New judges and police told they must confess masonic links

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The Independent Online
Freemasons joining the police, Crown Prosecution Service and becoming magistrates will be forced to declare their membership of the secret society under plans being drawn up by the Government. Jason Bennetto and Colin Brown reveal details of the changes and of a rearguard fight by the judiciary.

All new recruits to the criminal justice system, including police officers, will have to publicly reveal whether they are members of a secret society, such as the Freemasons.

The introduction of a compulsory register is expected to be proposed this month by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, The Independent has learned.

It follows fears that the estimated 350,000 masons in Britain are abusing their membership of the "brotherhood" in courts and police stations.

Despite the changes for new appointments, existing members of the police and courts may escape the compulsory scheme - instead they could be asked to sign a voluntary register.

Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, is also arguing that a compulsory register for new judges is an infringement of privacy and individual rights of the judiciary and should therefore be excluded from any changes.

Under the expected proposals, conditions of employment will be altered and new appointments must reveal whether they are Freemasons. Anyone caught lying would face the sack.

The Home Secretary is still considering whether to force existing employees to declare whether they are Freemasons, but unlike new recruits this would need legislation and is therefore more difficult to introduce.

If they are excluded it will be seen by campaigners for greater openness as a Government fudge and a U-turn. Labour pledged in March to introduce a compulsory register. This followed a recommendation by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that month for a compulsory scheme for judges, magistrates, police officers and Crown prosecutors.

Chris Mullin, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said yesterday: "I recognise there's some potential difficulties and that there is bound to be resistance from the vested interests concerned, but I don't think they are insurmountable."

More than 30 judges have been identified from those listed as high-ranking or "grand" officers in the latest Masonic Year Book.

The select committee was also told that 14 of the 96 members of the discredited and now-disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad who served between 1974 and 1989 were masons.

The Police Federation, which represents 120,000 rank and file officers in England and Wales, and the 8,500 Masonic lodges in England and Wales, oppose a compulsory register. However, chief constables, four or five of whom are believe to be masons, have given the scheme their full support.

Mr Straw's determination to act was reinforced by a case in his Blackburn constituency in which two businessmen entered a private function at a hotel which subsequently turned out to be a "ladies night" organised by Victory Lodge and at which a number of Lancashire police were present.

The men claimed that they were attacked and thrown out but the police prosecuted them for assault. A jury acquitted them both and they were paid damages.

Last month a Masonic police officer was found guilty of using confidential computer files to help a fellow mason trace his ex-wife's lover.

However, one major problem for Mr Straw is that he still has to overcome implacable opposition from the Lord Chancellor who is holding out against a compulsory register.