Dangerous precedents

THE LORD Chancellor, Lord Irvine was predictably charged with cronyism this week when he refused to sack Lord Hoffmann for failing to reveal his links with Amnesty International during General Pinochet's extradition hearings.

However, if Lord Irvine had sacked Hoffmann, who made the inexcusable mistake, it would have set a far more dangerous precedent. British judges are not carved from granite. They have passions, prejudices and strongly held views just like anyone else, although they are supposed to rise above these when making decisions.

By sacking Lord Hoffmann, Lord Irvine would have signalled that every utterance or activity outside the court could destroy a judge's career. But, much like the England football manager's role, no judge is going to want to do a job where, while he sits on the bench, the press are going through his rubbish bags.