Controversial Judges’ Service to go ahead

Judges walk from Westminster Abbey to the Houses of Parliament

The 2014 Judges’ Service is to go ahead on 1 October, despite requests both to government ministers and to senior judges to end it. The LSS is campaigning for the abolishment of this service.

On behalf of the LSS, our members Peter Fisher MBE and John Butcher, who both launched this campaign, pose a number of important questions which arise from the Judges’ Service.

Lord Chief Justice claims judges are secular now – but still gets cosy with Bishops

On 5 November 2013 Lord Chief Justice Thomas confirmed that judges are secular – their ancient role of upholding ethical rules as defined by the Church is no more.  They are independent and impartial. Great. So why is he going to attend an official “Judges’ Service” on 1 October in his full regalia? And to listen to a sermon by a bishop?

Why are the media excluded? Why the secrecy?

Members of the public and the media are excluded from the Judges’ Service in Westminster Abbey on 1 October.  Ordinary services are open to the public. Even very special events like royal weddings and funerals are covered by the media. So why the secrecy just for this occasion? What is it that the bishops tell the judges which they don’t want the rest of us to know about? If the bishops are persuading the judges in private how to decide cases, shouldn’t we know about it? Could it be they have something to hide?

Are judges independent – or in the pocket of the Church?

Judges are supposed to be independent, impartial, and unprejudiced. Neutral, not taking sides. They are warned not to side publicly with any political party, or a cause, or a commercial organisation. And quite right, too. But when it comes to religions, apparently it is fine for judges to commit publicly and visibly to one particular denomination. The next time a religious-based dispute comes up in court, how are those judges going to deal with it? Where will their neutrality be then?

Bishops get to harangue the judges – and no answering back

Judges always get to hear both sides of an argument – it’s a basic rule of law. But not when what they’re hearing is a sermon delivered by a bishop. The bishop lays down the law, as he sees it, and everybody else listens. No arguing, no other points of view. Last year it was the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, telling judges how to judge. Which bishop will it be this year? What will he (and it is always a he, so far) be telling the judges? And why are they still willing to listen?

Justice Secretary wants judges tied to the Church

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is not content to invite judges to a meeting with politicians in Westminster on 1 October, to discuss their mutual concerns. He insists on combining it with a religious service on the same morning, in Westminster Abbey. Some judges are Jews, some are Roman Catholics, some are atheists, and at least one is a Sikh – but he cares nothing for that. All are invited and expected to sit through a Church of England service regardless. Attendance is voluntary, supposedly, but will any of them be brave enough and honest enough to decline the invite? Or maybe send a sick note?

For any media enquiries on this campaign, please contact LSS member Peter Fisher MBE on 07504 306379. You can read more about Peter here.

For more information on the history and background to the Judges’ Service (as well as a chronology of the campaign to date), see this page of our website.

(Image credit above: The Guardian)

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