Law lord attacks 'oppressive' inquiry into Masons

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Britain's most senior Masonic judge has launched a bitter attack on the Government's investigation into Freemasonry in the judiciary and the police force.

Lord Millett, a sitting law lord, accused a parliamentary inquiry as having "absolutely no basis". He also described Chris Mullin MP, who chaired the1998 Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, which investigated the Freemasons, as a publicity-seeker who behaved "oppressively".

Lord Millett has told the magazine Freemasonry Today: "He [Mr Mullin] was wielding some power as chairman of a Commons committee just as a judge does, and no judge would dream of behaving the way he did."

The law lord took particular exception to the way Mr Mullin, Labour MP for Sunderland South, questioned Commander Michael Higham, grand secretary of the United Grand Lodge, who represented the Freemasons in the inquiry.

"I think he treated Higham unfairly. He [Mr Higham] was a secretary and so on, and did not have the power to deal there and then with Mullin's requests. I saw some of that interview on television and I thought he [Mullin] behaved oppressively."

Since the Mullin inquiry the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has asked judges to disclose their Masonic membership. Lord Millett says that this has encouraged litigants to demand to know whether a judge sitting on their case is a Mason. "In a way, the Government has given litigants ammunition," he said.

Lord Millett said that not enough barristers were now joining the Freemasons because "it could do their career prospects harm". He said: "They don't trust the assurances that are given and they say well, even if the assurances are right, why take the risk."

Lord Millett also said that he thought every judge who was a Mason had now revealed this to the Lord Chancellor. The 20 per cent of judges who had not replied to Lord Irvine's questionnaire had not done so because they resented being ask such a question, not because they were Masons, he said.

A decision of the law lord is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights in a case that will challenge the number of Masons sitting as judges. In the European case a litigant is attempting to "upset a will". Lord Millett refused the litigant's appeal against the decision of a deputy high court judge, who was also a Freemason. The deceased and the solicitor of the litigant's opponent are also Masons.

Lord Millett told Freemasonry Today: "I knew the deputy high court judge was a Freemason because we are in the same lodge but the idea that I would dismiss an appeal [against his ruling] because he was a fellow member of my lodge is ridiculous."

The Lord Chancellor's Department confirmed yesterday that it would be defending the case at the European Court in Strasbourg and that it concerned "judicial Freemasonry."

Lord Millett, 66, has spoken out before against the Government's attempts to set up a register of Freemasons in the criminal justice system. He has described it as an invasion of privacy.