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Enemies of the people

Enemies of the people

As the ‘Observer’ rightly said, “Our judges do not do politics. They do law. They are selected to be judges on their legal ability.”

The high court’s ruling on article 50 sent the clear message that the government does not have free rein to sweep away any legislation it finds disagreeable.

But the quality and impartiality of this judgment finds no favour with the Brexit media, led by the ‘Daily Mail’, which, under the infamous headline “Enemies of the people”, mounted a vicious assault on the three high court judges who ruled in the case. The government appeared to be fuelling this attack. Sajid Javid, the local government secretary, described the judges as seeking to “thwart the will of the people”.Judges uphold the law and the constitution impartially, and as this impartiality depends on judges not expressing views, they can’t defend themselves. That’s why the government has an obligation to defend them and why the constitution places a duty on the lord chancellor to do so.

The silence from the government was deafening. Could this be a reflection of their disapproval of the judgement?

The lord chancellor, Liz Truss, has a constitutional duty to defend the judges. She came under intense pressure to speak out from lawyers infuriated by her silence. She eventually broke her silence but only after the Bar Council passed a resolution specifically calling on her to condemn the attacks.

The resolution read: “The Bar Council of England and Wales condemns the serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary arising out of the Article 50 litigation. It regrets the lack of public statement by the lord chancellor condemning these attacks and calls upon the lord chancellor to do so as a matter of urgency. A strong independent judiciary is essential to a functioning democracy and to upholding the rule of law.”

In response her statement read: “The independence of the judiciary is the foundation upon which our rule of law is built and our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality. In relation to the case heard in the High Court the government has made it clear it will appeal to the Supreme Court. Legal process must be followed.”

The Criminal Bar Association described her statement as “wholly inadequate and confused.” In a letter to its 4,000 members, chair Francis FitzGibbon QC says: “Neither the Lord Chancellor nor the Prime Minister have done what they ought to do, and unreservedly condemn both the calling of judges ‘enemies of the people’, the demands for their dismissal, and the making of their blameless personal lives into objects of reproach.”

The Law Society of England and Wales said it welcomed comments from attorney general Jeremy Wright that were supportive of the High Court judges. “Attacks on the judges simply because they were doing their jobs does our country no credit and government ministers must be unequivocal in their support for the rule of law, even if they disagree with the judgement,” Law Society president Robert Bourns said.

A ‘Mail’ leader described the judiciary as a “virtual closed shop”, with Supreme Court judges “largely selected by their peers.” The eleven members of the Supreme Court will now know what to expect if their judgement displeases the Brexiteers.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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