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The first whispers of independence

In the maelstrom of epic and terrible world events, prosaic, but nonetheless, important bits of news have a tendency to slip anonymously beneath the waves of sound and fury. Entirely understandable, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t throw out a life-saver every now and then and haul one of the spluttering half-drowned items back in.

The man overboard in this case was an article which appeared in the Telegraph yesterday which covered a speech given by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf and during which he boldy opined that British Judges are not bound by decisions of the European Court in Strasbourg.

“”However, if we are satisfied that the Strasbourg jurisdiction is wrong we should be bold and either not follow or distinguish the Strasbourg decision. If that is what happens, we should take particular care to make clear why we have rejected the authority.”

This is significant because I cannot recall having heard any official or serious doubt cast upon universally-accepted position that British Courts are wholly beholden to Strasbourg. It is, if you will, a murmuring of dissent.

Of course, Lord Woolf stresses that conflict would be a rare thing:

“The Lord Chief Justice predicted that occasions when there would be a conflict between the House of Lords and Strasbourg were “likely to be few and far between”.

Maybe, maybe not. And, in his position, Lord Woolf could hardly suggest otherwise but the consequences of rejecting a Strasbourg ruling even once means that a precedent is set for further rejections and that kind of thing can so easily snowball to the point where, for all intents and purposes, Britain’s judiciary is independent again.

However, the champagne should be kept on ice for now. First of all, Lord Woolf is not a politician and cannot introduce legislation. He is the highest Judge in the land but this is not a ruling, merely an opinion and, as such, has no force of law. His colleagues in the House of Lords are free to reject his invitation but also may take him up on it and proceed accordingly.

Secondly, the entire address was couched in terms of the overriding concern for the rights and welfare of immigrants. This may have been due to the nature of the audience but could equally be the result of the obsession with ‘asylum-seekers’ that has taken a hold of our entire political and judicial class. Whilst it is not a damnable concern by any means, is it too much to ask that they consider the liberties and rights of the other 60 million people who live here? Still, one step at a time, I suppose.

Overall though, an address in which the country’s most senior Judge gives a green light to his fellow Judges to tell Europe to take a hike, must, on balance, be seen as positive.

4 comments to The first whispers of independence

  • Brian Micklethwait


    This would seem to confirm the wisdom of an exchange we two had some months ago, here, concerning the Metric Martyrs verdict. Remember that? In that case also, we noted that the judge said that the Metric Martyrs were only to be martyred because Parliament said so, and Parliament could change its mind at any time in the future, just as soon as it felt inclined.

    We, or maybe it was Sean Gabb in one of his Free Life Commentaries, also speculated that a verdict like that couldn’t be a one-off maverick job, but must surely reflect collective discussions among the judiciary in general.

    Your posting confirms that this was probably right.

    Stick all this next to Natalie’s link to (I assume) Torquil Dick Erikson’s scary piece about Habeas Corpus, reproduced in full by Iain Murray in The Edge of England’s Sword, and you have the makings of interesting times in the quite near future.

    Apologies for not being good at putting links into comments.

  • Joe Kaplinsky

    Slightly off topic, but let me take up David Carr’s comments on the obsession with ‘asylum seekers’:

    “[I]s it too much to ask that they consider the liberties and rights of the other 60 million people who live here?”

    The liberties of immigrants are of the utmost importance to British citizens. Firstly because of the climate created by the existence of a population under the jurisdiction of the state but denied their rights and treated arbitrarily. Second immigration controls deny freedom of movement, for British citizens as much as anyone else. The state should not be able to assume it has the right to imprison anyone who does not have the correct paperwork.

    Further, the transformation of the immigrant into the ‘asylum seeker’ is a prototype for the transformation of citizen into victim. The political class is obsessed with ‘aylum seekers’, but economic migration has become despicable. The idea of people moving to improve their lives through hard work has become beyond the pale for respectable opinion. Instead, if you want rights in Britain you are supposed to show that you have been beaten, tortured, and broken: that you have become a helpless and dependent victim.

    This is something that we must all protest. There should be no counterposition between rights for immigrants and rights for citizens.

  • Bravo Joe! Well said indeed!  

  • David Carr

    The liberties of immigrants are of the utmost importance to British citizens

    Wrong. The liberties of British citizens are of the utmost importance to British citizens and it includes those who come to this country to become British citizens

    The point I was making (and only as an aside) is that it is regrettable that senior political and judicial figures clearly feel that they can only broach the subject of liberty in terms of the welfare of immigrants. It is almost as if extending their concerns to native Brits would somehow put them beyond the pale. What I would prefer is a discussion of the benefits of liberty generally

    However, I find merit in your characterisation of this trend as a product of the victim culture rather than any deliberate anti-nativist position