07:24, September 12 232 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-12 07:24:04
Brexit: Kwasi Kwarteng criticised for 'biased judges' comment

A government minister has been criticised for suggesting “many people” think judges are biased in relation to Brexit.

Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng made the remarks after judges at the court of session in Edinburgh branded the suspension of parliament as “unlawful”.

When asked about the Scottish court’s judgment, Kwarteng told the BBC: “Many people are saying – I’m not saying this – but, many people … are saying that the judges are biased.

“The judges are getting involved in politics.

“I think that they are impartial, but I’m saying that many people, many leave voters, many people up and down the country, are beginning to question the partiality of the judges.

Labour MP David Lammy described Kwarteng’s comments as shameful and said the minister had hidden behind “many Leave voters …” to attack the judges. He said: “It is completely wrong for government ministers to actively promote and encourage the subversion of the rule of law.

“Politicians must respect the impartiality of judges, even if they do not like the result of their judgments. If they do not, our liberal democratic system will fall apart.”

Dinah Rose QC, a human rights barrister at Blackstone Chambers, criticised Kwarteng’s remarks as “irresponsible and dangerous”. She said: “Although he has disavowed any personal belief that the Scottish judges are biased, his claim that ‘many people’ think that they are not impartial risks planting the seed of that belief, and has the effect, whether intentional or not, of implying that such a belief is reasonable.”

She added: “Mutual respect between the courts and the government is fundamental to the proper functioning of our democracy. If the government disagrees with the Scottish judgment, it has a right of appeal to the Ssupreme court, which it is currently exercising. If it thinks that the judges were not impartial, it may make that a ground of its appeal. To shy away from such a course, whilst insinuating a lack of impartiality is improper.”

Rose called on the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, to make it clear to all members of the government that such behaviour is “inappropriate, and damaging”.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Menzies Campbell said the comments were ill-judged. “I would expect a government minister to understand the importance of the independence of the judiciary and not make any comments that might undermine public perceptions.”

Susan D Shaw, managing partner, Living Law, Scotland, said: “The rule of law is the bedrock of our society and affects every aspect of our daily lives. Legal judgments – decisions on the law and proven facts – frequently have profound political ramifications. That does not make them political. Rather, that they are above bluster and bullying tactics.

“This government needs to wake up and grasp the basics of our constitution. The ambit of executive discretion is not infinite. They promised the patently undeliverable and have acted as though they were above the law and beyond accountability. Where we are now is simply reality.”