On the face of it, Lord Pannick may seem an unlikely ally for Boris Johnson in his fight to clear his name over Partygate. After all, he was the prominent QC who twice thwarted British Prime Ministers in their attempts to push through Brexit.
In 2016, representing Gina Miller, she successfully argued before the High Court that the Prime Minister did not have the power to trigger Article 50 and the UK’s exit from the European Union without a vote in Parliament.
And in 2019, again representing Ms Miller, she led the case that overturned the prime minister’s shock parliamentary derogation from Johnson to prevent MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit. It was the zenith of the anti-Brexit movement, the closest Remainers came to preventing Brexit before a general election destroyed their dreams.
Even now, he continues to criticize the government’s handling of Brexit. In June he wrote a letter published in The Times calling the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, which would allow ministers to unilaterally walk away from the Brexit deal, a “clear breach of international law”.
However, scratch a little deeper and it seems to be a case perfectly suited to the graduates of Hertford College. Because he has a history of taking on unfashionable or unpopular cases where there is a possibility, however justly, that political power has been unjustly exercised.
In the year he took on Ms Miller’s crusade, Lord Pannick also worked for fashion tycoon Sir Philip Green, co-signing a legal opinion defending the Topshop owner against sharp criticism from a parliamentary inquiry into his role in the collapse of British Home Stores.
The opinion dismissed the investigation as “strange” and “unsupported” and claimed MPs had already decided who to indict before starting their work.
A man from a relatively modest background
Shortly after his second Brexit triumph, Lord Pannick took up yet another strange cause, this time that of Shamima Begum, the so-called Islamic State bride who fled to Syria to join the jihadists. She argued that the government had overstepped its authority by effectively rendering her stateless.
In 2021, Lord Pannick hit back at Labor and other critics who said British lawyers and judges should stop working in Hong Kong because of China’s brutal crackdown on dissent. He argued that the British legal community should try to support the former British colony’s independent legal system rather than leave Hong Kong to its own devices.
More recently, the QC found himself working for the BBC in its efforts to name a man who was allegedly an MI5 informant and was accused by the broadcaster of domestic abuse.
A man from a relatively modest background, Lord Pannick won a scholarship to Bancroft School in Essex before heading to Hertford.
He then won a highly competitive scholarship award to All Souls College, where he has held a scholarship ever since. In 1999, he co-edited a leading handbook on the then new Human Rights Act, becoming a QC at the young age of 36.
Lord Pannick sat as a part-time judge but chose not to pursue a judicial career, reportedly because he felt it lacked the intellectual stimulation that life as a barrister provided.
Taking on Mr. Johnson’s case, Lord Pannick finds himself on the side of a man whose ambitions he routinely thwarts. However, to resist what he has allegedly argued is an unfair investigation, the QC is acting much as it has done for some time.