13:27, January 02 271 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-02 13:27:04
Michael Howard’s way out of line on the judiciary

Michael Howard claimed on the Today programme that the judges of the supreme court distorted the law and exceeded their powers when they decided that the prime minister’s attempt to prorogue parliament in September was unlawful (Report, 28 December). Howard’s claim is untenable. The decision was made unanimously by all 11 judges. It was expressed in a carefully reasoned judgment citing authorities going back to the 17th century. It has been powerfully supported by other eminent lawyers including Lord Sumption, recently retired from the supreme court but himself a sharp critic of judicial encroachment on the political sphere. Since Howard made his claim he has been robustly rebutted by Lady Hale, retiring president of the court.

Lord Howard is of course entitled to his opinion, but alarm bells are ringing. He is a very senior Tory politician and he echoes the prime minister’s own criticism of the prorogation ruling. The rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange has also just now published a polemic against the judiciary with a foreword by Lord Howard.

The Queen’s speech confirmed the promise in the Conservative election manifesto that a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” would be established by the new government in its first year to “come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates”. Could this be a threat to silence uncooperative judges? Our independent judiciary is a key safeguard of our democracy. We cannot let an authoritarian government undermine it.

Geoffrey Bindman


The supreme court did not thwart the will of parliament nor, as Michael Howard alleges, did it distort the law. Instead it upheld the rights of parliament, firstly in rejecting the attempt by Theresa May to trigger article 50 without the authority of parliament and secondly in thwarting the prorogation of parliament by Boris Johnson without the authority of parliament. And it is significant that the latter decision was made unanimously by 11 justices of the supreme court who among them must hold a wide variety of personal political opinions. They understood the history and nature of parliamentary democracy and the balance between the royal prerogative and the houses of parliament rather better than those current politicians who threaten to change it to suit their convenience.

David Ward

Caldbeck, Cumbria

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