Media coverage of Policy Exchange’s panel on ‘Criticism and Accountability in Judging’

November 30, 2016


Conservative Home: “Policy Exchange, with its Judicial Power Project, is setting the pace. Others need to keep up.”


Recent controversy on judging the legality of Brexit and the role the media should play in holding the judiciary to account was at the centre of Policy Exchange’s seminar held Monday with Rt Hon Lord Hope KT, Rt Hon Lord Howard QC CH, Charles Moore, and Joshua Rozenberg.

The panel debated media scrutiny of the judiciary, the controversial comments made in Malaysia by Rt Hon Lady Hale of the Supreme Court, the handling of the media’s response to the Miller case by Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, and the tweeting of Lady Neuberger, wife of the President of the Supreme Court.

Following the event, The Daily Telegraph reported on Lord Howard’s comments in defence of media scrutiny of the judiciary. Lord Howard said, ‘The fact that the judiciary is not in any conventional sense accountable to anyone makes it all the more important that it should not in any sense be immune from criticism, however robust.’

The Guardian focused instead on the defence of the judiciary made by Lord Hope, describing the event with the words: ‘Supreme Court’s former deputy Lord Hope makes forceful defence of justices ahead of next week’s article 50 appeal hearing.’ Lord Hope had argued on the panel that the ‘wounding’ attacks on judges were ‘bad for democracy’. The Guardian also reported Charles Moore’s criticism of Supreme Court judges for a lack of diversity, in particular that ‘the great majority of judges are very pro-human rights and pro-Europe.’ At Policy Exchange, Moore had asked: ‘Is there enough diversity of opinion on the Supreme Court? They should be independent of one another — or is it group think?’

The Daily Mail, which has been at the centre of controversy over the extent to which judges should be criticised, described the event with the headline: ‘Michael Howard offers heartfelt defence of the Press and tells judges to toughen up’. The former Leader of the Conservative Party described how there was a danger the judiciary were involved in a ‘grab for power’, and that a free media was a necessary means to prevent this. Lord Howard remarked, ‘I don’t often quote with approval the president of the European Court of Justice, but he said in an interview – “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. I think that is a maxim that we should all take to heart.’

For Conservative Home, Henry Hill explained that the panel discussion was split between ‘two unofficial “sides”, with Lord Howard and Charles Moore on the one and Lord Hope and Joshua Rozenberg on the other.’ A key point of contention was that in Lord Howard’s experience, ‘judges tend to be personally disposed towards the European model of judicial governance and against executive power’, with the danger that this ‘creates a “mindset” which leads to the interpretation of statute in ways not intended by Parliament.’ Paul Goodman also wrote on the event, arguing that judges are in danger of losing touch with the common law tradition, and describing Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project as therefore ‘setting the pace’ in tracking this trend, for which ‘others need to keep up’.

The Sun framed the Policy Exchange event as asking the question of who is to have the last word in our democracy. As Lord Howard remarked: ‘Is it to be our elected representatives in Parliament, accountable to voters, or is it to be the judges, accountable to no one?’

A video of the event is available here.

Join our mailing list