Critics of judicial independence need to do their homework - Bar Council

Posted On: 
1st March 2017

Claims made in the media that judges were 'enemies of the people' were not supported by even a 'rudimentary knowledge' of our constitution, says Andrew Langdon, Chairman of the Bar Council.

The Bar Council's new resources are availabe for use by anyone who wishes to promote a better understanding of the UK's democratic system.
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The Lord Chancellor’s appearance in front of the Lords Constitution Committee is a useful opportunity to recall how our independent judiciary underpins our democracy, our rights, and the rule of law.

News coverage of the Article 50 case brought the role of the judiciary to the attention of mainstream media, but many of the headlines generated more heat than light. That is why last week, the Bar Council and Citizenship Foundation collaborated to give every secondary school in the UK access to classroom resources that explain how judges help citizens to hold Government to account and how the British constitution helps to guard against persecution and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state.

In response to the Government’s defeat in the High Court in 2016, several newspaper editors and politicians attacked the independence and impartiality of our judges. One headline called them “Enemies of the people”.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but these claims, made by senior, influential figures in the media and by some politicians, were not supported by the facts or even a rudimentary knowledge of our government and constitution.

It was claimed that judges had undermined the democratic will of the people when in fact the Article 50 ruling did nothing to stop the UK from leaving the EU. The ruling was about how Article 50 could be triggered, not the pros and cons of Brexit, but given the response from some media, young people especially would be forgiven for not making that distinction.

Critics also called the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in to question, ignoring the obvious irony that judicial independence is what enables judges to rule against the Government in the first place. Would these critics prefer a Government appointed judiciary under ministerial control, or perhaps for judges directly to be elected?

Painting unelected judges as pantomime villains trying to obstruct the will of 17.4 million ‘leave’ voters was an irresistible sleight of hand for many in the press, but it was only possible because our constitutional arrangements are not widely known or understood.

We all want the next generation to take part in society and to play an active role in the democratic process and in order to do that they must have a better understanding of how our system of democratic government works.

These resources are not just for teachers. They can also be used by MPs, Peers, legal professionals and others who wish to promote a better understanding of our constitution and the role of judges.

The facts and principles of constitutional politics and law, the separation of powers between the three branches of Government, and the rule of law, are not always easy to grasp, but they are the foundation of the society in which we live. The resources were designed to be used by specialists and non-specialists alike, and I encourage anyone with an interest in teaching or promoting citizenship to use them.

Full lesson plans, resources and worksheets can be downloaded from this link here.