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Friday, March 24, 2017

The Tories' hapless record on defending an independent judiciary

The failure of Justice Secretary, Liz Truss to defend three judges smeared as “enemies of the people” in the wake of a high court ruling on Article 50 was a particular low-point for the UK's unwritten constitution and the Conservative Government itself.

Newspapers were targeting independent judges, who were doing their job of interpreting democratically decided legislation, and all we had from the politician whose job it is to defend them and the rule of law, was silence.

Quite rightly, the UK's most senior judge has now spoken out on this shameful episode. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has said that Liz Truss was “completely and utterly wrong” to keep a near-silence in the face of a torrent of abuse directed at the judiciary in the wake of the High Court’s November 2016 Brexit ruling, in which three judges ruled that Parliament, not the Prime Minister, must trigger Article 50 in order to start the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The Independent reports on Lord Thomas evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee in which he said: “The circuit judges were very concerned. They wrote to the Lord Chancellor because litigants in person were coming and saying ‘you’re an enemy of the people’.

“It is the only time in the whole of my judicial career that I have had to ask for the police to give us a measure of advice and protection [for Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the case] in relation to the emotions that were being stirred up.”

Former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Igor Judge, said at the time that Ms Truss’s silence constituted a “very serious” failing in her legal obligations: “She is in relative terms a very inexperienced politician with no legal experience, who has been silent, and answered to Downing Street when she should have been independent.”

Lord Thomas said it was Truss’s explicit duty as Lord Chancellor to defend the judges.

He said: “I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have, but to my mind she was completely and absolutely wrong. And I am very disappointed,” he said.

“I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.”

There are times when a Minister must put party considerations aside and do the job they are appointed to. In this instance the Justice Secretary did not fulfil those expectations.
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