Brexiteers’ contempt for judicial independence

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Brexiteers’ contempt for judicial independence

The Tory Party is nothing if it does not respect, defend and fight for an independent judiciary, says Peter Bingle.

The feigned outrage by the right-wing media and pro-Brexit politicians does them no credit. Headlines such as ‘The judges versus the people’ are not only preposterous, they undermine the very arguments used by Brexiteers during the campaign on returning power to the British Parliament and upholding the Rule of Law.

In Iolanthe WS Gilbert poked fun at the judiciary yet his views and observations are just as relevant now as they were in 1880s. As the Lord Chancellor sings in his famous patter song: ‘The law is the true embodiment of everything that’s excellent. It has no kind of fault or flaw and I, my Lords, embody the law.’

So it must surely be the case that – as the judiciary in the form of three of our most senior judges is harangued by the media and politicians – the Lord Chancellor Liz Truss is touring every radio and television studio defending the judgment and upholding the Rule of Law. Her silence is deafening and shocking. In Gilbertian terms she is more Mad Margaret in Ruddigore than a Lord Chancellor of distinction.

The Tory Party is nothing if it does not respect, defend and fight for an independent judiciary. It is worth pointing out that the judgment had nothing to do with the argument about leaving or remaining in the EU. It was centred purely on a point of law, namely whether under our constitutional settlement the government had to consult both Houses of Parliament rather than use the Royal Prerogative over the triggering of Article 50. On this occasion the government lost the argument. Perhaps they will fare better at the Supreme Court where this case was always destined to end up.

Imagine if the government wins the day at the Supreme Court. Will the same editors and politicians who are now baying for blood suddenly discover a fondness and respect for an independent judiciary? This is dangerous stuff and we simply can’t adopt a pick and choose approach to legal judgments. We either support the Rule of Law or we embrace anarchy.

One of the Brexiteers’ main fears of Parliament being involved in the triggering of Article 50 is the likely sceptical attitude of the House of Lords in which the government does not have a majority. Sorry but that is how democracy works and with a hopeless Labour Opposition in the House of Commons it is no bad thing for the government’s case to come under detailed scrutiny.

Again, WS Gilbert was being very perceptive when one of his characters Lord Mountararat in Iolanthe stated: ‘The House of Peers throughout the war did nothing in particular and did it very well …’ Tories and newspaper editors need to refrain from attacking the House of Lords simply because it is doing its job.

We are not yet in a constitutional crisis and if wiser heads prevail we never will be. If the hotheads get their way, however, such a crisis may eventually engulf us. A general election then becomes inevitable.

At times like it is a national tragedy that we no longer have a great political figure such as Lord Hailsham as Lord Chancellor. He truly was the embodiment of the law. Is Liz Truss?

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  • Peter Bingle
    Peter Bingle
    Peter is the Founder of Terrapin Communications. With a career in politics and communications that has spanned almost four decades, he is one of the country's leading public affairs practitioners. His career has seen him advise many top companies, including McDonald’s, HSBC, L’Oreal, Permira, Motorola, Camelot, Rolls Royce & Kellogg's.
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