The Maastricht Judicial Review: Core Legal Documents
From David Lawton, German Historical Institute London
The following archival documents relate to the legal trial ‘R. v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs ex parte Rees-Mogg’. The Maastricht judicial review was formulated in 1991 by a network of conservative lawyers working in the Fleet Street area and led by the barrister and Queen’s Council (QC) Leolin Price.1
These core documents produced by the eurosceptic legal team give historians an insight into the development of legal arguments among a network of largely conservative lawyers, as well as operational details regarding funding, media campaigning, and correspondences with a wider public.
Lord William Rees-Mogg acted as plaintiff for the trial because of his expertise with the British press and connection to a wider network of influential political actors. Rees-Mogg was a veteran journalist and broadcaster, a crossbench peer, had been editor of The Times from 1967 to 1981, Vice-Chairman of the BBC, Chair of the Arts Council, and head of Thatcher’s Broadcasting Standards Committee. He organised a media campaign to help publicise the judicial review to the British public.
This archival material demonstrates how lawyers, academics, businesspeople, and journalists were central proactive agents in the development of anti-Maastricht networks in London during this period. These extra-parliamentary networks comprised of both lifelong ‘anti-marketeers’ (those who campaigned against Britain’s entry into the EEC during the 1960s and 1970s) and more recent converts to a sceptical position. Plans for the expansion of European law within the new ‘European Union’, especially regarding a new ‘Social Protocol’, European economic and monetary union, and elements of a shared defence policy, united a broader group of conservative ‘eurosceptic’ legal professionals in the early 1990s who spearheaded the trial.
Despite months of preparation the trial did not last long. The Major government’s defence argued that the court proceedings were ‘no more than a continuation by other means of arguments ventilated in Parliament.’ To the media, Rees-Mogg described the legal action as the ‘most important constitutional case for 300 years’ – a claim that Lord Justice Lloyd described as ‘an exaggeration’. (Judgement of Lord Justice Lloyd, 30/07/1993) Despite failing at court the Maastricht judicial review acted as an important conduit for both elite and non-elite frustrations about a Treaty which many felt was being imposed on them to the detriment of British sovereignty.
- A Queen’s Counsel is appointed by the Queen to be one of Her majesty’s Counsel learned in law. It is one of the most prestigious honorific titles in the legal profession.