5 Dec 2013 at 10:03
The former Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, has proved to be a remarkably formidable and skilled tactician. In one speech he has given the government a lifeline and Chris Grayling a death threat. The trouble is that our esteemed Lord Chancellor is so dim that he can only identify the lifeline and hasn’t yet noticed the bullet that is travelling in the direction of his head.
First, the lifeline. The government has got itself in a terrible mess over what to do about the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Getting rid of the Human Rights Act has been a mantra for the Lederhosen wing of the Tory party. Mother Theresa promises it and Grayling screams it. But despite the obvious objections by the Lib Dems, which is a very convenient excuse for inaction, nobody has thought it through.
The European Convention on Human Rights is in itself eminently sensible. After all it was drafted by British Jurists after The Nuremberg trials. The right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and the right not to be executed or tortured was designed to prevent the rise of totalitarian regimes. The trouble is that the judges have become too political. They interfere in things that must only be the preserve of a democratically elected Sovereign Parliament. Giving prisoners the vote is a case in issue. It must be for Parliaments to decide and not judges. The Strasbourg court should only interfere where there has been an abuse of power, or there is a democratic deficit.
Well, Cameron did what all sensible politicians do when they are in a hole, he set up a commission. The trouble is, although it has not formally reported, it has come to the view that opting out of the Convention would be a disaster on top of a nightmare. We would have to withdraw from the Council of Europe and set a precedent for other less assiduous upholders of the rule of law. And then we would have the daft situation of introducing our own Human Rights Act which would be exactly the same as the one we opted out of.
So Igor Judge has come up with an ingenious solution. Firstly, stating the obvious that as Parliament makes the law it is eventually a higher authority than our Supreme Court. Secondly, stating the not so obvious, that there is no authority clearly making the Strasbourg court supreme over our law in matters that are political and not judicial.
So the answer is to pass an Act setting this out. Simples.
But to make this work and to send a clear message to Strasbourg there has to be all party support and the likes of Igor Judge would define, as a matter of law, the difference between what is judicial and what is political. Sensible and ingenious.
And now the bullet heading for Grayling’s skull. Judge made it quite clear that he has had to make numerous representations to Cameron over the concerns of the judiciary as nobody represents their interests at the top table any more. This is code for saying that Grayling has absolutely no legal qualifications nor interest and certainly won’t represent to Cabinet that his ‘reforms’ will destroy the most respected criminal justice system in the world. Nor would he warn Cameron that the judiciary are deeply concerned that removing the opportunity for the individual to judicially review ministers when they have acted unlawfully is bordering on the Mugabian.
So Judge makes another sensible proposal. Separate the role of Lord Chancellor from that of Minister of justice, and make sure that they are legally qualified. There is a very good precedent for appointing a senior judge to the job. James MacKay was a very successful Lord Chancellor.
I know that Cameron has enough on his plate, but the time will come when he is going to have to intervene to stop the collapse of our legal system, which is grinding to a halt.
The criminal Bar are portrayed as greedy fat cats. The Legal aid system the most expensive in Europe. Both are plain wrong and it is a disgrace that ministers still trot out these lies. The legal aid budget has shrunk radically over the last few years as our fees have been cut by 40%. And Grayling wants to extract a further 17%. Those of us at the upper end, despite working flat out, are finding it a struggle and those of just a few years call are finding it impossible. The criminal law has become an expensive hobby.
But soon it won’t be even that. High street solicitors will go to the wall, the independent Bar will die and our revered system of justice will be put in the hands of G4s (under investigation), Serco (under investigation), Capita (under investigation) Eddie Stobbard and the Co-op. Perhaps a job for the Reverend Flowers here?
Well, we’ve all had enough. We try to negotiate with Grayling, but he spits in our faces. So for just half a day on the 6th January we will down wigs. No doubt Grayling will relish the chance of comparing us to UNITE and put the boot in.
But we are taking action not for more money, nor to preserve pensions which we don’t have, but to protect the weakest and most vulnerable in society who one day will be represented by inexperienced,low paid youngsters, employed by corporate bloodsuckers who this government is giving a financial incentive to advise their clients to plead guilty.
What a bloody disgrace. Is anyone going to listen?