Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

24 April 2012


In his recent memoirs, Mr Peter Hain, a former Northern Ireland Secretary of State, criticized a Northern Ireland judge, Mr Justice Girvan, for his handling of a case in 2006.

Today a court hearing is due into charges by the Northern Ireland attorney general, Mr John Larkin, that the passages containing this criticism amount to “unwarranted abuse of a judge in his judicial capacity that undermines the administration of justice in this jurisdiction and consequently constitute a contempt of court”.

A leader in the UK’s Guardian newspaper yesterday 23 April 2012 leapt to the defence of Mr Hain, going as far as to say that “Mr Larkin should grow up”. The editorial went on to remind Mr Larkin of Lord Justice Salmon’s judgment in 1968 that “the authority and reputation of our courts are not so frail that their judgments need to be shielded from criticism”. Lord Salmon ruled that “no criticism of a judgment, however vigorous, can amount to contempt of court”.

Antigone1984 agrees.

However, while arguing that judges must not be beyond criticism, the Guardian sets its argument in the context of the following point: “In general, the public trusts the judges. They are right to do so – and the consequences are healthy. Without such trust, the rule of law would struggle – as it has in the past – to have the legitimacy on which it relies.”

Antigone1984 thinks that the last point is bullshit.

In the first place, how does the Guardian know that “in general, the public trusts the judges”?

We know of no opinion poll to that effect and there has certainly not been a referendum on the subject.

No, like Athene out of the head of Zeus, that assertion comes ready-formed out of the mind of the Guardian leader writer.

We have no way of knowing whether it is true or false – and neither has the leader writer.

The leader writer then digs himself/herself further into the hole.

Having made the unverifiable assertion that the public trusts the judges, he/she goes on to conclude that they are right to do so and that the consequences of such trust are healthy.

Coming from a newspaper, this conclusion is extraordinary.

It has always been the job of journalism to hold power to account, to accept no ruling by authority except it be substantiated by evidence. This must surely apply par excellence to the judiciary, given its unique power to deprive the citizen of their liberty. No judgment by a court should be taken on trust without the most thorough-going extrinsic scrutiny.

However, this is not the first time that we have caught out the Guardian at this game.

On 5 April 2012, Antigone1984 published a post entitled “Concealing torture”, which began:

“In a draconian crackdown on civil liberties redolent of the totalitarian regimes of North Korea or China, the UK Government has launched a blitzkrieg against immemorial rights and freedoms with a raft of kafkaesque proposals for secret police surveillance of all private internet communications together with the establishment of secret courts to prevent evidence of crimes by the state, particularly its involvement in torture, from seeping into the public domain.”

We went on to commend the Guardian’s opposition to this move:

“No laggard in its condemnation of the proposed encroachments was today’s leader in the centre-right Guardian newspaper, which boasts of its liberal radicalism while simultaneously professing an unwavering allegiance to the free market economics of 19 C Manchester.”

We felt, nonetheless, that we had to add the following point:

“However, Antigone1984 sensed a strangely jarring note within the editorial’s generally negative critique of the Government proposals when it spoke approvingly of ‘the normal – and proper – readiness of the courts and of parliament to accept the word of the government on national security issues’.

“Given that governments are only too ready to lie, deceive, falsify, exaggerate, hoodwink, downplay, prevaricate, misinform, equivocate,  fudge, dissimulate, stall, distort and spin-doctor in all other aspects of political life without exception, why on earth should their word be accepted when it comes to national security?”

Could it be that both editorials – that of 5 April and that of 23 April – came from the same pen?

Rather than believing that the word of authority should be taken on trust, we firmly applaud the attitude adopted by an unnamed dissident of whom it was said:

He had a deep distrust of authoritative statements emanating from the great and the good”.

Or, as US novelist Ernest Hemingway said in a 1958 interview with the Paris Review,

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit-detector.”


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

 1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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