Legal profession takes centre stage in constitutional crisis as Liz Truss left exposed
An extraordinary weekend has seen the legal profession unite to force Lord Chancellor Liz Truss to back the Brexit judges — only for her limp statement to cause Prime Minister Theresa May to intervene
The saga began on Friday with various lawyers using Twitter to ask why Truss had failed to condemn that morning’s tabloid newspaper attacks on the three top judges who ruled against the government in Thursday’s Brexit legal challenge hearing.
During the course of the afternoon Guardian columnist Polly Toynee asked “Where’s Liz Truss?” and reminded her followers that the Justice Secretary’s constitutional role “requires her to uphold rule of law and defend judiciary”. A hashtag soon formed.
— J. W. Dent (@dentjw) November 4, 2016
By Saturday morning the #WhereisLizTruss had been wholeheartedly seized upon by the legal Twitterati.
Surely it shouldn't be necessary for the Lord Chancellor to have to be shamed into defending judicial independence? #wheresliztruss
— Sean Jones (@seanjonesqc) November 5, 2016
And by lunchtime it was viral as celebs got involved.
#whereisLizTruss? Her failure to defend the judiciary shames her office.
— Rory Bremner (@rorybremner) November 5, 2016
Scenting blood, the Bar Council — whose members were by coincidence convened in a meeting on Saturday — scrambled together to pass a quick resolution “calling on the Lord Chancellor to condemn the recent attacks on the judiciary as a matter of urgency” as it expressed “regret” at “the lack of public statement”.
At 1:30pm the press release appeared as the lead story on the BBC News website.
— The Bar Council (@thebarcouncil) November 5, 2016
And, hey presto, just before quarter past two the Ministry of Justice tweeted this statement from Truss.
Statement from the Lord Chancellor Elizabeth Truss pic.twitter.com/zUpnoumFi2
— Ministry of Justice (@MoJGovUK) November 5, 2016
Then things got really interesting…
Rather than accept Truss’s words, Bar Council chair Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC told the BBC she would have expected the Lord Chancellor to make a clearer statement on the “unprecedented” attack which “undermines the rule of law in this country”.
Other lawyers went further, albeit under the cloak of pseudonyms…
— DefenceGirl (@DefenceGirl) November 5, 2016
Cowardly, mealy-mouthed, vapid non-comment by a paperweight politician wildly out of her depth. Liz Truss might as well have stayed silent. pic.twitter.com/C4iaoRvSXW
— The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) November 5, 2016
The day ended, slightly surreally, with the crime writer son of the late top judge and constitutional law guru Lord Bingham revealing on his blog that his dad would have “used the word ‘fuck’ quite a lot more” in relation to Truss’s handling of the situation.
Things settled down on Sunday as the potential seriousness of the rift between the judiciary and the government perhaps gave lawyers cause to reflect.
One of the calmer heads throughout the weekend has been legal commentator and honorary QC Joshua Rozenberg, who noted on Facebook that while he believed the Brexit judges had reached the right decision, he had previously “thought the claimants might not win because the judges might be wary of attracting opprobrium, fearing the damage it would cause to public confidence in the judiciary”.
I also think it’s tremendously important for the judges to maintain public confidence. If that goes we’re all lost.
Doubtless aware of this danger, Theresa May entered the debate on Sunday evening to back the judiciary (and the tabloids), commenting in a statement:
I believe in and value the independence of our judiciary. I also value the freedom of our press. I think these both underpin our democracy and they are important. Of course the judges will look at the legal arguments. We think we have strong legal arguments and we will be taking those arguments to the Supreme Court.