Britain's top judge 'forced out by bullying Blunkett'

Lord Woolf is poised to step down as Lord Chief Justice four years early because he is tired of being bullied by ministers, it was reported last night.

Friends said that England's most senior judge had grown weary of being the target of repeated attacks by David Blunkett

Lord Ackner of Sutton, a retired Law Lord and friend of Lord Woolf, said that he had become infuriated by the Home Secretary's "megaphone politics". He said Lord Woolf, 71, was preparing to step down from his £205,000-a-year job four years before the statutory retirement age.

"Harry Woolf has been the subject of a grossly unfair criticism by the media, and David Blunkett in particular," Lord Ackner was reported as saying. "He was angry and irritated at being totally misrepresented.

"The Home Office has been constantly antagonistic and Blunkett, with his megaphone politics, has gone out of his way to misconstrue, mischief-make and bully him." Lord Ackner, who was taken to hospital on Friday, could not be contacted last night.

Mr Blunkett, is thought to be the "senior minister" who called Lord Woolf a "muddled and confused old codger".

The pair have had a running battle on judicial power over sentencing, with the Home Secretary recently insisting that murderers be given life terms. Mr Blunkett's latest announcement of a review into what partial defences can be allowed to killers promises to open a new front in the feud.

Lord Woolf has also clashed with the Government over its plans for a supreme court, particularly over where it should be housed.

Since becoming England's most senior judge in 2000, he has been repeatedly vilified in the tabloid press.