Friday, 18 September 2020

Richard Keen QC

The BBC reports that the UK government's top law officer in Scotland - Richard Keen QC - has resigned. 

I can't say I'm surprised because he always struck me as an upright, principled person and before Richard Keen became Scotland's Lord Advocate he struck a blow in the long fight for equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council. 

Back in 2013 Richard Keen QC took on a landmark freedom of information (FoI) case in the UK Supreme Court which resulted in an historic victory and opened the door to a settlement of all the outstanding equal pay claims.

South Lanarkshire Council had been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the release of information which would have exposed the huge pay differences between male and female, but they lost hands down after an FoI battle lasting three years. 

So I take my hat off again to Richard Keen QC and wish him well in whatever lies ahead - read the full story via the link below to BBC Scotland.

  

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-54179745



Lord Keen: Senior law officer quits over Brexit bill row
Image copyright - PA MEDIA

The UK government's law officer for Scotland, Lord Keen, has resigned amid a legal row over Brexit legislation.

The advocate general said he had "found it increasingly difficult to reconcile" his obligations as a lawyer with provisions in the Internal Market Bill.

Ministers have admitted that their plans could "break international law".

Lord Keen's resignation was initially not accepted by Downing Street, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that conversations were ongoing.

However it was later confirmed that he had left his post.

The government's most senior lawyer - Sir Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary to the government legal department - had already resigned over the bill, which passed its first parliamentary test on Monday.

PM's Brexit bill clears first hurdle in Commons

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has told MPs the legislation could break international law by overriding the withdrawal agreement signed with the EU.

Lord Keen initially tried to defend the legislation, arguing that Mr Lewis had "essentially answered the wrong question".

He told the House of Lords that his view was that "the bill does not of itself constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law".

But the Northern Ireland secretary later doubled down, saying that his statement was a "very straight answer" which was "absolutely in line" with legal advice.

Media caption - Brandon Lewis says he gave the “correct” answer when he was asked if the Internal Market Bill would break international law.

In his resignation letter, Lord Keen said it had been a "privilege" to serve as advocate general for Scotland, but said that the government "faces challenges on a number of fronts and I fear that the internal market bill in its present form will not make these any easier".

He added: "Over the past week I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a law officer with your policy intentions with respect to the Internal Markets Bill.

"I have endeavoured to identify a respectable argument for the provisions at clauses 42 to 45 of the bill, but it is now clear that this will not meet your policy intentions.

"In these circumstances I consider that it is my duty to tender my resignation from your government."
'Parliamentary oversight'

Mr Johnson had said discussions about Lord Keen's future were "continuing" on Wednesday afternoon when he appeared before the Commons Liaison Committee.

But shortly after the committee concluded, a Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the advocate general had left his post and thanked him for his service.

The BBC understands Mr Johnson has already struck a deal with potential Tory rebels over the legislation, which would give MPs "an extra layer of parliamentary oversight".

Richard Keen had been the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives until being appointed as Advocate General in 2015 - when he was also made a life peer as Baron Keen of Elie.

The QC has represented the UK government in court in a number of high-profile cases, including over the prorogation of parliament in 2019 and the "Article 50" Brexit case in 2016-17.


As a law officer in the UK government, Lord Keen had been defending plans to give ministers powers to change the EU withdrawal agreement in the event that the two sides can't agree a trade deal.

He argued that while this part of the UK internal market bill creates tension with the UK's international obligations, that is not unprecedented and that domestic law should prevail.

The trouble is, the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has already said that overriding the Brexit divorce deal would break international law in a "very specific and limited way" and he's rejected Lord Keen's suggestion that he'd answered incorrectly.

That made it increasingly difficult for Lord Keen to reconcile the government's plans with the law and he wrote to the prime minister on Wednesday morning offering his resignation.

Lord Keen is the first member of the government to quit over its approach to this issue, which has drawn criticism from former attorneys general and all five living former prime ministers.


Lanarkshire Loses! (29/07/13)


I take my hat off to the UK Supreme Court which just a few minutes ago announced its decision on the big Freedom of Information case involving South Lanarkshire Council.

The Court decided, unanimously, that South Lanarkshire's appeal should be rejected and that Mr Irvine (i.e. me) is 'entitled to the information he seeks'. 

Yipeee!

After three long years, justice and common sense have finally prevailed - although no thanks to South Lanarkshire Council which has wasted over £200,000 of public money fighting this case.

The information I am seeking relates to the pay of traditional male council jobs - which will expose whether male council workers have been more favourably treated in recent years - than their women colleagues.

As regular readers know, South Lanarkshire originally dismissed my request as 'vexatious' - but now it is one of Scotland's largest council's which is left looking rather silly and, after this decision, with egg all over its face.    

The UK Supreme Court ruling comes on top of a previous judgement, also unanimous, from the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court - and an earlier adjudication in my favour from the Scottish Information Commissioner.

South Lanarkshire Council and its political leadership have lots of questions to answer over this debacle - and the terrible waste of public money involved.

In the meantime, I would like to thank the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) and the SIC legal team - including Richard Keen QC - for their good judgement and unstinting support over the past three years.

The wheels of justice turn very slowly at times, alas, but today they finally caught up with South Lanarkshire Council - which should hang its head in shame.

UK Supreme Court (14/07/13)

 


Here's an article by Tom Gordon in The Sunday Herald on the recent FOI hearing at the UK Supreme Court - which needs no further commentary from me.

Supreme Court slaps down Scots council

A cash-strapped Labour council has been scolded by one of the UK's most senior judges for "dancing on the head of a pin" with "Alice In Wonderland" legal arguments, which have cost taxpayers thousands of pounds.

By Tom Gordon - Sunday Herald

A UK Supreme Court judge has slammed South Lanarkshire Council for 'Alice In Wonderland' legal arguments as it fights to keep potentially damning documents about staff pay a secret   
Lord Wilson of Culworth, a justice at the UK's Supreme Court, made the scathing remarks last week as South Lanarkshire Council fought to keep potentially damning documents about pay a secret.

If it loses the case, the council's legal costs are expected to be around £200,000. South Lanarkshire recently warned 120 jobs were at risk in a £12 million cuts package.

In 2010, Scotland's Freedom of Information (FoI) Commissioner ordered the local authority to release details of its pay scales to equal pay campaigner Mark Irvine, who wanted to know if male and female manual workers with similar skills were on different wages.

In recent years, councils across Scotland have paid millions of pounds in compensation to female staff who were systematically underpaid. South Lanarkshire is currently fighting a £10m back pay claim from 1500 female staff.

South Lanarkshire appealed the FoI decision to Scotland's highest court, the Court of Session. It also ruled in Irvine's favour. But South Lanarkshire again refused to release the information, and last week it became the first public body in Scotland to appeal an FoI ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. 

The Sunday Herald has now obtained a recording of the full proceedings. 
The council argues that releasing the details could identify individual staff, breaching the Data Protection Act. But the act says the data can be disclosed if it is "necessary" for Irvine's legitimate interest.

The council spent most of its time at last Monday's one-day hearing arguing over the exact definition of "necessary", and whether it meant "essential" or not, and thus whether the council had to release the information or not.

Sarah Wolffe QC, said that from the council's perspective, "necessary" meant "more than facilitate or be convenient" but less than "absolutely necessary or strictly".

Lord Wilson interrupted to tell Wolffe: "This is becoming Alice In Wonderland - Alice Through The Looking Glass.

"You've spent almost two hours discussing the meaning of the word 'necessary' and you've been most nimbly dancing on the head of a pin."

Wolffe replied: "I hope the court wouldn't, wouldn't feel that, would regard the submissions that I have advanced as that kind of submission. I'm not a very good dancer." 

A few moments later, Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, told Wolffe: "I think you've had enough assault on this subject. Can we move on to the next point?" 

The FoI Commissioner's counsel, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Richard Keen, later argued that releasing the information was "proportionate". 

Irvine said: "If South Lanarkshire loses its appeal, this may require the council leader, Eddie McAvoy, to consider his position. As in Alice In Wonderland, it may be time to say, 'Off with his head!'"

South Lanarkshire SNP councillor Peter Craig said: "Hiring big lawyers to put a case as weak as that is a waste of public money."

A South Lanarkshire Council spokeswoman said: "It would be inappropriate for any of the parties concerned to comment while the judges consider their judgment."

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its verdict in the autumn.


The Rottweiler (19/06/15)

Image result for richard keen qc + images

The BBC reports that Richard Keen QC has been appointed as the new Advocate General for Scotland and regular readers will recall that Richard acted in the UK Supreme Court case involving South Lanarkshire Council.

Now I was present on that day and to use some decidedly non-judicial language, Richard tore South Lanarkshire's case up for 'arse paper' and the Labour-run Council was made to look completely foolish in front of the highest court in the land, after wasting a huge sum of taxpayers' money in defending the indefensible it has to be said.

So I take my hat off to 'The Rottweiller' because he's a class act and he did a fantastic job on behalf of thousands of low paid women workers. 

He's a very pleasant and courteous chap in the flesh, so to speak, and I suspect he only bares his teeth in court. 

Richard Keen QC becomes new Advocate General


One of Scotland's leading lawyers has been appointed as the UK government's most senior adviser on Scots law.

Richard Keen QC is stepping down from his position as chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party to become the new Advocate General for Scotland.

He was previously dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Mr Keen said it would be a "great honour" to support the UK government at a "crucial point" as new legislation brings further devolution to Holyrood. 

He said: "I am delighted to be appointed Advocate General for Scotland.

"It is a great honour to join the UK government and I look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues to support the work of the UK government in Scotland at this crucial point in our political and constitutional history."

Mr Keen is one of the most prominent figures in Scottish legal circles. He stood down from his role at the Faculty of Advocates to become the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: "This is a key job for Scotland and Richard is exactly the right person to take it on.

"He is one of our most respected and experienced legal minds, and will have a central role in supporting the UK government in Scotland, not least as we work to strengthen devolution to the Scottish Parliament."

Beware of Rottweilers (02/05/13)


Until the following article appeared in the Sunday Herald - I had no idea that Richard Keen QC has earned the nickname of 'The Rottweiler' because of his ferocious reputation in court.

But I have since spoken too a few friends in the legal profession - who know a thing or two annd tell me that Richard is a 'real winner' and the right kind of person to have in your corner - if you're involved in a real fight.

So I'm very encouraged and I hope South Lanarkshire Council are taking note - as we are now just over two months away from their day of reckoning - in the UK Supreme Court.

UK Supreme Court (15 April 2013)

The Sunday Herald did an excellent job at the weekend in explaining the big freedom of information (FOI) case involving South Lanarkshire Council - which is to be heard by the UK Supreme Court on 8 July 2013.

Almost every day I ask myself - 'How can anyone take this ridiculous council seriously?' - expecially when you consider the nonsense of South Lanarkshire trying to dismiss my original FOI request as 'vexatious' back in 2010?

Since then, of course, the independent Scottish Information Commissioner(SIC) and three senior judges in Scotland's highest civil court have all agreed that these pay details should be published - in the wider public interest.

So we shall see what the UK Supreme Court has to say in a few months time, but I believe the court will come down in favour of the principles of openness and transparency - and the public's right to know how public money is spent.

Council risks £200k on unfair pay case


Exclusive By Tom Gordon and Paul Hutcheon

A cash-strapped Labour council is risking hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in a bid to keep potentially damning information about sexual discrimination and unfair pay a secret from the public.

In the first case of its kind involving a Scottish public body, South Lanarkshire Council is to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against a ruling by the country's freedom of information (FoI) watchdog.

The local authority has already had its case thrown out by Scotland's highest court, the Court of Session, but is now mounting a last-ditch appeal in London on July 8.

In response, Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew has instructed one of the country's most respected QCs to argue her case – Richard Keen, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, whose ferocity in court has earned him the nickname "The Rottweiller".

If it loses, the council faces a bill of more than £200,000 for its own costs and those of the commissioner. The latter have already topped £60,000.

South Lanarkshire recently warned around 120 jobs were at risk as part of a £12 million savings package, which included cuts to secondary schools, day-care centres, and a 15% rise in the cost of cremations.

Leader Eddie McAvoy said the next two years would involve some "very difficult decisions".

The freedom of information case involves equal pay campaigner Mark Irvine, of Action 4 Equality, who in 2010 asked the council for details of its pay scales under FoI law.

The aim was to find out if men in manual jobs such as gardening, rubbish collection and gravedigging were paid more than women in jobs requiring equal or higher levels of skill.

In recent years, Scottish councils have been forced to pay out tens of millions of pounds to female staff who have been paid less than male colleagues in equivalent jobs.

If the data asked for by Irvine helped to expose similar bad practice, it could leave South Lanarkshire facing hefty compensation claims.

The council is already being taken to a tribunal by 1500 female workers, who claim they are owed more than £10 million in back pay.

After South Lanarkshire tried to dismiss Irvine's requests as "vexatious", he appealed to the Information Commissioner.

The council then changed tack to claim Irvine had no legitimate interest in seeing the data, and claimed simply releasing the number of staff on various pay grades would be a breach of data protection law, as individual workers might be identified, causing them distress.

The FoI watchdog rejected both arguments and said there was "no reason" to think people would be identified.

The council appealed against the ruling to the Court of Session, but was again defeated.

In an opinion last year, Lords Marnoch, Brailsford and Mackay of Drumadoon confirmed that Irvine had a legitimate interest in the information as an established campaigner, and that it was necessary to hand it over.

However, the council again refused to release the data and appealed to the UK Supreme Court.

Irvine told the Sunday Herald he was sure that, if the information was released, it would show that the council had paid male workers more than their female counterparts for years.

He said: "I think the council has completely lost the plot. What it's doing is unique, as far as I'm aware. It's a huge waste of money after such careful adjudications by the Information Commissioner and the Court of Session judges.

"If there's nothing significant in the information why does the council not just publish it like every other council in Scotland is doing?"

South Lanarkshire Council said: "Our decision to refuse the Freedom of Information request was to protect the sensitive personal data of employees.

"We believe this is an important issue that's worth defending.

"If we released the information that was requested, we believe we would be in clear breach of the Data Protection Act."

Richard Keen QC (28./03/13)


Richard Keen QC is one of the most highly respected barristers in Scotland - indeed in the UK.

Which is good news for everyone interested in freedom of information (FOI) in Scotland - and the ongoing fight for equal pay. 

Because Richard Keen QC is representing the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) in the forthcoming appeal at the UK Supreme Court - where South Lanarkshire Council is trying to overturn a previous decision in the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court.

Regular readers will recall that this all started with a simple FOI request in which I asked South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) for some very basic pay information - about traditional male council jobs.

Predictably SLC refused, but I appealed their silly decision to the Scottish Information Commissioner - who upheld my perfectly sensible request and ordered the council to release the pay details.

Incredibly, South Lanarkshire appealed the SIC decision to the Court of Session where three senior judges gave the council's arguments short shrift  before agreeing - unanimously - that the pay information should be published in the public interest. 

Again, South Lanarkshire appealed this decision and, as far as I know, it's the first case of its kind to go before the UK Supreme Court - where it us due to be heard on 8 July 2013.

Which is where Richard Keen QC comes into the picture - because in July the 'public interest' is at stake along with the need for openness and transparency in government affairs - local and national.

Because that after all is what Freedom of Information is about - the ability of the little guy to hold the big guy to account which, in turn, means being able to see clearly and understand - what these large organisations are doing with all the public money that they receive.

A ful profile of Richard Keen QC can be viewed at - www.axiomadvocates.com and at www.blackstonechambers.com - but in here a few extracts for informtion

Richard Keen QC 

"Richard is ranked as a ‘star individual' in Commercial Dispute Resolution and top ranked in three other areas: 

Administrative & Public Law  “fabulous advocate" … “mesmerically good” 

Commercial Dispute Resolution – “the outstanding advocate of his generation” … “the top civil silk in Scotland” … “we'd use him for any type of civil law matter” … “fantastic” 

Company - “brilliant at anything he turns his hand to” … “very impressive” 

Construction – “a very accomplished performer” 

Richard Keen QC is regularly instructed in the Commercial Court; in the Inner House (the Court of Appeal in Scotland) and in the Supreme Court in a range of Commercial and Public Law cases."

Well there you have it - and there will be much more to follow in the build up to July 8th 2013.