Soon-to-retire Lord Chief Justice absolutely slammed Liz Truss in parliament this morning

Lawyers question whether his outburst was unprecedented

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, went on a bit of a mad one this morning.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee on, for example, judicial recruitment and legal aid, Thomas laid into the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, in a way barrister Tim Storrie suggested is unprecedented.

So what exactly did he say? First of all, Thomas launched an excoriating attack against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), of which Truss is the head, and its approach to the introduction of pre-recorded evidence in criminal trials.

Late last week, it was announced rape victims would be spared in-court cross-examination and could instead put forward evidence recorded in advance.

Though widely reported, Thomas said the MoJ “misunderstood” what was actually being debuted (a small pilot, not a countrywide change of practice). He also admitted he had to write to judges to explain the true position, which he described as “time-consuming”. The MoJ demonstrated “a complete failure to understand the impracticalities” of all this; “very troubling,” he concluded.

How Lord Thomas actually looked this morning

But that wasn’t all. When asked by Lord Brennan, a Matrix Chambers barrister, about the press’ reaction to the Brexit legal challenge, Thomas let rip.

Justice Secretary Truss took some flack last year for failing to defend the judiciary against scathing media headlines. The Cabinet minister has since defended her actions, or rather inaction, by saying she was not prepared to tell newspapers what they should write in their headlines.

Truss, in Thomas’ words, is:

[C]ompletely and utterly wrong in the view she takes… We must maintain a free press… but there is a difference between criticism and abuse, and I don’t think that is understood. I don’t think it’s understood either how absolutely essential it is that we are protected.

The judiciary itself could not have spoken out against the media, he told the select committee today, without plunging itself “into political controversy”, so it really was Truss’ job and her duty.

Thomas also candidly revealed today he sought advice from the police during the Brexit litigation turmoil. This was the first time he had to do this in his judicial career. It’s “very wrong” judges had to fear for their safety in this way, he said.

An outburst from the head of the judiciary like this is undeniably shocking and unusual. However, with the Lord Chief Justice due to retire later this year, perhaps this anti-Truss scathe came about thanks to a burst of pre-retirement confidence?

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23 Comments

Scouse Counsel ("Scounsel")

He’s right. The MOJ are an incompetent shower of clueless idiots who have not the slightest idea of what they are going. Truss is stupid and, in any event, is so uninterested in the role of LC that she’ll probably just brush off the unprecedented move of a LCJ feeling her collar.

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Just Anonymous

The point is this: there is a distinction between attacking judicial decisions and attacking the judges themselves.

The former is fine. Court judgments are public precisely so we can scrutinise and criticise them.

However, attacking the good faith and integrity of the judges themselves is completely different. When that happens, the Lord Chancellor has a constitutional duty to defend the judiciary. And by defend, I mean speak up for them and put into the public domain why the criticism is utterly wrong and misguided. No-one is suggesting the press should actually be censored or otherwise punished (so the ‘free press’ line the government trots out to justify Truss’ inaction is a complete red herring.)

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Anonymous

I think some of it was valid criticism of judges personal pro EU bias based on projects they had undertaken and supported in the past, and the pro EU law related positions they had held eg Lord Carnwarth, Lord Reed.

The need for impartiality was the point that was being made, these are fair points to be made. Judges with analogous links to say, a defendant or victim / claimant in any other trial would be asked to stand down.

However, headlines drawing attention to this particular issue was done in an irresponsible way.

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Just Anonymous

The same Lord Carnwrath and Lord Reed who dissented on the main issue, concluding that the PM could trigger Article 50 without Parliament’s permission?

I don’t think citing them is really the strongest argument in favour of legitimate judicial bias…

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Ciaran Goggins

Welsh windbag? He got it right over cross examination and false rape allegations. As to Judges being not targetted, that has changed.

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Anonymous

You must have an axe to grind here; did he shout at you once? Even if he did, I would have thought that the amazing job he did on securing massive forward funding for UK legal, especially at a time of significant cut-backs, alone, justifies your hurt feelings.

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Not Amused

I don’t want to enter in to some silly binary debate where just because I criticise John Thomas, I am supporting Liz Truss. I am not. Truss is indefensible.

But John Thomas is part of a very short line (since the 2005 Act) of LCJs who have not done, nor even been seen to consciously acknowledge, their actual job.

His outburst I find comic. It is perfectly normal for those who imagine they are terribly important to be stunned and shocked when they discover the way the world actually views them. People who take themselves seriously are setting themselves up for failure.

What is more important than Truss (who will I suspect, not trouble us long), or hurt feelings over Daily Mail chip paper, is the running of the Courts in England and Wales. This has been, during John’s tenancy (as it was in Igor and Nick’s) a total disaster. All three of these brave crusaders have failed to do *anything* to reform the service. All 3 of them have watched it slide from incompetence in to words (truthful words) I would be criticised for using in public.

Perhaps I should give a crib sheet of questions for John’s retirement roasting:
– what’s the average time to trial in Civil, Family or Crime John?
– what’s the average cost of both parties as a proportion of damages awarded to both parties?
– how many of your courts have answering machines or call waiting John?
– how many a functioning fax machine or e-mail which is checked?
– how many judges do we have?
– how many do we need?
– how many court hours are lost due to negligence by HMCTS?
– when will we have to start compensating lay people for wasted legal costs incurred as a result of such cock ups?
– how many people do HMCTS employ?
– what are each of their jobs?
– where can cuts be made in order to fund frontline services?

And just in case he tries to blame others – how many times have you let the public know there is a problem John? (If he does try to blame Truss, do feel free to ask him how many times he has stated in public that the LC needs to be a lawyer and should be in the HoL)

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Interloper

Tenure woman ! TENURE !

Not tenancy – he would have finished his TENANCY when he moved to the bench.

As for all these questions, they’re all out there – if you care to look. I doubt “John” has memorised the answers to all of them – why would he ?!

And as usual, I have absolutely no idea what point(s) you are trying to make. You are a baffling entity indeed…

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Gladiatrix

I think the points NA is making are perfectly clear:

There are huge delays in getting a case into the courts, which the LCJ has done nothing to address during his term of office.
Damages awards bear no relation to costs actually incurred, which the LCJ etc etc
The judiciary is undermanned, which the LCJ …………
HMCTS gets away scot and lot free with mismanaging the courts, which the LCJ …………
What happens when someone who has been messed around by HMCTS decides to sue and where will the money to pay the compensation which will be awarded come from? The LCJ must have been aware …………..
HMCTS has a staffing issue which should be addressed, and the LCJ ………….
Given the LCJ could have addressed the Select Committee at any time why didn’t he raise all these issues and ask for money to do something about them?

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Anonymous

I would much rather live in a country in which newspapers were free to attack public figures with power and responsibility – which includes judges, particularly senior judges – in intemperate (but lawful) terms rather than self-censor for fear of retaliation by politicians, including the Justice Secretary.

I very much doubt that judges care about newspaper attacks on senior civil servants, agency and quango heads, high ranking police officers, prominent business people or holders of any other significant but non-elected position. They’re all fair game. In many cases the assaults in the press these people suffer can’t be effectively countered because the targets can’t speak out (as with judges) or important explanatory facts must stay confidential.

So why should judges be different? There’s no moral or legal cordon around the judiciary that places them off-limits when the papers want to disapprove – critically or abusively – of them or their judgments.

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Alan M Dransfield

I agree full with the Lord Chief Justice and Truss cannot be trusted and she is a Legal Ignoramuys anyway. She should not be in that position in the first place. One of the biggest problems at the moment is the attack upon the FOIA which is a wider conspiracy involving the ICO and Upper Tribunal and rogue PA’s Nationwide who are unlawfully using section 14 -1 of the FOIA 2000 ie vexatious exemption. I am the UK leading Court Precedent on VEXATIOUS via GIA/3037/2011 Dransfield v ICO. This Vexatious BS Dransfield decision is a tool designed by crooks to protect crook and assit the passage of fraud and theft of public funds and to Gag Joe Public.

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