Law On Trial

Democracies are increasingly facing threats from within, retired Supreme Court judge says

Recently retired Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin tells latest episode of Law on Trial podcast about the worrying growth of ‘illiberal’ democracies

Recently retired Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin tells latest episode of Law on Trial podcast that democracies are increasingly facing threats from within

Threats to the independence of key state institutions are increasingly coming from within elected governments, a recently retired Supreme Court judge has said.

John MacMenamin said there had been a “worrying” trend over the last decade of “illiberal democracies” where elected officials attempt to affect the independence of institutions.

“Democracies have always seen threats, pressures, from outside, but what’s unusual about illiberal democracies is that the threat comes from within,” he said.

“From elected governments, once they’re elected, then begin to take steps, which affect not only the independence of judiciary, independence of the media, independence of police, independence of academia and that's kind of a pattern,” he added.

Speaking on Law on Trial, the Business Post’s legal affairs podcast, Judge MacMenamin said these four areas depended on each other, and in particular the judiciary and the media.

“The media depend on the judiciary for protection [and] the judiciary depend on the media for a proper truthful account of what happens in court,” he said.

“Because it's, it's all too easy, unfortunately, when, in circumstances where social media can be uncontrolled, that false accounts of what happens in court can be put out.”

Judge MacMenamin also spoke of taking part in a protest in January 2020 in which he marched in solidarity with the judiciary in Poland over court reforms there.

Around 30,000 people took to the streets of Warsaw in a silent march against reforms of the judicial system which they said risked undermine the independence of judges and the rule of law.

“It's not just a national thing, because part of the things that bind Europe together…not just political links, but law binds Europe together. And it depends on trust,” he said.

“There is a duty on judges to enforce judgments which are obtained in other EU countries. So it's like a, like a carpet that's woven together, and the law actually is the thing, one of the things, that binds the European Union together,” he added.

Judge MacMenamin spent a decade on the Supreme Court bench. Prior to that he served as a High Court judge and practised as a barrister between 1975 and 1991.

The latest episode of Law on Trial is available on Spotify or Apple podcasts.