Jessica Simor

Did you do law at university?

No. Geography. I was interested in environmental matters. I thought about environmental sciences and then the law. I went to City University to do the CPE and then did the Bar Vocational Course. I chose a chambers doing EU work, Monckton, on the basis of an interest in both policy and the environment. I ended up doing quite a lot of environmental and EU competition law.

You stayed on at Monckton as a tenant?

Yes – I planned on the basis that I would not be taken on, so had organised a ‘stage’ in the environmental directorate of the European Commission in Brussels for six months immediately following my pupillage but then got taken on. Monckton were happy for me to go and then I stayed for a further period at their annex in Brussels, doing some competition work and some environmental work for the Commission. Then, I came back to London to practice.

What sort of work did you do?

The same stuff as before – EC law, competition law, public law. In 1995, I went to work in the Commission for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Colleagues thought that it was not a good idea because it came just at the time that I was building my practice. But I went all the same because I was getting really interested in human rights and frankly, life’s too short to miss out on such opportunities. I did 14 months at the Commission (which of course has since been merged with the Court of Human Rights) and worked on the UK human rights cases. It was great. I loved it. Then, I was offered a job in Sarajevo in an organisation that had been set up under the Dayton Accords – the Human Rights Ombudsman. I went there for seven months.

What kind of work were you doing?

The European Human Rights Convention was implemented as a result of Dayton. Most of the work was about property rights but I also did a report on the Mostar shootings and did a couple of hearings before the Chamber of Human Rights. After that, the question was whether to stay on the international circuit and do something like working on Rwanda or to come home to England.

So you came back?

Yes. I decided to settle here, though I was attracted to wandering for a bit longer, I felt I had to return to build a ‘home life’. I wrote a significant and critical article about the Ombudsman’s office in Bosnia, which took a lot of thought and was at that time very important to me, as the whole experience had been quite eye-opening. It was published in the European Human Rights Law Review. Ben Emerson then asked me to write a book with him and we went on to write what became a looseleaf: human rights practice, for which I took another six months off practice. This was in 1998-9 after the Human Rights Act had been passed but before it came into effect in October 2000. There were not many people at that time who knew very much about and there was a fairly small group who got to know each other quite well. That led to us founding Matrix in 2000.

How easy was it for you to start up in new chambers?

I was alright. I had some interesting work already and I had done some big cases. Most of us had quite established practices. However, I had children in 2002 and 2004 and that did affect my practise, albeit temporarily, as I took 8 months off for my first child and a year for my second.

What sort of human rights cases have you done since you came to Matrix?

All kinds. I feel the most significant case in the domestic courts, for me, has been a case about a prisoner who died in custody as a result of an asthma attack because of poor medical treatment (R Wright and Bennett v SSHD [2001] EWHC Admin 520). This was the first case in which the government has ever been ordered to carry out a public inquiry. I was also in the latest case on the meaning of ‘public authority’ (YL v Birmingham City Council 2007 UKHL 27) where, as you know, I acted for JUSTICE, Liberty and the British Institute of Human Rights in their joint third party intervention, having acted for the claimant in the Johnson case in the Court of Appeal. I am currently doing a lot of work in relation to human rights issues that arise in relation to Iraq, in the context of both British soldiers and their treatment by the military and Iraqi citizens.

What would you say are the outstanding legal issues to be decided in relation to human rights?

There remain major jurisdictional issues. I don’t think that the cases of Al-Skeini ([2007] UKHL 26) and Al-Jedda ([2007] UKHL 58) have, by any means, sorted out all the points that arise in relation to British troops in Iraq. I am particularly interested in the rights of British soldiers – for example, to medical care, equipment and so on. I think these raise really interesting issues about jurisdiction.

There is another, related matter – which is not really directly about human rights but also concerns access to justice. To challenge EU legislation, you need to show ‘a direct and individual concern’. This is very narrowly construed and it is practically impossible to get standing to challenge secondary legislation. In effect, judicial review of EU legislation is severely limited. In that important context, I think there is a real lack of access to justice. Access to justice is also of course, in practice, very affected by the availability of legal aid and the proposed reforms.

And the outstanding political issues?

I think there will always remain the issue of the sovereignty of Parliament and whether we really want it to be able to decide that it can limit our rights. Until we have a written constitution with a Constitutional Court that can strike down legislation, it will always be an issue. But in a way that’s not an issue that politicians are likely to be very interested in. The important live political issues are for me more about inequalities in means and opportunity than about legal rights. Those inequalities seem to be increasing not decreasing and rights legislation appears to have no impact on that. I think, with all its faults, our administrative court does keep the executive in check and ensure that all are subject to the rule of law. The recent Munby decision in the SK case, is a fine example.