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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Blunkett branded 'a whiner'
Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett is accused of trying to control judges' sentencing decisions

Home Secretary David Blunkett has been called a "whiner" and "control freak" by one of Britain's top retired judges.

Former High Court judge Sir Oliver Popplewell accused Mr Blunkett of trying to undermine judges' independence.

The accusation follows Mr Blunkett's proposals to set minimum sentences for some serious crimes.

"He is very upset that the judges have been over-ruling a great deal of Home Office legislation," Sir Oliver told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It is very important because they draft these Bills and Acts incompetently, rush them through, and then when the judges say 'do it again better', they start complaining."

I just want judges that live in the same real world as the rest of us
David Blunkett

But Mr Blunkett later hit back, implying Sir Oliver was out of touch.

In a speech to 1,000 officers at the annual Police Federation conference in Blackpool, Mr Blunkett drew laughter as he said: "There has been a rumour that I am not all that pleased with judges - this is, you can gather, completely untrue.

"I just want judges that live in the same real world as the rest of us, I just like judges who help us and help you to do the job."

Mr Blunkett said he had heard Sir Oliver on the radio this morning.

He said: "He told all about his new book, where he learnt how football supporters shouted swear words at matches.

"How he discovered the community he had been judging for all those years was actually quite different to the one he thought about, the one he had presumably met at school, at university and in chambers."

'Not weak'

Sir Oliver had said a recent article by Mr Blunkett was "full of whining about judges overturning what Parliament had enacted".

"That is the job of judges to interpret the law and if they think it is not working, say so."

There was no doubt the home secretary was attacking the independence of the judiciary, Sir Oliver said.

"Politicians hate people being independent. They want to control it, it is control freakery, and I am sure that is part of it."

Former High Court judge Sir Oliver Popplewell
Politicians hate people being independent, they want to control it
Sir Oliver Popplewell

Mr Blunkett's plans to set sentencing "guidelines" for the worst crimes came after his power to set minimum sentences in individual cases was ruled to be against European law.

Sir Oliver predicted colleagues still sitting on the bench would use the opt-out in Mr Blunkett's proposals to set sentences they believed to be just.

But Sir Oliver added: "We all regard serial murders and child rapists with great concern. The judges are not weak on this.

"One of the criticisms of judges is they send too many people to jail and the home secretary was letting people out months ago saying the jails are full and judges mustn't send people to prison.

"You can't have it both ways."

Sir Oliver, 75, presided over a number of high-profile cases during his time as a High Court judge from 1983 to 1999.

These included the failed libel action brought against the Guardian in 1997 by Jonathan Aitken, the former Conservative cabinet minister.

In 1998 he famously interrupted proceedings in a High Court libel trial to ask: ''What is Linford Christie's lunchbox?''




SEE ALSO:
Life to mean life for worst crimes
07 May 03  |  Politics


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