Declining standards

I’ve just been sent the link to a transcript of a speech given by Lord Bingham in 2006 on the subject of the rule of law. This bit is wonderful:

The British Government, through one entity or another, is very frequently involved in litigation. It is usually successful, but not invariably so. When unsuccessful it is displeased, being driven like every other litigant by a belief in the rightness of its cause but also no doubt by a belief that the public interest is best served by its succeeding. In the past the convention was that ministers, however critical of a judicial decision, and exercising their right to appeal against it or, in the last resort, legislate to reverse it retrospectively, forebore from public disparagement of it.

This convention appears to have worn a little thin in recent times, as I think unfortunately, since if ministers make what are understood to be public attacks on judges, the judges may be provoked to make similar criticisms of ministers, and the rule of law is not, in my view, well served by public dispute between two arms of the state.

Some sections of the press, with their gift for understatement, have spoken of open war between the government and the judiciary. This is not in my view an accurate analysis. But there is an inevitable, and in my view entirely proper, tension between the two. There are countries in the world where all judicial decisions find favour with the government, but they are not places where one would wish to live.

Reading that reminded me of the pleasure I got from a TV news item a couple of years ago, when one sore-loser Home Secretary or another was taking a pot-shot at the judiciary, which he accused of dangerous radicalism. As the newsreader intoned the words ‘radical judges’, the scene shifted to the Lord Chief Justice pruning his roses, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, clad in checked viyella shirt and baggy old cord trousers. A masterpiece of editing.


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