A former Court of Appeal judge has stoked the debate about judicial independence by suggesting that rules preventing judges from speaking about their role fuel media and public distrust of the criminal justice system.
In a report published today, Sir Alan Moses, who sat on cases including that of the Soham murderer Ian Huntley, calls for a rethink of the view that 'the best way for judges to command respect and avoid ignorant criticism, and even abuse, was to maintain silence'.
Allowing freer speech, he states, might not altogether end ignorant criticisms of the judiciary - but 'the ignorance of the criticism would be all the more apparent'.
Moses was introducing a collection of essays titled 'Rethinking judicial independence', published by the campaign group Transform Justice. The report calls for an 'open-ended' debate on opening up the judiciary.
The reports' authors call particular attention to rules preventing magistrates from engaging in civic society - to the detriment of public understanding of justice. Penelope Gibbs director of Transform Justice, says: 'Magistrates have gradually been stopped from participating in forums where local criminal justice matters are discussed. They used to be on local probation boards and sat on community safety partnerships (CSPs), but the former no longer exists and magistrates were banned from the latter in 2012.'
She adds: 'Perhaps most absurdly of all, magistrates are banned from being married to particular people, while no such ban appears to apply to paid judges.'
A contribution from 'an anonymous magistrate' states: 'The senior judiciary should support magistrates to retain their independence instead of looking down from their ivory towers and occasionally throwing them crumbs off of their learned table.'
Gibbs proposes a policy-making project to include questions about what judicial independence is and what it should be. This would involve engagement with citizens, practitioners, court users, journalists, academics, and criminal justice agencies as well as judges, and produce a draft policy paper for public consultation.