Claim that Scottish judges are biased against Brexit sparks Tory row
Downing Street has been forced to insist it does not believe judges are biased against the UK Government after a Scottish court ruling on the prorogation of Parliament sparked a Tory row.
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, shadow cabinet secretary for the constitution Adam Tomkins and UK justice secretary Robert Buckland were among the senior Conservative figures who reacted angrily after Number 10 sources appeared to question the impartiality of the Court of Session.
That came after a panel of three judges at the court said Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue Parliament was illegal and a “tactic to frustrate Parliament” from debating Brexit.
But a Number 10 source triggered an immediate Tory backlash by telling The Sun: "We note that last week the High Court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful. The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason."
In response, Carlaw tweeted: “Let’s be very clear & I don’t much care where the sources are from who might suggest otherwise – we have absolute confidence in the independence and integrity of the Scottish judiciary.”
And Tomkins commented: “To politicians who don’t like court judgments: don’t attack the judges or the independence of the legal system. Don’t ever do that. Appeal, test your legal arguments in a superior court. Why does this even need saying?”
Buckland said: “Our judges are renowned around the world for their excellence and impartiality and I have total confidence in their independence in every case.”
And Buckland’s predecessor as justice secretary, David Gauke, said: "It is neither responsible nor acceptable for 'sources in No 10' to accuse judges of political bias.
“Criticism of this type from within Government undermines the independence of the judiciary and, therefore, the rule of law."
Gavin Barwell, who was Theresa May's chief of staff when she was prime minister, tweeted: “This is a very unwise road for a party that believes in a) the Union and b) the rule of law to go down.”
Responding to the controversy, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We have absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary.”
But the argument was re-ignited when cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng told he BBC’s Andrew Neil Show that “many people” thought judges were biased against Brexit.
He said: “This Brexit process has brought the courts, has brought judges, has brought lawyers into the political process to a far greater extent than any of us have ever seen.
“We've had people contesting judgements, people contesting the right of the Prime Minister, or the circumstances under which he pushes a prorogation.
“None of us have ever seen anything like this before.
"And what I would say is the more the courts get involved in politics, that is a detriment not only to politics but also to the courts.
"Because, many people are saying – I’m not saying this – but, many people … are saying that the judges are biased. The judges are getting involved in politics.
“I’m just saying what people are saying. That’s what people are saying.”
Challenged on the claim, he added: “I think that they are impartial, but I’m saying that many people, many Leave voters, many people up and down the country, are beginning to question the partiality of the judges. That’s just a fact.”