Lord chancellor Robert Buckland has denied that the government wants to reform the Supreme Court as ‘revenge’ for last year’s prorogation ruling.
Giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights yesterday, Buckland was asked by committee chair and solicitor MP Harriet Harman why he thought the Supreme Court needs to be reformed.
The Sunday Telegraph reported last weekend that ministers were discussing renaming the court and cutting the number of permanent justices on its bench. Judges with specialist knowledge would be brought in to hear individual cases.
Buckland said: ‘I’m not going to comment about a report in a Sunday newspaper. What I can say is that as part of our manifesto commitment, we committed to looking at all aspects of our constitution. That would include the result of the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act...
‘I’m not about wholescale dismantling and revolution here. What I’m all about is making sure… relations between our senior appellate courts and the rest of the constitution is in the healthiest possible place.'
Buckland said the notion that the review was some sort of revenge is ‘wrong’. ‘To debase any debate or consideration of changes of policy on revenge would be frankly infantile and unworthy of anybody who either holds my office or who has the responsibility of making decisions in government,' he added.
He wanted to protect the Supreme Court ‘from the nightmare scenario of a US-style appointment system’.
Harman questioned who the judges need protecting from. ‘You’re saying we’ve got to protect them against something the government would be the only people in the position to do... Why would they need to be protected against the government?’
Buckland said: 'The question that I think is entirely legitimate to ask is that we make sure there is a respect for comity at all times, mutual respect between the different arms of the constitution’.
Supreme Court judges ‘resist any roaming across the constitutional savannah perhaps we see in other jurisdictions,’ he said. ‘What I’m saying is, looking ahead... I want to ensure we do not either intentionally or unintentionally proceed down a path that will lead to a political process that allows parliamentarians to cross-question and select members of that or any other court within our jurisdiction. I think it is my job to protect the judiciary from that scenario.’
On the Faulks probe of judicial review, Buckland said no one believed judicial review should be ‘politics by another means’.
The SNP's Joanna Cherry QC pointed out that a legal decision might have political consequences ‘but that does not mean to say it’s a political decision’.
Buckland replied: ‘None of us are saying that judges are making decisions based upon a political view or opinion they may have. But I think there’s a risk that because judges are being placed in the political arena, that decisions they make based upon the law… are increasingly being seen as having a political tint.’
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