Bob Marshall-Andrews, QC
Doctor of Laws
Tuesday 21 July 2015 at 4pm - Orator: Bill Ray
Robert Graham Marshall-Andrews QC, and formerly MP, or ‘Bob’ as he prefers to be known is a passionate sportsman, who likes to use a sporting metaphor to describe some of his best known accomplishments. As a goalie for his school’s Second XI hockey team, his kit made him look like a cross between Darth Vader and Hannibal Lector, it weighed more than an SAS backpack and on rainy days in North London, of which there were many, he would gently sink into the mud in front of goal. However, the opposing team was unaware of his inability to move and would frequently shoot directly at him with two consequences. Firstly he saved the goal to appropriate acclaim and secondly he would frequently have to be carried off the pitch semi-conscious. As he observes "They also serve, who only stand in mud."
Bob’s ability to emulate an immoveable object, forged on the hockey fields of Mill Hill, stood him in good stead. When Bob was elected to Parliament, as Labour MP for Medway in 1997, he almost immediately found himself at odds with the authoritarian style of New Labour and the explosion of proposed legislation designed to curtail civil liberties. For the next 13 years he was probably the single greatest critic, opponent and rebel ringleader of that party’s proposed legislation, in so far as it threatened our civil liberties.
Bob Marshall-Andrews was born in 1944 in Willesden and attended Mill Hill School, thanks to an ‘assisted places scheme’ for which he is still grateful today, and subsequently attended the University of Bristol where he read Law and graduated in 1966.
As a young man he was a Tory but became, in great part due to the influence of his wife Gill, a profound supporter of the Labour party, the party he believes possesses the proudest history of libertarian credentials. We are delighted that Gill and their children Laura, Will, Tom and Anna are with us today.
Bob’s first attempt to enter Parliament was as the Labour candidate for Richmond in 1974, a staunchly Conservative constituency. His candidacy was probably not helped by a group of rugby players, who he had invited for dinner, driving off in his campaign van and exhorting the good folk of Richmond to give away all their wealth to the poor.
This attempt was unsuccessful and it was only much later, and after encouragement from Neil Kinnock, that he ran again in 1992. Again he was unsuccessful but five years later and at the third attempt, he was elected to represent the constituents of Medway and served them for 13 years until 2010.
Bob was called to the Bar in 1970, became a crown court recorder in 1982, a Queen's counsel in 1987 and subsequently a bencher of Gray's Inn in 1996. Bob has prosecuted and defended most forms of serious crime and criminals, and specialises in commercial fraud. Bob is grateful for his degree from Bristol but believes that winning the ‘Observer Mace’, debating competition, together with David, now Lord Hunt was responsible for him being admitted to the prestigious chambers of Lord Hailsham, then the Lord Chancellor.
In 13 years as an MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews spoke passionately, and voted against, much of the Labour government’s proposed legislation in so far as it threatened our civil liberties and it is here we will focus.
Bob had been in Parliament less than a year when the Mode of Trial Bill 1 – 1997 was introduced. This Bill proposed that in the vast majority of indictable cases defendants would lose the right to a trial by jury and that that gift would be determined by individual magistrates. Further, in the original Bill, magistrates would be required to consider the reputation of the defendant in making that determination. This potential to create a two class system – those who had a reputation to protect and those who did not – created the opportunity for Bob’s first organised rebellion. In the event, the Bill was passed by a majority of 53 votes, however, the reduction in the Government’s majority by two thirds was directly responsible for the Bills defeat in the House of Lords.
The Government redrafted the Bill to actually forbid magistrates from considering the reputation of the defendant, however it was defeated a second time in the Lords and as Bob notes: ‘The Bill gradually disappeared into the quicksand of parliamentary procedure, never to reappear’.
However, there were many more battles to come.
A further serious challenge emerged in the form of the Anti Terror, Crime and Security Act 2001 which created the first step towards control orders and executive detention. It removed, from a minister’s decision to imprison, any appeal by judicial review. As Bob says, ‘it provided an executive power over the freedom of an individual unknown in over 800 years.’ Bob was pleasantly surprised to receive support from George Osborne and concluded his speech to the House as follows:
‘This is the point at which I will stick. I will never vote for a Bill as long as clause 29 is in it. It is a signpost to tyranny and I will not take a single step along that road.’
The rebellion was again supported by the Lords and judicial oversight was reinstated.
Notwithstanding his opposition to his party's legislative programmes, Bob was re-elected in 2001 and treasures a report from Simon Hoggart, a Guardian journalist which records a particularly feisty exchange with one of his Tory constituents, in which Bob said, ‘You are a racist and I forbid you to vote for me.’ Simon noted that, ‘Mr Marshall Andrews’ majority is 5,326 and at the present rate of attrition, he should have it down to zero a few days before polling.’
Having substantially failed to remove the right to jury trial in the Mode of Trial Bill 1 the Government tried again in 2003. A key element in the Criminal Justice Bill 2003 sought to ‘exclude the right to jury trial in serious and complex cases’. However 70 Labour MPS voted against or abstained on this section of the Bill. The message to the House of Lords was crystal clear. This was not the will of the people so much as the will of the executive and as such was rejected. Bob considers that this victory, in saving the right to a trial by jury is his greatest contribution in his 13 years as an MP.
In 2003 and 2004 the government continued its attempts to remove the Executive from judicial scrutiny and introduced control orders which bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the pass laws of South Africa during apartheid. Bob was in the thick of organising opposition to this legislation, not only with labour rebels but with the Conservatives lead by his friend David Davis. This attempt to remove judicial scrutiny was again defeated and a quote in one of Bob’s speeches could apply to any one of these fights: ‘It cannot be repeated often enough that we will never decrease the sum total of human wickedness by decreasing the sum total of human liberty’.
In the general election of 2005, Labour haemorrhaged more votes than at any time in its history. Bob appeared on national television commenting on his predicted defeat before it had been officially declared, as ‘the only good news Tony Blair would get that night’, and launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister for good measure. However, he managed to hold on to the seat by a majority of 213 votes.
The government’s majority in the 2005 parliament was reduced by two-thirds and rebellion by Labour backbenchers increased.
Bob organised a further revolt against the Terrorism Bill 2006 which proposed a period of 90 days detention in police custody after arrest, before charge, trial or release. The proposal was defeated and the 90 days became 28.
In October 2006, Bob was one of 12 Labour MPs to back Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party's call for an inquiry into the Iraq War, which he had voted against.
He was often mentioned as a candidate for ‘backbencher of the year’ and is widely respected in the Westminster media circuit, however earlier, in July 2007, Bob announced he would stand down as a Labour MP at the next election, which he did in 2010.
Bob’s interests extend substantially beyond the protection of civil liberties.
He is an occasional novelist, having written Palace of Wisdom which interestingly was a best-seller in Germany, A Man Without Guilt and an autobiographical account of his years in Parliament, very appropriately entitled Off Message.
He has appeared five times on Have I Got News For You and has not yet been sued for his comments on New Labour or Tony Blair.
He is a founder and trustee of the George Adamson Wildlife Trust which runs the Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania. He is currently trying to establish an elephant game reserve in northern Kenya and together with Benedict Cumberbatch, gain membership for women at the Garrick Club in London – although he readily admits that this is much harder than opposing Al Shabab.
Madam Chancellor, in a world where politicians are not uniformly admired for sticking to their principles, Bob Marshall-Andrews stands out as a man who has never shied away from a fight to protect our most fundamental civil liberties and in particular, the right to a jury trial. He has enjoyed cross-party support and is widely admired for his principled stand on the protection of all civil liberties.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC describes Bob as ‘the Attorney General we should have had’ and Lord Chris Patten says he is ‘the sort of politician who is needed to protect our civil liberties from unprincipled assault.’
For Bob’s part, he simply says with his usual modesty and humour that he wishes to have the inscription on his headstone read: ‘He got in the way!’
Madam Chancellor, I present to you Mr Robert Graham Marshall-Andrews QC as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.