Geoffrey Cox: Government has 'no desire' for US-style political judges

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox hints MPs could play role in appointment of judges but says the Government has ‘no desire’ for US-style political appointments as he fights to keep his job ahead of tomorrow’s reshuffle

  • He proposed a Canadian-style system where Parliament interviews candidates 
  • Came after last year’s furious row when Supreme Court overturned prorogation 
  • Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he did not want to see judges grilled

MPs could be given a role in vetting new Supreme Court judges but the Government does not want to introduce US-style politically appointed justices, the Attorney General said today.

Geoffrey Cox said there was ‘no desire’ to recreate the American system where politicians choose who sits in the nation’s court of last resort, but change could come.

His remarks came after last year’s furious row when the Supreme Court over-turned Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue Parliament ahead of a possible Brexit at the end of October. 

Mr Cox, who is being tipped to be replaced by Mr Johnson when he reshuffles his Cabinet tomorrow, today proposed a Canadian-style appointments system whereby Parliament interviews candidates.

The Tories pledged at the general election to examine the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts, and vowed to set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission within a year to come up with proposals to restore trust in democracy.

Asked about the proposals at an event at the Institute for Government in central London, Mr Cox said: ‘Let me make plain: we’ve no desire to see politically appointed judges – that is completely off the table.

Geoffrey Cox said there was ‘no desire’ to recreate the American system where politicians choose who sits in the nation’s court of last resort, but change could come in a different form

His remarks came after last year’s furious row when the Supreme Court over-turned Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue Parliament ahead of a possible Brexit at the end of October

‘There is no question of politicians appointing judges. We have a good system now – the Judicial Appointments Commission – we’re not going to be talking about a party politically appointed set of judges.

‘However, I think there is a case for looking at how Supreme Court judges are appointed.’

He restated his opposition to US-style hearings, but said: ‘I have to say that one of the things that is worth looking at, in my view, is how it’s done in Canada.

‘In Canada now, for appointments to the Supreme Court, there is a committee of the Canadian Parliament that will carry out interviews.

‘In our country it could be a joint committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons under clear guidance – there would be rules as to the questions that could be asked.

‘But what it would lend, potentially, is transparency to a position which people have seen has enormous power.

‘Now I’m not saying that that is something that I would support, but it’s something I think the Commission may need to look at.’

His suggestion appears at odds with comments made by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland who said on Sunday that he did not want to see a system of judges ‘being put in front of select committees and asked about their political past or views’.

The seeds of the Government’s battle with the courts were sown during the Brexit rows, when campaigner Gina Miller successfully challenged the Government over then prime minister Theresa May’s right to trigger Article 50 without a vote in Parliament.

The Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that Mr Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful fuelled Tory suspicions about judicial activism.

Mr Cox’s comments appeared to have gone far beyond the plans set out in the Conservative manifesto and took Whitehall insiders by surprise.

Asked about his remarks, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The manifesto sets out that the Government is intending to look at aspects of the constitution but I’m not going to pre-empt that work.’

Mr Cox is one of a number of ministers who have been widely tipped to be sent back to the Conservative backbenches.

But today he signalled he would like to continue in the role as the government’s chief legal adviser.

There have been reports that Number 10 does not believe Mr Cox is a ‘team player’ and that he could be replaced by Lucy Frazer QC who is currently a Justice Minister.

Asked this morning if he was concerned that he could lose his job because of an alleged reluctance to engage in party politics, Mr Cox said: ‘It has been an enormous privilege to do this job and the Prime Minister, it is his complete prerogative to decide which team he puts around him.

‘If I were not to be Attorney General shortly then I do not believe it would be for any such reason.

‘You ask me an entirely hypothetical question, the premise of which I don’t accept.’

 

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