Jack Straw’s decision to no longer force applicants for the judiciary to declare if they are Freemasons was today branded a “disgrace” by a Labour MP.
Gordon Prentice (Pendle) said there would again be a “cloak of secrecy” following the move by the Justice Secretary.
Mr Straw said last week that a review had shown no evidence of “impropriety or malpractice” as a result of a judge being a Freemason and it would be “disproportionate” to continue with the practice, introduced in 1998.
The United Grand Lodge of England made representations to ministers in May and indicated it might seek judicial review of the policy.
At Commons question time today Mr Prentice asked: “Is it not a disgrace that you have decided to allow judges no longer to have to declare if they are Freemasons?
“We know that one in 20 of our judges are Freemasons. Why on earth the cloak of secrecy?”
Mr Straw replied: “There was no secrecy about my announcement, I made the announcement by way of written ministerial statement last week in the light of a European Court of Human Rights judgment against the state of Italy, which was made in 2006, and to which our attention was drawn by the Grand Lodge of Freemasons.
“It suggested that a continuation of a compulsory register…was likely to be unlawful. After legal advice I accepted that. It is open to any judge to declare that they are Freemasons.”
He added that there had been “no evidence” of any “unacceptable behaviour by Freemason judges.
Ministry of Justice figures indicate there are 3,808 judges in England and Wales and 205 or 5.4 per cent are Freemasons. There are also 29,702 magistrates, of whom 1,900 or 6.4 per cent are Freemasons.