Britain’s most senior judge has launched a scathing assault on Justice Secretary Liz Truss for her reaction to the landmark legal case over Brexit.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas criticised Truss “severely” in a scathing outburst in Parliament on Wednesday.
He hit back at the “abuse” levelled at judges - who were branded “enemies of the people” by the Daily Mail - for ruling Theresa May had to ask MPs before triggering EU exit clause Article 50.
Lord Thomas said he had sought police protection for the first time in his career as a result - despite having worked on cases including an airline bomb plot.
He castigated Truss for refusing to rebut press coverage of the judges involved in the original High Court action, saying: “I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have, but to my mind she is completely and absolutely wrong.
“I am very disappointed. I can understand how the pressures were in November but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.
There is a difference between criticism and abuse, and I don’t think that is understood." Lord Thomas
He revealed: “It is the only time in my career I have had to ask police to give us a measure of advice and protection in relation to the emotions that were being stirred up.
“I think that it’s very wrong that judges should feel it.
“I have done a number of cases; I dealt with the airline bombers plot - some very serious cases and I’ve never had that problem before.
“There is no point mincing words and why I feel so firm about this.”
Lord Thomas also seemed to suggest at his House of Lords Constitution Committee appearance that Truss was not up to the job of justice secretary.
He quipped afterwards: “I don’t think I have said anything controversial, at least to lawyers.”
“We had fought hard to keep out of Brexit and I can’t see how we could have said anything without immediately plunging ourselves into a political controversy. And so, in short it is the Lord Chancellor’s [Truss’] duty...”
“I am very disappointed that, I can understand what the pressures were in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally absolutely wrong.”
Judges faced a harsh backlash for ruling in the High Court that Theresa May could not use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 and begin Britain’ exit from the European Union. The Government appealed, but was defeated again in the Supreme Court.
I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have but to my mind she is completely and absolutely wrong about this." Lord Thomas
Responding to Lord Thomas’ appearance, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused Truss of failing in her duty to stand up for the independence and safety of judges.
“That the Lord Chief Justice had to seek police protection for the first time after the Justice Secretary didn’t stick up for judges shows that she has failed in her duty.
“The Lord Chief Justice didn’t feel he needed protection when he was dealing with Al Qaeda, but such was the level of Brexit bullying, Britain’s most senior judge felt threatened.”
This extraordinary public criticism by Britain’s most senior judge shows, regrettably, that Liz Truss has lost much of the confidence of the legal profession." Tim Farron
Labour MP Jo Stevens also said after she could not remember “such a direct criticism” from Britain’s top judge.
At time of the original action, Truss took days to break silence and finally issue a defence of the judges.
She said in November: “The independence of the judiciary is the foundation upon which our rule of law is built and our judiciary is rightly respected the world over for its independence and impartiality.
“In relation to the case heard in the high court, the government has made it clear it will appeal to the supreme court. Legal process must be followed.”
Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon accused Truss at the time of failing to stand up for the judiciary.
“All Liz Truss has done is recite the well-known principle of the independence of the judiciary,” Burgon said.
“[She] has still failed to condemn these attacks on the British judiciary as being ‘enemies of the people’ and talk in the press of the sexuality of a judge.”
In response to Lord Thomas’ comments, a Justice Department spokesperson told The Huffington Post UK: “An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law, and it is the duty of the Lord Chancellor to defend that independence.
“The Lord Chancellor takes that duty very seriously. She has been very clear that she supports the independence of the judiciary, but that she also believes in a free press, where newspapers are free to publish, within the law, their views.”
Gina Miller, one of the co-plaintiffs in the original High Court action, spoke to HuffPost UK in March to say she had also received abuse as a result of he High Court Action.
“I’m told that I’m not even a human, I’m a primate. Therefore, I should be shot and beheaded,” she said,