No trust in Truss
How can the judiciary have any faith in the Lord Chancellor after she failed to defend their independence, asks John van der Luit-Drummond
Liz Truss’ inexplicable failure to properly denounce the hysterical and irrational attacks made against three senior judges means she has failed her first major challenge as Lord Chancellor.
It was only five months ago that the first woman Lord Chancellor in history, decked out in ceremonial garb, made an oath to uphold the rule of law and defend the independence of the judiciary. In the speech that followed her swearing-in ceremony, Truss said she was ‘determined’ to uphold her oath. Yet it took 36 hours for the justice secretary to release a weak and anodyne statement which neither supported nor defended the judiciary in the face of tabloid attacks that teetered on the brink of inciting violence against the judges in question.
Can she really have forgotten her oath so soon? Or was she too spineless to stand up to cabinet colleagues angered by the article 50 ruling or the Daily Mail, which, in addition to a homophobic online headline aimed at the Master of the Rolls, described the ‘Article 50 Three’ - Lord Thomas, Sir Terence Etherton, and Lord Justice Sales - as ‘Enemies of the people’.
It took the internationally trending Twitter hashtag #whereisLizTruss and a Bar Council resolution calling on the Lord Chancellor to condemn press attacks to pry Truss from her secret bunker. But in the end, Truss’ A-level understanding of judicial independence was too little, too late. By contrast, her opposite number across the Commons, Richard Burgon, the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, and his predecessor, Dominic Grieve QC, along with a host of others have done Truss’ job for her, by speaking out for judicial independence. Though welcome, it is not the job of others to stick their collective heads above the parapet to take tabloid fire; it is the Lord Chancellor’s duty and hers alone.
As many lawyers have highlighted in recent days, Truss’ dereliction of duty has been expected ever since the ancient office of Lord Chancellor became just another stepping stone for career politicians looking for another, more prestigious, cabinet role. Perhaps Lord Falconer QC was correct when he pointed out in June that the appointment of ‘an ambitious middle-ranking minister’ was ‘worrying’. It is hard to dispute that Truss is yet another example of the failed experiment that sees inexperienced non-lawyers placed in charge of the justice system. Truss’ failure is only exacerbated as it comes in the same week that the Lord Chief Justice highlighted the low morale of judges.
Calls for her to resign are warranted, however unlikely they are to be heard. But if Truss is to remain responsible for the functioning and independence of the courts, she already has bridges to rebuild. After all, how can the judiciary, and the legal profession for that matter, have any faith or trust in their Lord Chancellor now? As the Law Society president, Robert Bourns, said today, attacking judges for simply doing their jobs ‘does our country no credit’ and government ministers must be ‘unequivocal in their support for the rule of law’ even if they disagree with the judgment.
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal