Select Committee on Constitution Sixth Report


Extract from oral evidence given to the House of Commons' Constitutional Affairs Committee, 4 July 2006

Q250 Jeremy Wright: Although you are no longer head of the judiciary, we know that you still have an interest in the judiciary and are responsible for what happens there. We also know that what has happened in the press recently has been a very public and apparent argument between politicians and members of the judiciary. Does it concern you that as a result of that very public spat the public may take a different view of judges and lose a degree of confidence in them?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think you are wrong to say that the problem was necessarily a spat between the Government and judges. What has been happening over a period of time is that a lot of people have been saying that part of the problem in relation to sentencing is the judges. A variety of parts of the media has been explicitly critical in blaming the judges for a number of things that have happened in sentencing. I believe that that has had an impact in undermining confidence in the judiciary. Separately from that, there have been reports of rows between the judges and the executive. I should make it clear that neither the judges nor the executive wants such rows, nor do they believe that there is any such row going on between them. They are both as concerned as they could be to ensure that public confidence in the judiciary is maintained. But it goes deeper than that. If people think there are rows going on between different bits of the state that undermines their confidence in the ability of the state as a whole to deal with the problems that it has to face, for example terrorism and crime.

Q251 Jeremy Wright: Do you accept that clearly the judges are worried about this? Several senior judges have expressed concerns about politicians—I do not refer specifically to the Government but politicians generally—interfering in judicial matters and making comments upon decisions in individual cases. Do you not believe that that is causing a potential problem of public confidence?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Judges have been careful not to criticise politicians at any stage. I have made comments to the effect that the judges should not be made the whipping boys for various problems. For example, the other day there was a rather graphic piece in either the Daily Telegraph or The Times in which a judge said that it might be time for him to resign and go off into the Thames or something like that. Earlier in the same article it was said that an unnamed part-time judge was thinking of resigning. I know of such judge. I know of no judges who are thinking of resigning because of that. Everybody involved, judges and executive alike, is concerned to ensure that confidence is not lost but equally is aware that these events occur from time to time and the important thing is to cool the temperature, identify the policy issues and get on with solving them.

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