Who will protect the judges?

December 14, 2016 14:07
The UK's Elizabeth Truss (L) and Hong Kong's 
Rimsky Yuen (R) have been found wanting in their stewardship of the justice departments in their respective governments. Photos: Bloomberg, CNSA

An independent judiciary peopled with lawyers of great experience and high intelligence is a cornerstone of a civilized society.

This cornerstone is under attack in England and Hong Kong from narrow minded bigots who confuse the administration of justice with political expediency.

The judiciary in both the UK and Hong Kong administer the common law.

This is an evolutionary system of justice that, whilst enabling the judges to reflect the norms of the society they serve when interpreting the law, nevertheless provides a refined set of legal rules which circumscribe the framework within which legal decisions are reached.

The ability to dissociate one's personal opinion from that process so as to reflect the provisions of the law faithfully is an essential quality for a judge.

Barristers and Judges perform this critical intellectual exercise in their everyday work. Indeed, true objectivity is an intellectual exercise.

The common layman's query is "How can you represent someone whose views you find repugnant?"

The answer to which is that the lawyer, like the doctor, has no business examining the morals of his client or patient when dealing with their legal or clinical problem.

Which brings me to the nub of my argument: the disgusting condemnation of the English Court of Appeal judges who ruled that Parliament must vote on whether or not to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of the Lisbon.

The Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express truly exposed themselves as the gutter press with their vile headlines, respectively 'Judges versus the people' 'Enemies of the people' 'Three judges blocked Brexit, now your country really needs you'.

The Daily Express explored new depths of misleading journalistic depravity in comparing the situation to the threat of a Nazi invasion, invoking Churchill's famous "we must fight them on the beaches" speech.

Characterizing the judges as traitors smacks of the same mob mentality that infused the Parisian sans culottes as they cheered tumbrils loaded with their perceived enemies to the guillotine and Hitler's genetically lobotomized Brownshirts as they smashed the synagogues on Krystalnacht in 1938.

Have we learned nothing?

What was Teresa May government's reaction to this savage attack on the very guardians of our liberties? Initially, nothing.

Only after a spirited public defense of the judiciary by Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, the Chairman of the English Bar, did the Lord Chancellor issue a statement. But the statement was only mildly critical of the yellow press attacks, prompting critics to wonder if the government was actually siding with the mob.

The Lord Chancellor, once upon a time the head of the judiciary but now an office that is combined with that of Secretary of State for Justice, is not even a lawyer.

Elizabeth Truss read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. After working as a commercial manager for Shell and Economic Director for Cable & Wireless, she became a management accountant before being elected to Parliament in 2009.

There is not a scintilla of evidence in her biography that justifies elevating her to the highest legal appointment in the Kingdom.

But that is indicative of the parlous state of UK politics which elevates the blind to lead the sighted.

As a teenager, after reading George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel 'Nineteen Eighty Four' I clearly recollect forming the opinion that the establishment of a Ministry of Justice would signal the end of 'justice' as the abstract concept which civilized nations strived to attain.

Tony Blair not only delivered this consummation devoutly not to be wished, he also abolished the thousand year old office of Lord Chancellor as head of the judiciary, combining a newly vacuous office with that of head of the government department responsible for judicial appointments, the court system and prisons.

Now, most responsible people would have expected that Ms. Truss, in her capacity as government Minister responsible for the judiciary, to launch a scathing attack on the offending rags, but she did not.

Then one considers the political stance of these publications: the ownership of the Telegraph is vested in a company registered overseas; the owner of the Daily Express donated 1 million pounds to UKIP and the Daily Mail is also known as "The Daily Heil"!

I will fight to the death the right of newspapers to publish opinions which, no matter how outlandish, still have an absolute entitlement to be heard.

But gratuitous attacks of this scurvy nature on judges who, as their editors know full well, have no right of reply, is the kind of behavior that every Englishman and woman conscious of the fundamental national concept of fair play would castigate.

Hong Kong’s judiciary is under not dissimilar attack when Beijing makes a heavy handed interference into a case already under judicial consideration, the unavoidable inference being that our judges cannot be trusted to deliver the 'correct' political result.

We live in dangerous times my friends!

Ms. Truss' name belies her willingness to support the judges. Our own Rimsky Yuen is, if anything, even more of a cipher.

Free men and women must guard our precious judicial independence, our appointed representatives certainly will not.

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Queen's Counsel