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Comments by Sanwar Ali:
We do not always think that judges act fairly. There is a habit amongst certain judges of being more concerned about making sure that their judgements are not over turned than the actual truth! Whatever Boris Johnson may say, there are plenty of judges that also seem to be biased in favour of government officials. In addition, numerous studies have shown that the ability to tell who is telling the truth is much rarer than people like to think. The Secret Barrister covers failures of justice in the legal system in more detail.
Whatever the failures are in the legal system, Boris Johnson trying to influence judges simply because he does not agree with their judgements is not acceptable behaviour. The Home Office has a bad reputation for not following the law. It is not being particularly “left wing” to say so. We need the protection of lawyers and judges in this situation.
The UK Supreme Court’s top judge has blasted UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and the Home Office over claims that ‘activist’ immigration lawyers are undermining efforts to tackle migrant Channel crossings. Lord Reed, the Supreme Court’s new president, said: ‘lawyers representing migrant asylum seekers are not activists, they’re simply doing their job.’
Reed condemned Patel’s inflammatory comments and defended lawyers who are ‘ensuring that their clients receive lawful treatment and the treatment they are entitled to under UK law.’
The Supreme Court’s top judge criticised a Home Office video, posted in August, which branded lawyers representing Channel crossing migrants as ‘activists.’ Reed said, the video is ‘unfortunate’, but did state that the government had acknowledged that the video was an error of judgement.
Lord Reed comments on BBC interview
However, Reed’s comments, made during a BBC interview, could put him on a collision course with the government. Westminster has recently launched a review of the role of judges, following claims made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and government ministers that they are ‘at risk of doing politics by other means.’
The review follows a Supreme Court ruling in October 2019, which determined that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the run-up to the Brexit deadline, was unlawful.
Lord Reed said: “What we are doing isn’t activism. It’s giving effect to the law. The fact that some of the topics can be politically sensitive is something which we cannot allow to deter us from applying the law which Parliament has enacted. That’s what we’re here for.”
Politicians lack understanding of role of the courts
The Supreme Court judge claimed that some politicians lack understanding over the role of the courts and that many are ‘suspicious’ of judges’ motives.
“Some of the reaction to the judgments that we gave relating to actions the government was taking in the course of the Brexit negotiations revealed a lack of understanding of what our role was or how we operate – and perhaps a degree of suspicion of what our motives might be,” Lord Reed said.
Amid the lack of understanding among politicians, Lord Reed is now exploring with Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, ‘how to try and bring members of Parliament into greater contact with judges of the Supreme Court, giving them the opportunity to question them and discuss how the court operates when determining the outcome of cases.’
When challenged over whether judges were interfering in politics, Lord Reed responded: “We don't do politics. We do decide legal questions that have important political ramifications that can have important political consequences, but the issue we decide is a strictly legal issue.”
Activist lawyers remark corrosive
Despite withdrawing the comment, Priti Patel’s ‘activist’ lawyers remark has been described as ‘corrosive’ by Lord Reed who said: “The comment risks having a corrosive effect on attitudes toward judges.”
“There’s no question of people being activist simply because they are doing their job to see their clients are not treated unlawfully and receive the treatment that they are entitled to by law,” Lord Reed added.
Succeeding Lady Hale, Lord Reed has criticised the lack of diversity among the 12 Supreme Court justices, where only two are women and none are from an ethic minority background. Reed said: “This is a situation that cannot be allowed to become shameful if it persists.”
When asked when there might be a justice from a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) background, Lord Reed responded: “I hope that will be before I retire, which is in six years’ time.”
Barrister Alexandra Wilson suffered race discrimination
Lord Reed’s comments concerning a lack of diversity among Supreme Court justices comes following the recent, shameful treatment of black barrister, Alexandra Wilson. The barrister was mistaken for a defendant three times in one morning at a magistrates’ court.
When asked about a judge of South Asian descent, who was mistaken for being a court clerk on numerous occasions, Lord Reed said: “That is down to ignorance and unconscious bias, which has to be addressed by the courts service.”
Diversity in the upper echelons of the Supreme Court has been a major issue and has often been labelled as ‘stale, male and pale.’ Currently, just 4% of senior judges appointed to the High Court or above are from BAME backgrounds.
Among lower court judges, the figure rises to 8%, while among tribunal judges, the figure is 12%, representing a 2% increase in both cases compared to 2014.
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