“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice” – these hallowed words, from the Great Charter of Liberties popularly known as the Magna Carta, stands etched in the glass-panel doors in the lobby of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Next to them is the text of the judicial oath, in which the appointee swears to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”. From the plains of Runnymede to the old Middlesex Guildhall runs a golden thread through English law: that of liberty under the law, fairly administered by impartial justices who are accountable to the Crown, the law and their conscience.
Perhaps, then, the critics of Mr Justice Cooke, who sentenced Sarah Catt to eight years, should re-acquaint themselves with these words.
The ink on the judgment wasn’t dry ere the defenders of a woman’s God(dess)-given right to poison her offspring have stepped up to the plate and launched their assault on Cooke J, and soon enough the left-wing media outlets were painting him as a sort of Christian Ayatollah Khomeini sans beard and with a wig in lieu of a turban.
Was it based on his sentencing remarks making extensive reliance on Christian doctrine? No – the sentencing remarks don’t even make reference to God, the child’s innate right to life or, you know, that pesky thing about how thou shall not kill. Or was the witch-hunt against Cooke J based on his unusually heavy sentence, as the Guardian’s Ms Bancroft suggests? No – in fact, the proper comparator was, as Cooke J noted, that of murder/manslaughter, had the child been born alive a few days later. Eight years, of which four will be spent in confinement (a fact stated clear as day in the last paragraph of the sentencing remarks, but conveniently obscured by the critics of the judgment), are a paltry sum when considering how technical and formalistic the difference between the unborn child mere days before due date and a newborn capable of being the victim of murder is. No, Cooke J’s grave sin was his membership of theLawyers’ Christian Fellowship, an ecumenical organisation of Christian lawyers established with sinister aims like “serving God in the legal profession”.
Cue the influx of hit pieces. Simon Jenkins accuses the judge of “abhorrent rage”, a medieval attitude and “judicial machismo” for daring to jail someone who has actually only extinguished another life. Elizabeth Prochaska was more overt about her allegations that Cooke J may have lacked impartiality and Ben Quinn and Owen Bowcott gave a thorough expose of the LCFbeing linked to just about any nasty thing ending with -phobia.
I’ve had to explain to my less fortunate friends, family and acquaintances – that is, those not in the legal profession – several times over the weekend why I was fuming with rage about these cowardly, insinuating pieces of empty innuendo-mongery. The Guardian didn’t just insult Cooke J (which they couldn’t give a damn about), they insulted the entire judiciary, and indeed the entire legal community.
Their view of a man’s mind being so simplistic as to be unable to reconcile a duty to impartiality with faith or participation in a faith-related professional group is staggeringly, well, medieval. Their unsaid words: Christians, or those who openly practice any religion, are unsuitable to be in the judiciary, or even the legal profession on the whole. Christians in the judiciary are Britain’s slippery slope to our own brand of Christian wilayat al-faqih, and puts us one step away from the theocrats of 1979. These aren’t their words, but they are the necessary consequences of their words. If we become a society where a judge with religious beliefs is ‘fair game’, where the media can go after a member of the judiciary who swore to to administer law without ‘fear or favour, affection or ill-will’, merely based on his faith and participation in a faith-based professional group, all bets are off. Don’t like your judgment? Object to the judge. Never mind that most of them come from a profession where they might well have had to plead on behalf of clients whose views they found unsavoury – the cab rank rule, which Lord Irvine called one of the singular glories of the Bar, means that barristers have to take cases as long as the client is willing to pay and they are competent in the area of law. Never mind that most of them have had years, if not decades, behind the bench and any bias would have long become evident and led to heavy reprimands. Never mind that the judiciary is still reeling from the fallout of the Pinochet debacle, which led judges to assiduously declare interests in any and all organisations. Never mind the fact that the law has a very clear definition of bias applicable to decision-makers, and had Cooke J indeed been the bewigged Khomeini that he is painted as, Ms Catt’s lawyers would long have mounted a challenge.
Never mind all that – what the Guardian’s disgusting and singularly undemocratic campaign against a distinguished member of the judiciary is about is to rid the judiciary of anyone who might, just might, have anything but their strict positive-secular views, to be replaced by some distorted new man-ideal like the Soviet man. Then they’ll come for people with unpalatable political views next. Then for judges who went to public school. And then it’s open season on anyone – and on justice. The judiciary will become a place of fear and terror where all discourse, conversation and intellectual activity is chilled by the fear that citing the “wrong” source, mentioning the “wrong” idea (that is, one rooted in religious morality) or having the “wrong” thoughts would lay one’s chest bare to the arrows of the lynch mob.
That is, until the judiciary and the legal community stops indulging this nonsense – which, I hope, happens before it’s too late. There is no adequate response to this but a wholesale rejection of the criticisms leveled at Cooke J – not because one has to agree with the judgment, but because no democratic society can prevail where the media arrogates to itself the privilege to crucify a distinguished judge in its vain endeavour to make the narrative about everything but what it really is: a sad story of a woman who murdered her child – not the Spanish Inquisition.
Which, as we know, nobody expects. But it’s coming. Applicants for Grand Inquisitor Torquemada’s role are encouraged to apply at the Guardian.