chapter  9
22 Pages

The judiciary and the law

In most courses on British politics, law and order and the judiciary have been treated as something of an ‘optional extra’. In itself this tells us something about traditional understandings of the British system of government, in which the judiciary and the police force have been regarded as ‘above politics’. In many liberal democracies, notably the United States, the judiciary is a fully separate branch of government, whose role is specified within a written constitution. In the UK it has a more ambiguous status. This approach was always highly misleading, and is no longer tenable. Law and order was a central political issue long before February 1993 when Tony Blair promised to be ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’. In recent elections questions like the level of recorded crime and police numbers have been widely discussed. Meanwhile, the attitudes of the police on sensitive issues like race have come under unprecedented

scrutiny, and the ‘phone hacking’ scandal has raised serious concerns about the relationship between senior officers and the media. In recent decades the relationship between the (appointed) judiciary and elected politicians has become increasingly strained, at least in part because of the British constitution’s failure to establish a clear separation of powers (see Chapter 6). Senior judges frequently complain about undue interference from politicians. But in their turn they have found themselves under regular attack, from politicians and, more vociferously, from sections of the media. Friction between government and the police has been less severe, but several Home Secretaries have been given rough receptions by police conferences in recent years, and the police are ready to contemplate taking some form of industrial action in support of pay claims – something which would have been unthinkable until quite recently. In this chapter we examine the reasons for these tensions in the context of constitutional change, and discuss other issues involving the British judiciary and police force.