Irvine's role stands against democracy
3 October 1998
Suzon Forscey-Moore says the Lord Chancellor's role is outdated and unsuitable. Instead, she advocates a system where "people test laws' and "judge the judges'. Suzon Forscey-Moore is an organiser for The Campaign for A Fair Hearing.
Our most powerful politician is not elected and is paid £50,000 more per annum than the Prime Minister.
He lives in a palace and ranks fourth in the Privy Council (after Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury). It is his assassination, not the Prime Minister's, that continues to carry the death penalty.
Lord Irvine of Lairg has invited endless criticism through the lavish redecoration of his apartment.
Now it seems he will be spending £2.5m of taxpayers' money on a think tank to reinforce his role "on the cusp of government".
Forget the wallpaper it will be interesting to hear justification for spending public money promoting an office that works against the public interest.
Like previous men that have been appointed to his position, Lord Irvine must claim that the Government is based upon a separation of powers, while he combines those powers as Head of Judiciary, Cabinet Minister and Speaker of the House of Lords.
This triumph of convenient myth over actuality is intellectually dishonest and unworthy of a modern democratic state.
A Lord Chancellor protects his political party and, in these days of centralised power, his Cabinet, by refusing to let their legislation be challenged by those who will be affected, that is, the public.
Irvine's predecessor, Lord Mackay, said that "if" a law was bad, he would see to it that "the will of Parliament would prevail".
The separation of powers is ignored in the first instance and invoked in the second. Intervention and non-intervention are two sides of the coin of privilege parliamentary and judicial.
But in other democracies, the powers delegated to the executive, legislative and judicial branches counter each other to prevent abuse.
Recently, a US court heard arguments by the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union and struck out the part of Congress's Communications Act that would have introduced censorship to the Internet.
In this country, the Lord Chancellor tacitly invites abuse of power. Parliament rides rough-shod over the arguments of the public (against the Railways Act, 1993, for example) and judges are free to take good care of their friends, freemasonry being but one possible avenue to special treatment.
The first step toward a participatory democracy and an accountable judiciary is the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor, an ideal endorsed by newspapers as different as The Observer and The Sun.
At present, lawyers can only act for their clients within the confines of existing statutes. But, in instances where laws are demonstrably unfair or injurious, bankruptcy laws, for example, why shouldn't the best tactic be an attack on an indefensible part of the Insolvency Act?
This is not "judge-made law" but "people-made law". But would our judges be impartial? The outcome of too many cases is based upon the pseudo-utilitarian view that vested interests do more good than harm in our society and therefore the scales of justice must be tipped in their favour regardless of the harm to individuals or the reputation of our courts.
The Campaign for a Fair Hearing advocates a simple counter force: an elected lay Procedural Complaints Court to hear evidence of judicial misconduct. Let the people test the laws and let the people judge the judges.
If it was only a matter of legal positivism: law without regard to morality but fairly applied versus respect for human rights, the argument for a Procedural Complaints Court would not be so strong.
But even the philosophy of legal positivism is not respected in our courts.
The law is regularly disregarded in favour of factors that should be irrelevant judicial prejudice, croneyism and a well-established culture of cover up.
Recently, much emphasis has been placed upon the need to preserve public funds through greater efficiency in the legal system. But until the system delivers justice as well as rulings, it will never be efficient and it will lack respectability.
Good lawyers and judges will always be at a disadvantage as long as privilege is guarded by the most powerful British politician.
Lord Irvine is wrong to use £2.5m to defend his medieval position. We disapprove of this use of public money, and see it as proof of the untenable nature of the office.