Douglas Mill: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Aretha Franklin

I was 18 when I went to Auschwitz. My school chum Eamonn Kelly and I got a train to Warsaw and then down to Krakow. 1975 – height of the Cold War. Mad, I know. How we were allowed to go remains a mystery to me.

Anyway, it made me, amongst other things a fan of poor old Poland. Two great neighbours. Lucky white heather, as they say. Played chess against the General Sikorski club in Glasgow a fair few times too.

Been back. What a change. And I follow their progress. So, it was in this context that I watched the recent street protests on TV. Passionate, informed, concerned people. Protesting about… wait for it… judicial independence. Wow. How balance of power is that? Inspiring. A populace not so besotted with soaps and tabloids as to actually appreciate that politicians bear watching. A people who see the courts as a bulwark. Their protection against the state. Brilliant.

And then a couple of weeks later I read in SLN on Friday, of concerns here about judicial recruitment. What an embarrassment. Described in England and Wales by the Lord Chief Justice as a ‘ticking time bomb’, a lack of respect for the bench – and I would personally add, the rule of law – is now cited as a major factor.

In this league table-obsessed era, how proud are we that the UK tops the tables for perceived lack of respect from the media (60 per cent) and from government – a whopping 40 per cent for our esteemed lawmakers.

Now, the media you would expect. Cheap, tired, out of touch judges headlines.

The politicians are far less excusable. Even if you leave the Brexit case aside, their position is concerning. Especially as they have been playing a role in appointments for a good while now. For a former First Minister to get away with referring to sheriffs as ‘rugby-playing toffs’ is completely demeaning.

I hope my Polish friends don’t find out.

Perhaps we are spoiled by taking an independent bench and bar, and the rule of law as a given. It is not. look around. Do not evolve into a profession not worth the name. It is not all about boasting about how much money you earn. We all are privileged to be lawyers. And that privilege comes with a responsibility to speak out to protect the legal system.

Forty years later I went to Nuremberg. Saw the courtroom. Awesome. Humbling the role played by lawyers. Read Philippe Sands’ East West Street. Read Deborah Lipstadt’s Denial. Forgive, but do not forget. Count your blessings. And defend your judges. Because it’s hard for them to defend themselves.

Oh, yes, it was Aretha Franklin in 1967, but the need is no less great now.