2019 Q&A: Cliff Mills on law

Consultant in the social business team, Anthony Collins Solicitors

What frames your interest in co-operatives and law?

 Co-operation is fundamentally concerned with how we individually choose to act collectively with others for our own, our communities and the wider common good. As a co-operative lawyer, I want the law to enable and support people who want to co-operate, and to provide a framework which encourages them to do this rather than simply to pursue their own private gain.

How was 2019 for you?

My reflections are inevitably coloured by the 2019 general election result.

Law in our country is made by judges as well as by Parliament, and I shall mention a few court decisions which both give hope, but also are of concern to co-operators and social democrats.

The outstanding decision of 2019 was that of the Supreme Court in September, finding unanimously that the prime minister’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament was unlawful, and that the prorogation was void and of no effect. The case illustrates the vital role the courts play in determining whether or not power is exercised lawfully.

This really matters. The following sentence was in the Conservative manifesto: “After Brexit we will also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts: the functioning of the royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.” If you think “After Brexit” provides some comfort, don’t rely on it. 

At a more mundane level, in November a judicial review held that a notice by the Metropolitan Police ordering Extinction Rebellion to cease their protests within London exceeded the powers of the Public Order Act 1986 and was unlawful, as were the subsequent arrest of hundreds of protesters. In May defendants, who admitted criminal damage by spray painting “divest from oil and gas”, argued that their actions were a proportionate response to the climate crisis; the jury agreed.

 What will be driving you in 2020?

Two things will be driving me. Firstly, taking proper account of the climate crisis is top of the agenda. Businesses won’t do that whole-heartedly unless, like co-operatives, they are driven by values. Businesses for private gain are programmed to deliver private gain. And even co-ops won’t, unless members and communities keep pressure on – but also support – those in charge. The challenges are massive.

Secondly, as a co-operative lawyer, I am hugely energised by the prospect of collaborating with colleagues in other jurisdictions, and learning how to benefit from their systems. The UK is insufficiently engaged in such collaboration, but the new International Journal of Co-operative Law (second issue published in 2019), its occasional forums (the third one in late 2020), and various International Co-operative Alliance events provide us with opportunities we must not miss.