On Thursday 10 October 2019, the City of London’s governing Court of Common Council boldly reiterated its longstanding support for the United Kingdom’s Independent Judiciary and the Rule of Law. The motion, proposed by my colleagues Deputy Tom Sleigh and Alderman Tim Hailes came in response to recent attacks on the judiciary by public figures and in the media.
In my own speech at the Council meeting, I said:
“This is a very straightforward motion. It simply says that we support the independent judiciary and we support the rule of law, as we have done for centuries.
There is no change in our position.
What has changed is the public discourse around the judiciary.
“Enemies of the people.” Do you remember that banner headline in the Daily Mail? “Enemies of the people” – just because a court ruled in a different direction from that of the editorial basis of that newspaper.
We cannot stand idly by and allow that simply to pass.
And indeed, those who were members of the Court at the time will recall that we did not stand idly by, nor indeed did the City establishment.
For that year, at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, when the judiciary came into the Old Library, there was a rapturous ovation – not the same reception that the then Lord Chancellor, who had failed to support the judiciary, received on the same occasion.
Some people have said so far that we shouldn’t say anything on the subject. That it’s not our place.
If we think that, then we forget our history – the history of this great building, this Corporation, this institution that stood up at the time of the sealing of Magna Carta, that allowed us to be a guarantee of those rights and freedoms in this country.
This institution that stood up at the time of the Civil War and stood with Parliament and said actually, the King doesn’t have a divine right to rule, Parliament, as the voice of the people, has that right.
Lord Mayor Beckford, whose statue is, indeed, in this hall, stood up against George III when he was trying to reverse the Glorious Revolution.
We have always stood up for the people.
We have always stood up for the rule of law.
It is the right thing for us to do.
And it is simply wrong to say that the judges have not sought our support. The judges cannot seek our support, the judges cannot speak for themselves, because that is a fundamental point about them being independent judges.
That is why we, as elected representatives of this great and ancient City, have a duty to speak up for the people and to say we support our independent judiciary and we support the rule of law.”
The motion was passed overwhelmingly, in the following terms:
THAT THIS HONOURABLE COURT, IN:
a) recognising that the continued success of the City of London as a world financial and professional services centre is underpinned by a strong, trusted and independent judicial system, as expressed by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in July 2018 at the Lord Mayor’s Dinner for HM Judges that ‘the rule of law and a well-functioning justice system underpin the prosperity and stability of the nation’ and affirming that those principles and sentiments are as relevant now as they were then;
b) valuing the City’s deeply rooted connections with the justice system and support of our constitutional settlement over many centuries, including as one of only two guarantors of the Magna Carta of 1215 and, in more modern times, the provision of the Central Criminal Court, the Mayor’s and City Court, and City of London Magistrates’ Court;
c) agreeing with the then Lord Chancellor’s remarks at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in 2018 that ‘together with our expert, independent judiciary, [the Rule of Law] has been – and will continue to be – the solid foundation for our status as a financial and legal global centre. The trust and confidence the Rule of Law provides means that businesses feel they can invest and traders can engage in contracts…’;and
d) endorsing its prior decision to continue to invest in Court provision in London through the development of a new combined courts centre on Fleet Street.
EXPRESSES DEEP CONCERN:
At repeated attacks on the independent judiciary by figures in the media and public life and concurs with the remarks of the then Lord Chancellor at last year’s Lord Mayor’s Banquet that:
“Our institutions have become guardians of our democratic ideals. They ensure that the right checks and balances exist for us and they promote the inherent sense of fairness that exists in our country. They do not work against the people, they share power in the best interests of everyone.
That view … is under attack. Rather than recognising the challenges of a fast-changing society require sometimes complex responses, that we live in a world of trade-offs, that easy answers are usually false answers, we have seen the rise of the simplifiers. Those grappling with complex problems are not viewed as public servants but as engaged in a conspiracy to seek to frustrate the will of the public. They are ‘enemies of the people’.
In deploying this sort of language, we go to war with truth; we pour poison into our national conversation.”
AND THEREFORE RESOLVES:
- To express its full and unequivocal support for the United Kingdom’s independent, highly professional and experienced judiciary and their role in upholding the Rule of Law in accordance with their Oath to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”;
- To reaffirm its commitment to promoting the Rule of Law and provision of Court facilities as core elements of the Corporation’s wider commitment to the national community;
- To ask that the Chair of the Policy & Resources Committee writes to express our support of the judiciary and the Rule of Law to:
- The President of the Supreme Court
- The Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales
- The Lord President of the Court of Session of Scotland
- The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland
copied to the Attorney General, the Lord Chancellor, and the Speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords.
Deputy Edward Lord OBE JP has served on the City of London Court of Common Council since February 2001 and now chairs its senior Establishment Committee. They have also been a magistrate in Central London since August 2002.