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Lord Chancellor will ‘unflinchingly’ defend judicial independence

David Lidington to promote UK’s ‘excellent’ legal services as Brexit negotiations begin

20 June 2017

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The new Lord Chancellor, David Lidington, has praised the judiciary for its ‘dedication, personal integrity, and commitment’ and also highlighted the importance of the rule of law and UK’s separation of powers as he was sworn into office.

Taking his oath of office at a swearing-in ceremony on 19 June, Lidington said that the rule of law, together with the independence of the judiciary, ‘form the very bedrock of a free and democratic society’ that ‘safeguards us against tyranny and dictatorship’.

‘They allow us to live in a society where no individual and no government is above the law, a society where everyone can expect equality before the law and the right to a fair trial, a society where executive power is balanced by both a strong judiciary that acts without fear or favour and a scrutinising legislature.’

Delivering his speech at the Royal Courts of Justice, Lidington, the third fourth non-lawyer Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice in five years, said the three branches of the state – executive, legislature, and judiciary – should have ‘a mutual respect’ for each other.

As Lord Chancellor, Lidington said he would be ‘resolute and unflinching’ in upholding the rule of law and defending the independence of the judiciary. ‘The very reason countries look to us for support is because the UK is seen as the home of high-quality justice and legal services.

‘People come here from around the world to have their legal disputes resolved because they know that they will get a fair and independent hearing,’ he added. ‘And for this, we have much to thank the exceptional men and women that make up our judiciary.

‘You all carry the weight – often the lonely weight – of this most vital duty, both in the judgments you make in individual cases, and in the development of the common law itself – a jurisprudence that is world-renowned.’

Despite the UK’s premier status as a world leading dispute resolution centre, Lidington warned against complacency and highlighted the need to ‘build on and protect our successes, nor be too shy to embrace reform where that is needed’.

Taking his oath on the first day of the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the EU, the new justice secretary said he would prioritise promoting the nation’s ‘excellent legal services both at home and as a major UK export, to maintain London as a competitive hub and ensure people continue to see English law as the law of choice’.

Britain’s online court reforms, due to be trialled this autumn, were also mentioned in Lidington’s speech: ‘I also want to work together to make sure the administration of justice is swifter and puts the citizen at the centre of what we do by harnessing all the new opportunities which the technologies of our digital age have to offer.’

The chairman of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, welcomed the Lord Chancellor’s ‘unambiguous recognition that democracy and freedom are built on the rule of law and that they should be protected by a strong and independent judiciary’.

Langdon said it is of the ‘utmost importance’ that the UK’s legal system remain independent of government and that the independence of the judiciary be ‘robustly defended’.

With Lidington set to take over the reins at 102 Petty France, the Bar’s chair warned that responsibility for the legal system ‘differs fundamentally’ from other government departments, such as health, education, or transport, which ‘exist to fulfil the policy aims of government’.

‘Justice is not a “service” that governments can choose to provide or not; it is a separate branch of a democratic government,’ said Langdon.

And, as the legal profession waits on a full review of LASPO and the provision of legal aid, the Guildhall Chambers silk added: ‘Providing access for the public to an independent legal profession on whose ethical duties the courts rely, is a key feature of our system of justice which the Bar will work with the Lord Chancellor to secure and maintain.

‘That the weaker or more vulnerable members of society should be afforded the same excellent representation and advocacy available to others, is a necessary tenet of a fair system of justice. The new Lord Chancellor, with his sense of history, will know that fairness lies at the heart of our tradition.’

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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Lord Chancellor DAVID LIDINGTON