Judicial Neutrality

Judicial neutrality The principle that judges should show no political or cultural bias when reaching verdicts, making decisions and deciding on interpretations. It implies that there should be a reasonably representative mixture of members of the judiciary. Judicial impartiality implies, strictly speaking, that judges have no political sympathies or ideological leanings. Impartial judges are therefore political eunuchs. In practice, however, impartiality in this sense is perhaps impossible. As a result, like other public officials (such as civil servants, the police and the military) judges are meant to be impartial in the sense that they are able to ensure that their own views and beliefs do not affect their professional behaviour. Personal preferences and beliefs must, if you like, be left at the court door. If internal bias does not intrude, judges will be able to act on the basis of legal considerations alone. How is judicial impartiality maintained? And how effective is it in practice?

the most important points.

· Conflicts of interest Judges must refuse to sit in a case that involves a family member, friend or professional associate, which might give rise to doubt about the justice's detachment.


Legal training. The extensive process of legal training (senior judges have usually worked as barristers or junior judges for between 20 and 30 years) is designed to enable judges to focus entirely on legal considerations.Their ability to act impartially and objectively is strengthened by the requirement that court proceedings are conducted fairly and that judgements are based on evidence.

• Accountability. A further factor that strengthens objectivity is that senior judges must explain their rulings, highlighting, in the process, the points of law that have affected them. Accountability is also upheld by the existence of appeals and, therefore, by the knowledge that cases can be reheard by higher courts. In recent years, accountability has been strengthened, the JAC and other bodies, and regular accounts given by the Lord Chief Justice and other judges to parliamentary committees

. • Not public figures. Judges have traditionally been discouraged from speaking out on political matters and from becoming involved in public controversy. The ‘Kilmuir rules’, issued in the mid-1950s, forbade judges from participating in public debates about policy matters in order to preserve their neutrality. However, as will be seen, these restrictions have been relaxed since the late 1980s. Judges may write and give lectures as part of their function of educating the public, and they may involve themselves in charitable and voluntary activities, but they must avoid political activity. A judge may serve on an official body such as a government commission provided that it does not compromise his or her political neutrality.

How neutral is the Supreme Court?

In his classic study of the politics of the judiciary, Griffiths (2010) argued that a conservative bias tends to operate within the senior judiciary, which stems from the fact that judges are predominantly male, white, upper- middle-class and public-school and ‘Oxbridge’ educated. Similar arguments have been used to suggest that judges are biased against women, and ethnic minorities.

The narrowness of the Supreme Court's composition in terms of gender, social and educational background is a real concern. 71 per cent of senior judges had attended private schools, and 75 per cent had attended Oxford or Cambridge university. This reinforces a long-standing anxiety about the senior judiciary as a whole — that it contains a disproportionate number of white, privately educated males.The fact that it has only one female member was significant in the case of Radmacher v Granatino (2010). This was a case involving a pre-nuptial agreement between marriage partners, The fact that it has only one female member was significant in the case of Radmacher v Granatino (2010). This was a case involving a pre-nuptial agreement between marriage partners, in which a majority of the Supreme Court justices upheld the principle that claims made in the event of a divorce should be limited. Lady Hale was the only one of the nine justices to dissent from the majority verdict. She gave as her reason the likelihood that the vast majority of people who would lose out as a result of this precedent would be women. In an interview in 2015, Lady Hale called for an effort to promote greater diversity of background in appointments to the Supreme Court. She pointed out that of 13 justices sworn in since her own appointment, all were men, all were white, all but two were educated at independent schools, and all but two attended Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

There has also been evidence of a culture of judicial activism and a willingness to speak out on public policy.

Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice 2000–05, spoke out against some of the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act and severely criticised the government’s handling of the constitutional reform process.

• LordPhillips,LordChiefJustice2005–08(and the first to be head of the English and Welsh judiciary), criticised the wider use of mandatory sentences and, in 2007, strongly condemned proposals for the creation of a Ministry of Justice.

Greater use of Judicial Review as a result of the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act has led to suggestions of a politicised judiciary,

  • In 2009, the High Court ruled that Gurkha veterans who had retired before 1997 with at least four years’ military service had the right to settle in the UK.

  • In 2011, the High Court ruled that the education secretary, Michael Gove, had abused his power in failing properly to consult six councils over plans to scrap their school buildings programmes.

  • • In October 2013, the Court of Appeal ruled that the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, did not have the power to implement cuts at Lewisham Hospital in London.

  • • In November 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld a legal challenge by five disabled people to the government’s decision to abolish the Independent Living Allowance.

  • • In November 2016, the Supreme Court forced the department for the environment, food and rural affairs to rethink its strategy to improve air quality, in view of reports that air pollution is responsible for almost 10,000 deaths in London each year.