The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, has launched an attack on the Justice Secretary Liz Truss, saying she was “completely and utterly wrong” not to defend judges after they had been called “enemies of the people” in the national press.

Truss remained silent in the days after the Daily Mail published a front page attacking the High Court judges who ruled that Article 50, which would see the process of Britain leaving the EU begin, could not be lawfully be triggered without a vote by Parliament.

She eventually made a statement which backed the independence of the UK’s judiciary but did not condemn the media attacks on senior judges.

Then, speaking on Radio 4’s Law in Action earlier this month, she defended herself from criticism, saying: “I think, as Lord Chancellor, to say what the press should or shouldn’t print is problematic… I think it’s important that people in society understand what judges do, they understand how they are appointed and I’m very committed as Lord Chancellor to promoting that, but that is not something I’m prepared to do by denigrating the free press.”

Lord Thomas said: “I believe the Lord Chancellor is completely and utterly wrong in the view she takes,” adding that it was her duty as Lord Chancellor to defend the judiciary, who could not defend themselves without plunging themselves into political controversy.

He added: “I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have, but to my mind, she is completely and absolutely wrong about this. And I’m very disappointed. I can understand what the pressures were in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally absolutely wrong.”

“It really is absolutely essential that we have a Lord Chancellor who understands her constitutional duty.”

Judges remain one of the professional groups most trusted by the general public, according to research from Ipsos-Mori.