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  • Helen

Bringing Down Goliath

How is it that law-breaking has become the province not just of criminals but of politicians, members of the government, most prominently of all, Prime Ministers and Presidents. What is going on? Can anything be done to reverse this trend? I’ve recently heard, met and read a book by one man who thinks it can.

At the Greenbelt Festival last month, the founder of Good Law Project spoke about how good law can topple the powerful. Besuited, bespectacled barrister, 52 year old Jolyon (or Jo as he likes to be called) Maugham, sounds and looks, to my inexperienced eye, like a typical barrister at the top of his profession. In 2015, he received the only professional validation available to barristers as he ‘took silk’, and became a QC or Queen’s Counsel - now KC (King’s Counsellor).

But as he spoke, it quickly became clear there is nothing typical about Jo Maugham. Initially he had no financial backers. In his early career as a tax barrister, his blog and his tweets about tax resulted in an invitation to work with government policy-makers. Good Law Project(GLP) has, since he founded it in in 2017, brought a series of landmark cases against an increasingly autocratic government.

His Greenbelt talk listed the long list of democratic failures in the Brexit process including the election of Boris Johnson by a tiny minority of Britons, (92,000 conservative voters). What particularly brought him to pubic notice was his legal challenge to Brexit and the prorogation of parliament by Johnson in 2019. Maugham left a lucrative business as a tax barrister and led various legal campaigns. Since Covid, he has issued proceedings against the government’s misappropriation of public funds and failure to take account of conflict of interest in the allocation of contracts for PPE and other supplies to the NHS.

It is a measure of my levels of cynicism about people in public life that I needed a lot of convincing to trust this man. Throughout his talk, my antennae for power hunger or fraud or celebrity ambition of some kind were on high alert! But hearing what his work has cost him in personal terms, the abuse, the lies, the vilification, the threats to his family and death threats against him personally quietened my doubts. His clear arguments, his honesty, transparency, and modesty were impressive. His obvious commitment to the cause of good law, quietened my scepticism!

I did something I have only ever done once before in my life when a speaker is clearly ‘selling’ a book. I went straight out after the talk, met him and spent £22 on his signed hardback book, Bringing Down Goliath. I started to read it the same evening and finished it in short order. The story of his attempts to hold the powerful to account has the ring of truth – unvarnished facts, thoroughly footnoted - not least with media references to his own sometimes idiotic mistakes - always an endearing quality!

Clearly, I am far from being the only person impressed by Maugham’s project. GLP is now the largest legal campaigning group in the country with the funding of a small political party. Its democratic funding model relies not on finances from big organisations or wealthy businessmen but tens of thousands of people, many of them giving as little as £2 a month.

I’m still waiting for someone to tell me I have been naïve in trusting his account of the unjust fault lines in the British legal system. For me, one of his trustworthy attitudes is expressed in his mechanism on the last page of his book for testing our levels of personal responsibility.

There is always something we can do. And the safest way to know if we ... are merely keeping our consciences at bay – is to ask whether it costs.’

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Sep 19, 2023

Thank you …. I’ve always wondered about GLP …. Now I know and will start to support

helen howlett
Sep 20, 2023
Replying to

My experience exactly…BTW I notice that in the latest Greenbelt mailing there’s a link to the Maugham talk…so you and Val needn’t miss it altogether after all😊


Sep 15, 2023

That sounds encouraging — a lawyer with scruples and a conscience.

Mike and Helen
Sep 15, 2023
Replying to

Yes Bear…a hopeful project😊

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