Falconer warns ministers against pressuring judges on trial verdicts

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, have recently made clear their frustration with cumbersome court procedures and attacks by the judiciary on anti-terror legislation. But Lord Falconer of Thoroton told MPs that he had a duty to protect judicial independence from interference by ministers.

"I would certainly regard my role as making sure that at no stage does the executive, by what it says publicly, put pressure or undue pressure on the judges to reach or procure results in particular cases, because that would plainly be undermining the independence of the judiciary," he said.

Giving evidence to the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee, Lord Falconer said judges supported some government initiatives, such as the moves to cut the length of complex trials and issuing more fixed penalty notices.

His comments will be seen as an effort to build bridges with the judiciary following signals by the Government that it plans to shake up the court system. The Prime Minister has complained that the police are trying to combat 21st-century criminals with a "Dickensian" justice system, while Mr Clarke has claimed that courts do not always provide "rapid and effective justice". Mr Blair has also protested that courts have blocked attempts to introduce anti-terror legislation, comments that produced an angry backlash from senior judges. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, warned it was "wholly inappropriate" for politicians to try to "browbeat" the judiciary.

* Lord Falconer dismissed criticism by the Judicial Appointments Commission that his choice of Wyn Williams QC to run the Chancery Division in Wales was inappropriate, due to Mr Williams' lack of specialist experience. He said: "I and the Lord Chief Justice take the view that he has been very successful."