Lord Chief Justice will underpin judges' role

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Indy Politics
The Government's hopes that the new Lord Chief Justice would be less troublesome than his outspoken predecessor, Lord Taylor, were dashed last night when Lord Bingham delivered a staunch defence of judges' role in judicial review and the development of the law.

Stepping into the constitutional fray between ministers and the judiciary, Lord Bingham also used his first major speech since his appointment to challenge critics of his commitment to incorporating the European human rights convention into UK law.

In the wake of criticism that judges are becoming too "political" and too prone to striking down ministerial decisions as illegal, he told the annual Lord Mayor's judges' dinner that it was "preposterous" to suggest judges were equivocal in their deference to parliamentary sovereignty - but that no constitutional democracy, which was governed by the rule of law, could function without judicial review.

"Far from challenging the authority of Parliament, judicial review buttresses its authority by ensuring that powers conferred by Parliament are used as Parliament intended," Lord Bingham said.

When he switched from being Master of the Rolls to Lord Chief Justice in May, Lord Bingham provoked a wave of criticism from right-wingers for suggesting that judges might develop a civil law of privacy. But he insisted last night that judges would "also contribute to the organic, incremental development of. . . the law".

Lord Bingham was one of the first judges to call for the Euro-pean Convention on Human Rights to be incorporated into domestic law, a commitment provoking another onslaught from critics of his appointment. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, insisted that such a move would unduly politicise the judiciary.

Lord Bingham said breaches of the Convention were already the subject of judicial decision, in Strasbourg.

"Commentators who attach most importance to appreciation of conditions in this country, and who are most critical of decisions reached in Strasbourg, might be expected to see merit in this reform," he said. He also called on the Government to ensure there were sufficient resources to implement the civil justice reforms due to be unveiled by Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, next Friday.