Call to stop slamming judges after Brexit ruling

A selection of the front pages of British newspapers taken on November 4, 2016 following the High Court ruling yesterday that the Conservative government do not have the power on their own to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
A selection of the front pages of British newspapers taken on November 4, 2016 following the High Court ruling yesterday that the Conservative government do not have the power on their own to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. PHOTO: AFP

UK politicians hit out at 'unjustified attacks' on judiciary by newspapers and fellow lawmakers

LONDON • British politicians called for an end to harsh criticism of judges who last week dealt a blow to the government's Brexit preparations, with a former attorney-general saying the attacks by some fellow lawmakers and newspapers reminded him of fascism.

England's High Court ruled last Thursday that the decision to begin Britain's formal divorce talks with the European Union should be approved by Parliament and could not be taken by the government alone.

The ruling, which could delay Prime Minister Theresa May's plans to start Brexit negotiations by the end of March, was met with fury by some lawmakers and British newspapers.

Mr Sajid Javid, a member of Mrs May's Cabinet, called the ruling an "unacceptable" attempt to "frustrate the will of the British people", while The Daily Mail newspaper said the three judges who handed down the ruling were "enemies of the people".

Other Conservative lawmakers have now pushed back against the criticisms. "There is something smacking of the fascist state about them (the attacks)," Mr Dominic Grieve, a former British attorney-general, was quoted as saying in The Times yesterday.

Mr Sajid Javid, a member of Mrs May's Cabinet, called the ruling an "unacceptable" attempt to "frustrate the will of the British people", while The Daily Mail newspaper said the three judges who handed down the ruling were "enemies of the people".

"It shows either a total misunderstanding of the UK Constitution, which such critics periodically extol - or a deliberate desire to destroy it."

Mr Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of Parliament's justice committee, warned the attacks were "threatening the independence of our judiciary" and had "no place in a civilised land" and he called on Mrs May to intervene.

A group representing senior lawyers in England and Wales, the Bar Council, issued a statement yesterday, urging the government's justice minister to condemn the "unjustified attacks" as a matter of urgency.

"A strong independent judiciary is essential to a functioning democracy and to upholding the rule of law," the council said.

A spokesman for Britain's justice ministry said he had no immediate comment.

Mr Stephen Glover, a columnist for the Daily Mail, stood by the newspaper's coverage of the court ruling and said he did not think judges would be cowed by the criticism of their decision.

"To imagine that this has had some terrible, devastating effect on British society is literally crazy," he told the BBC.

Mrs May told other EU leaders last Friday she believed the court ruling would be overturned and said she would stick to her Brexit timetable.

The Prime Minister is leading a major business delegation to India today, using her first trip outside Europe since the Brexit vote to push for more trade with the world's fastest-growing major economy.

While her government cannot yet formally open negotiations with the Indians on a trade deal, observers say Mrs May wants to send a message that Britain is already on the lookout for new bilateral accords outside the European Union.

"Britain's historic links with India make it an ideal place to begin forging our post-Brexit relationship with the world. We share a common language and there is a huge Indian diaspora in the UK," The Spectator, a British magazine, said in an editorial yesterday.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline 'Call to stop slamming judges after Brexit ruling'. Print Edition | Subscribe