The justice secretary has urged Britain’s top judges to launch a media offensive to explain the importance of an independent judiciary, saying they will face tougher public scrutiny after Brexit.
Liz Truss, who was criticised last year for failing to stand up for High Court judges after the Daily Mail labelled them “enemies of the people”, warned the judiciary that the attack by the media was a sign of things to come.
She said that once the UK left the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the Supreme Court would become the final court of appeal and its judgments would receive “even greater attention”.
Ms Truss told the Financial Times that she would support the judiciary after it left the authority of the ECJ by “explaining the judicial role in the constitution and continuing to defend [its] independence”. She added that she would encourage judges to “speak out about the important work they do to ensure that it is widely understood”.
“Rules about judges not being able to speak out were abolished in the 1980s,” Ms Truss, who is also the lord chancellor, told a House of Lords inquiry this month. “There is a bit of demystifying to do,” she said.
However, although judges are now able to speak publicly, they are not allowed to discuss individual court cases or comment on politics.
She said all judges needed to build trust with the public after the legal battle over triggering Article 50, adding they must “feel free to talk about what they do and explain it to the public”.
Ms Truss was attacked last year for a delayed show of support for an independent judiciary after High Court judges were pilloried for insisting that Theresa May, the prime minister, needed parliamentary consent to start the Article 50 exit process.
The lord chancellor told the Lords inquiry: “I will always speak out and say how important having an independent judiciary is. I might respectfully disagree with some who have asked me to condemn what the press is writing.”
Ms Truss said the public were more aware of the importance of a free press in a democracy than the equally important role played by an independent judiciary and said sometimes there was “a reticence” from judges to explain their role.
US President Donald Trump’s onslaught on the US judiciary in recent weeks, following the legal block on his proposed travel ban, has underscored a sense that judges are no longer above the political fray.
The Judicial Communications Office refused to comment.
Additional reporting by Jane Croft
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