Neuberger: attacks on judges undermine rule of law

The president of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, has spoken about the attacks on the judiciary made in the heat of the Article 50 case.

The Daily Mail ran a front page headline describing the Hugh Court judges who ruled the government did not have the power to unilaterally trigger Article 50 as ‘Enemies of the People‘.

“I think some of the things that were said risked undermining the judiciary, and unfairly undermining the judiciary, and therefore undermining the rule of law,” Neuberger told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.

“If you have a free press these things can happen and to pretend it’s the end of civilisation, when these things happen once or twice, is wrong. If it became standard practice then I would be worried.”

Asked whether politicians had reacted quickly enough to defend the judiciary from attacks by the media, Neuberger said: “As far as the decision in the Supreme Court is concerned, the politicians reacted with exemplary speed and said, in my view, exactly what they should have said.”

“When the divisional court had given its judgement before that, I think the politicians acted slower than one would have hoped, and perhaps expressed themselves rather more pallidly than one would have hoped. But to be fair to politicians, like judges, they learn and after the Supreme Court decision they acted precisely as they should have done.”

Asked if the Supreme Court’s decision on the Article 50 case was evidence that judges were ‘out of touch’ with the county, Neuberger said: “We were doing what our job requires us to do which was taking a case which has been brought to court and dealing with it according to the law, and answering the issues that were presented to us in accordance with the law. To say that makes us out of touch I think misses the whole point of our function, which is to uphold the rule of law.”

Lord Neuberger retires this September, while the retirement of Lord Toulson last year, and the upcoming retirements of Lords Clarke, Mance, Hughes and Sumption before the end of 2018 mean there will be a series of vacancies to be filled on the Supreme Court. Applications to fill the first vacancies opened today.