Christ College welcomes Sir Edward Garnier QC MP to deliver the 10th Lord Atkin Lecture

06 Feb 2013

The annual Lord Atkin Lecture was given by Sir Edward Garnier QC, who was until recently the Solicitor General for England and Wales.

This was the tenth Lord Atkin lecture, initially set up by School Governor Mr Leo Price QC but this year it has been kindly organised by School Governor Mr Paul Silk.

As usual a distinguished audience had assembled, consisting of the school’s Sixth Form pupils, staff, friends of the school, and guests from the worlds of law, politics, and beyond, including two of Lord Atkins’ grandchildren as well as Roger Williams, MP, Leo Price, QC, at whose instigation the Lord Atkin lecture was founded 10 years ago, and Paul Silk, Chairman of the Silk Commission into the future of devolved power in Wales, thanks to whose good offices Sir Edward had agreed to give this year’s lecture.

As he said himself in opening his lecture, Sir Edward follows a line of notable speakers in this annual event which include Master of the Rolls the late Lord Bingham, former Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen, former Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham, the governments independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Rt Hon Lord Hoffman of Chedworth, Lord Justice Thomas and Lord Mance.

Sir Edward spoke with profound understanding on the theme of walking the tightrope between law and politics. In the first part of his speech he also paid tribute, as Lord Atkin speakers over the years have all done, to the judgements of Lord Atkin and their importance to civil law and its practical interpretation right up to today. Sir Edward alluded to the basis in Luke’s gospel of Lord Atkin’s judgement in the case of Donoghue v Stephenson and the ‘Paisley Snail’, and he cited and explained the importance of the equally well-known dissenting speech by Lord Atkin in the case of Liversidge v Anderson.

Using examples of his own from significant cases of recent years, Sir Edward explained the work done by the offices of the Solicitor General and the Attorney General; he presented these positions as being like great submarines, moving stealthily and with enormous force beneath the waves. Occasionally, such as in the case of the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, explaining to Parliament the UK Government’s legal basis for the military action in Iraq, and the ructions that followed the suicide of David Kelly, the submarines are highly visible as they break the surface. For the most part, though, their work is the careful balancing of the exigencies of politics and prescripts of the law as they affect that world, and advising the crown on that delicate, critical balance.

Sir Edward tested his audience’s knowledge of the acronyms and language of text messaging as he recounted a court case in which he had been involved, where a defendant and juror had become unfortunately and illegally familiar via mobile phones. Luckily the Head, Mrs Emma Taylor, who had earlier warmly introduced Sir Edward to the audience, is no slouch when it comes to social media, and passed the test with flying colours, identifying the meaning of the acronym LMAO, which had required explanation to the judge in the case. The phrase cannot have been uttered frequently in Christ College’s ancient Chapel, and certainly not by its Head and a former Solicitor General!

After a wide-ranging and engaging lecture, Sir Edward took questions before being thanked by the Head of School, Harry Harris.

Sir Edward Garnier was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire, Jesus College Oxford (Modern History) and the College of Law, London. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in April 1995, a Crown Court Recorder in 1998 and a Bencher of the Middle Temple in 2001.

Sir Edward has been Member of Parliament for Harborough since April 1992. He was the Hon Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Forum 1988-92, and has been a Vice-Chairman since 1992. He was Secretary of the Conservative House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee from 1992-94 and a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee between 1992 and 1995.

He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rt Hon Alastair Goodlad MP and David Davis MP, Ministers of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1994-95. In October 1995 Sir Edward was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Lyell QC MP, Attorney General and PPS to Sir Derek Spencer QC MP, Solicitor General and PPS to the Rt Hon Roger Freeman MP, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in November 1996. He was the Opposition Front Bench Spokesman for the Lord Chancellor’s Department from 1997 to June 1999.

He was a Visiting Parliamentary Fellow at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, from 1996-97. From June 1999 to September 2001, he was Shadow Attorney General. In May 2005, he was appointed as a Shadow Minister for Home Affairs. In July 2007, he was appointed as a Shadow Minister for Justice and in September 2009 was appointed Shadow Attorney General.

Sir Edward was appointed Solicitor General in May 2010 and served in that role until September 2012.

Photo: Sir Edward Garnier QC and pupils