MPs and peers criticise ministerial attacks on judges, politicisation of offices of Lord Chancellor and Attorney General

Ministers have, in attacking judges, “sometimes failed to act in a constitutionally proper or in a helpful manner”, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Democracy and the Constitution has said.

The report, An independent judiciary – challenges since 2016: an Inquiry into the impact of the actions and rhetoric of the Executive since 2016 on the constitutional role of the Judiciary, also concluded that the constitutional safeguards which should ensure a proper relationship between the executive and the judiciary were not sufficiently effective.

“In particular, the politicisation of the offices of Lord Chancellor and Attorney General, and the appointment of politicians with little or no legal experience or standing, has left the executive without a strong figure to assist ministers’ understanding of their constitutional duties,” it said.

“Moreover, the possibility that politicians may see the offices of Lord Chancellor and Attorney General as ‘stepping stones’ to subsequent promotions may conflict with their constitutional duties to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.”

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The APPG claimed that this had caused significant concerns amongst the judiciary.

“It may also have created the impression that the Supreme Court has been influenced by ministerial pressure (even if indirect),” the report added.

The APPG made three principal recommendations, namely to:

  1. Foreground the independence of the judiciary in the forthcoming independent review of the Constitutional Reform Act/Supreme Court.
  2. Provide statutory guidance for ministers on their constitutional duties towards the judiciary.
  3. Provide statutory guidance on the appointment and conduct of Law Ministers.

Geraint Davies MP (Labour), chair of the APPG, said in the foreword to the report: “The rule of law and the independence of our judiciary who administer it have been under attack from the media and from government ministers when they don’t get their way.

“This report puts the spotlight on the effect this has had upon our judiciary and its ability to administer the rule of law without fear or favour.”

He added: “Democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are our fundamental values. They rely on an independent judicial system to protect the rights of the citizen from the state and to defend our democracy.

“However, in recent years we have seen Law Ministers including the Lord Chancellor, no longer seeing their only priority as defending the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary but also to actively promote Government interests. This has included turning a blind eye to accusations of 'the enemy within' or even to encourage doubt in the impartiality of our judges which risks undermining public confidence in the law itself.”

Davies said that historically, the response of the Government to being found to act unlawfully had been to correct its ways and to act in accordance with the law. “However, we now see a tendency for the Government to seek to change, or threaten to change, the law or the powers of the courts instead.”

The APPG’s report was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. APPGs are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group. The report is therefore not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

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