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Jeremy Brier: Cheek by Jowell


Jeremy Brier is a Commercial Barrister, World Debating Champion and Conservative Council Candidate in Harrow West.

At Law School we used to get given “problem questions”, wildly implausible factual scenarios involving naughty people doing stupid things, and we would then have to comment on what the legal issues were before us that a barrister might like to raise. Well it’s good news for all those teachers at College of Law! David, Tessa and Tony have just created a tailor-made case study for any undergraduate lawyer to get their teeth into for hours, containing a seemingly unending variety of discrepancies, sleights of hands, failures of due process and just plain old fashioned New Labour greed and stupidity. What’s more, it isn’t too hard so there won’t be a need for too much grade inflation.

Let’s start with the basics. Do you think that the following statement from the Prime Minister might just raise a few questions of “due process” or what we sometimes call “procedural fairness”?

"I accept Tessa's assurance that she did not know about it (the gift) until the issue was resolved with the Inland Revenue. In these circumstances, she is not in breach of the ministerial code."

Or, in other words, “she told me she didn’t know about it so she didn’t know about it and because she didn’t know about it, she didn’t breach the ministerial code”. Brilliant. Clearly a very complex process of evidential scrutiny went into that decision. (You’re on full marks so far).

And what about the fact that the judgment comes from, er, her direct boss and key political ally? So forget the old-fashioned principle of natural justice that ‘no man should be a judge in his own cause’, it seems that Tony is sufficiently above these legal niceties that he can pass unbiased judgment on his own friends and colleagues. Whatever! You don’t need to have studied law for one day to realise that this is plainly improper behaviour.

So let’s be quite clear what is going on here. Tessa Jowell’s husband, David Mills, a respected international lawyer and advisor to the Italian Prime Minister is being investigated by prosecutors in Milan over allegations that in 1997 he was given a bribe of about £350,000 in order to give helpful evidence in a corruption probe. Simple so far: a potential cash-for-evidence claim to be investigated by the (dubious) Italian judiciary.

This cash “gift” was first claimed to have been used to pay off the joint mortgage on Mr. Mills’s and Ms. Jowell’s home in 2000. However, it then emerges that the happy couple never in fact had a mortgage on this house (they purchased it outright in 1979, lucky things) and have since used it as collateral (legalese for a ‘security’) in a series of re-mortgages to fund off-shore investments, perhaps in lucrative hedge funds.

Mr. Mills’s defence is that he vigorously denies receiving the payment from Mr. Berlusconi. (Query therefore why there is a letter from Mr Mills to his accountant in which he says the money came to him "discreetly" from "the B people" and then later that his court appearance "kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble"?). However, he does admit that he did receive the gift from Diego Attansio, a shipping magnate (who denies this completely). This is odd and casts doubt on Mr. Mills honesty. But it is particularly relevant – and here’s the bonus mark – because it lands Tessa Jowell in boiling hot water.

Regardless of who gave Mr. Mills the money – Silvio, Diego or John the Milkman – she  evidently derived substantial financial benefit from it as a result of the investments made and she thus had a primary obligation to reveal the investments made with the money obtained by Mr Mills from the remortgating in the 2000 register of members' interests (which expressly covers ministerial spouses).

The only way she can get out of this (her only possible defence as far as I can tell) is the completely implausible argument that she was unaware of the cash injection. Ignorance is bliss, eh? In order for this to be the case, she would have to be blithely, willfully, or perhaps even clinically brain-dead (in which case she should resign in any case).

No. It is not possible and, on the current evidence, no judge in the land would believe her professions of ignorance. But then again, when you have your old mate Tony judging you, why any need to tell the truth?


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