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Tuesday, November 10, 1998 Published at 17:29 GMT

UK Politics

Tally of freemason judges revealed

All judges wear wigs but their masonic links are more secret

More than 200 judges and over 1,000 magistrates in the UK have owned up to being freemasons.

A government survey reveals that at least 247 judges - or 4.9% of the judiciary - are members of the organisation.

And at least 1,097 - or 6.8% - of justices of the peace also belong to the masons.

The figures were revealed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, in his appearance before a Commons select committee of MPs.

The survey is still going on and not all those who received forms have yet responded, he told the committee.

Some 64 judges declined to say whether or not they were members of the freemasonry, and 867, or 5.4% of magistrates, refused to state whether or not they were members.

Speaking afterwards, Lord Irvine said it could not be inferred that those who refused to make declarations were in fact freemasons.

"Some people are refusing to make a declaration on grounds of conscience. I would not begin to infer that they are," he said.

Anger at survey

He said 5,033 judges and part-time judges had returned forms out of 5,290 declaration forms sent out.

"The number of judges who declared that they are freemasons is relatively small at this stage, the figure stands at 247, that is 4.9% of those who have responded," he said.

For magistrates, he said 26,000 questionnaires had been sent out, with 15,926 or 61% having responded to far. Magistrates who were not freemasons accounted for 13,962, or 87% of those who have returned their forms.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth, (Aldershot) branded the survey "appalling political correctness" and said it had "stirred up something of a hornet's nest" amongst the judiciary.

Lord Irvine replied: "There is no doubt at all that there is very, very considerable resentment."

But he added: "I certainly do not regard it as my job never to tread on judicial toes."

Sex bias denied

Also during the committee, Lord Irvine defended his record on recruitment of women and ethnic minorities to the judiciary.

He told MPs: "I have to say that I doubt if any lord chancellor has tried as hard as I have done to encourage women and members of the ethnic minorities to apply."

Lord Irvine is facing claims on both sex and race discrimination from two women lawyers.

He said: "There is a culture of reticence and these practitioners should be encouraged to climb. At the last silk round, I was able to appoint four members of the ethnic minorities as Queen's Counsel and I was delighted to appoint 10 women to Queen's Counsel.

"I did not appoint them for gender balance or race relations but I appointed them on merit."

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