Wales’ law officer has weighed in to defend judicial independence, pledging to safeguard the ‘integrity’ of the nation’s developing judicial system following media attacks.
Counsel general for Wales Mick Antoniw’s intervention came as the lord chief justice revealed he sought police protection after being dubbed an ‘enemy of the people’ by the Daily Mail. Antoniw also echoed Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd in condemning lord chancellor Liz Truss for failing adequately to defend judges against the media’s ‘casual disregard’ for the rule of law.
In a written statement headed ‘independence of the Welsh tribunals’, Antoniw stressed that ministers have no role in the various tribunals defined in the Wales Act 2017. These include the mental health review and residential property tribunals.
He said: ‘References to our courts, our judges and judicial system by the use of phrases such as “bad judges”, “kangaroo court”, “unelected judges”, “enemies of the people” have been published in newspapers, in social media and in public commentary which collectively have the effect of undermining the fundamental principles of the rule of law which underpin our democratic system of government and administration of justice.
‘As the Welsh judicial system continues to develop and grow, and as we move in due course to a more distinct legal jurisdiction, further reform of the administration of justice will become necessary.’
He added: ‘It will increasingly be a test of [the Welsh Assembly]’s maturity as a legislature and parliament that it recognises and understands the importance of the independence of its judicial institutions and the principles on which they are founded and operate. It is equally important that our judicial institutions know that they command the confidence of the legislature and the people of Wales and that they are defended from political interference, unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks and criticism in the exercise of their public responsibilities.’