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Lord Chief Justice criticises Liz Truss for not defending Brexit case judges

The Lord Chief Justice has strongly criticised Lord Chancellor Liz Truss for failing to publicly defend judges involved in the landmark Brexit case.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who was one of the High Court judges who ruled that Parliament, not the Prime Minister, had the final say on triggering Article 50, said Ms Truss had been "constitutionally wrong" not to stand up for the judiciary in the face of fierce press criticism.

The Lord Chief Justice criticised the stance taken by Ms Truss that it was not her role to tell the media what to write.

He told the Lords Constitution Committee: "T o my mind, she was completely and absolutely wrong.

"And I am very disappointed.

"I can understand how the pressures were on in November but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.

"In short, I believe the Lord Chancellor is completely and utterly wrong in the view she takes."

Lord Thomas said reaction to the Brexit case led him to seek police advice on protection, something he had never felt the need to do while presiding over terrorism trials.

He told the committee: " There is a difference between criticism and abuse, and I don't think that that is understood.

"I don't think it is understood either how absolutely essential it is that we are protected because we have to act as our oath requires us without fear or favour.

"It is the only time in the whole of my judicial career that I have had to ask for the police to give us a measure of advice and protection in relation to the emotions that were being stirred up.

"And I think that it is very wrong that judges should feel it.

"I have done a number of cases involving al Qaida, I dealt with the airline bombers' plot, some very, very serious cases. I have never had that problem before."

Lord Thomas said it was the Lord Chancellor's "duty" to defend judges.

Referencing a Daily Mail headline branding the High Court judges in the Brexit case as "enemies of the people", the Lord Chief Justice told the committee: "The circuit judges were very concerned.

"They wrote to the Lord Chancellor because litigants in person were coming and saying 'you're an enemy of the people'."

Lord Thomas said he was making his views known now because Ms Truss had given an interview to the Financial Times last week in which she said judges would face much greater scrutiny after Brexit.

"It really is absolutely essential we have a Lord Chancellor who understands her constitutional duty," he said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law and it is the duty of the Lord Chancellor to defend that independence.

"The Lord Chancellor takes that duty very seriously.

"She has been very clear that she supports the independence of the judiciary but that she also believes in a free press, where newspapers are free to publish, within the law, their views."

Defending her stance on the reaction to the Brexit case, Ms Truss told the Lords Constitution Committee earlier this month: "I think it is dangerous for a government minister to say 'This is an acceptable headline and this isn't an acceptable headline' because (while) I am a huge believer in the independence of the judiciary, I am also a very strong believer in the free press."

Responding to Lord Thomas's comments, a Downing Street source said: "On the number of times this issue has been raised, Liz Truss has been very clear that she supports the independence of the judiciary.

"We have also been very clear that she is not going to tell newspapers what to write."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said Ms Truss had "failed in her duty" and called on her to apologise to the House of Commons.

"That the Lord Chief Justice had to seek police protection for the first time after the Justice Secretary didn't stick up for judges shows that she has failed in her duty," said Mr Farron.

"The Lord Chief Justice didn't feel he needed protection when he was dealing with al Qaida, but such was the level of Brexit bullying, Britain's most senior judge felt threatened.

"This extraordinary public criticism by Britain's most senior judge shows, regrettably, that Liz Truss has lost much of the confidence of the legal profession."

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said she could not comment on security issues, but the body had "worked closely with the Met Police on arrangements for the Article 50 hearing" when judges considered an appeal against the High Court ruling.

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