Young Jonathan, having qualified in the law, then pursued a successful legal practice in commercial law. The 'Guardian' newspaper once described him as being a member of the 'Million-a-year Club', the elite group of barristers earning over a million pounds a year. In a letter to The Guardian in 2001, he compared his 'puny £1.6 million a year' to the vastly larger amounts that comparable individuals in business, sports and entertainment were paid. In 2012 he earned £7.8 million for his defence of Roman Abramovich in the 2012 case Berezovsky v Abramovich, which is believed to be the highest fee ever earned in British legal history.
His success in his judicial career was rewarded in 2012 when, at the age 63, he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court and as such was accorded the style of 'Lord' for life. He said he thought it was wrong to get more women, too quickly, into the Supreme Court and that an attempt to rapidly achieve gender equality through quotas or positive discrimination could end up discouraging men from applying and so "have appalling consequences for justice".
Lord Jonathan, who had to follow the rules and retire from the Surpreme Court when he was 70, appeared last week on the BBC One show, 'The Big Questions on Sunday'. The Discussion centred around the question : "Was the Covid inspired lockdown punishing too many for the greater good ?” In response he said that he did not accept that “all lives are of equal value” and he believed his children’s and grandchildren’s lives were “worth more because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead”. To this Deborah James, who has stage 4 metastatic bowel cancer and hosts the BBC’s 'You, Me and the Big C podcast', said: “With all due respect, I am the person who you say their life is not valuable”. He then interrupted her saying : “I didn’t say your life was 'not' valuable, I said it was 'less' valuable". https://twitter.com/bowelbabe/status/1350778543513460737
His was an expression of belief reminiscent of George Orwell's dictat from the ruling pigs in his great 1945 satire, 'Animal Farm'.
Deborah continued : “Who are you to put a value on life? In my view, and I think in many others, life is sacred and I don’t think we should make those judgment calls. All life is worth saving regardless of what life it is people are living. I’m fully aware and I’ve seen first-hand and said "Goodbye" to best friends in terms of the collateral Covid is causing, but at the same time I’m incredibly grateful to be somebody who is kept alive because of the NHS”.'inhumane, almost grotesque'.
During the programme, Lord Jonathan argued that only the “old and vulnerable” should isolate. He was challenged on this point by the host Nicky Campbell, who questioned whether his solution wasn’t “utterly simplistic” as vulnerability includes a broad spectrum of people, and people of all ages interact in society.
Lord Jonathan later back pedaled and claimed that his comments had been misinterpreted, saying : “I object extremely strongly to any suggestion that I was inferring that Miss James’s life was less valuable because she had cancer. I thought she was responding to my earlier comments about older people being protected by a total lockdown which is causing immense harm to the young who are unaffected. That harm can be to their mental health or through cooping undergraduates up at university or through the loss of jobs. I was saying this should not be inflicted on the young to protect old people like me. If Miss James has misinterpreted that, then I can only apologise to her as it was not my intention to suggest she was less valuable. Sometimes on videolinks it can be difficult to hear what the other person is saying.”
For the record, Lord Jonathan has been an outspoken critic of the Government’s handling of the pandemic not arguing that it has done 'too little' to curb the pandemic, but that it has done 'too much' and that the measures taken to curb the virus have been an attack on personal liberties. Delivering the Cambridge Freshfield's Annual Law Lecture in October, he said the emergency measures taken by the Government in the Spring of 2020 were : “the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country”.