Ever wondered why our courts have a Leftist bias?
By Daniel Hannan
Why do we need a quango for barristers?
Judicial activism is a problem in almost every country. Judges have a lamentable, if inevitable, tendency to rule on the basis of what they think the law ought to say rather than what it actually says.
But here’s a puzzle. Why do they always seem to be biased in the same direction? Courts are forever striking down deportation orders, but did you ever hear of them stepping in to order the repatriation of an illegal immigrant whom the Home Office had allowed to stay? The imposition by Parliament of minimum prison tariffs for certain offences was howled down as an assault on judicial independence. But maximum tariffs? No problem there. It’s common for warrants to be served against Augusto Pinochet or Ariel Sharon or George Bush; never against Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong-un. A minister rules that a murderer should't be released? Outrageous! A minister rules (in Northern Ireland) that murderers should be released? Quite right.
The US judge Robert Bork wrote a book called Coercing Virtue, which argued that judges were consciously seeking to advance an agenda that had been rejected at the ballot-box. It amounted, Bork averred, to “a coup d’état – slow-moving and genteel, but a coup d’état nonetheless”.
Judges are often open, when speaking extra-judicially, about what they see as their obligation strike down (in Lord Woolf’s phrase) “bad laws”. In one sense, judicial activism is inescapable. Someone, after all, has to be the final arbiter. As Bishop Hoadley of Winchester remarked three centuries ago, “whoever interprets a law may justly be considered the lawgiver, not he who first wrote or spake it”.
Still, why does the judiciary lean Left? Half a century ago, the popular stereotype of a judge was of a stern disciplinarian committed to the absolute defence of property rights. What changed?
Part of the problem is surely the appointments system. Judges used to be chosen by the Lord Chancellor – a system which on paper seemed open to abuse and which, for that very reason, was in practice almost never abused. Successive Lord Chancellors, conscious of their responsibility, would carefully avoid any suspicion of partiality. Then, in 2005, Labour created a Judicial Appointments Commission, which was charged with promoting candidates on the basis, inter alia, of “the need to encourage diversity”. While diversity is certainly desirable (diversity in the fullest sense – of opinion and outlook as well as sex and race), the vagueness of the criterion opened the door to favouritism and partisanship.
Indeed, the prejudice starts further upstream. It’s not easy to be a judge unless you’ve been a QC. The Bar used to be self-regulating, but New Labour changed that, too, creating a quango called QC Appointments. Here, too, one of the criteria is commitment to diversity.
It is vital to stress that this doesn’t mean having more diverse QCs – for which a good case can be made. It means promoting barristers who have a political commitment to “diversity” in the Leftie, public-sector sense of he word. The QCA’s general report, explains that “diversity competence” includes both awareness and action… being aware is not enough: there must be evidence of support for the principle and practice of diversity, or personal action.
For the avoidance of doubt the QCA’s “Approach to the Competencies” report explains:
The Panel sought evidence of a pro-active approach to diversity issues which in outstanding candidates ran like a consistent ‘thread’ through their language and behaviours.
You don’t need to be Richard Littlejohn to see that this is a political test. In the name of diversity, a less diverse cohort of QCs is being created, one whose members are expected to endorse the Left-liberal orthodoxy. Thus can a party that loses office retain power.
It’s worth remembering that the Conservatives were elected on a promise to abolish unelected agencies. Here is an especially superfluous example. Why, after all, should the state have any role in privileging some barristers over others? Couldn’t this be left to the profession itself?
Ministers have scrapped one QCA – the hopeless quango that was supposed to regulate exam boards. Why is the other still hanging around?