In the Media

?Judges must enforce laws and stay away from political rulings?

PUBLISHED December 7, 2011

Judges should keep to their ?proper function? and avoid making political rulings on areas for which they are not responsible, the most senior judge in England and Wales said yesterday.

The Lord Chief Justice said there was ?occasionally a danger of an overlap? between judges ruling on the law and having an impact on the administration of services for which others, such as local authorities, were responsible. He said he was sympathetic with the views of Jonathan Sumption, QC, the newest judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court, who warned last month that judges should avoid making political decisions.

It comes after a series of cases last month in which the High Court struck down controversial attempts at cuts by financially squeezed councils. A High Court judge quashed restructuring plans that would have led to cuts to library services by Somerset and Gloucestershire county councils in an effort to make cash savings. Each time the judges ruled that councils had made legal errors and sent them back to reconsider.

Lord Judge said: ?Judges have to be careful to remember that we are enforcing the law. We have no choice ? we enforce the law as we find it to be. I think we have to be careful to remember that we can?t administer the responsibilities which others have, like local authorities, and so on and so forth.

?And I think there is occasionally a danger of an overlap between us deciding what the law is, and saying what it is, and making a judgment accordingly. And occasionally, I suppose it?s inevitable, where the orders we make, have an impact on the administration for which others are responsible. So when I say I?m sympathetic with that, with Mr Sumption?s view, it is a genuine sense of sympathy. We have to be careful to make sure we stay within our proper function.?

Last month, Mr Sumption suggested judges in judicial reviews were in danger of trespassing on ?the proper function of government?. He said ?one of the most significant constitutional changes? since the Second World War ?has been the rise in the political significance of the judiciary, as a result of the increasingly vigorous exercise of its powers of judicial review?. He said: ?How far can judicial review go before it trespasses on the proper function of government and the legislature in a democracy??