The ministerial statement on appointing judges specifically to administer deportations to Rwanda amounts to 'treating judges like cattle under the direction of the executive', the leader of the bar said today.

Opening his arm of the profession's annual conference, Sam Townend KC made a plea for the next government to commit to the rule of law as well as boosting resources for a justice system in which 'public confidence is shot'.

Sam Townend KC

Townend: system 'in a parlous state'

Source: Michael Cross

Today, the part of the system that depends on government support is 'in a parlous state', Townend said. As a solution, he presented the Bar Council's eight-point 'manifesto for justice'.  

Townend called for 'investment in all parts of the justice system sufficient to secure a sustainable and resilient system. One that commands public trust and confidence'. He stressed the Bar Council’s call for a Royal Commission 'to remove the issue from the hurly burly of daily politics and the reductive effect on policy thinking of the tired repeat accusation and counter accusation of "soft on crime".'

However he noted that a commitment to the rule of law 'costs nothing yet is highly significant'. He cited recent illustrations of such respect being under threat. 'Just this year we have had legislation that, in one instance, reverses a finding of fact of the Supreme Court, and in another, removes from the Court of Appeal and gives to parliament and a minister the power to determine the safety of criminal convictions. These are truly undesirable precedents,' he said. 

'In one sense worst of all, as parliament had no involvement,  we have had a ministerial statement identifying an intention to appoint 150 more judges for the specific purpose of administering the Rwanda legislation, including stating that those judges are to work weekends and evenings – in effect treating judges like cattle under the direction of the executive.'

Townend also repeated the bar's warning about media attacks on the legal profession. Such attacks 'undermine trust and confidence in the justice system at home and abroad. The damage this has on our global reputation, soft power and our ability to influence in the world should not be understated.'


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