Richard Buxton - Lawyer of the Week

Date:

18/11/2003

Author:

Linda Tsang

Source:

The Times

Matter:

General

A Cambridge solicitor, Richard Buxton, acted for Jodie Phillips, who is pregnant and has won a landmark High Court ruling to remove a mobile phone mast sited near her Hampshire home.

What potentially are the wider implications of the case?

Mobile phone companies tend to put masts on sites that suit them, without much regard for residents' genuine fears about them. Planning controls are not strong. Jodie Phillips's case will force companies to make more effort to find the best sites; residents will have to do their homework in identifying alternatives, but the ruling should help them.

What were the most surprising aspects?

That after the government inspectorate had conceded the case, Hutchison 3G had the temerity to put the mast up and turn it on. For organisations that are not beloved of residents, that did not get high marks in terms of fostering good diplomatic relations.

What was your worst day as a lawyer?

Lots of them. We often feel the courts are unsympathetic to genuine environmental concerns and, particularly, about breaches of European law. On one day this year I had the House of Lords turn down an appeal on the Bishopsgate goods yard, a completely unnecessary loss to the heritage of the area, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights overturned a favourable earlier ruling on night flights at Heathrow. But these cases are like snakes and ladders. We go down snakes sometimes, but we should reach our goal in the end. Sometimes one has to be satisfied simply with improving the law for the future rather than saving a particular site.

What was your most memorable experience as a lawyer?

Probably the most memorable was the Berkeley case (about environmental impact assessment for Fulham Football Club's redevelopment plans) in the House of Lords.

Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?

Lots of my family have worked for "good" causes. Maybe it got into the blood 200 years ago, with my three great-grandfathers, Thomas Fowell Buxton, piloting the Bill through Parliament that abolished slavery in the West Indies; and my four great aunts, including Elizabeth Fry, involved in prison reform. My father was a conservationist, although ahead of his time. When people ask me what I do, I often flippantly say I work for the oppressed and downtrodden, whether that be man or beast. But in reality, many clients face a sort of tyranny from the State and commercial interests. So perhaps I am carrying on a family tradition.

What would your advice be to anyone wanting a career in law?

Go for it, but if you want to do public and environmental law for claimants, you need to be thick-skinned, adventurous and prepared to work long hours.

Where do you see yourself in ten years' time?

Fortunately for my business, government and local authorities have an amazing capacity for acting unlawfully.

So I'll probably be doing much the same. Unambitious, but the work is immensely satisfying.