UK backs judicial independence after judges face Brexit heat
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Britain's Communities Secretary Sajid Javid applauds during the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Britain October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville
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By William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's government defended the independence of the country's judiciary on Saturday after three judges came under a wave of criticism from newspapers and a senior official for dealing a blow to the government's Brexit preparations.
Justice minister Liz Truss, under growing pressure to back the judges, issued a brief statement saying the independence of the judiciary was the "foundation upon which our rule of law is built" and said Britain's legal system was impartial.
England's High Court triggered an angry response from some lawmakers and newspapers on Thursday when it ruled that the decision to begin Britain's formal divorce talks with the European Union needed to be approved by parliament and could not be taken by the government alone.
Sajid Javid, a member of May's cabinet, called the ruling an "unacceptable" attempt to "frustrate the will of the British people", while The Daily Mail newspaper said the three judges who handed down the ruling were "enemies of the people".
The protests prompted other Conservative lawmakers to rally behind the judges.
"There is something smacking of the fascist state about them (the attacks)," Dominic Grieve, a former British attorney general, was quoted as saying in The Times on Saturday.
"It shows either a total misunderstanding of the UK constitution, which such critics periodically extol — or a deliberate desire to destroy it."
Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of parliament's justice committee, said the attacks were "threatening the independence of our judiciary" and had "no place in a civilized land."
A group representing senior lawyers in England and Wales, the Bar Council, urged Truss earlier on Saturday to condemn the "unjustified attacks" as a matter of urgency.
"A strong independent judiciary is essential to a functioning democracy and to upholding the rule of law," the Council said.
Stephen Glover, a columnist for the Daily Mail, stood by the newspaper's coverage of the court ruling and said he did not think judges would be cowed by the criticism of their decision.
"To imagine that this has had some terrible, devastating effect on British society is literally crazy," he told the BBC.
May told other EU leaders on Friday she believed the court ruling would be overturned and said she would stick to her Brexit timetable.
(Editing by Catherine Evans and Robin Pomeroy)
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