Legal experts are wondering how a newly-qualified barrister and former Dominic Cummings associate was drafted to help fight the government’s Supreme Court case.
Barrister Richard Howell was taken onto the government’s legal team for the landmark case before he had even completed his pupillage, reports The Lawyer.
Howell, who was taken on by law firm Brick Court in September, is a former Vote Leave policy analyst where he worked closely with then-campaign director Dominic Cummings.
The appointment of Howell to the government’s team to fight a case in the highest court in the land has raised eyebrows amongst legal commentators.
One told The New European: “Most non-crime barristers at that stage are more typically finding they get sent to a tribunal case in Watford or to a low-value immigration hearing, rather than the Supreme Court.”
According to The Lawyer, Howell was chosen over hundreds of others listed on official procurement panels organised in three tiers, and whose least experienced members have between two and five years’ experience.
The government’s website states that “work should go to panel lawyers”, and that those lawyers be appointed “solely on merit”.
However, this is not a hard and fast rule and there is still room for an off-panel lawyer to be appointed with the attorney general’s direct approval.
Although a loophole – based on Howell’s ‘junior junior’ status – meant that attorney general’s approval wasn’t strictly necessary, Geoffrey Cox is reported to have greenlit the appointment.
A senior barrister told The Lawyer that Howell’s appointment “rides roughshod through all of the government guidelines about instructing barristers based on merit”.
Patrick O’Connor QC, at Doughty Street Chambers, told The Lawyer that it was “suprising”.
He said: “On what I have been told, the process of this appointment to the prime minister’s counsel
team, in such a sensitive case, is surprising, and calls for explanation.”
Howell features in Dominic Cummings’ blog as “Ricardo”, one of several people to whom Cummings attributes Vote Leave’s success.
In a submission to the Electoral Commission, Vote Leave described Howell as a “committed opponent of the UK’s membership of the EU”.
The New European has approached Brick Court Chambers for comment.