Former Lord Chief Justice attacks ‘homophobic’ campaign against Brexit judge
The former Lord Chief Justice has attacked a Daily Mail headline complaining about an ‘openly gay judge’ who ruled on Brexit.
A panel of three High Court judges ruled last week that the UK government can only trigger the process for leaving the European Union via a vote in Parliament, following the EU referendum earlier this year.
The news did not go down well among Brexit campaigners, who had hoped that Prime Minister Theresa May would be able to use executive power to make the decision without consulting MPs, who oppose plans for a ‘Hard Brexit’.
The pro-Brexit Daily Mail was very upset about the ruling – running a profile on the “three judges who blocked Brexit”.
It fumed: “The judges who blocked Brexit: One who founded a EUROPEAN law group, another charged the taxpayer millions for advice, and the third is an openly gay ex-Olympic fencer”.
The “openly gay ex-Olympic fencer” in the headline refers to Sir Terence Etherton, the country’s second-most senior judge, who has more than four decades of legal experience.
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In an interview with Newsnight, former Lord Chief Justice Igor attacked the personal campaign against the judges.
He said: “It’s been very unpleasant. The issue is very stark, there’s a very great divide in the country and what troubles me though is the way in which the judiciary has been treated.
“I found the criticism of them so personal – to talk about homophobia, to talk about judges who were enemies of the people, to talk about judges that were against the people when all they were doing actually was doing their duty as independent judges and happened to decide that parliament was sovereign.
“”I’m not at all worried about the judges personally… that’s not the issue. The issue is the impact on the public understanding of their independent judiciary. It undermines public confidence in the judicial process.”
“I’m not so worried about the judges as individuals, of course you have to have thick skins. You expect to be criticised, you don’t become a judge and think you’re immune from criticism forever.
“The press are entitled to criticise anybody – the issue is whether or not if you use a vitriolic attack on a judge personally, you’re criticising his decision. If it’s too vitriolic, as it was here, you undermine public confidence.”
Sir Terence Etherton, who qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow as a fencer, entered a civil partnership in 2006 and converted to a marriage in 2014.
When appointed as Lord Justice of Appeal in 2008, he said: “My appointment also shows that diversity in sexuality is not a bar to preferment up to the highest levels of the judiciary”.