Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Harwich and Clacton and Conservative Home favourite, has written an article calling for judicial appointments “more democratically accountable.” This should sound alarm bells for anyone who thinks that the Conservatives are going to be significantly different from New Labour. The hallmark of New Labour has long been its hatred of independent institutions, because they represent alternative sources of power and respect.
Most political theorists argue that for a stable society democracy alone isn’t enough (see Pakistan in the 1990s), and that strong institutions, like the judiciary, are needed to keep elected governments operating within the law. Mr. Carswell and the other Conservosocialists don’t like this system, because it restricts their absolute power. For them, the description of Parliament as an “elective dictatorship” wasn’t a warning, but a promise. When politicians talk about making institutions “democratically accountable”, what this really mean is subordinate to MPs. Mr. Carswell in his article tries to drum up support with the cry of “liberal judges”:
“The Times has an interesting article about the Court of Appeal finding that judges give out â€œunduly lenientâ€ sentences. Apparently some judges have been rather soft on some pretty nasty criminals.
This raises the question who should be judging the judges?”
Er… you do Mr. Carswell. A judge can be removed by Parliament if it is felt that the judge is utterly incompetent or clinically insane. However, there is a more important point to make, and that is that judges can only make sentences based on the laws passed by Mr. Carswell and his friends in Parliament. If MPs and ministers think that judges are giving lenient sentences, then they should change the law. Increasingly, politicians attack judges in order to distract from their legislative failings. John Reid (when Home Secretary) once attacked a judge for giving a sex offender a sentence he considered “soft”. It soon emerged that this was the maximum sentence available for this particular offence.
Though they sometime make irritating decisions, we must never forget that judges are the whipping boys for populist politicians.
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