The lord chief justice has condemned attacks on ‘activist lawyers’ by politicians and described how the independence of the judiciary was ‘an essential hallmark of a society governed by the rule of law’. Speaking to the House of Commons’ Justice Committee, Lord Burnett of Maldon was responding to Sir Robert Neill’s observations about recent comments made by senior members of the government about the role of the judiciary. You read Zohra Nabi’s report on home secretary Priti Patel’s attack on the legal profession as ‘lefty lawyers’ and ‘do-gooders’.
In his opening remarks, the head of the judiciary highlighted the importance of the independence of the judicial branch of government from the executive branch. Burnett quoted the former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine by saying ‘that when you get a decision that favours you, you do not clap. And when you get one that goes against you, you don’t boo’.
‘Lawyers have got a duty to act fairly for their clients, subject always to their overriding professional obligations and duty to the courts,’ Burnett said. ‘They shouldn’t be subject to criticism for doing so. A general attack on the legal profession in my view undermines the rule of law.’
Last month Cavan Medlock was charged with an alleged attack at pone of the largest legal aid firms in the country Duncan Lewis. Charges include threatening to kill a director at the firm and threatening a solicitor with a blade/sharply pointed article in a public place.
He added that that is it was ‘a strength of our mature democracy… that such debates can occur’ against the government of the day. The government’s attack on the legal profession, Burnett noted was a ‘general attack on the integrity’ of lawyers. He made clear that his comments were not to ‘immunise the individual conduct of lawyers from criticism’ but called attention to the fact that ‘identifiable individual failings… do not begin to justify a general attack upon the integrity of a group of lawyers’.
Condemned by both members of the legal profession and humanitarian organisations such as Amnesty International, the comments made by members of the government have not been retracted.