Cherie's European Fight for Lesbians; RAIL PASSES CASE PUTS TONY BLAIR'S WIFE ON COLLISION COURSE WITH GOVERNMENT

Daily Mail (London), July 10, 1997 | Go to article overview

Cherie's European Fight for Lesbians; RAIL PASSES CASE PUTS TONY BLAIR'S WIFE ON COLLISION COURSE WITH GOVERNMENT


Byline: PAUL HARRIS

THE case of the Prime Minister's wife and the pony-tailed lesbians put Cherie Blair on the wrong side of the Government yesterday.

She donned her QC's wig and gown to fight a legal battle for homosexual rights and found herself in direct conflict with a Treasury lawyer who is ultimately answerable to her husband.

Cherie, appearing in Luxembourg as counsel in a potentially far-reaching case, came to the aid of two gay women who claim they were discriminated against by the South West Trains rail company over free travel.

It meant that although Mrs Blair fulfilled her neutral duty as a legal advocate, she fought a case which other lawyers maintain could have widespread ramifications for Britain's employment, pension and social security laws if judges rule in her favour.

Her appearance was the first major test of a determination to combine a high-flying and lucrative career as a barrister with her role of supportive Downing Street wife and mother.

Judging by the extent to which it hiked up the publicity profile for the lesbians' case, it is unlikely to be the last.

That, it should be said, was nothing to do with Mrs Blair herself.

Clearly torn between making sure that justice was seen to be done, and not to be seen doing it, she arrived through a private entrance and refused all requests to be photographed, even informally - which, inevitably, she was.

Inside, she clutched her barrister's wig almost coyly and although she satisfied court etiquette by wearing it while in session, it didn't stay on top of her now-famous hairdo for a second longer than required.

It would be comforting to report that the seat of legal wisdom in Europe follows Old Bailey and High Court tradition by being known as `the famous oak-panelled Number One Court'. Alas, they just call this one `the big new room' and the panelling is cherrywood veneer.

Outside, the two women at the centre of case number C-249/96 embraced each other for the cameras and explained the details.

Twenty-nine-year-old booking clerk Lisa Grant, whom Mrs Blair is representing, is claiming against the now-privatised South West Trains because the company refuses to give her live-in lover Jill Percey, a 38-year-old nurse, a free travel pass. The passes, which allow ten free trips a year anywhere in the country for an employee and partner, are routinely provided for heterosexual workers.

The case was heard at a Southampton industrial tribunal and sent for determination to Luxembourg.

Appearing as usual under her maiden name, Miss Booth was first to address the bank of 15 judges.

They sat in an arc in robes of ecclesiastical-style red velvet, more like a sitting of the General Synod than a legal bench. …

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