Analysis

The Telegraph and the Mail misguidely go after Lord Neuberger

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Have they not read his speeches?

neuberger

Several newspapers have turned on Supreme Court chief Lord Neuberger after unearthing some pro-EU tweets made by his wife, with calls being made over the weekend for him to stand down from the Article 50 appeal.

The irony, as readers of Neuberger’s speeches will be well aware, is that the head of the Supreme Court has a record of sensitivity to populist sentiment and could even help to deliver the final Brexit ruling that The Telegraph and the Daily Mail crave.

Tweeting before the vote, TV producer Angela Holdsworth (aka Lady Neuberger) described the referendum as “mad and bad” and suggested that Brexit is “just a protest vote”. Other tweets include:

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Citing a section of the Supreme Court’s judicial code of conduct that states that the judges “will bear in mind that political activity by a close member of a justice’s family might raise concern in a particular case about the judge’s own impartiality and detachment from the political process”, a couple of Tory MPs reckon Neuberger’s position in next month’s Brexit case is “compromised”.

The Supreme Court has since released a statement affirming that:

Justices’ spouses are fully entitled to express personal opinions, including on issues of the day. Lady Neuberger’s passing comments on Twitter have absolutely no bearing on Lord Neuberger’s ability to determine the legal questions in this case impartially, according to the law of the land.

What has so far gone unmentioned in the row is Neuberger’s well-known record of expressing opinions that are sympathetic to anti-establishment views. Indeed, Inns of Court scuttlebutt indicates that he’s one of the judges who’d be more inclined to make a pragmatic call in the Brexit case rather than try to enforce the letter of the law.

Previously Neuberger has criticised globalisation and technology for “concentrating wealth in the hands of relatively few very rich individuals” and warned that political correctness risked creating a “censoriousness about what views people can publicly air”. He has also described “freedom only to speak inoffensively” as “a freedom not worth having”.

Anyone looking for an insight into his thinking should read this 2014 lecture he delivered — which in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump’s US election win is spookily prescient.

Neuberger’s background, although privileged, is also markedly different to most top judges. Very unusually for a senior member of the judiciary he has experienced real failure, having as a young man not made the grade as a scientist and also seen a brief spell as a banker not work out. Turning to law, which he studied by doing a nine-month conversion course, the low-on-confidence young Neuberger was then turned down for an entry-level position three times, only managing to land a junior barrister job on his fourth attempt.

Although Neuberger’s career has soared since then, as he became a QC in 1987 and moved into the judiciary soon after, those who know him say that the difficulties he encountered in his 20s have stayed with him — and mark him out from some of his rather aloof colleagues.

At a time when there are growing concerns about loss of public confidence in the judiciary, it would be bad news for the country if the Supreme Court justice closest to the people was sidelined.