Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, told a committee of MPs that there was no reason for judges to declare their membership because there was no evidence to show they had been corrupted by their connections with the secret society.
His comments follow plans announced by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, last month that all new recruits to the criminal justice system will have to reveal membership of the Masons. Resistance by Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, on behalf of judges in England and Wales, has already forced the Home Secretary to water down his proposals.
Lord Bingham told the Commons home affairs select committee yesterday: "Our position is and has always been that no one has ever been able to suggest that there has ever been a vestige of evidence that any judge in any case ever in this country has been diverted from his duty by any conflict arising from Freemasonic association."
Mr Straw is also to ask the United Grand Lodge - which represents 340,000 Freemasons in England and Wales - to publish regional lists of Masons who are already judges, and others working in the criminal justice system, such as the police. If it refuses, as appears likely, he will create a voluntary registration scheme and, if that fails, the Government will legislate to make registration compulsory.
Lord Bingham said he would not favour a voluntary declaration by judges "because in the absence of any reason to make one's private associations public, one should be entitled to keep them private." The Judges' Council - a meeting of the top 15 or so judges in Britain - will convene today to discuss the matter.
Lord Bingham argued that Freemason membership among the judiciary was "minute" and that there was no question of judges having a higher loyalty to the "brotherhood".
Chris Mullin, chairman of the home affairs committee, said: "It does not surprise me at all to learn that the judges are likely to be hostile to any thought of disclosure. But it does rather destroy the image that they like to create that they are modern and out-going."
He added: "We cannot have one law for the toffs and one for everyone else."
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