David Blunkett laid into the legal profession yesterday, accusing judges of being out of touch and barristers of wasting taxpayers' money. The Home Secretary's attack put the Government on a collision course with the judiciary and outraged lawyers' groups.
Reacting angrily to a radio interview in which a retired judge had described him as a "whining control freak", Mr Blunkett demanded that judges "live in the same real world as the rest of us".
Last week, he was criticised by sections of the judiciary and civil liberties groups when he announced harsh guidelines for murder sentences.
Yesterday, he told about 1,000 police officers at the Police Federation's annual conference in Blackpool that he had heard the comments made by Sir Oliver Popplewell, a retired High Court judge who chaired an inquiry into the 1985 Bradford football disaster. Sir Oliver said Mr Blunkett had developed a hatred of the independent judiciary because it had overturned his policies.
Mr Blunkett told the police officers: "He told all about his new book, where he learnt how football supporters shouted swear words at matches, how he discovered the community he had been judging for all those years was actually quite different to the one he thought about the one he had presumably met at school, at university and in chambers."
There was laughter fwhen he said: "There has been a rumour that I am not all that pleased with judges this is... completely untrue. I just want judges that live in the same real world as the rest of us."
Mr Blunkett then turned to criminal barristers. He repeated his threat to introduce fines for barristers who let clients make late guilty pleas in court. The Home Secretary also described a Law Society dinner in February in which he was booed by a table of barristers. He said: "I have a message for Matthias Kelly who runs the Bar Council if you think your job is to take me on, to take on the police service, to take on victims, to take on the community, you have lost the plot. Your job is to protect the innocent and convict the guilty." He took a light-hearted swipe at Lord Woolf, saying: "The Lord Chief Justice would no doubt give me a sentence in the community rather than in custody."
A spokesman for the Bar said: "We regard the remarks as bizarre. It is sad that [Mr Blunkett] feels compelled to stoop to personal attacks."
Sir Oliver said an article by Mr Blunkett was, "full of whining about judges overturning what Parliament had enacted". He said: "That is the job of judges to interpret the law and if they think it is not working, say so."
Worlds Apart: Popplewell v Blunkett
David Blunkett has at least one thing in common with senior judges whom he accuses of being out of touch.
From an early age four in Mr Blunkett's case he attended a boarding school. But his family was poor and his school was not a fee-paying preparatory institution but one for blind children, with parental visits restricted to one a month.
Oliver Popplewellattended Charterhouse before reading law at Cambridge. He went on to become a QC and served as a High Court judge from 1983 to 1999. His most famous case was the Jonathan Aitken libel trial in 1997. But many remember him better for asking Linford Christie what his lunchbox was. He retired last August. Mr Blunkett's rise was less assured. After graduating in the 1960s he worked for the East Midlands Gas Board and later became a tutor in industrial relations and politics at Barnsley College of Technology. At the same time he was pursuing his political career, serving as a South Yorkshire county councillor until 1977 and becoming leader of Sheffield City Council in 1980. Since June 1987 he has been MP for Sheffield Brightside. In 1997 he was appointed Education Secretary and became Home Secretary in 2001.Reuse content