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Judiciary: Independence

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 8 October 2019

An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our constitution and our democracy, and we are rightly proud of our world-class judiciary. As Lord Chancellor, I have sworn an oath to defend its independence. I take that extremely seriously and will continue to defend its independence vigorously.

I am encouraged to hear that answer. That is why—thank God—we are not a totalitarian state. I have a rather scary bit of advice for the Lord Chancellor: could he share his thoughts with No. 10 and perhaps Mr Dominic Cummings?

I think that everybody—whichever part of Government or our country they might come from—will probably be aware of my public pronouncements about this matter. I will keep saying it again and again and again, as long as it is necessary to do so.

Consistent with the Lord Chancellor’s speech at the opening of legal year, will he confirm that there is no place for political involvement in the appointment of judges and no question but that the rulings of the courts must be observed by all?

I am more than happy to confirm all those points, made so ably by the Chair of the Justice Committee.

Will the Secretary of State today put it on record not only that he believes in the independence of a robust judiciary, but that his Government will obey the law, and not crash us out of the European Union against the law?

I can confirm that this Government, like their predecessors and, I hope, successors, will continue to respect and obey the law, and respect the rule of law.

Might my right hon. and learned Friend honour his oath by restoring the proper role of his office in the other place?

My right hon. Friend tempts me along the path of debate about the constitution, and in particular the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. While I am always keen to engage in academic constitutional debate, we have many other fish to fry at the moment.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for speaking out in favour of the independence of the judiciary.

Lord Hope of Craighead, a former Deputy President of the Supreme Court and Lord President of the Court of Session, has pointed out that

“The Supreme Court justices were careful to explain in their judgment”

on the Prorogation case

“that they were not pronouncing on political questions. The issues with which they were dealing…were issues of law.”

Will the Lord Chancellor explain that to those in his party demanding a politicised appointment process for the judiciary?

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. I treat the remarks of the noble Lord Hope with extreme gravity, bearing in mind his experience and knowledge. It always bears repeating that the judiciary do not have political motivations, and that case was no exception. Frankly, I think the matter needs no further debate. If we ended up with an American-style approval system, we would all be the poorer for it.

Yesterday a Scottish court recorded the Prime Minister’s unequivocal promise to comply with his statutory duties under the Benn Act. The judge, Lord Pentland, said:

“it would be destructive of one of the core principles of constitutional propriety and of the mutual trust that is the bedrock of the relationship between the court and the crown for the prime minister or the government to renege on what they have assured the court that the prime minister intends to do”.

Can the Lord Chancellor assure us that he will be impressing on the Prime Minister the grave consequences of ignoring that warning from a senior member of the Scottish judiciary?

I read the transcript of what Lord Pentland said with great interest. Of course, that matter is subject to appeal, and it would be wrong of me to speak about it in detail, but those comments are noted.

We have seen the Justice Secretary forced to take to Twitter to defend the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law after recent briefings from No. 10 Downing Street. He may well have to do that again later today, after this morning’s headlines. The Attorney General has briefed the press that he will resign if the Government refuse to adhere to the law demanding an extension to rule out no deal. Will the Justice Secretary do the same?

I hope that Members in this House and elsewhere feel that I have discharged my duties under my oath, and I will continue to do that. I will take whatever step I deem necessary to make sure that I am true to that oath, and to the rule of law.