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Judicial Declarations: Freemasonry

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 5 November 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Since 1998, all first-time successful candidates for judicial appointment or the magistracy have been required to declare whether or not they are freemasons, the aim of the scheme being to promote public confidence in the judicial system. This policy was part of a wider approach across the criminal justice system, though its particular application differed in the separate services of the criminal justice system.

The policy was put in place in response to a report of the Home Affairs Select Committee—Home Affairs Committee third report: Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary, Session 1996-97 (HC 192). The report itself made no finding of impropriety in the conduct of the judiciary arising from membership of individual members of the judiciary of the freemasons. Its recommendations were therefore of a precautionary nature, and intended to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system.

The United Grand Lodge of England made representations in May. It drew attention to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Grande Oriente d'Italia di Palazzo Guistiniani v Italy (no. 1) and Grande Oriente d'Italia di Palazzo Guistiniani v Italy (no. 2) and indicated that they might seek judicially to review the application of the policy to the judiciary. In the light of my consideration of those representations I decided to review the policy.

As a result of this review we have decided to end the current policy of requiring applicants for judicial office to declare membership of the freemasons.

The review of the policy operating since 1998 has shown no evidence of impropriety or malpractice within the judiciary as a result of a judge being a freemason and in my judgment, therefore, it would be disproportionate to continue the collection or retention of this information.

There are existing safeguards that help support the proper performance of judicial functions, and these apply to freemasonry no less than other interests—in particular, the judicial oath, the availability of the complaints procedure and the Office for Judicial Complaints, the independence of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which recommends candidates for judicial appointment, and judicial terms and conditions of service.

I remain committed to the overarching objective of ensuring public confidence and transparency in the justice system. I believe that the safeguards mentioned will achieve this, but in the light of this change in policy I will keep under review, together with the Lord Chief Justice, whether other action is required.