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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Judges v Ministers

There is trouble brewing between our most Senior Judges and the government. On the face of it the decision over who can appoint the Chief Executive of the Supreme Court is not that exciting. But it raises an extremely important issue over our constitution.

Traditionally the right to make this appointment has been with the Lord Chancellor who is also the Minister of Justice. In days gone by, the Lord Chancellor had a judicial role. It is now very much a political role; the current incumbent is Chris Grayling who is not even a lawyer. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in this country. Its judges are our most senior and its decisions are, by their nature, of great social importance.  

The Supreme Court judges argue that the appointment of the Chief Executive should be in their hands and not those of a politician.  It is a role which controls the finding of the court and should therefore be independent of any political influence or control.

The Supreme Court must always be independent of government. It will often be called upon to make decisions about how governments have acted. Politicians have never been slow to vent their disagreement with the courts. Indeed such has been the political displeasure of certain Human Rights Cases that there have been threats to abolish the very act which gives us all the right to enforce them –

I remember the former Home Secretary  David Blunkett once saying that he 'begged to differ' with the views of the courts. That is fine. Politicians can differ as much as they like. But the problems begin when they can excercise control over the judiciary.

This is why it is so important that there is a complete separation between the Courts and the Executive. If the person running our highest court is answerable to a politician it is not difficult to see the potential for a conflict. As Lord Pannick says in the guardian article quoted –

"The existing appointment provision [has] led more than once to confusion in parts of the government machine that the chief executive should in some sense be acting at the behest of ministers."

An independent judicial system has always been at the heart of our democracy. That is why this apparently dull argument over who has the power to give someone a job is so important and could ultimately affect all of us.

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