The thirteenth annual Lord Atkin Lecture was given by The Rt Hon Dominic Grieve, QC, MP to a packed audience of invited guests, members of the Sixth Form and staff. Previous speakers have included former Master of the Rolls the late Lord Bingham, former Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen, the Government’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile of Berriew, and last year expert in European Law, Professor Sir Alan Dashwood.
Dominic Grieve was first elected as MP for Beaconsfield in 1997, entering Parliament from a career as a barrister. He was appointed to the opposition front bench in 1999 as spokesman on Constitutional Affairs, and moved to the Home Affairs team, covering criminal justice, in 2001, before being made Shadow Attorney General in 2003, and subsequently shadow Home Secretary and shadow Justice Secretary. After the General Election of 2010 he was appointed a Privy Councillor and Attorney General, holding that office until July 2014. Mr Grieve is currently a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons.
His work in Parliament on civil liberties and the Rule of Law was recognised by two awards; Parliamentarian of the Year in 2005 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Liberty in 2014. Most recently Mr Grieve has been in the news due to his election as Chair of the influential Intelligence and Security Committee.
In his talk titled, ‘Where is Britain going? Can we continue with an unwritten constitution?’ Dominic Grieve gave a most scholarly and detailed account of the nature of Britain’s constitution. From an apparently simple question – Should Britain have a written constitution – Mr Grieve expanded a fascinating picture of the origins and quirks of government and the primacy of the law in the UK. He explained why the issue is particularly important today as devolution increasingly transfers legal powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Mr Grieve explained how unlike most modern states, Britain does not have a codified constitution, but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions. For most people, the United Kingdom does not have a constitution at all in the sense most commonly used around the world – a document of fundamental importance setting out the structure of government and its relationship with its citizens.
In his address Mr Grieve explored the impact of this, and gave some pertinent examples from his time as Attorney General, the principal legal officer who represents the Crown or a state in legal proceedings and gives legal advice to the government.
“Sometimes we are dogged by parliamentary sovereignty – that principle was developed at the end of the 17th century for the purpose of emphasising the supremacy of parliament over the executive but over the years it has evolved so that parliament is supreme over the world. It is within our powers to say that everyone should worship the moon!”
Dominic Grieve’s extensive legal and political experiences certainly informed a speech that his audience listened to with close attention. In conclusion, he explained with obvious conviction and powerful clarity the value and positive effect of a written constitution.
Following his talk, Mr Grieve was delighted to talk to Christ College pupils and guests and answer questions. It was an incredible opportunity, particularly for pupils interested in a career in the legal profession. It was a delight to host Mr Grieve at Christ College and continue this annual event with yet another high-profile legal expert.
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