The most senior family judge has stepped into the controversy over press attacks on the judiciary, telling solicitors that judges should not have to justify their rulings – while conjuring a dystopian vision of judges being hauled on to Newsnight to defend themselves.
Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, told a Family Justice Council event yesterday that judges should not be called upon to justify their own cases, or other judges’ cases, except in the context of the Court of Appeal.
Munby said: ‘Judges explain their reasoning in their judgments. They are fair game for comment and criticism however vehemently and harshly expressed. But to challenge a judgment you go to the Court of Appeal.’
Munby’s comments were in response to a question from the audience on the judiciary’s involvement in serious case reviews. Such reviews take place after a child dies or is seriously injured, and abuse or neglect is thought to be involved.
However, his comments are particularly relevant in light of the attacks the judiciary faced from the press and politicians following the High Court’s Brexit ruling last year.
Munby said: ‘The principle that you do not justify your judgments is of importance. If you let that principle go… where does it stop? One will have an MP saying “justify this”, or a journalist saying “justify this”. There will be no end to it.
‘There’s an absolute line. If one crosses that absolute line the potential implications are very serious. You will end up with “why is the judge not prepared to come on Newsnight or Panorama to explain what happened?”.’
Once a serious case review is published, Munby said the judiciary take any lessons to be learned from such reviews on board.
Highlighting successive Family Division presidents’ view that it would be inappropriate for a judge to be involved during the review process, Munby said judges could, however, provide papers when asked.
Munby was speaking during a question and answer session at the inaugural Bridget Lindley annual memorial lecture, hosted by the Family Justice Council and Family Rights Group.