The President of the Supreme Court criticised politicians for not speaking out quickly enough to defend judges following the media storm over the Brexit ruling.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Lord Neuberger defended as ‘perfectly lawful’ the press headlines that branded the three High Court judges who ruled on the Art 50 challenge, ‘Enemies of the people’.

But he said some of the things that were said risked ‘unfairly undermining the judiciary – and therefore undermining the rule of law’.

After the initial divisional court ruling Neuberger said politicians acted ‘slower than one would have hoped’ and expressed themselves ‘more pallidly’. But, he said they learned, and after the Supreme Court’s judgment they ‘reacted with exemplary speed and said exactly what they should have said’.

He said: ‘The rule of law together with democracy is one of the two pillars on which our society is based.

‘If, without good reason, the media or anyone else undermines the judiciary, that risks undermining our society. The press and the media generally have a positive duty to keep an eye on things. But I think with that power comes the degree of responsibility.’

He spoke on the day that broadsheet newspapers ran the advertisement for the three vacancies at the Supreme Court which arise following the retirement last summer of Lord Toulson and the forthcoming retirements of Neuberger and Lord Clarke.

Applicants will have to submit a 2,000-word essay, on which they will address the selection panel. The subject will be given to those who are successfully shortlisted. 

Would-be justices also have to cite three of their recent judgments or cases and state why they are important in the development of the law and provide evidence establishing that they meet the selection criteria.

The court, made up of 10 white men and one white woman, has instituted measures to create a more diverse bench. Applicants can attend familiarisation sessions and apply to sit part-time, and for the first time provisions will enable the appointment of a candidate from an under-represented group, where two are equally well-qualified.