The vitriol and abuse levelled at three high court judges by the right-wing media signals the beginning of the end, not only for the politics of fact and information, but of decency and respect for the law.
To quote the current prime minister’s oft-used phrase: “Brexit means Brexit”. We are leaving the European Union; there is no doubting that fact. Although I was a somewhat convinced remain voter, it would be both political suicide and constitutionally murderous for a majority of MPs to block the triggering of Article 50. More to the point, a majority of MPs believe that too and so, with this established, it is pretty certain any vote on Article 50 will be passed easily. Therefore the court case can be seen, not as an attempt to subvert Brexit, but as an attempt to open up the discussion from the current level of a one-year-old child planning a surprise party for their parents.
This all begs the question: why have these three judges received so much criticism? And does that criticism threaten our very society?
First, to the argument around constitutional legality: these judges made the right decision (however I do not think watching Seasons one to four of Suits gives me the best qualification to talk about the ins and outs of the legality). What of the logic behind the debacle? Every European treaty the UK is under at the moment has been ratified by the House of Lords and the House of Commons, often at the demands of arch-Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis. With that in mind, surely to repeal such legislation, one would also need parliamentary scrutiny and authority? Even if there is validity to the argument that the Government can use royal prerogative to push through Brexit, it seems highly hypocritical that the Brexiteers would cry foul when we simply ask for the same procedure they once so ardently asked for.
Second, does this backlash threaten our societal values? Well, the short answer is: possibly. On one hand, judges should always be above criticism, and bringing them into the sphere of media and debate removes their political impartiality. On the other hand, the legal system must, of course, be respected, but there were certain decisions and procedures taken in this case which must be scrutinised and criticised. For example, having only three judges where the Supreme Court has brought in 11, perhaps shows that certain procedural frameworks acted against the Government.
Moreover, it is vital that the Government does not influence the judiciary; but is it not also vital that the judiciary avoid instructing parliament on what to do and stick to reviewing past decisions? After all, parliament is sovereign, so it is important that they hold a debate around Article 50, but the very act of the courts instructing Parliament to do so is constitutionally problematic. On balance, however, it is clear to see these three judges were simply answering the question they were asked; although it is also within the right of the government (perhaps unwisely) to choose to appeal.
Ultimately, discussion and debate encourages a healthy society, but the vitriol and abuse targeted at these three judges points to the lowering of discourse which the UK along with other parts of the world, faces.