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Enemies of the people? Lord Neuberger says Brexit decision press coverage undermined rule of law

By Dominic Ponsford

President of the Supreme Lord Neuberger appears to have suggested that the Daily Mail undermined the rule of law with its coverage of the High Court decision ruling that the House of Commons should have a vote on Brexit.

He spoke to the Radio 4’s Today programme about the coverage last November and of the Supreme Court decision confirming the ruling of the High Court last month.

He said: “We [judges] were certainly not well treated. One has to be careful about being critical of the press particularly as a lawyer or judge because our view of life is very different from that of the media.

“I think some of what was said was undermining the rule of law.”

The Daily Mail was the most forthright newspaper in its coverage of the decision. Its front page photographed the three High Court judges under the heading: “Enemies of the People.” The headline references an Ibsen play about a newspaper editor who was unfairly branded an “Enemy of the People” because he raised concerns about contamination at a town baths.

In 1933 a German newspaper branded people who had their German citizenship revoked by the Nazi regime “Traitors of the People.”

Asked whether politicians had responded quickly enough to defend the rule of law, Lord Neuberger said: “They were certainly vocal enough quickly enough after our hearing [in the Supreme Court].

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“After the [High] Court hearing. I think they could have been quicker and clearer. But we all learn by experience, whether politicians or judges. It’s easy to be critical after the event. They were faced with an unexpected situation from which like all sensible people they learned.”

He said: “The rule of law together with democracy is one of the two pillars on which our society is based.

“And therefore if, without good reason, the media or anyone else undermines the judiciary that risks undermining our society.

“The press and the media generally have a positive duty to keep an eye on things. But I think with that with that power comes the degree of responsibility.”

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