Boris Johnson

Blunkett the authoritarian

Matt Kelly QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, tells Boris Johnson that the Home Secretary is eroding judicial independence

That Lord Woolf, he has a bit of a cheek, doesn’t he? I don’t know if you caught his intervention in the Criminal Justice Bill debate the other night, but it was the usual stuff. He excoriated the politicians (David Blunkett) for trying to fetter the discretion of the judges. He was appalled, said the Lord Chief Justice, by the attempts of these vote-grubbing politicos to erode a vital judicial freedom.

‘The present proposal will have the effect of increasing political interference,’ he said. Well, much as we may admire his liberal instincts, it strikes me that his lordship’s words admit of a paradox. Where was he situated when he made those remarks? On the red benches of the Upper House, as Parliament debated a piece of government legislation.

You may or may not agree with his views about sentencing; but is it not bizarre that a senior member of the judiciary should also be part of the legislature, and be able to stand up in the chamber of parliament to make a speech designed to frustrate the passage of a Bill? Isn’t that an anomaly quite as gross as poor old Blunkett trying to stop the judges giving child murderers some namby-pamby sentence?

One day, the lord chief justice may be asked to adjudicate over some point of the very Bill he is now helping to formulate, and with whose clauses he finds himself in such disagreement. Whatever happened to that ancient principle, nemo iudex in causa sua? The answer, of course, is that Harry Woolf would himself accept the peculiarity of his position.

The machicolated hodgepodge of the British constitution no longer coheres with the clean Ikea lines of the European Convention on Human Rights. This code gives us all the right to be tried by an independent tribunal; and that principle is apparently infringed by the jumbling, in the upper reaches of the constitution, of the legislature and the judiciary.

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