March 4: Judges are not staging a power grab to take over parliament’s role and do not make up law “as we go along”, the new president of UK’s supreme court has told a parliamentary committee.
In a robust defence of judicial independence in the face of government plans to change the UK’s constitution, Lord Reed of Allermuir warned that US-style confirmation hearings to select judges on the basis of their political views would be “really intolerable”.
It was the first appearance by Reed and the deputy supreme court president, Lord Hodge, before the House of Lords constitution committee since their appointment at the beginning of the year.
They have taken up their roles at a sensitive political moment with the Johnson government promising two commissions on legal affairs, one aimed at reviewing criminal justice and a more wide-ranging constitution, democracy and rights commission.
Few details of either commission’s scope, personnel, timing or ultimate aims have emerged. Some fear they will merely enable the government to exact revenge for its two Brexit-related landmark defeats in the supreme court involving article 50 and the prime minister’s attempt to prorogue parliament.
Shortly before being made attorney general, the Conservative MP and Brexiter Suella Braverman wrote an article on the Conservative Home website urging the government to “take back control” from an interfering judiciary.
Asked at the constitution committee on Wednesday about such alleged behaviour, Reed insisted that “It’s not a power grab by us.”
Judges, he said, were merely giving effect to legislation, including the Human Rights Act, previously passed by parliament.
“We don’t make it up as we go along,” he told the committee. He said it may be true that judges are considering matters they wouldn’t have looked at 100 or 50 years ago but that was because parliament has “given the courts the duty of enforcing laws which reflect a constitutional culture which is not the traditional constitutional culture”.