The lord chief justice has stirred the debate over the relationship between the judiciary and other arms of the state by setting out what he sees as the benefit of judges working with 'internal cohesion' within a formal 'governance structure'. In the first part of a promised two-part lecture, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said that such cohesion was essential to court reform - and also to good relations with the legal professions. 


Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd

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His lecture was given at Hebrew University in Jerusalem last Monday but released by the judiciary today. Lord Thomas noted the tenth anniversary of the coming in to force of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, under which the lord chief justice took over from the lord chancellor the role of head of the judiciary. It also established the Judicial Executive Board as part of a reformed governance structure. 

Thomas did not explicitly criticise the current arrangements, but by stressing that the judiciary 'should, as it must, establish internal cohesion and a governance structure', he implied that more rigorous management may be needed. 

Describing the judiciary as the weakest arm of the state, he noted that it is dependent for its financing on the executive and legislature. 'As it is essential for the judiciary to remain above politics and to abstain from any form of lobbying in the press and other media, it does not have available to itself the other means which the other two branches of the state can use to buttress their position. A judiciary that lobbied the media would be one that called into question its ability both to do and be seen to do justice.'

Meanwhile, any signs of dissent within the judiciary's ranks would leave it open to attacks that might erode its independence.

More controversially, Lord Thomas said that cohesion also enabled the revival of judicial activism - in the sense of leading reforms such as computerisation. 'None of this would be possible without the necessary cohesion in the judiciary to agree on the necessary reforms and for leadership and governance in implementation of those reforms.'

Other benefits of strong judicial governance include the ability to develop a strong working relationship between the judiciary and the professions and to be more assertive in relationships with foreign jurisdictions. He noted the judiciary's recent statement raising concerns about threats to judicial independence in Poland. 

A second lecture next month will cover ’the relationship of the judiciary with the other branches of the state, and the media’, Thomas said.