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Michael Gove leaps to defence of 'brilliant' Brexit case judges: 'Respect their decision'

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has been criticised for failing to stick up for the judiciary 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 08 November 2016 09:28 GMT
The former Justice Secretary called the High Court judges ‘brilliant, thoughtful, wise and decent men’
The former Justice Secretary called the High Court judges ‘brilliant, thoughtful, wise and decent men’ (Reuters)

Former Justice Secretary and lead Brexit campaigner Michael Gove has staunchly defended the judges who ruled against the Government in the High Court case on Article 50.

Mr Gove said the three men, vilified in sections of the media since the ruling, are “brilliant, thoughtful, wise and decent men”.

His intervention in the row over their decision, forcing Theresa May to give some control to Parliament over the launch of Brexit talks, comes after existing Justice Secretary Liz Truss was criticised for failing to defend the judges.

Mr Gove said: "The first thing to note is that judicial independence is critical to the rule of law and any proper democracy.

“The High Court judges who've ruled on Article 50 are brilliant, thoughtful, wise and decent men – their judgment deserves respect.”

He said he found much of the reasoning and conclusion of the three men “persuasive”, and added that even if he “didn't agree with elements of their reasoning I'd personally treat the judgment of three brilliant men with respect.”

He went to also say that a “raucous, vigorous, press” is necessary as a “guarantor of freedom”.

The judgment last week ruled that Ms May could not trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty herself using royal prerogative powers, and should seek Parliament’s approval for doing so.

Landmark Brexit Ruling: What happened and what happens next?

After it was published the judges were attacked by some Brexiteers and branded “enemies of the people” in one newspaper, while Ukip leadership hopeful Suzanne Evans called for a degree of political control of the judiciary.

Current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Ms Truss was criticised for hesitating to leap to the judges’ defence, and then failing to address attacks strongly enough when she eventually issued a statement.

Former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said Ms Truss had a responsibility to defend the judiciary, but that her comments had been “a little too late and not a lot”. He told BBC's Newsnight the personal attacks in the press on the judges “undermines public confidence in the judicial process”.

He also raised concerns about a planned protest being organised by Ukip’s Nigel Farage at the Supreme Court, as it hears the Government’s appeal against the ruling.

Lord Judge said: “Let’s say for the sake of argument the Supreme Court decides the High Court was wrong, it will undoubtedly be conveyed as a victory for the demonstrators. It won’t be, but that’s what will be conveyed. And if that is conveyed you’ve undermined the administration of justice.”

Theresa May has insisted the Government remains on course to fire the Brexit starting gun by the end of March next year despite the legal setback. The Prime Minister said she was confident the Government had “strong legal arguments” but urged the Supreme Court judges to spell out the details of what ministers have to do if it loses the appeal against the ruling.

If judges rule that an act of Parliament is required, MPs and peers will have a series of opportunities to amend the legislation – potentially causing difficulties to the Government’s timetable.

Speaking to the BBC in India, the Prime Minster insisted: “I’m clear that I expect to be able to trigger Article 50 by the end of March next year. That’s what I've said consistently and I continue to work on that basis.”

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