The Lord Chief Justice on judicial independence and the rule of law

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, spoke about judicial independence in his Mansion House speech this week. (The full text of the speech is available here on the CrimeLine Blog, and there is a report on the Telegraph website.) Lord Judge warned that

we must remain vigilant against the slightest encroachment on judicial independence, not because judicial independence represents some traditional flummery, some bauble, some meaningless superficiality, but because without an independent judiciary the rule of law would collapse.

He said that it was

inconceivable that in this country the army might threaten our elected government. It is inconceivable that a judge might lose office or be demoted because he or she gave judgments against the wishes of the government of the day.

But this was not a cause for smugness:

the future is long as well as short. And in the haste we may not discern small, even tiny little steps, totally unintended little steps which might, long term, serve to undermine the principle of judicial independence upon which the rule of law depends.

Interestingly, Lord Judge cited recent “spectacular” changes to the British constitution, referring, among other things, to 2005 – when the Constitutional Reform Act, establishing the Supreme Court but also abolishing in its traditional form the office of Lord Chancellor, was enacted. This put me in mind of Patrick O’Brien’s recent thoughtful post on the UK Constitutional Law Blog, in which he considers the implications for judicial independence of the 2005 reforms to the office of Lord Chancellor and the appointment, last year, of the first non-lawyer to the post. Like Lord Judge’s speech, Patrick O’Brien’s post is well worth reading in full.

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