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Procedure for Appointing Judges — [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:52 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:52 pm, 8th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald on securing this important debate. What a pleasure it is to speak after the Chair of the Justice Committee, Robert Neill.

I will begin by declaring a few interests. Not surprisingly, most of us speaking in the debate are lawyers, and I am a non-practising member of the Scottish Bar. I am also vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the rule of law and, as has been kindly mentioned by others today, I was the lead petitioner in the case that came to be known as the Cherry case, because that is my surname, which went to the Supreme Court. I am also involved in litigation currently proceeding in Scotland under the name of Dale Vince. I declare my interest, having been supported by the Good Law Project and the generosity of Mr Vince, who is a green energy entrepreneur.

Today’s debate has come about because of comments prompted by ill-informed fallout from the decision of the Supreme Court on prorogation. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East laid out the circumstances in which that happened. It is a particular matter of regret that on 11 September Downing Street sources briefed The Sun that

“legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason”.

Well, I chose the Scottish courts because I live in Scotland. The implication that the Scottish courts are somehow politicised is offensive as well as ignorant. There is, however, a tradition in Scotland going back to the declaration of Arbroath and the claim of right that neither the monarch nor the Government are above the law. I was very proud to see that tradition followed by the Scottish courts.

It was also great to hear Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, remind us that it is also part of the English tradition, when she said that

“the courts have exercised a supervisory jurisdiction” over the lawfulness of acts of the Government “for centuries”. As long ago as 1611, the court held that the King, who was effectively the Government, had

“no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him”.

I join others in particularly deprecating not so much the press, of which we have come to expect very little, but Government sources—particularly unnamed Downing Street sources, who seem to be cropping up all over the place at the moment—for the anti-judicial and anti-Scottish sentiment that they tried to stir up.

It was also a matter of some regret that a Government Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, went on television and said:

“The extent to which lawyers and judges are interfering in politics is something that concerns many people.”

He went on to say that

“many people…are saying that the judges are biased”.

He specifically claimed that

“many leave voters...are beginning to question the partiality of the judges”,

while going on to state that he personally believed that the judges were impartial.