Despite having to drop out of her law degree, Gina Miller made history by taking her Brexit case to the Supreme Court. Gina Miller may not be a lawyer, but she made her name in one of the most high-profile cases of recent times: as the lead claimant in a constitutional law case challenging the government’s position on Brexit.
Following the vote to leave, Miller, together with solicitors from Mishcon de Reya and Blackstone Chambers barrister Lord Pannick QC, submitted that the government could not trigger Article 50 and begin the withdrawal process without first giving parliament a free vote on the issue.
Miller, the daughter of a top QC and the former Attorney General of Guyana, had been fascinated by the law from a young age and did study the subject, although personal reasons forced her to drop out just before her final exams. Yet, despite this tragedy, Miller – who owns an investment management firm - says that she doesn’t need to be a lawyer to make a difference.
“My father had a very strong view of justice, and I’ve always been like that too. What I’ve discovered is that [even if I am not a trained legal professional] the law can be used by me as a tool. As a litigant, in partnership if you like, with the legal profession, I can do an awful lot of good.”
She wondered why she was the only one speaking out: “What I found baffling is people seemed to think finding the grounds for challenge was something quite difficult. I was sitting there thinking: ‘Why is no-one else saying this?’ This is basic constitutional 101 – that parliament is sovereign.”
She now believes it was fear of the consequences, not ignorance of the law, that stopped others from coming forward. During the case’s journey to the Supreme Court, Miller was bombarded with rape and death threats and sexist and racist taunts. The police sent out eight cease and desist letters. Viscount Rhodri Philipps was sent to jail for 12 weeks after offering £5,000 to anybody who would kill Miller.
The abuse wasn’t limited to Miller. Mishcon de Reya’s City office was picketed by Brexiteers; the firm’s staff were subjected to racist and anti-Semitic abuse. Judges sitting in the High Court were branded ‘enemies of the people’ by one tabloid. The seasoned Lord Neuberger, then head of the Supreme Court, admitted that the “pressure of publicity” affected him in the case.
Miller only faltered when there was a death threat to her family: “I doubted whether I should carry on. But my children said they understood that I was doing it for them. I thought that if people were willing to be so openly abusive, I have to fight even harder, because this is not the society that I want my children to live in.”
She won, and now Miller has a place in legal textbooks for years to come. She’s had some emotional rewards too. “My sense of failure is that I didn’t sit my finals. One university professor sent me a paper he’d written with the case and my name in it. He said: ‘You may not have finished [your studies], but your name is now set in stone in our legal system and will be taught to students.’ That really brought tears to my eyes.”
Sitting alongside Lord Pannick in court was also “very emotional”, not least because it brought back memories for Miller of sitting in court watching her father.
Aside from its precedent, which forced the executive to give parliament a free vote on invoking Article 50, Miller hopes the case will live on in its message to young lawyers. She says: “I hope the case will teach and inspire in law students the idea that law is so invaluable. It’s not dry — it does protect people’s lives and makes a difference to the world we live in.”