Rookie Richard Howell once worked for Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign
One of the lawyers defending Boris Johnson in last month’s landmark Supreme Court case on the prorogation of parliament was only just finishing off his barrister qualifications at the time.
Richard Howell, who officially joined Brick Court Chambers last month after completing pupillage, was part of the government’s legal team alongside Sir Eadie QC and two heavy-hitting juniors. He had previously played a key role in the successful Vote Leave campaign to leave the EU, working closely with Johnson’s top advisor Dominic Cummings.
Former government lawyer Carl Gardner said that instructing a newly qualified barrister in such a high profile case was “surprising” and raised questions for the Attorney General’s office.
But the Attorney General’s spokesperson said that it was not unusual to hire “junior junior” barristers to help with big cases.
Howell, who was called to the bar in 2018, is listed in both the High Court and Supreme Court judgments in the prorogation case as one of four government counsel. The others were Sir James Eadie QC, David Blundell and Christopher Knight.
Eadie is First Treasury Counsel and handles the government’s most complex and sensitive cases, while Blundell and Knight are both on the Attorney General’s panel of preferred lawyers for government work.
The government can instruct “junior juniors” to do low-grade work without needing to recruit from the preferred panel. The Attorney General’s office told Legal Cheek that there was nothing particularly unusual about retaining a junior junior, but confirmed that the Attorney General had personally signed off the legal team.
Although new to the bar, Howell (pictured below) boasts an impressive CV. He graduated from Oxford with a first in history in 2014, took a distinction in the GDL in 2015 and an outstanding BPTC grade in 2018. In between, he worked as a researcher for the Vote Leave campaign and was said by insiders to be the brains of its research operation.
Patrick O’Connor QC had told The Lawyer “on what I have been told, the process of this appointment to the Prime Minister’s counsel team, in such a sensitive case, is surprising, and calls for explanation”.
Gardner told Legal Cheek “I think people are right to be asking questions about this, and that the Attorney’s office should answer them”.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said: “As with any case of this magnitude, the Attorney General agreed the composition of the counsel team for Miller v The Prime Minister. As a junior junior, Richard Howell was supervised by First Treasury Counsel Sir James Eadie QC and other more senior members of the counsel team, David Blundell and Chris Knight”.
The Brick Court website says that “before coming to the bar, Richard worked for a year in politics, providing policy advice and assistance to cabinet ministers, MPs and peers”.
This is a modest description of what many say was a key role in the Vote Leave campaign.
Howell is described in the book All Out War, a well-reviewed account of the EU referendum campaign, as a “whizzkid” researcher nicknamed “Ricardo” by Dominic Cummings and other Vote Leave figures.
According to the book, Howell drafted part of Vote Leave’s application to be designated as the official Leave campaign by the Electoral Commission. Howell reportedly spotted a glaring error in the application form the night before submission — which might otherwise have allowed the Nigel Farage-backed Leave.EU group to become the official face of Leave.
Last year, Dominic Cummings mentioned Howell on his blog as one of Vote Leave’s key figures.
Howell officially joined Brick Court in “September 2019”, and was reportedly still completing his pupillage when instructed in the prorogation case. His practising certificate dates from 23 September 2019, according to the barristers’ regulator — one day before the Supreme Court handed down its judgment.
Brick Court Chambers has been approached for comment.