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Lord Chief Justice weighs into Lord Chancellor at evidence hearing

23 March 2017

An extraordinary attack on Lord Chancellor Liz Truss was delivered by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, in evidence yesterday to a committee of the House of Lords.

In his annual evidence session to the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Lord Thomas said Ms Truss was "completely and utterly wrong" in the stance she took over media attacks on the judiciary following the Divisional Court ruling in November 2016 that the Government required the authority of Parliament before triggering the article 50 process for the UK to leave the European Union.

In the wake of coverage such as the Daily Mail's headline "Enemies of the people", Ms Truss said she was a "huge believer" in an independent judiciary, but was also a "very strong believer" in a free press: it would be dangerous for a Government minister to say what was and what was not an acceptable headline, and "I draw the line in saying what is acceptable for the press to print or not."

The Lord Chancellor was criticised for failing to understand the unique nature of her office, which was not simply that of a "Government minister", or her duty under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to uphold the independence of the judiciary. 

In his evidence Lord Thomas said there was a fundamental distinction between legitimate "criticism" of judges and "abuse" of them. That line had been crossed in relation to the Brexit case. The Lord Chancellor's stance was "constitutionally absolutely wrong". The Brexit case was the only time he had had to ask for police protection for judges in view of the level of emotion stirred up by the case.

He issued further strong criticism of Ms Truss and the Ministry of Justice over their failure to understand reforms being introduced to save children from live cross examination, which he had had to correct by a circular letter to judges.

Click here to view a video of the evidence session (remarks on judicial independence from 10.49 to 10.58am).

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