Don’t try to push us around, lord chief justice tells Labour
Alan Travis, home affairs editor, The Guardian, Wednesday October 12, 2005
The government should not attempt to browbeat judges over its new anti-terrorism laws, the new senior judge in England and Wales warned yesterday. The lord chief justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, said judges were not in conflict with the government but said that it would be « wholly inappropriate » for a politician to try to put pressure on them.
His strong defence of the judiciary’s independence comes after Tony Blair, speaking recently on the subject of treating suspected terrorists, said the « rules of the game » were changing.
The clash over human rights and national security will play itself out over the autumn, when senior judges are asked to approve the deportation of terror suspects to Algeria and other countries with poor human rights records. Four appeal court judges have already warned anonymously they « won’t buckle » by just rubber-stamping the « no torture » deals struck with foreign governments.
The statement yesterday by Lord Phillips, in his first media briefing since taking over from Lord Woolf, makes plain that he will support senior judges who insist it is their job, not that of ministers, to interpret the law. « Occasionally one feels that an individual politician is trying to browbeat the judiciary, and that is wholly inappropriate. We are all trying to do our job to the best of our abilities, » he said at the Royal Courts of Justice.
« I’m taking up this office at a time when it is said in various quarters that judges are in conflict with the government. They are not. Judges are in conflict with no one. The judiciary has a clearly defined role, which is to apply the law as laid down by parliament, » said Lord Phillips.
Tony Blair denied that he was « browbeating » the judiciary and went on to warn the judges – again in explicit terms – that they must not rule against the anti-terror measures that were being proposed. « When the police say this is what we need to make this country safe, you have got to have good reasons to say no to that. »