The head of the judiciary has admonished six Tory parliamentarians for seeking to influence a judge overseeing a hearing this week on whether references written in support of the former MP Charlie Elphicke can be made public.
The six wrote last week to senior judges, copying in the judge who will oversee the hearing on Wednesday, expressing concern that “matters of principle” should first be considered by senior members of the judiciary and by parliament.
But in a response from the office of the lord chief justice for England and Wales, they were told it was “improper” to seek to influence the decision of a judge who would ultimately rule on the basis of evidence and argument in court.
“It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary,” said the reply from Ben Yallop, the private secretary to the lord chief justice.
“It is equally improper to suggest that senior judges should in some way intervene to influence the decision of another judge. The independence of the judges extends to being free from interference by judicial colleagues or superiors in their decision-making. Judges must be free to make their decision independently of pressure or influence from all, including legislators.”
The original letter was sent to the president of the Queen’s bench division and the senior presiding judge for England and Wales by the Tory peer David Freud and the MPs Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Bob Stewart, Theresa Villiers and Natalie Elphicke.
The latter is the estranged wife of Charlie Elphicke, who succeeded him as the MP for Dover before his conviction and jailing this year for three counts of sexual assault against two women.
The other five parliamentarians identified themselves last week as the authors of some of the character references provided for Elphicke’s sentencing, and claimed that publishing the statements could deter people from providing similar background details in future cases.
An application is being made on Wednesday by the Guardian, Times and Associated Newspapers for release of the letters where the author is a public figure, in public office or holds or has held a position of public responsibility.
Where the authors are ordinary members of the public – such as former constituents – the media organisations’ position is that if publication will cause unwanted intrusion into private life, the letters could be anonymised.
The issue has also been raised in parliament by Stewart, who called for a debate. The leader of the house, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told him he had raised a concerning point and said he would refer the matter to the lord chief justice and the attorney general.