England's top judge launches searing attack on 'completely wrong' Liz Truss

Posted On: 
22nd March 2017

The most senior judge in England has delivered a withering verdict on Liz Truss, saying she has failed to fulfil or understand her responsibilities as Lord Chancellor. 

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd before the Lords Constitution Committee
Credit: 
Parliament TV

The Lord Chief Justice said Ms Truss was “completely and utterly wrong” in her response to attacks on the judiciary over its rulings on the Brexit process.

Ms Truss repeatedly refused to criticise or rebut press coverage labelling as “enemies of the people” the judges who ruled that Parliament should have a say on when Article 50 is triggered.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the top judge in England and Wales, said Ms Truss’ interview with the Financial Times on Friday, in which she said that it was for judges to "speak out" to make sure the public understood their work, had convinced him to make the unprecedented intervention.

Speaking to the Lords Constitution Committee, Lord Thomas said: “The Lord Chancellor is completely and utterly wrong in the view she takes.”

He said Ms Truss’ comments betrayed a “failure to understand the difference between abuse and criticism and... a failure also to understand that we [judges] can talk in general terms but we cannot go into areas of controversy” such as the Brexit case. 

Instead, Lord Thomas said it was the job of the Lord Chancellor to speak up on behalf of the judges.

“We had fought hard to keep out of Brexit and I can’t see how we could have said anything without immediately plunging ourselves into a political controversy. And so, in short it is the Lord Chancellor’s duty...

“I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have but to my mind she is completely and absolutely wrong about this. I am very disappointed that, I can understand what the pressures were in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally absolutely wrong.”

He added: “It really is absolutely essential that we have a Lord Chancellor who understands her constitutional duty.”

The controversy stemmed from the High Court’s decision to rule in favour of an appeal arguing that the Government needed the approval of MPs and peers before triggering Article 50.

It resulted in the Daily Mail running a front page of the three judges involved under the headline “enemies of the people”.

The High Court ruling was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, and the Government’s bill ultimately passed through Parliament unamended.

The Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 before her self-imposed deadline of the end of March. 

Ms Truss initially refused to comment on the Mail’s headline, before releasing a two paragraph statement saying:

“The independence of the judiciary is the foundation upon which our rule of law is built and our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality.

"In relation to the case heard in the High Court, the Government has made it clear it will appeal to the Supreme Court. Legal process must be followed."

Lord Thomas also said he had sought advice from the police on the part of judges as a result of the tension around the verdict. 

'WHAT THE MINISTRY HAD SAID WAS WRONG'

Elsewhere in the session, Lord Thomas also criticised the Ministry of Justice for a “complete failure to understand the practicalities” of the rolling out of allowing pre-recorded evidence from certain witnesses.

“We had to correct a serious misapprehension that had arisen as a result of what the Ministry had said at the end of last week about the rollout and the way we were proceeding with pre-recorded evidence,” he told the peers.

“They misunderstood the thing completely, so yesterday I had to write to all the judges to explain that unfortunately what the Ministry had said was wrong. It’s very time-consuming. I think it’s fair to say that there’s not sufficient depth.”