Lording It Over Us: the political rise of the judiciary

Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Henry Moore Gallery

The rise of judicial activism is controversial. Increasingly judges speak out against government decisions such as the proposal to extend the detention period for terrorist suspects to 42 days. Is this good for justice or bad for democracy?

Can we trust the judges? will explore the traditional relationship between the judiciary and Parliament, their work in interpreting the law irrespective of political pressures, in a fair and impartial way. Speakers will argue whether judicial activism is an important safety valve in a democracy or a step too far in their role.

In the past decade laws have been passed which have undermined the role of the judges by laying down sentencing rather than allowing for judicial discretion. It is argued that many changes in the justice systems around the world were spearheaded by judges taking a stand against bad laws. Are English judges protecting us and upholding justice more than politicians?

The new Supreme Court allows judges more independence from politics. But will judicial power undermine justice? Lord Woolf’s view that ‘there are even limits on the supremacy of parliament which it is the courts’ inalienable responsibility to identify and uphold’. Should democrats be worried?

John Cooper
leading criminal and human rights barrister; regular columnist, The Times and Observer; editor, Criminal Bar Quarterly

John Fitzpatrick
professor of law and director, Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent, Canterbury

Alex Novarese
editor, Legal Week

Joshua Rozenberg
legal commentator; columnist and blogger, Standpoint; columnist, Law Society Gazette; presenter, BBC Radio 4

Tessa Mayes
investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us

Produced by
Tessa Mayes investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us
Recommended readings
Our new supreme court is a judge short – but far from underpowered

The fear expressed by critics is that the new court will try to assert its power over parliament and to confront the executive. In theory, that should not happen.

Marcel Berlins, Guardian, 28 September 2009

Festival Buzz

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