Judges will no longer have to declare whether they are freemasons when they take office, Jack Straw, UK Justice Secretary, said yesterday.
Jack Straw said it would be ‘disproportionate’ to continue to force judges to declare if they are freemasons. He explains his decision today in a written ministerial statement.
He admitted the review of the policy operating since 1998 had shown no evidence of impropriety or malpractice within the judiciary as a result of a judge being a Freemason. As a result he said ‘it would be disproportionate to continue the collection or retention of this information’.
The United Grand Lodge of England made representations in May. They drew attention to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Grande Oriente d’Italia di Palazzo Guistiniani v Italy (no 1) and Grande Oriente d’Italia di Palazzo Guistiniani v Italy (no 2) and indicated that they might seek judicially to review the application of the policy to the judiciary. In the light of my consideration of those representations I decided to review the policy. Read the Court’s Judgement
As a result of this review we have decided to end the current policy of requiring applicants for judicial office to declare membership of the freemasons.
The review of the policy operating since 1998 has shown no evidence of impropriety or malpractice within the judiciary as a result of a judge being a freemason and in my judgment, therefore, it would be disproportionate to continue the collection or retention of this information.
According to the Ministry of Justice, there are 3,808 judges in England and Wales and 5.4% of them (205) are masons. There are also 29,702 magistrates, of whom 6.4% (1,900) are masons.
The government introduced the declaration rule after it was recommended by the Commons home affairs committee in a report published in March 1997. The committee said that “nothing so much undermines public confidence in public institutions as the knowledge that some public servants are members of a secret society one of whose aims is mutual self-advancement”. At the time Straw said Labour supported the recommendation.
But, in his statement today, Straw stressed that the 1997 report “made no finding of impropriety in the conduct of the judiciary arising from membership of individual members of the judiciary of the freemasons”.
He also said the existing safeguards, such as the oath, the availability of a complaints procedure and the independent appointments commission, were enough to support “the proper performance of judicial functions”.