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Jack Straw scraps rule saying judges must declare if they are masons
Andrew Sparrow for The Guardian, Thursday November 5 2009.
Jack Straw scraps rule saying judges must declare if they are masons
The justice secretary is scrapping a rule about freemasonry declarations that he played a role in introducing 12 years ago. Sometimes life goes round in a circle. Twelve years ago, shortly before the 1997 general election, Jack Straw said that freemasonry should be a "declarable and registrable interest" for members of the judiciary. Labour won and a rule was introduced saying that anyone who was made a judge or a magistrate had to declare whether or not they were a mason. Today, with an election looming that is likely to bring Labour's term in office to an end, Straw has just issued a statement saying that he is scrapping the rule about freemasonry declarations that he played a role in introducing.
What happened was that the masons threatened to take the government to court. Rather than decide to fight them, Straw chose to back down.
He explains his decision today in a written ministerial statement.
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.
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".

guardian.co.uk, accessed 2010/07/07


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