Lawyer of the Month: Jennifer Jack
Jennifer Jack says that she was an early speaker. “My mother tells me that one of my first words was ‘organised’ – which perhaps set me on the path to becoming a lawyer,” she smiles. It’s certainly a quality that her job – as the partner leading Harper Macleod’s public law litigation and public inquiries practice across Scotland – demands.
With recognised expertise in public law and disputes involving public bodies that include government, Ms Jack has significant experience in advising and representing clients on public, regulatory and constitutional law issues, including in judicial reviews and appeals against decisions of a wide range of public authorities.
She was recently awarded a Band 1 listing for Administrative and Public Law – Scotland by Chambers and her work has included high-profile and diverse cases such as acting for Westminster MPs in judicial reviews and appeal in the Court of Session, Supreme Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the question of the unilateral revocability of the UK’s Article 50 notification to leave the EU; representing the Electoral Registration Officer in the first election trial in Scotland for 50 years (and the first case to be televised throughout the UK); and representing campaign groups in high profile litigation, such as representing Greenpeace in climate change cases and the Avaaz Foundation in relation to a challenge connected to Donald Trump’s finances in Scotland.
This all is, she concedes a huge responsibility. “It’s public law taking in broader administrative law, constitutional law and public and parliamentary public affairs – and with human rights and civil liberties also falling within my remit.”
A less organised individual might understandably be intimidated by the breadth of the portfolio; Ms Jack though is not and sees her area of the law as an increasingly dynamic one. “I’m coming into my 25th year of practising as a lawyer and while public law might previously have been seen as Sleepy Hollow, it’s now regarded as the nexus of the social, political and legal pillars that underpin much of how our institutions operate, how our country applies the law and how we are regarded both nationally and internationally.”
One can fairly assume that no two days in her working life are the same? “Absolutely,” she says. “There are different issues constantly coming up and the work covers a huge range of topics. My team and I could be looking at housing and homelessness one day, then climate change and the associated environment and planning challenges the next before moving on to education and equality – they are all big issues,” she says. “And all of them very interesting ones.”
Public inquiries represent a significant part of Ms Jack’s practice. “We’re providing strategic level advice and undertaking direct investigations for clients on governance issues or dealing with parliamentary investigations, public local inquiries and planning related issues – such as being part of the team which represented Historic Environment Scotland in the public inquiry that upheld the refusal of planning applications to turn Edinburgh’s former Royal High School into a hotel.”
She has also played a key role in some of Scotland’s biggest public inquiries, such as representing a senior official at the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, which in November 2014 was converted into a statutory inquiry due to the events being investigated having caused public concern, and is tasked with establishing why the project incurred delays (finishing five years late), cost more than originally budgeted (c. £776 million) and through reductions in scope delivered significantly less than projected. The report and recommendations are yet to be published.
There is also a “massive amount of ongoing work” involved in leading a multi-disciplinary team of lawyers representing the Scottish Ministers/ Scottish government in the statutory public inquiry appointed to investigate the construction of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Campus, Glasgow (QEUH), and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, and Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Edinburgh and consequent deaths in the QEUH.
The scale and scope of some of her team’s undertakings may seem intimidating, with some involving challenging state authorities but Ms Jack says: “It’s best not to go into any litigation daunted by who your client or opponent is – everyone is the same in the eyes of the law and you must have the confidence and ability to focus on what you have been tasked with. It’s the same whether it’s a one-day judicial review or a reference that goes all the way to the CJEU as in the Article 50 case that I dealt with.”
“That’s not to say that it’s not somewhat awe-inspiring when you stand up in the court to face 27 judges sitting in front of you – and it’s hugely exciting to be dealing with something on that massive scale. But at the end of the day, you are there to do your job and while it’s an important case it’s no more or less important than one for the Children’s Reporter for example,” she adds.
As a civil liberties practitioner, she says her interest in representing children and vulnerable adults may have roots in her experience of bullying during her early years at school when she was growing up in Helensburgh. “That partly shaped my sense of justice,” she recalls. Studying law at the University of Dundee was, however, an extremely positive experience. “It was very liberating – and as a lawyer you must develop resilience and self-belief – but looking back, all of my early experiences have shaped me both as a person and as a lawyer.”
Current experiences continue to do that. Based in Harper Macleod’s Edinburgh office she lives in Fife with “an extremely supportive husband” who she met back in her schooldays and two dogs that she walks when not gardening and trying to achieve straighter carrots: “I’m working on it … we’ll have to see”.
Ms Jack has talked about the need for greater clarity concerning public law and believes that it has achieved a greater degree of visibility since she entered the profession. “People will have mixed views on how positive or otherwise the role of social media is nowadays but it certainly provides a forum for debate and there’s a good legal community on Twitter, whether they’re academic lawyers or in the front line, arguing cases in court and having lots of useful discussion on public law issues.
“I think that itself leads to a much more engaged audience from the public perspective in this area of the law,” she concludes.
And the sheer number of cases going through the courts now regarding topics that are reported in the news means that people are increasingly engaging with these – and thus gaining an interest in the legal issues being debated in the courts. That can only be a positive thing.