Liz Truss breaks her silence but fails to condemn backlash over Brexit ruling

Lord Chacellor calls independence of the judiciary the ‘foundation upon which our rule of law is built’

Will Worley
Saturday 05 November 2016 12:52
The Lord Chancellor took more than 24 hours to respond to the call
The Lord Chancellor took more than 24 hours to respond to the call

The Lord Chancellor Liz Truss has broken her silence following a High Court decision over Brexit, saying the independence of the judiciary is the “foundation upon which our rule of law is built”.

The Bar Council had called upon Ms Truss to condemn the “serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary” in the wake of ruling, a response that was part of widespread critcism over the way some Conservative MPs and sections of the media had reacted to the High Court Court decision on Thursday.

However, while saying that “our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality”, the statement from Ms Truss on Saturday did not specifically address the backlash against the ruling.

It follows personal attacks on three High Court judges after they ruled that Article 50 must be debated by MPs in Parliament.

The statement from Ms Truss added: “In relation to the case heard in the High Court, the Government has made it clear it will appeal to the Supreme Court. Legal process must be followed.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Bar Council, who represent barristers, said: “The Bar Council of England and Wales condemns the serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary arising out of the Article 50 litigation.

“It regrets the lack of public statement by the Lord Chancellor condemning these attacks and calls upon the Lord Chancellor to do so as a matter of urgency.

“A strong independent judiciary is essential to a functioning democracy and to upholding the rule of law.”

As Lord Chancellor, Ms Truss is in charge of oversight of the courts and holds responsibility for their independence and performance.

Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC, chairwoman of the Bar Council, emphasised that the High Court judgment was not about the merits of leaving the EU, but rather the constitutional process of triggering Article 50.

She said: “It is the judiciary’s role to ensure the rule of law underpins our democratic system. Without it fulfilling this vital role, the people would have very limited scope to hold the Government in power to account.

“Publicly criticising individual members of the judiciary over a particular judgment or suggesting that they are motivated by their individual views, political or otherwise, is wrong, and serves only to undermine their vital role in the administration of justice. It also does no favours to our global reputation.

“None of the parties suggested that the court did not have jurisdiction to decide the point at issue. They are simply doing their job – impartially ruling on a dispute between parties, one of whom happens to be the Government in this instance.

“The right to appeal is there to challenge the court's decision if a party feels they have grounds to do so. Whilst acknowledging that this question is one of potentially significant constitutional importance, the independent role of the court should be respected, particularly by those who disagree with the outcome.”

The treatment of the judges was criticised by politicians from across the political spectrum. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, a Conservative, called the attacks “chilling and outrageous” and “smacking of the fascist state”.

Labour MP Hilary Benn, chairman of the Commons Brexit select committee, said the Daily Mail’s front page branding the High Court judges “enemies of the people” was “not helpful”.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the media and politicians had a “responsibility” not to attack those who had made the decision.

Ministers should be reminding “their fellow ministers that even if you don’t like the judgment, you have to respect it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking on Saturday at a conference, welcomed the High Court’s ruling, saying it underlined the “necessity that the Prime Minister brings the Government's negotiating terms for Brexit to Parliament without delay”.

He continued: “We accept and respect the decision to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to Parliament about the Government’s plans.

“I suspect the Government opposes democratic scrutiny of its plans because – frankly – there aren’t any plans, beyond the hollow rhetoric of ‘Brexit means Brexit’.”

Additional reporting by PA

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