More judicial control including in criminal trials, making the Jackson and Norgrove reforms work, and dispensing with disclosure and cross examination in smaller cases, were all worth considering. As for the lawyers, “it is a mistake to structure legal aid costs so as to reward lawyers for doing long trials; it inevitably means that trials last longer and cost more, and lawyers should be rewarded for cases lasting less time, not more.”

“Less legal aid means more unrepresented litigants and worse lawyers, which will lead to longer hearings and more judge-time,” Lord Neuberger said. “More judicial control of cases will mean more judge-time out of court to understand the details of each case in advance.” With regard to judicial salaries: “As the gap between the earnings of successful lawyers and the judicial pay increases, maintaining high standards may prove hard.”

In his wide-ranging speech, entitled Judges and Policy: a Delicate Balance, Lord Neuberger spoke of the judiciary’s “limited right, indeed an obligation, to speak out on matters concerning the rule of law”. He had a few other words to say which appeared to be critical of the Government’s current proposals. He opposed a new regime “with a costs structure which will drive out the best lawyers” and said “we should take great care in any approach to reduce access to judicial review. It is a small price to pay for a democratic and just society.”

Looking at matters overall, Lord Neuberger saw that “there are currently two legal professions” – not barristers and solicitors, but “lawyers who serve rich individuals” (who are doing fine and greatly support the UK economy) and lawyers “who serve ordinary citizens”. The latter are “vital to the rule of law” but they are under intense pressure from “legal aid cuts, and, in some areas, from an overmanned profession”. Nevertheless, lawyers and judges have a duty to help make the system work “in the face of the harsh realities of Government finances” as well as “warning of the risks of cuts”. At the same time, he stressed that the “historic justification and primary duty of any civilised government is to ensure the defence of the realm from foreign threats and the rule of law at home”.

Similarly outspoken was the Lord Chief Justice, in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s Dinner for Her Majesty’s Judges on 5 July. He was equally protective of the rule of law, which “cannot be safeguarded by craven judges or pusillanimous judges, or by judges who lack fortitude, or judges who fail to foresee or anticipate unintended consequences which may, however slightly, diminish their independence, without which the rule of law cannot survive.”

Lord Judge warned of the small, incremental steps which “might, long term, undermine the principle of judicial independence upon which the rule of law depends”, referencing the “spectacular changes to our constitutional arrangements” in 2005 and 2007. “We must be cautious, meticulous in our scrutiny,” he added.

In a letter leaked to The Guardian in June, Lord Judge had also sent a stern warning to the Lord Chancellor on his courts privatisation plans: “We are not in a position to agree to any proposals until the details are further developed.” The Ministry of Justice, which announced in March that it was looking at reforming the resourcing and administration of courts and tribunals, giving them “greater commercial freedom”, commented: “We are very clear that we will maintain access to justice and an independent judiciary and will not be selling the courts off to anyone.”