Ministers `not above the law'

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The Lord Chief Justice yesterday defended his colleagues' recent actions in overturning the decisions of government ministers - such as over the Pergau dam affair and the reform of criminal injuries compensation payments - declaring: "Nobody is above the law."

In a wide-ranging interview for BBC1's On the Record, he said judges were only applying the law. "The basic rule is that everyone is subject to the law. Lord Denning used to love using the phrase `be you never so high the law is above you'. That applies to ministers.

"So even though they [ministers] may have to move at the end of that particular Parliament, why should the public have to put up with abuses of power, if there are any, or people acting outside their powers while they are in office?"

Lord Taylor had a message for Euro-sceptics who complain about British law being over- turned in favour of European law, saying judges had no choice because Parliament had decided to accept European Community law when passing the European Community Act in 1972.

"All the judges are doing when they say `well this is contrary to European law' is not defying Parliament, it's obeying Parliament...It may be that many parliamentarians and many others might look back with some regret, perhaps, that we did do that. But that's the law and all the judges are doing is carrying it out."

Lord Taylor also repeated his call for Britain to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. Britain had signed the convention in 1950 and helped to draft it but, because it was not incorporated, the UK faced the "embarrassment" of having actions taken several years ago ruled unlawful by European judges.

However, he was also critical of Labour's proposals to make judges more accountable. "I very much doubt whether, however nice it might be for appearances, an appointments commission drawn from people who won't have had the experience of seeing the candidates is going to be able to make any more sensible decision than is already made," he said.