Lord Steyn: 'Don't blame judges for half-baked criminal legislation'

From a speech by the former Law Lord upon his appointment as chairman of the Council of Justice, delivered in London
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The Independent Online

Sometimes the criticisms aimed at judges are misdirected. Let me give one example. Over the last 20 years there has been a flood of legislation about crime. It is a political football. Almost every years there is a huge new Criminal Justice Act. Year after year, half-baked ideas are adopted in haste, puffed up to be the ideal solution and routinely abandoned a year later. The quality of much of the legislation has been described by text-book writers as scandalous. So, to the bewilderment of the public and judges, the position in regard to criminal justice continues from year to year. It is a little unfair to blame it on the judges, as politicians so frequently do.

In his 2003, Lord Alexander of Weedon QC delivered a devastating critique of the legality of the invasion of Iraq. He pointed out that there was no threat to the UK or US. He noted that there were then no current links between the odious Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qa'ida. He analysed the constantly shifting grounds for intervention. Rightly, he concluded that none of those grounds had any plausibility.

For all arguments some support can be dredged up. But in my view Lord Alexander's view reflected the overwhelming view of international lawyers, and was undoubtedly correct. He was entitled to conclude, as he did, that in its search for a justification in law for war, the Government was driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel.

About Iraq I would add only one matter. After the dreadful bombings in London, we were asked to believe that the Iraq war did not make London and the world a more dangerous place. Surely, on top of everything else, we do not have to listen to a fairy tale.