David Blunkett’s spat with the judges over their sentencing powers plumbed new depths yesterday when he accused a retiring high court judge of not living in the real world and the leader of Britain’s barristers of “losing the plot”.
The home secretary’s outburst followed a BBC radio interview in which the judge, Sir Oliver Popplewell, claimed that Mr Blunkett was guilty of “whining” about the judges and described his new sentencing proposals for murderers as a “populist gimmick”.
This latest clash comes on the eve of next week’s Commons votes on Mr Blunkett’s criminal justice bill, which will lay down a much tougher sentencing framework for convicted murderers.
In his speech to the Police Federation conference in Blackpool, Mr Blunkett also targeted barristers who have opposed some parts of his legislation. He renewed his threat to “fine” defence lawyers who knowingly encourage defen dants to delay pleading guilty until the last moment.
In his interview, Sir Oliver criticised the home secretary’s reaction to repeated defeats he has suffered in the high court, as well as the tougher sentencing package. Mr Blunkett has recently faced several critical rulings in the high court, particularly over his treatment of asylum seekers.
The retiring senior high court judge, who presided over Jonathan Aitken’s failed libel action against the Guardian and the inquiry into the fire at Bradford football club in 1985, said that a recent article by the home secretary on his record in the high court was “full of whining about judges overturning what parliament has enacted”.
“The job of a judge is to interpret the law,” he said. “Politicians hate people being independent. They want to control it. It is control freakery.”
Mr Blunkett told his police audience: “There has been a rumour that I am not at all pleased with the judges. This is completely untrue. I just like judges to live in the same real world as the rest of us.”
He said that Sir Oliver had been a judge for many years but had only recently appeared to have discovered that the people he tried lived in a different world from those he had met at school, at university, and in his chambers.
The home secretary told him: “What I said is not populism. It is decent common sense.”
Mr Blunkett said the judges had to pass sentences that demonstrated to the perpetrators that they meant it and let the victims know they would be protected. To loud applause, he told the police that in the case of child murderers that would mean that “life will at last mean life”.