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The ELI at the European Forum Alpbach (Austria)

From 27–29 August 2017, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and ELI Council Member, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and ELI Vice-President Christiane Wendehorst, spoke at the Legal Symposium at the European Forum Alpbach. Established in 1945, the annual European Forum Alpbach is a must-visit event.

From 16 August–1 September 2017, the city will play host to a unique interdisciplinary forum of 700 speakers in 200 sessions. In addition to platforms on science, politics, business and culture, one on law was also held. The first plenary session with Lord Thomas, that was launched as the first official cooperation between the ELI and the Alpbach Forum, was entitled ‘Enemies of the People? The Role of an Independent Judiciary in Times of Populism’.

The panel was chaired by Christiane Wendehorst, who initiated the discussion by displaying various British tabloids’ covers with Lord Thomas, alongside two other High Court judges. The Daily Mail declared the three to be the ‘enemies of the people’ for ruling, on 3 November 2016, that the UK Government would require the consent of Parliament to give notice (under art 50 TFEU) for the UK to withdraw from the European Union. The Daily Telegraph, the Sun and other tabloids featured similar headlines. The judges were not only attacked by the media; politicians also joined the populistic campaign, and the Lord Chancellor even refused to provide backing to the above three judges.

Lord Thomas expressed his belief that the judges were mainly attacked by the media because of their pro-active approach to upholding the rule of law, which is oftentimes interpreted as an obstacle to change. He also explained that courts have gained more power in the last three decades, taking decisions which were previously taken by politicians.

To prevent further conflicts between judges, politicians and society, Lord Thomas highlighted the need not only of judicial independence, but also of interdependence between the different branches of the State, as a form of cooperation, but without interference. Lord Thomas underlined the role and importance of justice in society and the need to correct the tainted image of judges in the media. As a countermeasure, he suggested stronger communication between the media and courts, by having more official press offices at courts.

On 29 August, Lord Thomas joined a panel on ‘Parallel Systems in Europe? Conflict between European and the Sharia Legal Systems’, which was devoted to comparing Sharia law with European legal orders. To watch the entire session online, please click here.

Both Lord Thomas and Christiane Wendehorst will be panelists on the ELI-ALI Building a Data Economy Feasibility Study at the ELI Annual Conference and General Assembly on 7 September 2017.