The judges and their legal guests celebrate the new year every October 1 with a church service that includes prayers, hymns, anthems and psalms, with both the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice reading a lesson.
After the service a parade of wigged and gowned justices make their way across the street to attend the traditional Lord Chancellor’s breakfast at the House of Parliament.
Some applaud this service and ceremony as one of the last remaining links between church and state. Others question whether an independent judiciary in a multi-cultural, secular society should be praying before an Anglican alter, an issue that is now on the agenda of Britain’s Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling.
Those opposed to the service say that, by attending services “in their official capacity, in public, during working hours, wearing their judicial robes”, judges create ‘an appearance of bias’. When issues touching on religion arise, non-Christian parties to a case will have fears that a judge may treat them less favourably… Their apprehension is real and these fears seriously undermine public confidence in the judiciary”.
However, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson told The Guardian newspaper that attendance is not compulsory and upon appointment every judge swears allegiance to the Crown and to “do right to all manner of people…without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.
In a letter to the Lord Chancellor and senior judges, a retired Ministry of Justice civil servant and a Conservative former parliamentary candidate say that if no action is taken, decisions relating to religious matters might be open to challenge under articles 6 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It appears that judicial entreaties for “divine guidance” may soon give way to secularists who wish to excise any reference to God Almighty.
What they ignore is that much of English (and Canadian law) is derived from Christian principles and even those who do not accept that Jesus is the son of God usually admit that his teachings and philosophy of life, including “Love your neighbor as yourself” are valuable and inspiring.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang