Good Law Project: Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Previously on this blog, I have cast a weary and cynical eye over the ‘case outcome tracker’ spreadsheet first published by the “super-transparent” Jolyon Maugham and his (Not Very) Good Law Project in June 2022, then updated in late November. And last month, shortly before the publication of Jolyon’s much panned booky wook, the GLP again updated the spreadsheet, so that it is “correct up to the end of January 2023”.

As when the spreadsheet was first updated, very little has changed: in November, the GLP identified 40 legal cases in which “we can say” what the outcome was, and claimed to have won 18 of them (45%). This is the percentage that Jolyon uses in his booky wook, Apricots plopping onto Goliath, before going on to contrast it with the proportion of judicial review claimants who obtain a judgment in their favour in court.

In the newly updated spreadsheet, there are now 43 such legal cases, of which the GLP claims to have won 19 (44%). Hold that front page!

Life is short, so I’m not going to repeat all of what I said in December about this 44% figure, and the disingenuous comparison with the proportion of judicial review claimants who obtain a judgment in their favour in court. But suffice to say:

The GLP’s ’19 legal wins’ still include the case that was actually brought and won by Gina Miller in 2016 and early 2017, when the GLP did not even exist. (Somewhat bafflingly, Jolyon now says that this case “didn’t really matter” anyway, because “Parliament was going to trigger Article 50 whatever”. So the GLP is claiming credit for a legal win by someone else that – *checks notes* – didn’t really matter anyway. Nice.)

Of the remaining 18 ‘legal wins’, nine cases did not get as far as a court judgment. Indeed, in five of these nine cases the GLP did not even issue a judicial review claim. As I noted in December, the GLP appears unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between correlation and causation, but in any case these nine claimed ‘legal wins’ simply cannot be likened to cases in which a judicial review claimant obtained a judgment in their favour in court. Apples are still not oranges.

That leaves nine claimed ‘legal wins’ that were decided in court. But, once again, one of those is the Cronyism case on which the GLP infamously blew £388,635 of other people’s money, only to lose in the High Court in February 2022 and be ordered by the Court to pay 80% of the Government’s (substantial) legal costs. As Lord Justice Ward famously said in 2006: “The question of who is the unsuccessful party can easily be determined by deciding who has to write the cheque at the end of the case.”

So, that leaves eight court wins, out of 42 cases. Which is 19%, not 44% (or 45%).

Furthermore, once again there are nine cases that the GLP have strangely but conveniently excluded from their denominator (i.e. the 42 legal cases) by putting them in their ‘can’t yet say what the outcome is’ category (shaded grey in the spreadsheet), when in fact there is a clear outcome. These include the claim issued in respect of a Covid19 public inquiry, which was abandoned by the GLP in 2021 after permission was refused by the High Court; the claim issued in respect of the Pannick legal advice to Boris Johnson, which was abandoned by the GLP late last year; the claim in the Ministerial Emails case which, having already been dismissed by the High Court, was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in December; and – despite the spreadsheet supposedly being “correct up to the end of January 2023” – the the Trans Healthcare claim, which was dismissed by the High Court on 16 January 2023.

Including these nine cases makes it eight court wins out of 51 legal cases. Which is 16%, not 44% (or 45%).

As in December, the last thing to say about these eight court wins is: what did they actually achieve? For example, despite the famous overturning of the Prorogation of Parliament in 2019, and as you may have noticed, we still left the EU. Similarly, as Jolyon cheerily conceded last month when promoting his booky wook, what he himself describes as his ‘biggest win’ – the Wightman case in 2018 about the revocability of the Article 50 notification – “didn’t make any difference”. And the declaratory relief obtained in the Covid19 contracts transparency case, and in the two VIP lane-related cases of Ayanda and Pestflix, are nice things for Jolyon to put in frames on his wall, but are of negligible value to you, me or anyone else: not a penny has been recovered for taxpayers.

More to the point, perhaps, are these eight, largely inconsequential court wins in six years really worth the £4,802,094 that, as of today, the GLP has raked in through crowdfunders, plus the £10-11 million of direct donations? That’s an awful lot of money that, in the right hands, might have achieved a lot of real change, to the benefit of a great many people.

Then again, at least Jolyon and the some 50 GLP staff get to live their values, fight the power, and keep the receipts.

For the sake of completeness, it’s worth noting that, in the updated ‘case outcome tracker’ spreadsheet, the GLP claim a ‘mixed outcome’ in a further nine cases (which, out of 43 legal cases, is 21%). And, in his booky wook, Jolyon asserts that “our assessment of legal outcomes is that 45% are wins [and] 20% are mixed”. Suffice to say, seven of these nine cases did not get as far as a court judgment, in one of the two cases that did (Vote Leave funding appeal) the judgment was not in the GLP’s favour, and in the other (Capita: training exit fees) the legal outcome was indeed very mixed (and of little consequence).

Whatever, here’s my own, updated Table of Failure & Futility (TOFF), showing the sum raised by and outcome to date of each of the GLP’s 57 crowdfunders since 2017, including the one launched last October about sewage dumping that Jolyon has modestly suggested “could be the most consequential environmental law case in recent history”, the one about a cattle farm on the River Wye that has been raking it in from the green welly brigade and multi-millionaire fashion victim Dale Vince, an admirable one about asylum-seeking children, and the latest one about Voter ID, which may or may not lead to actual litigation at some point in the future. (Incidentally, the GLP appears to be giving up on Crowdjustice – three of the four most recent crowdfunders are in-house GLP productions, which just happen to be less transparent.)

Note that my updated TOFF includes two GLP successes not covered by the updated ‘case outcome tracker’: a successful appeal against a Shrewsbury Town Council planning decision in March; and the funding of Nina Cresswell’s successful defence of a libel claim in April. Including these two successes would make ten court wins out of 53 cases = 19%.

Update, 3 June: Yesterday, the GLP announced that the Supreme Court has refused permission to appeal in the River Wye case, for which they had raked in £53,195 plus £40,000 of match-funding from the mega-wealthy, football crazy Vince Dale. So it’s now ten court wins out of 54 cases.

Update, 8 June: Yesterday, just six weeks after the last ‘quarterly’ update, the GLP updated the casetracker once more, so that it is “correct up to the end of April 2023”. Of six cases previously categorised as ‘awaiting an outcome’, four – Public Spaces (Shrewsbury Town Council), Nina Cresswell, New Culture Forum, and Ventilator Challenge – are now claimed as ‘legal wins’, and two – Ministerial Emails and Partygate (2nd JR) – are now (correctly) categorised as ‘legal losses’. So, according to the GLP, the proportion of legal wins has increased from 19/43 (44%) as of the end of January, to 23/49 (47%) as of the end of April. However, the New Culture Forum and Ventilator Challenge cases did not proceed beyond pre-action correspondence, and there was no court judgment. So, according to my analysis, as set out above, it’s still only ten court wins out of 57 cases = 18%.

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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