Danger of 'Elected Dictatorship', by England's Top Judge

Article excerpt


ENGLAND'S top judge warned yesterday against the dangers of a ' malevolent elected dictatorship' in Britain.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf said repeated radical constitutional changes could harm the rule of law, which could in turn threaten democracy.

In a speech on the Government's latest constitutional reforms, he revealed a ' concordat' had been agreed with ministers which enabled him to endorse the sweeping changes to the legal system.

But he peppered his remarks with stark descriptions of the danger of tinkering with the constitution.

He said there had been 15 ' significant' constitutional reforms since Labour came to power, each affecting the rule of law.

'This in itself makes them important because democratic government is dependent upon observance of the rule of law.

'Without observance of the rule of law, a democracy can become a dictatorship - admittedly an elected dictatorship but nonetheless a dictatorship which has all the dangers associated with uncontrolled power.

'It may be a benevolent dictatorship, it may even be an effective form of government. But the danger is that what starts off being benevolent can, and usually does, deteriorate into being malevolent.' His warning, in a speech at Exeter University, follows more than a year of hostility between judges and ministers over the constitutional reforms signalled in Tony Blair's June 2003 reshuffle.

These proposed the abolition of the ancient office of Lord Chancellor, the creation of a new commission to select judges and the establishment of a Supreme Court in place of the House of Lords to hear the most important cases. Earlier this year Lord Woolf criticised Mr Blair's 'lack of appreciation' of the effects of his reforms as 'extraordinary'.

But yesterday he confirmed the judiciary had struck a deal over the reforms and called on politicians to ensure they go through Parliament before the general election. …