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Wednesday, 18 March, 1998, 07:28 GMT
Top judge backs secret Masons' membership
Freemason symbol
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, has said he sees no reason why judges should declare their membership of the Freemasons.

Lord Chief Justice Bingham
Lord Bingham: "one should be entitled to privacy"
Lord Bingham said: "Our position is and has always been that no-one has ever been able to suggest that there has ever been a vestige of evidence that any judge in any case ever in this country has been diverted from his duty by any conflict arising from Freemasonic association."

The Lord Chief Justice, the most senior judge in England and Wales, was appearing before the Home Affairs Select committee of MPs on the eve of a meeting of The Judges' Council.

Following its recommendations, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said new judges would be forced to reveal whether they were masons.

The United Grand Lodge - masonry's governing body - will be asked to provide lists of sitting judges who are in the secret society.

Jack Straw
Jack Straw wants to see Freemasons out in the open
If the lodge refuses, judges will be asked to reveal their membership. If that fails, legislation may follow to force them to do so.

Lord Bingham was asked if he favoured a voluntary declaration by judges.

"In the absence of any invitation by the Home Secretary, no I would not, because in the absence of any reason to make one's private associations public, one should be entitled to keep them private."

Lord Bingham did not know what the judges would decide, but had a "shrewd idea".

If the Home Secretary did ask them to make a declaration, they would take the invitation "seriously".

Last month the Home Affairs committee demanded the United Grand Lodge reveal how many of nearly 100 people were masons. The list includes police officers, former officers and journalists involved in celebrated cases of miscarriages of justice.

The lodge complied at the last minute, under threat of being found in contempt of Parliament, and wrote a letter of protest to the Prime Minister.

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