicked in court, again. But … Boris Johnson! Lockdown-busting parties! BORIS JOHNSON! I imagine the dormant crowdfunder will be re-opened later this month or early in February. Ker-ching!

Whatever, thanks to Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and the Covid pandemic, Jolyon and the GLP do have piles of donated cash in the bank. And, at the time of writing, it remains to be seen whether direct donations – the GLP’s principal source of income since 2020 – have fallen off as much as crowdfunded donations have in 2022/23. Jolyon and the GLP are still standing. But they’re not lookin’ like true survivors.

Happy New Year!

Update, 5 January: Further evidence of the financial meltdown facing the GLP emerged yesterday, when the political website Guido Fawkes published a Freedom of Information (FoI) response from the Government Legal Department showing that, as of 1 November 2022, the GLP had paid a total of £411K in legal costs to the Government since 2017, while the Government had paid just £40K of legal costs to the GLP – a net loss to the GLP since 2017 of £371,106.

Update 16 January: And today I received a response from the Government Legal Department to my own FoI request, put in just before Christmas, asking for a breakdown of legal costs paid to and received from the GLP by the Government in each year since 2017 (GLD ref: FOI 296). And this paints yet another less than pretty picture, from the GLP’s point of view:

About wonkypolicywonk

Wonkypolicywonk is a policy minion, assigned wonky at birth, who has been lucky enough to work for two of the very best MPs in the House of Commons, and for Maternity Action, Working Families, Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.
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1 Response to Good Law Project: Not lookin’ like a true survivor

  1. Pingback: Louise Raw, huh, what is she good for? | Labour Pains

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