Bercow attacks 'cowardly' judges

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The home affairs spokesman John Bercow launched a bitter attack on Britain's judges yesterday, accusing them of "moral cowardice" over the sentencing of offenders.

The home affairs spokesman John Bercow launched a bitter attack on Britain's judges yesterday, accusing them of "moral cowardice" over the sentencing of offenders.

Mr Bercow, who caused controversy earlier this year when he described Cherie Blair as Lady Macbeth, told a Conservative Way Forward fringe meeting that lenient sentences had been handed down tocriminals convicted of "quite bestial" crimes.

The MP for Buckingham said he recently conducted a review of sentences passed in some "appalling cases", and this had convinced him there was a need to replace some judges. "There are a lot of judges in this society today who seem to have not the slightest awareness of or interest in the views or sensitivities of the mass of the British people," he said.

"This is constantly revealed in the judgments they hand down and in the extraordinary insouciance with which they regard quite bestial activities. I have just done a trawl of appalling cases that got lenient sentences. When I have looked at the summing up and I've listened to what the judge has actually said, I have wondered whether that judge inhabits the same planet as I do."

Mr Bercow said the quality of the decisions made by judges was a "desperate problem". And he added: "Although we believe in the principle of independence of the judiciary, that principle of independence is of course not absolute. I do believe that we ought to be prepared to open up the question of the quality of the British judiciary. We shouldn't simply insist as a mantra that we've got the best judiciary. I think that it has been poisoned by a current of political correctness and of moral cowardice in recent years. If it goes on much longer, we will end up a less free and more uncivil society."

Mr Bercow made his criticisms as the former cabinet minister Lord Tebbit claimed the Government's Human Rights Act and the European Union's proposed charter of fundamental rights could be used to extend judicial power over areas normally reserved by Parliament. Lord Tebbit said the Human Rights Act would simply swell the pockets of lawyers while the EU charter would be a "fascist" restriction on individual freedoms.

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