John Malpas

PUBLIC clashes between the Government and the judiciary may die down with the appointment of Sir Thomas Bingham as the new Lord Chief Justice.

That was the prediction of Robert Stevens, Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, during a lecture organised by Hardwicke Building at the Old Hall in Lincoln's Inn.

He was delivering the sixth of a series of lectures which the chambers started running in 1992.

Although the talk was arranged several months ago by head of chambers Walter Aylen QC, it could not have been more topical.

Stevens, an expert on the judiciary, spoke on 'Judges, politicians and the confusing role of the judiciary' during the week of Lord Chief Justice Taylor's House of Lords attack on Michael Howard's sentencing plans and Bingham's appointment as his successor.

The academic suggested that Bingham would be less forthright than Taylor in his criticism of government plans affecting the judiciary.

"Bingham comes from the more intellectual wing of the Bar and may be concerned about Taylor's robust views, which are based on the enthusiasm of the circuiteer," he told the gathering of 120 guests.

"The Bingham view is that, while the Howard proposals are undesirable, they fall within the legitimate purview of the legislature – and that judicial observations should therefore be at least somewhat muted."

Stevens also suggested that an extension of the constitutional powers of the judiciary would require a clearer separation of the judiciary from the executive.

He pointed out that so many Law Lords have spoken out against Michael Howard's tariff-based criminal injuries compensation scheme that it was difficult to find five who would be able to subject it to judicial scrutiny.

"Naked politicisation of the judiciary may well be inimical to a political climate which allows organic growth of an extended role of the judges within the constitution," Stevens said.