On Monday 19 February I attended a unique event.
It was the inaugural award ceremony for History Makers, which is organised by the University of Law and held at their Moorgate campus in London.
The History Maker awards were presented to Cherie Blair CBE QC and to James Libson, a Partner at law firm Mischon de Reya, where he is Head of the ‘Mischon Private’ department.
The event was attended by over 100 University and College of Law alumni. Some were able to remember more clearly than I was their time studying and all the “fun” they had in preparing for exams which would, after many years of study, open the door to the long-awaited career in law.
Both Cherie Blair and James Libson talked about their very different legal careers, one at the Bar and the other as a solicitor, careers which, however, still sometimes saw them working together.
Cherie Blair started her career when it was particularly difficult for women to establish themselves, let alone succeed. She was self-deprecating in recalling how she learnt, rather painfully, that talent and ability were not enough to gain a tenancy and after that to gain a foothold in Chambers. But setbacks only impelled her to look at new areas of the law: employment which was then in its infancy, and human rights, which was even more cutting edge.
That she succeeded is a testament not just to her ability as a lawyer and as an advocate but to sheer guts and determination.
She is an example of how discrimination based on gender and social background can be overcome and she reminded her audience that while things are easier for women now, it is still not easy to rise to the top of the profession. Women are still under-represented in the Judiciary in particular, notwithstanding the fact that in 2017, Lady Hale became the first woman to be appointed President of the Supreme Court.
James Libson, meanwhile, has enjoyed a career with some similarities to Cherie Blair’s. He has at various times represented clients taking on what we would call the “establishment” and those wanting or needing to challenge entrenched views, in particular discrimination based on gender and race.
More recently, he was involved in representing the American academic Professor Deborah Lipstadt, when she was sued, unsuccessfully, for libel by the Holocaust denier David Irving, a case which has since been turned in to a film called Denial.
Last year he represented Gina Miller amongst others who successfully challenged the Government’s decision to trigger Article 50 and leave the European Union without the agreement of Parliament.
Two immensely able and determined lawyers, then, well worthy of their awards.
The evening closed with two further awards, for ‘Future History Makers’: students at the University of Law, with amazing testimonials from those teaching them. Where will they be in 30 years’ time?
The law and lawyers often get a bad press, and not just when Judges of the Supreme Court are foolishly and callously castigated as “Enemies of the People” by The Daily Mail. But Cherie Blair and James Libson are perfect examples of lawyers who are prepared to stand up for truth, to stand up for those who suffer discrimination in all its odious guises, and even to take on the government, without fear or favour. They are anything but “enemies of the people”.
Image by Chad Kainz via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence