The Binyam Mohamed blip is still on Lord Neuberger's mind. Among the many topics he could have chosen to bring gravitas to a seemingly light-hearted speech about the role of the Master of the Rolls, he chose the much-maligned paragraph 168 of his ruling in the case brought by the former Guantanamo Bay detainee against MI5.
Of course, Lord Neuberger has stood up for civil liberties before. He has spoken against the questionable use of the law by governments eager to push an anti-terrorist agenda. On this occasion, however — a pre-dinner speech at Lincoln's Inn — he was not openly out to make a point. The reference to the Binyam Mohamed case was, it seemed, a prop to review the role of the MR since its inception in the 13th century and its relevance to modern day governments.
What makes you pause in this particular instance is the timing. The speech was made on Monday night, four days after the election. By this time, the Lib/Con deal is looking a bit uncertain and it is only a matter of hours before Gordon Brown offers his resignation as Labour leader, making everybody believe that a Lib/Lab deal could be on the cards.
As the political bartering went on, Lord Neuberger slipped in a gentle reminder to politicians about civil liberties and the separation of powers. This is quite subtle: his historical musings take us from Cromwell to Montesquieu and Lord Hewart. But throughout the common thread is judicial independence — or interference with it.
Law and order used to be a staple of election manifestos. Terrorism became one too after 9/11 and the London July bombings. These were there this time too, but not as major dividing lines between the parties. The emphasis was on education, social cohesion and the economy. But to politicians plotting a workable coalition, Lord Neuberger's message was clear: the judges' job is to keep governments in check and ensure the prevalence of the rule of law; and whoever ends up in power this time will continue to be accountable to the nation in the courts in exactly the same way.
Already registered? Login to access premium content