Sir Nicholas Green QC

Oration given by the Public Orator, Dr Paul Jenkins, on the award of an honorary degree to Eugene Stanley on 14 July 2017

Nicholas Green graduated in Law from the University of Leicester in 1980.  He then completed a master’s degree in Toronto, Canada and a PhD at Southampton.

Nicholas was called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1986.  He made his name in a landmark case Factortame vs Secretary of State for Transport.  What better case could there be for a young barrister to make an impression than a direct confrontation between the government and the European Union and to win the case against the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher!

In 1980 Spanish fishermen began to fish in British waters by registering their trawlers in the United Kingdom taking advantage of a legal loophole.  The government prohibited this by legislation that any trawler company seeking to register in the UK had to be 75% British owned.  When Spain joined the European Union in 1986 the stage was set for a conflict between EU law and UK law.

Factortame Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport was a judicial review case taken against the United Kingdom government by Factortame,  a company of Spanish fishermen, who claimed that the United Kingdom had breached European Union law by requiring ships to have a majority of British owners if they were to be registered in the UK. The case produced a number of significant judgments in British constitutional law, and was the first time courts held that they had the power to restrain the application of an Act of Parliament when it was found to be contrary to EU law.

Sir Nicholas joined the Factortame team of counsel in 1991 from the Brick Court Chambers and he acted in the case for nearly ten years. He represented Dutch and Irish companies that owned vessels that worked in consortia with the Spanish companies and vessel owners. “Factortame”, was the name of a particular fishing vessel which had been decommissioned, but the name was kept because it became known in the Courts and in the public imagination.

Sir Nicholas’s involvement included appearing as Counsel in the High Court, Court of Appeal, House of Lords and European Court of Justice.  Sir Nicholas recalls “The case was huge fun.  I remember many meetings in Chambers when the counsel team would sit around trying to work out what constitutional enormity we could topple next."

Sir Nicholas’s meteoric rise continued when he was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1998.  He became UK Permanent Representative to the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe in 2000-2.  Also in 2002 he was appointed Bencher (that is , one of the senior barristers) of the Inner Temple and made Recorder in 2004.  From 2009 to 2010 Sir Nicholas was elected Chairman of the Bar Council, the professional body of all barristers in England and Wales;  and in 2011 he became Joint Head of Brick Court Chambers.

His appointment as a judge of the High Court of Justice (Queen's Bench Division) followed in 2013 and he was made a Knight Bachelor in the same year.

Sir Nicholas is the first law graduate of the University of Leicester to be appointed as a judge of the High Court of England and Wales.  There can be no more than 108 High Court Judges, and the appointments are made by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor,  based on of decades of distinguished work in the legal profession.  Any University would be proud of an alumnus who becomes a High Court Judge.  However, we are especially gratified in Leicester that one of our own graduates, who is not from the privileged background of private education and Oxbridge, has achieved the highest accolade of the legal profession.  Sir Nicholas is held in high regard by his judical colleagues and has been assigned several high profile cases, most recently, a judicial review of the decision by the Secretary of State for Health to impose a contract on the Junior Hospital Doctors.

Sir Nicholas has contributed to the life of the University in many ways.  He has regularly participated in Law School activities, giving lectures and talks to students and staff as well as judging extra-curricular court competitions. He has been an Honorary Professor since 2014 and in November 2016, he played a leading role in the Law School’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, delivering a key-note lecture in honour of the founding professor of the Law School, Professor Jan Grodecki.  The lecture was called “The Common Law after Brexit.”  Sir Nicholas stressed the importance of students continuing to study EU law as it will be the basis of major changes to UK law and, of course, this process will provide employment for lawyers for many years to come!

In the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor describes the law as “The embodiment of everything that is excellent.”  Sir Nicholas surely lives up to that aspiration as a result of his outstanding contribution to the legal profession and to society.  He has brought credit to the University, and embodies our aim of opening up pathways to achievement that have traditionally been dominated by entrenched patterns of privilege. Sir Nicholas is an inspiration to present generations of Leicester law students as a person of the highest professional distinction and public service who is living proof that there is no limit on what a Leicester graduate can achieve.

Mr Chancellor on the recommendation of the senate and council, I present Nicholas Nigel Green, that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.

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