My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen….
I’m grateful to my Lord Mayor for his kind and generous hospitality this evening.
I want to pay tribute tonight to the strength of our legal system and our judiciary – in protecting the rule of law, and contributing to the fabric of our democracy.
These are certainly tough times.
The justice system isn’t immune from the need for us to balance the books. We might wish things were different, but that is where we are.
But it is tremendously reassuring to know that as we navigate through these challenges, I am working alongside the finest independent judiciary in the world as both wise counsel and critical friend.
The integrity of law
As everyone here knows [and as Lord Judge said so eloquently] the rule of law is the very foundation of our democracy. It’s not an add-on, it’s not an optional extra. It’s something we’re rightly proud of. We have to maintain its integrity.
It’s why London is such a world leader in legal services. There is simply no rival to it in terms of size, quality, and experience.
That’s why law and our legal system are crucial pillars in Britain succeeding in the global race, and I’d like to thank the Lord Mayor for his tireless efforts around the globe promoting the City as a legal centre.
Being constitutionally independent of each other, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Executive and the Judiciary won’t always agree on every point.
But I have the highest possible regard for our judges and our judicial system.
If – as a Minister – I’m on the receiving end of a judgement against me, yes, I might express my disappointment.
But that doesn’t diminish my respect one iota for the judges who have to make these decisions… interpret what Parliament gives them … and whose independence, as Lord Denning said, is the keystone of the rule of law.
I see it as my job to defend the judiciary against unwarranted attacks. As I said recently after a moment of friction between executive and judiciary, if we don’t like what you do, we should change the law and not complain about how you interpret it.
But what is not on the table – in this area or any other – is anything … anything at all … that would undermine or weaken in any way the independence of our judiciary and the rule of law.
Of course one of the big challenges is where we see judgements emerging internationally that seek to overturn perfectly reasonable rulings of our domestic courts and in matters that are rightly for our legislature.
There is a very real debate now about the relationship between the United Kingdom and international jurisprudence without apparent limit to its remit, and the freedom to tread new paths unchecked by democratic controls. This debate is bound to become livelier in the months ahead, but it should not be allowed to in any way interfere with the way our own courts take decisions based on the law as it is presented to them.
But these are matters for another day.
Farewell to the Lord Chief
Tonight’s celebrations are tinged with some sadness. And here if I may, I want to say a few personal words.
I have only worked with the Lord Chief Justice for nine months. That’s not as long as many here tonight have known him by a very long shot.
I still recall our first meeting – the support and clarity he offered then. And through those nine months I have come to rely ever more on his wisdom, his thoughtful, considered approach and above all his unfailing courtesy in all our dealings.
In fact, when I heard he was retiring, I got the department’s top lawyers on the case straight away. There must be some ancient power I have as Lord Chancellor to stop it happening.
Alas, they told me, the days of royal fiat are over.
The only thing I could think of would be to keep vetoing a successor so he had to stay - but I didn’t dare try that one around for fear of what Lady Judge might have to say.
So tonight we are just going to have to begin the process of saying goodbye to someone who is a judicial giant.
Lord Judge has had a long and illustrious career going back over 50 years, and to list his many achievements and posts would take us many more toasts. But his leadership over the last five years, and in his previous roles, his authority as a judge, the guidance and direction he has provided to the judiciary is truly remarkable. He leaves big shoes to fill, but it is a testament to his tireless work as Lord Chief Justice that he leaves the judiciary in such good health, and ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.
Indeed it is a real tribute to him that everyone I have met right across the legal world has had nothing but good things to say about him.
Lord Judge, I just want you to know that your retirement is a moment of great sadness for everyone involved in the law in this country, and that you will be very greatly missed.
And I want to extend the same warm wishes to Lady Judge. She is such a strong source of support to her husband, and I wish them many long and happy years of retirement together.
Except of course…
I’m less and less convinced that judges do actually retire.
Barely a week goes by without me agreeing to the appointment of a so-called “retired” judge to such-and-such a board, or this-or-that advisory panel.
So I can’t help thinking that judges don’t really retire – they simply slip into a different gear.
Not for you slipping off quietly to North Wales, feet up in front of the Rugby. In that sense, I am sure that it’s not goodbye, and we are very pleased that it is so.
But in any case we have the rest of the summer, and indeed the rest of this evening, to enjoy your company and companionship.
So I will finish by paying tribute to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, to Her Majesty’s Judges, and by proposing a toast to the health of our kind and generous hosts on this splendid evening… to the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.