'Liberal minded judge' is new Lord Chief Justice

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The Independent Online

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, has been promoted to become a senior law lord and replaced by Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, it was announced last night.

Lord Woolf, 67, will become the most senior judge in England and Wales in June after his predecessor takes over the post as senior Lord of Appeal from Lord Browne Wilkinson, who is retiring.

Lord "Harry" Woolf, who was called to the Bar in 1954, has built a reputation as an independent and liberal-minded judge, and oversaw the biggest shake-up of the civil courts since the Second World War. Introduced last April, the reforms speeded and simplified the civil litigation system in England and Wales.

In 1997, he directly criticised the former home secretary, Michael Howard, over his handling of the sentences of the two boys who killed James Bulger. He said the former minister's approach had been "perfunctory... and falling below the standards of a court".

Lord Woolf is also sensitive to criticisms of the judiciary. Last year, he made a staunch defence of his fellow judges over allegations some were sexist, racist and lazy.

A former chairman of the prison reform group the Butler Trust, he has taken a leading role in the debate over penal reform, calling last year for prisoners to earn more money to compensate their victims.

Lord Bingham, 67, is regarded as one of the country's finest legal minds and has defended the Government's stance on Jack Straw's plans to remove the right to trial by jury for certain offences. He has in effect leap-frogged other law lords, since the post of senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary is traditionally given to the next most senior law lord.

Ministers have become anxious about a backlog in the hearing of cases in the Lords. His appointment may provoke speculation that he has been promoted to help the Government's reforms of the Lords.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, has also been appointed Master of the Rolls in succession to Lord Woolf.

Sir Richard Scott, Vice-Chancellor, will become a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, while Sir Andrew Morritt, a Lord Justice of Appeal, is appointed Vice-Chancellor in his place.