New Guidelines On Judges' Bias

Judges cannot be banned from the bench for being gay, a Freemason or a member of a sports club, the Court of Appeal has decided. The country's three most senior judges yesterday laid down guidelines to help check the trend of challenging judges on the grounds of bias, which has become more prevalent since the House of Lords ruling in the Pinochet case.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls and Sir Richard Scott, the Vice Chancellor ruled that judges should stand down only if there were a “real danger or possibility of bias”.

The judges were hearing four test appeals in which litigants were claiming that judge or tribunal chairman should have stood down because of their links with the case.

The judges said: “We cannot conceive of circumstances in which an objection could be soundly based on the religion, ethnic origin, gender, age, class, means or sexual orientation of the judge.”

They added that social, educational or employment backgrounds of judges or their families would not ordinarily be grounds for appeal either. Under these new guidelines, Lord Hoffmann – the law lord who failed to disclose his Amnesty International links in the Pinochet case – would not be automatically disqualified.

He would, however, be required to disclose such a connection before a case began to allow parties to object if they wished.