The courts are not “a provider of consumer services” the Lord Chief Justice has insisted.
In a speech at the Palace of Westminster this week, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd stressed the importance of recognising the true status of the legal system in public life, following years of funding cuts and an erosion in the relationship between ministers and the judiciary.
Recent governments, he declared, appeared to have seen the courts as:
“…service providers akin to a utility like water supply, [and] litigants exercising their constitutional right of access to the courts to vindicate their rights, [as] consumers who, like any other consumer, must pay for the service they receive.”
This was wrong, His Lordship said. Instead he called for
“…an understanding by all that the judicial branch is just that: a branch of state, and, crucially, the branch that with parliament secures the rule of law. As such it cannot be confused with, or referred to as, a provider of consumer services.”
Such an understanding necessitated a recognition, he said, that the courts must be funded by the state.
Lord Thomas also cited the infamous ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’ headline in The Daily Mail last November, published in response to a Supreme Court ruling that the government needed a parliamentary vote to trigger Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“Such abuse is corrosive of public confidence in the judiciary and the rule of law and hence the other branches of the state.”
The failure of then Lord Chancellor Liz Truss to defend the judiciary from the hysterical media response to the ruling attracted considerable criticism from the legal profession. The new Lord Chancellor, Tory MP David Lidington, will be sworn into office next week.
Lord Thomas urged him to maintain independence and be ready to resist pressure from the Prime Minister or other members of the Cabinet.