The deterioration in the relationship was evident this week as Parliament debated the government’s criminal justice bill, which includes several measures that worry judges as well as civil libertarians. It allows for greater disclosure of defendants’ prior convictions and takes away some of judges’ freedom to set jail terms for murderers.
The immediate cause of the row is a series of defeats for the government on asylum and terrorist cases. The Home Office was, for instance, ruled to have acted illegally in denying benefits to six Afghan refugees because they had failed to apply for asylum at the port of entry. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett was furious.
The legal profession is outraged. Sir Oliver Popplewell, a recently retired High Court judge, who is therefore free to speak his mind, described an article by Mr Blunkett as “whining” and politicians as “control freaks”. Lord Alexander, the chairman of Justice, a legal pressure group, complains that Mr Blunkett is engaged in “a dangerous and subversive attack” aimed at diminishing respect for judges. Describing the home secretary as “a populist hard-liner”, Lord Alexander says he is threatening the balance of the constitution.