UK lawmakers demand end to attacks on Brexit ruling judges

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 05, 2016 4:48 AM

By William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) - British politicians called for an end to harsh criticism of judges who this week dealt a blow to the government's Brexit preparations, with a former attorney general saying the attacks by some fellow lawmakers and newspapers reminded him of fascism.

England's High Court ruled on Thursday that the decision to begin Britain's formal divorce talks with the European Union should be approved by parliament and could not be taken by the government alone.

The ruling, which could delay Prime Minister Theresa May's plans to start the Brexit negotiations by the end of March, was met with fury by some lawmakers and British newspapers.

Sajid Javid, a member of May's cabinet, called the ruling an "unacceptable" attempt to "frustrate the will of the British people", while The Daily Mail newspaper said the three judges who handed down the ruling were "enemies of the people".

Other Conservative lawmakers have now pushed back against the criticisms.

"There is something smacking of the fascist state about them (the attacks)," Dominic Grieve, a former British attorney general, was quoted as saying in The Times on Saturday.

"It shows either a total misunderstanding of the UK constitution, which such critics periodically extol — or a deliberate desire to destroy it."

Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of parliament's justice committee, warned the attacks were "threatening the independence of our judiciary" and had "no place in a civilised land" and he called on May to intervene.

A group representing senior lawyers in England and Wales, the Bar Council, issued a statement on Saturday, urging the government's justice minister to condemn the "unjustified attacks" as a matter of urgency.

"A strong independent judiciary is essential to a functioning democracy and to upholding the rule of law," the council said.

A spokesman for Britain's justice ministry said he had no immediate comment.

Stephen Glover, a columnist for the Daily Mail, stood by the newspaper's coverage of the court ruling and said he did not think judges would be cowed by the criticism of their decision.

"To imagine that this has had some terrible, devastating effect on British society is literally crazy," he told the BBC.

May told other EU leaders on Friday she believed the court ruling would be overturned and said she would stick to her Brexit timetable.

(Reporting by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)