In the UK there is no written constitution and therefore it is the role of the judges to try and uphold the law and protect civil liberties. The Rule of Law as defined by Dicey states that ‘No man is punishable except for a breach of the law’ and it is judges that try and uphold the law and make sure no one is falsely imprisoned. Also the UK has a common law system were many legal principles are derived from decisions made my judges. Therefore, decisions of judges and the way in which judges interpret the law can have major impacts on constitutional rights.
Ever since the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act the judiciary has been completely independent from politics. As Montesquieu stated this separation of power is crucial for a countries democracy and to prevent against tyranny. Therefore, since 2005 judges have been able to do their best to protect citizens’ rights without political interference. As judges also have tenure this means that judges do not have to worry about cohering to political pressure because they do not have to worry about job security. This has allowed judges to make some decisions which are against the views of the government, for example judges have allowed foreign criminals to stay in the UK based on Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Despite political pressure from Theresa May (2013) to deport criminals. This shows that judges are fundamental to protecting civil liberties in the UK as they are not in theory subjected to political pressures.
Although, despite judicial independence a lot of political pressure is still applied to judges. For example in August 2011 after the riots Prime Minister David Cameron called for ‘exemplary sentences’. Many criminals got harsh sentences for their role in the riots showing that politics can still impact the judiciary. Similarly, in March 2011 the coalition announced publication of sentencing guidelines for drug offenders, again clearly trying to give judges help in making their decisions. Therefore, the power of judges to protect civil liberties can be undermined by politicians.
Judges are in theory meant to be politically neutral meaning that they should interpret the law without prejudice. Therefore, no matter who the accused is the judges should try and treat everybody equally and give verdicts based on the crime and not who the person is.
However, the background of judges is narrow and very privileged (78% Oxbridge) meaning the backgrounds of judges may impact their judgement and outlook because they cannot identify with certain classes and individuals. Only one judges in the Supreme Court is female (Baroness Hales) and the fact that only 3 or 4 judges sit in most trials this means most of the time women have no representation without most Supreme Court trials. As well as women being under represented only 4.2% of all judges are from ethnic minorities. Therefore, despite their apparent ‘neutrality’ this may be compromised by the background of judges who will not be able to relate to some individuals committing certain crimes.
A key power of judges to try to protect liberties is in judicial review. Judges have the power to reviews actions of the executive and decide whether an action is illegal or whether officials have acted within their powers. The threat of judicial review itself is serious because ministers will know that if they act un-lawfully they could be subject to investigation. An example of successful judicial review was in February 2010 when Binyam Mohamed had been imprisoned and tortured but when he arrived in the UK senior judges found that security services had acted un-lawfully and mislead parliament. He was released and award £1 million in compensation. Overall, in 2011 there was 11,200 review applications showing how people feel that judges will protect their rights on review.
However, despite the power of