Lawyers slam “cowardly” Truss for not defending judges branded “enemies of the people”

updated on 14 November 2016

Lawyers and sane people have heavily criticised Lord Chancellor Liz Truss after she failed to defend the integrity and independence of the judiciary after three judges were branded “enemies of the people” by the right wing press.

The Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express all attacked the three high court judges who ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May and her government cannot trigger the formal process of Brexit without the scrutiny and input of parliament. The newspapers’ attempts to stir up further hatred and distrust of the democratic process was irresponsible, and prompted Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, to describe the attacks as “chilling and outrageous” and “smacking of the fascist state”. Another Conservative MP and campaigner for Brexit, Stephen Phillips, resigned with immediate effect because of May’s attempts to circumvent parliament and the lack of action from senior figures in her government to stop the poisoning of public debate.

Truss, the lord chancellor, came in for the heaviest criticism for her refusal to condemn the Daily Mail’s “enemies of the people” diatribe when called upon to urgently do so by bodies and individuals across the legal profession. When she did eventually respond, it was not to criticise the coverage or explicitly defend the judges, but just to state the “independence” of the judiciary and that “legal process must be followed” – a move which lawyers have described as “mealy-mouthed” and “cowardly”. 

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar, commented to The Observer: “We would wish her to go further. The resolution passed by the Bar Council called upon her to condemn the attacks on the judiciary and it is that we are still looking for. It is that which is so potentially damaging to the justice system in this country. As lord chancellor, it falls within her role to uphold the rule of law.”